Thrace, north of Tarpodizus, 421 B.C.
Samael slept because he was bored.
For three years, he had tended to his friend. The first several weeks had not been boring, for his friend screamed and cried and flailed wildly almost constantly as he carried him the miles across the countryside from Athens, away from civilization. But his friend had been peacefully catatonic since his arrival, at least most of the time, and being alone in a wood far away from any human encampments, he occasionally found the experience tedious.
Samael was endlessly patient, however. He found ways to pass the time, and he chose to sleep simply because, while unpleasant, it was something to do.
He rarely slept because he didn’t need to sleep. But when he did sleep, he stilled dreamed.
He rarely slept because when he dreamed, his dreams always overwhelmed him and disturbed him.
And, as always, Samael dreamed.
The dream did not start out well. They rarely did. He dreamt that someone cleaved his head open and stuck it under a great waterfall: and the water flowed into his mind far stronger, and far, far faster then any he had ever before seen or even imagined.
At first, there was nothing to do but suffer under the wet, brain-flooding onslaught. But soon he noted that there were things apparent in the water, shiny things that drew his eyes and beckoned to him.
And he reached into the flow and pulled out one of the shiny things. It turned out to be a vision.
It was a vision of a place he did not recognized, and he did not know how he knew, but it was a place he knew to be important.
The vision was of a place that was filled with…fish. And the fish were not swimming the in the waterfall. Rather, the fish flew through the air, and the air was thicker and heavier than the water.
When he looked closer at the fish, he realized that he could see the fish from both the outside and the inside. He could see as the air flowed into the fish to give it strength. He saw the heart beat. He saw how the smaller fishes were broken down after they were ingested by the larger ones.
And then he looked closer still, and he could see the air convert some of the tiny particles of the fish into different kinds of particles. And when he looked closer still, he could see the tiny particles within the tiny particles. And still closer, and he could see particles of light and things like round balls of loadstone, and the particles of light circled the loadstones like a ball on a string. Except that the light didn’t spin in a smooth circle–it spun and bounced in random and unpredictable ways.
And then he pulled back from the vision until he saw all of the fishes again, and back further and he left the waterfall and he could see the giant ball where the fishes lived, and back and back and back and he could see many, many, many suns spinning like a whirlpool in a great sea of darkness.
There were numbers everywhere; he knew them exactly but he did not know their names. Not even Socrates had conceived of such numbers: numbers so large that he doubted that they would ever even have names.
And then back further still and he saw dark sea filled suns beyond measure but exactly counted. He knew them all. He saw the suns within the emptiness and within each sun he could looker closely and see tiny particles of light and tiny round balls of loadstone floating freely of each other. And he saw that some of the loadstones crashed into each other and made more particles of light. Particles beyond counting yet counted with a great number without a name.
And this–with all its unnamed number of suns each with the far greater unnamed number of tiny particles of light and loadstones–was but still the tiniest part of the great sea of darkness.
And he was very deep under the surface of the sea, this tiny part was so, so, so very far away from the surface that was his home.
He panicked and he forced himself awake. He rose like a great fish–streaking up from the great depth in an instant–and his eyes opened. He was breathing hard and he was sweating.
He didn’t scream anymore. He hadn’t screamed because of the dreams for thousands of years.
Light filtered dimly through the gray clouds; light from one of the suns, like in his dream.
“Our sun,” he thought.
He shut his eyes again and waited for the screaming in his brain to quiet. Even with his eyes closed, the images that clouded his mind were overpowering — unbearable. He was, however, quite used to bearing the unbearable. He ground his teeth and swallowed back his scream again.
And as his mind slowly quieted, he realized that he had learned something new with this dream; this…memory. He couldn’t quite understand it yet, but it was something profound.
He opened his eyes again and looked around him.
He judged it late morning, but he had no idea how long he had been asleep. Hours or days, either was possible.
The shadows were so dark and the clouds so deep that he had trouble seeing the thick forest where the two of them lay hidden. There was enough light, however, to see that his friend had not moved. He stared up at the blank slate of gray, at the small area that was just slightly brighter than the rest of the sky.
Our sun, he thought again. There are others.
With all the countless of times he had relived his nightmare, with all of the times he had seen these images, he had never realized this before.
This was important, somehow.
He stood slowly, unsteadily, and took a deep breath. The clean, cool smell of the forest after a rain helped to clear his head.
It must have rained while he slept. The fur-lined skins he wore about his body were damp, and he reached up and felt the dampness in his beard and hair. He glanced over again at his friend, and he could make out his rain-darkened tunic and could see water dripping from his nose. He sighed.
Nearby he had built a shelter against the weather, should he desire further comfort. He didn’t need it, but he did prefer to remain dry when it rained, and warm when the air chilled. And whenever such events occurred he always took the trouble to carry his friend Mika’il (no, not Mika’il. He wants to be called Michael now) into the shelter with him. He felt bad that he had not been awake to do this.
He stood and looked over at Michael. He was still catatonic, and this was good. He was so much easier to deal with him in this state than when he flailed around aimlessly. Michael was propped sitting against a tree. He had sat in that position for several weeks now. Samael noticed that Michael’s damp tunic was starting to show some signs of wear. Samael would have to replace it soon.
He could see that Michael’s eyes were open now. They did that on occasion, and it had never meant anything. The eyes no doubt could see, he judged, but the mind on the other end could not be bothered with the insignificant images that the eyes transmitted.
Michael, too, had been allowed to see the Great Vision. What possible image could his eyes transmit that could compare with that?
He greeted him, as he did each dawn. “Good morning, Michael. How do you fair today?”
Michael’s eyes jerked upward at the sound of the voice.
Awareness! Excited, Samael immediately knelt before him.
“Michael, can you hear me?”
Michael did not answer, but stared at Samael for a long, long time. Then his head turned, slowly studying his surroundings for the first time since his return.
Samael explained, “We are in a forest along the Harpessus River. I carried you on horseback north from Tarpodizus. We are safe here.”
Michael’s eyes suddenly glanced sharply up again at Samael. His mouth moved, as if he were trying to say something but couldn’t remember how.
Finally, he grunted, cleared his throat, and rasped a question.
Samael laughed. “As if you could die. Yes, my friend, you live. You have survived.”
Michael did not laugh. He frowned and shut his eyes.
“Yes, it is I.”
He grimaced. “How long have I been here?”
“Almost three years, Michael. It is good to have you back. The waiting was becoming quite tedious.”
“My head. The vision. I saw the wholeness, and yet this forest overwhelms me. What is with us here?”
Samael laughed again. “There is no one else here but me, my friend. Who else would stay to watch you drool for three years?”
He opened his eyes again and they darted around.
“I see shadows–shadows everywhere.”
Michael shut his eyes tightly. “Illusions. Nothing but illusions.” He turned to look at Samael. “Thank you for watching over me, my friend.”
“You are welcome. I could not leave you alone after you returned. You were…” Samael hesitated. “…not well.”
Michael shook his head. “I can’t remember. I remember nothing. Three years, you say?”
“Thirty-nine moons. I was out for much longer.”
Michael sighed, and reopened his eyes. He took in a sharp intake of breath, and shut them tightly again.
“Illusions. I can’t think, Samael. Yet I saw the wholeness. I know so much more now.”
“You know more, but what of it do you understand”
Michael snorted a laugh. “Very little. The illusions; I can see them through my eyes even when they are closed.
Samael put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You are still not well. Perhaps you should try to sleep.”
Michael smiled. “I have slept for three years. I should think that enough.”
“Just rest quietly for a while then. Breathe. Touch the earth. Let yourself become part of the world again. Would you like to have some water, or perhaps even some fish?”
Michael didn’t answer. His hands slowly clawed at the earth. His eyes flashed open again.
“Are you sure we’re alone?”
“Quite sure. What do you see?”
Michael paused. “Stars. Clouds. Whirlpools. Darting lights. Shadows. The illusions are too strong, Samael. They are taking me. I’m not sure I can stop them.”
“Breathe Michael. You are safe here. You have returned from a great voyage, and you saw many things beyond which you can comprehend. There is a stream a short distance away. I will bring you water. Relax and breathe. I will return shortly.”
Samael lay his hand upon Michael’s shoulder, and Samael reached out and did the same. Samael turned and walked briskly to the stream. He tried to remember his own return from the journey, oh so many centuries ago. His memories were vague, be he remember the strength of the vision–a vision so strong that it still plagued his dreams–and his inability to sort it from the reality of the world around him. He had no one to nurse him back to health after his return. He had remained without conscious thought for at least several decades afterward. Michael had returned after a brief three years. Surely that meant that he would recover from the experience more quickly.
Or, he supposed, it could also mean that he was brought back too quickly.
Samael quickly filled his lamb’s bladder with the cold, fresh water, and returned to the camp.
Michael was now standing, holding a large stick, looking about himself with wild eyes.
“Why do I suffer? What is tormenting me?”
“There is nothing here, Michael,” said Samael cautiously.
“These…demons, where have they come from?”
“There are no demons, Michael. They are nothing but illusions.”
“…illusions…” said Michael, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes.
Suddenly he started, and jerked as if poked. He swung his stick behind him and turned. He looked about himself wild eyed, again.
“Can illusions stab at you, Samael?” he asked accusingly.
Before Samael could answer, Michael turned and swung at the empty air.
“Michael, you were not ready for the journey. It has damaged you, somehow.”
“He has shown me His truth! He has shown me His glory! God can do no wrong! He is perfection! To suggest otherwise is blasphemy!”
“God was wrong to do what He did to you, Michael.”
Michael turned and glared at Samael. “And now you dare to curse his name?”
Samael did not reply. He felt powerless. He was losing his friend, and he did not know what to do next.
Michael swung a third time, this time with such force that Samael could see the air burn as the stick moved through the air. The stick burst into flames from the heat, and Michael threw it away. He returned to his glaring.
“It has been you all along, hasn’t it? I have seen the wholeness, and now I see the truth of you. You have lied to me all this time. I trusted you, and you have lied.”
“I have never lied to you, Michael,” responded Samael.
“They do not torment you, Samael. Why not?”
“Who is tormenting you, Michael?”
“THE DEMONS! Do not try to tell me you don’t see them!”
“You are seeing illusions my friend. You have had a bad experience. Try to be calm.”
“You lie!” shouted Michael. “You call me friend, and yet you do this to me.”
“I am doing nothing to you.”
“Lies. You are the prince of lies. There are demons all around and yet they do not torment you. You are the king of the demons. Nothing you have ever told me has been truth.”
“Please calm yourself…”
“STAY AWAY FROM ME, DEMON!”
“You are not well, my friend. I have never lied to you. I have been looking after you for the last three years. You are seeing illusions. The trip was too much for you. You suffer from God’s vision…”
“SILENCE! YOU ARE NOT WORTHY TO SPEAK HIS NAME!”
Michael stood up straighter. He backed away from Samael.
“You are a blasphemer. God has shown me His truth. He is all-powerful. He can do no wrong. And yet, you accuse Him of making me suffer.”
“He has just shown you too much, Michael.”
“He has shown me the truth. You did not want me to see the truth, did you?”
He flinched again. “CALL YOUR DEMONS OFF OF ME, BLASPHEMER!”
Samael stood silently and watched his friend. Michael’s eyes continued darting about. He lifted a fist and swung through the empty air. Tears began to stream down his face.
“Prince of lies. King of demons. I am not strong now, but I will be again. I will spread the word against you. I will not let you walk this earth in peace.”
“I have not done this to you. I am still your friend. That which torments you are but illusions.”
“Illusions?” Michael laughed. “You cause the little demons to swarm me and stab me and you expect me to continue to believe them to be illusions?”
Samael said it again. “Yes, Michael, they are illusions. Your mind suffers from your vision. I have ministered to you for the last three years after you returned from the vision…”
“You have blasphemed. You have accused Him and tried to turn me against Him. He is your enemy, and therefore you are mine.”
“Michael, I urge you to rest. Your mind is playing tricks with you. Drink something. Take in some food…”
Michael was staggering backwards.
“I will not break bread with the king of the demons and the accuser of God. I will destroy you, when I am strong enough. You may rely on it, Demon.”
Michael turned and ran unsteadily into the woods, disappearing into the darkness.
Samael laughed an ironic laugh. He looked about him at camp he had set up–at the place where he had tended to Michael for the last three years.
“Welcome back, my friend,” he sighed. He began to gather his things.