Elias woke to searing pain. He was all too familiar with the sensations. His first intake of breath, upon regaining his thoughts, was a shock, yet so full of welcome life. He was not dead. The sounds around him did not concern him; that is, he paid them no mind.
Another person would have slipped into welcome madness, hearing such sounds. Perhaps Elias would.
The tingle of air in his lungs stayed any surety of madness. It was bliss. That breath pushed all other sensations away. He seemed to leave himself for an instant on that rush of wakefulness. He had not died. He had breathed.
It made him laugh, that first inhalation. He exhaled it with mirth. He released it and made his own sounds with it.
All other sounds around him ceased. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized the other noises had stopped. He'd created that silence, with his own voice.
As his shuddered laughter died away, the searing pain came again. He would not defeat it this time with any gasp, not conceal it with any other thought, and he would not be surprised for any instant that it would not subside again.
It never did.
Laughter was gone now. It was his last creation of that music. He surrendered his ability to make any more, he did not resist as that emotion fled him. He refused to give up his breath, however.
He had tired of surrendering that.
Twigs parted beside him, suddenly, softly; a stealth that was only barely revealed. Something was very close beside him. Nearing close enough to touch.
Elias did not hold his lungs still, he only breathed as slightly as he could without choking. Something was very close indeed. He could sense it now. He could smell it.
His left foot was pulled to one side, almost a tease of motion. The reaction of his body was instant, blistering. He rolled his eyes from it, but did not exhale. Elias was still listening.
A huff of warm, moist air washed his ankle. It enhanced the wetness of his exposed skin. It did nothing to quell the fire that scorched every nerve of his leg. He could not feel his foot, but he could feel the dampness of the breath on his skinned ankle.
Whatever that was, at his foot, it was not what Elias listened to hear. He actually didn't care what was toying with his mangled foot.
"Are you still alive?"
That was exactly what Elias listened for. That surprise. Incredulity and pleasure. Disbelief. It was repeated.
"Are you - still alive?" the words were annunciated with some mirth. Elias felt dust swirl into his nostrils as he released the last of his air and tried so carefully to refill his lungs. Of course he was alive; he wasn't trying to hide that. But he was taking some satisfaction that fact created the wonderful disbelief. He'd not waited to hear the voice, or the breath of the thing at this foot. Elias waited to hear the disbelief, so he could savor that with every intake of air he so carefully enjoyed. There were not likely many more of those to be enjoyed.
"You can't possibly think you are going to live?" and sudden laughter filled his ears. Twigs snapped, leaves swirled; his guest was dancing.
Elias did not laugh with him. But, he rent the quiet forest air with the life in his breast. Teeth came to the skin of his exposed ankle. His cry exploded without any effort. Death cries always do. As his wail faded with the last of his strength, he heard the laughter beside him - continuing. His guest had not been the least distracted.
"Do that again!" his companion sang. "You must love that moment, how - you - must - love - it!" as his feet made the forest litter spray with his dance. "Elias! Scream again...please!"
He couldn't. Not even for his guest.
The teeth came to his throat.
"What do you think you will gain from this?"
Elias shuddered for a moment. These new sensations had taken him aback. Another intake of breath, when he expected to be unable.
His chest gurgled as he brought air into it; not all the air seeping in from his throat, it sought entrance in new ways.
Oh, that pain he knew. Lifeless as a marionette, not held by string, with which to dance; held by twisted metal. He would not move, had he tried. There was no 'up' to how he lay within it.
There were new sounds to hear as well, they found his wakeful mind, between wrenching explosions of pain. He could hear a hiss, at a bit of distance. He could hear a whirring sound, a thing in motion nearby.
The breath was back against his skin, without the teeth.
"Are you doing this to amuse me?"
His guest brought the disbelief again, with the weight of his hands upon some bit of frame. That bit of wreck was loose, whether by its own injury, or by his design - Elias felt himself jolted with new pain. He was being toyed.
"I'm so sorry!" the sing-song voice proclaimed, in a manner of false surprise. It almost sounded genteel, Southernly accented. It was vile.
Elias coughed; he could not exhale without the drowning sensation of fluid filled lungs. He knew what fluid was drowning him. When he struggled to draw more life, it brought smoke. It also brought heat.
Elias tried to open his eyes, to judge where the fire lay. It was something he should not have tried to do. It made him aware what had been done to him by all the metal.
"Elias?" his guest asked suddenly. "Do you need a drink?"
He held on, nearly as long as the laughter remained in his ears.
When Elias felt himself again, he took his mind from the present. Not an instant of the present mattered to him. He took his tingling memory back as far as he could pull it; it had a long way to go.
He wanted to feel himself, for even a brief heartbeat.
He did not get back as far as he desired. His guest was not so close now. The voice came from a distance.
Had he known? Did he sense that Elias had tried to move back a bit? Was that the meaning?...of the distance?...a wicked tease?
Whatever the intent, his guest was wracked with mirth again. He must have been quite far, he was running - to reach Elias - if he could.
"I refuse to stay." he said darkly. Petulance now; not disbelief. I'm tired of you."
Elias woke three more times, without him. Each time, he drove his mind beyond the agony, outside the pain; to a clearer place he once obtained by accident. Such peace, when won, would kindle the desire stronger and he could no longer resist it. He must try, while he had breath, and time.
His next breath could not be released. He felt his lungs straining, but the effort was wasted. His mind began to flash colors as if he could see them, his blood raged in his ears. He recognized something new, only as his consciousness faded with the last glare of imagined, brilliant light.
He could not exhale. There were crushing hands at his throat.
"You've angered me now, Elias."
He refused to answer, in either thought, or in attempting to utter some sound.
"You know as well as me, what punishment this attempt to remain alive will bring."
"Elias?" his guest drew the closest yet - and whispered.
"You know I have been sent to get you."
Elias smothered those words with his attempt to remember. The peace was all he sought.
"You know that I cannot return without you...Elias!" he had been soft and sweet, whispering with some music in his voice - before he bellowed in fury at Elias. He stamped his foot suddenly, and grabbed a hank of hair, lifting Elias' head from the ground, and bellowed, shaking until blood speckled the ground around. "Elias! Let it go and die!" At that, Elias laughed.
There was new pain, new places to feel it which had not yet. Elias was jolted in mind, jolted in body. He was losing his ability to remain conscious. Darkness came, between thoughts when he was awake, and that darkness was devouring him a bit more each time he fell into it.
His guest did not make any sound to him. His guest may have left entirely now.
Elias no longer cared. The darkness was beginning to seem the peace he sought with such determination. If the depths were so peaceful, why not surrender?
Elias felt nothing now. He had not surrendered, not really. Death was more determined than he, and his body had nothing of any spark that could be alive, nothing which could hold him now.
He gazed down on the form below him, knowing he had been there only moments before. It seemed strange, to see that shell where it lay. He wondered; had he ever been inside it at all? Could that twisted...thing...have contained him?
He turned. He was not alone.
"Γ've come to take you."
"No," Elias replied. He'd not heard the voice, his voice, in so long. Γ'm going back."
"And risk my wrath!" came the scream of disbelief.
"You are no threat," he replied, calmly.
"I could leave you there!"
"I know Michael."
"I will leave you there!" Michael ranted and shook his wings. Elias heard the sound, the music in the movement; he knew they had stirred the air about them, and leaves would have danced, had they been near the ground - but, he felt nothing from them, no breeze, and no rush against his skin. He looked down to his hands, they were whole, unbent, unharmed. He put them together. He felt nothing. His hands stopped against one another, and with all his might he pressed them as tightly as he could, to make them feel something. He felt nothing.
"Γ'm going back," and he began to move away.
"Elias!" Michael screamed. "This is not play! It is not for us. It can never be!"
Michael was suddenly present in front of Elias, preventing him.
"If I choose to leave you, in that next body, you can never return! Death can see you in that form. He will seek you out."
"I know, Michael. He has."
Michael reached until his hands contacted Elias' arms, and they both began to turn. Elias felt nothing of Michael's hands. He didn't even feel them as he wrenched himself free from their constraint.
"It was an accident!" Michael hissed at him. "That first time."
"You retrieved that soul, while that body still had breath. You broke that commandment!"
"I wanted to feel it."
"It poisoned you. It gave you desire!"
"It made me aware!" Elias shouted, for the first time angry. "It is not ours!"
"For an instant it was!"
"If I leave you there, you will suffer that body's fate! Elias! Listen to me! I cannot wait!"
"Michael, I'm not asking you to."
"Elias...please. Appointed once to die! You understand that commandment. They must die. If you succeed, and fill that flesh..." Michael wept now, "Elias, you will encounter their death. It will destroy you."
"It will set me free," Elias swept his wings their entire reach and pulled himself into the air above Michael, free of his grasp.
"It will set me free, Michael. You can feel the freedom in your skin."