Truth of God, Chapter 4



An armored figure sailed through the air for a brief moment before landing ungracefully.  He got to his feet and dusted his legs off before glaring at his opponent.
    “Nice, but you put too much motion into it.  Even you can get exhausted that way.”
    The woman glared right back.  “Alright then, how is it supposed to be done?
    She was quickly dumped onto her back.  “Like that.”
    “Ah, I see.”  Michelle, Archangel of War, sprung to her feet again.  “Let me try.”
    Ares sighed as he went tumbling.  “Better,” he grunted.
    Around them, angels and humans watched, some to learn, some to observe.  Blandine glided over to Gabriel.  “How long have they been at it?”
    “Hours.  Too long, we need to be moving, moving, moving!  The enemy is out there, searching for us, and we sit here and wait.  For what?  Death is coming, coming.”
    Blandine studied her brother Archangel with concern.  Gabriel seemed to be losing the lucidity he had gained with Belial’s destruction.  On the other hand, perhaps it was just Ofanite impatience.
    “The forge is almost ready, brother.   Would you like to come and see it?  Perhaps you could help to get it hot enough.”
    Gabriel’s eyes lit up, almost literally.  “Yes, yes that would be good.  Action, get this campaign moving.”
Blandine gently guided her brother to the site of the gateway.  Servitors of all three of the Archangels surrounded the site in the camp.  They parted to let their masters through and closed ranks again.  Blandine spoke a quiet word, made a gesture, and the mighty gate opened with a rushing sound.
    The two Archangels stepped through, and were swept far away, into the hidden depths of the Far Marches.  Blandine paused long enough to close the gateway and to gaze back across the vast space.
    The place in the Marches that Blandine had found was a beautiful green field and a lake.  Both Archangels could feel a warm spring breeze on their faces and the sounds of songbirds filled the air.  Near the water was a polished marble structure that looked like a kiln. Several angels were gathered around it and were adding finishing touches.  At the approach of Blandine and Gabriel, one of the workers broke away from the group and approached them.  When he was close, he bowed low.
    “Mistress of Dreams and Archangel of Fire.  I am pleased to say that we have completed work.”
     Blandine smiled and touched his shoulder.  “Stand, Shimuera.”  The Archangel of Dreams looked over at Gabriel.  “This is Shimuera, Cherub Angel of Dreams of Determination.  I felt it appropriate to let him handle the creation of the Heart Forge.”
    Shimuera flushed with pride. “It is crude compared to the ones in Heaven, but it will serve our needs out here.”
    Gabriel smiled at the Cherub.  “I wish to see it.  Blandine told me that you would need fire to complete it.”
    “Yes, Archangel,” Shimuera answered.  “Your fires coupled with the fabric of dreams from the Marches would help with this.”
    The Archangel of Fire let himself be guided over to the forge.  The scents of sage, oak and cinnamon wafted out from the door.  Gabriel looked inside and saw the flawless surface of the forge.  The cool stone that made it was smooth to the touch and flawless.
    The ancient Ofanite stepped back and gestured for the other angels to do the same.  As soon as it was clear, Gabriel howled out a clear note to the sunlit sky.  Within an instant, flames roared to life from the forge.  The Archangel of Fire grinned as the light from the flames lit his face.  He stared at the assembled angels as they looked in wonder at the new forge.
    “Get ready to make new Hearts.  We’re going to need them.”
    As they got to work, Blandine moved away from the group and stared at the sky over the Marches, lost in her thoughts. Blandine had always hoped that the end of the War would see her reunited with Beleth.  Even though Blandine had the Demon Princess of Nightmares at her mercy, Beleth had chosen to die rather than be healed.  But before Blandine could end their pain, Uriel had intervened.  He made the Demon Princess of Nightmares renounce what she was and Redeemed her.  But the reunion was short lived; the Archangel of Purity was determined to strike the fear of God into humans in dreams as well as their waking hours.
    The Archangel of Dreams walked out of Heaven without hesitation.  She tried to get Beleth to come with her but it was useless.  The Archangel of Fear believed in what Uriel was doing and could not be dissuaded.
    It pained Blandine to look towards Heaven now, but she did so anyway.  And although it was little more than a small speck on the horizon, she could see where her tower stood. Without seeing it she knew how it had changed.  How her beautiful shining walls had darkened, the spires twisted.  How it was now home to Fear.  She could feel that mockery as a dull stabbing pain that Blandine simply accepted as part of her being.
     Blandine’s reverie was disrupted by Gabriel’s return.  He was grinning maniacally and jerked a thumb at the forge.
    “You did it, Blandine.  We will have our Hearts back.”
    Blandine touched Gabriel’s shoulder.  The Ofanite’s enthusiasm broke the cloud of depression that shaded her life.  She turned to the angels that were gathered near the forge.
    “To work then!  We have a lot of Hearts that need to be made.”
     A cheer went up from the angels and hope filled their beings for the first time since the War had ended.

     Back at the camp, Michelle and Ares had their hands around each other’s throats.  Although the gathered audience knew that they were simply practicing, it certainly seemed that they were trying to kill each other.  Ares’ face was taking on a slight purple tint.
     An angel raced up, pushing his way to the front of the crowd and onto the practice field.  “Archangel!”  The combatants ignored him.  “Archangel!” he called again, louder and more insistent.
     On the third try, Michelle finally kicked Ares away and rounded on the angel.  “This had better be good.”
     The angel shrunk back.  “Archangel, you are needed, quickly.  Something’s coming.”
     Michelle glared.  “You know what to do in that case.”
     “Ah, it’s a bit different, Archangel.  It… they… whatever it is, it’s coming up into the hill.”
     “What?” Michelle asked in disbelief.
     “It’s coming up through the hill.  From underground.”
     Michelle swore creatively then raced with her angel to the hill that loomed over the center of their camp.  Others were already gathered around a place at the base, all manner of weapons ready.
     The soil started to crumble, falling away from the hill and a cavity began to open.  It widened quickly, enough to let a figure stagger out, and then closed again.  Firearms clicked as angels targeted the figure.
    “Hold your fire!” Michelle roared as she darted forward to the figure.  “Doxas…” Michelle caught her second as she collapsed.  Weapons were quickly aimed at the sky, and switched to safe positions.
    Doxas was covered with dust and mud.  Blood tainted feathers that were once purest white clung to her back, evidence of how quickly she had taken up her vessel.
    “The Guard fought with honor till the end.  The Wind and Flowers hold the Groves for now,” she coughed out, fighting unconsciousness.
     “David?” Michelle asked, guessing at the manner of her second’s arrival.
     “David and his most loyal have sealed themselves in the core of the Catacombs, deliberating how to proceed.  David himself may offer you support, but for now…” she coughed, drew a breath.  “Stone is divided,” she finished, then passed out.
     Michelle Sang, healing her dear friend and loyal servitor as she carried her towards the tents that served as a field hospital.  The Archangel’s heart was heavy as she mulled over the ramifications of Doxas’ news.
     Ares looked uneasily at Michael.  “Of all the angels I fought against in the Purity Crusade, it was David’s that I feared the most.  The unity of Stone was one of the most formidable weapons leveled against us.”
    Michelle sighed as they approached the medic’s tents.  “This is not very welcome news.  But David is not one to rush into a situation without careful thought.  We may see Stone on our side of the battle or they may remain neutral in this fight.”
     Ares chuckled.  “Remain neutral?  Those are words I never would think to hear about David.”
     “You’re right.  I doubt that he would.”
     “And if he and his Servitors are against us?”
     Michelle handed Doxas off to an angel of Novalis’ that had joined the fight as a healer.  The Malakite began to tend to the Angel of Glory’s wounds as Michael and Ares watched.  The Archangel of War looked into Ares’ eyes with a look of sorrow.  “Then don’t strike them first and strike them down quickly if they stand opposed to us.  David would understand.”

     “Good thing we got the bus,” Lanus commented dryly as their latest passengers joined them.  They had picked up three more humans and a lone Elohite of Fire in the past two days.  They had also run across another nest of Purity and Death angels, leaving all but the children wounded to some extent.
     “Any sign of the Kyriotate?” Ahrionel asked.
     Lanus shrugged.  “Caught a glimpse of it yesterday, but nothing since.  It hasn’t registered as a threat yet.”
     “That’s good, at least.”  They didn’t need more trouble heaped onto everything else.  Ahrie’s gaze drifted over to Áinel who was curled up in a nearby seat.  She had taken a harsh beating in the last battle, and was now in a light sleep.  Lisa had crawled into the Seraph’s lap, and had fallen asleep as well.
     Torael, the newest angel, watched the child with an Elohite’s usual detached gaze.  He didn’t seem to approve of the group toting a Marked child along with them, although he hadn’t said anything aloud.  He glanced over at Eric as the bus rolled along.
     “Has the pain receded any?”
     Eric adjusted a bandage that covered his face.  His last encounter with angels of Purity had ended with part of his face being burned.  Ahrionel had healed him as best he could, but he had to wait until the Cherub had regained enough Essence to try again.  So for now, the Malakite was blind in one eye.
     “It has gotten better.  I can still fight, so that shouldn’t be a concern.”  He smiled at the Elohite.  “You handled yourself quite well in the last fight as well.”
    Torael shrugged.  “Fighting other angels is still somewhat unsettling.  Under the circumstances, I can appreciate how it is the best path to take, but it will take some getting used to.”
     “Helps when you have a bus as a weapon,” Raniel called from the driver’s seat.  Out of all the angels, he had fared the best by virtue of being too fast for anyone to strike.  The fact that he had indeed used the bus to great advantage helped things immensely.
     Torael nodded at Raniel’s response.  The Elohite had become a source of great interest for Raniel; the Power was even more stoic that Lanus which caused Raniel to work quite hard at getting a reaction.
     Ahrionel moved towards Torael before the Ofanite could try to provoke him any more.  “At least we are getting closer to where we need to be.  I can sense that more angels have gathered there.”
     “Do you have any idea how much longer until we are there?”
     “Just general impressions, really.”  Ahrionel tended the bandage around Eric’s face.  “If it were anyone other than Raniel at the wheel, I’d say it would be even longer.”
     Lanus planted himself near the small conversation.  “What do we do when we come up against the ocean?”
     “Are we that close?” Ahrie asked, stifling a sigh.
     Lanus nodded.  “Another day or two, at the rate he’s going.”
     “I don’t know.  Pray that the Symphony will provide, I suppose.”
    The Cherub finished what little he could do for Eric then climbed over to check on Áinel.  Although he was gentle, his ministrations woke Lisa.
    “Are you going to make her better?” the girl asked, with bright eyes.
    “I’m trying, but I just don’t have… what I need.”
    She considered this as only a child can.  “Can I help?”
    Ahrie smiled at her sadly.  “I don’t know how to teach you how to help, Lisa.  If I could, I would.”
    “Oh.”  Lisa looked down at Áinel, and then buried her face in Ahrie’s shoulder.  A moment later, the Symphony pinged quietly but joyously.  Ahrie’s eyes widened in shock at the sound as he searched for the cause of the sound.
    Lanus leapt to his feet, hand sliding for a weapon, then freezing as the Malakite blinked.
    Ahrie shifted Lisa to look at her face.  “What… what did you do?”
    The girl looked frightened.  “I don’t know!  I was just wishing really hard that I could help, and…” she started to sniffle.  “Was it bad?”
    Ahrie squeezed her shoulder.  “No, dear, you did a good thing.  I don’t know how, but you did.  You helped.”  He reached around her to touch Áinel’s shoulder, and Sung, the Symphony pinging again.
    “Will you stay with her and keep her company?” he asked Lisa, who nodded and crawled back into Áinel’s lap.  Ahrie extracted himself and returned to Eric.
“I’d give a day’s rest to know her Destiny,” he muttered.  Then more directly, “She gave me Essence.  Don’t ask me how, I don’t know.  Now let me see what I can do for you.”
    Torael listened in on the conversation with obvious interest.  "Perhaps it has something to do with being Marked?"
    Ahrionel frowned.  "It could But it's unusual to have someone this young be able to do that."  He gently lifted the bandage away from Eric's face.
    The Malakite hissed involuntarily as his wounds were exposed.  The burn had sealed his eye shut and taken part of his hair.
    Carolyn moved close to Eric as Ahrionel began to tend the wound.  She had refused to leave the Virtue's side after he had been wounded.  Ahrionel had joked that she was almost his personal Cherub.
    "Now, then.  I think we should be able to get this dealt with."  Ahrionel smiled and began to sing.  The Symphony hummed in response as it answered the Cherub.
    Eric felt a blessed warmth flood over him.  The pain receded as dead skin began to fall away from his face.  His eye cracked open then blinked as light reached him.
    "Not bad," Carolyn said.  She reached across with a rag and wiped water on the healing wound.  "How long should he need the bandages?"
    Torael glanced at Eric's face.  "One more day, perhaps two."  At the look Ahrionel and Carolyn gave him, the Power shrugged.  "I have extensive experience in wounds inflicted by fire."
    Carolyn nodded and moved slightly away from him.  Torael’s emotionless demeanor and his coldly violent actions against the angels that they fought made her uncomfortable.  She quickly returned to the children that were towards the back of the bus.

    Deep in Dominic’s Cathedral, Nisroc lay half-asleep on a low bed.  He still had a bit of recovery ahead of him, and Dominic had thought it best to keep him out of sight for now.  It was important that Uriel didn’t know that such a high-ranking angel of Michael’s was now in his service.
    Nisroc heard the distant tap of footsteps, knew who it must be.  He started to shift himself upward, but was restrained by something on his chest.  Something furry.
    “Ah, cat, I really need to get up.”
    Dominic’s cat didn’t deign to reply.  He simply squinted at him and folded its paws under its body.
    “Cat… it is not becoming to greet your… our… Archangel so.”
    The cat closed its eyes and curled up to get a nap.
    Dominic strode into the room, Bronwyn close behind.  Nisroc flushed.
    “Do not be concerned, Nisroc, your intent is noted.”  Nisroc could tell from the tone that Dominic was very irritated.
    “As you say, Archangel.  I… sense the Council gathering was not to your liking?”
    Dominic snorted, waving Bronwyn away from where she was fussing at him.  “Uriel announced his desire to chop down the Groves.”
    Nisroc paled at the thought.  Dominic dismissed it with a brief gesture.  “It will not happen.  Janus was furious enough that he shouted out everyone else out and warned Uriel against such an action.”
Deep in the folds of his hood, Dominic almost smirked.  Almost.
    Nisroc smiled weakly.  “Archangel… has there been any word…”
    “Of Michael and Gabriel?  Nothing.  Blandine has fled as well, many think she has joined them.”
    Nisroc nodded as best he could.  He wished the best for his former Archangel, wished him success.  If he succeeded, Nisroc would return to his service.  If not… then he would serve Dominic as well he could, and see to it that the Usurper was torn from his place.
    Dominic looked over at Bronwyn.  “Have the medics check on his wounds.  I expect to hear his condition within the hour.”
    The Malakite bowed.  “Yes, Most Just,” she said as Dominic turned away from them.  She looked down at Nisroc and idly scratched the cat’s back.  “Justinian seems to be fond of you.”
    Nisroc winced as the feline unsheathed his claws in response to the scratching.  “Spies and secrets are appealing to cats.  I think he’s sensing what I am.”  His expression suddenly turned grave.  “Bronwyn, what am I not being told?”
    The Malakite sighed.  “How much have you figured out?”
    “Archangel Dominic is worried about the state of Heaven, and his connection to Uriel has become strained.”
    “You should keep your observations silent for now.”  Bronwyn sat down next to Nisroc’s bedside.
    “He is worried about how things are.  We thought that the end of the War and Heaven’s triumph would have settled things more quickly.  The fact that several Archangels have been cast out weighs heavily on him.  As for myself, I fear what is going to happen.  This second Rebellion against Heaven is wrong, but few within the Eternal City can say it openly.”
    Nisroc was shocked at Bronwyn’s words.  For many years, he viewed Servitors of Judgment with contempt and paid them only the bare minimum of respect.  As he grew older, he began to have a greater understanding of their place in the Symphony.  But for the first time, he felt sympathy.

    The Archangel of Judgment had retired to his private chambers.  The view of the night sky was of some minor comfort as he reflected on the meeting in the Council Chambers.  In times past, he could silence dissent amongst even the Archangels with a word.  But now he found that the faction that Uriel led had grown more vocal and were forcing their will upon Earth.
    And another group was just as determined to keep Heaven away from Earth and find another way.  Then there were the rebels that were massing their forces.
    The Seraph knelt before the window and stared at the stars.  With the abrupt removal of the dust and fallout and the loss of power across the world, the sky was clear and perfect.
    Perfect in the way that he had once seen Heaven as.
    He read a report from one of his few field agents on Earth.  He had been following a group of Outcasts for several weeks now.

Archangel
 As per your instructions, We have remained away from the group of angels and observed their actions.  Although they are Outcast, they still conduct themselves properly.  We have their names and will submit them with our next report.
 We request permission to initiate contact with them.  Although the Outcasts are marked for death by order of the Seraphim Council, it is our belief that allowing this sentence to be carried out without a chance for them to answer would be Unjust.  As We do not wish an open conflict or to risk any Triad currently upon Earth, We feel that approaching them on our own would have a more favorable result.
In Judgment’s name

     Dominic silently read the letter and thought about the matter.  Although he was going against the Council, he was still the Archangel of Judgment.  Dominic was strict with other angels and could be brutal to his own, but not out of malice.  He dearly loved all angels and blessed souls and would fight viciously to keep them from Hell.  No angel would ever be denied the right to protest their innocence to the Council no matter how serious the crime.  The Seraph locked the report away and wrote an answer

 Your request is granted.  I expect your report on the matter within forty-eight hours of contact.

     The report instantly left for Earth and the Archangel of Judgment moved from his chambers to the main room of the Temple of Judgment.  The angels in the area quickly bowed as he entered.  He stared around until he saw who he was looking for.
     “Azariah.”
     Within half a second, Azariah, Ofanite of Judgment, was at his master’s side.  “Most Just.”
     Dominic guided him into his private office and closed the door.
     “I have a mission for you on Earth Azariah.  I expect it to be done swiftly and in secret.”
     “Just tell me what you require, Most Just.”
     The Archangel of Judgment smiled underneath the shadows of his cloak.  Ofanim were some of the most enthusiastic Servitors in Heaven’s service.  Their energy was what he needed right now.
     “You are to go and find every agent of mine still on Earth, whether Triads or individual angels.  Tell them that any Outcast Servitors are not to be exterminated on sight, nor are they to be presumed guilty unless proven otherwise.  You shall find six other Ofanim that you trust above all others and convey the same instructions to them.  I leave you in charge of this mission.”
     Azariah frowned.  “All due respect, Most Just, but the edict regarding Outcasts-“
     “I am the Judgment of God, Azariah.  I will not condone unjust actions against them.”  His eyes flared with the terrible wrath that caused lesser angels to quake in terror.  The Ofanite’s eyes dropped quickly to the ground as his Master’s power washed over him.
    “Forgive me, Archangel.  I did not mean to question your orders.”
    Dominic touched Azariah’s shoulder.  “You were right in pointing out the edict.  I would never charge anyone in my service to disobey a law.  However, certain things have come to my attention that have caused me to believe that the edict is Unjust.”  The Archangel of Judgment paused a moment to drive home the importance of the task that Azariah was being given.
    “As I said, Azariah, find six of your Choir mates that you trust without reservation.  Should any of you come under investigation by any Servitors of Heaven, you are to leave the area at once.  And if it looks as if you will be captured, you are to destroy your Vessel.  Go now.”
    The Wheel bowed and raced out of the room.  Dominic nodded quietly in satisfaction.  It would only be a matter of time before he had the information he needed.  He quietly prayed for strength to deal with what he would learn.

    "Ahrie?"
    The Cherub looked up as Raniel called him.
    "We're getting close to a town.  Should we avoid it?"
    Ahrionel looked down at the gas tank dial.  "Approach it carefully, let's see if we can stock up on fuel.  Food wouldn't hurt, either.  Lanus?"
    "On it," the Malakite answered, focusing on the Symphony to listen for danger.
    The humans sensed the tension and quieted, looking around nervously.  The bus slowed to a more normal speed, the change waking Áinel.
    She stretched and extracted herself from Lisa's sleeping embrace, then eased over to Eric.  "What did I miss?"
    Eric filled her in quietly as they continued, soon easing up to a truck stop.  The place seemed isolated from the town, on the outskirts, and sported a small convenience store.
    “Showers,” Carolyn mused, noticing the sign.  “I don’t suppose we could…?”
    Lanus was concentrating.  “I don’t feel any immediate threat.”
    Raniel popped the doors open.  “Theneveryoneout!”
    Outside, an older human approached the bus.  He wiped his oil-stained hands on his coveralls and waved them over.  “Hi there,” he offered, ignoring the momentary tensing of the angels as they checked for a threat and found none.  “Y’all need your lavatory pumped while ya gas up?”
    “Sure,” Raniel said with a smile.  He pointed to the group of humans.  “We could use a shower too.  So how’re things here?”
    “Quiet,” he shrugged.  “Lot a folks are gettin’ out of the city, goin’ every which way they can hopin’ to find a safer place.  Yer the first I’ve had all day.”  He saw which way the women were headed, and reached into his pocket and tossed the keys to Carolyn.  “There you go, hon. You and your friends just help yourself to the soap and shampoos.”  She thanked him and headed inside the building.
    “They’re scared, I guess.” Raniel replied as the man turned back to him.
    “Yep.  Where y’all headed?”
    Raniel shrugged back.  “Dunno, really.  Somewhere safe, just like the rest.”
    “Good luck.  I doubt there’s anywhere safe.  Places I’ve been talking to all say the same thing.”
    The Ofanite looked at him curiously.  “Places you’ve been talking to?”
    “Ham radio.  With major communications networks being down and a lot of power grids shut down, I’ve been getting an impressive range.  And the people I talk to have been telling similar stories.  Wars, riots, fires, and doomsayers every five hundred yards.”
    Eric walked off the bus and threw the bandages away that had been covering his face.  The new skin was still somewhat tender, but it was healing quickly.
    Áinel fell into step behind him.  “Has your vision been restored?”
    “Mostly.  Things are still blurry out of the bad eye, but it’s healing well enough.”
    Áinel pointed out her own greyed out eye.  “I understand.”
    “What was that from?”
    “Enemy sword cut a long time ago.  I still see out of it well enough though.”  She shrugged.  “No color, but it sees some of the Celestial spectrum.”
    “Interesting adaptation.”
    “Perhaps.  But I think I would prefer them being the same color.”
    Áinel followed the women into the bathroom, herding the two girls along as well.  There were only two showers, so they had to wait their turns, letting the children go first.  Their giggles soon merged with the sounds of the splashing water.
    Carolyn looked over at the sounds. “All right you two.  Don’t waste the water.”
    Margaret smiled at the commotion.  “It’s good to hear laughter again.  Seems like it’s been years since we’ve had the reason for it.”  She stroked the hair of a young woman that had joined them before.  All they knew about her was that her name was Samantha and that was because they found her driver’s license nearby.  She was quiet and unresponsive and seemed to always stare straight ahead towards some terror visible only to her eyes.
     “So are your friends nearby, Áinel?”  This question was from Brenda.  The woman had taken shelter in a church when the Final War had hit.  The experience had given her a devotion to God that she stated had been lacking in her life before.  And after learning that Áinel was one of the Most Holy, she had stuck close in an attempt to learn more about the Divine.  The woman’s enthusiasm could be almost as grating as Raniel’s but the Seraph decided to try to channel her energies.
Being around Lanus and Raniel had taught her how to handle this kind of situation quite well.
    “They may be, Brenda.  Ahrionel can sense that we are getting closer, but that is about it.  Patience, though, we will know the answer soon enough.”

    Eric went into the men’s room to ensure the safety of the people in his care.  Jamie and Michael hit the shower first while Jesse took a razor and shaving cream.  The minister had been adapting rather well to the unusual twists that his life had taken.  The Final War and the presence of the angels had quietly reinforced his faith.  It seemed that little could really disturb him anymore.
    Next to him, Alex waited for his turn at the showers.  He was a college student who had been two years shy of graduation and he had lost his family from the nuclear strikes.  A battle in the War had broken out on his campus and he found himself in a pitched battle between Soldiers on both sides.  Ahrionel had healed him up and the young man had agreed to come with them.  It seemed as if he were still in a daze as if he was going to wake up tomorrow and realize that he had dreamed the past few weeks.  He looked in the direction of the bus.
    “Hey, Eric?  Are we getting…you know; where we’re supposed to be?”
    The Malakite shrugged.  “That is in Ahrionel’s hands and Raniel’s driving.  You’re just going to have to trust.”
    The boy sighed.  It seemed that every answer he had been given hinged on trust.  It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the angels or the other people; it was just hard to realize that concrete answers were not going to be forthcoming.
    Jesse finished shaving and clapped the boy on the shoulder.  “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.”  He smiled at the look of puzzlement on the boy’s face.  “Second Corinthians, Chapter one, Verse nine.  Seemed appropriate.  Don’t worry, Alex; we are going somewhere safer.  Besides, it’s better with us than back where you were.”
    The two boys stepped out and Eric handed them towels.  As the Malakite stepped away, Jesse smiled reassuringly.  “I know it’s frustrating.  I felt the same way at first.  After all, I’m traveling with angels.  Everything should make sense, right?”
    “And how do you cope now that things aren’t making much more sense?”
    “Faith, son.  Nothing more, nothing less.”

    Back outside, Lanus was helping the man run a hose into the rear of the bus.  They had learned that his name was Dan and he had lived in Athens for most of his life.  The War had avoided most of this town but he had heard what happened on the news as things unfolded.
    “We lost all the networks about three days afterwards,” he said as he uncoiled more length of hose.  “My radio is about the only contact I’ve heard.  Problem is, a lot of the airwaves are dominated by those New Jerusalem folks.”
    Lanus hefted the weight easily and fastened the hose to the lavatory outlet.  “Tell me some more about them.”
    “Well, you figure the way things are going, it’s only natural that more folks are going to find God all of the sudden.  Seems like they are groups of people that are banding together to try and make sense of things.”
    The two hefted the hose towards the disposal tank.  “And what about you, Dan?  Are you saying that you didn’t find God in all of this?”
    “Not at all.  I believed in him well enough.  I’m just annoyed when I try talking to friends and they keep butting in.”
    While Lanus and Dan were setting up the hose, Raniel was keeping himself busy with the gas pump.  He was enjoying this immensely; the last time he got to drive something this big was a tank in World War 2.  It was worth having Lanus yell at him for about thirty minutes afterwards for breaking orders about being inconspicuous during the battle.  Not like anyone would notice a tank on the street.  The Germans were otherwise occupied at the time anyway…
    As he finished fueling the bus, a sound caught his ears.  He looked down and saw a dog wander up to him.  It stared at the Ofanite with a mixture of wariness and hope and wagged its stump of a tail tentatively.  Raniel reached down to let the puppy get a sniff.
    “Hi there little guy!”
    The puppy sniffed, then licked at his fingers carefully.
    “What, you lost?”
    The stump wagged again, stronger this time.
    “Ah, I see you met the pooch,” Dan said as he and Lanus rounded the bus.
    “Is he yours?” Raniel asked.
    Dan shook his head.  “Wandered in night before last, lookin’ hungry.  I’ve asked around where I could, but nobody’s claimin’ him.  I guess his people ran off and left ‘im or something.”
    “Do you think we could…”?
    “No,” Lanus interrupted.
    “Aw, come on.”
    Lanus heaved a sigh and prepared to launch into the various reasons why it was a bad idea, when Jamie and Mike raced over, fresh from their showers.  The puppy was soon wagging his stump and licking at the boys happily.  Raniel looked up at Lanus and grinned.
    “You want to tell them no or do I do it for you?”
    Underneath his stoic expression, Lanus ground his teeth together.  Raniel knew exactly what buttons to push and when.
    Dan chuckled at the exchange.  “Hell, son, there’s a store down the street that has enough food to feed him.  He’s pretty good, but too energetic for me.”
Eric walked up to join the group and saw the boys playing with the dog.  He grinned over at Lanus.
    “How wonderful.  The children could use a pet.  Your idea?”
    Raniel had walked over and tickled the dog under the chin.  Without warning, his teeth flashed out and caught the Ofanite’s fingers.  Lanus allowed a smile to cross his features.
    “I like him.  I think we’ll call him Chomper.”  The older Malakite knew that there were battles that one couldn’t win, just make the best of.  He simply walked onto the bus and let others think that the whole matter was his idea.

    Áinel stepped out of the shower and quickly dried herself off.  Although it wasn’t completely necessary, the Seraph had to admit that cleaning off did feel better.  She stepped into a clean set of pants and shirt and began to work on her hair.
    The Seraph began to ponder their next move.  Ahrionel was insistent that where they needed to be was close; he seemed to be getting edgier as they drove.  News that they were going to hit the ocean seemed to disturb him.  Whatever had been done to the bond that Ahrionel had, she knew it was affecting him.
    Áinel finished drying her hair and looked up at the mirror.  She saw Carolyn behind her, but saw a shadow of something else.  Something formless that was descending into the woman.  With a splash of water, she whirled, hand darting to her sword hilt.  Carolyn yelped in surprise and took a step backwards, and Áinel caught a glimpse of the shape fleeing through the ceiling.  She snorted angrily.
    Carolyn’s eyes were still wide.  “What…?”
    Áinel shook her head.  “I saw something, but it is gone now.  I apologize if I startled you.”
    “What would you have done if… whatever it was has stayed?”
    The Seraph sighed.  “I do not know.  I would not have hurt you, that much I do know.  Please… we are all ‘strung out’ right now.”
    Carolyn finally nodded.  “True enough.  No harm done.”  She forced a smile, and followed Áinel outside to where the crowd was gathered around the puppy.
    Áinel caught Ahrie’s attention.  “I think I saw Lanus’ Kyriotate friend.  Tried to take her,” she nodded toward Carolyn, “but it fled when I saw it.  I hope…” she saw what was the center of attention.  “What is this?”
    “A puppy,” Ahrie said dryly.
    “Surely we cannot take it with us?”
    The eyes of the children, and Raniel, locked onto her, large and mournful. Lisa’s lower lip began to tremble.
    “Oh bless.  Ahrie…” Áinel looked at the Cherub for support.
    He answered with a weak smile.  “Can we deny them a little joy after all they have been through, and all they must still endure?”
    Áinel heaved a weary sigh and climbed onto the bus.
    Lanus was leaning back in his seat and staring at her with a bemused expression.  “I see you’ve met Chomper.”
    “Chomper.”
    “I thought it a good name for him.”  He sat up and looked at her in puzzlement. “What is the matter, Sister?”
    “The Domination you’ve noticed was here.  It’s not here now,” she said as Lanus began to rise.  “It bolted out through the ceiling.”
    “Then we leave it be.  I would have heard something if it was a threat.”
    Torael had been sitting behind Lanus and listened as they talked.  “This Kyriotate has been following us?  For how long?”
    Lanus shrugged.  “About a week or so since we picked you up.  It hasn’t been doing anything other than observing.”  He looked towards the front of the bus at the noise of the approaching humans.  “But don’t worry about it.  We’ll handle it when the time comes.
    The children were laughing in delight as they got on board the bus with Chomper.  The puppy stumbled over to Lanus and let out a yip.  The Virtue picked him up and put him in the seat next to him.
    “OK, little ones, he’s going to stay with us.  But I need you to sit down.  You’ll get to play with him again later.”  To Lanus’ surprise the children acquiesced without so much as a syllable of protest.
    Eric and Raniel were helping Dan return the hose to its reel.  As the Ofanite sped back to make sure everything on the bus was in order, Eric stood back to talk to Dan.
    “So you are sure that you are all right here?”
    Dan nodded. “Don’t have much left to me anymore except this station.  I figure I have enough fuel to last me for a few more weeks.  But this is my home.  Someone needs to run the places that help folks out.”
    The Malakite shook Dan’s hand.  He had a feeling that the man’s life would be short out here, but he couldn’t force him to do what he didn’t want to.  But he wasn’t going to leave the man without something.
    “Wait just a moment.”  He walked over to Raniel and had a quick, whispered conversation.  The Wheel nodded and sprinted back on the bus.
    “What’s going on?”  Dan asked.
    “Just the only way we can thank you for your help,” Eric answered.  Raniel popped back out with one of the rifles and two boxes of ammunition.
    “It’s not much, but this should be enough rounds to help you.”
    “Now, boys you’re going to need them worse than-“
    “Please,” Raniel answered.  The look of urgency in his face made Dan hesitate.  “We’ve been on the run against some people and we don’t know if they can trace us here.”
    “Let me guess.  The New Jerusalem people?”
    Both Malakite and Ofanite nodded in reply.  Eric cleared the rifle and handed it over.  “They aren’t as peaceful as they make themselves out to be.  At least with this, you’ll have a fighting chance.”
    Dan took the rifle and slung it over his shoulder.  “Thank you boys.  Good luck getting where you’re heading.”
    Ahrionel joined them as they climbed back on the bus.  “I found a bottle of kids’ multivitamins, ought to help a little.  I know they’re not eating as well as they should.”  He pondered.  “May even help the others, who knows.”

    Several eyes observed the departure of the bus across the street.  They all belonged to the same creature; the Kyriotate that Lanus had been noticing.  It quietly cursed the bad luck it had just now.  It was just going to quietly observe and then time when it would speak to the angels.
    How in the world did that one angel see him so easily?  Its retreat was not cowardly though; it simply had no desire to let the host come to harm before it had a chance to make contact.  But it realized that its options were limited.  The angels were suspicious of other angels with good reason.  It knew that it had to speak quickly and speak well to prevent any conflict from erupting.  And it knew that it had to make contact soon.
    A crow flew overheard as it pondered matters.  The Kyriotate gently took control of the animal and guided it in the path of the bus.  It had a good idea what to say now.
 
    Inside, the children had started to settle down.  Lisa was sleeping again.  Áinel frowned and made her way over to Eric.
    “Is it normal for her to sleep this much?”
    Eric frowned.  “She is sleeping a bit much, but I don’t sense that she’s in any danger.  A reaction to the stress, perhaps, or the boredom of the trip.”
    “The others seem to be coping a bit better.”
    “Children are a lot tougher than people give them credit for.  The more we can keep their minds busy, the better they will be able to deal with what they’ve been through.”
    Torael moved across from Áinel and joined in the conversation.  The Elohite had been silent throughout most of the trip.  He seemed to be considering everything that had been happening in the past few hours.  "How long do you think we can travel?"
    Áinel thought about it for a second.  "It is really up to Ahrionel.  He has the best idea where we are heading."
    Carolyn shifted against Eric and Jamie dozed off next to them.

    Lisa abruptly woke up and headed towards the front.  She moved quietly past the angels as the conversation continued.
    Lanus and Raniel were also debating what to do as well.  Chomper had dozed off next to the Malakite with a toy underneath his paws.  Raniel frowned as he glanced down the highway.  "I still think that if we need to get across the ocean, we need a plane."
    “I don’t know that we’ll be able to find a serviceable plane, though,” Lanus cautioned.
    "There may be pilots left as well as mechanics."
    “More than likely the humans have taken everything they can…” the Malakite broke off to watch Lisa approach.  Her eyes were bright and unclouded.
     “What is it young one,” Ahrie started to ask, but was interrupted by Áinel moving forward and reaching under her jacket.
    “That is not Lisa,” she warned in a low voice.
    “What…”
    “Correct,” Lisa said in a voice that was not quite hers.  “We are Ushiel, Domination of Judgment.”
    Four pistols whipped out and targeted the girl.  Eric quickly put himself in the way.  “Put the weapons away!  It is still her body and you will not harm her!”
    “Which is why we have chosen this vessel,” Ushiel continued calmly as the other humans began to wake up.  “We have news that may interest you.”
    Carolyn gestured to stop the humans from getting too close.  “Would someone please tell me what’s going on?"
    "She is possessed by an angel," Áinel answered.
    "And she's in danger because of that?" Carolyn asked.
    Ushiel shook Lisa's head.  "No.  We will not hurt the child.  We are here to talk only."
    Lanus crept forward.  He knew he could probably get close enough to prevent the Kyriotate from causing any problems.
Eric caught the motion and stood as close to Lisa as he could.  A pure note rang out in the Symphony and Eric's fingernails slid into claws.  "Everyone put the weapons away.  Let the Kyriotate talk."
    Before Lanus could answer the threat, Áinel's whistled speech reached his ears.  "Lanus! It's telling the truth.  Put the weapons away!"
    As weapons were holstered, Raniel guided the bus to the side of the road.  Ushiel remained silent until they had stopped.
    "We had to wait until the time was right to approach.  We knew that who we served would alarm you."
    "So get to the point already, Kyrio," Lanus answered.  "We have little reason to trust you right now."
    "We were sent under orders by Archangel Dominic.  The laws against Outcasts are suspected of being Unjust.  We have been ordered to make contact and, as a representative of Judgment on Earth, offer our assistance to you and gather evidence to support your case."
    “Oh, so now the Hyena wants to help us?” Ahrie snapped, drawing an eyebrow raise from Lanus.
    Ushiel simply nodded.  “Yes.  As we said, we are here to help.  Your Seraph has already stated that we are speaking Truth.  Since you do not trust us, don’t you trust her?”
    The Cherub glared balefully at the possessed girl, then holstered his gun.   The tension seemed to drain a bit in the vehicle as Lisa took a seat.  At Ahrionel’s signal, Raniel put the bus in gear and continued to drive on.
    Áinel broke the silence.  “So Archangel Dominic has decided to investigate this matter?”
    “Yes.  While we are not familiar with the details of this, we know that the edict has come under question.  We were allowed to make contact with you only recently.”
    “So what were you doing when I saw you earlier?” Lanus asked.
    “Observing.  We were aware that you were all Outcast, but we are not strong enough to engage in an apprehension.  We decided to report your movements and continue to watch.”
    The Malakite frowned in concern.  “So Uriel and Sariel’s forces know where we are?”
    “No.  We filed the reports with the Most Just.  Uriel may be the Lord Commander, but Archangel Dominic does not need to answer to him.”
Ahrionel snorted in obvious disbelief.  Ushiel turned to face him.  “I bear you no hostility.  I am simply here to find the truth behind what is going on.”
    Brenda’s eyes were filled with wonder.  “An angel that possesses people?  I thought only demons would do that.”
    Áinel glanced over at the woman long enough to make sure that she wouldn’t get too close.  “No, Ushiel is a different kind of Choir.  It can only take over the bodies of others.”
     Torael moved in a bit closer to glance down at the possessed girl.  “Ushiel, you’ve stated that you’re here to help us.  You are aware that this may mean you getting into conflict with other angels, do you not?”
     “We have heard of the battles going on.  And many Servitors have been sent back in Trauma already.”  Abruptly, the girl sighed in exasperation.  “Do you think we enjoy what has been going on?  The Final Battle’s outcome was not to be like this-“ she gestured around the area to take in the world.  “It was supposed to be the one decisive battle to end all.”
     Torael shrugged.   “Every time someone makes a remark about the war to end all wars, another one starts up.”
     “Not this one though.  This was not supposed to end with Heaven divided as it has been.”  She stared into Ahrionel’s eyes.  “Can’t you see?  We know that none of you trust us nor the Most Just, but you cannot tell us that you are happy living like this either.”
     Lanus interjected before Ahrionel lost his composure again.  “Then why the edict?  You are aware that Michael is still the Archangel of War.”
     The child blinked in confusion.  “We had not heard anything of the sort.  We were elsewhere on the field at the time.”
     The old Virtue nodded.  “Michael was about to bend knee to Uriel, who had declared that he was no longer Archangel of War.  But the Symphony suddenly rang false with that decree.”
     “So you fight over the truth of the words of Uriel?”
     “We are fighting over the Truth of God,” Áinel replied.  “Would you do any less?”
     “No, we would not.  But we have never seen Rebellion in Heaven before either.”
    Ahrionel’s jaw clenched and held for a long moment.  “So now what will you do?” he asked at last.
     “We must report what we have observed, and what you have told us.  We would like to leave a part of us with you, and offer our assistance as a scout.”  Lisa glanced at Lanus.  “We can range farther than even your senses, Virtue.”
     “It makes tactical sense,” Torael commented.  All eyes went to Ahrionel.
    He heaved a sigh.  “Fine.”  With no further word, he stormed to the back of the bus and stared out the window.
    Ushiel bowed Lisa’s head, and took the girl back to where she had been sleeping.  In a moment, she was asleep and unaware of what had happened.
    Ahrie watched the trees and telephone poles streaking past.  Ushiel said that it had never seen a rebellion in Heaven.  Ahrionel had.
    He was a very young Reliever when Lucifer rebelled.  He had come close to being destroyed in the battles, but flashes of memory were still strong.
Now, he was trying to hold this group together, trying to protect the humans, trying to join his Archangel to continue another rebellion.  People were following him, relying on him.   He was trying to convince himself and his team that they were on the side of truth, and the Word of God.  He truly believed this, but there was something else nagging at his mind.
    The Archangel of Light had truly believed that his rebellion was right. Continue to Chapter 5