Reprise Chapter One Silent Night, Holy Night

Icharus stood below a streetlamp in the Chorus Square, the yellow light illuminating his face in a soft glow. It gave him a beatific appearance not unbecoming of his features, and indeed the look suited the wide and untroubled smile he gave the sky. It was snowing. The wind raced through his long, thin coat as if it were decoration, and really it was not meant to warm. Icharus could no more feel the cold as it stole through the buttons of his shirt than he could feel a blinding desert sun or the driving rain. But the turn of the earth, he felt. And the tug of the clouds. And, as he stood in the steady yellow lamplight in the square, he could feel the snow falling. It was a feeling like that one might get by having a sensation of a breeze on one's face in the first seconds upon waking. It is a misleading feeling; certain one fell asleep inside, one feels suddenly and not unpleasantly lost. Those who are not angels shake the feeling after a few moments. Icharus, being an angel, did not. He was forever lost in a natural bliss, at times muted by anger or dulled by pain, but always present in his mind. It is the privilege of those creatures who have lingered at the very edge of the planet's atmosphere, and who have looked down, to see all the world spread below, working as if aided by a single hand, each creature having its own task, leaving its own path of bent grass. Icharus had spent much of his time at that magical altitude, before he fell.

It was very late at night, or very early in the morning. The square was silent. Smoke peeked around the rims of chimneys at the top of every building. Languidly it rose into the night, lost almost immediately in the slowly falling snow. The lights in every upper window were out, the fire asleep with the keeper. Each shopfront had a polite little sign hung perfectly even in its door, apologizing for the inconvenience of the store's closure, but assuring the reader that the store would be open soon to aid them. Icharus liked those signs. They were all different. They were all hand written or carved in the keeper's own writing. In any other place, he felt, the signs would be pandering and overdramatic, but when the door is framed in wood instead of metal, and every sheet of glass has bubbles of imperfection like frozen water ripples, the idea of a shopkeeper being truly sorry to trouble his clientele by closing the door seemed a little more realistic.

This was a nice place, a good place. Old fashioned in the best ways. Not heretical, like some of the towns had grown to be since the Res. Not modernized and dictated, like others. It was a home; it had cobblestone streets and candles and bricks, fireplaces, faith in humanity. It may not have been a coincidence that the sweetness of the town was reflected in its name; Safe Hub City #8251314, HYMN. One of the only cities left that had not been terribly influenced by Mirrotech. The company had come, built the life-sustaining network, shuttled in the surviving inhabitants and moved on to let them deal with rebuilding their lives. The town was of no consequence; it was perfect for Icharus. Anymore, he was of no consequence, too.

He held a palm out above him, half in and half out of the streetlamp's cone of light, and felt the soft touch of snowflakes falling into it, like the touch of an infant. There was a memory in him, and he felt it work its way through his stomach to his throat. It brought a scent like cinnamon. Snow in the yellow light.

"Silent night, holy night…" Now here was something old and wonderful. No one knew what those words really meant anymore, but the effect of them was still the same; comfort and awe. He sang very quietly and began to move away from the street light and into the center of the square, his footsteps muffled by the slowly collecting layer of powder on the ground. Away from the light, he felt a little more like a mystery. It was darker, but still bright enough to see; his streetlamp had a few friends, in a ring around the outside of the square, and their light was reflected in the surface of the water in the fountain in the middle. The water was frozen, and Icharus traced a few fingers around the white rim of the ice, lingering over the bubbles caught near the surface. The fountain was grey stone, and the ornament in the center was more of the same; it was a collection of intersecting pipes that wrapped around each other and themselves and ended in wide, extended rims like the bell of a trumpet. They reminded him of the long, ornamental horns that used to herald kings and queens. When the wind was right, it would catch in the pipes and the horns of the fountain would play beautiful, haunting chords to the people in the stores or meeting in the square. It was always a wonderful moment; every conversation would halt for a moment, every movement be paused, so that every ear could hear the sweet notes. Icharus hung about the square for a while every day, just to witness this act of natural attention.

Icharus looked up into the dark and silent sky. The clouds were moving quickly away, grey snow clouds that seemed so dull in the afternoon but so intensely beautiful at night. The moon peeked out once in a while and bathed the dark stones of the square with its natural, healthy light. Every time it did, Icharus smiled, closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and felt the light, felt the influence of the moon on the earth, the pull and push, and loved it unconditionally. And then it would duck away again.

He reached his long fingers out to brush the stone of the fountain – cold, though he could not feel it – and a noise like the shaking of a blanket from behind stopped him. He turned to look back over his shoulder with a look of incredible inquiry on his face. Behind him, there was an angel carefully folding his wings against his back. He stood very upright, head bent to look over his clothing to see that it remained undamaged in his landing. It was a very formal outfit he was wearing, a military style, gold embroidery down dark blue sleeves, crisp creases on both pant legs, black boots shining as if wet. Although they could not become wet, because the angel and anything within inches of its skin was impervious to water. Icharus couldn't help but goggle at the sight of him. He had not seen another angel in hundreds of years.

The other angel looked up, as if noticing him for the first time. He straightened slightly, probably unconsciously, and spoke clearly into the night.

"Icharus, you have a duty to fulfill."

Icharus finally turned himself around to see the angel before him fully. He leaned down, wrapped his fingers over the stubbled rim of the fountain's edge, sat down, then looked up with a sardonic smile. "I think I heard you rehearsing that while you were landing."

The other angel made a face similar to the one someone may make when eating oversalted food. "I'll play no games. My mission is to deliver the job and be sure that it is done."

Icharus gestured to the angel's uniform. "Why the getup? Going to a party?"

The angel let an impatient breath disturb the snowflakes falling in front of his face. "You must hear the message."

Icharus leaned back to look at the sky again. "Why are you talking to me, anyway? I thought I was finished with all of you."

"This is a special circumstance."

"How interesting."

Silence.

"Just trying to make polite conversation." He spoke easily, as if at a dinner party. "So what's the message, messenger? What's the circumstance?"

The angel took a very authoritative breath and relayed, "You will complete the mission allotted to you by the Heavenly Authority. In return, you will be granted reentrance into the Angelic Body."

Icharus snorted laughter. "Heavenly Authority? Really? What's happened up there in the past few hundred years? Have you tried to become more modernized?"

"The name change is protocol."

Icharus was quiet for a minute, looking down. Then up again. "Hey, Captain Feathers, -"

"My name is Anuel."

"Anuel, then. Did you know that, hundreds of years ago, Heaven was a place that people dreamed about going when they died?" Anuel was quiet, but Icharus was aware that he knew. All angels knew. He went on, his voice soft, "They thought that they would meet their Creator. They thought that they would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven – not the Authority, the Kingdom. They thought they would live out the rest of eternity there, serenaded by angels playing harps and trumpets." Icharus focused back on Anuel, his mouth becoming a hard line on his face. "At the same rate that hope ran out in this place, hope ran out up there. And now you're an Organization. You're a Governing Body." He shook his head. "I was a Guardian, you were a Messenger. Don't you think that it was better, back then? Don't you think that delivering joy to the good and careful warning to the wicked was better than being an errand boy?"

There was silence again. In it, one of the horns on the fountain began to hum and low note in the changing wind. The snow was coming thicker now, building on the ground around them. It was silent for a long while.

Then, the angel said, "You are required to hear the mission."

It was Icharus' turn to let out an impatient puff of air. "Tell me, then."

The angel paused for a moment, then said, "There is an assassin making the rounds of outlying safe cities, taking jobs killing corrupt government officials and then moving on. She was one of the assassins in the AGES movement. Are you familiar with AGES?"

Icharus' quirked brow was answer enough. Of course he was.

"Your mission is to end her life to stop her from killing again."

Icharus was surprised; his eyebrows shot nearly to his crown. "Why are you having me kill her?"

Anuel recited, "Death is the responsibility of the Dissolution Association. Any creature not killing for direct sustenance shall be-"

Icharus shook his head. "No, no. I mean, why is this mission mine? I was a Guardian."

Anuel said, "It is a mission to prove your loyalty."

Icharus felt his insides quiver. The pronoun they had been using for the target had finally sunk in. Her. She. They could not possibly expect him –

"Your target's name is Arend Hermisa."

Icharus' entire world become one pinpoint of light. He could no longer feel his hands or feet. He felt like he was floating close to the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. There was an acidic taste in his mouth. He could not breathe.

The snow continued to fall. Any of it that had a trajectory aiming for his body was deflected by some unseen force and settled around his perimeter, instead. His eyes were entirely blank, his mouth slightly open. Anuel watched from where he had stood through their entire conversation, making no move toward him to check that he was still breathing.

And then suddenly he was, hard and fast, his mind still lost in that panicked, floating place. His hands shook as he brought them up, out, pushing himself off of the stone ledge and running to where Anuel stood, also entirely untouched by snow. Icharus grabbed Anuel by his lapels and began to shake him back and forth with such violence that he almost lost his own balance. Certainly the balance of his sanity had been overtipped.

"I won't kill her! I know why you're doing this! You people need more for something. Well, fuck you, and you can tell that to your boss when you run crying back to him. I'm fallen, happy to spend to rest of eternity in this place." He stopped shaking the other angel and put his face very close to his. "And if you were corporeal, I would open your abdomen with my bare hands and lay your entrails in the snow for the rabbits to nibble on in the morning. So fly away! And you can shove your redemption!" Icharus threw Anuel with all of his force; to no avail. Anuel lowered himself slowly to the ground, brushing himself off as he did so.

"There are repercussions for failing to complete the mission."

Icharus had turned and was walking away. "You can shove them, too."

"You will be remanded to your fallen form."

Icharus halted. His breath stopped and restarted. The fallen form. A complete lack of control, of pity, of empathy or remorse. The shape that Heaven gave to hate. It was a punishment that those angels who fell had to bear; in moments of extreme emotional stress, they would turn. It was usually only for a few moments, at the most a few minutes, but the damage that they could do in that time would be with them until the world ended.

Remanded to that for eternity.

But what was the other option?

He choked, "I still won't do it." It was quiet. He began walking again.

"And we'll kill her anyway."

And stopped.

"We'll probably make you kill her, in your form. And it will be her entrails in the ground. And you eating them." Anuel's dark eyes gleamed viciously in the light of the moon that suddenly spilled over the square. In that light, turning to face Anuel, Icharus' face was changing. His eyes darkened. His hair went from its strikingly fair hue to a progressively darker shade of black. Dark veins crawled on his skin, up his arms, his neck. The very air around him seemed to hum, to pulse with red, to quiver and ripple like the imperfections in the glass windows. Everything about him suddenly seemed to center around an intense and spreading anger. He stooped low, preparing to run at Anuel, to tear into him, to get to his core and come out the other side.

Anuel spread his wings. His eyes still shone. A wicked smile was on his lips. "Are you angry? Please, be angry. So angry…"

All of the muscles in Icharus' body tensed – and then relaxed. The blackness of his eyes ebbed away to blue. The dark of his hair receded, and the veins faded. The hum cut away. What replaced the extreme feelings of hate that had emanated from him was a silent emptiness, an ache that would not pass. He was Icharus again. Whole again. Nearly. His face was dull and weary with pain.

Anuel refolded his wings and spoke in a clipped voice. "Your deadline is dawn. Bring her body here for me to inspect."

Icharus nodded. He did not look at Anuel. The other angel seemed to have grown three sizes, while he had shrunk three. He felt like a helpless child.

"You're doing the right thing, Icharus." The voice was pandering, but somehow soft, as well. Like it knew what the right thing was.

Icharus looked up at him then, his eyes flashing red, but the angel was already lifting off from the ground. His beating wings sent snow spiraling in all directions, wings dazzling white even against that snow. Icharus watched him ascend until he could no longer see him. Then he turned and began walking away.

He made his way out of the square. It held no more charm. He could not feel the falling of the snow. He could not feel the pull of the moon.

All he felt was the cold emptiness inside of him that had opened when the angel's lips had first formed Arend's name.