For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing
And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King
And the bitter groan of the Martyr’s woe
Is an Arrow from the Almighty’s Bow
— William Blake, The Grey Monk
December 21, 1999
No analogy suffices. They came in like what they were, the greatest army ever collected, marching back home in in a frustrating mix of victory and defeat.
The people acted like it was otherwise. They lined the streets. They threw flowers. Songs were sung about the Conquerors of Yakutsk, the Vanquishers of Demons. Many even believed it. For them it had been another war. Our country hated their country. Now their country was gone. That was victory, wasn’t it?
A few knew better. The whole war, even the conquest of Yakutsk, had been a means to an end. An end to suffering. The destruction of Hell forever. They had failed. They had completed every step except the only one which counted. Those who knew better joined in the street-lining and flower-throwing, because the alternative was to sit inside and become lost in their thoughts.
And for the same reason, the Comet King accepted their praise. He rode in a big black car, with his generals beside him, and people threw confetti and held up banners and some of them even ran up and hugged him. He accepted it gracefully, lest he become lost in his thoughts.
Robin came to meet him as the parade crossed Uintah Street. There was a cheer as she climbed into the black car and kissed the King. He raised his fist in a gesture that could be interpreted as some form of positive emotion. Everyone cheered again.
The parade broke up as they crossed Fountain Creek and the 140, and they began driving home in earnest. Robin looked at the sky. It was high noon.
“I have something to tell you,” she said.
He heard fear in her voice. “Yes?”
“Not now,” she said. “Wait until we get home.”
He stopped the car with a screech, grabbed her in his arms, flew into the air, turned to lightning. He shot southwest, burning through the sky like a meteor. The great blast doors of the bunker-palace opened before him as he landed, changed back. Before she even knew what was happening, she was seated on the bed in their bedroom, her husband beside her.
“I’ve never heard you sound so afraid before,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
She looked around. The familiar objects of their bedroom. The spruce desk. The woven blankets. The painting of the Rocky Mountains. And now he was here with her. She started to cry.
The furrows on his brow deepened.
“Jala, I’ve done something terrible.”
“We can fix it.”
“I know we can.”
“Then don’t cry. Tell me.”
She gulped, took in a deep breath. “I sold my soul to Thamiel.”
He didn’t react. If, as the psychologists say, our brain works by fitting data to plausible models, his thoughts stopped for lack of any model to fit it to. He just stared. Finally he said the only thing he could.
“What did you sell it for?”
“Nothing in particular. I didn’t want anything, that was the problem. I had to make something up. He didn’t believe me in the end, but it was all right, he took the deal anyway. I had to give you a chance.”
“What do you mean?”
“The great work! The destruction of Hell! The end of suffering!”
“I know! If it wasn’t impossible, you would have done it, I believe you, I swear.”
“That’s the thing, Jala. You did everything possible. So I had to give you a chance. It’s like you always say. Somebody has to and no one else will. But you couldn’t. But you love me. I don’t know why but you do. While I’m in Hell, you’ve got another reason, you can cut through the paradox…”
It hit him. It hit him like an asteroid hits a planet, killing all life, boiling away the seas, a giant sterilizing wave of fire. “Robin…you…no…how…no…” and just like that the human part of him disappeared, was consumed, his eyes flashed with white fire, what had once seemed like hair stretched out behind him like the tail of a comet, the air turned cold, the room turned grey, the lights turned off, he stood there, raw, celestial, enraged.
“THIS IS NOT HOW IT ENDS!” he shouted, less at her than at everything. “NO. YOU CAN’T DO THIS. THIS. IS. NOT. HOW. IT. ENDS.”
“No,” she said. “It ends with you rescuing me from Hell. After however long it takes. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but I know it will be something wonderful.”
“THIS! IS! NOT! HOW! IT! ENDS!”
“Jala,” she said, “come off it. I have until sunset tonight with you. Don’t shout. Don’t say anything. Just sit here and be with me.”
The light came back to the room. The flames trailing behind him settled into snow-white hair. The unearthly light almost left his eyes.
“Will you stay with me for the next,” she looked at her watch “hour and and forty minutes?”
He hugged her.
“I’ll stay,” he said.
For an hour and forty minutes, they lay there on the bed. They held each other. They talked about Nathanda, and Caelius, and Jinxiang, and Sohu. They talked about the time they met, in the dining room of the palace, and how confused Father Ellis had been when Jalaketu asked him to officiate their wedding.
Finally, Robin said: “Promise me.”
And Jalaketu said: “I promise.”
An hour and forty minutes later, Thamiel swaggered through the big spruce wood door with a gigantic grin on his tiny face, “Well!” he said, “It looks like we…”
The Comet King had his hands around the demon’s neck in an instant. “Listen,” he said. “I know the rules as well as you do. Take her. But as God is my witness, the next time we meet face to face I will speak a Name, and you and everything you have created will be excised from the universe forever, and if you say even a single unnecessary word right now I will make it hurt.”
The grin disappeared from the demon’s face.
“You can’t harm me,” said Thamiel. “I am a facet of God.”
“I will recarve God without that facet,” said the Comet King.
Very quietly, Thamiel shuffled to Robin and touched her with a single misshapen finger.
The two of them disappeared.