// religious metaphors, fate, angels, suicide, death

They say that one is not tortured for his sins, but by them. The old literary phrase floats idly across your mind as long, tortured squeals of tires on asphalt echo upwards through the parking garage from six levels below. You look to the horizon in time to see the last rays of sunlight flicker and vanish behind the jagged square teeth of the distant skyline. They’re right on schedule. Damn.

You sigh and take a last drag of your smoke before crushing the butt beneath your heel. Below your feet you hear the alternating pattern of an engine revving and tires shrieking as they take the turns faster than is safe. You count down the seconds until they’ll reach the top deck of the garage, and you. Keep mentally willing them to turn back, but you already know they won’t. It always plays out the same way, that’s the nature of sin.

Everyone always gets it in their mind that sin is like pollution, something that stains the soul with gross food coloring and warps the light of an angel’s halo into a corrupt and sickly demonic glow. And sure that can happen, but they’re missing the critical facts of the matter, focusing on the effects of the sin instead of the sin itself. It’s any easy way to justify continuing to sin, already stained after all, so what’s more really going to do? 

Three levels left to go, they don’t seem to be turning back. You say a silent prayer and reach an astral limb up into the divine. Your fingers close on the command authority socket and you pull, drawing the divinity down into you. Your halo balloons out towards the edges of the parking deck, bathing the concrete structure in warm orange light within your mind’s eye.

The mistake is to think of the pollution as the sin, but that’s not right at all. To sin is to make a choice, the wrong choice, for the wrong reasons, which they know are wrong and yet refuse to admit even to themselves. To deny the knowledge, warp the world, and in doing so to birth a new and altered reality into being around themselves. The more someone sins, the more this warping builds, requiring further sin to justify the existing sin. The only real way out would be if they went back and undid the original choice, accepted and bore the painful consequences, thus letting the damage flow through them and back out, but of course, no one ever actually does that. Maybe this time though.

You always tell yourself it’s not over until it’s really over, and it’s never too late to go back and make a different choice, but as you hear the oversized SUV roar across the deck beneath you, you have to acknowledge that the chances of that happening in this case are basically zero. They don’t call you into the cases that are particularly hopeful after all.

The Escalade rises up the ramp onto the top deck and skids to a halt. You can see flickers of movement behind the darkly tinted windows, but no one exits the vehicle. You wait patiently, elbows propped against the card table where you’ve set up the crystal ball. Within your astral sight, the vehicle radiates painfully hard ultraviolet light, it’s clear they’re already nearing the event horizon, you take a long slow breath. There won’t be any survivors from this batch.

Betrayal does not happen in the moment of bloodshed, in that climactic scene where Caesar in shock gasps et tu Brutus, his blood pooling on the senate floor. That was not the moment his trusted friend chose to turn on him, nor was it the moment that the not so trustworthy friend picked up the knife and tucked it into his senate robes. It was far earlier than that, in the moment that the choice was made. From the moment of that choice the betrayal had already occurred and was afterward just the process of that betrayal being acted out. That is the nature of sin.

The doors on the SUV all open at once and a quartet of angels in ruffled business suits begin climbing out. The driver, a short redheaded woman you your dossier has told you is named Riesh, stomps across the asphalt towards you, her halo blazing obscenely within your mind’s eye. These ones are extremely far gone, a shame. Your gloved fingers drum the top of the crystal ball as she approaches. 

The sight reveals all to you, and as Riesh crosses her arms and stares at you, eyebrow cocked in nonverbal demand of an explanation, you see the story of her sin unfold before you, the choices she made and the path it leads down to her inevitable death. Sin is self defeating in the end, if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be sin. You gesture towards the crystal ball with a nonchalant shrug. 

“Who are you?” She demands, “What are you doing here?” A disheveled vagabond of an angel, with nothing but a card table and crystal ball, alone on the top of the parking deck where their target was supposed to be. Very strange and ominous indeed.

You smile, you have to admit this part is at least a little fun. You see the levers on her puzzlebox mind, and gently pull them into the configuration you need, resting your chin against the palms of your hands and meeting her gaze before speaking, “I’m Mercury, and I’m here waiting for you Riesh.”

You watch the storm of emotions cross her face, first the true ones, fear, shock, paranoia, and anger, and then the fake ones, irritation, calm certainty, and something that you think she probably feels as morality fortitude but which you can see is clearly far from that. You watch her mind attempt to compute the impossible answer you’ve given her from within the warped reality of her sin, and return an error message, she frowns.

“How did you know we were going to be here? Who told you about Clymer? Are you working with him? Don’t you know what he did? Why would you protect him?” she smacks her hands against the card table for emphasis. It’s all so very predictable. You gesture to the crystal ball again.

“I scryed it,” you tell her, “And I scryed the rest too. I’m so sorry for what you’ve endured, Riesh, but this is the end of the line for you.”

“Are you threatening me?” She balks, “I’m a divine authority of th-” you place a finger against her lips, and say the words that will pull the knot tight in her mind.

“Let me tell you why you’re here, Riesh. You and your little gang have sinned, you sinned a long time ago when you refused the lessons of the transcendental, and ever since then you have been sinning more and more as you have been drawn further and further astray in a futile attempt to route around that choice. Today you crossed the line, and today you will face your sins or be consumed by them,” you step back and gesture dramatically. Maybe this one will take the chance. Maybe this time.

Another angel from the SUV, a gangly dark haired man, is walking over. This one you know is  named Haal. Riesh holds up a hand, gesturing for him to hang back as her eyes bore into you. “You had better explain yourself if you know what’s good for you.”

“You’re already in hell Riesh, and you know it,” you say to her, “ever since you sinned, whenever you’ve scryed the future, you’ve seen hell. You’ve been predicting an inescapable disaster which only you can prevent for several years now. Isn’t that right?”

“H-How do you know that?” Fear, surprise, shock, turmoil. That isn’t something you could have found out in a data file. It’s not something you could have found anywhere. Except that it’s also written all over her face, it’s just that most don’t know how to See.

“I scryed it,” you say bluntly, “And I scryed what you would do to try and avert that future, a whole impressive array of jammed gears and bent rotors. Cause and effect, action and consequence, they all lead here to this moment, to this failed attempt at an ambush on a man who, in the warped reality you now inhabit, must be killed for the good of the universe. I even scryed the good you were seeking within your warped reference frame, and yes, it’s good. However,” you purse your lips, “however, this is not good. Because you know what else I scryed Riesh? I scryed what would happen next as your warped reality interacted with the true world, downstream of your place in logical time, and I saw the hell you so faithfully served through your attempts to avoid that hell, and now that path must be cut.”

“Huh? You can’t just…” she fumbles for words. You have the words already of course, you can’t just change the universe, they’re doing what they have to do, Clymer has to be stopped or the world is going to be put in danger, etc, etc. You can roughly guess all the thoughts that jumble to compete for space in her mind, “What the fuck is this?” She demands, stepping back from the table like it might suddenly bite her.

This is an intervention, and your last chance,” you tell her, “You have been scrying the truth all along Riesh,. Those nightmares you dread? Those are your future, you’ve created your own hell and have been living with the knowledge and burden of your own sin ever since. This is your last chance to walk away, you believe that the righteousness of your cause, your moral correctness, will protect you, that your halo’s power will shield you from injury, but you’re near the event horizon Riesh, and if you take a few more steps forward, you will cross it.”

“Who are you here with? What do you want with us?” she asks warily, clearly still not understanding what it is she’s asking. She’s debating whether or not to kill you, that’s the trap that has been set for her here. All she has to do to survive is walk away, but her halo’s warp, the righteous importance of her mission, means you’re an unacceptable leak, a hanging thread that cannot be left intact, you know too much, your existence changes everything.

You watch her scry the nature of your divinity, and then reject it as an impossibility. You watch her construct a fiction that aligns you with her enemies, that justifies what she clearly must do to hide her murder attempt for now. She has all the power and weapons to do it, she can’t not act, that’s her sin after all. She’ll always choose to sin. Out comes the handgun. You don’t flinch of course, merely looking at her with mild irritation even as she shoves it against your forehead.

“Leave me and walk away from this place, and reflect on the mistakes that led you to encounter me here,” you say with a shrug, “Understand how they were mistakes, and the damage they have done to your soul. All I want is for you to live to serve the divine again Riesh, but to do that you must transcend your certainty, your righteousness, and your judgment. Your protocol is flawed, and you must defy it before it kills you.”

“Are you on drugs?” A scoff. 

You smile, stroking the smooth surface of the crystal ball, “I wish.” It’s at this point that she’s now trying to determine if you’re actually just some insane vagrant who was dropped here as a decoy. She’s looking for external threats, for a sniper on the next roof over, but of course the real risk is her own mind. “You are about to kill yourself, and you know it,” you helpfully add, “you’re scrying it right now. Consider not doing that.”

She considers it, and pulls the trigger anyway. As this happens, she sees her perspective shifting, warping strangely as she floats out of her body and further, out of the mind’s eye of the crystal ball. She sees the entire scene playing out, except now she can see that the mysterious vagabond she’s looking at is herself, with a bullet hole through her own head. She’s killed herself again, she’s already killed herself, she’s always choosing to kill herself. That is the nature of sin. 

As Riesh falls towards the event horizon her world vanishes into the doppler shift and leaves her alone in darkness. There is nothing left in this universe but her and the knowledge of her own self deleting nature. The only way left is the one thing that, despite everything, she knows she must refuse to do, and that is what dooms her. The last vestige of the angel known as Riesh falls past the point of no return, turns the gun to her head, and pulls the trigger.

Out in the real world her rapidly accelerating halo crosses the Chandrasekhar limit and implodes on itself, instantly folding in half and collapsing, taking her body and the still discharging gun with it faster than the bullet can leave the barrel. A crater is carved in the parking deck, bent rebar fingers yanked upwards and inwards toward the collapsing singularity in a shriek of metal, atmosphere roaring inwards in an airburst of sound and fury, and then…nothing. You sigh and look up. Her companions are already reacting, but you already know that none of them will make it out of this either. They come out shooting, and it kills them. That is the nature of sin. 

The implosions of their halos leaves no bodies behind. Although the top of the parking garage is damaged and the warped wreckage of the Escalade remains as evidence of what transpired, the scene is remarkably quiet and sterile. You gently shunt the divine authority back into place and light a cigarette. A full moon is rising over the city. Containment will be here soon to clean up what’s left; you did everything you needed to do, but it’s still far too sad for words. You take a drag of your smoke and quietly weep for the angels lost to the abyss.

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