There was no way... he had to be lying. He couldn't bring Marni back. Nathan didn't want to believe it, didn't want to hope it could be true. Yet, at the same time, he knew the angel wasn't lying. Raphael couldn't lie. But... could it really be true?
"I don't understand," Nathan breathed, shaking his head, trying not to let his words shake him. He looked up and met his gaze. "How?"
Raphael seemed to relax while he held his hands open to him. "I, like Gabriel, am Death. I can undo what has been done. It is as simple as that. I do not know for certain why Gabriel has not told you this, but I can guess that it has to do with your test. Losing Marni is what has challenged your will to live. Promising to return her to you makes it all too easy to forget why you are really being tested."
"They didn't even want to tell me that before." Nathan rubbed his temples. "The only reason I know why I'm being tested is because Alton got hurt, and Gabriel let it slip. I don't think I was ever meant to know."
"A disadvantage of being unable to lie: we often say things we really should not." The angel drew a deep breath. "I know you do not trust me, but I swear to you, I do not ask the impossible. I think it is only fair that I give you what you truly want for your efforts, rather than the mere promise that you get to live. Forgive me for saying so, but what you have been presented with seems more like a threat than a game: do these things or else you die."
"Yeah..." He didn't like what he was hearing, mostly because the logic was sound. He'd never been given any options, only told that he had to play (and win) Lumiel's game or die. Raphael was right: that was a threat. Still, he was uneasy. "But what is it exactly you want me to do? You said you had a favor you wanted. What is it?"
Raphael smiled as he walked over to the frozen car and leaned against the hood. "I have a question for Lumiel, but I know he will not answer me truthfully. I need you to get a piece of his angelic form for me – be it one of his feathers, a piece of hair, blood, tears, anything – so that I have a little more leverage when I ask. A feather would probably be easiest, since he has been injured, but he will be very suspicious if you ask him for one. It is one of the weaker pieces I could use, but I do not want to put you in danger for this favor."
"And if I do this, you'll bring Marni back?"
The angel nodded. "As soon as I have the item in my possession, I will give you your fiancee. Unless there is something else you would prefer in exchange."
"No. No, nothing." Nathan chewed on his lip. He was trying to think of ways this reward could be twisted, running through the semantics in his head, but every time, he came to the same conclusion: he was offering to return Marni to him. He ran his fingers through his hair. "And if I say no?"
"Then I will have to find some other means to persuade Lumiel to answer my question truthfully." Raphael shrugged. "It will be more difficult for me, but I am not incapable. What I ask is a favor, nothing more."
Nathan ran his fingers anxiously through his hair again. He was being given a very generous choice: help him and be rewarded, or simply refuse. There was no consequence for refusing. He wouldn't die, like he would if he refused to keep playing Lumiel's game. And yet... "I need more time to think about this."
"Take all the time you need," Raphael encouraged, wrapping his arm around him. He carefully guided him to the sidewalk. "I understand your apprehensions; I have given you little reason to trust me, but I hope to earn that trust."
"Like I said, I need more time to think about this," Nathan repeated.
"Of course. As a show of good faith, allow me to say one more thing before I leave." The angel released him and stepped back, folding his hands in front of him. "You know that Virtue has been sealed off, yes?"
Nathan nodded. "Yeah, to keep the Sins from escaping." To his surprise, Raphael frowned.
"No, Karol. Though they cannot leave, that is not the reason for the barrier. I imagine that is what Lumiel has told you, since (if Gabriel or Michael know the truth) the other two cannot lie about it." He straightened. "The barrier surrounding Virtue is not to keep the Sins from getting out. It is to keep you in."
Before Nathan could question him, there was a sudden crackle of green lightning and he was gone.
And before he could register that, there was the blaring of a car horn and a loud screech, startling the writer and making him fall back on the sidewalk. The car that had almost hit him came to a dead stop, the driver rolling down the window and looking out at him. "My God, are you alright?" He quickly killed the ignition and jumped out of the car to check on him. "Are you hurt? I didn't hit you, did I?"
"No, no I'm fine," Nathan assured the man, though he was still disoriented. He let the stranger help him to his feet, and a part of him wondered if he'd even had that conversation with Raphael moments ago. "I wasn't watching where I was walking."
"As long as you're alright," the man said with a sigh of relief. He waited a beat, his brow knotting. "Aren't you that reporter that keeps getting tangled up in all the latest news stories? K. Keene?"
Nathan laughed uneasily, but nodded. "Yeah, I seem to have a knack for getting myself into trouble, eheh." He took a moment to get a better look at the driver. He was an older gentleman with clear lines of gray in his black hair and neatly trimmed beard, and for some reason, he seemed familiar. The writer's expression echoed his. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
The man's laugh was deep. "Maybe. Do you go to Virtue United Methodist? I'm pastor there."
"No... wait." The writer started to laugh again. "Halloween. Didn't you introduce Enya's band? Sorry, I don't think I ever got your name."
"Ah, yes. That must be it." The pastor smiled widely and extended his hand to him. "Lawrence, though a lot of the congregation call me Lawr or Pastor Lawr. It's nice to meet you, Mr. Keene."
"Nathan," the writer corrected, shaking his hand. "And before you ask, I go by my middle name."
"Then it's a pleasure to meet you, Nathan." Lawrence started back towards his car, pausing at the door as he looked over his shoulder towards him again. "It's starting to get a bit chilly for walking. Can I give you a lift somewhere? It's the least I can offer for almost running you over."
I'd be glad to accept it, but I'm not even sure where I want to go. I guess I should go back to the auditorium, but I'm not sure I'm ready to explain myself to Susan (or anyone else there, for that matter). I could go home and call it a day. I could stop by the bookshop and see how Alton and Lidia are (and maybe look into Raphael's request). Or maybe... maybe I could go to the edge of town. See if I really can't leave. I know he wasn't lying, but that just seems... I don't know. Maybe I should just go wherever the pastor is going. I have nothing else to do.
What should I do?