Flight of the Guardian (Fiction, Part Two)
To the mortal eye, Shushan was a wonder of human society. The capital of the modern world stood by the side of the mighty river Hiddekel, alive with the business of man as he struggled through his few years on this earth. Merchants, guardsmen, courtiers and peasants shoved through the narrow streets and filled the city with the sounds, smells and sights of mortal life.
But man only sees the outward appearance.
Like a loathsome canopy of black locusts, the Fallen hordes permeated the city of Shushan with their vile corruption. Swarms of the lesser demons hovered around the city, keeping watch, forever hoping to catch the eye of one of the mighty dark lords that paid their respects to the seat of the Adversary’s power. Since their banishment from the presence of the Lord, their appearance had degenerated from majesty into squalor, though they could still appear fair to deceive mortal eyes.
Thousands of them circled the city, their wings creating a vibrating hum that nearly shook out my teeth. But it was the smell that struck me like a tidal wave, nearly bowling me over. The air reeked of a humid mixture of sulfur and rot, burning deep into my eyes and throat. I thought it incredible that the humans of Shushan lived their lives from day to day without knowing the evil stalked their city.
As I beheld the hordes that guarded Shushan, my Guardian spirit burned with the righteous desire to sweep off my disguise, flash brilliantly with holy splendor, and rip their corrupted wings from their bodies. But the Word of God lay in my lips as a burning coal, demanding to be delivered to His servant. As glorious as a solitary battle against the Fallen would be, the Word must come first.
Having exchanged my leper’s attire for a hooded cloak, I entered the eastern gate around sunrise on the second day of my journey. As usual, the gate was guarded by two human soldiers on the ground, five on the ramparts, and forty dark angels.
I felt anger and sadness simultaneously as once again I beheld the visages of the Fallen. Anger, at their continued rebellion against the Lord; sadness, because they had been my brothers. In appearance, they were still angelic beings, of that there was no doubt, yet they were somehow…tarnished, like jewelry fallen into rust. Their fair skin was now leathery, stained and blackened with their sin, their holy light replaced with burning hatred and despair.
As I looked upon them and saw my own appearance reflected darkly, I wondered if the gap separating me from them was truly so wide.
A hammering sound drew my attention to a booth on my right, and I received the answer to my unspoken question. I looked and saw a large man swinging a hammer down onto his forge, spraying sparks with every powerful strike. The man paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and I saw what he made.
It was a chain.
The man glanced at me, and I drew up my hood and wrapped my cloak around me tightly. In the realm between physical and spiritual, my skin would have immediately marked me as an angelic being. If the Lord so favored me, I would remain anonymous, just another dusty traveler amidst thousands.
Everything went well until the child slipped.
As a Guardian, I am intensely aware of children around me due to their value to the Almighty. The Guardians charged with their care constantly behold the face of the Almighty, a mark of their favor in the sight of God.
The small girl sat on a donkey that plodded along behind me. Concerned that the animal’s senses would reveal me, I quietly moved to the side. But just as the animal passed me, the wind changed and blew my scent into its nostrils. The donkey jerked its head up to stare at me, the sudden motion unseating the girl on its back. Reacting on instinct, I reached out and caught the child before she hit her head on the hard stones.
I set her on her feet beside the man who led the donkey and turned to enter the gate, just in time to meet the gleaming red eyes of the dark angel on the wall. My eyes snapped downward, and I saw that the exposed skin of my hands faintly glowed with celestial light.
I heard the first wings slash the air, and I knew my attempt at stealth had failed. In an explosion of blinding light, I leapt into the air and backhanded the nearest Fallen away, sending the oblivious demon screeching into the distance. I flipped my feet over my head and with a mighty sweep of my wings, tackled a group of confused demons just as they lifted off of the ground. As they crashed into a wall and fell senseless to the ground, I whipped out my sword and blocked a vicious cut from the watchful dark angel.
But his ambitious attack was no match for my righteous rage. Three strikes later, I tore the Fallen’s weapon out of his grip and swept through his filthy neck with my sword. Kicking his smoking body out of my path, I dispatched two more hissing demons with brutal strikes as they barreled toward me. Their speeding bodies crashed into their corrupt brethren behind me, sending the entire lot hurtling backward.
It was in that second’s respite that I heard the dark horns sound, a deep, ancient braying, and the horde fell upon me.
For a human, the battle may have taken hours, but in the spiritual realm, battles are won in a flash of lightning. Even for a Guardian, I fought like I was possessed, and indeed I was, possessed by a holy wrath against these treacherous abominations. In human terms, I lasted five full seconds against that raging swarm, roaring with Heaven’s wrath and banishing dozens of the degenerates to the Abyss they deserved.
In the end, however, I fell beneath the onslaught. With five demons holding each of my limbs, eight pinning my wings and dozens more clawing at my body, I could do nothing but twitch and shout muffled curses on them.
Blasts of sulfurous breath burned my skin, and I could scarcely breathe through the stench of their rotting bodies. The dark angels laughed victoriously and scratched me savagely with their talons, taking delight as I roared and strained against their cruel grips.
As I struggled, razor-sharp talons the size of bear claws slammed into the ground in front of my head. Leathery wings spanning yards rustled against one another as the Fallen took a step back in reverential awe. Almost as one, the exiled angels fell to their knees in respectful silence.
I felt my spirit sink. There was only one being in this city that would inspire that level of terror.
In the demonic hierarchy, they are known as the Princes of Darkness, each one hand-picked by the Dragon himself to oversee his designs in the most strategic nations of man. They are beings of fearsome power, masters of deceit and cunning. Their breath drips acid and their swords breathe flame.
I remember Michael’s ancient battle against the Princes of Canaan. A hideous creature known as Molech who delighted in the boiling blood of newborn children; a hulking arch-demon named Baal that possessed several of the Canaanite kings; Ashtaroth, a tantalizing seductress that aroused the basest passions of man. Each diminished as the Hebrews turned back to their God; Baal fell as Jehu slaughtered his priests, Ashtaroth had her throat cut as Jezebel fell from her window, and Molech faded into obscurity with only a few priests still slaying children to slake his desperate thirst.
But this was no mere Prince of Darkness that stalked before me. He was once one of the mightiest angels of God, glorious in light and relentless in battle. His laugh would shake the heavens and his warcry would turn his enemy’s blood to water in their veins. Now he draped himself in horn and hide, bearing a great spear and a flaming sword at his hip. His soot-blackened chest was bare, his titanic muscles pulsing with power. His hair hung in a great mane of night down his back, tamed by a leather strap. His eyes were pits of darkness as black as Hell itself, and only battle would bring any light to them. Those who saw that light rarely returned to tell of its unholy sheen.
He was Zeal…the Prince of Persia.