There's a blinding flash behind us and then an explosion that knocks us both off our feet. The souls blow away like bodies in a nuclear blast but Nick and I slam into the cobblestones. The buildings around us start shedding bricks, pieces of wood, and glass. Nick throws himself over me, attempting to shield me from the falling debris. We can hear the shouting of the souls and demons alike, then the wrenching sounds of demons wailing fill the air.
“She's here!” I shout at Nick, whose warm body covers me, “Nick, get up! We have to leave!”
Nick does not move. I push at him and then extract myself from underneath him. With effort I roll him over. He still alive, thank God, but unconscious. I shake him.
“Nick, wake up. Please!” A panic is filling me. I don't know what I'm going to do if he's seriously injured. The screams get louder. “Nick!” He does not stir and I look behind me. A roaring wave of demons and souls are running to get away from her. She'll be here in a moment. With difficultly, I remove Nick's sword, remove the ingot, and slip it into his pocket. I stretch out my hand, willing for the infirmary in my Library. The reassuring blue door appears and I push the door open, and drag Nick through. I look quickly around and my Library staff is running towards me.
“Take care of him. I have to go!” They grab him and I run back through the blue door, shoving two souls away who trying to scramble through. Then I'm back in the middle of the blown up street. The Stranger is standing in front of me. She makes no move to get through the door. I glance back to ensure the blue door is fading away. I unsheathe the sword and stand facing her.
***There is no battle. Not this time.
Instead, she moves towards me with supernatural speed and grabs my arm. I raise the sword and the blade slices through it, the flesh parting with no effort at all. Her severed arm clenches tightly to my forearm. I see her stretch out her hand, the blue door shimmering into view, then she uses her other hand to grab my wrist and shoves her way through the blue door, pulling me after her. The sulfuric smell of Dis is whooshed away like a blast of the freshest sea breeze when the door slams shut after us. She drops my wrist and I fall to my knees into soft pure white sand.
I grab at her other severed arm and extract it with difficulty. She stands a few a feet from me, keeping her distance. I throw the arm at her. She picks it up and shoves the arm back into the sleeve of her robe. There's a squelching sound and she opens and closes the previously severed hand. I don't take my eyes off her. I stand up very slowly in the sand, a little unsteady. The sky is a stunning summer blue, the clouds are puffy white perfection. The roar of the sea waves are melodious music. Tears come to my eyes because of the magnificent light and I wish for my trusty Raybans as I squint. She backs up slowly a few more feet and then puts her emaciated hands to her hood and pulls it away. The entire robe falls away like cherry blossom petals falling to the ground. The Stranger is unveiled to reveal...an angel. She looks a lot like me but an impossibly perfect version of me. Her eyes are dark green, her hair shiny pitch black.
I take a step back and stumble, a rush of awed emotion flooding me. I fall to the sand, my eyes tearing up at her angelic presence. I feel a bittersweet sting in my heart, an ancient ache, that seems to rise up from an unknown place.
“Surprised?” she asks me. Her voice is gorgeous. I think with envy that her singing voice must be beautiful.
“A little,” I say my hand in the sand. The sand feels perfect, silky. I squeeze some of it. The grains slide through my fingers and a warm feeling of satisfaction flows through me. I could squeeze the sand for hours, it feels so good.
“Come on. We need to talk,” she says and I follow her up the beach towards a shimmering staircase in the side of the white cliffs in front of us. I look down at the worn steps and I'm amused that the steps are made of worn gold in need of polishing. We get to the top of the cliffs and I look around in awe.
Spread out in front of us is a magnificent plain. The light is full of a unearthly grace. The most glorious city is stretched out in front of us. High above the city is a perfect shimmering White Tower. The Stranger bows to it. I don't. We can't see the top of the Tower, it's covered with clouds. I can hear the dulcet tones of beautiful voices and a marvelous music can just be heard.
She directs me along the cliff path. I see the most magnificent birds flying overhead then I realize they are angels. No seagulls. No pelicans. I frown a little.
“How do you like Heaven?” she asks. The warm sea breeze blows through her beautiful black hair, lifting strands here and there.
“It's pretty but that's all it is. You got a name?” I say, feeling my stubbornness rise up in me like a security blanket. I look around some more, feeling annoyed. “Where are all the animals?”
“My name is Ravelle. No natural habitats here, Miss Turtle. We have a magnificent zoo, though.” The perfect sea breeze smells sweetly fragrant.
I grit my teeth, resolving that the all the animals in captivity in my world will be set free to roam as they please, including all those in the aquarium.
“Man was made to rule over the animals. Since we rule over man it makes sense that all the animals be in a zoo," she says. I keep looking at her. I tell myself that it's because I need to keep an eye on her all the time but it's also because I can't help looking at her, I want to look at her.
“You make me sick,” I say. She glances quickly at me, obviously surprised at my anger. I feel it settling into my bones, spreading out. I take a deep breath, letting the anger ground me as it never has before.
We are walking along the path and the beach narrows steadily until there's nothing but the lapping sea against the rocks. The walk reminds me of the most perfect version of Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz. In the place were the pelicans would be hanging out there are none. The water is mostly crystal clear below us but I can see there are some deeper places too. She is still keeping a respectful distance.
“The Boss wanted me to send you a message, Miss Turtle. He's most unhappy with you,” she says.
“Where's April?” I ask, ignoring her statement. I have to consciously unclench my jaw.
“She's safe,” she says, the sea breeze flutters her glowing white robes. I put my hand on the sword. I don't care about their damn rules and regulations.
She glances at my hand. “No need to do that, Miss Turtle. We could have disarmed you when you arrived but we decided to make a good faith effort with these negotiations,” she kicks a perfect rock in the middle of the path. The rock rolls off the cliff and lands in the sea with a beautiful plop. She still looks serene but something about that little gesture bothers me.
“The Boss, he doesn't like the world you've made so he sent me to make an example of you," she says, not looking at me.
“For whom? For whom am I being made an example of?”
“Everyone,” she says, still not looking at me. She's looking at the ground. She is so beautiful that it makes me hurt to look at her. My anger is swelling like a rising tide.
“The Boss is going to destroy your little world as punishment,” she says. Her voice sounds a little faraway, sing-song even.
“Why? You're not making any sense!” I've stopped and am looking at her but she seems to getting a little weary.
“For everything. You can't just do what you want like that," she says, I watch her more closely and it's like she's a wind up toy slowly winding down with her slightly fading voice and weary walk.
“Why not? This is my world. It has its own logic, history, everything. I created it!”
“He doesn't like it,” she says. She hasn't looked at me in a few minutes and I sense...sadness? The white cliffs are sloping upwards now. I glance down at the beautiful sea again as we start to climb up the path.
“He doesn't like the sword. None of you do,” I say. She turns her stunning eyes towards me.
“Of course, we don't. It's goes against everything that is holy. It's a terrible weapon and you know it. It's not sanctioned, Miss Turtle.”
“But machine guns and nuclear weapons are sanctioned. You just don't like it because it can destroy you too. It's high time that your lot got a taste of the fear of death or oblivion,” I kick a perfect rock into the sea, mimicking her. It seems to take forever to land with another perfect plop.
“It's not just death, Miss Turtle. It's total obliteration. Even the particles will be destroyed. Can't you see? Not even those particles can be recycled. They simply cease to exist!” her shimmering eyes are wide with fear.
“Precisely. Your lot needs to take your place among all the other creatures and learn what it's like to be afraid like that,” I say, surprised at my cold voice.
“Miss Turtle, if you don't take me to that sword I'll systematically dismantle your entire world. It's been sanctioned and ordered by the Boss himself. I have been given all the full permissions,” her voice has risen a little, "If you give me the sword willingly, we can all go home and leave each other in peace." We have stopped walking and are facing each other. She is standing up straight and perfect, no trace of weariness now.
“Where's Mr. Gryphon's head?” I say, ignoring her threat.
She smiles beautifully. “The Boss said he would be your weak spot. We have it in a safe place. Take me to the sword, Miss Turtle. The Boss wanted me to bring you these terms as an attempt to resolve this situation peacefully,” she says. She opens her wings now and they fly out from her shoulders like perfect snowy blasts. She reminds me of how Mr. Gryphon opens his wings when he's alarmed or angry.
“Fuck your sanctions and terms. Fuck you, Ravelle,” I say. In one quick motion I unsheathe Nick's sword and cut off her head. Before her body can collapse I slice her body in half at the midsection then I kick the lower half of her body into the sea. Her head has rolled into the soft sand on the side of the path. She is moving her mouth at me but her vocal cords have been severed so I can't hear anything but a gurgling. Her headless torso is crawling towards me. I shove the sword into her chest, her torso lurching. The sound of bones crunching and squelching of tissue makes me sick. I step back, knowing I have no time. I don't feel bad. She doesn't feel pain nor does she bleed. I only did it to buy a little time.
The wound in her chest is already starting to heal. I throw myself off the cliff into the blue sea. I splash down and the water is warm and wonderful. The exhilarating feeling of being healed and purified fills my every pore. I gulp down some water so it gets into my body, then as I swim I suck down some water into my lungs. My body tries to choke but then settles, letting the water flow into my lungs.
I have little time to disappear and so I swim downwards towards the lower depths. I know I can't last long. Maybe I'll drown and die like I did in my last story. I feel a pang of sadness as I think of Mr. Gryphon but I push the thought away. I'll grieve over him when I'm not trying to escape the clutches of Heaven.
The water is getting darker and I swim towards the rocky white cliffs. I stretch out my hand. I need to go back to Dis. The blue door materializes in front of me. I grab the knob and push my way through along with a great deal of sea water. I stumble back to the place on the broken boulevard, Heaven's seawater gushing into the streets. I'm choking, the water being expelled from my lungs but I need to do something about water filling the streets. I try to throw my weight on the door but the water pressure is too much. Still coughing I stand back and will the door to disappear. Nothing happens. I'm feeling fairly alarmed now. With a leak that large they'll know exactly where I've gone, not that it wasn't already obvious before.
The water is sparkling and glowing in the dark light. Souls and demons are all staring at it, transfixed. I can't do anything about it now so I run down the broken street towards the black stone arch in front of me. The traffic has stopped and all the windows are blown out in the cars and buildings from the earlier blast. Glass is being carried away along the flowing water. The demons are getting out of my way as they run past me towards the gushing blue door.
More shouts behind me now. I glance back and see souls are jumping in the water and becoming whole. They whoop in delight. I also see that angels are coming through the open door, drenched but still beautiful. I move on and allow myself to be swallowed up by the throng. I cross under the black arch. I can smell the old burnt bricks.
I keep walking, having decided that running will only draw more attention to myself. Heaven's sea water with those strange cleansing properties is flowing on the cobblestone, filling the cracks. It's running down the middle of the street ahead of me. I keep walking, drenched, leaving the sounds of shouting angels and demons behind me.