Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kaori Yuki, Hakusensha, VIZ Media, et al. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: 1. My slavery to backstory and world-building is probably quite evident to anyone who's read more than one of my stories. 2. My continuing interest in metaphysics is, I hope, less blatant, but no less present. 3. I'm the daughter of a historian, and I read world history and sociology books for fun. Given those starting points, it was pretty much inevitable that once I started writing Angel Sanctuary fanfiction, sooner or later I'd wind up with a story about all Alexiel's other human incarnations.
I apologize for any historical and cultural errors or misrepresentations I may have made -- I will be grateful to anyone who brings mistakes to my attention. Thank you to everyone on LJ who helped me with Chinese names.
Summary: How many lives between Alexiel and Setsuna? How many loves? How many deaths? A reincarnation story.
Debts, part 1
The Crucible erases memory.
Without bodies, human souls curl into spheres of potentiality; only the foundations of personality remain as a haze of color at their cores. Human souls waiting for reincarnation, Alexiel thinks, are like soap bubbles, delicate miracles drifting through a harsh, uncaring world.
She is a great angel, born equal parts flesh and spirit. Losing her body is not the same blow to her as to others.
Soon Enra-Oh will release her into her new incarnation. It will be nasty, brutish, and short. There is no escaping that.
But she can remember.
She has promises to keep.
I. China, 200 B.C.
Yun Xia-yu was the only child of peasant farmers, in a village near the northwestern edge of the old Kingdom of Qin. She was a quiet, thoughtful girl, and paid due respect to her parents, her ancestors, and the gods, but when she made a decision heaven itself could not move her.
The first time she saw her father wring a chicken's neck, something dark and formless stirred inside her heart. She bit her tongue and turned away. When she helped him butcher a pig, when blood spattered on her hands, her fingers curved as if holding an unseen sword. She closed her eyes and walked away.
She licked her fingers clean.
She was named for the massive storms that rolled in from the steppe, and perhaps that was why she craved lightning. Xia-yu held her breath each time a storm approached; tension built and sang in the air as clouds gathered and thunder muttered in the distance like muffled drumbeats. When the heavens broke open, she ran outside and screamed wordlessly at the sky, pouring out her fury into the cleansing rain.
One day Cheng Zhi-ren, the third son from the next farm, saw her jumping and shaking her hands at the heavy clouds, and followed her away from the village. When lightning stabbed into the earth, he shouted with her. They joined hands and whirled around and around, until their feet slipped on the rain-soaked grass and they tumbled to the ground, laughing.
"Let's marry when we're older," Zhi-ren said when they were ten.
"Only if you catch me!" Xia-yu said. She ran through the fields, through the rain, laughing. She laughed when he knocked her to the ground, and laughed when he helped her back to her feet.
"I'll always find you," Zhi-ren told her. Xia-yu splashed water into his face and smiled. Her fingers twined with his as they walked back to their homes.
The next year, half the men of the village were called away to work on the Great Wall. A month after they left, the Xiongnu came again.
The village was a confusion of blood and fire. Swords hacked Xia-yu's father to pieces in front of her; his guts hung out from his stomach and blood ran from his mouth. Her mother burned to death, skin crackling, bubbling, and smoking like bacon. Hands reached down and swung her into the air, and she hung upside down over the back end of a horse.
Xia-yu saw Zhi-ren running after her. "No!" she screamed. "Go back!"
A rider cut him down.
She closed her eyes.
In their camp, the barbarian raiders jabbered over the food and small bits of jewelry they'd stolen. The man who captured her motioned her to pour wine, speaking a few broken words of her language. Another man patted her chest, shaped huge breasts in the air, and laughed at her captor. He shrugged, spit on the ground, and said something incomprehensible.
Xia-yu thought of Zhi-ren's corpse.
That night, she tried to slit her captor's throat. When he woke and knocked her knife aside, she tried to stab herself. He caught her hands and called her a fool.
They traveled three days, back to the barbarians' main camp. Her legs ached, and twice she had to fight off a younger raider whose hands wandered up under her dress. She kicked and bit, and refused to scream. Both times her captor returned just in time to chase the other man away.
She tried to kill him again. He laughed.
Xia-yu spent a month among the Xiongnu, finding her way around the camp, learning the rhythms of a rootless people, trying to make sense of their mixture of poverty and unimaginable wealth. She learned fragments of the barbarians' language, but she refused to speak. Her silence amused her captor.
Then the young raider returned from a hunt and saw her carrying a skin of water through the camp. She raked bloody nails down his cheek and spit in his face, but he knocked her to the ground, leaving her dizzy, and dragged her to his tent.
He raped her.
Xia-yu bit her tongue, swallowed blood, and waited.
After, while he slept, she killed him with his own knife. Then she cut off his penis and stuffed it into his mouth. She disemboweled him and wrapped his guts over his eyes and around his throat. She was in the middle of sawing off his hand (to shove up his anus) when several of his companions discovered her.
She hamstrung one and stabbed another before they knocked the knife from her hand.
The young men skinned the soles of her feet and rubbed them with salt. She refused to scream. Then they rode five miles from the camp and told her that if she could run to her captor's tent before they caught her, she could live. If not...
She didn't try to outrun them. Instead, she picked her way into a gully and filled her hands with stones. Then she turned and waited. When they rode up around her, she used a sharp rock to spill one horse's guts onto the earth. She fell on the hapless rider and smashed his skull with another stone. And she screamed, screamed at the top of her lungs, screamed the way she used to scream at the uncaring sky. Lightning echoed her voice. The heavens broke open and rain crashed down.
The men slashed her crotch, opened her stomach, and cut off her hand. Then they left her to die alone.
As her sight faded, Xia-yu thought she saw Zhi-ren. He stood at the lip of the gully and looked down with cold, cold eyes and rainwater washing his face.
"Oh," she said. "I thought you died."
"Next time, I'll find you sooner," he said. He closed her eyes; his hand was gentle, and cold.
Alexiel drifts in the Crucible. A faint, watercolor wash of the girl's personality tries to merge with her.
No she tells it. You are part of me, but I am not you. I can't be you. I can't risk change; I can't risk forgetting. Later, when my promises are ended, I will embrace you.
The wisp dampens, withdraws. Alexiel returns to her thoughts.
Lucifer survived. He is looking for her. She can't understand why he cares, without his memory, with the way she manipulated him.
She owes him a name and a life.
Next time, she will recognize him sooner.
II. Rome, 80 B.C.
Gaius was a slave.
His uncle sold him after his parents died in a fire. He could barely afford to rebuild and support his own wife and children; his sister's child became the necessary sacrifice. "Make the best of it," his uncle said as Gaius gathered his clothes and walked to the traders' wagon. "If you're lucky, you can buy your freedom in a decade or two."
First he was a house servant on a country estate, quiet, graceful, and quick at his chores. When he was thirteen, the old master's son, Marcellus, spent a week at the estate to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday. Gaius had a sweet face, deft hands, and a desperate need for attention. Marcellus invited him to his rooms, and Gaius did his best to please.
Marcellus took him as a personal slave and brought him to Rome. Gaius served, and smiled, and kept the precious secret of his love locked in his heart. For a man to use his slave was no particular shame, but for a man to let his slave take the dominant position, for a master to urge his slave to buy his freedom and promise to continue their liaison even then...
Gaius couldn't disgrace Marcellus, couldn't disgrace the man he loved, the man who saw him as a man, the man who knew his inmost self. He kept his silence, and took every chance to run errands outside the house; he saved spare coins until he had nearly a third of the price of his freedom.
He hid his heart, but money was harder to hide. On his fifteenth birthday, Gaius returned home and discovered that the cook had taken his coins to help pay for the old master's latest extravagant banquet. Inside him, simmering coals of rage burst into flame.
Gaius hacked the cook to pieces with a cleaver.
The old master ordered him to be pitted against lions or armed men for the entertainment of the masses, but Marcellus intervened and sent him to the naval base in Campania. "Live for me," he said. "Win your freedom and come back to me. I'll wait for you, even if you serve the full twenty years."
In theory, the galleys were manned by free men who enlisted voluntarily, in return for wages and the promise of citizenship after twenty years' service. In practice, there were irregularities. The fleet gladly accepted an illegally procured slave.
Rowing was backbreaking labor, and the ships, with their low drafts, were easily swamped in high seas. No enemy threatened Roman control of the sea, not since the fall of Carthage, but pirates were an ever-present danger, especially since the Senate had let naval funding lapse. An older rower, called Rufus for the Gallic red of his hair, took Gaius under his wing, taught him the counts and maneuvers, and told him the history of the fleet. Once, he said, even the sons of patricians served in the fleet, and crews were ruled with honor instead of fear, but no rich man would debase himself on the sea when he could fight on land or sit at home amid sumptuous feasts. So the fleet took the dregs and whipped them into shape.
"We outnumber the soldiers, and the patricians," Gaius said in his quiet voice. "Why do we let them rule us? Why do we submit?"
Rufus laughed. "They have the money, the swords, and the favor of the gods, and they're not quite mad enough to keep stabbing each other in the backs when they see a threat from outside. That's why. Now put your back into it, boy."
Gaius lived through two battles, both minor skirmishes with pirates. The galleys backed and turned and rammed their iron-clad prows into the other ships, and the few soldiers leapt across to face the brigands man-to-man. The fleet left shattered, flaming wreckage and drowning men behind them, and the rowers earned wine and coins for their trouble. Gaius saved his pay, thinking of freedom and Marcellus.
In his third battle, a pirate ship burst from a channel between islands and rammed the galley. Rufus died in the impact, crushed and stabbed through by broken planks. Blood bubbled from his mouth and shattered chest and his fingers twitched, meaninglessly. The man behind Gaius stood to run, fell overboard, and drowned.
In the moment before the pirate galley pulled clear of the wreckage, Gaius touched the iron-clad ram, and his rage exploded outward. Flames roared skyward from his hands, wreathing into the shape of wings.
Both ships burned.
Rufus coughed, pulled himself free of his pyre, and stood on blackened legs. "Dive overboard!" he shouted. "Live!"
Gaius was beyond listening.
Rufus ripped the boy's hands from the cherry-red iron and hurled him into the water. He dived after him, surfaced, and began to haul Gaius from the inferno.
"You're not Rufus!" Gaius said. "Rufus died." He was too weak to fight this abomination; raw burns covered his body and salt water was torture.
"He wished for you to live, not to die with him," the person wearing Rufus's body said, and shoved two planks under Gaius's arm. "Hold these and kick. Head for land. I'll follow."
An arrow caught the stranger in the neck, and he sank, thrashing.
Gaius let go.
Floating in the Crucible feels like drowning.
Alexiel nudges aside the boy's personality. Later, she tells him.
He brushes against her again, a shade more solid than the girl had been, and a spark leaps from his swirling colors. That is not her power -- it's born of her soul, but not of her position as Organic Angel.
Alexiel tucks that observation aside.
Lucifer found her, again. He was too late, again.
The curse must block him; he would never fail otherwise. With time, she's sure he'll work through the interference.
She wonders if even Lucifer can break Uriel's curse.
III. Corinth, 50 A.D.
Philippa was the daughter of a temple butcher, who killed the sacrificial offerings and then sold the meat to the people of the city. She grew up within a stone's throw of three temples -- one to the emperor, one to Artemis, and one to Isis -- and was well-versed in the myriad deities and cults that rubbed shoulders in any Roman city.
She considered devoting herself to Artemis as an acolyte -- something about the fierce, uncompromising, yet benevolent goddess struck a chord in her soul -- but when she was sixteen, she became violently infatuated with Josephus, a Jewish leatherworker. He returned her interest; despite their families' misgivings, they married within the year.
Josephus kept halachah, the ritual law and codes of his people, which meant that Philippa suddenly had to forgo contact with her parents -- her father's profession was unclean and spiritually suspect according to the stricter Jewish interpretations. And Philippa had to worship only Yahweh, the stern, demanding god of the Jews. Josephus insisted that his wife would be pious, and Philippa burned to please him.
She attended the synagogue with her husband and sat quietly in back, her head modestly veiled, while various teachers expounded on the history of the Jews, on the Law, and on the prophecies that swirled through the land, from Palestine to all Jewish enclaves within the reach of Rome.
Yahweh was a stern and uncompromising god, but he was fair and he was strong. Some teachers said that soon he would send a savior to raise the Jews on high and purify all nations of the world. No, said others, the savior had already come -- he was John the Baptist! No, he was Jesus of Nazareth! No, there would be no savior, only the Law! No, the Law was empty, a way for living in a world of flesh, but the savior would release people to the true world of the spirit!
Philippa began to dream. "I see visions," she told Josephus. "The world is round, like a pearl; above it are seven heavens and below are seven hells. The seventh heaven is beautiful, like the Garden of Eden, but everything else is corrupted and God is sleeping, waiting for the savior to wake him. Angels fornicate in the golden streets and their children are monsters. In the garden, an angel with six wings weeps for the world; under a mountain of glass is a stone wrapped around with chains, from which someone has stolen the sword of God."
"Madness," Josephus said. "Don't speak of this."
Philippa managed to hold her silence until she became pregnant. Something about the strain of carrying a child let the visions come more and more often, bursting into her mind like flaring lamps. She lost sleep. Sometimes she reached for jewels she wasn't wearing, or a sword she had never carried. She began answering questions in tongues.
"You're possessed," Josephus told her, fear and disgust lurking behind his eyes. "You dream of demons, of blasphemy. My father was right -- I should never have married a Gentile."
"I'm sorry!" Philippa cried. "I try to be pure. I pray to God to cast out the dreams, but he won't listen -- he doesn't hear my voice."
"Pray harder," Josephus said, and went to consult with a hermit known for casting out demons and unclean spirits.
The hermit prayed over Philippa's body and painted her skin with strange symbols to represent the Tree of Life and the spirit of God. Then he took out a knife and heated it in the kitchen fire.
"You're sure this will work?" Josephus asked.
"Even if she dies, she'll die clean," the hermit answered, and pulled the knife from the fire.
Philippa felt herself falling, felt wings rush up from the center of her soul to catch and enfold her. Some other moved her body without her will. Some other stood and seized the hermit's hand, wrenched the knife from his grasp and plunged it into his heart.
"Demon!" Josephus breathed from behind her, and the other turned toward him, tense and wary. "God protect me, God protect me," he muttered, his face slack with horror, and backed away.
The other snarled and raised the knife.
The hermit lunged forward, blood staining his chest, too late to stop Philippa as she gutted herself. Her unborn child died with her.
The child's soul twinkles like a firefly in the darkness of the Crucible, and drifts away. The woman mourns; her colors melt into the background, self-negated.
Uriel's curse twists everything, even love.
Alexiel considers the woman's faith. What is God thinking, to reveal parts of the truth to humanity? Angels, the garden, the legend of a savior... but twisted, subtly out of true. The Law of the Jews is as riddled with meaningless rules as the laws of the angels, though at least it allows a place for love.
Perhaps Adam Kadamon still touches the world and whispers of hope.
To be continued...
AN: Thank you for reading, and please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.