Passion, страница 29часть #3 серии Fallen
Somehow, it always took both of them by surprise.
As her past selfs body erupted into flames, there was a sound of cannon fire, but Luce couldnt be sure. Her eyes went blurry with brightness and she was cast far up and out of Lucindas body, into the air, into darkness.
No! she cried as the walls of the Announcer closed around her. Too late.
Whats the problem now? Bill asked.
I wasnt ready. I know Lucinda had to die, but I--I was just-- Shed been on the brink of understanding something about the choice shed made to love Daniel. And now everything about those last moments with Daniel had gone up in flames along with her past self.
Well, theres not much more to see, Bill said. Just the usual routine of a building catching fire-- smoke, walls of flame, people screaming and stampeding toward the exits, trampling the less fortunate underfoot--you get the picture. The Globe burned to the ground.
"What?" she said, feeling sick. I started the fire at the Globe? Surely burning down the most famous theater in English history would have repercussions across time.
Oh, dont get all self-important. It was going to happen anyway. If you hadnt burst into flames, the cannon onstage would have misfired and taken the whole place out.
This is so much bigger than me and Daniel. All those people--
Look, Mother Teresa, no one died that night . . . besides you. No one else even got hurt. Remember that drunk leering at you from the third row? His pants catch on fire. Thats the worst of it. Feel better?
Not really. Not at all.
How about this: Youre not here to add to your mountain of guilt. Or to change the past. Theres a script, and you have your entrances and your exits.
I wasnt ready for my exit.
Why not? Henry the Eighth sucks, anyway.
I wanted to give Daniel hope. I wanted him to know that I would always choose him, always love him. But Lucinda died before I could be sure he understood. She closed her eyes. His half of our curse is so much worse than mine.
Thats good, Luce!
What do you mean? Thats horrible!
I mean that little gem--that ,,Wah, Daniels agony is infinitely more horrible than mine--thats what you learned here. The more you understand, the closer youll get to knowing the root of the curse, and the more likely it is that youll eventually find your way out of it. Right?
I--I dont know.
I do. Now come on, youve got bigger roles to play. Daniels side of the curse was worse. Luce could see that now very clearly. But what did it mean? She didnt feel any closer to being able to break it. The answer eluded her. But she knew Bill was right about one thing: She could do nothing more in this lifetime. All she could do was keep going back.
THE STEEP SLOPE
CENTRAL GREENLAND WINTER, 1100
The sky was black when Daniel stepped through. Behind him, the portal billowed in the wind like a tattered curtain, snagging and tearing itself apart before falling to pieces on the night-blue snow.
A chill crept over his body. At first sight, there seemed to be nothing here at all. Nothing but arctic nights that seemed to go on forever, offering only the thinnest glimpse of day at the end.
He remembered now: These fjords were the place where he and his fellow fallen angels held their meetings: all bleak dimness and harsh cold, a two days trek north of the mortal settlement of Brattahl??. But he would not find her here. This land had never been a part of Lucindas past, so there would be nothing in her Announcers to bring her here now.
Just Daniel. And the others.
He shivered and marched across the snow-swept fjord toward a warm glow on the horizon. Seven of them were gathered around the bright-orange fire. From a distance, the circle of their wings looked like a giant halo on the snow. Daniel didnt have to count their shining outlines to know they were all there.
None of them noticed him crossing the snow toward their assembly. They always kept a single starshot on hand just in case, but the idea of an uninvited visitor happening upon their council was so implausible it was not even a real threat. Besides, they were too busy bickering among themselves to detect the Anachronism crouching behind a frozen boulder, eavesdropping.
This was a waste of time. Gabbes voice was the first one Daniel could make out. Were not going to get anywhere.
Gabbes patience could be a short-fused thing. At the start of the war, her rebellion had lasted a split second compared to Daniels. Ever since then, her commitment to her side had run deep. She was back in the Graces of Heaven, and Daniels hesitation went against everything she believed in. As she paced the perimeter of the fire, the tips of her huge feathered white wings dragged in the snow behind her.
Youre the one who called this meeting, a low voice reminded her. Now you want to adjourn? Roland was seated on a short black log a few feet in front of where Daniel crouched behind a boulder. Rolands hair was long and unkempt. His dark profile and his marbled gold-black wings glittered like embers in the dusk of a fire. It was all just as Daniel remembered.
The meeting I called was for them. Gabbe stopped pacing and tossed her wing to point at the two angels sitting next to each other across the fire from Roland.
Arrianes slender iridescent wings were still for once, rising high above her shoulder blades. Their shimmer looked almost phosphorescent in the colorless night, but everything else about Arriane, from her short black bob to her pale, drawn lips, looked harrowingly somber and sedate.
The angel beside Arriane was quieter than usual, too. Annabelle stared blankly into the far reaches of the night. Her wings were dark silver, almost pewter-colored. They were broad and muscular, stretching around her and Arriane in a wide, protective arc. It had been a long time since Daniel had seen her.
Gabbe came to a stop behind Arriane and Annabelle and stood facing the other side: Roland, Molly, and Cam, who were sharing a coarse fur blanket. It was draped over their wings. Unlike the angels on the other side of the fire, the demons were shivering.
We didnt expect your side tonight, Gabbe told them, nor are we happy to see you.
We have a stake in this, too, Molly said roughly.
Not in the same way we do, Arriane said. Daniel will never join you.
If Daniel hadnt recalled where hed sat at this meeting over a thousand years before, he might have overlooked his earlier self entirely. That earlier self was sitting alone, in the center of the group, directly on the other side of the boulder. Behind the rock, Daniel shifted to get a better view.
His earlier selfs wings bloomed out behind him, great white sails as still as the night. As the others talked about him as if he werent there, Daniel behaved as if he were alone in the world. He tossed fistfuls of snow into the fire, watching the frozen clumps hiss and dissolve into steam.
Oh, really? Molly said. Care to explain why hes inching closer to our side every lifetime? That little cursing-God bit he does whenever Luce explodes? I doubt it goes over so well upstairs.
Hes in agony! Annabelle shouted at Molly. You wouldnt understand because you dont know how to love. She scooted nearer to Daniel, the tips of her wings dragging in the snow, and addressed him directly. Those are just temporary blips. We all know your soul is pure. If you wanted to at last choose a side, to choose us, Daniel--if at any moment--
The clean finality of the word pushed Annabelle away as quickly as if Daniel had drawn a weapon. Daniels earlier self would not look at any of them. And behind the boulder, watching them, Daniel remembered what had happened during this council, and shuddered at the forbidden horror of the memory.
If you wont join them, Roland said to Daniel, why not join us? From what I can tell, there is no worse Hell than what you put yourself through every time you lose her.
Oh, cheap shot, Roland! Arriane said. You dont even mean that. You cant believe-- She wrung her hands. Youre only saying that to provoke me.
Behind Arriane, Ga
Spare us the preaching, will ya? Molly said. Theres a choir up there that might be interested in your brainwashing, but Im not, and I dont think Daniel is, either.
The angels and demons all turned to stare at him together, as if they were still part of the host. Seven pairs of wings casting a glowing aura of silver-gold light. Seven souls he knew as well as his own.
Even behind his boulder, Daniel felt suffocated. He remembered this moment: They demanded so much of him. When he was so weakened by his broken heart. He felt the assault of Gabbes plea for him to join with Heaven all over again. Rolands, too, to join with Hell. Daniel felt again the shape of the one word he had spoken at the meeting, like a strange ghost in his mouth: No.
Slowly, with a sick feeling creeping over him, Daniel remembered one more thing: That no? He hadnt meant it. In that moment, Daniel had been on the verge of saying yes.
This was the night hed almost given up.
Now his shoulders burned. The sudden urge to let his wings out almost brought him to his knees. His insides roiled with shame-filled horror. It was rising in him, the temptation hed fought so long to repress.
In the circle around the fire, Daniels past self looked at Cam. Youre unusually quiet tonight.
Cam didnt answer right away. What would you have me say?
You faced this problem once. You know--
"And what would you have me say?"
Daniel sucked in his breath. Something charming and persuasive.
Annabelle snorted. Or something underhanded and absolutely evil.
Everyone waited. Daniel wanted to burst forth from behind the rock, to rip his past self away from here. But he couldnt. His Announcer had brought him here for a reason. He had to go through the whole thing again.
Youre trapped, Cam said at last. You think because there was once a beginning, and because youre somewhere in the middle now, that there is going to be an end. But our world isnt rooted in teleology. Its chaos.
Our world is not the same as yours-- Gabbe started to say.
Theres no way out of this cycle, Daniel, Cam went on. She cant break it, and neither can you. Pick Heaven, pick Hell, I dont really care and you dont, either. It wont make any difference--
Enough. Gabbes voice was breaking. It will make a difference. If Daniel comes home to the place he belongs, then Lucinda . . . then Lucinda--
But she couldnt go on. The words were blasphemy to speak, and Gabbe wouldnt do it. She fell to her knees in the snow.
Behind the rock, Daniel watched his earlier self extend a hand to Gabbe and raise her from the ground. He watched it play out before his eyes now, just as he remembered:
He gazed into her soul and saw how brightly it burned. He glanced back and saw the others--Cam and Roland, Arriane and Annabelle, even Molly--and he thought about how long hed dragged the whole lot of them through his epic tragedy.
And for what?
Lucinda. And the choice the two of them had made long ago--and over and over again: to put their love above everything else.
That night on the fjords, her soul was between incarnations, newly purged from her last body. What if he stopped seeking her out? Daniel was tired to his core. He didnt know if he had it in him anymore. Watching his earlier struggle, sensing the imminent arrival of absolute breakdown, Daniel recalled what he had to do. It was dangerous. Forbidden. But it was absolutely necessary. Now, at least, he understood why his future self had taken him that long-ago night--to lend him strength, to keep him pure. He had weakened at this key moment in his past. And future Daniel could not let that weakness be magnified across the span of history, could not let it corrupt his and Lucindas chances.