Chapter 11

Wings of Blinding Light

Oliver found himself again in the endless expanse of darkness beneath the roots of the World Tree. He felt once more the unnerving sense that the very fabric of his being was straining to burst, that nothing but his own will prevented every atom of his body from flying apart to seek a configuration more natural to that alien environment.

A shadow loomed up before him, moving in a slow, sinuous rhythm that evoked the memory of a viper winding sideways across the desert sands. The shadowy snake opened its mouth and flicked a forged tongue of smoke towards Oliver, then it seemed to shake its head.

“Wisdom, Oliver,” it hissed. “Not knowledge.”

“But I have to know,” Oliver thought.

“You do not have to know, you desire to know. True wisdom begins with recognizing the difference between need and desire.”

“Then I want to know. What harm is there in wanting to understand the truth about history? Are you telling me that I should accept lies and ignorance, rather than seeking truth?”

“Remember the Watchers, human. Remember me.”

“I do.”

“Do you?”

Oliver opened his mouth to protest, but only shouted in surprise as one of the roots that twined along the path, surging out from the World Tree towards the infinite darkness beyond in tangled fractals of brown and black, suddenly extruded a long tendril and tried to wrap itself around his legs. He leapt back, dodging the hungry vine but losing his footing. He stumbled, spun, and found himself plummeting from the path into the starry infinitude below. As he fell, Oliver twisted and saw above him a swarm of glowing men and women plunging after him, wings of blinding light spreading from their shoulders and trailing away into gleaming tendrils that seemed to dig into and weave through the fibers of reality itself.

Oliver screamed and tore his eyes open.

He lay on the sofa in the loft apartment in New Orleans. Early morning light streamed through the sheer blinds to reveal Jeanne standing in the doorway to the bedroom. She leaned against the frame, dressed in nothing but black undershorts and loose white camisole, her black hair still tangled from the night.

Their eyes met and Olive knew that she had been watching him sleep.

Jeanne tucked some sort of pendant on a thin silver chain into her camisole and gave Oliver a half smile. “You were talking in your sleep. It woke me.”

“Sorry to inconvenience you,” Oliver grunted. He swung his feet to the floor and bent over to bury his hands in his hair. This was not the first time he had dreamed of the snake beneath the World Tree, and he had certainly revisited his encounter with Zedekiah, the leader of the Watchers, many times in the last few months.

“I’m… going to get ready to leave. Do you need the restroom?”

Oliver pulled his hands across his face as he raised his head to stare out through the sheer curtains, across the rooftops of the lower buildings across the street. Already a haze of thick, wet heat was settling across the city. He shifted his hands so they cradled the back of his neck, twisted his head a couple times to relieve tension, then said, “No. I can wait. You go ahead.”