Heavensbane
rating: +27+x

by LAN 2D

lanpic.png

Marr stands before the temple gate and stares at his reflection in the concrete below.

His face distorts, returns. His body splinters, reforms. A drop splashes into his deep-cut eyes. He blinks them, one by one.

Marr is invisible to most, but the rain sees through his façade. It strikes him like pinpricks in the festival light, reminding him he is alive.

He remembers the words the Stargazer had forged for him, on a slip of stardust.

“You non-abstraction, You ground, earth substance, King-of-man. You actuality, You essence. You human being.”

His mind is clear.

The light appears, as planned.

It starts with a heavy, white glow that stuns his body and threatens his feet from the ground. The people ignore it, and so does the rain. It is not a thing of substance; it is of ether, unreal, unused to dimension or order or place. Unaccustomed to his steel.

He has seen it once before. When he lived in the city.

And he knows how it goes. It's obvious. A phoenix of supernovan energy, rising, spinning, silent as a sunrise. Then, a seven-second celeste, often blinding, cauterising retinas to their core. It doesn’t matter — he’s never fought with his eyes.

Next, it will gain substance. It won’t simply be there, it will be good. A radiant virtue, better than inert physical material.

Now, it hovers in the air, rotating, glowing. He views it as it is: a calm thing wholly devoid of malicious intent. For a moment, Marr wishes things had been different. But no.

It isn’t the first time he has seen an angel, but it is the first time he has come prepared.

Marr shifts his weight, positioning his body into a combat stance, and leaps. Past the food stands, the caricaturists, the oblivious crowds; his legs tucked under, his arms outstretched, his blades like wings in the air.

He has six seconds.

Time slows. The purple chain LEDs sink to their base red and blue. He rides the air currents, extending his jump far past its terminus.

Four.

The rain is left behind in his rush. The sound of the festival dilates with speed.

Two.

His vision is pure light.

One.

He breathes in, ready to pierce the angel's heart and he is there again. His home, sitting by the white wall on the outside of the property. The wall is rough to touch, and if he knocks, the hollow plaster will carry the sound throughout the house. He’s tempted, but instead, he sits, waiting for his eyes to tire or for his father to realise he’s awake. Neither of those will happen, he understands, not anymore. His father is weak; he sleeps fifteen hours, from sunset to noon. Marr stays quiet during the day and when he can’t sleep, he watches over him, like a guardian angel.

Tonight is when the true angel arrives, but Marr doesn’t know that yet. Tonight is when he sees the light from above, brighter than any he's ever known. Tonight is when he climbs the ladder and sits on the roof, watching his father sleep through the window. And tonight is when he falls through the air, rushing towards the ground. Immediately, his reactions kick in as he blinks away the surprise, twisting his body to soften the impact. It comes hard and fast, and soon he’s lying on the street, eyes closed, face to the sky. His mouth opens slowly, reaching for the taste of rain on his tongue.

Maybe it would be better to stay here.

He opens his eyes and looks up. The crowd is like a patchwork to him: a festival consisting of conversations, groups of people, families, couples and individuals; each with their own feelings and attitudes. To them, he's always just been another person. One man steps over his chest, talking all the while.

He plays through the conversation in his head, the one when he’d been chosen, and wonders if he’s still that man.

“The angel does not change. It persists. That is the nature of such a thing.”

“And the boy does?”

“He will. That is his nature.”

“A dynamic being cannot change that which stands still.”

“Indeed, the angel is everything that can and cannot be. It is perfect.”

“So his task is impossible. What the angel is, Marr is not.”

The Landscaper hangs in the air, awaiting a reply.

“As you said. Marr is not.”

They do not move. His memory fades.

Marr performs a perfect kip-up and spins the twin blades into his hands.

“I can’t think of the past and its interference. I can’t think of the why or the how. I must act.”

He exhales, his eyes unfocusing as he concentrates, letting all the vibrancy of the celebration in at once. His brain does a better job of sorting through it than him, and, after a moment, he sees it — a light untainted by reflection, refraction or hue. It emanates from within the crowd.

He doesn’t even begin to approach; the angel is among men, now. It can’t be found.

Maybe that's for the best. Maybe he should just—

“Marr.”

Marr turns. A person sits beside him, holding a paintbrush and palette. There is no frame, no canvas; their painting is in the air, the colours melting in the rain.

“Painter? How are you here?”

“Watch.”

“You can’t be here, the others have—”

“Just.”

Marr stops. The Painter is hardly moving the brush — a flick here, a sweeping motion there. The painting constructs itself.

Marr watches. The watercolours are translucent against their non-canvas, but they don’t depict anything new, rather, they build on the foreground in front of them. The Painter is painting over reality: the crowd is a coffee brown, the sky an ultramarine blue, the festival lights mixtures of burnt sienna, lemon glow, old white, refined ivory, and a drop of foxglove, for the neon signs surrounding the square. As the rain falls, the paint lightens and the objects spin into each other like a dreamscape. Despite that, the Painter continues, reconstructing the image endlessly.

“How are you here?”

They do not reply, their work is unfinished.

“Do the others kno—”

“No.”

“Why then?”

The Painter moves their paintbrush as one would a weapon, erasing the previous portrait and creating something entirely new. It is them, the creatures within the clouds. The Stargazer has his face to the exosphere, looking towards heaven, or what remains of it. The Designer’s mouth moves, addressing the others. The Landscaper sits, and they all confer, planning and manipulating those below. But the Painter isn’t there, because they’re here, with him.

“You…”

“Yes.”

The canvas clears, resuming its image of the festival ahead.

Marr is about to begin again, but he notices something different. They have chosen a new colour — one of the stars, of light and purity. They paint in the space between two people on the edge of the crowd.

The space is filled with the wings of an angel.

Marr pauses for a moment.

“Will it be over soon? I know what they think, but I… I can’t do this forever.”

The Painter looks up at him. Their brush and palette fall to the floor, forgotten. At once, the canvas stirs, shifting in the air, coming to a stop directly between them both. Through it all, in the Painter’s eyes, he sees himself. The painting blurs the festival backdrop, leaving only Marr — his outline, his mind, the shape of his entire self upon a canvas of black and gold. His heart is aglow; a beacon in the dark. Even if the rest of him is unrecognisable, imperceptible; a mass of un-substance and shattered memories — he knows. Marr’s conscience is untethered to the words of others. He sees himself now, in full and in truth.

And his mind is clear.

“Thank you, for everything.”

The Painter smiles as they dissolve, and Marr walks on, into the flood of people.

They do not notice him making his way through, they simply stare ahead. There is a hole in the crowd; within that, the angel’s light floats above a person lying on the ground, as Marr had before. But unlike him, their face is one of calm, staring up at the overcast night.

The crowd cannot see the angel, he knows that, and yet, they do not interfere. They stand, surrounding him like a pantheon of spectators. They watch not with apathy, but with understanding. Understanding that this is the angel's end, not theirs.

They don’t understand what Marr has experienced. They would know this peace is false.

He readies his bow, nocking back an arrow whilst taking aim in one singular motion, and releases. The arrow’s path is true, but the moment before the strike it twists in the air, like a leaf in the wind.

Ah, it was not meant to be.

The blades are next. The angel hasn’t moved, and Marr clears the distance between them before the arrow can hit the ground. He turns his body, using his previous momentum to swing the blades in succession against its epicentre.

They do not connect.

Marr’s eyes widen as his balance is lost. He stumbles but does not fall, instead leaping backwards to a defensive position. But, the angel simply remains above the man. It did not move out of his blades’ path. It did not move at all.

He moves again, this time approaching from the left side, rotating around the crowd’s makeshift arena. He feints left with one blade, before bringing the other up towards the angel. It misses as expected, and suddenly, he steps forward, clashing both blades together into a single point.

Once again, there is nothing for them to strike.

“What are you doing?”

Marr pauses. Whose voice was that?

“Young man. What were you doing, just then?”

It was the person on the floor. Marr looks down at them again, finally seeing them for who and what they are. It’s an old man, barefoot, no weapons. He’s wearing a simple coat, but his clothes are still soaked through. He doesn’t seem to mind; his smile is one of peace.

“You can see me?”

“Of course,” the man whispers back.

“Can you… can you see it?”

“How could I not?” The man raises his right hand to the light. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s false,” he replies.

“It can’t be false. I know the light of Brahman. I will be here again, in another time, another place, another form.”

Marr lifts his head once more. This man is dying. He isn’t sure if it’s the rain running off his hair, but his eyes are…

No.

Marr looks downwards, first at his steel cuffed boots, fit for a king, then, at his hands, rough and tired. Holding the twin blades, he recites what he knows to be true.

The Landscaper had given him the sword.

The Stargazer the bow.

The Painter the shield.

The Designer the chance.

They all had titles, but Marr had forgotten them because they didn't matter. In the end, the angel would not be slain by the Trinity Bow, the Nocturne Shield, or the Clandestine Blades. It would be slain by him.

Marr walks forward, coming to a stop before the man. He brings his right blade up slowly and pierces it into the light’s core, and the angel sings.

Marr Anar hears everything. He is just a boy, sitting beside the windowsill. It’s late, his father is asleep, but the night is still young. Young in the light of a divine being, perhaps sent by a God or Goddess.

Its song is beautiful, of course. Though, it does not simply sing of pastures and glades, of the beauty of life and nature. It sings of it all. The city and the stars, the conflicts of man, insect, mouse. Its song contains words he does not understand, and those words contain meanings he cannot comprehend.

It sings of its journey to Earth, then to Aurangabad — their home. It does not give a reason for its travels; it doesn’t need to.

Marr clings to the ladder and listens. Loneliness of ages past. Duty and sacrifice and white ichor blood. Violence, pain, uncertainty, hate, overwhelming dread.

Love. The man says. “I feel it more than I ever have.”

Marr tries to pull his blade from the light, but it remains stuck, in the warmth of the angelsong. He moves to the window, crawling, his eyes glistening in the rain. It’s glowing brighter and brighter and Marr must let go of the blade to shield his face, of the divine. The face of the heavens, the next life, or the face of death. It’s too late. Marr squeezes his eyes shut and hopes the blade will release itself. He pulls and pulls and hopes with all his might, but it doesn’t give.

Defeated, he kneels beside the man and touches him as softly as one can with shaking arms.

“Father?” Marr asks. “Father?”

“Please, father, wake up.”

The man doesn’t move.

That night, there would be a knock at the door. A council of truthspinners: one softspoken, one monosyllabic, one forsaken, one determined.

But here, in this memory, only the angel remains. His father is gone, and he is on the roof again. For the final time.

“I can't be here." Marr covers his face, trying to shut out the light.

"It'll pass. It's just a memory," he pleads. “It’s just a memory. It’s just another memory.”

There’s a ten-tonne weight on his mind; it’s made of lies and he can’t breathe and the air is thick and awkward like mud in his lungs. He coughs to try and clear it out, but it grows and grows, catching in his throat. He feels feverish, his stomach is being stabbed over and over and he’s just a child and it can’t end like this.

Marr squeezes his hands into fists, concentrating on the cool clay tiles against his back. It can’t end like this. Marr feels five tiles. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. His breathing slows. And again: one, two, three, four, five. He notices the soft summer breeze.

It won’t end like this.

He sits there for a while, head desperate and mind racing. It takes time for him to trust it, and when he finally does, he relaxes. His eyes open to see someone else on the roof. It's a child, his age. Hair white, skin gold. They see each other, but neither says anything, not at first. Marr simply watches them, their strange facial expressions, their abstract eyes.

After a time, their mouth opens, speaking with an accent like his own.

"I was here. With you. Do you remember?”

“No. Who are you?”

The child inspects their hands as if they are fresh. “I could ask the same of you.”

“Are you a God? An angel?”

They look away from him. “You can see me in the perception of others. Your Painter knows, and so does the old man. Sometimes, you can see me in the evening haze or in the reflection of light against mist. But you, Marr — you shouldn’t have seen me at all.”

“Stop being cryptic.”

The child smiles. “Stop being human.”

Marr lets the moment pass. Their silence is punctuated by the sound of crickets in the garden below, and — far in the distance — the roaring of tires upon paved roads.

He breaks it first. “I heard your song.”

“You’ve heard it twice.”

“The Painter showed me where to fin—”

“No.” The child says. “Don’t listen to them, Marr. All they know is nothing, and how to create more of it. They campaign simply for the sake of destruction. It’s not something to worship.”

“Don’t talk down to me.”

“I’m not.” The child’s face turns dark. “Your father was gone, Marr. Those monsters came and treated your grief as fuel on a fire, powering their own ends. But you couldn’t have known, you were only—”

They stop. “They- the Designe-” The child coughs out a few more words, but it's pointless — Marr’s blade is lodged into their throat. He shouldn’t have it, not here, not now, but a memory cares not for continuity. The child splutters and chokes, collapsing onto the roof’s tiles. Marr watches as they gasp for breath. His blade has lost its twin, and no angelsong will change that now.

“A simple conversation doesn't change anything.”

The child remains still.

“It’s done.” He shuts his eyes and turns over, arms huddled by his side. “And now, I can rest.”

He didn't think it'd happen like this. He'd expected a battle, he'd expected difficulty, a clash of uncompromising moralities — and in some way, he'd hoped that childish fantasy would come true. But it's over now.

The summer air smells like dust and dreams, and in this place, this interface between recollections, the rain is all but forgotten. The clouds have passed and the sky is free.

The stars are out tonight.

“It’s a nice night," they say.

The child hands the blade to him, covered in a silver substance. They’re collapsed no longer; their neck bears no wound and their eyes are like rings of gold, meeting his own.

“You—”

“You killed me, now we can talk.”

"I'm sorry."

The child smiles grimly. "No you aren't, and that's okay. I understand the need for violence. I had robbed you of it, all this time. You have been trained to expect it, to desire it. They constructed an image where it was necessary. But here, that hasn’t happened yet. We don't need to play pretend.”

“You’re doing it again.”

“Yeah, well.”

There’s another pause. Marr doesn’t know what to do with the blades anymore, so he sets them down on his left.

"How often do you come up here?" The child asks.

"I don't know. I only remember the good nights."

"What counts as a good night?"

He pauses. "Ones where I can imagine. It's best when my father forgets to turn on the porch light. I can sit up here and pretend all that exists is what I create."

"Okay. Imagine for me."

"What?"

"Imagine something for me. I'm not like you, I only see what is."

"I… " Marr gazes into the sweeping horizon. "When I was young I wanted to be a dragon.”

“Yeah?”

The child stretches out their right hand, turning it. A snake appears in the sky, diving through the atmosphere like a firework.

“Like this?”

Marr shakes his head. “It looks wrong.”

“Give me more.”

“I… wanted scales, a tail, horns and a mountain of gold all to myself. I thought they were real, I thought I’d be able to breathe fire.”

The scaled beast gains a blunt tail and curled horns. It exhales flames, causing the air to shimmer in the heat. The skyline turns gold beneath its flight.

“Well?” The child asks.

“What do you want me to say?”

The dragon withers into nothing. “…yeah.”

“The Painter would’ve been able to do that perfectly. I wonder where they are now.”

The child sighs, but Marr continues.

"The designers, they—"

"Don't matter anymore."

"They were my friends."

"They aren't real, Marr. Neither am I, not really. All there is is you, your perception — the here and now."

He glances at the child, realising for the first time the wings on their back.

"You can't tell me just to let go of it all. It's not that simple."

"I'm not. Letting go, moving on — they’re just ideals. These experiences will always be a part of you, for good or bad. For life or for pain. They matter, in the sense that they happened, but they are not the now. You must continue to live. Not then, not tomorrow. Now."

"Or what?"

"Or you'll die a horrible and painful death." The child grins. "My divine right decrees as such."

A moment passes.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Okay.”

“Was it all for nothing? Everything I’ve done, from this point on. I never reached my goal. I spent years and it never would’ve made a difference.”

“Your goal was more than my death.”

“Was it?”

They blink. “No? I don’t know.”

“You should. You were meant to be perfect.”

“Not anymore,” the child replies. “But on a technicality, you have fulfilled your goal. Nowhere did you state my death had to be permanent.”

Marr laughs. "I feel like I’m dreaming."

"I know what you mean, this whole thing is strange."

"No, not just strange. This doesn't feel real."

The child looks him in the eye. "I could be an illusion. You could be dead. You could have been a brain in a vat from the start. This could simply be the dream of a young boy, wishing for a reason for his father's death. Or, just maybe, it could be real."

"How can I know?"

"I haven't had a conversation for aeons. There must be something special about this moment. It must be real."

Marr looks down at his feet, dangling off of the edge.

“But why me?”

"I don't know. Why anything? We're all just arbitrary divisions of something greater. We aren't a part of this moment, we are this moment. The flux of the universe and all that. In a sense, there is no you and I. There is no here. There is no now. There just is."

Below, in front of the veranda, the garden overflows with people; the grass turns to concrete, and further outside, the road clears itself for street vendors. The light from the temple beams over the square like a sun.

“There just is,” he echoes.

"Yes. But it's not static — it's dynamic, changing, vibrating with life. Just look."

The crowd hums like an engine, creating a melody of spirit and soul.

“It’s not fair, really — I wish I could be one of them. But you are. You’ve always been. And you know, Marr…"

The angel looks down at the square, shining not against, but with the artificial lights below. Its wings beat once, but it remains standing. When it turns, its face is filled with emotion.

"The festival isn't over yet."

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