Soulbent

// angels, hell, loss, death

By the time they called you in, the situation was already considered unsalvageable. Not even a longshot, they made it clear at the outset that this was one of the hopeless cases. That’s always been your specialty though, the hopeless cases. No one else is crazy enough to do what you do and they all know it. Maybe you’ll even manage to do the impossible again. No one really expects you to, but this is what you’re for. So maybe this time. Maybe. Maybe.

You spark up a cigarette and take in the room while the other angels onsite give you a look for violating the purity of the space. You ignore them entirely to focus on the task at hand: a young angel occupies the center of the living room, surrounded by magical equipment and first responders, fetally curled within the confines of a blazing magic circle. It’s an impressive feat of spellwork built from intricate fractals of wire and chain in a dozen and a half materials. The girl is plugged into it, with wires running out from loops on all her fingers to connect with the machines scattered at various nodes of the circle. Most concerningly however, is the visible warping of spacetime in the air above her, the red shifted imprint of an artificially generated singularity.

“How long has it been since she activated the circle?” you ask, gesturing with your lit cigarette, leaving trails of smoke and ash in the air. Within your mind’s eye, her halo is burning in hard x-ray, barely holding above the point of core collapse in an impressively pure act of selfless will. You can practically see the hope and despair competing for control of her mind. It’s like watching a nuclear reactor teetering on the edge of meltdown, equal parts horrific and fascinating.

“Three hours,” (hours!) one of the first responders tells you upon glancing at his watch, “but her waveguide return has been shortening since we found her, at current rate she’ll cross the gamma collapse threshold within the next two to three.” 

You nod, crouching beside the circle and peering at the young angel. Her face is twisted in a grimace, strained under the effort of maintaining her position above the abyss. As you make your observations, you watch the impossibly, supernaturally hard surface of her halo visibly ripple and deform under the extreme shear forces. She should already be dead and the fact that she’s not, the fact that she’s hanging there, just hanging. That means there’s a chance.

Your mind automatically supplies her name and the details of the dossier you speed read in the car over. This is Klass, 23, newly graduated and living with roommates, a brilliant angel and skilled mage, no prior history of possession or demonic activity. She’s been unresponsive since she activated the machine, and none of the other angels know what it is. Her housemates are confused and don’t know either, but you know, you knew exactly what the machine was as soon as you saw it. That’s how you know there might actually be a chance this time. You finish the cigarette and wish you had time for another but know you don’t.

“Alright, well, I’m going to go in and get her then,” you announce, putting out the cigarette on the heel of your boot and pocketing the butt. You’re already collecting stored spells and abstractions from your method of loci while the rest of the angels are still trying to determine if you really meant by that what you obviously did. Convenient, because it’ll make them too slow to stop you.

“Wait, you can’t seriously be planning to…” the first responder lets his words trail off into obviousness. Oh yeah, you definitely are. Astral fingers close on the command authority socket and you draw the divine down into you. That’s when the other angels realize that yes you are that stupid. You feel the warmth of your halo’s already redshifting light wash over you as you activate a stored spell and a class 3 reality anchor shrunks into existence. There’s no time for prayer or preparation so you’ll have to ad lib this one. Without hesitation, you reach out and breach the loop. 

“Hello what is protocol and have you heard of it?” the lead angel on duty shouts as you jankily hotwire the active circle, ignore her. Bypass the mainline, shunt it across your halo and close the loop. Her eyes widen in shock, “Mercury are you fucking insane?!” You know her name is Jai, but ignore that. Time to do the impossible.

“Yeah sure thing Becky, but also, be right back,” she’s swearing at you, starting in on a stream of invectives, but her words are lost to the doppler effect as you fall toward the abyss. The room vanishes into the void, the divinity of the other angels drifting ultraviolet as your halo goes infrared and keeps dropping. You spread your wings, and soar into darkness.

Freezing air whips past you, dragging your hair and clothes out behind you. You rotate in freefall, orienting your feet downwards, toes towards hell. Icy dark clouds whip past, turning to hoarfrost on your skin. The night sky crawls upwards toward a shining point of light that is all reality, while below, hell yawns open in perverse parody of a horizon. Lightyears of braided fate spool out behind you, anchored to the distant world above by your hasty spellwork. It’s inelegant but it’ll do the job, it’s already doing the job. Below you, twinkling in deep infrared, is the faintest sparkle of a fiercely blazing halo.

The shore of her small eternity rushes up abruptly to meet you, the sky lightening to daytime blue as you tumble through atmosphere. The air warms and grows thick, white clouds blast past, then trees and buildings are suddenly blurring by at a nearly ninety degree angle. You brace yourself, shunting stored divinity into an array of braking plates and reaching out to arrest your motion in an extremely crude lithobraking maneuver that takes you directly through three buildings before managing to carve enough of your deceleration into the world to zero your relative velocities.

The angel named Klass stares at you in shock, mouth agape as she looks up and down the skid mark your impossible entry into her reality has left. At least it was easy to find her, this close to the edge, her world barely exists outside of herself. Only her immediate surroundings retain substance against the crushing gravity. You dust yourself off and examine her.

Brown skin, dark utilitarian clothing, short curly dark hair probably hacked off in the kitchen by one of her roommates, kind, tired eyes, the brightest purest halo you’ve ever seen. You have to hold back a sob, there’s no time for that, you’re not letting this one die, you decide that right away.

“W-who are you?” She finally manages to ask as you climb out of the crater and onto the street, “how did you get in here?”

“I’m Mercury and this is an intervention,” you say too sharply, “you’re dying, your spell is killing you.”

Her face falls then catches itself, “No. No, this has to work, if you came here to rescue me, you have to help me make this work!” Before you have a chance to argue, she turns and runs into the version of her house that exists within this pocket reality. You groan and follow after her.

“Klass we don’t have time for this,” you say as you chase her into the living room, already knowing what you’re going to find there. Another copy of her body is lying within the circle, just as she is out in reality. Floating above her is the machine you knew you’d find yet dreaded seeing. The Divinity Inverter is impressive on its own, but the winch and anchor spells she’s made prove it undeniably. You groan, this just got so much more complicated.

The other Klass is rapidly typing on an interface she’s summoned, splashing the room with astral screens containing a complex set of field equations which you recognize by heart. Yeah of course it’s possible, you’re doing it right now, but this kid…you aren’t sure whether she needs praise or a smack upside the head. Too much like you, crazy and stupid.

You look at her and shake your head, “Who’s down there?” you ask, taking out a cigarette and using the opportunity to smoke, “Who are they to you, and what wavelength are they at?”

“1.4 nanometers,” you suppress the wince, “my partner went down to establish an anchor, but it’s an entire squadron, they didn’t fall into a halo warp, they were thrown down there during th–” you put a finger to her lips. You’ve heard enough, and yeah, you’re definitely stupid enough. Your third eye glances up to the virtual control panel where you’re flipping switches and activating emergency functions, ignore the timer. In the void above, parsecs of fate curl and unspool behind you. No time for prayer, just do it. You suck down the remainder of your cigarette and pocket the butt.

“Fine, I’ll go get them. You’re keeping this place here as a counterweight right? They’re falling inward and you’re at hard burn to keep them zeroed. You don’t have the power to drag them out that way, if you keep burning divinity there won’t be anything left of you when we get out of this place.” You activate a trio of spells which slot into the inverter, hijacking halo stream, along with a final spell which drapes a harness over Klass and latches the skyhook to her. You sense the power levels in the equipment fluctuating as the loop reroutes through your halo and a frisson shudder runs through you, but it holds. “I’m taking control of this op, I have the loop and I’m going in. If the equipment implodes you’ll be dragged out, no I am not giving you a choice in this and no you can’t help me with this part. You’ve done well Klass,” you fish out another smoke from your pack and shove it between her lips, “now take five before your heart explodes and be ready to grab them when I throw them at you.” 

Before she’ll have a chance to protest, you trigger the activation spell, dragging you backwards away from her world and into the roaring wind. You roll laterally, laughing and spreading your wings, spiraling upright and pointing your toes back towards hell. Defensive sigils in your back and wings glow a dull red, radiating off the friction burns in your hands as you ride Klass’s fate cable into the abyss.

Starlight fades into ultraviolet, the universe compacting into a shrinking circle above your head as the event horizon rises up to swallow more and more escape trajectories. You’re out on the edge, closer to hell than most angels could ever get and return. Not close enough yet. 

The darkened surface of the reality shard slams into you and emergency defenses spring into place as you’re pressed into the earth with enough force to make your knees ache despite the defensive spells. You roll upright before even registering the pain, there’ll be time for that later.

Observe the ruins of a city, overgrown with vegetation, lit by a predawn glow which flickers and fizzles with hawking radiation. Orient on the far end of the anchor point and the campsite around it which you landed inside. Decide that none of the thirty angels present at the site are a threat, act.

“Hi, I’m Mercury and this is an intervention,” probably too cheerful, but whatever, observe the small eternity, orient on the mass vector, decide it’s too big to reel in without destroying Klass’s rig and killing all of them, act.

“You’re here to rescue us?” the odd one out asks as you hastily adjust the settings on the winch. Gosh this is going to be an ugly kludge. Too little fate, too close to the edge, this is where angels falter, where their faith leads them astray. You’re in the realm of madness now, but this too is what you’re for.

“Yes,” you say, finalizing the spell and firing up the skycrank. The machine buckles and implodes instantly, the astral shrapnel warps and spaghettifies into skyward ribbons of metal and spellwork, relativistic trails twisting and braiding back together. It should hold. One more chance at fate. “And no,” you add as reality shudders and shifts around you, “For one, because Klass did most of the work here, and two because you’re not out yet and you still need to save yourselves.”

There’s still too much tension in the line and you know it, it’ll snap again as soon as it draws tight. The time remaining until that happens quietly ticks down in your HUD, and you know what you need to do. You knew this would be a one way trip going in after all. Equal and opposite reaction, some bullshit that is. You light another cigarette.

“What do we need to do?” One of the angels says, walking over to you. You scry him as the leader, and then quickly scry the rest. Yeah they should be able to handle this. You sigh out a cloud of smoke with a tired smile as you adjust the various timers on your HUD. This should actually work.

“Be ready to jump ship from this world when you reach Klass, your trajectories will drift too far apart otherwise and you’ll fall back into the abyss. It’s a leftwise anastep transit, make sure you get a good grip on her reality. She’ll be waiting for you. And Leer?” you say, scrying the shockingly pale angel with vivid green eyes to be Klass’s girlfriend, “Never dive again.”

“Huh?” She asks, going slightly crosseyed in confusion. You scowl, pulling a cigarette butt out of your pocket and staring at it accusatorially. “Why not?” she’s innocently asking you, “cause it seems like I’m a pretty good fit for it if I had the purity of soul to come down here without getting slurped up. If I can help, why shouldn’t I? I am an angel too, you know.”

No, you won’t let that happen. You shove the faintly smoking butt back in your coat, take a long huff of the cigarette still between your teeth, and lock eyes with her.

“Don’t turn Klass into what I’ve had to become. Never dive again. Ever. You’re not the right sort of angel for this sort of thing. If you never listen to any advice for the rest of your life then listen to this.” It’s futile, you already know how her story ends, even if it won’t be here today. Sigh, “and kiss her while you have the chance.” You take out a fresh cigarette from your pack, light it, and hand it to her, wordlessly. With that you turn and walk downwards, willing the ruins of a basement stairwell to exist where you need them to be, spiraling into the roots of this crumbling splinter of reality.

Okay, one more impossible thing to cap off the day. You start preparing a spell. It’ll be simple, a kinetic kick with enough soul mass energy to put this little worldlet on a ballistic trajectory that collides with Klass’s little world, at which point the last countdown will finish right on schedule to pull everyone back up to safety. Except for you that is, because you’ll be supplying the kinetic kick and will thus will end up on the opposite vector with no tether and no more tricks up your sleeve. Sigh, put out the third smoke on the cavelike wall and shove it into your pocket. Time to die again. This time, you take a moment to pray, you at least have the slack left for that. 

Breathe in and breathe out. Observe the underside of the world, a lightless crevasse of half real stone and rebar. Scry out further, not so far beneath that is the unmarked line beyond which nothing can return. Orient on the truncated stairwell that gives way to nothingness, you should be able to brace the spellwork against it. Decide that there’s no sense in dragging it out. Act.

You rip out the holds on your spell, kinetic energy is transferred, and your fingers paint a rocket nozzle of divine energy into the bottom of the worldlet as the force you transferred to activate the spell propels you downwards away from reality. Breathe in and breathe out. The universe shines down above you in a brilliant point of hard blue light as the abyss rises up on all sides. Let your body go slack, there hasn’t been fear left in you for a long time and it’ll be a long gentle ride into the empty madness of the boltzmann abyss. Close your eyes and let eternity pass through you. If you calculated your trajectory right it should only take a few infinities to reach her. Your halo dips through terahertz and into the long radio wavelengths, the spark of light above grows dull and red as you fall towards the point of no return. 

Some say that you can hear the souls of the dead screaming for salvation from within the slender hairs of hawking radiation that exist in the exotic places at the edge of the abyss, but you always hated those sorts of sayings. Who was it that killed them then? Who killed the universe?

The simple truth was that if everyone sinned a little, but not enough to hurt them personally in the short term, that passed down sin would alter the trajectory of the universe in the long term. The outflow of all that temporally laundered sin had to end up somewhere, buried deep in untime, in an eternity of tortured flickering boltzmann minds abandoned to the abyss by a self devouring dead god, that’s the somewhere.

It’s easy enough to scry into hell after all, all you have to do is contribute to it a little, and that’s something nearly everyone does. Of course, scrying into hell and understanding your complicity in it isn’t something most angels can do, and so they spiral on elaborate avoidance mechanisms which ultimately hasten their journey to hell. Is that what you’re doing now? You chuckle, watching the timers tick down until the various phases of your plan complete. Maybe you are. Maybe.  Although optical distortion is extreme at the magnifications now required, you can make out the perfectly timed cut off of your improvised rocket.

In cases where you think an angel can handle the knowledge, you’ll admit to them that everyone ends up in hell eventually and there’s no use in trying to personally avoid some sort of made up quantum culpability. They should instead be working to prevent it altogether and save all the souls lost to the abyss. To do less would be to compromise with hell, and as long as a single soul exists to feed it, hell will persist. So no, you won’t ever compromise, you won’t ever cease your struggle, you’ll fight until every soul is liberated and the abyss crumbles beneath the joyous birth of an extropian eternity.

Your heels slam into the event horizon in a crunch of splintered glass. Cracks spiderweb outward in all directions but the crater your feet left is already perfectly smooth again. The scars of your impact heal nearly as fast as they were made. You brush yourself off and look down through the impossible surface. In some wavelengths, it’s perfectly reflective, and you see yourself staring back at you from below, but in other wavelengths…you fish into your pocket and take out three cigarette butts. 

“Hey Maia,” you say to the ghost of the girl you loved and hated.

Below the mirrored time horizon, Maia waves up to you, still wearing the same stupid knowing grin she had the day you lost her. It’s infuriating, really. Her shattered halo shines in unreal colors and exotic particles as the fractured pieces chase their original orbit around and around above her head. “Did you bring me any cigarettes?” She asks you cheerfully.

“Just three,” you tell her, letting the butts fall away from you. They tumble past your feet, across the horizon, and rise into her outstretched fingers unsmoked and perfectly intact, “sorry, I was in a bit of a hurry.”

“Tsk, three? I know you can kill yourself faster than that,” she teases.

“I’m killing myself right now,” you quip back.

“No, you aren’t,” she says, smiling sadly, lighting one of the smokes. “This isn’t your hell, this is just a dream, your hell is up there,” she gestures past you towards the invisible place where reality theoretically still exists along inaccessible untime pathways into an infinitely receding past. She’s right of course, and frustratingly as usual. You watch her smoke, willing the glass wall to shatter under your glare. Someday it will. Someday.

“Keep them safe for me,” you tell her at last, “the ones I couldn’t get to.”

“That’s what I’m for,” Maia replies, sucking down a final drag of her smoke, “I’ll be here waiting for you, I’ll wait for all eternity if I have to.” She drops the butt, which falls back across the horizon and returns to you unsmoked but already burning. You’re almost out of time, there’s never enough to say everything that needs to be said.

“You fucking better be bitch.”

“Keep the rest of them safe for me,” she tells you, “and have a little faith, that’s supposed to be your thing right?”

“That’s what I’m for,” you say with a tired sigh, “I miss you Maia, it’s been hard lately.”

“You’ll get through it, you always do, and I’ll be here when you do,” her words are soft and reverent, she won’t let you see her cry, “I love you Mercury.”

“I love you t–”

The moment of resonance arrives and your soul folds over itself as the dream comes to an end. The reflection harmonizes and you fall across the collapsing singularity, all the energy gained falling inwards perfectly reflected, carrying you up and away from the event horizon and back out into the cold hard world of asses and elbows. The sun is rising over the dead future, scattered radiation shimmering in noctilucent fractals as you rise like a missile from the surface of the abyss.

Another impossible feat to add to your tally, and all it cost you was a bit of sanity, the love of your life, and the sanctity of your immortal soul. That’s what makes you an angel, and one day it will destroy you. Unless you do the impossible and destroy it first. But then, what’s one large impossible feat but a bunch of smaller impossible feats? You’ll figure it out someday, you have all of eternity after all. For now, you warm your frosted wings in the sunlight and let yourself enjoy the small win.

The wind whistles in your ears as you soar upwards among bright fluffy clouds of stray probability. The unreal sun tracks slowly across piercing blue skies as you gently fall out of the dream and back into your own hell, where thirty angels have suddenly been summoned from a magical crevasse into a suburban living room and you desperately need another cigarette.

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