CHAPTER 33: LION IN A CAGE
He lay in the cell, naked except for a lattice of cuts and scabs that covered his flesh like old dry paint.
His ribs strained at his taught skin, and his eyes had sunk deep into their sockets. He lay in the corner, curled up in his stick thin arms and legs.
Thomas and Groethuis watched him through the glass.
“What did he do?” Thomas asked.
“Nothing.” said Groethuis “He’s not being punished.”
The cell took up a whole corner of Groethuis lab, which in itself was the size of a small cathedral. Work terminals, tables laded down with weapons of every make and description, horribly mutilated human shaped dummies lying everywhere like there had been a massacre. The stone roof arched over their heads in a grim, colourless rainbow.
The prisoner suddenly turned and kneeled on the ground, clasped his hands together and closed his eyes. His lips began to move soundlessly.
“Ah, prayer time.” said Groethuis. He left Thomas staring at the stick thin wretch and began messing around with a computer terminal connected to a plethora of black, snakelike cables that were plugged into the walls of the cell.
Thomas started slightly as he heard words being spoken.
“What is that?”
“I have recorders lining the walls of the cell, so we don’t miss anything.”
“You record him praying?”
“The master’s orders. He thinks we might learn something of value.”
“From his prayers?”
“Well it’s the only time he speaks. And heaven knows I’ve tried other methods.”
Well, that explained his state, Thomas thought, he was being tortured for information.
The whispered words were as clear as a bell. Thomas had long since given up trying to process the marvels he was being subjected to every second. Instead he simply listened to the words.
“Prachma adelis, scaballa enosa lal.”
And in response to the beautiful, melodious words Groethuis’ computer uttered a translation in a flat, metallic voice.
“Oh pity, for they have cut my wings from me.”
“Bolus desinae machta fesh, lal ast.”
“I am blood burning iron on the lip of the beast,”
“Awhey-loi! Awhey-loi, misha-lal ennahey.”
“Alack these things they have done to me.”
“Yol fanus naggahan, lal ast.”
“I am Yol’s wrath in a cage.”
“Hmh. Same old same old.” Groethuis muttered.
“What language is that?” Thomas asked.
“It is their language.” said Groethuis “Elohim.”
“You’re saying that’s him? That’s your angel?”
“Oh, I know he doesn’t look much.”
“He doesn’t look anything.”
“Hm. The years have not been kind to him, I’ll grant you. When he was first brought here, he would take your breath away. He was magnificent.”
“Please tell me he had clothes back then.”
While they spoke the prisoner continued his prayer, the computer continued to process it.
“Lal, menios yolach breehay yolishan.”
“I who swam in the sun’s yellow sea,”
“Lal, indus vishtal ebenay.”
“I who raced the falling stars.”
“Alright, if you don’t believe me I guess I’ll just have to prove it you.” said Groethuis gamely.
He pressed a key and spoke into the small microphone.
“Animal. Show us your true form.”
The prisoner ignored him, continuing to pray.
“Last chance.” said Groethuis.
“Desanus polus, lal shavan Yoli-awhey enos. Enos tagra han.”
“I had a breath of heaven’s air still in my lungs, Still sweet when here they took me,”
“Always the hard way, with this one.” said Groethuis.
Thomas watched as Groethuis pressed another key and the prisoner began to scream and leap into the air.
“What did you do?” Thomas asked.
“I’ve just increased the temperature of the floor to around two hundred degrees.” said Groethuis, but speaking into the microphone. And it’ll stop as soon as he changes for us.”
The prisoner screamed and fell on his back to spare his feet, and then began to roll around.
“Change.” said Groethuis.
“I can wait here all day.”
The scream was becoming less human. Deeper, rougher.
And then. He did.
“Do you know, there was a time when I would laughed at the very idea. I am a very scientific fellow, I like to have everything laid out neatly before me. I don’t like difficult questions, I don’t like things which contradict the accepted natural order. So, as you can imagine, seeing this for the first time was something of a shock for me.”
Groethuis stood at Thomas’ side while the Thief’s Son stared in simple wonder at the occupant of the cell that had been a starving pathetic human form mere seconds ago.
“It’s…beautiful…” he breathed.
“Is it?” Groethuis asked “I’m afraid I’ve never had an eye for ascetics. It is, I will freely admit, a fascinating specimen.”
“This is what it really looks like?”
“Not exactly. This is the form it’s species usually takes. It’s something of a choice for them.”
“There are nine species, according to Mabus. The angels proper, the group that have most contact with this plane of existence, are usually human looking. Their purpose is to offer comfort to the suffering and to harvest the souls of the elect, those deemed worthy of heaven. You may be interested to know that we are not among them. But this one, this is a warrior. Hence it’s somewhat more predatory form. It’s human classification is Dominion. In it’s own language it is called Joriel-Dagan-el-Yoli.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Out of the cell? Immeasurably so. They are bound not to take human life but after all I’ve put this one through I doubt he’d rest until he’d mauled his way through the entire army. But he’s completely contained.”
“How? How can you do this? Does Mabus have that kind of power?”
“It has nothing to do with power. It is simply science.” said Groethuis rather sniffily “Come with me, I wish to show you something.”
Thomas tore his eyes away from the great, golden hulking form that crouched silently in the cage and followed Groethuis to a pristine white work table, on which lay throwing knives, daggers and several firearms.
“What are these for?” Thomas asked.
“These? These are for killing. Take these two.”
Groethuis handed Thomas two daggers. He took one in each hand and studied them. They were solid and well-made, but a touch heavier than he would have liked. They were exactly identical.
“Can you tell the difference?” Groethuis asked.
“They’re exactly the same.” said Thomas with the authority of one who knew about such things.
“No, they’re not. They are different in one very important way.”
“Let me ask you this: What makes a god a god?”
“Mabus has power. Is he a god?”
“He’s close enough.”
“I’ll tell you what makes a god. The ability to create something from nothing is the greatest test of godhead. Billions of years ago, there was nothing, and then the universe came into being. Something from nothing. Every atom in your body was created in that instant. Now, this is the incredible part. Not only did God create all matter in the universe, but He placed some of Himself in every particle. You’ve heard that He is everywhere? He is. He was woven Himself into every iota of matter and energy in the entire infinity of creation. He sees all because He is there to see it, He knows all because He is there when it happens. That is the secret behind His power. Do you understand?”
“Now. Do you see the knife in your right hand? Throw it at him.”
Thomas turned and faced the cell. Groethuis tapped a key and the cell window automatically opened some two feet. Two golden eyes stared balefully at him through the gap
He was mesmerised. He felt ten inches tall. In those eyes were such oceans of rage and woe. Their beauty took his breath away.
“I can’t.” he whispered “I can’t do it.”
“Thomas.” said Groethuis “Do you know what would have happened to you if Mabus hadn’t brought you here? You would have died, a shade would have claimed your soul and you would have been damned to Hell. This creature’s master decreed that. He had an eternity of torment and agony set in store for you. And you’re going to show this creature mercy? Or are you going to give your loyalty to Mabus? You cannot be loyal to this creature, this is our enemy.”
Without another word Thomas had raised the knife and flung it like a javelin at the creature’s throat. It flinched, as if expecting pain, but the knife flew through it as if it was made of air, and embedded itself in the far wall with a juddering thud.
Groethuis laughed sickly at Thomas’ confusion.
“They are part of him, of God.” he explained “Manifestations of his power. As such they are part of that fabric I told you about, sewn into every atom in the universe. They call it the Yoli-awhey, the matrix of divine power running through all matter. Therefore, they can’t be hurt by anything solid. It’s like trying to stab a wave with a knife made of water. They are invulnerable.”
“But then.” said Thomas, “If the knife passes through it, why can’t it walk through the walls of the cell?”
An utterly horrible smile spread itself over Groethuis’ oily features.
He leaned in to whisper. Thomas could see two of himself, pale and worried looking, in the scientist’s thin, round lenses
“Thomas Hieronimo, are you ready to hear of the most amazing discovery?”
“”In the beginning. God created the Heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form. And the Spirit of God moved across the face of the deep. And the Lord said, “Let there be Light.” You’ve heard that?”
“What they neglected to mention was that Mabus was there.”
“Yes! He travelled back, back to the very dawn of creation, further back than any Temporal has ever managed to go, it almost killed him. But he was there. He saw it. And Thomas, this is the truly incredible part. He learned the secret.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He learned how to create something. From nothing. He learned that which makes a god a god. Do you see the knife in your left hand? Throw it at him.”
This time there was no hesitation, Thomas flung it like the killer he was.
It struck the Dominion, and a gout of honey-coloured liquid shot from the wound. The Dominion sprang to it’s feet and roared and in that instant Thomas saw it in all it’s terrible, awesome, humbling glory. It was a lion, a great roaring lion, standing on it’s hind legs, a full eleven feet tall and almost as broad. It’s great ropy tail flailed wildly in it’s agony , it’s mouth was a cave of glistening, razor sharp teeth. From it’s shoulders he could see tufts of red and gold feathers, and he would later learn that these were where Groethuis had severed the wings from it’s shoulders. It’s eyes were balls of burning gold. With a single paw it gripped the blade and pulled it from it’s chest. As Thomas watched, the honey-blood began to harden over the wound and it seemed to heal almost before his eyes.
“New Matter.” Groethuis explained “Created not by God, but by Mabus. This entire fortress is forged from it. All the weapons we use are constructed from it. The Yoli-awhey is not present in it. If you stab an angel with this, he will bleed, an acid made from it will burn him, a poison made from it will sicken him, if you shoot him with it then he shall die. With a simple blade made from it you are on the level of the angels and may address them as an equal.”
He picked up another knife from the table and held it up to Thomas’ face.
“God is not in it. God cannot not see it and does not know where it is. Behind these walls He is blind to us. That is why Mabus can snatch soldiers from the timeline with impunity, because God quite simply does not, can not, know where we are. And that is why, when we strike, we shall win.”
He casually pressed a key and the cell window sealed tight again.
“Now come, I still have a lot to show you.”
They left, and the angel slowly shrunk and withered until it was once again a small, painfully thin man. Once again he fell to his knees and resumed his prayers and the computer dutifully transcribed his words, stripping them thoughtlessly of all passion and beauty.
“Heaven has died in my mind,
The fields are burning red and black,
I thought myself an eagle, so I soared,
I was a fly. I am entwined.
I long to drain the bitter cup,
I am denied.
Oh pity, for they have cut my wings from me.”
Amazing, I was starting to wonder what happened to Thomas.
Hmm, that wire-filled computer might come off as a bit strange to us in the wireless age… This story was initially written in the 90s, no? In any case, nice hand wave to keep from having Thomas have to awe at everything invented after his lifetime. I guess after you’ve been rescued from a lightning blast, you get hard to surprise, so it’s believable, really.
Neat Angel Speak you’ve made up there. Any particular inspiration? Google translate’s first guess was Maori, strangely enough. Also, apparently this universe has the equivalent of Elementary Particles. I like the sound of that. Cool explanation of how Mabus can hide from God. Furthermore, I love your description of the Dominion angels! You definitely were right when you said you had some cool character designs for some of the angels!
This talk all makes me wonder what species of angel the Devil was/is, and how he and the Shades fit into this story. How does this canon differ from that written by Dante and/or Milton? Also, I have to wonder how Mabus managed to evade God when he first came up with his plan. Shouldn’t God have at least known all of Mabus’s plans up to the moment he made the New Matter? You’d think he’d have noticed the moment Mabus popped up in the Genesis with his Yoli-awhey body, and ended the line for him right then and there for knowing too much.
…I’m beginning to feel like “that guy”. I hope I’m not being destructive with the belief-too-heavy-to-suspend angle. I really do love this story and wouldn’t want to be doing nothing but picking it apart. I guess to what extent you’d want to appeal to the overthinkers that might read this is up to you.