From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: OverShadowed Earth by Seraphic Flame (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: One Step Forward by Seraphic Flame (Wednesday, April 18, 2007)

(posted Monday, April 16, 2007)

Sunt lacrimae rerum.--"There are tears for things."--Chapter 11

John's mind was racing. He was flying fast and high, speeding towards his destination. He'd just finished a talk with Garent, which had revealed a blindingly simple solution which he hadn't considered for some damned reason. John's connection to Sera and the children had been severed, or dampened somehow. He couldn't sense them, nor reach out to them. If they were dead...then, in that case, John should have been, or should have been given the option to be, as well. That was the nature of his bond with Sera; their lives were tied, their energies quite literally mingled. It had been Sera's will that she not outlive him; it had troubled him, but she was so adamant about it that it had been clear that whether he liked it or not, this was how it was going to be. Sera did not get that stubborn very often, but when she did, there was no moving her. The point was, he wasn't dead, which meant there was still a chance that they were alive. John didn't fully understand the connection between himself and Sera, even though it was as very much a part of his being as his body or his mind were. And though he didn't understand it, he did know where it came from, and where he'd be able to find people that did understand what had happened. People--well, Beings, anyway. The Heart of All Time. If there were a place that was supposed to be Heaven, or at least one of the Heavens, this was the closest thing John had ever seen to it. It was Sera's Home, from before. It was where she had found John again after his merger, and where they'd both become whole again.

John wove past a cell phone tower, and he saw it; home, their apartment in Atlas Park. He hadn't been back there except for once since the incident. He'd been keeping himself busy, organizing things, planning contingencies, doing everything in his power to find out what had happened to his family, how to get them back, and how to get back at the person that had done this to them. A frenetic slideshow of images flashed through his mind, all of them of Sera and the kids. He couldn't be distracted by it all now; he had something that he needed to do. The time when he'd need to focus on those memories and images would be coming soon, but right now he had to get home. The only member of the family not gone was Shuma, in China, visiting with her blood family, taking care of what she had cryptically called "entanglings." He was grateful. Grateful that she at least was safe, and grateful that she did not know about this yet. She would have been one of two things; falling apart, or trying to be too strong and too helpful and cracking. He could afford neither. John touched down on the roof of the penthouse apartment once owned by Zach, and now by the CCCP, already running as he did so. He was through the roof access and down the stairwell in no time. He needed to be home for this, in the shields and calming influences Mandy and Vickie had set up around the place.

Slamming and locking the door behind him, John was finally...home. It wasn't a Home right now; even with Caradoc, Chris, and Sean still in residence and around to inhabit it during their odd schedules. It wasn't right. Sera gave the place a feeling of tranquility that was completely missing. The sounds weren't right; no classical music from Astra's room at one end of the place, no metal from Ratt's and Aedan's rooms. There wasn't anyone raiding the fridge, or yelling "MA! Can I call for pizza?" The physical didn't matter. It had never mattered. His family is what made any place a Home. They could all have been sharing a one-room mud-hut or a cellar, and that would have been Home.

Being here, with everything comforting missing, pained him deeply. But he needed to be here, to be around everything that reminded him of his family. He needed it to help him get to where he was really going. Almost ripping off his cape and customary scarf, John knelt down in "Sera's garden," the area of plantings in the center of the apartment's living room that he had created for her, managing to transplant entire trees successfully to give her a tiny, quiet Eden. This was where they always brought their most trusted visitors, where family conferences took place--in fact, this was the heart of their home. John slowed his breathing, which had been thready and quickened since he'd realized his negligence in not thinking of this solution. He found his center, and then started to slow his other body functions. His heartbeat, his metabolic rate, all the little twitches and twinges his addled nerves tried to give him. He shut all that out, calmed it all, put it behind him. He was ready. He stretched out his perception, and "touched" a point in the back of his being. Sera always thought of herself as an arrow, making for that target; to him, it seemed as if he was a swimmer, poised up above endless waters, unfathomable, deep as infinity. He steadied himself, and leapt. Diving towards that target, that single point of access between physical consciousness and something much, much more, John was enveloped in darkness, then, much more swiftly than he had ever made that journey before, overwhelming light.

John's form in this place didn't correspond with his material self. Here, he was more than just his body. His form was made up of his emotions, his thoughts, his intentions. Right now, he "looked" like a vaguely human shape of blue-white light, but it was shot through with electric sparks of angry red, and swirled with the acid yellow of worry and the eye-hurting purple of pain. All around him was a symphony of light and the Song; substance of existence and language of the denizens of the Heart of All Time. And nearest to him, he heard the Song take on the coloring of grief. "Turning" where he was, John came to face Michael Azir, Archangel and Guardian of the entire human race; the being who had given Sera the way and the right to bring John back from the "dead" after his fusion and transformation into Blaze Phoenyx. Something which...was not "supposed" to happen. Something only an Archangel could have allowed to happen, and then only with the consent of the Infinite. The creation of a divine loophole, so to speak. Azir emanated such raw power, that it almost radiated from him visibly. John doubted that few beings in the entire multiverse had ever been around something so godly frightening---awesome and horrifying at the same time. Just being in the same "space" with Michael Azir made a person feel like an ant in the presence of an Eagle.

< You knew I was coming, didn't you? > You didn't really speak in this place, so much as will your thoughts into coherence. It was a little like Kheldian telepathy, or the "family channel" communications, but...clearer. More precise. And holding all the overtones and undertones of whatever emotions you were feeling.

< It was inevitable, > Azir replied, and with the thought came the sense that he was holding ninety nine percent of himself back, and still the reply was powerful and portentous.

< Then you already know what I'm here to ask about. You know what's happened, and what I've tried to do about it. > John "paused" for what counted as a few moments, allowing his meanings to sink in. < Why can't I feel them? Are they dead? And if not, what can I do to get them back? > Barely restrained fear and worry were inflected into his reply. It was with a great exercise of willpower that John kept himself from "shouting" everything in one big rush, spilling it all out into the open.

John had the sense that the universe was holding its breath. Then Azir replied. < We...do not know. They are lost to us as well. > A pause. < I am sorry. >

Utter disbelief wracked John. < You're...sorry? What do you mean, you don't know? What does that mean? > This was an Archangel, a dweller here. How could he not know, here in the place where everything had its center? John remembered how Sera had been, before she had become a mortal for his sake. She had been able to see and know everything, past, present and futures. How could an Archangel not know where the family was?

< I am not the Infinite, > the reply came humbly. < There are things withheld from me. We, Sera's siblings, cannot see her, cannot hear her. We do not know where she is, nor your children. > Another pause. < It is not permitted to me to disclose the threads of the futures. >

John had prepared himself for news that his family was dead, or that he'd have to fight through all of the possible Hells ever in existence to see them again. He was prepared to give all of himself, his life and everything that mattered, in order to see them for just a short while. He was not prepared, however, for this. Before he could curb his own thoughts, they coalesced and projected. < That's bullshit.> He had the sense that he should have been struck dead right there, but wasn't.

Azir's own energies swirled with a kaleidoscope of emotions. Again, John had the sense that Azir was holding back ninety-nine percent of himself...and what he was showing was still too complicated to read. < There are...limitations. The world of the spirit is not bound by the same laws of the physical world. While they are...in the physical world...only the Infinite can-- >

< How can you be so obtuse! "Limitations"? She was one of your own! How can you just let this happen, keep information from me---I can do something! I can help them, if I just know how, damnit! > John's form vibrated, tinged with the black and red hues of anger and frustration.

< The present is withheld from me. >

< That's a damned lie! You know something, and you won't tell me! > John's form coiled upon itself, building up and magnifying. The Song responded to and reflected his emotions, his passion, his anguish.

< It is not permitted to me to reveal the threads of the futures. >

< To hell with all of that, with all of your rules! This isn't a goddamned game; this is my family! They aren't chess pieces, they're my wife and children! You---you...can't...do this! > He raged, almost surging forward at Azir. < If you won't help me, then to hell with you too! > John blasted "away" from Azir, away from the Heart of All Time and the Song that made his own soul ache with longing for his family and Sera. He blurred back into consciousness, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat. Everything was darkened for him. He didn't know what to do, now. John was right back where he had started, grasping at straws and trying to make sense of something that made no damned sense at all. For a long time, he simply lay there, trying to keep himself from shaking too badly.

John was right. Sera and the children were not chess pieces, but neither were they angels. In whatever bastion of the Fallen they were held, they were mortal and must exercise their Free Will, and Azir could only hope that the best of the futures that he saw would be the one they won clear to. As must John exercise his Free Will, in spite of pain, grief, despair. Nor could any angel, Seraphim, or Archangel, interfere.

In the Heart of All Time, the Archangel Michael Azir wept with compassion and frustration, and not for the first time, he understood why the Morningstar had Fallen.