The Flight of the Guardian (Fiction, Part Three)
They dragged me to the throne room of the Persian kings, where Zeal designed his strategies and influenced the Persian nobility. The high narrow windows flooded the chamber with the light of sunset, while the richly embroidered furnishings, too ostentatious for any angel’s taste, loudly proclaimed the wealth and power of the lord who possessed them.
He did not speak to me once.
Dark angels hurled me to the tiled floor and forced me to my knees as Zeal ascended the throne of Persian kings. I could hear their hatred of me with every heavy breath, could smell their fear of whom I represented in the sweat on their soot-blackened skin. I was Almighty God’s judgment incarnate—an unwanted reminder of their own horrific fate.
To spite them, I fought to my feet. I refused to kneel before anyone but my Lord.
Once Zeal had settled himself on his throne, he exhaled slowly and stared at me. My robes were torn and filthy, my wings spread and held by powerful demons, and my face bruised and bloody, but I was unbowed, unrepentant and unafraid.
The words were a whisper and a growl at once, laden with command and power. Zeal rested his chin on his folded hands and said, “You have not changed at all, have you, Aram?”
I glared at him.
Zeal considered me for a moment, then leaned back and sighed. “Very well, you have not come for conversation. Tell me why you are here.”
I remained silent.
The Fallen to my left struck me across the face, snarling, “You will answer the Prince when he commands, worm!”
Slowly, I turned my head toward the demon and fixed him with a level stare. In response, he unsheathed his sword and hissed, “Mind yourself, little sparrow, or I’ll clip those pretty wings of yours.”
Our heads snapped to see Zeal gesturing toward me. My assailant, off-guard, stammered, “My lord, he—”
Zeal sneered. “‘You will answer the Prince when he commands,’ eh, Qatar? You wish to clip his wings, as you put it—here is your chance.”
I felt their hands slide from my shoulders reluctantly, and as soon as I felt the last finger lift away, I moved. I rammed my right fist into the surprised demon’s jaw and spun with the energy, delivering a powerful back-kick into his abdomen. Still turning, I swept my wings backward and hurled myself forward into Qatar before he could recover his senses.
We rolled on the floor, the Fallen angel still trying to bring his sword into a manageable position. I landed on top, and with all the strength I possessed, I relentlessly hammered the demon’s face with my fist. Only after I was sure that Qatar was unconscious did I rise from his body, bearing his sword. I spun the scimitar once, testing its balance, and turned to face the remainder.
They did not feel inclined to approach me.
Only the sound of Zeal’s clapping hands broke the silence. “Well done, Aram. You are as ruthless as I remembered.”
He gestured to his minions. “Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a mere sparrow, my warriors. This is Aram, one of the mightiest swords in the Host of Heaven and captain of the Guardians.”
Zeal glanced at me sidelong and asked, “You are a captain by now, aren’t you?”
I turned to face him and cast the demonic weapon at his feet. “Do not toy with me, Zeal. I am first and foremost a servant of the most High. I am content with my station in His plan.”
Zeal smirked and said, “Do you convince me or yourself?”
He was trying to turn me. It would stop now.
“Enough. I will not doubt the wisdom of the Almighty, and I will not join you. Ever.”
Knowing he was caught, Zeal dropped all pretense and earnestly leaned toward me, saying, “But think of what we could accomplish, Aram! When we stood together, no one in Heaven or Hell could withstand us. Imagine our power here, in this world!”
Zeal strode toward me, his wings trembling with excitement. “Aram, you have returned to me for a reason. Is it not that you wish to be reunited with your brother?”
I lifted my chin and answered, “No, it is not. I am on a mission.”
Zeal stared at me in disbelief, then laughed, “A mission? To Shushan, by yourself? Listen to yourself, Aram; always on a mission of some sort. When will you serve yourself? What has the Almighty ever done for you?”
I did not answer. I had nothing to say to him.
Turning away, Zeal said, “I remember the day that I was cast out, Aram. We were both there. The Almighty had just deigned to inform us of our true purpose. He had created us as chattel, to serve these pathetic humans with all of our glorious majesty. What did He think would happen?”
Zeal paced angrily.
“No one served the Almighty with more passion than I, Aram. You remember. I felt His words strike like a knife into my soul, robbing me of my breath. But I forced myself to accept His will, like a good servant.”
“It was then, when all seemed lost, that the Lightbringer came. He showed us that we did not have to accept the dismal fate that awaited us, if we had the courage to stand and fight.”
“Lucifer showed us that if we could take what we wanted for our own, we would not be forced to live in servitude for eternity. We could take control of our own destinies, and not merely serve as blinded sheep. Even eternity could not bear us forever, Aram!”
I spoke, unable tor remain silent. “It is our lot to serve, Zeal. It is why we were created.”
Zeal wheeled and snapped, “And because He created us, we are His to do with as He pleases? Slaves, to a harsh master’s cruel whims?”
“No, Zeal. Servants, to an Almighty God and the creatures He loves.”
Zeal snarled and turned away. “You are hopeless, Aram. You could have followed me, your brother, into glory and honor, but instead you betrayed me to curry favor with your taskmaster. You deserve the fate that awaits you, to wait hand and foot on those who would shackle your true glory.”
I felt righteous anger kindle within me. “As you deserve yours, to burn alone in outer darkness for eternity.”
Zeal drew his sword with a metallic rasp and a flaming roar. “And I suppose that you would send me there?”
The demons around me squared themselves, tense and ready to spring. I kept my eyes on Zeal. “I am not afraid of you, Zeal, or your pathetic band.”
Zeal stepped forward. “Then you will die, Aram, a disappointment to me, yourself, and the sadistic monster you serve.”
The traitorous angels around me readied their weapons, poised to spring, and I wheeled my sword once, determined to make a final tally worthy of eternity’s notice. A distant roar grew in my ears; a figment of my imagination, I thought, till I saw Zeal’s brow crease in consternation. The roar magnified till the sound filled the room, and I grinned, a quick, fierce flash of my teeth as I saw demonic swords shiver and droop in confusion.
At the last second, Zeal sprang out of the way as the roof shattered inward with a thunderous blast of sparks and flame, hurling the Fallen about like splinters in a storm.
Only one captain would have dared the wrath of Shushan’s massive armies for one of his warriors, and that was Michael. His body still glowed white-hot from the friction of his supersonic descent and his eyes shone like stars with holiness. With one gigantic arm, he brandished a traitor angel as a shield and with the other he bore his lightning-wreathed sword.
It was easy to see how Yeshua and Avraam fell to their knees and worshipped him involuntarily. I felt awed myself.
A single sweep of his powerful blade, and two of the Fallen rocketed into the far wall, their scimitars shattered and their bodies broken beyond healing. A demon lifted a barbed lance and hurled it with all of his strength, but the merciless angel interposed his hapless captive and let the lance stick in the bonecage of his shield.
With a casual gesture, Michael whipped the dying demon forward and impaled his would-be assassin on his own lance. As the two corpses caromed off of a pillar, Michael fixed me with his terrible gaze and bellowed, “Don’t just stand there, Aram! Move!”
I needed no further urging. I snatched my sword from its keeper and shot into the air past the startled and blinded demons, cupping the air with great sweeps of my wings to climb into the sky.
The cloud of dark angels had dispersed in confusion from sky to city, evidence of Michael’s meteoric charge. I allowed myself an instant of admiration for my captain’s indomitable courage.
Then I heard Zeal’s enraged bellow rise from the palace, and the cloud immediately resumed cohesion and swept downward toward one point.
I felt ice grip my heart as I saw a single brilliant point of light streak away from the palace, pursued and almost overwhelmed by the relentless hordes. The light shone brightly, flaring with the light of distant swordstrikes, but it dampened and then vanished as the darkness swallowed it.
Without thinking, I whipped out my sword and swept downward, plummeting like a star toward where I saw Michael vanish. I emptied my lungs into the wind with a terrible roar of vengeance, promising death and eternal damnation to those demons besetting my captain.
A terrific impact smashed into my shoulder and blasted me away from my course. I tumbled through the air, my wings struggling to cup the wind, righting myself only with monumental effort. I turned and faced my assailant, knowing who it would be.
Zeal hovered before me, his mighty wings beating the air with slow measured strokes. Directly between me and my desperately fighting captain.
Zeal held his sword in a one-handed grip, his muscles flexing all across his body in anticipation. His hand clenched and unclenched on the hilt of his sword, rubbing against the leather of the grip. He looked at me with eyes like burning coals and said, “Your captain’s misguided attempt to save your life has now cost him both his and your own. He will not distract me from my vengeance for your betrayal!”
I raised my sword and answered, “Then come and let me show you just why you are called the Fallen.”
Flames ignited along his blackened blade, and in response lightning crackled along mine. With a howl of fury, Zeal charged me, and I met his blade with a roar of my own. Lightning and flame crashed in the sky, and the shockwave of the blow caused the very air to ripple with force.
With horrific power, Zeal backhanded his scimitar toward my midsection and I flipped over it in the air, slashing down with all of my strength toward his head. Inhumanly fast, Zeal hurled his sword upward and the strength of his block rattled my skull. Blade screeched on blade, and the smell of scorched ozone pervaded the air as sparks sprayed. Without pausing, I kicked Zeal in the chest, forcing him backward, and swiped at his wings. Anticipating the attack, Zeal flicked his wings behind him, dropping like a stone in the process toward the earth.
With the thrill of combat screaming in my veins, I raised my sword above my head and hurtled down toward him.