Oum

“This whole thing is a demon?” Luewit’s accent was hard to identify, but slavic in nature.

“Well, yes and no,” Lars stood before the ‘automatic’ door of a run down gas station rest stop. It wasn’t often you would see a piece of Earth existing on the same plane as the afterlife.

“Right. That is helpful.”

“It’s called an Ancient. Hell likes to say it’s a demon but I’m not sure it’s aligned with anyone.”

“I’ve been dead a long time, Larson. Why have I not heard of such a creature?”

“Ancients are very old beings. They are powerful, but not fully sentient. At least not anymore. There are very few angels around who remember some Ancients when they were just people like us.”

“This here.” Luewit poked at the grimy window of the sliding door. On the other side was a deep red haze. “This is a gas, not a person.”

“Not anymore, no.”

“And what is all this?” Her arms gesticulated to the whole structure of the narrow building. Dust floated in the air around them and ransacked boxes of food littered the shelves and floor. Lars could barely look at the rotting mess in the milk coolers.

“It’s a location on Earth. When Ancients become, well, Ancients, they drag the place that they died down with them. This part of Earth is connected to the Afterlife.”

“But this building is modern, no?”

“It changes in real time. If this building were to be torn down than we would just be standing on foundation.”

Luewit just shook her head and threw her hands up.

“Alright, fine. Crazy gas people connecting the Earth to the Afterlife.”

Lars couldn’t help but grin.

“They’re not all gaseous.”

“Wonderful. No, please, make it more confusing.”

Lars chuckled and shook his head.

“So we are here for what?”

“Answers. There’s a demon that lives here that knows where Valdi is.”

“So you know who knows where she is, but not where she is? And we’re going into the old, crazy gas person?”

“Yes.”

“Wonderful. Why did you feel the need to bring me along?”

“Because I might need some backup.”

“Fine, then let us get this over with.” Luewit reached for the door. Lars quickly grabbed her wrist and pulled it away.

“No! Wait, sorry. You can’t just go out there.”

Luewit rolled her eyes.

“What? Will gas person poison me?”

“Its name is Oum. And no, it’ll do worse.”

“Great. We are giving gas a name now.”

“Just stay by me.” Lars gestured at the air beside him and a ball of yellow light hovered in his palm. His eyes glowed with the same radiance and he made the light brighter.

“Just when I thought you couldn’t get any prettier, pretty boy,” Luewit teased.

“What?”

She grinned and walked to the door with him.

“Nothing.”

Lars shook his head and took Luewit’s arm. He teleported to the other side of the door. The haze around them instantly retracted from the light and there was a low hiss in the air. A din of groaning followed Lars and Luewit as they began to traverse the fog. It seemed Lars’ angelic light was causing it the Ancient pain. Lars couldn’t help but feel bad for it, but there was little else he could do.

“You are telling me we cannot teleport there?”

“No, I’ve tried. I just kept ending up where I started. Oum might be a big hazy cloud but it still holds power.”

“Does it have the power to be less inconvenient?”

Lars smiled and shook his head.

“How far is this demon?”

“Three day’s walk.”

“Three days?! No teleporting, no flying, with you, for three days?”

“Hey, what’s wrong with that?”

“Oy vey.”

The day’s journey wore Lars thin. Luewit seemed to be getting on just fine. He’d almost forgotten what it was like to have the energy of an angel. In his exhaustion Lars found his light dimming. He finally gave a huff and folded his legs to the ground.

“I need a moment…”

“Already?” Luewit stopped and joined him, crossing her legs across from him. Lars simply chuckled.

“You’re one of Michael’s warriors. I doubt you ever fall short of breath.” He rubbed his aching feet as he sat, gaining some relief.

“Only in battle.” With a dim flash, Luewit pulled her wings from her shoulderblades. She usually had them out all the time, but Lars had asked her to conceal them lest they get touched by the Ancient surrounding them. She kept them folded close and away from the deadly haze as she examined the talon on the tip of one of her wings. When she moved her head Lars noticed a small distortion in the space above it, like a wave of heat rippling through the air. It was her halo. He remembered back when he’d first died angels had the more commonly portrayed halos; striking golden rings floating above their heads. Post war, angels decided to take on a new look. Halos were now practically invisible unless you were looking for one. He prefered these, and rather missed his own.

“Were you in the war?” Quite the topic for casual conversation, but Lars wanted to see where it would lead.

“Which one?”

“You know, the war. The one against Hell. Well, the second one.”

Luewit grinned with amusement and shook her head.

“I am not that old, Larson.”

Lars rubbed the back of his neck and averted his gaze.

“Sorry.”

“Are you?”

“What, sorry?”

“No, that old?”

“Oh. I am, yes.”

Luewit glanced up from her preening with intrigue.

“And were you a part of that war?”

Lars sighed and nodded.

“As an Arch I had to be.”

“I still cannot picture you as Uriel.”

“Yeah? You and all the other Archs at the time then.”

“I can imagine. You achieved your rank for entirely selfish reasons.”

“Selfish? I did it try and save my brother.”

“Archangels take their positions to keep a balance with Hell. They are part of the Afterlife’s foundation, a critical element in keeping harmony and keeping the Midscape free for humans to dwell upon. They are there to protect sinners from ending up in Hell. You were there to save one person. That is selfish.”

Lars stayed quiet. He didn’t know if he was angry about what she said, but he did know that she was right. He swore an oath that he did not believe in. Maybe falling had always been in his future. He thought back to Saul. In the end he hadn’t been able to save him. His human body had taken so much damage from being possessed by Berith’s incredible power. Eight-hundred years later and he still felt that he had failed him.

“I did not say that I do not find what you did admirable.”

“You just told me I was selfish for-”

“Yes, you were. But you were also dedicated. Passionate. You still are.”

Lars looked out into the thick red fog.

“I’m not so sure.”

“Listen to me, Larson. You couldn’t save one soul, so you dedicated your life to saving everyone else’s. Whether it is because of guilt or otherwise, it is still admirable.”

“Luewit, you don’t-”

“I would not still be here if it was not for you, no?”

Lars met her eyes. He grit his teeth and tensed his throat to keep from crying. Everyone he’d saved in the past felt like an atonement for not being able to save the one soul that had slipped through his fingers.

“I know…” he choked on the lump in his throat.