"No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will."
The angel had been ordered to make his choice. It had to be of his own free will. But what they asked of him carried a high price. He would most likely never return. Most likely be destroyed. Or worse.
And no one would ever know the truth.
"You have decided, then," a voice said to him.
I felt each moment as the angel did-the obscured version of time in what had to be an otherworldly place-but could see nothing. It was surreal; no people were visible-just their presence, or maybe auras.
It wasn't a question, what was said. They knew the moment he'd made the decision. They probably knew before him. He could sense them all around, the mighty Seraphim. Supreme knowledge lent them a powerful presence, but it was bitter this day.
"When the first of your tasks is complete, you will move on to the next. You must not reveal yourself or seek companionship with anyone, especially exiles, unless for the purposes of fulfilling your objectives."
"You will spend three years before the day on which you must act arrives. He has his role to play. It is not possible without your actions first."
And he did understand. He had made this decision of his own free will, despite the sacrifice, for he knew it had only been asked of him because he was the perfect choice.
He felt the universe around him, the freedom of unfettered dominion over space and realm, and wondered when he would again feel this, if ever.
"Take a name of the times when you are there. Now go."
And so it was. He made the transition amid images of mobs and anger. To his destiny. To death. The flash of a kiss. All things to come.
A fog cleared around me and my surroundings came into view. I was suddenly in my art studio. Standing by the window was a figure I recognized. The one I suspected was my angel maker.
"What's your name?" I asked, still amazed by the way my words seemed to float through the air in these dreams, as if they had their own physical presence.
"It does not matter. But you may call me Lochmet if you require a title."
"What does that mean?"
I swallowed, suddenly nervous. The way he said it, with such force and confidence, made him seem so powerful.
"Why did you show me that angel? I don't get it."
"Not yet. But you will. It is but a strand of one existence, from a very long time ago."
"No, please don't...Just tell me."
He turned to face me, his shoulders squared, and I struggled with conflicting urges-one drawing me toward him, the other, to cower away. I was sure he could see it, see right through me, which only made me more vulnerable.
"We all have the capacity to find the will to do what must be done-even when that which we must do terrifies us most. Remember this."
"That's it? That doesn't explain anything. Who was he? I thought it was against angel law to exile to earth. How come the Seraphim asked it of that angel?"
He considered me for another delayed, vacant moment before his head tilted toward a painting beside him. The vision of a sandy beach with a midnight blue sea crashing against rocks seemed to affect him. He stretched his arm out and brushed his fingers lightly across the textured ripples of the oil-painted canvas. For just a moment, the silence between us was almost comfortable.
But when he looked back at me, I knew: he wasn't going to tell me any more about the angel he had shown me.
"Be mindful. A traitor is within your fold," he said.
He shook his head and turned back to the window.
"You must walk your path; leave the footprints as evidence of your journey. I cannot take it...or change it."
His voice held the first hint of emotion-a small, almost undetectable, quiver.
"But you did help me," I started. "Two years ago, in that classroom..." Even in my dream, I felt the sickening memories and the lump in my throat willing me not to go on. "It couldn't have been anyone else. You sent that teacher across the school to intervene."
I swallowed hard, fought to hold onto my train of thought, not detour to that day, to that teacher holding me down while I struggled beneath his heavy weight.
"You interfered," I said, then dropped my head. "Thank you."
His silence was all the confirmation I needed. I looked around the room, unsure what to say next. My paintings surrounded me, but unlike before, they now included those that I had only planned, envisioned. Somehow, this room held the paintings of my imagination.
From behind me, I heard a roar. The deepest rumble, so strong it reverberated up my legs and into my spine.
"My lion," I whispered.
I spun around in dreamy slow motion. There was nothing there. I turned back to the angel. He was gone. Sprinkles of rain spattered in through the crack in the window.
I stood, waiting.
And then everything around me exploded in a flash of color that settled to nothing. I was nowhere, all alone apart from the rain, startlingly cold, stinging my face with every sharp landing.
Shards of ice.
Cold enough to wake me up.