Chapter 25

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Chapter 25

 

Chapter 25

 

MAZ

– The Vision of the Urn. The Magus 9x = 2{square x}.
The Three Schools of Magick.1

 

“Nothing really matters anymore ... not the world that surrounds me, not the life the inhabits me,
not the Soul that you so long for ... I freely give it all to you ...
everything in exchange for a few fleeting moments of pure existence.”

I was dragged from my drowsiness by the sound of voices. Gabriel sounded angry and so I focused my attention, trying to understand what was going on.

“You never told me any of that!” he complained, but the voice that replied sounded patient and calm.

“You never asked. But what did you expect? They are only Human, after all. It’s not like they possess paranormal powers or anything like that,” Alexander criticized. “But there’s no need to worry, as long as this doesn’t happen every day. Her ability to recover is also above the norm,” he added calmly and the air became heavier.

“That’s hardly the point, is it?”

I sat up, holding my head, still slightly dizzy, and looked around.

I was back in my room, although I couldn’t even begin to recall how I’d gotten there, and they were arguing just outside the door. I sighed, certain that the topic of discussion was, once more, me, and had to put in some extra effort to stand on my two shaky legs.

“What do you want me to say? Now you know,” Alexander replied and I dragged my bare feet to the door, knowing that that answer would only make him even angrier.

The moment I opened the door I was immediately received by two stunned expressions, almost as if I stood before two misbehaved children who had been caught red-handed.

“Mari! What are you doing up so soon?” Alexander finally asked, walking up to me, and his warm hands gently pushed me back inside and towards the bed.

“I heard voices,” I told him, sitting down, unable to resist his strength. “What about Jonathan? How is he?” I asked, his pained expression refusing to leave my mind, and Alexander gave me a soft smile that, once more, failed to reach his eyes.

“He’s resting. Which is what you should be doing too!” he practically scolded me and I abstained from telling him that that’s probably what I’d be doing if they hadn’t been arguing right outside my door.

“And Lea?”

“He came back and went out again,” Gabriel replied.

“He didn’t find her,” I concluded and Alexander sighed heavily.

“I’m really sorry, Mari. It was all for nothing.”

I smiled, feeling truly tired, but clearly recalling all the injuries that they had suffered.

“You were the ones having it worse. I didn’t do anything much.”

Alexander smiled and placed a gentle hand on my head, and I couldn’t help thinking, even with all our divergences, how great it would have been, if I could have had a Guardian like him.

“I’m going to see how Jonathan is doing. You get some rest, hear me?” I nodded obediently and watched as he left. And then there was only him, standing by the door, arms folded over his chest.

“What were you arguing about? Leaving again?” I asked, too tired to look for more subtle ways to express my thoughts.

“No. That isn’t open for discussion.”

“Then?”

“How are you feeling?” he asked me and I frowned at his clear change of subject. “Think you can recite a little bit of Magic?”

I blinked at that. “Magic?!” He nodded.

“I want to raise this Magic Circle,” he told me and my heart jumped painfully.

“The one that Seals your powers?” He nodded again and I hesitated for a moment.

I’d been the first to suggest it and, just like before, it was still dangerous, now maybe even more so, for him to walk around, getting into those bloody battles with part of himself locked away somewhere. But, on the other hand, getting rid of the Circle was erasing one of the small bridges that connected us. He himself had told me that he’d always have to return to that house, since the Circle was there. If the Circle ceased to exist, then the only thing left binding us together would be our Contract.

I smiled, amazed at my own selfishness and raised my head, as if doing so could help me convince him of how healthy I was.

“Sure. Piece of cake.”

He nodded and, as I watched in wonder, all the things I’d gathered in the past for that Magical Ritual appeared out of thin air, on the floor. The Circle reappeared, drawn in salt, and only the strange symbols of the vertices were gone. There was also the glass of water, the candle and the pile of dirt, everything exactly where I had placed them. And the heavy book at my feet was opened to the right page.

I stood up, forbidding myself to show how that simple movement had been painful, and entered the Circle, careful not to scatter the salt that formed it. I knelt in the exact place I’d been kneeling before and stopped for a moment.

I could still clearly see the symbols coming alight and exploding. And then that darkness that had opened a doorway to a forgotten dimension. Him, floating midair, right in front of me, his white body wrapped in black satin.

“Don’t stop until you reach the end,” I heard him say and took a deep breath.

I looked at the book lying on the floor beside me, and immediately identified the last sentence I had read, in that strange language that no one seemed to understand. And I hesitated again. In truth, I didn’t feel comfortable at all reading anything else from that book. But then, this time, I had Gabriel with me. Nothing bad would happen. I was just returning his powers and getting rid of a Magic Circle that I’d thought to have disappear gone a long time ago. And so I took another deep breath and cleared my throat.

I carefully read all the instructions and magic words, finishing the Ritual that I’d never had the chance to conclude while, by the door, Gabriel muttered inaudible words under his breath. Then I went back to the page about the Protection Circles. I respectfully thanked all the four Guardians of the Elements and Cardinal Points, doing it in reverse the order in which I’d evoked them. And finally I went back to the center of the Circle, placing both hands over my chest as the book instructed, to read the final words.

“The Circle has no beginning and no end; it is in eternal balance. This was a time beyond time. This was a space beyond space. Here the Dream World and the Waking World met and were one together. So it has been.”

Gabriel’s voice filled the air, startling me as words flowed from his lips in an intonation that made me shiver. Because if I had thought that his velvet whispers could not be disobeyed, the tone he was now using had the power to make the world bend and crumble at his feet, if he so wished it.

“Torzu comselh bli micaloz! Torzu comselh bli lonsa! Torzu chiso emetgis naneel doalim! Darbs cnoqvol gemeganza! Noaln! “

As soon as he pronounced the last word, the entire Circle started to glow and I prepared myself to see it explode again. But it didn’t. This time, the golden light rose from the floor, from all around me, and kept floating up towards the ceiling, and I kind of expected it to pass through it. But, as it reached the physical barrier, the circle of light started to shrink, quickly diminishing in diameter, until it was just a small ring. A flash of white light blinded me for a second and, once the light was gone, the ring fell on the ground, as hard as any other metal ring.

I stood still for a moment, waiting to see if anything else was about to happen, but all that was left were a bunch of scattered salt and a few strange objects that, all together, made no sense whatsoever.

“Pick it up,” I heard him whisper and I crouched, suspiciously touching the ring.

It was hard, and cold like any other I had touched, and so I picked it up, turning it in my hand. As I looked closer, I noticed the thin symbols delicately inscribed on the inside of the golden band and then I finally recognized them. Those were the same symbols, the ones that had exploded when he’d appeared.

“Is this the Circle?” I asked, still in disbelief, and he nodded. “But ... wasn’t it supposed to disappear after releasing your power?”

“I didn’t take my power back. It’s all still in there,” he told me and I was even more confused. “I’d rather you have it.”

It took me some time to understand what he’d just said and my slow reaction seemed to amuse him.

“Me?” I asked, widening my already over-widened eyes, and he smiled.

“Because they don’t belong to you, it will probably be difficult for you to activate them. But, in an emergency, they will activate automatically, almost like a survival instinct, and protect you,” he tranquilly explained and I looked down at the ring on my hand, a lump forming in my throat as the small golden band became suddenly too heavy on my palm.

“How can this be?”

“It’s nothing big, really. The difference is that instead of being here, the Circle will be wherever you are.”

And that was that, and was enough to make me happy beyond words. Because that meant that the link between us hadn’t been broken. Quite the opposite! It meant that he no longer had to return to that house, but to me! Wherever I might be.

“Is this like ... forever? What if, one day, you do want them back?” I asked, feeling slightly guilty, but not nearly enough to refuse his offer, and Gabriel shrugged.

“I’ll see to that when the time comes. Right now I’ll feel much more at ease if you carry it with you, wherever you go. At least until this thing is solved.”

I didn’t know if ‘this thing’ was Telane roaming around free, or the war itself, but I didn’t care. I told myself I should argue a bit more against that idea, but when I noticed the ring was already safely enclosed inside my hand. And I couldn’t stop smiling. All that ... had been for me.

“Thank you.”

Gabriel averted his gaze, as usual uncomfortable with any clear demonstration of affection, and I had to try hard not to laugh.

“And now get some rest! I know you still haven’t recovered from yesterday and you must be exhausted after today,” he whispered and, although I was kind of disappointed at myself for not having been able to disguise my physical condition, I was even happier to know that he worried about me.

“And you? Where are you going?” I reflexively asked and he seemed to struggle to find the right answer.

“I’ll go check the barrier,” he finally told me and I found myself doubting the truth of his words. Maybe it was the fact that he was still avoiding looking at me, or maybe the brief hesitance in his voice. I didn’t want him to go look for Telane on his own, which I was fairly convinced that was exactly what he’d do as soon as he left my room.

“Take me with you,” I offered firmly, and his surprised expression almost ruined my serious request. Being able to provoke those kinds of reactions on his stone-like face was something truly amazing.

“What?” he asked, even lower than usual, and I raised my head as if that could grant extra strength to my words.

“Take me with you!” I repeated and, before he could refuse, went on. “You’re always talking about that barrier of yours. I want to see it.”

“You’re tired. Another time.”

“I can rest afterwards,” I insisted. “You won’t be letting me go to school tomorrow anyway,” I guessed and knew that, even if he did, I wouldn’t be in any condition to survive the day. He didn’t deny it and I faced him firmly, aware of the influence my will had over his actions. “I want to go with you!”

He seemed to consider it for a moment.

“You’ll have to bear my proximity until we get there.”

“That’s not a problem,” I quickly answered.

“And you’ll probably feel sick,” he warned me and I smiled since I could already see that I’d won. He sighed and stretched out his hand in a silent invitation.

I hurriedly put on my boots and grabbed the coat left over the chair. I tucked the golden ring in a pocket, since it was too big to fit any of my fingers, and went to accept his invitation. My body was trembling even before I could reach him, my heart beating too fast, but none of that was enough to make me hesitate, not even for a second. His arm surrounded my shoulders, practically without touching me, and yet pulling me close enough that I could feel his sweet scent.

“It will be quick. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.” I obeyed and the vertiginous sensation that came over me made me hold on to him, in search of something solid that would push away that feeling of an endless fall. However, in the next second, the ground below my feet was solid again, and the cold wind that brushed against my cheeks helped me refocus my mind. “We’re here.”

I opened my eyes and the first thing I noticed were my fingers, securely holding on to his new shirt, clenching it with all their might. I blushed and released him immediately, and Gabriel stepped back, enough to help me stop trembling.

The wind blew again, making me shiver, and I looked around. To my surprise we were in a considerably wide terrace. The floor was covered in what once had been white tiles, now stained gray in many areas from the consecutive days under the weather. In the center was a rusty door, undoubtedly leading to some stairs and to the inside of the building.

I carefully walked over to the edge and peered down, stepping backwards the next second. Too high, I thought, especially taking into account the amount of vertigo and dizziness I had suffered that day.

And then it hit me, how we’d gotten there. And I turned towards him in disbelief, only to find him staring silently at me, as if I were some kind of strange animal, which made me quite uncomfortable.

“Did you make us appear here?”

“Yes. Here it’s still considerably far from your house,” he told me and looked at the mass of buildings we could see from there, mixed with some smaller green areas.

“But we’re still in Lewisham,” I guessed and Gabriel nodded. “And the barrier?”

“It’s all around us, passing far from here. You can say that here is the center of the area it protects. We’ll probably be able to see it soon.” He looked up to the sky. The sun was setting and it wouldn’t be long until it was dark. “Are you hungry?” he asked me and I followed his white finger pointing towards a plastic bag, resting on the small ledge surrounding the entire terrace.

I looked curiously at the bag and knew he was right. I was starving. I walked up to the bag, aware that it hadn’t been there just a second ago, and sat on the ledge, looking inside. My laughter echoed like a lost sound. It was obvious he, himself, had gathered our provisions.

“What?” he asked defensively and I wiped away an invisible tear.

“Nothing, really,” I replied, still laughing, and started pulling things out of the bag. “One poor lonely yogurt,” I announced, putting it down beside me. “And then, one packet of chocolate cream cookies, one packet of strawberry cream cookies, hmm.” I hesitated reading the next packet. “Oh, yeah ... one packet of caramel cream cookies and, of course, three packets of vanilla cream chocolate cookies,” I finished reading and smiled. Those were the same ones he’d asked me to buy when we’d gone to the supermarket.

“They’re good!” he countered, as if I were somehow doubting the quality of the food he’d chosen and I nodded, opening one of the packets, the vanilla cream ones, his favorites.

“I’m sure they are. But there’s probably more than enough cookies here to last us for a month,” I mocked and he seemed embarrassed, which amused me even more. “Want one?” I offered but he didn’t even answer, making me give up on my taunting. “So ... what were you discussing with Alexander when I woke up?”

He sighed, as if he had hoped I’d forgotten all about that, and I watched as he walked up to the edge in his usual controlled steps, and also sat on the ledge facing the dying sun, his legs dangerously hanging towards a fall of numerous feet. His pale skin seemed to gain some measure of color, when touched by the fire of the setting sun, and the wind blew, gently playing with his hair.

“What happened today ... what you did. I don’t want you to do it again,” he simply told me but his firm tone wouldn’t allow for any kind of question.

“What happened today?” I mused, nibbling one cookie as I forced my mind to quickly go through all the things I’d witnessed. He looked at me and the intensity of his gaze made my heart jump. “Those lights ...” I muttered and a shiver went down my spine. “I did them.” I wanted it to sound as a question but, when I realized, I’d stated it without a doubt. Gabriel nodded.

“It’s you.”

“It’s me?” He sat in silence while I struggled with the concept, and then many other things started to make sense. “Was this ... the power you wanted from me?” I asked, not even knowing if I could call it that, and he looked away, again towards the horizon that seemed to have lost some of the brightness it had just moments ago.

“In the beginning, yes.”

Unexpectedly his confirmation made me feel sad and my mouth tasted bitter, to the point that not even the sweetness of the cookies was able to erase it.

“That’s good then ...” I managed to say, hoping he wouldn’t notice how his simple answer had disturbed me, and I almost jumped in my seat when he raised his voice.

“Not good at all!” he claimed and I couldn’t help stare, completely stunned, at him. “That light is you! Your Soul! You cannot use it like that!” he went on, in completely scolding tone, and I blinked even more confused than before. “Do you understand?”

I did not understand. Not at all! But still I nodded just to appease him.

“Sigweardiel never told me anything about any of that!” he grunted, now sounding annoyed. “The only thing he told me was that Gaalgha possess gifts that no other Human Being possess. And that because of they exist outside the Law, they’re able to easily surpass both Deiwos and Merifri Magic. He never told me anything about the use of those gifts burning through the user’s vital energy. Because it’s how he says, Human Beings don’t possess other sources of energy. Only gifted Magic Users are able to gather energy from other sources, like we do. I had never even thought about that, because the energy I have at my disposal is nearly endless. and so I only worry about keeping it under control. It never crossed my mind that things like that could be depleted.”

He was quiet for a moment, as if he didn’t know what else to say, and I sat very still, my half-eaten cookie forgotten in my hand.

“Do you understand, Mari? Every time you do something like that it’s your own vital energy you’re using. And, although Sigweardiel says that you usually recover faster than others, he knows perfectly well that it’s only your immortal part, your Soul that recovers.”

I swallowed hard, feeling my throat rough, and smiled since I didn’t know what other expression I should show.

“That means ... that my life will keep on diminishing every time something like that happens,” I summarized and his silence confirmed my conclusion. “How much?”

“How much?!” I only noticed just how dangerous that question had been when his eyes flashed for a split second.

“It’s not like I’m thinking about dying!” I quickly explained. “In truth, it’s quite the opposite. This ... gift is something that I can use to defend myself, if needed, right? But I need to clearly understand how much that will cost me.” He seemed calmer but still displeased with my line of thought, looking away before he replied.

“Sigweardiel says one year, give it or take.” A lump cluttered my throat. So, that morning, in those brief minutes, I’d lost one year of my life, I told myself and I just couldn’t grasp the idea. “But, if I do as he wants, there won’t be a need to defend yourself anymore.”

All the doubts and uncertainties I felt were immediately replaced by a deafening anger and, unthinking, I threw one of the cookie packets at his head. He easily grabbed it in midair, before it could actually hit him, but the cookies were immediately turned into dust, since he’d grabbed them with too much strength.

“I’d much rather hear you laugh, like before,” he told me, in his usual velvet tone, and placed the smashed packet beside him.

“If I could hit you! I swear I would!” I grunted. How could he still say something like that?

He seemed amused by the idea.

“You’d only end up hurting yourself, even if I let you hit me. My bones are too hard.”

“I’d use a big stick! A huge stick! A freaking baseball bat if needed!” I countered, still boiling, but his laughter easily erased part of my fury.

“Now, that would be funny. You, little as you are, with a giant stick trying to hit me,” he said, genuinely amused.

Gabriel looked up at the sky that grew darker by the minute, and I recalled seeing him just like that on a rainy day. And yet, something had changed in his expression, and it was as if part of the pain that had been there had disappeared, making him look somehow younger and more at peace.

“You know, Sigweardiel was the one who told me about you, Gaalgha. I’d never even heard the name before. To me, all Humans were the same and it had never even crossed my mind using them as a source of energy. That would be like ... feeding of rats.” He had a sarcastic smile on his face that irked me up to a point. “Gaalgha, however, were Sigweardiel’s world and it was due to the things he told me that I decided to help him with Jonathan. Honestly, I just couldn’t believe the possibility of something so strange and yet so powerful existing, and that I’d never even heard about it. But then this war started and priorities had to be reversed. And, although the outcome doesn’t interest me in the slightest, I’m also not willing to allow some other Deiwos to come along and destroy me, just like that.

“When some of my Brothers gathered, forming an alliance to Seal me, Lea and Delnak were with me,” he said fiercely in a darker tone. “I did not have a way to break the Seal without causing massive destruction in the process. Having too much power has that inconvenience. It’s too complicated to control and dose it. And so I put Lea to sleep fearing what he might do after I was gone. Maybe I should have put them both to sleep. Delnak sacrificed his life in return for the key to my prison of darkness, and he must have printed it in your book. When you evoked me I was ... furious! But also tired and week after all that time lost in the darkness, trying not to lose sight of myself, of who I was, even though there was nothing to see or be on the other side. All I wanted was to recover my strength as soon as possible and leave to hunt down my dear Brothers. At that time I didn’t know how long it had passed, or that most of them had already been destroyed.

“When I saw you at my feet, small and terrified, I did not see you at all. I knew you were the one who had set me free. And I knew you were no Magic User — just a simple, insignificant Human. Sure I couldn’t understand how someone like that had been able to release me, but I really couldn’t care less. All I knew was that I had enough power to break the evocation’s Contract if I killed you quickly enough, before you could make any demands.”

He paused again to watch me closely, almost as if he feared the effects his words could have on me, but I sat still, unmoving, waiting for him to go on.

“But then ... you cried,” he whispered and hesitated for an instant. “In my fury I didn’t even notice how your tears glowed. Only when they burned me did I recall what Sigweardiel had told me — that Gaalgha hardly express human emotions and that their true emotions come from their Souls. Which means that, when they cry, it’s their Souls who cry. It would seem that their bodies are as pure as the Souls that inhabit them, their glowing tears even more so, to the point that no Shedim can touch them without suffering the consequences. In that precise moment I knew that your Soul rejected my presence and that, by imposing it, I was breaking your Soul piece by piece.”

“And that’s why you changed plans and decided not to kill me?” I managed to ask and he smiled, as if the fact that I was still able to speak had somehow relieved him. I still recalled his burned hands, especially after the incident in London.

“Honestly, I don’t know exactly why. I was completely prepared for a course of action and, in the next moment ... In the end I didn’t know what to do and, since killing you would be a rather permanent and irreversible choice, I decided I might as well keep you alive for the time being. And so I spared your life and used the Law to establish a new Contract.”

I laughed nervously and didn’t even dare raise a hand to pull away the strand of hair that had slid over my eyes. I was sure it would shake uncontrollably and I didn’t want to risk him noticing, certain that if he did he’d end up dropping the subject and leaving things as they were.

“Big mistake,” I joked and he smiled so naturally that my heart skipped a beat.

“Probably,” he conceded. “However, when I finally decided to try to understand what was keeping me from killing you, as it was my original plan, I found myself making up arguments that supported the value of keeping you alive. You were, after all, a Gaalgha, something that I hardly knew. Sigweardiel had told me about some of your gifts. He’d told me that there’s a source of light in your Souls and that that power will only truly activate when the Soul synchronizes with the more Human feelings. He told me that, once activated, they’d be even greater than Deiwos’ Magic, and I thought that maybe I could use that to gain some advantage in this war, since my own powers are too troublesome to control.

“Following this logic, if I were to kill you they’d never belong to me. Once I decided to spare your life, I thought that through our Contract I’d be able to attain what I wanted. The fact that your tears burned my skin was proof enough that you’d never been with a man, and we all know how Humans have their hearts connected to their bodies, and their Souls connected to their hearts. That’s how, over time, many Humans have been corrupted, and many of us have stolen Human Souls.”

I thanked the weak light of the day that painted the sky in tones of orange, yellow and purple, helping me disguise my embarrassment. Gabriel seemed unfazed as he went on.

“I thought that by having your inexperienced body I’d easily reach your heart and, from then, force my way into your Soul to steal the source of your light. Just as promised, I wasn’t going to steal your life, not even your Soul. I did consider the possibility that you might cease to be a Gaalgha, that you might recede in the scale of Human evolution, but that would only have meant you’d need to live a few more lives until you caught up again.”

I hugged my own arms, suddenly feeling cold. Gabriel was watching me in silence, his white skin becoming even paler as the world around us slowly plunged into darkness. The absence of an expression on his face froze me inside. And I knew that if I wasn’t able to recover from that he wouldn’t speak again.

“I would never ... have been the same ... again,” I managed to whisper and he remained serious.

“I know. Besides breaking you, you’d probably suffer as Stephanie did. There isn’t a Human able to withstand the touch of a Shedim without starting to desire him deeply. You can say that we’re almost like a drug.”

I dug my nails into my arms, making sure that, at least, I’d be able to sit there and listen. As hard as it was to hear those words in his soft, velvet voice, those were the answers to all the questions that had crossed my mind since that terrifying night. That was his truth.

“Still, at that point, that didn't mean anything to me,” he went on. “I wouldn’t be sticking around to see it, anyway. But then Michael appeared.”

The way he said his name was different from Alexander’s open, undisguised hatred, but somehow scarier.

“And you, near him, seemed to glow. I found myself asking how was that possible. Because your relationship was completely different from the other Human relationships that I’d observed. Besides, I knew you were a Gaalgha and that because of that you shouldn’t be able to express your feelings with such intensity. I wondered which part of you really loved him and, no matter how much I told myself that such things didn’t concern me, I was unable to simply ignore it, as I should have. Finally I came to the conclusion that your Soul somehow accepted the feelings of your heart regarding him, and so allowed you to manifest them.

“I realized that these were the only moments when you were truthful, and the empty expressions you gave me when you weren’t wallowing in terror started to ... annoy me,” he noted with an ice cold smile. “I’m not used to not getting what I want. Likewise, there’s nothing that I want that I’m not able to acquire. And I found myself wanting to see the truth in the gestures and expressions you gave me. And was only when I realized just how much that desire had became essential to me that I understood just how much I’d strayed from my true nature.”

The brief silence that surrounded us made me feel even more nervous. He was still watching me as disbelief washed over me. And the wave of happiness that his words brought me glued back together the small piece of me that he had broken just moments ago.

“I knew I’d end up doing something really stupid if I stayed. And so, when we went after Telane and my Brother, I decided to heed Sigweardiel’s constant warnings and rid myself of your presence.”

Pain again, even sharper than before, stole my breath away. All I had to do was recall that lost time to forget all other fears and doubts. Anything was better than that emptiness, than that silence from within.

“I was willing to extend our Contract indefinitely, until I found a way to dissolve it. I told myself I had enough power to ignore it, even if it were fulfilled, although the mere thought alone left me restless. I occupied my mind with other things, like the war and the possibility of victory, and tried to look away from your frail mortality to contemplate my obviously long life. I told myself that before I realized it a hundred years or so would have gone by, and by then you wouldn’t even exist in this world anymore.”

Since I’d talked to Jonathan, I’d been painfully aware of the time factor that would always keep us apart. But hearing it in his velvet voice was strangely distressing. He laughed lightly, almost as if mocking himself.

“In the end it didn’t even take me a month before I was back in your living room,” he said. “Of course, I immediately justified my presence with what had happened. It had all been an accident and I was there only because the Circle was there, and it would help me to heal faster. But, even so, I wished I could stay, even though I didn’t allow myself to wish it. And I was about to leave again when you asked me to stay.”

And he still sounded like he couldn’t believe it, I noticed, even after the numerous discussions we’d had about it.

“I could hardly contain my fury!” he continued. “After all the work I’d been through, after all the time it’d taken me to convince myself that I should allow you to live your life. But then, more than fulfilling your wish, I fulfilled mine. Sure, there are all those arguments and all those explanations about why you changed your mind. Sigweardiel tells me that you’re lonely, that in reality it’s not my presence that you wish for, but simply the presence of someone able to see you for who you really are. The truth is I don’t care. Besides my wish to stay, your Soul doesn’t break into pieces when I’m around anymore. And I’m still ... confused about why that simple, insignificant fact pleases me so much — that a mere Human Being is able to sit next to me.” He laughed again. “And so I couldn’t help losing my temper when all that disappeared just from hearing you talk to Michael on the phone. I reprimanded myself for allowing myself to forget, even if only for a few moments, just how unstable my mood can get, and how dangerous that instability can be. I decided I should keep my distance while telling myself I should leave like before and, at the same time, unable to throw away what little I’d been able to conquer.”

The deep flow that was his voice made another pause and I recalled just how much his attempts to avoid me had deeply annoyed me.

“But today ... today that Soul of yours, that rejected me so bluntly, rose in my defense. And although I tell myself that I don’t care for reasons, I can’t help wonder why ...”

I sat quietly and averted my gaze, disturbed by his constant observation. I asked myself if he expected an answer and tried to find something to tell him. Part of me wanted to be as honest as he’d been, but my dark, critical voice kept reminding me of just who we were.

“I think you’ll be able to see it, now.” I heard his casual voice and looked up, intrigued. I watched as he stood up on the narrow ledge, his figure lean and tall against the twilight sky. His skin was even paler now, the wind playing gently with his hair. He took a deep breath, opening his arms wide as if to embrace the whole world and, unexpectedly, colorful reflections shimmered far away. I immediately turned back, looking at the shadowy horizon, and watched as the colorful lights spread all around us in a huge circle, shimmering and gleaming in a transparent wall that rose from the ground to high up in the sky. It was beautiful, I thought with a smile, almost like a strange aurora borealis, and I noticed that, contrary to what he’d had lead me to believe, the circle wasn’t quite round, having some straight lines and corners, here and there.

I sighed, feeling a bit more relaxed now, and played with the golden ring that I found in my pocket and that freely swirled around my finger.

“Sometimes, and as ridiculous as it may sound, I think you’re like a child that has just discovered a new world,” I said. “I see you full of curiosity and questions, even though you never express them out loud. And I can’t help wondering ... what will happen once all your questions are answered. When there’s no more novelties. Maybe you’ll get bored. You’ll probably look for another, more interesting, world.” I looked up at him, certain that he would be watching me again. “This used to bother me, but now I tell myself that it’s okay, since I can only live in a moment at a time.”

“Same as me,” he said softly. “I also don’t know the answer to any of those questions.”

I smiled and took a deep breath, determined to change the subject.

“So, beyond colorful barriers, what else can you do?” I asked, sitting up straight, and he laughed lightly.

“It’s easier if I tell you what I can’t do,” he stated, in a smuggish tone, and I gave him a suspicious look, as he nimbly jumped off the ledge. “Now, let’s see, I cannot read your mind, or control your heart.” He lowered his voice at the last part, and my cheeks caught on fire once again.

“I know already,” I pressed so he would go on with it, and his teasing smile told me he’d done it on purpose.

“Well, I also can’t bend time,” he told me and that left me curious.

“Time?”

“Yes. I can’t travel to the Past or to the Future. I also can’t manipulate it or stop it.”

“And space?”

“Oh, that one is easy.” Before I could understand what had happened, a black door appeared in front of him. He walked towards it without hesitation and entered it, disappearing only to reappear coming from another door a few steps away.

“That door ...”

“Gateway,” he corrected me.

“Unites these zones together?”

“Yes. As if they were next to each other.”

“But it’s different from when you disappear.”

He nodded, immediately disappearing from where he stood, leaving that thin rain of small black glitter in his place. He appeared again right in front of me, careful to always keep a safe distance.

“To disappear like this,” he explained, “what I do is to break down my own body into very tiny particles and send them through space at a speed faster than the speed of light.” I nodded, resting my chin on my hand.

“What about making other things appear?” I asked.

“Like what?”

“Hmm. I don’t know, a field of flowers!” I decided, looking for something more difficult than a simple object. But, the moment I uttered the words, the old white tiles were covered in a green mantle from where dozens of small tiny flowers blossomed all at the same time.

I blinked in amazement and touched the grass growing at my feet, feeling it alive and fresh. There was a sweet perfume in the air and I couldn’t help notice how delicate those flowers were, their small petals dancing in the wind.

“It’s beautiful,” I murmured, still caressing the grass, and looked up at him. “Did you take this from somewhere else? Or did you just create it?”

“In this case, I created it. However, the result would have been the same. These flowers will soon wither and die. I can materialize things, but I can’t give them life. A Deiwos can never give.”

“Only take,” I added. “That means you can take a life. But doesn’t it also mean that you can take death away?” I mused.

“Not necessarily,” he replied and looked away, telling me that that wasn’t something he would like to share with me.

“Then, if you take death from someone, won’t that someone be alive?”

“No. It may even move, maybe emit sounds, but it won’t be alive. It will just be not dead.” I shuddered as I understood what he meant. “We also don’t give death, since it would be giving. To us death means total annihilation. So when we kill someone, we’re taking away their own existence.”

“But, unlike you, Merifri can give,” I stated, waiting for a confirmation that didn’t come. “Does that mean they can give life and death?”

“Yes.”

I thought about it for a moment.

“When I see it like that, I can hardly say what we usually say, that Merifri are good and Deiwos are evil,” I concluded and he looked intrigued. “It almost sounds more like Merifri are good and evil, and Deiwos are … neutral.” He seemed stunned for a split second and then broke into a laughter, startling me. It was the second time I heard him laugh like that, so simply and spontaneously.

“And this coming from a Gaalgha!” he declared and went back to laughing, making me frown at his condescending tone.

“What does being a Gaalgha have to do with anything?!” I demanded and Gabriel looked at me and, although his lips were still smiling, his eyes were sharp and hard.

“Gaalgha are Merifri in human shape,” he stated in a whisper and I recalled what Alexander had told me.

“I don’t feel like one at all!” I countered and looked away pouting. There was nothing he wouldn’t use to reinforce the barrier between us.

“Well, that’s good to know.” His murmur sent my heart into another suicidal run and I quickly went back to our previous topic.

“What about Magic?” I asked and he smiled, that crooked mocking smile that told me he had noticed my escape.

“Yes, of course.”

“Like those black flames?” I insisted, recalling what I’d seen that morning.

“No. That’s different. Those flames are the same as your white lights.”

“Your Soul!”

“The power of my Soul, if you can call it that.”

“But won’t using it burn through your vital energy?”

“Even if it does, I’ll never notice it.”

“I see,” I muttered, carefully placing all those new pieces of information in their respective places on the greater puzzle-like picture that was my life at the moment. “Anything else?”

I smiled, pleased that he was finally willing to answer my questions, and searched the inner chambers of my mind.

“Um, how fast can you really move?” I asked and he sighed, as if he’d hoped that I’d answered him no.

“Faster than you can see.”

“Hmm, what if you wanted to go around the world. How long would it take you?”

“I don’t know. Never tried it before. There are much more interesting and comfortable ways to travel,” he replied and I couldn’t help smiling at his ‘interesting.’

“But would you need to stop to rest? Or could you do it in one go?”

“I’d probably need to rest at least two or three times,” he calculated. “Ah! Another thing I cannot do,” he claimed, making me jump. “I can’t duplicate myself. So I can’t be at two places at the same time.” I smiled maliciously.

“Now that’s reassuring. Two or more of you would be really hard to endure,” I confessed and his expression became slightly threatening. “Can I ask something?” I asked, squeezing my hands together, uncertain of how he’d react to my request. He seemed to notice my anxiety and his expression became more serious and slightly apprehensive.

“Ask.”

“Show me your true form.”

He was like a statue again, completely motionless; only his hair would gently move as the wind played with its dark strands.

“Why?” The word escaped his petrified lips and I found myself nervously playing with the ring that loosely embraced my finger.

“Because the only time I really saw you was when I evoked you. But now it will be different,” I replied, unable to find any other suitable arguments.

“No, it won’t,” he replied, his voice sounding even colder. “Because I cannot release my physical appearance without releasing part of my presence as well. It will expand all over this place, and even if you tell yourself you’re not afraid, it will still be a very real threat to your existence.”

I stood up, the muscles of my legs throbbing and complaining from that insignificant movement, and shivered when the wind blew in my ears. Even so, I raised my head and faced him with all my strength.

“Maybe yes, maybe no. But don’t you want to know?” I asked and he averted his gaze.

“I’m fine with the way things are,” he said.

“Liar!” I accused him, raising my voice, and took a deep breath pushing my sudden anger away. “I’m not!”

“Mariane,” I heard him whisper my name as if he was appealing to my good sense, and I clenched my hands into two tight fists, frowning, forbidding myself to be dragged by the power his voice held over me.

“And stop using my name to control the way I feel!” I added for good measure. “What are you afraid of?”

He looked at me and his fierce gaze filled with a deep restrained fury that almost made me take a step back.

“You stupid Human!”

“I’m here, am I not?”

“Only for now!”

“I am here!” I insisted, easily raising my voice over his, and he sighed in defeat, allowing his fury to wash away.

“Just stay there then,” he muttered bitterly and took a deep breath as if to gather courage.

I watched as he slowly closed his eyes and, moments later, his short hair rose in the air, as if the wind around him had grown stronger. I blinked to make sure I was seeing right, and the soft dark strands grew, inch by inch, but at a very much abnormal speed, until they fell over his shoulders, sliding over his shirt down to waist length. I immediately felt the difference in the air. It was as if he’d stepped closer to me, although neither of us had moved. My body was now shaking, as always happened when he stood beside me, and yet, as unpleasant as it might be, that was a sensation I had grown used to. Gabriel looked defiantly at me and his violet eyes locked on my shaking hands.

“Enough?”

“No,” I replied immediately, not allowing myself a single second to waver.

“Fine then. But I should warn you, it won’t be as soft as this.”

I just nodded while mentally preparing myself. The impact was deafening and stridently loud, making me cover my ears. The cyclonic wind that surrounded me, pulling at my hair and hurting my bare skin, made me crouch for fear I’d end up being tossed somewhere else. My heart exploded against my chest, stealing my breath away, and I felt my sanity slipping away like water between my fingers. The chaos around me screamed and howled. And darkness closed in, tying me up, making it impossible for me to run, threatening to swallow me whole.

I forced myself to breathe and, for a moment, that was all I could do. The air burned my lungs every time, but I just kept at it until I was sure I wouldn’t forget to breathe again.

Shaking terribly, I noticed the wind had dwindled and that the voices that kept screaming were now just a scary murmur. And so I dared raise my head, and my eyes were lost in his terrifying figure.

The dark wings sprouting from his back were huge, with sharp endings and, although Gabriel stood completely still, my instincts told me without a shadow of a doubt that he’d be on me in a split second, and that he could shred me into pieces before I could even blink. My stomach cringed, making me feel sick, until I found his eyes.

Suddenly I felt as if I’d been thrown into a sea of deep, cold water, and everything was silent. The sadness that marked his face left a bitter taste in my mouth, and knowing I was the reason behind his pain made tears blur my vision.

Not knowing exactly how, I was able to stand up, my legs shaking so much that it was almost impossible to walk. And yet I took a step towards him, and that feeble movement was all it took to return the light to his eyes. He watched intently and patiently as I struggled with every single step until I could finally stand before him. By then my breathing was so labored that the air was filled with its sickening sound, and my heart beat so fast that it hurt my chest. And yet I felt immensely happy when I saw him smile, a small, almost shy smile.

Looking at him from so up close made me notice an immensity of small details, like the shadow that his rebel bangs cast over his violet eyes, or how his face looked even paler when framed by his long black hair. I raised a hand that wouldn’t stop shaking and touched a strand of his hair, resting over his chest, surprising myself at how cold it felt, thin and soft, sliding through my fingers like liquid. And then my eyes were on his wings, which he kept half folded against his body. I felt really small near him, as if I could simply disappear in his shadow. I left his hair and stretched a hand towards one of his wings,but, before I could see it, or understand how, his hand stopped mine, just standing there, like a wall in my path. I noticed how big it was, his fingers long and elegant, and how he kept it opened as to make sure he wouldn’t grab me.

“You’ll hurt yourself,” I heard him say in that smooth tone and I looked up at him, confirming he’d just allowed the words to flow out of his unmoving lips.

His voice was the same, I mused, and inexplicably that made me feel more at ease. I went around his hand easily enough and touched the dark surface of his wing, feeling it slithering, almost plastic-like. The shock that electrified my fingers spread up my arm, up to my elbow and yes, it hurt, but not enough to make me pull back. And so I slowly ran my hand over it, feeling it smooth and cold but incredibly resistant, and smiled.

“So weird.”

I saw the hand he had raised to stop mine slowly lower and was lost in that movement. His white long fingers stretched towards me and lightly touched my waist in such a way that I could hardly feel them.

His wings disappeared in a rain of small dark stars that confused me, the floating bright glitters cold and light to the touch when they fell over my hand, almost like small drops of water that didn’t wet. However, I felt the difference immediately, and it was as if someone had taken an immense weight off me. I looked up with a half complaint on my lips and was immediately frozen in place. His eyes, the way he was looking at me, immediately erased all coherent thoughts from my mind.

Just like that morning, I watched as he slowly bent over me until his face was right beside mine, almost touching me, and I heard as he took a deep breath, making me forget to breathe and sending shivers down my spine. His breath warmed my neck, and my shoulder, and my entire body, and my heart almost stopped. I felt him gently brush my hair back, his cold skin briefly brushing against mine, as his fingers traced the line from my neck, up to my ear, so lightly that he was barely touching me.

My trembling legs threatened to falter and, in a reflex, I held on to the only thing that could offer me some support, my fingers closing over the silk fabric of his shirt. I felt like a mesmerized bird enchanted by a poisonous serpent, but even so I couldn’t let go.

Gabriel took a deep breath, making me tremble, and his fingers slid softly over my waist, and up my back, stopping between my shoulder blades.

“This is too hard,” he whispered by my ear, his breath caressing my skin with every word, sending electrical charges through my entire body. “I want to hold you, but I don’t even dare, and yet everything about you, your warmth ... your scent ... keeps calling me in.”

I had to sob to be able to breathe and the tips of his fingers touched my face, cold and trembling, sliding over my skin like icy cold tears. They softly made me raise my head, and facing his gaze, so close to mine, made me dizzy. His cold lips touched my forehead, bringing my stilled heart back to life, back into one of his frenzied races, and the sweet scent of his skin stole what little ability to think I still retained. His lips slid over my face, caressing my skin, light as feathers, until his warm breath touched my lips, and he pressed his lips against mine, stopping motionless. I felt as if something inside me was about to break, and wondered which one of us was shaking the most. His fingers on my back increased their pressure, and I could clearly feel them for a moment, until he relaxed his strength again as if he’d been fighting the urge to pull me closer. And then his lips were moving over mine, in a trembling but incredibly sweet kiss, and something burned inside me as if I’d just sealed another Contract with him.

As if the hypnotic effect had suddenly been broken I could move again, and I lowered my head, escaping from his touch. My hands released him, still shaking uncontrollably, and pain pierced through me as I recalled what we were and the situation we were in.

I heard him sigh, as though he’d just thought the same, and wanted to cry.

“This ... cannot be ... right?” His velvet voice echoed in my mind, making the pain even worse, and his hands slowly released me, making me feel as if I’d been left naked.

I saw him take a step back. And the idea that he could step away from me just like that, with so much ease, sent waves of panic washing over me. Unthinkingly I grabbed one of his long strands of hair and stopped him from taking another step. I raised my head, fearing his reaction, fearing his anger, but he was looking at me with gentle eyes, with that same expression that I’d only seen him wear with Lea, and smiled.

The weight of that smile almost crushed me and, in an impulse, I took the step that he’d backed away and hugged him as hard as I could, burying my face on his chest. He stood motionless, for an instant, and all I could hear was my own sobbing. And then he moved, and I felt him place his forehead on my head. His long hair fell all around me, like a curtain of darkness, and a heavy sigh left his lips.

“What now?”

I stubbornly shook my head and, although my arms ached and trembled, I hugged him even harder.

“I don’t care ...”

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