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tower of light

April 2017

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spn - castiel, spn - wings

excerpts from Anne Rice, "Vittorio, the Vampire" on Mastema, the angel of vengeance

The book is here. Don't bother reading it, though—I never did manage to enjoy it even when I liked Anne Rice's books. The character Mastema, however, has stayed with me throughout the years.

He rose up before me, immense and winged, peering down at me, his face luminous in the flicker of the candles, his eyebrows gently raised but straight so that there was no arch to them to make them anything but severe. He had the riotous golden hair of Fra Filippo's brush, curling beneath a huge red battle helmet, and behind him his wings were heavily sheathed in gold.

He wore a suit of armor, with the breastplates decorated and the shoulders covered with immense buckles, and around his waist was a blue sash of silk. His sword was sheathed, and on one lax arm he wore his shield, with its red cross.

*

"Such talk from an angel," I said.

"Don't mock me, I'll slap you," he said. His wings rose and fell as if he were sighing with them, or gasping rather, at me in umbrage.

"So do it!" I said. My eyes were feasting fiendishly on his glistering beauty, on the red silk cloak that was clasped just below the bit of tunic that showed above his armor, at the solemn smoothness of his cheeks.

*

His face went serene. His lower lip gave the smallest most thoughtful pout. His jaw and neck were powerful, more powerful by far than the anatomy of Ramiel or Setheus, who seemed more youths, and this their splendid elder brother. "You are not the Fallen One, are you?" I asked.

"How dare you!" he whispered, waking from his slumber. A terrible frown broke over him.

"Mastema, then, that's who you are. They said your name. Mastema."

He nodded and sneered. "They would, of course, say my name."

"Which means what, great angel? That I can call on you, that I have the power to command you?" I turned and reached for the book of St. Augustine.

"Put down that book!" he said impatiently yet coolly. "There is an angel standing before you, boy; look at me when I speak to you!"

"Ah, you speak like Florian, the demon in that far castle. You have the same control, the same modulation. What do you want of me, angel? Why did you come?"

He was silent, as if he couldn't produce an answer. Then, quietly, he put a question to me. "Why do you think?"

*

"War is the world," said Mastema. "I asked you before, Vittorio di Raniari, do you know who I am?"

I was shaken, not by the question, but that the three had now come together, and that I stood before them, the only mortal being, and all the mortal world around us seemed to sleep.

Why had no monk come down the passage to see who whispered in the library? Why had no Watchman of the night come to see why the candles floated along the passage? Why the boy murmured and raved? Was I mad?

It seemed to me quite suddenly and ludicrously that if I answered Mastema correctly, I would not be mad.

This thought brought from him a small laugh, neither harsh nor sweet.

Setheus stared at me with his obvious sympathy. Ramiel said nothing but looked again to Mastema.

"You are the angel," I said, "whom the Lord gives permission to wield that sword." There came no response from him. I went on. "You are the angel who slew the firstborn of Egypt," I said. No response. "You are the angel, the angel who can avenge."

He nodded, but only really with his eyes.

*

"I can't do it."

"Mastema, you can!" declared Setheus.

Ramiel spoke up. "If he says he cannot, he cannot! Why do you never listen to him?"

"Because I know that he can be moved," said Setheus without hesitation to his compatriot. "I know that he can, as God can be moved."

*

"Her soul, will it go to Hell?"

"That I cannot tell you," said Mastema.

"You have to."

"No, I have to do nothing but what the Lord God has created me to do, and that I do, but to solve the mysteries over which Augustine pondered for a lifetime, no, that is not what I have to do or should do or will do."

*

"Do you know the future of my soul, any of you?"

"Of course not," said Mastema. "Why would we be here if we did? Why would any of us be here if it were ordained?"

*

"Merciless angels," I said. "Oh, but such is not fair, and I know it. I lie. I lie. Forgive me."

"We forgive you," said Mastema. "But you must do what you have promised me you would do."

"Mastema, can she be saved? If she herself renounces... can she... is her soul still human?" No answer came from him. No answer.

*

Mastema, without ever a change in his soft cold eyes, slowly turned his back.

"No! Don't do it, don't turn away!" I shouted. I caught hold of his powerful silk-clad arm. I felt his unsurmountable strength beneath the fabric, the strange, unnatural fabric. He gazed down at me. "Why can't you tell me!"

"For the love of God, Vittorio!" he roared suddenly, his voice filling the entire crypt. "Don't you realize? We don't know!"

He shook me loose, the better to glare down at me, his brows furrowed, his hand closing on the hilt of his sword.

"We don't come from a species that has ever known forgiveness!" he shouted. "We are not flesh and blood, and in our realm things are Light or they are the Darkness, and that is all we know!"

*

"Don't leave him," said Setheus. "Take him against his will."

"None of us can do that, and you know it," said Mastema.

"Only out of the crypt," pleaded Ramiel, "as if from a canyon into which he's fallen."

"But it is not such a thing, and I cannot."

*

Suddenly the entire building began to move. It trembled, and the canvases, brilliant and shimmering in their bath of burning light, were glittering as if shaken by a tremor of the very earth itself.

Mastema appeared suddenly before me, and the room was swept backward, broadened, deepened, and all those lesser angels were swept back from him as if by a soundless wind that cannot be defied.

The flood of light ignited his immense gold wings as they spread out, crowding the very corners of the vastness and pushing it even to greater breadth, and the red of his helmet glared as if it were molten, and out of his sheath, he drew his sword.

*

"Send me now," I said. "Go ahead, strike off my head and send me to my judgment before the Lord that I may beg for her! Please, Mastema, do it, but do not strike her. She does not know how to ask to be forgiven. Not yet!"

Holding the sword aloft, he reached out and grabbed my collar and jerked me towards him. I felt her fly against me. He held me beneath his face, and glowered down at me with his beaming eyes. "And when will she learn, and when will you?"

What could I say? What could I do?

"I will teach you, Vittorio," said Mastema in a low, seething whisper. "I will teach you so that you know how to beg forgiveness every night of your life. I will teach you."

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