Chapter 25 - Uprising
The mass of people below the balcony windows shouted and screamed, chanting with all the power in their lungs for the end of corruption and misery, for the end of the current responsible regime, calling for the death of the military dictator who many years prior had seized control. Distant gunfire echoed towards the swarm of people still filling the streets and their howling grew only stronger and defiant.
The hotel had once held well-maintained grounds of palm trees and grass, but now its bricks sat scorched by the flames of rebellion, and each night hired security had needed to barricade the doors to keep an angry throng from setting torch to the fineries present within the lobby. The singed patches of carpet he’d stepped across when he’d arrived gave testament that the previous evenings’ defense had not always been successful.
Three nights had passed since he’d checked into the room, each sunset marked by hotel staff bringing what food they could muster up directly along with warnings to remain within. Three nights of hearing crowds rally and disperse, three nights of fighting the urge to seek out and aid those shrieking in pain and suffering from the wounds inflicted upon both oppressors and oppressed.
Tonight was proving no different.
A knock on the door paused his pacing in front of a television showing only more images of what lay right outside on the street. Cautious, for the empty plates of his meal already rested upon the bed, he moved to the door. “Who is it?”
“One who serves she who sent you here.”
“About damned time.”
After unbolting the multiple locks, a man whose dark-skinned skull long ago had abandoned what hair it once held entered. A leather attache case - not entirely a different shade of lighter brown than the long thin coat worn by its holder - was set atop the bed’s thick comforter next to the dinner tray by the newcomer before he turned to examine the one who’d let him in.
Sharp blue eyes full of youth and also its loss stared back, glaring through the smoke spiraling upward from a habit’s current offering. Despite the coldness of the room, the occupant wore a sleeveless pale shirt showing a body toned but not overly muscular and below his khakis were grey socks whose bottoms were already stained by the residue of carpets not vacuumed since the month-long troubles began. The start of a mottled yellow beard was framed by marginally lighter hair which hung to his shoulders, many strands wisping freely from lack of focused brushing.
“Where is she?” Nervous fingers brought the cigarette back to sun-chapped lips.
Waving smoke away from his own deep-set eyes, the old man coughed. “A filthy habit. As a doctor I would have thought you’d know better.”
“I do. Now answer the question - where is she? And why did she insist I come to Cairo? It’s a madhouse out there.”
The visitor coughed again and, once his throat was clear, spoke. “The mistress moves as she wills; I know only that she is not here. You are to receive that.” A black and bony finger swollen with arthritis at each joint pointed to the case. “I am to sit and watch.” The man pulled out the metal chair from under the small desk and sat, resting the gnarled hands upon his thighs.
“What’s in it?” The doctor stepped to the bed, putting a hand on the case.
“The answers you seek. It is not locked.”
Forehead crinkling with suspicion, the cigarette was crushed alongside its brethren in the overflowing ashtray perched on the ceder nightstand, and the case’s latches were then opened with simultaneous clicks. Within was but a single item. “A book?” Hands first burnt then tanned by African sun slowly lifted the thick leather-and-gold-clad tome, its weight much greater than even the large size merited.
“Yes. I suggest sitting on the floor before looking upon its pages.”
“Why?” The bookbinding was smooth yet rugged with no writing visible, only decorated by the gold leaf framing the edges of the cover in a pattern simple yet beautiful. But something below the fingers vibrated with a sense of familiarity, though the doctor was sure he had never held or even seen the item before.
“I am told it is not an easy read.”
Tearing attention away from the volume, he looked at the older man who with preternatural patience sat upon the small chair as if whatever happened there in the room would be fine. Should the crowd somehow barge in or the book even explode, he had the sense this man whose skin sat so tightly across bone would be equally nonplussed. “You haven’t tried?”
“Such is not for me. Again, I am only to witness.” So saying, a dark film spread across the old man’s eyes, leaving them pools of empty blackness even darker than the surrounding and wrinkled skin.
The doctor felt a second and entirely different gaze join the first to also peer out from within. Except this addition was filled not with stoic calm but sardonic amusement.
Fingers twitching with the strong desire for another cigarette, he lowered himself to the carpet instead and lay the tome upon his cross-legged lap. As the binding creaked open the older man with the disturbing eyes began murmuring, his low-hummed chant in quiet contrast to the louder mayhem shouted outside.
The cries of fury and pain which later came spilling from the younger doctor’s throat however equally matched those of the crowd.
Chapter 26 - Walls
“Sariel. It has to be Sariel.” I rattled off a few choice and rather impolite demonic phrases picked up from marching alongside my old crew.
We were still sitting in Father Anthony’s alcove of an apartment. Correction, the three men were sitting on the antique couch which kept creaking uncomfortably from the combined weight. As for me, I kept pacing in front of the empty safe left open as a hollow reminder that I’d gotten there too late.
“What exactly,” said Ari, “were you hoping to find? This has not been made clear.” The agent was wedged on the left between the curved armrest and Rabbi Kirov whose generous stomach took most of the center and then some. Isaiah was half sitting on the other armrest, hunched with one hand touching his chin while intently watching me walk from one side of the room to the other. Being the only one who could possibly have understood the language of Hell, I think my phrasings may have even surprised him. Though other than blinking rapidly at the better ones he did a pretty good job of not reacting.
I stopped to stare at Ari and gestured with annoyed emphasis. “The Book of Secrets! Haven’t you been listening?”
Kirov said its full name again, still thunderstruck by the entire situation. “The actual Sefer Raziel HaMalakh. I cannot believe it really was here.”
“Well it was,” I said. “And now the bloody thing’s been taken.”
“This,” said Isaiah, “is not good.”
“No shit.” I stopped myself from chewing on my lip before it bled.
“And what capabilities would this book grant the possessor?” asked Ari, looking to the Rabbi for guidance.
Kirov’s eyebrows scrunched in thought. “It holds the secrets of the angel Raziel - the secrets of Creation itself.”
“Sariel wants Isaiah dead,” I reminded everyone. “Can he use the book to accomplish that?”
Holding up a finger Isaiah spoke. “His true goal is to keep the Fourth Seal intact. From what you’ve told us, Soren used the book to recover himself as Camael before breaking the Second. Perhaps what Sariel learns from it would give him the means to prevent the Fourth’s destruction. If he can do that, he would have no need to kill me.”
“Except the jerk tried to take you out anyway two days ago! And he’s had the book for what, two weeks?”
My friend met my worried gaze. “We should take that as encouragement then that the tome may require extended study.”
I grunted. “So we could have some time before he actually uses it for anything - though we have no idea how much. But we’re still hosed because we have not even a guess as to where Sariel is! Or even who.”
“I do not understand,” Ari said, rubbing at the way-past-five-o’clock stubble upon his cheeks. “If this person - or angel - stops another of these seals from breaking, is this good or bad?”
“It’s complicated!” I snapped rather loudly before forcing myself to continue in a more measured tone. “That barrier’s collapse could open some serious cans of crap from Above. But Sariel just having that book in his possession could do the same.”
The agent stared blankly back. He really didn’t have a clue of the stakes - and I was too worked up to explain it without more shouting.
“Someone fill this guy in. Dammit, I need some air.” Yanking the front door open I stepped out to the second-floor walkway which overlooked a parking lot lined with palm-trees. The painted spaces for cars looked ridiculously tight - like seriously, there’s no way anyone with even a mid-sized SUV would fit between them.
Not without scraping the heck out of the other cars anyway.
A fist descended towards the iron railing but stopped before the decorative metal suffered the wrath of a frustrated angel. I grabbed hold of the rail instead, tilting forward into the Mediterranean breeze to let it cool my temper as well as face.
A little while later the door behind creaked as someone stepped out to join me.
“Jordan.” It was the rabbi. “Are you alright?”
“Just…trying to think.” I didn’t turn around, so he moved to the rail on one side.
“And are you succeeding?”
“Remains to be determined. Is Isaiah explaining everything to Ari? I would have figured you’d want to listen to that.”
“In this moment I have concern more for you.”
Flipping around, the banister then pushed into my back. “Well, I’m worried what Heaven might do if they find out a Grigori has that book.”
“You are sure Sariel is the thief?”
“Who else could it be? Nick knew that Soren had it, and the magician was working with Sariel. Heck, Nick even saw Kalka’il help me fight Kokabiel. They could have had people watching Father Anthony after that for all we know. But we’ve got nothing to use to find Sariel. Well, that’s not quite true.” I sighed.
“I could send Tsáyidiel to hunt him. But then the home I made for the fae would be undefended - a brand new realm with a full inner well, ripe for the plucking. Some god or even other fae might be tempted to try and take it if they think I’m too distracted here on Earth. And the truth is that I am distracted! I need to be here to protect Isaiah.”
“You have said that Gabriel’s realm was otherwise empty, wouldn’t it be undefended as well?”
I snorted. “That place holds the sacred monument she built to remember angels who are no more. Anyone stupid enough to move against it would find every last member of the Host singing their death. Or worse. Mine has no such backing - especially as everyone now knows I’m not part of the Host.” Tugging on a braid whose strands were getting rather loose I added, “No, whichever way I slice it, I’d be risking something dear to me. My other option is to take Zeus’ offer.”
“Oh, sorry. I haven’t told you that bit yet. Zeus - you know, the God of Olympus - offered for me to join his pantheon as a goddess. He’s hoping I’d stand with them against Heaven. Though that would get me allies who could defend my realm.”
Kirov stiffened. “Surely you would never-”
“Never what?” I interrupted. “Go against the Host?”
“Rabbi, I will do what I must. And I’m seriously beginning to wonder whether the status quo imposed by Heaven all this time is right. But I still don’t have a clear picture of everything! The Host thinks I could be a threat; Camael thinks I’m their savior. The gods think I could be a tool to regain on this world what they lost when it was sealed. The DPA and therefore the United States thinks I’m…well, honestly I’m not sure what they think at this point. So far I’ve helped stop a major disaster so they may simply be desperately trying to not piss me off in hopes that I keep at it.”
“And what do you think?”
“Me? I think all I’m doing is making this headache worse.”
“The situation you find yourself in is not an easy one.”
“Yeah.” I chuckled at a sudden thought. “But you know what’s funny? The repetitions.”
“Ah, hmm. How so?”
“The threat from the Host towards Earth rises again, for one. And this is the second time we’ve chased after a dangerous artifact. Heck, this is my third trip to the Middle East.” What was it Alal had said in Egypt? Something about the Universe liking its threes. Sure enough I’d just seen her for a third time too.
Did that mean I wouldn’t see her again? Or would our next meeting not be as cordial?
He paused while lips pursed through the thick beard as if he wanted to say something that he wasn’t sure he should.
I tilted my head. “What? I’m still your student until at least the end of the week, so whatever you’ve got…hit me.”
He considered before speaking slowly, carefully measuring each word. “Often have I observed individuals experience numerous similar circumstances cropping up throughout their lives, with these challenging situations only changing when the lessons offered by the events are finally realized, absorbed, and acted upon. Typically this requires truly difficult choices and effort, but the first step always is that understanding.”
“Are you saying that I’m stuck?”
“Only you can answer that,” he said with a kind smile. “But I would offer that in times past I have found comfort and inspiration within prayer to Hashem. Perhaps you could try the same.”
“We stand only a couple miles from the Temple Mount, where my people have prayed for aid and guidance for thousands of years. We may have lost our beloved Temple, but the Western Wall still stands. If ever there was a place to seek answers from on High to such questions, would it not be there?”
I gaped openly at the rabbi. It was so simple a thing to try and yet…and yet nothing.
“Rabbi, you’re a genius. Do we have to wait until morning?”
He smiled. “Everyone is welcome to pray at all hours. In fact I’ve found the quiet of the night with the lessened crowds preferable.”
“Then let’s grab the boys and go.”
The Western Wall.
It has other names: HaKotel HaMa’aravi (shortened to “the Kotel” or even “Kosel”), the Buraq Wall (being the location where Mohammad tied his winged steed al-Buraq before ascending to Heaven), or even the Wailing Wall - though the last one was used by Christians as a possibly derogatory remark about all the tears shed in Jewish prayer for the loss of their sacred Temple that used to sit behind it.
As for the wall itself, it stood as a retaining structure of limestone originally put up as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great, holding in place the natural steep hill of the Temple Mount - a barrier of stone upholding the most sacred site in all Judaism. Larger stones reached upward, with smaller ones going further still. Those were more recent additions placed atop that which had stood through history, with crenelated gaps and a few spots of greenery sticking out and all.
Getting to it was simple enough. Our troupe of four piled into Ari’s car again and took a short trip to park outside the bricks surrounding the old city, which really wasn’t that far from our hotel. On foot from there we passed through the Jaffa Gate (and therefore past the Tower of David) and made our way through the narrow vendor-lined passages that wended their way through the city. Our path threaded between the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter (which was also Christian) and then into the Jewish Quarter before reaching the Wall.
We had to go through a security checkpoint, and I had to confirm that no, I was not carrying any small Torah scrolls and was not wearing a prayer shawl under the white t-shirt somehow. I also was given a dark blue shawl to wear around my shoulders - although my shirt covered them fine it was somewhat low cut and Kirov encouraged me to “not risk it”. The boys only had to wear kippahs to cover their heads, and I was sternly warned that my prayers (unlike theirs) must be silent.
As tempted as I was to give the rabbi grief over the blatant gender discrimination, I bit my tongue. The rant that wanted to bubble forth wouldn’t help the situation and instead would have only made the man distinctly uncomfortable.
Considering the late hour, most of the shops that had lined paths which felt more like cave passages had been closed - though the stalls that sold spices were readily identifiable from the intoxicating lingering scents of quantities of varied offerings much more expansive than found in American grocery stores. During the day the scent must have been overpowering for a passage likely loud and tightly packed with tourists - a gathering I was glad to avoid.
Crowds and watching for potential assassins don’t mix well. Especially if you’re keenly aware of the emotional state of everyone’s spirit. Usually it’s just a background buzz, but even sitting at the cafe it’d been hard to ignore.
The buzz here at the wall however was something else entirely.
Standing outside the two clearings nestled against the stones which were gated apart from each other into a men’s section and much smaller women’s section, I could feel it.
Years upon years of hopes, pleadings, sorrows, and thankfulness, each unique yet also the same had etched the ground, the wall, and the hill beyond with a weaving of humanity at its most vulnerable and most heartfelt.
I had to stop walking to regain my bearings as it all slammed through. Isaiah’s footstep also faltered.
“You feel it too,” he said quietly.
“Try to get as close to the fence on the left in your section as you can. I’ll go to the far right on our side. And don’t lose control.”
Control. Oh. Yeah that was a concern, wasn’t it?
Splitting off from the men I made my way to the entrance to the women’s area, the shawl’s fringed ends flicking in the breeze. Exchanging polite smiles with the few ladies I passed by, I reached the corner of modern steel fencing and ancient stone. Wedged into all the cracks of those large smoothed rocks were tiny slips of paper, each with its own prayer written in ink and spirit. Thousands of them, piled one into the other as holy tokens, each hoping to reach beyond the barrier not of earth but of flesh to touch the divine.
All in the hopes that an angel would carry them to God.
On the other side of the fence I felt more than heard Isaiah begin reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer. He was doing exactly what he had said he’d do.
He was praying for Danielle’s soul.
I touched the wall and part of me stretched through to touch all the prayers uttered by those who had lost their loved ones, feeling their desperate cries for God to care for all the souls they themselves could no longer hold.
Here they had a place for their words to rise towards Heaven.
Here they weren’t entirely cut off.
But those for whom I would also pray lay trapped beyond all possible grace from on High.
With an incarnate of Azrael’s chant resonating in ears and heart, I felt an anger grow as if each prayer placed upon this wall was a billows encouraging a spark smoldering within to then bloom into a bright furnace inside my chest.
A righteous burning filled all focus with the heat of white rage and demanded answers.
Gabriel’s memories opened within and attempted to provide.
With two hands did Azrael cut Creation.
This was no task to be accomplished in an instant. Intent and will expanded across all layers of every realm, and to each the dread blade’s power sliced connections away strand by infinite strand. Stars and galaxies, dimensions and fractals, all split apart as what was One tore slowly into Two.
So did the Rebel’s homes fall away from all else forged within the light of lights.
Those foes closest to the Archangel’s platform shouted alarms of terrible dismay, marshaling the enemy into a desperate push to reach and stop the Lord of Judgment’s will. Heedless of cost, wave after wave of charges suicidal crashed against the line of Heaven even as all paths outward collapsed towards the only remaining portion which narrowed further with each splatter of fallen blood.
Drops that dripped past through the fractures unto the Chaos spiraling into the gaps created by Azrael’s dual-edged sword.
Under a hood soaked with sweat did Azrael speak. “Hold them, Michael. Hold them until it is done or all is for naught.”
The Defender, his Word blazing true across the Host, sent the best of the newly forged Bene Elohim to the front to bolster the line forward of where he and the other Archangels stood.
To an angel they understood the true measure of the command and, with a united shout shaking the remaining cosmos, their wings spread wide as they crossed to smash into the enemy with singular purpose. With fire and steel they gave themselves over, an equal match to the frenzy of the panicked warriors who cried pleas with each strike unto Gabriel for mercy.
A mercy she was helpless to provide.
Behind the enemy’s formation of angels and demons a lance of scarlet and obsidian burst across the fields of battle. With twin swords of death and destruction carving a path with an efficiency marked by the wake of shattered armor, feathers, and bone, Samael shouted as he rammed his way forward.
“Helel! You fool! You slice yourself in twain as well by this!”
Lucifer, the Morningstar and Prince of Light, gave no answer. For his teeth were locked in horrible grimace as his spine bowed against the red-stained line spreading across his tunic. Azrael’s blade, as it must, also ripped its path across the chest of the First of them all.
Seeing this, Gabriel finally understood. “Azrael! This should not be!”
The Angel of Judgment, eyes lost to the sea of lights hovering in his greater vision, groaned as Gabriel’s words ripped across his awareness.
And the blade’s passage slowed.
“No!” With hand scarlet from clutching at the growing wound, Lucifer grabbed instead his brother’s shoulder and where fingers touched did stains sink into dark cloth. “Do not stop!”
Azrael’s hands tightened upon the leather-wrapped hilt with a grip no soul could escape, the endless need for finality urging it to slice those few remaining threads free: the strands upon which the entire Rebel army now stood as they gathered for one final charge.
Seeing Samael’s incoming and desperate rampage, Camael summoned his long blade of crimson fire. Preparing to throw himself into the battle, he caught sight of another flash of power and focus streak past. A platinum shepherd’s staff clashed against the Rebel’s twin swords, the impact tossing apart all nearby as if the area had been struck by a meteor thrown from the Heavens above.
For in a way it had.
Raguel, he who was the Lord’s Justice, stood athwart the Chief Rebel in a robe of white glowing fierce with holy purpose.
Burning with the flames of his heart’s rage and his swords’ blackened chaos, Samael cast disdain at his opponent even while slashing forward in a blur of void and fire. “You cannot hope to win, Raguel! Unlike Camael’s, your word also encompasses my cause.”
The unadorned staff spun, deflecting each attack into a fresh tower of sparks. “I need not win. I need only to hold.”
With a snarl set against stoic resolve, silver and flame danced with darkness and light.
Except their battle only delayed the Chief while his many Captains slipped past: Abaddon with gleaming spear and flowing golden locks, Beelzebub and his cohort marching in imposed unison, Abagor with sword and dagger glowing as if plucked straight from burning coal - all rushed around to emplace their wills against the Lord of Judgment, to hold that last sliver of connection upon which they stood.
Summoning the Powers, Camael formed up to assault this last defense, knowing that in so doing they must cross Azrael’s line and join the Rebels in their impending and eternal doom. Yet before he could shout his order Gabriel stepped forward.
With a heart wrenched into knots, she raised to her lips the golden shofar hereto unused and blazing within with holy power.
A single note sounded, and in the wake of its mighty blast all other instruments of the glorious and infinite symphony were silenced.
All who stood before the trumpet’s indomitable tone were swept away, and those who had fought against the Light were cast like splinters in a tempest out into the realms falling into the dark waters which lay behind and beyond.
Fingers dug through Azrael’s cloak as Lucifer leaned closer. “Finish it. Finish it now!”
Azrael’s heart and being flooded with his greatest desire: for the bloody war of all wars to end - and for the final peace and certainty he believed such would bring. Shoving that surge into his blade, arms and body strained to snip the last bonds still straddling the great divide.
But the instrument of his will did not move.
With a thundering crack sweeping all be they loyal or rebel from feet and wings as if an unstoppable wind had ripped through all things, Azrael’s sword snapped in two. The hilt came free in his hands while the black metal it once held remained wedged against those final bonds.
Creation had refused his command.
Samael’s booming laugh of triumph lashed against Lucifer’s cry of dismay and fury.
Realizing that the narrow cave-like passage remaining between the sides had forged the perfect defensive position for the Rebels to hold indefinitely should they eject Heaven’s forces, Michael shouted orders for all the Host to rise and obey. His purpose, steadfast and true since his own ascension to its glorious Seat, knew his Host needed now to rush forward in full force lest all hope of ending the war be lost. For all choices were gone but one.
The path Gabriel had feared the most.
Lucifer, straightening despite the pain, stated that fear aloud. “It is to be slaughter then.”
Two armies scrambled to reform, bracing themselves upon the remaining threads which held the passage open, each understanding the terrible stakes. Samael, his own purpose burning fires of reddish splendor brighter than ever before, grinned wide as here at last his ultimate wish would finally reach fulfillment.
Survival or Death. There would be no middle ground.
As each side shouted defiance with feet and wings beating the drums of war while blades flashed through answering sprays of blood, reality flickered.
Time, that inevitable force of effect following cause, ceased its progression and stilled.
Unable to move, nay even to blink, each instead bore witness as before the slim remaining passage appeared a figure whose height extended over all.
Bearing the many faces of the host flickering past one after the other, each contorted and warped with an anger borne of endless conflict and overwhelming pain, the figure stretched forth a tremendous arm into the last connection between the two halves of that which is.
With cloth forged from the encompassing light of all things did the arm become wrapped.
With the might of all words was delivered a message in deafening roar and quiet whisper.
The cloth twisted tighter, its light intensifying until none but one were able to continue their witness, before its threads then faded into shadow beyond shadow as all color drained away.
And so did the Rebels fall for by the will of the Throne were they so bound.
When Time reasserted itself the first sound heard was Gabriel’s open weeping as she placed a hand against the towering Wall of Elohim and its one-way gate to realms forever lost.
Chapter 27 - Confessions
The prayers of thousands, maybe millions, swirled around and through perception. Many filled with the agony of terrible losses, but also with life: hopes and dreams for a better future for themselves and for those whom they loved. Having once contained the howling mayhem of the residues of uncounted untimely and horrific deaths, these in comparison were soothing as each was issued from hearts bowing in humility to the one to whom they prayed.
Standing with a hand still touching the wall I breathed them in, letting the sensation wash the anger and sorrow of Gabriel’s bitter memory aside. A strand of inner vision stretched upwards along their course until the spirit I knew would be there was found.
He still stood within an endless field of wild green grasses under the blue of a calm and clear sky, the plain dotted with flowers of every shade and shape. Except this time I recognized the grass for what it was: representative of each and every soul over whom the incredibly tall and long-bearded angel watched.
Where before his beard and hair had been dark against tan skin, now patches of whitish silver wove through the tightly curled strands. The khaki shorts and sandals were the same but the shirt had been replaced with shimmering deep azures and violets that formed a tapestry of overlapping petals as if made by flowers swaying in an unfelt wind. The book in his hand was no longer a paperback either, instead long fingers clasped a thick scroll bundled in burgundy velvet which itself had gold lettering woven through its fabric. Though he wasn’t manifesting wings, there was no doubt as to what he was.
“Your control,”said the angel as he looked down to where I stood, ”has greatly improved since last we spoke.” He was framed by a halo of light as if he’d eclipsed a sun that wasn’t actually there.
Or perhaps it was.
“Hello Sandalphon,” I said, nodding politely as emotions finally settled.
Resisting the temptation to gaze upon his scroll (which would likely have swallowed all perception), I instead kept attention on his face so I could inquire about an entirely different volume. “Someone has stolen Raziel’s secrets.”
“They have, yes.” Brown eyes were neutral yet kind, perhaps even guarded but at the same time warm. Protective.
The mix was unnerving. “I need to find it.”
“Someone has to. It’s dangerous if in the wrong hands, isn’t it?”
“Raziel’s treasure is indeed a dangerous tool. Are you sure yours are the proper hands to wield it?”
I grimaced. “No, of course not! But I had hoped it could shed light on things. Maybe help me remember what happened in the Chaos because not knowing is driving me nuts!” Fists clenched and then let go. Staring at them before looking back up, I added, “And dangit, I just have so many questions.”
He chuckled lightly. “Unlike others that Book does not shine - that lies not within its purview. Its purpose is but to guide and inform.”
“Well I could really use some guidance right about now on how to find it. Any chance for some divine assistance?”
“August has already influenced events on this salient.”
Dammit. “Isn’t the threat of its misuse enough to get you to help? What’s the point of you having the Book of Life if you don’t act when needed?”
His expression grew stern. “But I do act. However as with all such things its power must be managed with tremendous care. I must not impinge upon the purpose of Creation lest all be undone.”
“You know,” I growled, “That almost sounds like an excuse.”
“Leading someone to understand this sacred duty is never easy.” The angel sighed and looked away over grasses blowing in the wind of his breath. “Which is why I grow concerned for August.”
“His attachment to the Book of Life grows deeper with each passing day. But his incarnate self simply cannot manage the impact due to the physical limits of the human brain. Those limits could lead to a dread conclusion not just for himself but for everyone.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Can you slow the progression?”
“That would be akin to slowing the moon’s rise over the horizon: the effects far-reaching and damaging to mind and spirit. Thus in this moment my actions are restrained by the careful balance of many needs.”
“How can I help?”
He turned attention back to me and the warmer smile returned. “You already are.”
I stared at the overly tall angel. One of us must have conjured the gust that decided right then to blow dramatically across the flowers and flutter through his beard and my money was on him. Well, probably.
“It grows late for you and your companions,” he then said. “It is important to seek rest when you can.”
“Are you seriously telling me that I need a nap?” Yeesh, really? And why was it that talking to these higher angels always led to being more frustrated than before?
“The bliss of sleep is a wondrous gift. One I have missed from the days of walking the world.”
Interesting. “Judaic lore says you were their prophet Elijah. I take it that’s true?”
“I once held that name to feel the sand against my feet. Perhaps I will do so again.” He smiled again, though the edges held a touch of sadness. “I wish you well, Amariel.”
Blinking clear of the projected scene, all focus returned to the wall in Jerusalem. Beside me stood a woman whose wispy grey hair poked out from under a darkly knitted scarf as she slowly rocked back and forth, her eyes closed and seeing only her own inner world.
And maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of her God.
I wondered whether in her vision His arm still wore a tourniquet.
We slowly regrouped away from the Wall. Rabbi Kirov took the longest to finish which had left me and Isaiah standing there awkwardly alongside Ari. The agent clearly wanted to know if we’d experienced something but also didn’t want to seem silly by asking. As for Isaiah, he hadn’t said anything and his glower was indicative of a more Azrael mode of thinking.
When Kirov finally shuffled over he regarded us all with a raised eyebrow. “Have we achieved any further insights?”
I scoffed. “Just that it’s past our bedtimes. You?”
The rabbi shook his head. “Only the thought that we should inform Anthony of everything in the morning. I do admit I am weary.”
“Then go get some sleep. Why don’t you come to our hotel first thing, we’ll all get breakfast.” I looked to Ari. “And what of you, secret-agent-man?”
“Yeah. You didn’t pray at the wall so I’m assuming you contacted your team to get them to follow up on the idiots who ransacked Father Anthony’s home. Any leads on who hired them?”
“They’ll be re-interviewed.”
“But not until morning?”
“The police are presently forming up squads to interrupt their nights.”
“Oh. Good. Maybe we should go with you to help with the questioning.”
Before Ari could object to two foreign civilians being involved, Isaiah raised a gloved hand. “You said it was ‘past our bedtimes’. Why?”
My eyes rolled. “Because certain parties noted the importance of being well-rested.”
I glanced at the glove and back to his eyes. “Yeah.”
Those eyes narrowed. “Then we should return to the hotel.”
Huh. “You think we’re gonna dream some new memories that are pertinent?”
I groaned. Hadn’t I just had enough of that? “Seriously? Those are never restful. But fine. Let’s just hope I don’t fall through the floor again.”
Both Ari and Kirov’s eyes widened but it was Kirov who spluttered, “Through the floor?”
Laughing, I began the walk out of the Old City. “Don’t worry, rabbi. Isaiah’s got a ghost who can help.”
As Isaiah and Ari fell in behind, Ari said, “With you people I don’t know whether she is joking.”
Isaiah shrugged. “You get used to it.”
It didn’t take long to get back to Ari’s car. He agreed to give Kirov a ride back to Anthony’s apartment as the walk from the Jaffa Gate to the hotel was short. I was pretty sure his van of troops would be lurking near the hotel anyway, and I’d caught a glimpse of the guy on foot still following us.
Which I found both amusing and annoying.
When Isaiah and I were about halfway back to where beds and our luggage awaited, I broke the lingering silence between us. “Alright, I think we’re out of earshot. And at this point our rooms are probably bugged.”
“As you may have figured out, I spoke to Sandalphon. You?”
He paused. “Nothing direct. But I…communed…with Azrael.”
“Only that Danielle’s spirit has not reincarnated. I was unable to determine where it was.”
I stopped walking. “Don’t tell me her spirit is stuck somewhere again.”
He gave a quick shake of the head. “No, that wasn’t the impression I received.”
A lump formed in my throat. “Do I need to dispatch Tsáyidiel to find her? He succeeded last time.” Yeah, and he’d found her soul imprisoned by its younger fae sister. Who later tried to flood the world with magic, damn the consequences for humanity.
“She’s waiting. It’s hard to put into words.”
“Waiting? For what?”
“I do not know.”
“Is she waiting for me?” The tightness sank into my gut. I’d been back for weeks and I hadn’t tried to find her spirit. I just knew she’d died, something I’d felt happen as a bomb exploded in my face. Fuck. “Should I have gone after her?”
“I…don’t think so. That doesn’t feel right.”
I blinked. Isaiah, the lawyer extreme, was attempting to give guidance based on feelings. Whoa.
But speaking of feelings I had another question for him. “When Kirov was lecturing about Hanukkah, something hit you hard.”
“Another memory from Azrael.”
“Oh. Can I ask of what?”
He stopped walking. “Teaching the mysteries to my…to his son.”
Wait, what? Oh my god. “His son. Azrael had a son. Holy shit! In all the memories I have from Aradia, that never came up.”
“But how? I thought he kept to himself in that cave near Siabh’s village.”
“Not always. There was a family, a special family. One the Grigori had been set to watch over specifically. He would visit and…” He looked away, focusing on scenes far removed from the streets laying before us.
“Angels,” he finally said. “We had open welcome to their holding, to a brotherhood of faithful followers of Elohim. And she…she had eyes as pure as those of the beloved First - as clear and perfect as those witnessed in the moment of Azrael’s creation. When he first opened his own to behold the Lightbringer’s shining and joyous smile.”
I was stunned. “You…Azrael…fell in love.”
“And had children.”
“But they’d be Nephelim. And the Flood…” Words trailed off as implications painfully dawned.
Haunted eyes returned to mine. “Matityah. That was his name. And his sister, Edna. By Azrael’s hand and actions did they die.”
“Oh dude.” And I, as Aradia, had also taken part. “How long have you known?” I wanted to ask if their Nephelim spirits had survived the Seal, but couldn’t bring myself to. So many hadn’t.
“Since you went to El Paso.”
“You didn’t say anything.”
“I’m not the only one who hasn’t shared all that’s happened to them.”
A car went past, its white lights turning red in the transition. Far above, tiny dots twinkled to barely edge past the city’s own glow, the pinpricks of their distant and ancient fires only now arriving after thousands or even billions of years.
Somehow I knew how that felt.
“C’mon,” I said and led him to the nearby bus stop, one with a Plexiglas canopy and a very low plastic bench. Motioning for him to sit besides me I lifted heels to the bench’s edge and huddled around my knees. “Look, there’s…there’s a ton I haven’t told you. Or anyone.”
“You deserve to hear it. All of it. I’m sorry I haven’t but it’s…” I faltered.
He finished the sentence for me. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Yet I did so anyway. After taking a breath to gather myself I told him first about the fight in Egypt. About Gwydion’s evil sword slicing a wing, the bomb, and waking up in the darkness of Hell. I told him about being a Reaper and receiving coin to turn over lost souls. I told him about the assault on our outpost and Azazel’s plots, about Beliel’s Tears, and fighting nightmares with bare and bloody fingers. I told him about the duel and leading demonic mercenaries across fields of smoke-covered slaughter, with mud and allies alike smothered by the wet gore resultant from my commands. I told him of Camael and Nick’s late arrival, and about almost losing Nathanael in a battle over a hammer as an entire realm hovered on the brink of dissolution.
Hardest of all I told him about those I’d left behind.
Twitch, my quiet and steadfast companion in the dark. Maddalena, the priestess whose healing arts weren’t enough to save her from damnation. Hank, through whose beautiful blue eyes sparkled a hidden angel’s love and steady guidance. Horatio, whose shy affection for the lovely yet damaged Veronica smoldered unfulfilled. Praztus, whose brief taste of a light he had never known would now be lost forevermore. Balus, who stood as tall anchor at my back while his single deadly eye blazed out over all. And the Lilim, who filled their nights with music, dance, and blood.
All of them. Every last one.
And as the tears inevitably leaked out my friend put an arm around a shoulder and lent the strength to get it done.
When I finally ran out of words we weren’t where we’d started. We’d wandered far as we’d once done after days spent with dice and fantasy when we’d wander through the nearby neighborhoods and shops until dawn while discussing minute details of the stories unfolding in those sessions, pausing only to rest against stone walls or benches and bending knees to scritch whatever kitties of the night happened by.
Except this time what I’d described was no game and he’d stayed mostly quiet to hear it all complete.
“That,” he said while gazing along the street at another car passing us by, “is quite the tale.”
I shrugged, looking at sidewalk and shoes.
“It’s not your fault,” he said as we reached the next block of closed storefronts.
“You’ve said that already.”
“I don’t mean Danielle. The souls trapped below - they aren’t your fault either.” He removed glasses which had fogged up again. “If anything, the responsibility there is mine.”
“You didn’t seal them in.”
“No, perhaps not. But what I…what Azrael tried to do was worse.” Instead of cleaning the lenses he simply held them.
“You remember that?”
“It’s wrong. Souls falling there for eternity out of rage, desperation, or despair. It’s just wrong.”
My friend stared off into unfocused distance. “In the tradition of law there is a notion called Blackstone’s Ratio. It states that it is better that ten guilty should go free than one innocent suffer. Abraham argued similarly to spare the Cities of the Plain to preserve the few righteous among them.”
“Sodom and Gomorrah still burned.”
“They did. But Lot’s family escaped.”
“Was that Azrael’s doing?”
We stayed silent, turning at the corner to head back towards the hotel without needing to agree on it. As we approached the driveway Isaiah paused under a bright street-lamp.
“There’s one part of your story that you don’t seem to fully appreciate,” he said, amber light glinting off the glasses he’d just put back on.
“Your demon mercenaries. By your account they feed on hate, selfishness, and slaughter. Yet instead of running from that battle they sacrificed themselves to save you. Of everything you’ve said, that perhaps is the most extraordinary. Think on it.”
He then went up the stone-paved drive and on through the waiting rotating doors.
When we made it back to our rooms there was a small envelope resting on the table before the flat screen television. It hadn’t been there before.
Isaiah and I looked at each other but I walked over to it.
Yeah, I scanned the heck out of it before touching. It was as it appeared: a white envelope with a single folded piece of paper within. Pulling it free, I quickly read the contained message though it was comprised of pictographs rather than letters.
Unsafe to meet, soldiers many surround you. A debt is owed; here is payment.
As Mictlantecuhtli did with me, so must you. Seek a master by their servant: Faaiza Irfan who serves a Great but Fallen Prince. But beware Lord of Day! The servant wields an artifact my Exalted Master was unable to bargain to acquire.
Should justice fall upon she who defied his wishes my Master would be pleased.
Clutching the hand-drawn note as if it were a tablet from on high, I looked to Isaiah who still stood cautiously by the door. Physically and emotionally exhausted as I was, I still managed a grin.
“Dude, we’ve finally got a clue!”
Chapter 28 - River
The clock on the small kitchen’s microwave read three a.m. which made it only five in the afternoon back in Los Angeles.
On the television’s wide screen by thanks of my laptop, Kami Kurohoshi had paused preparations for yet another formal event to take our call - the immaculately pressed sleeves of his dress shirt still had yet to have their carefully chosen cuff-links applied.
And by ‘our’ I meant myself, Isaiah, and a hastily arrived Ari who stood out of view of the laptop’s camera by hovering over the island separating the suite’s living area from its small kitchen.
I’d had a feeling the Israeli agent was about to be useful and made sure he was here.
“Gentlemen,” I said from where I sat at the center of the soft leather couch in prime focus. “We have a way to find Sariel. The jerk has an assistant, one Faaiza Irfan. My source indicates if we find them we find their boss.”
“Your source?” inquired Kami even as he motioned to someone off-screen to presumably look into the name just given.
“Yeah. I was left a message while touring the city here. From Coatl.”
If that surprised the underworld boss he didn’t let it show. “Can you verify it was actually from him?”
I grinned. “I think even Israeli Intelligence would have had a hard time writing a perfect note in Aztec.” Flicking eyes over at Ari just for the fun of it I asked, “Hey, did your team even notice him come and go? And what did they think of his script?”
The agent shrugged with a lot less embarrassment than I expected. “They’re still working on the translation. This Coatl, is it the same individual who escaped prison in the U.S.?” He didn’t even flinch at the amused glare he received from the tacit admission that they’d invaded our room.
Having expected such anyway, I resumed being more serious. “Yeah, that’s him. Works for Bishop. I think Bishop tried to bargain to get the Book and failed. Tipping me off is a bit of a sore-loser power-play but I’ll take it.”
A hand with sleeves more properly buttoned offered a tablet to Kami. Taking it he read the contents. “Irfan, Faaiza. Born in Jordan into a wealthy banking clan, she received her education at Oxford in business. Upon graduation she joined Shir Industries International in India first as an executive assistant, where she rapidly received several promotions until achieving a slot as a Director of Finance.”
Isaiah leaned forward. “Let me guess. Shir Industries - it’s owned by Firuzeh Sardar, isn’t it?”
“Correct,” said Kami. “And upon Sardar’s death Ms. Faaiza Irfan resigned her position. I do not have a current location.”
From the kitchen Ari cleared his throat. “If she’s Jordanian I may be able to assist. Might I use a bedroom for a call?”
I waved towards Isaiah’s room. “Sure. It’s not like your guys haven’t already been through everything in there.”
That at least won a smile from the agent who closed the door after walking into the other room.
Waggling eyebrows at Isaiah I asked him, “So hey, are all your boxers blue? I bet they know.”
My friend laughed. “You really want to find out?” He must have said it without first realizing the full potential implications as both of us then flushed beet red. Which must have been even more obvious across my pale skin.
Yeah, ok, my fault. I waltzed right into that one.
Kurohoshi ignored the exchange entirely. “If you do find this Faaiza, what is your plan?”
Isaiah didn’t hesitate. “We get Sariel’s current identity and location.”
The lawyer’s eyes went hard. “By whatever necessary means.”
Kurohoshi nodded slowly. “And should you find Sariel?”
It was my turn to answer. “Sariel needs to move on to his next incarnation. No more skipping from body to body so let’s not mince words. He needs to die. We find him, we kill him.”
That must have shocked my friend as he blinked with guarded surprise, “You’re okay with that?”
I met his expression with a cold one of my own. “Yes.”
Sorrow yet growing respect blended upon his face which was uncomfortable to watch. I turned back to Kami whose big head on the display was still nodding.
“Good,” said Kami. “Do you require additional assets?”
That was an excellent question. “What do you have available?”
“Isong and Tanya have arrived at the Waldorf Astoria.”
“What, here in Jerusalem?”
“Yes. Where you go, trouble follows. Preparedness is often key. Give me two days and a full team will assemble.”
“How did you…” I paused. “Goodman. He give you a heads-up on our destination?”
Kurohoshi simply smiled.
I was about to say something more but Ari came out of the bedroom. To him I asked, “Find out anything?”
The agent, still wearing the beige sweater and khakis and therefore looking more like a college professor than secret agent, held up a smart phone. “We have her current address. Her father, Mahmoud Irfan, suffered a stroke and she returned home to Amman to tend to him.”
Isaiah raised a brow. “That was quick to get that intel.”
Ari shrugged. “Every intelligence agency in the region has been ordered to find out all possible information regarding the assault on the pyramids as well as the event in Aleppo.” He then pointed at Kami on the screen. “Your friend there has likely earned a lot of favors of late.”
Kami neither smiled nor frowned at that. “Is she under Jordanian Security surveillance?”
“No. Her passport and I.D. is merely flagged to track her general movements.”
“If she’s in Jordan,” I said, feeling a little weird saying that due to my adopted name, “then I can’t call Goodman for official assistance despite his offer. Not with what needs to be done.” I thought for a moment and then it hit me. “Wait, her father had a stroke and is ill?” I looked to Isaiah meaningfully.
He caught my drift. “When exactly did that start?” he asked Ari.
Not being entirely dense, the agent answered immediately. “He was taken to Emergency the day of the attack on the pyramids.”
Holy shit. “That can’t be coincidence. How wealthy is he?”
“Mahmoud Irfan is majority owner of one of the largest banks in Jordan. He also has invested heavily in several Jordanian mining companies and refineries.”
Isaiah straightened in surprise. “Refineries? For precious metals?”
The lawyer turned to me, irises burning with dread purpose. “Then we have him. Sariel took over Mahmoud.”
Somewhat confused I said, “I agree it’s likely - but why are you so certain?”
Isaiah banged a fist against the leather couch. “Because with a refinery they can re-cast the gold stolen from Whateley. And then use the bank to sell it. We need to move and do so fast. Like right now.”
Again I asked, “Why?”
Kurohoshi answered for him. “Because a man that wealthy and influential will have informants of his own within Jordanian Security. And if Ari just used a contact there to get intel on the daughter, then the father will soon know about the external interest.”
Everyone looked to Ari. The agent rubbed a scruffy cheek and said, “I’ll get you Jordanian Visas. You’ll have them by dawn.” He didn’t argue with Kurohoshi’s assessment.
Chewing on a thumb, I nodded. “Good. And you intelligence stud-muffins have another quest to fulfill before then.”
Ari paused pushing buttons on his phone. “Which is?”
I flashed a demon-hunting grin. “Get me the blueprints to their home and an assessment of whatever private security they’ve got.”
The agent’s eyes also went flat and he nodded. “Will do.”
After Kami signed off and Ari paced back into the other room for his calls, Isaiah kept his attention’s focus on me with his lawyerly unreadable expression.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re looking forward to it.”
“To the hunt. And even the kill.”
Anger surged. “That asshole keeps trying to kill you and his stupidity in Cairo killed Danielle! So yeah, I'm looking forward to taking the son of a bitch down. He fucking deserves it! You saying you aren’t?”
“No. I too wish it done. It’s just…” He paused.
“I’ve never seen you like this.”
I had to stand. “You’d best damned well get used to it. My innocence lies spilled alongside my blood upon the frozen wastes of Hell! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go follow advice given separately by both an archangel and a good friend.”
“Yeah. I’m taking a nap. Wake me up when it’s time to plan this shit.” Marching off towards a bed, the door to my room slammed shut behind.
Though his odd expression of respect crossed with sorrow stayed with me.
No, I didn’t sleep.
Forty minutes of lying in the too-soft bed staring at the room’s blank white ceiling was interrupted by Isaiah sticking his head in to announce that they needed me.
Grumbling, I stumbled out to find that Captain Isong and Tanya had joined us, both wearing outfits mostly comprised of dark pockets resting over Kevlar. Most importantly is that Isaiah handed me a fresh mug of tea.
No sugar, no milk. Hallelujah.
Ari was leaning against the kitchen island with his own cup of brewed leaves in hand. From the smell it was some sweet monstrosity of cream and sugar. He didn’t waste any time and said, “We have a problem.”
“Mr. Cohen can use his work as cover to visit Jordan due to his firm having contacts in the city whom he could legitimately be visiting. These two,” he pointed at Isong and Tanya who were sitting on the couch pouring over printed blueprints, “have clear passports which will get them across as tourists.”
“So what’s the issue?” I took a slow sip. Huh, minty. Not sure I liked it much but it’d have to do.
Isaiah pointed at me. “You. As Jordan Elin Emrys you’ve been flagged. It’s what triggered Ari and his people to tail us from the start.”
“Well that sucks,” I said before looking over at the two on the couch. “You guys wouldn’t happen to have brought new credentials with you or anything?”
Isong shook her head. “No. What happened to the old one for Baghdadi anyway?”
I shrugged. “Burned up on the way to Hell is my guess.”
She blinked at that then simply nodded.
“Getting a solid fake I.D. and passport for you will take time,” said Ari. “Potentially a day, maybe more.”
“Hey,” I said. “How come Goodman didn’t know my passport as Jordan was flagged? He only figured my other one was.”
Ari answered. “Our relationship with U.S. intelligence is good but not always smooth.”
Tanya flicked a wrist and a small blue knife appeared in her hand. “You should have made arrangements with Kurohoshi before coming. We had to run like crazy to make the flights.” She proceeded to use the blade to clean her fingernails. “He could have helped with that.”
“Eh, no biggie,” I said. “I’ll just meet you guys in Amman when you get there.” Another sip and I put the mug down. Yep, too much mint.
The intelligence agent blinked. “And how will you accomplish that?”
“I’ll fly. And,” I said with a smile to everyone who was busy picturing a fireball zooming across the border, “no one will see me do it.”
Isong commented first. “That’d be new.”
With a yawn and a stretch I went over to see what those two were looking at. “It worked against the DPA. Should be fine. So what’ve we got?”
The Captain took me at my word and returned attention to the printouts. “Residence, four stories up and two underground. Located in a wealthier section called Abdoun - think Beverly Hills but not those areas against actual hills. Individual house plots mostly taken up by the mansions with just enough space leftover for a fancy driveway and gate.”
“Security?” I asked while kneeling to shuffle through the pages on the table and mentally capture their images. I had to shove hair out of the way a couple times because I’d forgotten to pull the reddish-gold mess into a ponytail again before coming out. I still wasn’t used to again wearing it long.
“Private. A few guards for the house, another couple as bodyguards for wherever they go.”
“Light arms or serious?”
“It’d be illegal to have more.”
I rolled eyes. “Yeah but that won’t stop someone wealthy enough.”
Pondering, I tapped the table. “If Mahmoud is there I’ll get it done. Tanya and Isong should be support in case things go sideways to provide retreat with a vehicle or something. If only Faiza is at the house then we grab her and go.” I looked up at the Kami’s dark Captain. “Can Kurohoshi arrange some spot we can take her to where we can find out what we need?”
She met my gaze. “How will you know whether Mahmoud is in the house or no?”
“Because I’ll see straight through to Sariel’s spirit. He may have spellwork to hide behind but I plan to rip through whatever he’s got.”
The warrior blinked in surprise. “You’re going for a direct approach then.”
“A fight with Sariel will be messy anyway. That’s why I want you both on support; he’s likely out of your league.”
Tanya pointed her knife at Isaiah. “What about him?”
“He comes with me. Just get him some Kevlar if you’d be so kind.”
Isong frowned. “Is that not an unnecessary risk?”
Knees straightened, and as I rose I looked over at my friend. “Not having him there in case I go overboard is the greater threat.”
Isaiah nodded solemnly in agreement.
We all went our different ways shortly after sunrise. Isaiah got in a hired car to head to the border where another vehicle would be waiting for him on the other side of the Allenby Bridge - known as the King Hussein Bridge by those in Jordan. Isong and Tanya went off to ride the public bus that would also get them to the bridge and once through customs they’d catch another bus to make it to the city. It’d all take more than a few hours so it was decided to meet up at a mall which was right outside the wealthy neighborhood of the target.
And hey, from what I saw when we looked it up the mall had bumper cars. Could be fun, though I firmly believed that if we were to go all battle royale on those things that Tanya would totally kick our butts.
It was the blue hair - she just had that punk edge.
Ari of course wasn’t coming. He didn’t need all sorts of international heat if things went sideways, and let’s face it - this was a high possibility. After getting us all the information he could and agreeing to have breakfast with Kirov to explain our absence, he’d left the hotel room muttering in Hebrew how we were fools to rush in with so little planning.
Maybe we were, but if it was a race to get to Sariel before he swapped bodies again then I wanted to win. If he was true to supervillain form he could have more backups already lined up.
The brightening morning sky was filled with clouds, but not the types that threatened rain. Instead, white fluffy mountains floated overhead to slowly merge or separate at the whims of the wind, causing areas of ground to slip in and out of shadows cast by the rising sun. Flying first north to get away from Jerusalem, I then kept rather close to the ground instead of going for altitude while streaking over low mountains before turning east to zoom past farm plots filled with various vegetables or even olive and date trees. I’d never really seen date trees before, best description of those would be if you take a palm tree and deliberately fill out the stem with even more of the long green leaves so the whole thing turns into a large ball of fronds just waiting for some gigantic cat to use it as a toy.
While I was invisible to sight, I knew anyone with strong spirit senses might detect me anyway so I stayed just above the trees and directly over crops wherever possible, zooming past like an angelic missile hellbent on avoiding radar installations.
It had seemed like a smart idea when heading out, but as I zipped over a farm and approached some thicker greenery just beyond a rectangular field I discovered the plan contained a serious hidden drawback.
Did you know there’s a darn good reason convertibles have a front windscreen? Well there is. Because I slammed face-first into a massive swarm of flying black dots while cruising at over a hundred miles-per-hour. You’d think after getting the motorcycle I’d have remembered being warned about such open-faced risks come springtime.
But nope. Can you say “splat”?
After emitting a decidedly non-ladylike shriek, I tumbled to a halt mid-air as hands flailed about trying to bat the danged things away. This was followed by a stream of loud curses (in several languages no less) in between some serious spitting and groaning.
Not only had the tiny buggers impacted teeth but quite a few had gone right up into the sinuses. Because of course I was inhaling deeply at the moment of contact out of a silly curiosity of whether I could figure out what the crops were around here just by smelling the air.
Dangit, they’d even left wet trails across cheeks and forehead not to mention completely smearing their butts through my hair.
I may have been a tough-as-nails demon hunter accustomed to shoving hands into viscera, but still. After all, I’d never been stupid enough to suck demon guts up my nose.
Beyond the fresh greenery ahead lay a small creek which was likely the source for the dense and rude clouds of insects. Hovering down to its bank, I squished onto a patch of soggy dirt, noting that the creek itself must’ve narrowed upstream because the current was happily burbling past at a good clip.
Where I’d landed swirled a pool just off the main surrounded by thick green and brown vegetation matching the rest hanging over the creek, but its water was being adequately refreshed so it too was mostly clear instead of being discolored by silt and algae. The other side of the brook was only twenty feet or so away and the depth didn’t seem all that bad either. In other words, I didn’t hesitate and immediately splashed out into the pool - tennis shoes and all - to try and get the mess off eyebrows and yes, out of my mouth.
The ridiculousness of the situation finally hit as I caught myself trying to dip wings into the water to splash them about to get all the nasty specks off my feathers and cursing because the spots I needed to rub clean were really freakin’ hard to reach no matter how I pulled them in.
I burst out laughing, all traces of foul mood evaporating away.
Because it was silly. I was being silly.
All I had to do was blip spirit-side and come back and all remains of those icky bugs would be gone. And yet what was really hilarious was that somehow I didn’t feel like this would be good enough. Even then I’d want some good shampoo and probably a neti-pot.
While standing in the pool I did so anyway, cleaning the wings in a quick flick of brightness. Though I still washed my face fresh again anyway before looking around at the lush surroundings in more detail.
It really was beautiful.
After all the time spent traveling a realm where the waters were undrinkable, where plants grew twisted and had evolved harsh spiky edges to rip skin free from bone, and where what lurked in the underbrush would not only kill but possibly enslave one’s soul for eternity - this was, in short, paradise.
The moment of perceived perfection sadly only lasted for a brief moment. Having stretched out perceptions I then sensed pulses of fear and distraught panic.
Up the creek a good hundred yards or so away, a lone sheep with wool dirty-white except for its dark brown head (which made it look like it was wearing a leather hood) stood at the water’s edge, hooves pawing at the stream as it shook itself back and forth in obvious distress.
Except it wasn’t by itself.
A muffled bleating came from behind a rock in the stream directly out from the shore.
I didn’t think, I moved.
Immediately airborne I streaked to that rock, where a lamb’s small muzzle struggled to stay above the current while its exhausted body thrashed below.
Oh god, its legs were trapped in a fishing net. The weights had caught hold of rock and lamb both, trapping them one against the other as taut nylon threads dug harshly into wool and hide.
Plunging into the cold stream, wings flared with power to steady against the water’s considerable pull. While the little one’s brown-eyes stared wide with panic, I dipped under to take hold of the strands and rip them away from the stone and brush into which the mess had entangled - careful to do so such that it wouldn’t tighten its wiry grip on the lamb.
Sharpness ripped across palms but I didn’t care.
With a loud bleat I wasn’t sure was from the young sheep or myself, she came loose and by wrapping her in my arms I was able to lift her free from the water’s grasp.
Clutching the trembling girl to my chest, I carried her to the shore, her mother scrambling madly across the brush to reach us. But the netting was still locked tight around her torso, digging deeper lacerations into legs running slickly scarlet over the whiteness held close to my shirt.
“Dammit!” I wasn’t sure how to get the stupid net off. If I tugged on any piece the danged cords would just cut deeper on the other side. Her terrified struggles had bound it too tightly against and into her scrawny limbs. Already had arteries been tied off, removal would only lead to a faster end.
I didn’t know what to do. Manipulate energy or blast something? No problem. General imposition of will on the local pattern? Sure. Cleanse a blighted spirit? Bring it on. But not this. I didn’t know what to do. Maddalena was the physical healer, not me.
And she wasn’t here. Nor did the small one whose breaths came shorter in tiny choking gasps have time for me to fly her for miles while hopelessly searching for an emergency veterinarian.
The mother’s pained whimper as she braved nearness to the strange and glowing winged being to nuzzle her suffering child tore just as deep as the netting.
Ever since coming back I hadn’t asked for help from above, not really. Even at the wall I hadn’t prayed so much as reacted in anger. But here, with this little lamb crying so plaintively within my arms, I called out in frantic desperation.
Raphael, anyone, help! Please!
What reached down upon me wasn’t Raphael, nor Sandalphon, nor even Gabriel.
Only the Light.
And with its brilliance came this most incredible serene peace.
It wasn’t through a glorious symphony or some incredible revelation of universal import that it arrived, only this infinite calm as if every part of my heart and the greatest spirit above had perfectly aligned and through that concordant connection flowed a deep tranquility and acceptance.
All else simply washed away.
Hands glowed brighter as fingers tugged on frayed cords, and the knotted strands dropped free.
Tenderly did I offer the lamb to her mother. And where the light had touched, the little sheep - with neck and face tinted brown just like her mom’s - had been made whole.
As were unbroken palms which then received gentle nuzzles by mother and daughter, their short fluffy tails swishing rapidly with relief and joy.
We stayed there awhile on the bank of the stream, me gently petting their heads as the sun warmed us dry. Thoughts and the lack thereof floated past with a crystal clarity not experienced in some time.
Eventually I needed to resume the airborne journey, and so after bidding the two sheep farewell, I took to the air once more. It wasn’t until I flew over a larger body of water forming a lake with an obvious dam that I put two-and-two together against the map I’d glanced at before departing the hotel.
The lake just now had to have been at the Kafrein Dam. And the small creek I’d just left? Yeah, that must have been the actual river from which Danielle had taken my new mortal-focused name. I guess considering its historical importance I had expected the water flow to be a lot larger, like the wide Nile seen in Cairo, or even the mighty Mississippi from when I’d twice driven over it. Instead the legendary river Jordan had the stature of a minor rivulet. Trippy, right? Threw me for a loop realizing that.
Oh and my blood-stained t-shirt had been cleaned and repaired just like my hands, something I noticed before take-off as the sheep, bleating happily to each other, wandered along the water’s edge back towards their herd.
In fact the cloth had become a brighter white than before.
Chapter 29 - Offerings
After consuming countless refilled iced-teas as an excuse to keep sitting at the mall’s food court, I watched Isaiah finally saunter up the escalator. Isong and Tanya were already in the crowd but they hadn’t approached, instead they’d been hovering by the closest shops and maintaining their distance. Communication using the earbud with the built in mic they’d handed me back at the hotel was kept to a minimum, just a simple check and acknowledgment that they were working.
Which of course meant no bumper cars. Such sadness.
As Isaiah got close, I stood and tossed the cup into a nearby bin. “Any problems?”
“No. The car is waiting, let’s go.”
That was fine with me. Not that the mall wasn’t nice or anything - it actually reminded me of one in West Los Angeles that I had frequented often as a teenager. While this complex had four floors instead of three, it was still the same internal layout of stores in a long ellipse with the center open to broad glass ceilings at the very top, with each level lined by multiple escalators and capped by elevators surrounded with potted planters. It was clean, modern, and had just one drawback as far as I was concerned.
Too many people.
A headache had already started from keeping alert for any out-of-the-ordinary behavior as well as performing regular spirit scans. Opening up to such also meant being bombarded by the emotional wash from all the passersby, which was annoying. Of course also adding to that was having to stare down young men who, having caught sight of a female sitting by her lonesome, kept thinking I needed company. I’d put on a hijab to hide the fiery hair but that hadn’t helped much.
Or maybe it did. Was hard to tell.
Fortunately the resting-bitch-face I’d developed to intimidate demons into doing my bidding worked even on impetuous and hormone-driven teenage males.
We exited the complex through the set of automatic glass doors out to the sidewalk where we climbed into the back of a Mercedes sedan, one whose windows were almost as dark as the paint. Isaiah must have already given the driver (who couldn’t have been over twenty) instructions, as without a word he pulled the car away from the curb.
Finding the mall from the air hadn’t been hard. Amman as a city didn’t have that many high-rises and our destination was a mostly residential neighborhood anyway - which meant no houses over four stories tall. The whole city sprawled over these low-rolling hills as if the earth at some point had rolled just like ocean swells and then got stuck that way. Some areas were new construction, but others were clusters of older buildings in great need of repair beyond the minimal patchwork maintenance they’d received just to keep things standing.
Abdoun was filled with the former, including entire plots which had been cleared but were yet to be developed; these left odd gaps of dirt between the many walled mansions lining the streets.
We turned left to head into the wealthier neighborhood. The buildings, both commercial and residential, were all painted off-white as if made of stone, the architecture being mostly blocky yet touched with inset arches over windows and entrances. Every few buildings one would have red slow-sloping tiles for its roof, but most were flat. The houses also had small balconies on every floor, each jutting out the sides to face the street or alongside inner atriums.
Pointing out the window down a cross-street we were passing, Isaiah noted, “Go straight from here and you’ll reach the U.S. Embassy. If things go wrong, head there.”
Good to know. Though I’d already caught that from looking at the maps. “We still doing a drive-by first so I can scan?”
The house of interest was on a corner, the curb painted alternately yellow and black with the sidewalk wrapping around in red, matching the roof. Well, most of the roof. The front of the house looked like it had been built up to frame an observatory, as the main entrance was under a circular balcony held up by two elegant front columns which extended higher to support a stone-colored half-sphere dome pressed into the fourth floor. Palm trees and other local shrubbery decorated the small yard, all surrounded by a low wall topped with intricate ironwork fencing. Each section of fencing was framed by lamps and also sported golden sun-face emblems in the centers.
Frankly this house was quite tasteful and modest in comparison to some of the others we’d passed.
As we approached I began to take a deeper look, of course. Yes the building was warded.
And yes I gazed through them anyway.
I rattled off to Isaiah what I saw: ten security agents both lightly and heavily armed, four maids and/or chefs, two non-human spirits of which one was angelic and the other a Nephelim, plus an artifact of some kind which glowed with some seriously bright and heavenly energies.
That last had to have been the Book. I didn’t stare too closely at it though, as now was not a good time to risk reading deeper and get caught by its pages.
In the middle of listing everything, the front pedestrian gate opened and out from its protected garden walked a member of their security detail - immaculate pressed suit, sunglasses, and all.
Whereupon to our surprise he continued to step directly in front of our car and with two empty hands motioned for us to stop. It was then that I should have realized that the rest of the day was not going to go in any way like we had planned or even conceived.
Moving around to the passenger side (so he’d still be between us and the house) he turned to face my door and bowed deeply. Through the tinted window he then said in Arabic, “The Master of the House would be greatly honored if you would join him in the sitting room.”
I rolled down the window. Okay, technically I pushed a button and it slid down. Hush.
“We are to be his guests?”
Ooh, he called me “madam” instead of “miss”. I decided I liked him. “One moment, please.” The window went back up. Noting that Isaiah was in his business attire (jacket over Kevlar vest yet still wearing a tie as opposed to my “flying-casual” outfit), I asked him, “Think I should go formal?”
“It couldn’t hurt.”
When I opened the door and offered my hand to the gentleman holding out a hand to assist my graceful exit, I was again wearing the violet one-shouldered gown, high heels, and all the lovely golden accoutrements. I’d tucked the throat mic under the wrap on the shoulder as best I could, and for passport and phone I’d needed to once again deploy Isaiah’s pockets.
The security guy was impressively stoic, having not skipped a beat from seeing me first in a t-shirt and a moment later dressed entirely different. Tan skin held mine politely before he turned to lead us both inside.
Isaiah had to get out of the car on his side all on his own, a fact which I found amusing.
After crossing yet another brightly lit marble-floored and frond-decorated entry hall, we turned left through a tall and wide light-wood archway into a cream-colored room illuminated by a single tall window framed by off-mocha hanging curtains and two golden lamp sconces. In front of that window was a ‘U’-shaped couch formed out of a sequence of cushions laying directly on the floor - all a slightly lighter shade than the curtains. Blue and white striped throw pillows dotted the couch as the only dash of color, and the whole was set around a mosaic-patterned rug that rested under a low table of glass-covered marble which itself held a bowl of dates and a silver pitcher. With the couch so close to the ground the ceiling appeared much higher than it actually was, giving the room a much more open feeling.
Not that I had time in the moment to really examine the room or admire the pair of golden-framed sand-paintings of patterned whites and shadows. All attention was drawn to the two individuals awaiting us.
The first was an older gentleman who sat upon the central cushion, a short walking stick resting near the lapel of his tan business jacket. He had the skinny and drawn look of a man who had recently lost weight due to a serious health issue - cheeks which once sat more plumply upon the face now were weathered and taut. A round nose which had suffered much abuse in its years sat above a well-trimmed white beard, and a black-and-white checkered headscarf covered his head. Despite the tremors visible in the hand wrapping around the cane the dark eyes were rock-steady.
They also were tired if not outright exhausted.
Standing over him was Faaiza Irfan, recognizable from the photo Ari had shared - though she’d clearly aged since college and if anything had gotten into better physical shape. Her navy-blue jacket and slacks matched the stripes on the cushions, and brown hair with only a hint of a wave draped just below her shoulders. The fierceness of expression (if not outright hostility) belied her stature as she was about a foot shorter than I.
Though maybe she just had some serious intimidation factor going on due to the tall Roman spear that she held in a tight fist. A weapon whose simple iron tip blazed with tremendous holy power, broadcasting a field of energy not unlike that which still permeated a certain storage facility in L.A.
I spoke first. “That,” I said while staring at the spear, “is not a book.”
Sariel - for though the body had been labeled Mahmoud at birth, his angelic name sat clear as day upon his spirit - squinted with puzzlement. “Were you expecting one?” His voice had the gravel tones of a man who had smoked more than his share of tobacco.
“Actually? Yeah. I was.”
“Presuming you mean the volume you allowed Callas Soren to keep, I have no knowledge of its whereabouts. Nor have I sought after it. Perhaps its mysteries lie permanently buried under the mountain where Azazel met his fate. I have had no need for it.”
“No? You could’ve used it to find another way to kill Isaiah. Especially after your recent bullets failed.”
“Bullets?” He looked genuinely confused. “I have taken no action after realizing my error at the pyramid. I should have known the fae queen had already reached the Seal and that it therefore was too late to destroy the pathway to its anchor.”
“Error?!” I boggled at the old man. “You call that just an ‘error’?! You almost wiped out the entire Middle East!” I took a step forward, causing Faaiza to shift and place the spear’s tip between me and the Grigori. “And what exactly is that?” I pointed at the weapon. “You planning to use it on him instead of a bullet?!”
“No,” said Sariel, reaching out to Faaiza’s waist, tugging for her to stand down. “It is an offering. And a plea.”
Isaiah moved to my side. “You would bargain for mercy?” By his voice alone the water in the pitcher should have frozen over.
Before Sariel could even venture a reply, I blurted out, “Mercy?! You…I…If it weren’t for you I would have been there for her! She might have lived! How dare you!” My shoulders and arms trembled. “What makes you think you even deserve it?!”
The fallen angel simply shook his head in sorrow. “I do not. I accept whatever judgment Lord Azrael renders; kill me or send my spirit to the realms Below, I shall not fight your will. I beg not for myself but for another.”
“Then for whom?” I asked, although I was pretty sure I knew the answer.
The cane tilted towards Faaiza who had reluctantly returned the spear to a neutral guard position. “For my daughter Gili - and for the spirits of all the innocent children forged from their parents’ flaws. Keep them safe within incarnation, oh Lord of Judgment! I beg mercy for their souls! I would bow upon the rug but alas this body cannot stand.” So saying Sariel lowered his head further in supplication.
“You deserve worse for what you have done.” Isaiah’s left hand twitched into a hard fist.
“Name the price, Lord, and I will pay it. Even unto my own complete destruction. But please, spare my daughter’s spirit! She is my child, I will do whatever you require!” The pleading was writ raw across the old man’s face and Isaiah went still.
With a face that should have been enfolded behind a cloak’s hood, he spoke then in a voice far steadier than mine. “It is not for me to grant but hers.” And two sets of eyes within one then gazed upon me.
“What?” I gaped at him and the smoldering spirit inside.
“Enact your justice, Amariel. I ask you, what must be?”
“But aren’t you…shouldn’t you…”
“This moment is yours alone.”
Swallowing, I stared back at the broken old man on the couch, searching deeper still to the fallen spirit which had displaced the soul that had once been within. I had come here to kill him, to force that spirit either to forget itself within a new incarnation or to grab hold of it and shove it as punishment past the gates I myself had once burned past.
Danielle and Tracy had died because of him. All the innocents at the Academy had almost died or been driven mad because of him. The Middle East was almost destroyed because of him.
Because he’d do anything to save his daughter’s soul.
Because the Seals were breaking and Heaven in its awakened fury would not abide the mere existence of her spirit.
Because without comprehending the consequences I’d broken that First Seal to save the one I had taken in as a daughter of my own.
I wanted to hate him, wanted to scream anguish loud into his ears, wanted him to feel every lash of the pain carved into my heart.
But what good would his suffering do Danielle now? What good what it do him?
What wouldn’t I have been willing to risk to keep her eternal spirit safe? I had already come close to destroying an entire realm of fae in trying to do so, killing many in the process.
And I knew I’d do it again in a heartbeat if only to hold Danielle safe in my arms once more.
Had I come here for justice or raw revenge? It was my turn to ask of myself what I’d once, exhausted and overwhelmed, had asked of Isaiah.
I swallowed, and the room spun without moving.
“You,” I said with the drumbeat of my heart pounding in my ears, “you could have contacted me. Talked to me. After the gathering of the Grigori, through Armaros or Nick, we could have tried to work this out.”
Sariel’s eyes filled then, with something I would never have expected:
“Even Gabriel,” he said with tired resignation, “was forced to abandon compassion in the face of Heaven’s wrath. We, in our perceived abandonment, had lost ourselves. What agreement with Heaven for our offspring could we have hoped for now? On that subject even her hands of grace were tied most firmly.”
“But mine are not.”
“And this is what I did not understand.”
I looked over to his daughter Faaiza where she stood defiantly holding the spear between us, and if I had been paying more attention to the scowl growing across her face maybe I’d have seen it coming. But the spear in her hands - its solid Roman craftsmanship untouched by rust despite the centuries - blazed forth with a purity that washed through the swirling emotional snarls within my thoughts to reach past and connect with the greater light pulsing deeper still.
From that connection pulsed a calmness, a touch of the tranquil clarity I’d felt at the river’s edge. With it also came an awestruck recognition of what Faiza may have held so tightly in her fingers.
Sariel nodded. “It is. Kept hidden amongst mundane peers until they burned to splinters and only it remained. The Holy Spear, the Lance of Longinus. That which pierced the side of he whom I had once hoped would grant our progeny the same salvation he promised to all mankind.” He held out his own empty hands. “And now I offer it to you, Lady Amariel. Will you take hold of the Spear of Destiny and stand guard over the spirits of our own beloved children? Will you do what the savior of men’s souls could not?”
Into shocked silence the mid-day call for prayer rang out over the whole city. The melodic and deeply haunting tones of the muezzin sounded from building to building as the recitation of the Adhan loudly filled the air, summoning worshipers to refresh their dedications to God.
Faaiza did not echo the prayer as sung. Instead she whispered, “It is time.”
Hearing her words, I felt it.
A tear ripped through spirit, like an obscuring film stripped free, leaving nerves open and exposed. Without intention brilliant wings sprouted from my back to fill the room with that glorious light.
Simultaneously, feathers of star-spotted night unfolded behind Isaiah and wings of smoke poured forth from Sariel, causing from him an immediate cry of horror and wordless dismay.
With a gasp I turned to Isaiah, and he in matching surprise answered the question that sat unspoken upon my lips.
“The Seal. It collapses!”
As for Faaiza, she was already in motion. Flipping the hold on the spear she drove the point straight through her father’s chest.