once upon a time, you told me how to break your heart. you, with your flaming eyes and dozen razor wings, your forged-in-hell conviction, your claws and teeth and venom.
oh, just the will of the-powers-that-be, humans say, referring to the One Power That Is. they don’t seem to realise how long it has been since that Power gazed upon existence.
nobody rules, now. the Winged are scattered across the cosmos, brooding in the spaces between stars, and the universe is left to its own devices.
and us? we’ve been lounging in a dust-blown nebula for half of forever, passing stories and smoke.
“he was nice,” i was saying. i couldn’t remember how long ago it was that you’d asked me what he had been like – an hour, maybe, or a few millennia – but it didn’t really matter.
time sort of didn’t exist out here. “well. not nice, really, but he kept himself to himself. let us pretty much do what we want, little as there was to do.”
you lit a cigarette on a dying star and said, “for the Antichrist, he sounds okay.”
i shrugged. “he was, i don’t know. human, i guess? i think that’s why It hated him so much.
It gave him divinity, power, exaltation, and all he wanted to do was run as far as possible in the other direction.” a beat of silence. the dying star beside us began to keen quietly.
“and yours? what was It like?”
you flicked ash across the void. “It,” you said. “well. i guess It was existent, but only in the way that fear is existent. lying dormant until something triggers it, forces it to rise.
you couldn’t see It – i mean, you could. hypothetically. but no one ever did. i don’t think It wanted to be recognised."
a puff on your cigarette, stardust seeping out of the corner of your mouth.
we were silent again, for longer this time. the dying star’s cries swelled in pitch and volume, building to a crescendo.
this star was large, compared to some of the others; it would make for a breathtaking supernova. it was a shame that beauty would be wasted on two such as us.
you said, “which side were you on?”
“the last one.”
i smiled crookedly. “i don’t think there is a last one, in a universe like this. no beginning, no end.”
you shook your head. “there is an end, not far off. but you’re sidestepping the question.”
the star was loud enough now that, had we been anywhere but an empty vacuum, we should have had to shout to be heard. “the question,” i said. “yes. well. i don’t know, to tell the truth.
i believe i started out fighting beside the demons, when there were still clear sides. by the end of it, i was lashing out at anyone who got within reach.”
you smiled, teeth chunks of raw black iron. “your kind had the numbers. we had It.”
“not for long.”
“and then?” because i was curious now (and that was something i hadn’t known i could be). “what happened, in the end? why’d your kind retreat?”
the star-cries were earsplitting, if earsplitting could exist with neither an atmosphere to carry it nor ears to hear.
and you seemed bothered by it – though i had no way of knowing for certain – in a way that suggested you could hear the star. truly hear it, not just sense its energy output.
you said, very softly, “oh, we died. we died. we… ”
“i didn’t know angels could die.”
“neither did we.”
you and i, we were eons old. we’d seen star systems born and die, a thousand comets wend their way between planets, constellations shift and meld and change. we had no concept of diplomacy.
there was only truth and not-truth, and we have lived too long to mix words. “how do you kill an angel?”
i have never had your conviction, your faith. i wasn’t expecting you to answer honestly.
but you huffed out a last breath of radiation and solar wind and flung your cigarette carelessly into the black. you turned a burning gaze on me. piercing burning light.
an angel’s gaze is agony to a demon shawled in shadow, but i could not look away.
when you spoke, an eon later, your voice was a rumble. “you want to know how to kill me?”
i couldn’t speak. that echoing rumble awakened something buried deep within me, within whatever form i could claim to have. like fear, almost.
you turned that gaze out into the void, and i was released. “you know. it was funny,” you said. “we fought that war for half a star-cycle. in the end, we didn’t die fighting.
we just wandered a little too close to the Dark, and it consumed us.
nothing escapes from the Dark, not even light, not even light… ” and then you curled in tight on yourself, tighter, tighter, until it seemed you would have to explode outwards. “not even screams."
and i realised that for you to survive you had to have abandoned every last one of your people, the moment you felt their distress.
you had to have sensed the first angel’s panic as it got dragged in, the soul-wrenching terror of doomed doomed dead never getting away, and you fled.
we hung, suspended in star-spattered silence. the star beside us was dead. it was a tightly furled corpse now, having collapsed in on itself after the supernova that neither of us had seen.
maybe that was for the best; a death witnessed by the wrong person was worse than one that went unobserved.
and we stayed like that. we are staying, will stay like that. how else do we pass existence? once. sometime. never. once, once, once. now.
once upon a time, an angel told a demon how to break its heart. once upon a time, the demon realised there was no heart left to break.