6 - The Nearest Shore

"You're officially not as indestructible as I thought, so we're having a safeword."

"I submit, Owner, but even if my body got destroyed entirely I'd be able to re-manifest it with you here to wish for me."

Come on, ask why I don't think we need one I want to tell you about everything.

"Even so, I don't want you to have to go through anything like that. Do you have safewords you're used to using?"

I'm not totally clueless.

"I don't, Owner, and I can still remember whatever safewords you assign me, but would you like me to teach you safewords that're common where we're going?"

"Yeah!"

"Instead of red, yellow, green, back home it’s ni’l, arn, l’iagn. That’s what most people use, so you’ll wanna know them in case somebody who doesn’t speak English uses one.”

“Ni’l, arn, l’iagn. Ni’l for ‘stop and untie me’, arn for ‘check in’, l’iagn for ‘oh baby harder’. Right?”

This is a guess from the three-color stoplight system common on Earth, but it feels somehow right.

Heh. “Yeah.”

“Nil means ‘nothing’ in a lot of languages I know.”

A reflex I’m somewhat sure doesn’t apply anymore cuts off the sentence before I can say that they’re programming languages.

“It’s short for nihel, which is Infernal for black, but if you’re being poetic you can use it to mean ‘void’ or ‘nothing’, that’s the connotation. Then arn is ‘yellow’, and l’iagn is ‘purple’. We sorta had the colors thing first, don’t ask me how they got changed coming to earth.”

"Infernal."

The words, especially the last, ring demoniacally and beautifully on her voice.

“Yeah! I’m in the middle of learning, once we get home if you want I can catch you up and we can learn together. You can get up to talking dirty pretty good in a couple months...”

Infernal. The language demons speak. The language of hell.

In Dungeons and Dragons.

There are so many more important questions, but I have to ask.

“Why...why is it called Infernal?”

Ulp...please understand...

“It’s the language of the stars, stars are infernos, so, Infernal. That’s how people usually translate it where I come from, anyway, literally it’d be more like star-heart-words or something like that but that’s super awkward and I think 'Infernal' sounds cool because it goes with being a demon which is why I don't call it Celestial or Stellar. Do you want me to call it something else, Owner?"

"No, Infernal is fine. So--"

Questions pile up in my mind, stuck in the metaphorical doorway of my mouth, hung up on the realization of what this means. There’s a language that’s named like it should be the language of Hell, but it’s not, it’s the language of stars.

Because stars are alive. And they talk to each other. And to demons and humans, if we know their language.

Right?

"Just checking...you mean stars, the big balls of gas in space like literally talk, and they taught people their language?"

"Yeah! Cool, right? I mean, you have to be fucking patient because it takes them hundreds of years to say anything unless they've developed reflexes for talking to 'fast people'--that's what they call anyone who thinks ten years is a long time like longer than a couple of heartbeats--but you totally could in theory talk to one. Wanna try to meet one when we get home?"

"That sounds awesome. I..."

I was ready, meeting Lyra, doing magic, seeing limbo, to find out there’s more to the universe than I’ve read in either my Bible or my Narnia or my hard scifi novels.

And there is, but there’s so much more, and it’s all so amazing. I can’t keep up.

"What were you going to say, Owner?"

Bounce bounce your energy right now tells me it was going to be good.

I've trailed off, trying to process this...I can have my lover talk to me in the language of the stars. It’s as if I actually physically see the army of romantic poets learning this and turning in their pens, beaten.

“Not important, just...say something to me in Infernal.”

“What should I say, Owner?”

“Whatever you want.”

Mrf, give me an order, c’mon. Well, obvious place to start.

“Eroho ia.”

Yeah, like I’m going to be an Ever-ready Hollow Heart Hench Fucktoy and stop there. How the fuck does the conjugation on this work again? No irregular verbs in Infernal my ass...okay.

Let’s whisper the good part in your ear: “E vuo ma, ahn...nilgech...feroj’hen ammak. Ero’aghn ahk vuo en iahk...”

Ugh, I’m doing English-style phrasing again. That could have been so much more poetic.

Lust and seduction collide adorably with her seemingly-halting command of the language: the last two sentences are obviously something sexual.

And then mythology and aesthetics turn inside out in my head. This is the language of the stars?

Of course it’s the language of the stars. We’ve been looking up from the surface of the Earth for thousands of years at tiny silver points of light that twinkle in the night sky, but that’s not what stars are. Our view of them isn’t what it is to be a star.

Stars are made of millions of Earth-masses of blazing plasma, of cores so dense they’re not even properly matter anymore, of magnetic fields that can rip planets apart, of nuclear fire hot enough to oppose gravity so strong it tears a hole in reality itself when the fire goes out.

The language of the stars was never going to be silvery and lilting, or lofty and wise. Stars burn.

“Baby?”

“Sorry, I just...Infernal is the language of the stars. I dunno, that just sums you up somehow. Everything I’ve learned in my life tells me you should be evil and horrible just like everything I’ve learned tells me ‘Infernal’ is going to be the language of hell and sure enough it sounds dark and dangerous and rough, but then I meet you and get to know you and you’re so not, you’re beautiful and sweet and you love me and yet somehow it’s because you’re all demonic and monstry, just like infernal is beautiful because it sounds like the core of a star. It’s...I...yeah. If we could stop I’d just kiss you instead of trying to be poetic.”

“Aw! You’re sweet.”

Snuggle.

“So what did you say?”

“I said I love you and I hope you use me real hard when we stop because I want to be your...um, it’s like, somewhere between fucktoy and love-slave. Little more romantic than the first one and a little nastier than the second one and kinkier than both of ‘em. Except it’s not just ‘use’, it’s like...”

“I think I get the idea.”

Giggle. “Also it’s love as in the kind of love you have for a lover, Infernal doesn’t smash all the different kinds of love together under one word. Eroho is for when...someone you want to own or have own you, have eat you up kinda but not like in a vore way, maybe like they're food for your soul? It’s hard to...hm. English problems again, sorry.”

I suppose we’re going to have to go through the whole origin story thing before I can get an “I love you too” out of you. I wish you’d say it, it’s driving me up a wall seeing you know it and think you don’t this way.

Damn.

“For what it’s worth, if there was anyplace safe to stop around here we’d be in the back seat right now.”

Doing what, exactly, I’m not sure after that translation, but definitely doing something. She’s nothing if not inspiring, as is the softness of her thigh still in my hand and the warmth of her cunt on my fingers. 

Hell yes that sounds good Owner.

We ride in silence a while, both I suspect considering that idea quietly.

"So like, where are you from? What's it going to be like? Do we have a place to stay? Like--"

I trail off, trying to do the cultural math around succubi, roommates, families, and sex partners, and failing utterly.

"I don't even know. Where are you from and what's it going to be like?"

"Um, what's it like....the part of my home which is called the Four Dreams we're probably going to is called Rl'yeh Sade which means 'Deep Haven' in Infernal--"

"Wait, seriously? Rl'yeh?"

"Uhuh!"

"There's--this is going to be like 'Infernal', huh."

"Like how Infernal is the language of Hell in DnD?"

"You know that?"

"Uhuh! If it's like Infernal that way then probably either someone got reincarnated on Earth and remembered the word, or they were listening for muses and heard about it that way, and put it in the thing they were trying to muse for. There's tons of people in Four Dreams who muse for Earth as like an aid thing, like they're trying to fix the culture bit by bit, so I bet it's that for both of them. The other possibility is that someone actually went back to Earth for a while, but that's so dangerous like we just saw that I really doubt it, and it's super-hard, too, so I really doubt it, especially if the way Rl'yeh got heard is anything Infernal for DnD, like, yeah it's the language demons speak but when you're musing you don't get to like sit there and explain stuff it's just, like, being the inspiration people go looking outside their heads for sometimes, so you really have to work with what you can get."

"So that's what I know about how it could happen. What did happen...there's actually conflicting stories about it. Some people say Lovecraft almost came to Four Dreams only to freak out and run back to Earth at the last moment, and some say that some muse somewhere mused this like incredibly detailed description of it to him, only to somehow find out at the end that like it was super-much not his kink and so like it turned into this big horror thing for him that like, horribly traumatized him."

"I think the muse story sounds more likely because it would be really hard for him to get back to Earth and really hard for him to get to a part of Rl'yeh Sade that would freak him out that bad--it like, makes sure you go where you need to when you get there, so it wouldn't send him to a place that would trigger him so bad he went back to Earth--except I don't really buy that he wasn't into it, I mean the story is he had total like Sadish curiosity right until the end where he kinda snapped and you can tell the artist's energy some when you're musing so I think he was totally into it and just wasn't ready for the mirror moment or something. The only problem with the muse story is that noone claims being the muse who told him, they all just say they heard the story from someone else. I wouldn't want to be known as the muse who made H. P. Lovecraft freak out either, though, so it's not really that weird and people actually use it as a story about why you have to be super-careful when you're musing because you might not know your artist as well as you think."

"Holy fuck. Wait, can anyone be a muse? How does that work?"

"Yeah, you just like, project it? I learned about this some because I thought it might be a way to find you...it's like you're dreamtalking--channeling I guess you could call that--and instead of talking to a person you just kind of like, talk to an energy, or a mood like the way different art has different moods, and if someone's looking for inspiration for something with that mood and they're looking outside their own head like they do when they want something new or get really stuck sometimes you'll get this weird like sorta-connection where you can inspire stuff but not really like talk."

"Holy fuck...I have all these super-Evangelical friends who are always talking about how various stuff is like, demoniacally influenced or whatever...and they're right. Yeah?"

Hah! "I mean, some, yeah. Infernal was someone from from Rl'yeh Sade for sure, and there's lots of succubi working with hentai artists and stuff, I even mused for this cute subby-seeming boy from like I'm guessing actually Japan from the bits of words I got at one point because I thought if I could get a picture of me to you it would help you recognize me or find me but I bet you never even--"

My heart leaps.

"You were leaning over my bed--like, PoV from the person in the bed--on hands and knees, dressed in the same outfit you were wearing before, reaching out with one hand and making a heart with your tail just like when you actually did show up and yeah, I think it did help me recognize you holy fuck I knew there was something familiar about that picture!"

"YUS!! WOO IT WORKED!! So worth it did you like it Owner I hope you got off to it at least once--"

I grip her thigh tighter, nestling my hand up against her cunt.

"I did, a bunch. Thank you."

"I'm glad you liked it, Owner."

I push my hand more up against her still-slick lip.

"I'm liking the real thing a lot better, though."

Aww. Yuuum...

"So, tell me about Rl'yeh Sade the Deep Haven. I actually don't know that much about what Lovecraft heard."

"It's so big you probably wouldn't have heard about the place we're probably going to anyway. Um...I don't really know how to explain it as a whole. There's a creation story that explains what it like, is, but I don't think that would answer your question actually. If we go where I think, it's this huge sort of like network of playspaces and hangout rooms and stuff, with places people live in kind of connected to those, but you can get all kinds of houses or castles or whatever, if that's what you'd really wish for if you could wish for anything. That's totally optional, though, I mean there's no reason you can't just sleep in aftercare spaces when you want to sleep. I never even had any clothes or anything, so that's what I did--um, I wasn't like poor or anything, I just didn't care. It's not like Earth where the world is trying to kill you and home is where it can't get you as much, so like for people like me who want to just play there's no reason to have a home."

"The main aesthetic where I was is I guess kind of kinky glittergoth with lots of naked statues and dark satin cushions and stuff, and the furniture that's not something someone got to express themself like the wild furniture is kind of like in this cool religious-sacred style. It's pretty indoorsy, like there's some plants here and there in pots but it's mostly like being inside unless you find a room that's huge which there are a bunch of, but there's lots of warm flowing water you can swim in and I have this one hottub room I have to show you--"

"Wild furniture?"

"Yeah, you know, that just grows from the Rocks reflecting how people want to play there through the local aesthetic."

"Who takes care of all that? Is it like, alive?"

"Yeah, like, if you want to claim something then it's your responsibility of course, and most places have someone who gives care to the unowned stuff to keep it nice, but the Rocks will like, blow away dust or whatever if it needs to, or recycle pillows that got dirty, or whatever."

"Holy fuck. And you just wish for the kind of home you want?"

"Yeah, like, you just make it clear you're staying and not just visiting and the Rocks make you what you want, and they can tell when you're not wishing big enough so you don't have to worry about getting stuck with something that's not actually you, and anyway you can always ask for changes so it's not like, a big deal."

"Is everything else post-scarcity? Like, you don't have to pay for it?"

"Pretty much, like there's people who like money as a game but I never had any and it wasn't a problem. If you can't find what you want in a toybox--those are like, rooms full of abandoned toys that the Rocks collect and try to send to places someone will want them--there's lots of ways to dream it up or get someone to make it or make it yourself. I got all the stuff I had when I came to you out of a toybox."

Well, except for one thing, but one thing at a time, let's get you out of Limbo before we figure out what's happening with that.

"You're making this sound like Heaven, except Heaven never sounded so sexy."

"It's not like Christian Heaven because you don't have to die or be perfect to go there, but kind of, yeah. It's the Perfect Place for Sade--for people like you and me."

"People like you and me?"

"Like, kinky, monstry or different or we don't fit other places in some really huge way. Sade. It means those-who-dove-deep-in-love, except that's a metaphor for figuring out how to do stuff that we want to do that should be horrible in a loving way so it's beautiful instead--like D/s, Owner--and for having our own way of seeing the world and each other because of that."

"That's...not what I expected from that name, but it's beautiful."

"I think so too."

"Wait, are you saying there's an elemental plane of BDSM and we're going there?"

"I guess you could see it that way, Owner, but I'd rather think of it as the place BDSM on Earth is wishing for."

"I wonder how much faster this car can go."

"Hah! I'll be mad if we get there too hurt to fuck but FUCK THAT LET'S FIND OUT OWNER!"

It has been a longer-seeming ride than one might expect, and I have a bit of 'time flies' sense about the seeming moments our conversation has lasted, and there hasn't been any kind of road-sign in quite a while. Just as I'm starting to really wonder about the distance, a  sign flashes past, ethereal like a green ghost, on cue like the car before when I wondered about traffic:

GALVESTON - NAN

My heart freezes as I process the meaning of this.

"Fuck."

Eep! "What's wrong?"

NaN miles. Not A Number, the error code for dividing by zero or other impossible arithmetic operations on a computer.

"Most people in this world have to have it explained to them Texas even has a coastline."

No. I did not come this far through all this for this.

"But they're wrong."

RRRR!

"Doesn't that not--"

"THEY'RE WRONG OWNER YOU'VE BEEN THERE I KNOW IT!" 

She's bristling, indignant, insulted that anyone so ignorant would dare to have an opinion about something they know so little about. I recognize the emotions like I'm looking in a gender-and-species-swapped mirror.

"I know that, and you know that, but--"

"YOU KNOW IT EXISTS AND I BELIEVE YOU! THIS ROAD GOES TO THE OCEAN I KNOW ITS TRUE MY OWNER SAYS SO!"

I gaze at the empty blank horizon, anger stirring. I've been wondering if I've become delusional all night.

Maybe I have.

If she's how I go insane, I don't care...but one thing is true:

The madness I want is her. I am not going to have other people's delusions for them. I am especially not going to die of American geographical ignorance.

THIS ROAD GOES TO GALVESTON AND IS OF A FINITE LENGTH MOST OF WHICH IS BEHIND US NOW LOOK IT UP ON ANY FUCKING MAP.

There's a pressure in my head, anger pounding, and my eyes lose focus for a moment, swimming with double vision that seems strangely not to affect the interior of the car.

Everything happens at once:

We’re close! So close! I swear I can hear the stars singing. Please, please, please, Sade grant us something sideways...

My head clears with a bursting-free sensation, and the marshes of Galveston are around us, the bridge looming up just ahead...and everything is encrusted with perfekti clinging like malicious snow.

No. No. Oh no. So cold.

“Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?”

Maybe it's the living car, or the reference I've just accidentally made, or just the way my mind works, but I find myself remembering another line from Transformers:

I've got better things to do tonight than die.

Something hardens in me, burning, and I'm suddenly full of fight.

Cleavage roars to life, screaming like a symphony of ten thousand chainsaws made of lightning, and rockets through the roof of the car, passing through the metal as if it were smoke.

Holy fuck whoah.

I hope it's off to do something more useful that I could against all this with it in my hand.

Please please please work...

There's a pregnant moment, silent, calm. Just above the horizon, I can see stars glowing over where the sea will be, burning like lasers after hours of limbo’s null sky.

A terrified twitch of my mind: I wonder what they’re saying?

Please...

Suddenly, a meteor flashes into the ground beyond the bridge, all in an instant, sending up a massive fireball when it hits, but the flames are cold and blue-white and don’t move like flames are supposed to.

“Holy fuck, I really hope that didn’t take out the road!”

The smoke clears, and wings, long and thin, feathered with crackling light that could be plasma or a glowing solid or something else entirely, unfold from the crater, hundreds of feet long. Two, four, six. Three pairs, lifting a blinding figure from the rubble where they meet.

Lyra mouths a single word, her voice made of ice, barely audible.

“Seraphim.”

It’s an angel alright, the real deal. It’s an angel even Gendo Ikari would hide from, tall and cold and radiating a terrible indifference like some kind of physical force. It’s not from here, it’s not of here, and the rules of here don’t apply to it.

We’ve crossed onto the bridge while I’ve been gawking, and there’s nowhere to go but forward.

Once across the bridge we can get on side roads. Will it follow if we do? Does it even see us? Is it even hostile?

Lyra clearly thinks so.

Dimly, I realize that this isn’t Middle Earth and angels don’t transmogrify into Balrogs when they go evil.

More disturbingly: does an angel have to go evil to be hostile to me at this point?

There’s nothing for it. I bang a tire-squealing turn right as soon as we’re off the bridge, and I can’t believe my luck when the Gulf swings into view at the end of a couple dozen blocks of perfekti-covered tourist town.

From this aspect it’s clear that the angel has come down right in the middle of the highway we were on, but it doesn’t seem to react to us. What it does do is stand, and produce a titanic, retina-searing Weapon from nowhere.

I can’t get any more specific than that. It’s in the angel’s hand and it has a location in space and the image of it subtends an angle on my retinas, but the part of me that turns images into symbols and finds the meaning of the symbols is saying ‘sword’ and ‘spear’ and ‘gun’ and ‘ICBM’ and ‘strong AI botnet’ and a bunch of other things I don’t understand all at once to the same image.

It aims the Weapon, and a galaxy of laser-red targeting dots bloom into being in the forest of perfekti ahead of us. When it fires, there's no discharge, no projectile, no travel time or even apparent scatter of directed energy off the intervening atmosphere. They just shatter, symbols hurled along the vector from the angel to the perfekti.

Leaving the road clear.

The angel fires again, this time with a flash that hurtles into the sky above, and a fading white haze blooms from a point to our left. 

“I don’t think it sees us!”

Apparently, angels don't like perfekti either.

This is good for us, because more are converging on us already--oh. They're coalescing into a seething mass hundreds of feet tall (the ones that're left, anyway), facing off against the angel like our Evangelion AU has decided to cross over with Akira now. The mass whips a maelstrom of bifurcating, crossing tendrils at the angel, seemingly trying to overwhelm it with a sort of Lovecraftian Macross Missile Massacre, but the angel--it doesn't move, exactly, but somehow it never seems to be in the arc of any given tentacle. As it dances through the forest of migrainous appendages, the angel swings its Weapon in its wake, and tentacles snap back into the central mass, unraveling like the one I cut, burning with a purple fire not unlike the kind Cleavage sets--apparently, this is a good way to take out perfekti, because just in the few moments I dare watch, the mass has shrunk considerably.

Is that the ocean up there?

Lyra starts from her trance, a strange elation on her face, eyes fixed on the waves in the distance.

"We need to be in the water, right?"

Nod nod nod!

The angel leaps, and I floor it, tearing down the narrow road. We’re coming up on the shore, I can see what looks like sand now and dead ahead a tiny causeway leading to a pier, just wide enough for a car, dead-ending in a bait shop or snack bar or some such tiny hut.

Rubble, symbols, and baby perfekti rain around us, and the angel comes down dead ahead of us, shattering the building to splinters and splashing the shallow water into a cloud nearly the height of its wings.

There's nowhere to turn, no side-road, no way to go but forward. I set my teeth, and stare the angel down. I'll only even know something has happened in retrospect, because right now I'm too busy being defiant.

It's exactly not that this is the hill I will die on, not that I'm willing to risk everything for what lies beyond the angel now. It's just as simple as this: this cannot be how our story ends. I will not accept it. We will have our happily ever after, come, heh, Hell or high water.

Let the world end. Let the sky break open. Let every speck of dust and every universe that would stand in the way of our happily ever after be brushed aside. I raise my hand, not even sure what I'm doing, and as it begins to fall towards judgement I growl:

"Clear. The."

--the center of the steering-wheel is under my palm--

WAY!

The trumpet of the apocalypse sounds, and it's coming from the trumpt the angel's sword has become and my own mouth simultaneously.

It is a sound beyond all description. It rings in my ears and has been as long as I can remember--its echo in music has thrilled me from my earliest memories.

The angel leaps away, landing behind us almost immediately, weapon swinging. Sick curiosity bubbles: why is it destroying them so slowly? It demonstrated precision instakilling at a distance, and yet it's fighting like it's the protagonist of a giant robot anime. Suddenly I realize it's fighting carefully, working around something--no, many things, it's moving slowly enough to drive perfekti ahead of its wave of destruction, without killing them. The result is the accumulation of a growing mass like the first perfekti-kaiju, which is now nowhere to be seen--fascinated, I almost swerve off the peer, as I understand that it's herding them, using the larger mass as a sponge to draw smaller or maybe even incipient perfekti out of hiding and shape them into a form it can deal with more conveniently.

“There’s a perfekti in our way!”

Sure enough, clinging to the shattered end of the causeway is a baby perfekti, a migraine-inducing speed-bump at the end of our path. Just beyond, maybe fifteen feet of gap over the shattered remains of the shack at worst, the pier continues out into the sea, serene.

It’s a split-second decision to make the gamble, but this car has done everything I’ve asked of it with supernatural grace, and in another second or two we’re going to be atomized by an angelic abstract weapon anyway.

You’re a good boy. You’re going to go to car heaven where there’s autocross all day long and fresh tires every ten miles.

“Wrong. The perfekti is our way in.” One perfect, sublime moment, one perfect, sublime reference. Otaku nirvana at the moment of death.

I keep it floored, and we hit the perfekti with a bonecrunching impact, hurling the front end into the air. “YAH!”

The engine screams, load removed as all four wheels leave the ground.

We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die. We’re gonna die.

Gah! Death goes crunch and feels like a kick in the ass? I guess that...

No! Landing on a wooden road goes crunch! Did we make it? We made it! WOO!

When we connect with the pier and keep rolling Lyra lets out a jubilant yelp like someone striking a power chord on the most wonderful harp ever built, voice ringing with hope, waking something in me.

Gods, devils, I will defy whatever it takes. We will make it.

There’s a thin little rail, rushing at us at the end of the pier.

We need to be in the water, and that angel's going to burn you anyway, car. Let’s go out in style. I floor it again, my foot having drifted off the pedal during freefall.

Don’t look back. If you don’t look back it’s not happening back there.

What--

Go go go go go go go go go...

For the second time today a guardrail rushes at us, but it’s delicate wood, and shatters satisfyingly as we collide and then there’s another moment of freefall before the sickening jolt of impact and everything—

Time skips a second, or I do, and we’re in the water, floating, cabin of the car a cloud of airbags that’ve blossomed from every surface without regard to whether it’d be possible for an airbag to exist there.

Y’know, as a Sade and a Hollow Heart I’m used to the idea of getting smacked in the ass by stuff I love, but even with all these sudden pillow things I’m not sure all my parts are still connected to each other. I’m glad to see you too, ocean, but fucking ow.

I’m busy tearing off my seatbelt, panicked, but when I see Lyra struggling with her door, trying to pry it open, I mash the window-down button I noticed in the center console before when we were shifting together.

"Out, now!"

Rgh spike spike spike I’m still bound! “Nil! Nil! Untie me!”

Of course they don’t have seatbelts in hell. I manage to release her after a moment of terrified fumbling and she slithers out of the belt and out the window instantly.

I like swimming but I never thought I’d be this happy to be in the water.

What’s taking you so long getting out of the car? Turn around oof hi Owner.

For me it’s a tight fit, but I’m not going to hang around trying to open the doors and get vaporized. Salt burns in my eyes as I plunge through and into the ocean, the cold water drawing a gasp from me as I fall into it.

Finally. Offer my hand.

I flinch as shockwaves make my ears ring and thud through my body. I fight an impulse to look back, fix my eyes on Lyra, and take her offered hand--

“Don’t! Let! Go!”

Yes please. You holding my wrist is much nicer than me holding yours.

Dive and pull you with me, not a moment too soon. I’ve never been so glad to have wings to swim with...what was that light?

Can't move my right wing but so what I’ll go one-winged forever if I have to just as long as we make it through this.

I’m not looking back at this. Dive.

Dear Sade, please please let the ocean be deep enough here.

An eardrum-bursting shockwave and a blast of heat that even makes it through the water nearly turn us upside down as we dive, but Lyra’s a good swimmer and we keep descending, deeper and deeper.

The pressure pounds in my ears, the water freezes me, my lungs start to burst for the deep breath I didn’t have time to take before we dived, and it all fades to black, only Lyra’s small wrist in my claw of a hand and her iron grip clutching mutually back on my wrist, remain, and then something seems to turn, disorienting: it still feels like we’re diving, but we must be headed back toward the surface, forced by lack of air. My eyes are closed, but there’s a light on them as the pressure fades away.

Light?

We break the surface and I gasp a desperate breath, lungs filling with an air sweeter than I’d have thought possible - I must have been really on the edge of drowning - and then gasp again as we drop, riding down the side of a wave thirty feet high or more, an echo of the city’s destruction roiling the sea.

My eyes are screwed shut, stinging with salt water, but I don’t care. Where is Lyra? In my hand, but I need to hold her. I pull her to me, and she responds by clutching me with all four limbs, treading water with her wings instead I suppose, head buried in my shoulder, shaking with sobs.

The angel’s going to blast us any second, say it now or say it never.

“I don’t know how I can know after a couple of hours, but I know. I love you. I’m glad I knew you before we died.”

END OF PART I