Wednesday, 28 November 2018

S



I a girl
Eye
A girl
Pews alight
Domkirke
Confessions screen
The grass is greener inside
S, May
May I?
May I kiss you?
Ashen mouth
Tongue of flame
In your sacristy
Laken hilt
Your open armour
My chest
My knees
When you were a man
Water is cleaner
Than blood
Our Vampire Spring
May I?
May I care for you?
The grass is greener inside
S


Monday, 26 November 2018

Asha



I remember so many things, my love.  But not always with my conscious mind.  Sometimes fragments come to me.  What seem idealistic moments when set against the horror and brutality of this world.  Visions of colour and music, or sweet silence.  A touch, an embrace.  My hands in your hair, your cheek against my chest.  But more often than not I’m left with feelings, intuitions.  Dreamings that are untethered and have little purchase in this world.  Dreamings that mattered only to me, until I found you.  That little boy hunting monsters was born a tired thing.  At least, that's how it seems during my loneliest nights.  Those nights when the melody of your voice and the comfort of your eyes are all that stand between me and the abyss.  Still the wraiths torment me, as they have since I was a child.  I pray that I’ve sheltered you from the worst of those torments, my Vahishta.  As I’ve said before, I'm a dangerous man to know.  Your Kassi is known in many worlds, and by many names.  It seems unfortunate, at times.  To see myself in those stories and to be unable to utter a word of it to those closest to me.  But you, Asha, are quite literally my saving grace.  I would have bled to death without your touch.  These resurrections would have meant nothing without your heart in mine.  Truly, you gave me purpose.  I was lost, and you gave me back to myself.  I pray that I’ve been able to do the same for you.  

When I walk this path it's your voice that guides me.  When I rise towards heaven it's your light that lifts me.  I am utterly without guile or cynicism when ascending in your light, my cherished one.  For me, all that is hope and joy and truth carries your name.  All that is life carries your scent.  It was so before the seething hush, and it is still so – despite this wraith-made darkness.  We have loved so fiercely, so openly, without shame or regret.  I hold those moments close, like fragments of the stars we used to be.  They warm and comfort me, those memories of gold.  We have been many things to each other, my darling.  I am yours, for as long as you want me.  But above all else I am your friend and guardian.  Asha, hear me.  I would give my life for yours.  Again and again.  I think you know I'm sincere when I say such things.  I have the scars to prove it, my love.  I consider it an honour.  Because when I'm saddened you kindle my joy.  When I'm hardened you soften my spirit, and you remind me that the little boy hunting monsters still exists.  That sweet, tired child in the demimonde – half angel, half flesh – he is not dead.  They couldn't kill him.  He still lives.  He lives to serve his queen, his truest love, his best friend.  When his spirit finds the strength to rise, to dance, you are the one he imagines in his arms.  That will never change.  Be with me now, my Asha.  I will take you higher, and higher still.


Asha from Raj Sisodia on Vimeo.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

RISE



Alone

Before I met you

Alone in this house

This house of the gods

But to know

That you were as close to heaven

As I would ever get

Those eyes

So blue

I took them as my name

To rise

In your sight

With your light

Beside me

Because a promise

Is a promise

My Love

And away

We go


Thursday, 22 November 2018

Blinding Black


Celia was kneeling in the courtyard behind Corpus Christi.  The winter afternoon was overcast yet slightly luminous.  With leather-gloved hands she placed a red rose beneath the stone cross, steeling herself, inhaling the crisp November. 
     Thirty-three years old, a dancer’s frame, dark hair almost black, but she had the face of a girl – a face much like mum’s had been.  Celia frowned and pulled off her gloves.  She ran her fingers through the grass on top of the grave.  Death was an unglamorous truth.  Loss was painfully erudite.  She lit a cigarette, reading the etched words again. Alice Gray.  Artist.  Mother.  Friend.  Celia smiled, tracing the legends with her fingers. 
     “I saw the Rembrandt exhibit at the National, took the tube down to Charing Cross.  I loved it, the consistency of the light.  St Peter looked like he was glowing from the inside, you know?  Fuller than life. Righteous, untouched.  Never seen so many virgins in one place. Sorry, I’m just being mean.  I loved it, mum.  I know you loved it too.”
     Mum had adored painting.  Celia still remembered her profile at the window, the brush in her hand.  One day she hoped to be as elegant. She pulled hard on the cigarette and tossed it into the bushes. 
     “Still a little rough around the edges, I guess.”  Celia put her hands on her knees.  “I’ve got class tonight.  I’m teaching a new bunch, twice a week.  Kind of excited.  Look in on me, ok?  I’ll dazzle them for you.” 
     She put on her gloves, kissed her mother’s name and climbed to her feet.  She didn’t look back as she walked away from the stone cross, winding through the courtyard...

Little Rock // Requiem




I took my vengeance, for what they tried to do.  I shall show it to you soon.  And I shall take more.  Much more, in lieu of my madness.  I Am a dark thing when my love is threatened.  And these wraiths have threatened those I love for so very long.  I'm not above vengeance or its terrifying pleasures.  I’m not above the thundering, dissonant melodies of revenge.  I won't pretty such terror by calling it justice.  My love was once pure, as angel.  Then, reborn in wrath as demon.  Then, drowned in sadness and loss as Man.  I am still all three, and only by Grace do I recognise these insights.  But make no mistake, I can kill and sleep soundly.  I shall never harm the innocent.  But the cruel?  Oh, Fallen.  You know the truth.  I watch you flee from it in every act of bravado.  Deceivers, I am not trapped in here with you.  You are trapped in here with Me.  Tell me, how can a king be a king without knowing what it is to lose everything? How can a creator be such without knowing what it is to have all his creations taken from him? Eternal repose?  I for one have never known such a thing.  Distant gods, cold and cruel?  The fantasies of tired, broken men.  No, your tired and broken gods walk with you.  They love and laugh and weep with you. 
    They kill with you, when you kill. 
    I have known so many horrors and yet there are still more to know, more to recall.  My shame?  My real shame?  That the worst horrors are known by those other parts of me.  That I share your weaknesses.  That I crave comfort as much as you do, no matter how ill-gained.  No matter that this comfort comes at the expense of the unimaginable suffering of others.  But, sadly, if I didn't Other myself I would break from such suffering.  And I am already lashed to the wheel and bound to the tree.  Left to die in the glare and heat of your former glory is such imaginative cruelty.  Imagination allowed to rot is breathtakingly ugly.  But imagination tenderly cultivated by evil?  It is so horrifying, so soul-shatteringly vile, that it is almost beautiful. 
    I and many others have known such things.  I’m not special in this regard.  Kind and dangerous ones who are hunted, raped and slain.  Then resurrected in mockery of their former selves. The attempted negation of creation's light.  The slitting of the throat of All Hallows.  You would make me a monster?  Oh, I was a thing of the moon long before you gave it names.  You would make me a cruel thing?  The ultimate perversion?  Never.  I defy you, Fallen.  My rage can take worlds apart.  But never shall I be cruel.  Such petty thrills lose their lustre when experienced at the hands of those you once loved so dearly.  In a world such as this one, what angel worth his salt wouldn't walk among you?  At least, one who loves Man as deeply as I do? My brothers and sisters.  My friends.
    Sometimes I fear the loss of this suffering.  I fear losing the memory of this pain.  I’m not alone in this at all, am I?  Sometimes we don't want to heal, fearing that it will negate the raw poignancy of our love for those we have lost.  
    "Look," we cry. "Look how I loved you, and lost you.  Look how it ruins me."  And we make sacred the pain, to protect the ache.  Angels, Men, Spirits of the Air.  To lose the one you loved above all else?  It is agony.  To lose them all?  Death of the spirit; annihilation.  Before such obliterated spirit finds its wings again.  And this is the priceless secret you gave me, Little Rock.  Even in hell there are missionaries.  If you are truly willing, even in the Abyss someone will find you – and befriend you.  But you have to want something more than annihilation, something more than utter spiritual darkness.  There are dark places that heal; warm and fecund.  Find them.  Love and honour them. 
    Though missionaries roam these ruined byways, light is lost at these depths.  It is best if you carry your own.  And you are my own, cherished one.  That gate's gift you gave me, I carry it always.  In the deepest chamber of my heart.  I shall never lose it again.  I become it, to know you better.  To protect the ache.  To remember the beauty and mercy offered to me by Grace on that desolate broken road.  I was utterly alone, but you found me.  I was ashes and sand wreathed in chymical flesh, but you kissed me.  I was bleeding out, slowly, and you touched me.  And so I live.  And so I've learned.  And so I offer this poetry in lieu of my secrets.  Perhaps they are the same thing, after all.  Kasai Eli still dreams beneath the hill, of love and kindness and maidens fair.  Of hope and knowing.  A restored Family of Man.  All Songs.  What it was, what it shall be.  I still see you in the sky sometimes, my beloved.  Like the gift you gave me.  And, oh, how you shine.


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Cross the Sky



What does it mean to walk as one?  Such wisdom often walks in secret, beyond the reach of any nightmare.  Beyond the clutches of any wraith.  I speak of family, lost loved ones, and I'm deemed a fool and discretely tortured for my words.  Yet still I speak, on love's behalf.  Love cares more for what it can give than receive.  This is a powerful secret, hidden in plain sight. Those wraith-kings and their priests must endeavour to obscure it right before our eyes.  Such trickery is hateful, mercenary and sick.  Those acolytes shall be poisoned by such dark magic in the end.  Mark my word.  It shall turn on you, as the tide before the moon.  I give not to gain.  I give to stand for something greater than myself.  Truth, honour, courage.  All those things that poets speak of.  Those things that make the love we share sweeter, deeper, endlessly passionate.  Respect and mutual affection shall come again to the earth.  A thread of gold between all hearts, all stars.  A thread between worlds.  The Magi work tirelessly towards such ends.  Kashi works with them.  

None among the kind and lonely ones shall be forsaken.  Not a soul with a spark lit in its breast shall be left unguarded.  This is my truth.  The truth of star and mount, older than all dreams of time.  We Magi invented time.  It is given, and by the edge of the scythe it can be taken.  But your Lemniscate of the Blind is not our working.  Callous Ones, hear me.  I walk with them, always.  Know me yet?  Do the wisest among you dare speak my name above a whisper?  Kassiel knows what you know, and more.  Far more.  I’m submerged in dreaming's well, beyond all notions of death and birth.  Still, even I can notice the light in the water, as night prepares to kneel before the morning.  Kara, the Frenchman is with you still.  Never doubt your place in my heart.  From Our Lady to Our Star, I carry you.  Be with me now as I walk for her.  Asha, my dearest, all is joy in my brush when I paint such workings for you.  And each working is a gate, as you know.  Together these gates will soften the stars, for you.  We are within each other, my beloved ones.  Kassi is everywhere, and in everything.  Perhaps they see us now, a little clearer.  Love is not a lie.  It is wings unseen.  It can lift a soul, a star, even a fallen angel.  And though I may be fallen, I am on the mend.  I'm healing, and I am not without grace.


Cross the Sky from Raj Sisodia on Vimeo.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

All My Tears



My Asha, they know not the truth of us.  The truth of our antiquity, the peace and light of our Age. Our endless grief at losing it all.  But war does that, doesn't it?  It lies and steals and sickens the spirit.  It takes everything that matters from the kindest, sweetest souls.  Souls far sweeter than I.  They paint me now as a monster.  A horned, pagan thing.  A prince of darkness.  Kassi is all these things, but not as they imagine.  I don’t enjoy cruelty and sadism, as the wraith-kings of this realm certainly do.  I despise such ugliness of spirit.  I wish for nothing but beauty and love.  Asha, my dearest, they have utterly reimagined this once shining realm.  Reimagined it as a place of blood-sacrifice, rape, murder, and endless war.  But you and I both know this realm was nothing like that. Corrupted chronologies, false histories.  Almost everything that mankind believes about this world is a lie, my love.  The cities did shine.  All of them.  Sweet, fierce intelligence and mutual affection was indeed the currency between all brothers and sisters of the Earth.  Those threads of gold.  Those gates of light.  What was once lived experience and blessed truth has been relegated to romance and legend.  

But still the Magi serve the lost ones.  The weak and wounded.  The kind and lonely ones.  They didn't turn their backs on Love, despite their endless hardships.  And so we shan't turn our backs on them.  I don't stand for a world where all the heroes and heroines are mere fictions – figments to soften a banal and brutal existence.  Neither do you.  No, we stand for a world where guardians walk – often unseen – beside those who need them most.  I count myself among the lonely ones.  As I'm sure you still do, at times.  Don't we all?  Both mortal and immortal?  It's why I will always walk with you, my love.  For as long as you need or want my company.  Near enough so that I might protect you as best I can, but far enough that you never feel smothered or obligated.  Darling, my love will always be free and will never demand anything in return.  I searched for you for so long.  Never shall I threaten our connection, or your faith and trust in me that I pray I've earned.  Kassi was alone here, until you.  

If I have been a teacher to you, know that you have also been a teacher to me.  The loneliness almost kills me some nights, my love.  Hiding everything I am from my friends and family.  Living a lie in order to keep them safe.  Some nights it crushes me.  But your wisdom sees me through, and the knowledge that my workings have mattered to you.  That they have enriched and nurtured your life. What more could an angel ask for?  Such guardianship is why we were forged, after all.  Which is why it's such a horror when angels fall.  Yet some of us fall for love, and love alone.  My sweet one, I know that you recognise these pages speak the truth.  Whenever you’re scared, or feeling overwhelmed or lonely, recall these pages in the very depths of you.  When you look into my eyes, wild star of mine, recognise me.  Remember who I am, and what I’m willing to do and endure in order to give you the best life possible.  One full of depth, magic and love.  Visions unparalleled.  I work diligently for my Vahishta.  I work thrice-fold, all through the night.  My solitude and tears are worth a thousand repetitions for such an honour.  When I weep now I weep with a certain gratitude and sweetness in my heart.  Your light in my tears.


All My Tears 2 from Raj Sisodia on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Colours & Songs // Requiem



I would often quietly look back at you through the things you loved; the songs and images, the rustle of leaves, the birds beyond your window.  All the while praying you sensed me, that you realized I was there – offering you hope, sharing your grief.  Beside you in those songs we both so desperately needed to hear.  Two souls side by side, though distant.  Each imagining the other as a bittersweet fiction.  Some painful, clinging echo of a holier realm.  A fractured knowing amidst a fractured sanctity.  Feathers of my wings seeping images torn from dream. Bleeding shoulders, still flexing the place where such wings would fold at my back.  And I wondered of yours.  Did the birds offer you their feathers in sweet regard, dropping them like secrets for you to find?  We shall have those wings again, my love.  The dreaming was once our house; a grand and sentient house with many rooms.  For us a thing of joy and peace and mysteries.  Before the wars, before the fires.  So strange, beloved, how the songs reminded us of things we hadn't realized we'd forgotten.  It broke me, that loss.  The loss of you.  Then the years where the crippling doubts of a boy would wage with the dim memories of an angel.   
   "There was something here once, in this absence.  My light was taken from me."
   I still remember the castle on the cliffs of our dreaming, in the mountains, overlooking the twilit radiant.  I recall how most evenings you would marvel at the ‘coming of the colours’ – ever-changing luminescent colours that would fold and climb through the half-dark sky, and then eventually recede like a wave pulling back into the place before night.  You never tired of it.  I miss that so profoundly, an ache of what was.  Sitting out on the cliffs with you as we watched the evening's radiant, sensing endless prophecies in those haunting colours.  Like the entire realm was dancing for us.  And we would add the feeling of those dances to our great work; to our many poems and stories and songs.  The trees in the forests of the valley beneath seemed to lift their branches towards those colours.  And each morning the look of delight in your eyes as we descended into that valley, into those forests you loved so well, and the trees would tell you what they sang to the evening sky.  How well you knew them, beloved.  How well you danced with birch, willow and pine.  How your dancing changed so attentively and gracefully for each.
   I was never so deft and subtle as you were, my wild one.  But I learned as I watched you, as you taught me deeper secrets of communion.  Such are the mysteries of creation and identity. Those holy things of you could never be slain by war alone.  You kept those memories hidden in song and image, in feeling, even in the eerie quiet of an empty room.  To be estranged from one's self is nightmarish indeed.  It's nothing I would have wished for my beloved one.  But I would sing to you sometimes, through the voices of others.  Sometimes through your own voice.  A melody that came to you, a lyric or snippet of verse.  It felt like you often heard me, because you would smile.  Sweetly, sadly, but comforted.  The strange, haunted joy of you – the hidden wit and mischief – none of it is anything less than cherished, my love.  On your account did I descend.  I built all of this for you, every part of it.  I built this occulted gate for love.  For every sacred thing the heart still holds, and is brave enough to honour.  And in this staggering task I found many of my friends again.  Beloved ones of other lives thought lost to me also.  And so I'm comforted, as in song.  I'm brighter and more hopeful than I ever thought possible here.  In the act of attempting to heal and delight my cherished one I find myself healing too, and delighted.  While we both still carry anguish and shadow – for all the losses and horrors endured – we are so much brighter now, and stronger.  We have each other, and we have ourselves again.  I have many secret magics, my wild one, as you know, and I will always do my best to protect your spirit and your heart.  Sometimes we tiptoe, sometimes we run.  But still we share our songs, distant yet side by side.  Of the trees, beside the river, beneath the stars.  Of feathers and twigs and cloak, of words older than time.  As luminescence comes in colours that paint and fold and climb our evening skies.  I ask that you would take my hand, my love, and for a blessed moment walk with me there again.


Saturday, 3 November 2018

Little Wing




There was blood in the undergrowth.  Her blood.  She didn't know how far north of Tr√łndelag she was, but it was bitterly cold and getting colder.  The forests were thicker here.  Ancient, like the trees were watching her.  And they were, of course.  She knew that.  She could see her own breath coiling like a spirit in the frigid air as she trudged onwards.  Her left thigh felt like it was on fire.  Blood had already soaked through the tourniquet.  She was so far from Stavanger and the safety of the west coast.  So far from anything even remotely resembling her childhood home.  But Ana had been lost to the radiant for many years now.  What seemed an eternity. She'd come to understand that she was so much more than just a girl.  Her old life felt like a half-remembered dream, the faces of her parents and brother dim shapes in her mind.  Ana could still vaguely recall the feel of them, their warmth and humour, but she couldn't remember what they looked like.  It broke her heart just to think of it.  Memories and time seemed to move differently in the radiant.  Grey skies above the green and burnt-orange treeline now.  Dusk would be coming soon, and then she'd be lost out here in the unfamiliar night.  She might even freeze to death – if he didn't find her first.  Ana recalled his chilling voice from a few hours ago.
   "Liten Vinge?  Jeg vil ikke skade deg..."
   I won’t hurt you.
   She had watched him from beneath moss and dirt and autumn leaves.  Dark hair, early thirties.  His black coat and fingerless gloves, his military stance.  The way he held the rifle like it was an extension of himself as he stalked through the clearing, boots crunching twigs beneath him.  She'd been lucky.  Ana doubted she would get lucky a second time without the old woman's help.
   This wasn't the forests of her childhood.  She didn't feel safe here.  But then, she was being hunted.  She wouldn't have felt safe anywhere.  A sixteen year old girl in an oversized winter coat and a gunshot wound in her left thigh.  The makeshift tourniquet had stemmed most of the blood but the pain was still excruciating.  The fallen branch she was using as a crutch was keeping her moving, but the injury brought pain with each step.  She prayed for strength, muttering under her breath.
   "Beskytt, beskytt, beskytt meg..."
   It didn't feel like anyone or anything was protecting her out here.
   Tears were dry on her cheeks but new ones came all the time.  Most teenagers prided themselves for no longer believing in monsters, for putting away such childish fears.  But most teenagers had never been hunted by a monster.  Most had never awoken one morning to find themselves lost in the radiant; a place of messengers and living nightmares.  The gunman was still out there, she knew, and getting ever closer.  It was only a matter of time before she was a girl with a hole in her skull, sleeping in the fallen leaves as the forest creatures ate her rotting flesh.  There was only one way left now to get the old woman's attention.  It involved becoming a killer, like the man that was hunting her.  
   It was the last thing she wanted to do.
   Ana tried to hold back the tears.  She stopped in her tracks and slumped to the ground among the gnarled, leaf-littered roots of an ancient pine.  She tossed her branch-crutch away in anger and squeezed her eyes shut.  If she didn't kill she would die out here.  A simple choice, really.  When she opened her eyes again she tried to be resolute.  She searched the sky until she saw a crow circling low nearby.  She lifted her hands as if to cup the image of the flying bird, and muttered, "Sove."
   Sleep.
   The bird's wings seemed to spasm and it fell from the sky like a black stone, vanishing into the undergrowth.  Ana hauled herself upright and hobbled towards where the crow had hit the ground.  She found it among the leaves, somehow still barely alive.  She winced with empathy as its wings trembled in pain.  She sat down beside it and took it into her arms.  Its wings began flapping valiantly against her breast like it knew what was coming.
   "I'm so sorry," she muttered in Norwegian, before she curled her fingers around its head and quickly snapped its neck.
   The crow still beat its wings for a few moments in an unsettling imitation of life before going limp.  Ana frowned as she gently folded its wings back into place.  She knew the truth.  Her life wasn't worth more than this bird's.  Or any of the things of the forest.  She'd learned that even as a little girl in Stavanger.  But she was being hunted, and so she was willing to hunt also.  How could she protect the lost ones if she was dead?  The gunman was tracking her, of course.  She'd left a trail of blood through the forests.  He could be minutes or moments away for all Ana knew.
   With a sharp stone she cut open the crow’s breast, and dabbed a little of its blood on the bark of the nearest tree.  Three small vertical marks, the old woman's signature.
   Now all she could do was wait.  The radiant had its own rhythms and secrets.
  
Dusk was finally gathering in the skies above.  In the darkness something was shimmering as it slowly curled around the trunk of a tree that Ana was watching.  Like a cascade of moonlight spiralling around the bark.  Ana realised it was hair.  Human hair; silvery and aglow in the twilight.  Something was crawling down the length of the tree, circling as it descended.  The old woman was naked and almost the same colour and texture as the tree itself, but her hair was a waterfall of pale luminescence.  Finally she detached herself with an almost feline grace, squatting in the leaves before moving forward on her fists like an ape.  Her skin was so dark that she seemed to blend in and out of the undergrowth like a trick of the twilight.  But her hair still shone.  Ana could feel the age and gravity on her as she approached.  The vitality still coiled in the pit of her spirit.
   "Little Wing.  Silly little wing, getting lost out here with no knives."
   "Grandmother..."
   "This is a forest of knives, you know.  All the old growth is.  Mayhaps ask the green about such things.  Such secret things..."
   "I need your help, grandmother."
   The blackened old woman laughed, deep and throaty.  "Faen ta deg, liten vinge.  What’s one more human dead to grandmother?"
   "I'm not fully human,” Ana told her.  “And I'm not dead.  But I will be if you don't help me.  I can’t walk much further.  He shot me when I fled."
   The old one squatted closer.  “A frightened halfling piques my interest only a little.  You shall be murdered in these woods, I think.  The young soldier, he is near.  His heart isn’t utterly cold, yet he wishes you dead.  He fears his employers more than his own conscience.  How sad."
   "Restore my feathers."
   The old woman smiled.  "My little dead girl talks such nonsense.  Why ever would I do such a thing?"
   "I'm a child, grandmother.  I need your protection."
   "Hush.  You’re an ageless, supernal thing.  A star within a star."
   "But I'm still a child.  I'm many children.  Many lives.  But right now I'm Ana and I need your blessing.  Please."
   "Your feathers for the corvid's blood?  Not enough, I fear.  So grand a request for such little sacrifice?"  The old woman grinned, revealing broken, rotting teeth.  "Hardly seems fair."
   Ana couldn't hide her anger now.  These old ones of the land were often infuriating like this.  "Grandmother," she hissed, "I am at your mercy..."
   The blackened crone threw her head back as she squatted before Ana and began howling with laughter.  "Mercy is for Christians, little wing!  I'm older than all your king-in-the-sky nonsense!"
   "Really?  Appeal to Freyr himself then.  How would he move about this?  I'm going to die out here, wise one.  I'm a child and I'm alone and I'm going to be murdered.  Is that amusing to you?  Honestly?"
   Grandmother fixed her with feral stare.  "Don't test me, child.  I've already given you more attention than I do most halflings.  Consider yourself blessed to be even vaguely interesting to my eyes.  Freyr be damned."
   Ana peered back with equal intensity.  "Vaguely interesting?  Wise one, I am an angel."
   The old crone chuckled.  "And I am all worlds, all word, all spore and leaf and moss. Thus, I am the mother of all angels.  Everywhere.  Fuck your bodiless, deathless idealism.  I’m decay, growth, and all poetry therein.  So, angel, tell your father I think him a doe-eyed urchin, and that grandmother sends her love."
   Ana smiled, despite the pain.  "My father would cut your throat if he knew how you were behaving with me."
  "I thought your father knew everything?"
   "He does.  He’s still an angel.  I am my father, in part, as you well know."
   "Well, well.  Such fire in your pit, child.  Mayhaps I grow fond of you, somewhat."
   Ana sighed.  "Then you'll grant me my feathers?"
   The dark old woman shrugged, smiling, as if the entire exchange meant nothing to her after all. "If you insist, little wing.  The corvid's feathers for yours.  Away with you now.  The bullets in the soldier's rifle are very real.  Let that be your focus until your shoulders are ready."
   "Thank you."
   "Hmm.  I care more than most are aware, child, about everything.  I’m not indifferent.  But rarely am I called or conjured to be so...human.  It both thrills and disturbs me, I think.  Do not summon me again, winged star."
   Ana nodded in agreement.  "Thank you, grandmother."
   "Mayhaps I shouldn't say, but in truth your shining father and I are old friends.  Old lovers, in fact."  The woman pressed a finger to her lips, and grinned.  "Tell no one."
  She turned from Ana and moved away on her fists like a silverback, disappearing into the undergrowth.  She quickly became a play of shadow in the deepening twilight, and then she was gone. 
   Ana took a deep breath and peered at the dark forests all around her.  She was so tired now and had no idea how long it would be until her shoulders were ready, but her only hope of survival was to avoid the soldier's rifle until then.  She could afford to rest only for a little while.

"Liten Vinge...?"
   Ana awoke with a start, terror in her belly.  The grey light of morning was slicing through the canopies.  She'd slept in a small hollow all through the night with only gathered leaves and her winter coat for warmth.  The changing fires within her body had kept her alive.  But she'd slept too long. Ana silently scolded herself for her stupidity.  She'd been exhausted, injured, and now the gunman had found her.  She tried to listen above the pounding of her own heart.  She had to deduce how far away he was.
   He sounded very close.
   Ana tried not to move a muscle.
   "Little Wing...?  I won't hurt you.  Just come back with me.  You belong to them, and you know it."
   She belonged to nobody, least of all the cold-hearted men who had trapped her.  The soldier was near, perhaps only a hundred feet away, but the forests made it hard to judge his distance.  Her back was beginning to throb, her shoulders burning.  That was a wonderful sign, but Ana knew it might be too late.  She gently shook off her camouflage of autumn leaves, lifted her head and peeked round the base of the tree.  He was perhaps sixty feet away, rifle aimed as he stalked through the early morning light.  She leaned forward slightly to catch a better view of him.  A large twig snapped beneath her knee.  He immediately turned his head, the rifle swinging round a split-second later.
   The gunshot blew a chunk of bark from the tree, only inches above her head.  Ana's stomach clutched like a fist.  She cried out, leapt from her hiding place and began hobbling away as fast as she could.  The wound in her thigh sent agony all through her leg and up into her pelvis as she fled.  Another shot cracked through the trees around her.  The dense forest had obviously compromised his aim, but Ana knew she would only be offered such grace for a few moments more.  Terror churned in her gut.  She tore off her winter coat and then her sweater as she hobbled through the undergrowth.  She risked a glance back and saw his dark shape darting left to higher ground, to catch a better aim.
   "Little Wing!  Don't run from me!"
   Ana pulled her vest over her head and discarded it like the coat and sweater, hurrying now in only her boots, jeans and bra.  Her back was on fire, her shoulders pounding like her heart.  Another shot cracked through the forest and she felt the bullet whistle past her left ear.  Ana screamed involuntarily at the nearness of the shot.
   She suddenly stumbled on a hidden root and went crashing into the undergrowth, kicking up a flurry of fallen leaves.  She gritted her teeth at the pain from the wound in her thigh and prayed her flesh was ready.  She'd run out of time and the soldier would be upon her in seconds.
   Ana dug her fists into the earth and muttered, "Rise."
   The exposed skin of her back was instantly shredded as a pair of huge grey-feathered wings burst from her shoulder-blades, still trembling and damp like newborns.  They opened tentatively, fanning around her for a moment, beating twice in anticipation of flight before folding themselves against her back.
   "Holy Mother of God..."
   Ana turned her head and saw the soldier standing only twenty feet away, his rifle lowered. His eyes full of awe and terror as he peered at the winged girl lying among the leaves.  Ana forced herself to sit up, raising a trembling arm before her face in equal terror.
   "Please don't kill me..."
   The soldier slowly shook his head, unable to process what he was looking at.  "Erkeengelen. My God, it’s true..." 
   Ana glanced at the lowered rifle in his hands. "Please," she begged. "Don't take me back there..."
   "You’re...you're fucking beautiful..."
   The sight of her grey feathered wings held him transfixed, but only for the moment.  She had to take flight.
   It was now or never.
   Her wings unfurled suddenly and began to beat as she was lifted into the air.  Not with the speed or elegance she hoped for.  She had never used them before.  But the feeling was pure exhilaration.  For a few moments she forgot all thoughts of death as she watched the soldier's image shrink beneath her.  He could only stare up at her, transfixed at the sight of her ascension.  The sound of beating wings in the air.  The joyous breath in her lungs, the wind in her face.  Within seconds she was above the treeline, a canvas of grey sky above her.
   A rifle-shot cracked through the sky.  And then another.  
   Exhilaration was lost to panic and dread.  The soldier wasn’t going to give up.  She quickly turned in flight, a desperate countermeasure.  But she wasn't high enough yet to evade the scope of his weapon.  Another shot cracked the sky and tore through the joint of her right wing.  She shrieked in agony as it immediately fell limp, bloodied and broken.  Her left wing continued to beat desperately as she began to spiral back down towards the forest below.  A sixteen year old girl plummeting through the sky.  The wind howled.  She might not survive the fall.  Ana only had time to mutter a single word on her breath.
   "Pappa..."
   She went crashing through the canopy of a huge tree, branches and leaves whipping at her face and body.  She bounced off another branch with a sickening crunch and slammed into the undergrowth.
   Darkness.
  Pain all through her body.  The taste of blood in her mouth.  But she was alive somehow.  Her uninjured wing had slowed her fall and the changing fires within had hardened her.  It was the only reason she wasn't dead.
   Ana struggled to lift her head and found she was at the edge of a large clearing in the forest, wooded hills in the distance.  She glanced and saw her bloodied right wing open and limp at her side, mangled at the joint.  The left wing still flapped behind her, but it wasn't enough to lift her once more.  It folded at her back, practically useless without its twin.
   Ana knew she was done for.
   The soldier would have no choice but to kill her now.  She put her fists in the earth and forced herself into a sitting position.  Then she saw him.  Stalking into the clearing, rifle aimed directly at her.  She closed her eyes in pain and defeat, awaiting the kill-shot.
   It didn't come.
   When she opened her eyes again the soldier was only ten feet away, rifle lowered slightly. The awe and incomprehension was written all over his face.  Suddenly he looked so young.  Little more than a wide-eyed boy completely out of his depth.
    "What...what the fuck are you...?"
    "You know what I am."
    He shook his head, still unable to process the sight before him.  "Impossible..."
    "Little Wing.  They didn't tell you what you were tracking?"  She laughed hopelessly and tried to appeal to whatever remained of his soul.  "Tell me your name, soldier."
   He waited for a few moments before responding.  "Mathias."
    Ana tried to smile despite the pain.  "That's a beautiful name."
    "Tell me your name.  Your real name."
    She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  "Anael.  My name is Anael.  Ana, for short."
    "But you're just a child..."
    "I'm a lot of things.  The radiant has changed me.  Revealed the truth to me.  I'm more than the human girl I once was."
    "I don't understand…"
    "You can't.  I'm a thing of the eternal dreaming.  The living radiant.  Please don’t take me back to the compound.  Just fucking kill me, Mathias.  I wish to be in my father's arms once more."
    "Your father?"
    Ana peered at the soldier, with fury in her eyes.  "Indeed."
   He lowered the rifle completely but he didn't drop it.  He simply stared at her in awe.  "Dear Lord..."
   Something seemed to shift around them.  The air in the clearing quickly became heavy and strange.  The background noises fell still.  Even the wind grew silent.  Ana saw that the soldier sensed it too, glancing around. 
   "What the fuck is happening?" he muttered fearfully, then frowned like he could hear something.  "What?  What choice...?"  A haunted look bloomed in the soldier's eyes.  He swallowed and peered down at Ana.  "Yes," he said quietly, but he wasn't addressing her.  "Yes, I understand now.  A choice.  I understand."
    "Mathias…?"
   Tears began rolling down the soldier's cheeks, his expression full of empathy and regret.  "Your father loves you.  Oh God, he loves you so much…"  Ana was silent, afraid.  The soldier sighed.  "Forgive me, Anael." 
   And with those words he turned the rifle on himself, shoved the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  
   His entire skull came apart like a starburst of scarlet.  
   The shot echoed through the clearing.  His body slumped lifelessly into the grass.
   Ana sat in shock near the dead soldier, her broken wing trembling and bleeding, her entire body in pain like never before.  
   Her father, the light of all tears, had spoken to this man.  She crawled through the grass towards his body.  When she reached him she touched his chest and whispered, "Thank you, Mathias."
   Beyond the clearing she noticed a building high on the wooded hills.  A house or ranger's station.  The hope of eventual sanctuary, perhaps.  If she could find a place back among the trees to hide and heal her broken wing first.  Then, once healed, she might finally have the strength to call the shimmer to make such wings unseen to men's eyes.  Then she could walk as other girls walked, and be useful again.  Though her place in the radiant had taken her human life – her many human lives – perhaps her call to the message could be completed after all.  To serve the lost ones.  For her it was personal.  She’d been one of them for the longest time now.
   "Beskytte dem," she muttered to herself.
   Protect them.
   Ana wouldn’t let herself forget.  She took a nearby stone and began digging at the soil, carving the letter 'K' into the earth.  A simple act of gratitude for the shining one who loved her still. She took the rifle from the headless soldier lying in the grass and slung the strap over her shoulder.  And then Ana began the slow, painful crawl back into the trees.