Chapter 9 - The Siege Continues
An hour earlier a distraught Harke returned to Messenger Headquarters with the worst of all possible news – Lily was gone…
“What do you mean she’s gone?” Gabriel had asked incredulously.
“Gone,” Harke had shrilled, close to tears, “like disappeared, not here, just vanished.”
“How could you let this happen? I trusted you, Harke. You were going to keep her safe, and now?”
“I was protecting her, I was giving my life for her. To bring her back, I would do anything.” Harke had put his head to his hands and sobbed.
Becoming grief-stricken, the pain Harke felt for the loss of his Lily was palpable. Gabriel now truthfully realized how much the Herald loved his daughter. It reminded Gabriel of his own loss, the ache in his heart he endured to this day over the loss of his Rose.
From what he had learned from Harke, and from what he knew himself, Gabriel desperately hoped Lily had not suffer the true-death. If his hunch was right Lily instead was in the gravest of dangers with no one to help her. Time was now an enemy – they needed to quickly find out exactly what had happened so they could save her.
“It’s alright…son,” Gabriel had said awkwardly, “let it all out, then I need you to focus if we’re going to help her.”
Harke had sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He then took a deep breath and shuddered, letting it out forcefully. Being called ‘son’ by Gabriel did not go unnoticed and the Announcer was right – crying was not going to help Lily – only deliberate and thoughtful action would. Harke had to believe Lily was still alive, she was out there, somewhere, and needed his help. He had looked at Gabriel straight in the eye as a fire of determination kindled deep in his heart.
“I’ll do whatever you say. I want her back.”
In the time that followed a rush of almost frenzied activity ensued, all of it culminating with a meeting called at Guardian Headquarters to assess not only what happened to Lily but the attack on Par Amor as well.
Meeting in the fabled Command Room, the place where all of the Almighty’s instructions were received during the Fall of Angels, and later, during the Fall of Man, everyone who arrived quickly took their place around the room or at the enormous crystal table. Resting on chairs made of blown-glass which would comfortably form to the sitter’s shape, the angels at the table quieted then looked to the head and waited. There sat the leads for the three orders of angels: In the center was Gabriel for the messengers, to his left was Uriel of Grand Rescue for the cherubs, and to the right was Michael the Archangel for the guardians.
Around the table and in no particular order sat a determined-faced Harke, beside him were Mary and Okam, and next to them was Noel. Opposite these sat a stern-looking, but gorgeous female angel in both face and stature called Carol the Rock. Next to her yet separated by a glass chair was the well-respected Art the Great and then finally, Phil.
Also sitting along the beige and brown-colored inside walls of the Command Room were an assortment of angels from all three orders. These included not only ones in positions of authority but the assistants to the leads as well. Each of the assistants sat there focused and attentive, an electronic pen and tablet in hand ready to take notes. Once the murmur in the room quieted, all eyes turned to the lead angels where Gabriel spoke first.
“As you are all aware, Par Amor was attacked today and the siege conti—”
“What’s our status?” The fair haired and handsome Archangel spoke over Gabriel as he looked straight to Okam and Mary.
“Except for a handful of demons,” said Okam, leaning forward in his chair and looking at his wife, “this attack has been pushed back over the walls.”
“It’s as though they’ve given up,” interjected Mary, “or have decided to regroup. Either way, the massive army is just outside the walls as we’re rounding up the rest of the stragglers.”
Michael took a deep breath and sighed, “Can anyone tell me why Par Amor was attacked? And why is the Sweet so important?”
“Her name is Lily,” groused Harke. “What we really need to find out is what happened to her. Is she…dead?” His voice cracked at the end.
“Probably not,” said a stoic Gabriel. “From what Phil of Rugged Strength has described it was hopefully something else.”
“What?” demanded Harke.
“Long before the Fall of Man,” began Michael, “actually, if I remember correctly, it was even long before the Fall of Angels, after we were granted the gift of teleportation, the Deceiver became obsessed with it.”
“How so?” Carol the Rock asked, watching Michael intently.
Answering the statuesque angel, but speaking to everyone in the room, Michael reviewed the history, “The Deceiver was so enthralled with this new found ability he wanted to learn everything about it. At first, without our knowledge” – he nodded at both Gabriel and Uriel – “the Deceiver ran tests under different conditions. At first he tested what would happen if two angels holding each other were to disappear from the same spot, one choosing the place to go while the other did not.”
“Ah, yes,” said Noel, “I remember now. They both went without a problem. But he didn’t stop there.”
“Correct,” said the blue-eyed Michael. “He then had to find out what would happen if both of them holding each other teleported to different locations. The results weren’t good. Each was knocked unconscious as though shocked with electricity.”
“Were they alright afterwards?” Mary asked.
“Yes,” answered Noel, “but not after what happened next.”
“The Deceiver wanted to try three angels,” said Michael, the sleeveless toga he wore displayed biceps tensing as he talked. “If all three held each other and only two teleported to the same spot, the third was always knocked unconscious, but if all three wanted to disappear to different places—”
“Let me guess,” said Phil, making a sour face, “bang, they were gone.”
“What we discovered was much of what you saw happen to Lily,” said Gabriel calmly. “It looked as though all three angels were destroyed, gone to the true-death, but that really wasn’t the case. Two of the angels did die in a massive explosion those were the ones holding the third. However the third angel, simply vanished.”
“Vanished? Where?” Harke asked urgently. “You mean you know where she is?” The Herald stood from his chair and added, “Come on, let’s go get her.”
“Sit down messenger, and calm yourself,” returned Michael.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” shot Harke back angrily, he pointed to Carol and said, “it’s not your fiancée that missing.”
The room’s attendants were already quiet, they grew even quieter from the exchange.
It was a well-known fact that what was widely considered as the two most elegant and attractive angels in all of Heaven were an item. Long considered by many ‘made for each other’ they had remained in a courtship-like state for eons because each was zealously dedicated to the Almighty. Although they had tried to keep their relationship a secret at first, anyone who saw them interact could tell they were involved with each other. Having never decided to finally marry, and after repeatedly reminding others to keep out of their business, the topic of their association had become, to a certain extent, taboo.
Carol’s face reddened, whether it was from anger or embarrassment was debatable.
The Archangel motioned to stand when Gabriel firmly grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“Enough. The sniping is not going to bring my daughter back. Now please Harke, sit down.”
Not taking his eyes off Michael, Harke sat down slowly. “Fine. Continue.”
“Very well,” said Gabriel quickly, before the Archangel, Carol, or anyone else spoke. “At first we did not know the third angel had vanished. We thought the angel met the true-death, but like Lily, there were no remains. Slowly we suspected the angel was still alive, we searched all of Par Amor and all of Heaven. Nothing. Not a single clue to tell us where this angel could have ended up.”
“Did you ever find the angel?” Harke asked.
“We searched and searched, it took us several earthly-years, but we finally did,” answered Gabriel.
“Years?” returned Harke incredulously.
“This angel could have been found faster,” said the bald-headed cherub, Uriel, who was frowning at both the Announcer and Archangel. “It became apparent the angel was on Earth, but we simply missed the…things this angel was doing. And worst yet was the condition we found the angel in, as a vagrant, a hobo, homeless, and with absolutely no recollection of what had happened or who the angel truly was.”
“Oh, my,” said Mary, “you mean this angel didn’t know who or what it was?”
“We found the angel,” said Gabriel, “living on the streets of a big city. Dirty and scared, we had to forcibly bring this angel back.”
“Alright then,” said Michael, finally breaking his glare off of Harke, “we’re as convinced as we can be that she’s probably on Earth, somewhere. So, my earlier question still stands. Why is she involved in all this?”
“I think I can answer that,” said Gabriel. All eyes turned to him as he stood. “When Lily was born, the Almighty had told me she was destined to do something of great importance, for Him. What it was and when it would happen, He would not tell me, but I would know the day had come when He called for her. That was today.”
“So what did He talk to her about?” asked Phil.
“It was a mission He wanted her to go on,” replied Gabriel. The Announcer turned and looked at Michael, “A mission to retrieve the Greatest Artifacts.”
A murmur broke throughout the room.
Angels leaned into each other or looked across the thick-crystal table, asking and wondering what these ‘Greatest Artifacts’ were. Meanwhile, as Gabriel stared at Michael, the Archangel stared at the translucent table lost in thought.
“The Greatest Artifacts? He didn’t call them that.”
“What is it, Michael?” groused Uriel.
“After my daughter denied telling me what they were,” Gabriel answered the lead cherub directly, “it was later I remembered something Michael had told me long ago.” The Announcer once again looked at the Archangel and waited.
Looking up from the table, but still at nothing or no-one in particular, Michael said, “Some time before the Fall of Man the Almighty told me something in passing. It wasn’t even the topic we were talking about at the time. Something about artifacts, two in particular, they were very important to Him.”
“So it’s two artifacts,” said Harke. “What are they?”
Gabriel noted with lifted eyebrows that Harke did not know how many artifacts there were. A guilty pang touched his heart realizing Lily had kept to her word – not even telling her beloved Harke – keeping him as clueless as her father.
Michael stood, his tanned and toned, confident features contradicting the turmoil on his face, “Two of the most unrelated things you could think of, a lance and a robe.”
Another murmur spread across the room.
“What makes these two items so special?” Noel asked over the din.
Michael raised a hand and everyone quieted, he said, “I asked the Almighty but He wouldn’t tell me exactly. What He did say was more troubling, He did not want these items to ever fall into the Deceiver’s hands. Why? He didn’t tell me that either. Then again, He never called them the greatest artifacts, if I had known…” The Archangel tailed off.
“You would have gone searching for them yourself,” said Carol, smiling.
“Exactly,” intoned Gabriel, “but it wasn’t part of His plan.” The Announcer smiled slightly and added, “He knows you all too well, my friend.”
“Let’s review what we think we know,” started Uriel sarcastically. “A messenger angel called Lily the Sweet, daughter of Gabriel, is missing somewhere on Earth. She was sent on a mission by the Almighty to find, and I’ll guess return as well, two items He calls the Greatest Artifacts. The artifacts in question are a lance and robe, and He doesn’t want the traitor to even sniff them.” The cherubs tough eyes scanned the room, then continued, “I have to wonder. What is it about these things the Almighty doesn’t want the Deceiver to have? And I’m sorry to say Gabriel, if your daughter’s still alive why hasn’t she tried to return?”
“We just talked about that,” said Harke firmly. “The evidence indicates she’s not dead, something had to—”
“It’s alright Harke,” interrupted Gabriel, “it’s a very good point, actually two, Uriel makes.” Addressing of Grand Rescue directly, he said, “It was only after meeting with Lily I remembered Michael’s strange conversation with the Almighty, the topic being exactly what he just described. I’ve given it some deep thought ever since.
“If these items are so important to the Almighty, it stands to reason they are of divine origin. Anyone possessing these items would be granted supernatural abilities, what precisely we can only imagine.”
“You’re tellin’ me if you have either of these items you’d become powerful or something?” asked Phil, making a face.
“Not either,” answered Noel, the look of complete understanding on his face, “but both.”
“The First is right,” said Gabriel, nodding, “the Almighty had mentioned these items together. I suspect He did the same with Lily. And we must assume the worst of cases, possessing both items would impart god-like abilities.”
“But if you’re already god-like,” interjected Noel, “like the Deceiver—”
“Then you could become something greater than the Almighty Himself,” finished Gabriel, “super-divine, if you will.”
This time the room went into an uproar.
Statements such as “They can’t fall into his possession” and “We need to find them, right now!” were heard all around the room.
“Everyone, please, calm down,” said Gabriel, motioning with both hands for silence.
“This makes no sense,” said Phil, shaking his head in disbelief. “If the consequences are so high, why can’t the Almighty just get them Himself?”
“We all know cherub,” explained Noel matter-of-factly, “the ways of the Almighty are not those of men or angels.”
“Oh, right,” replied Phil, rolling his eyes, “that old song-and-dance. Okay First Man, then what?”
The term ‘First Man’ brought a twinge of a smile to Harke’s lips while Noel’s bushy eyebrows bristled.
Cutting Noel off before he had a chance to retort, Gabriel said, “This brings us to Uriel’s second point: Why hasn’t my daughter returned? I firmly believe the answer lies with the other angel who disappeared. This angel survived the explosion and Lily probably has too. And like the other angel, Lily is probably on Earth with no memory of whom she is and what she’s supposed to do.
“When we returned the other angel to Par Amor we tried everything to bring that angel’s memory back. Eventually we discovered there was only one thing that could, it was eating a fruit, a forbidden fruit, onefrom the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Impossible,” blurted Okam, “no one’s been allowed into Eden, much less the Garden, since man’s Fall.”
“The Almighty granted us entry then,” said a pinched-brow Uriel, “and I’m pretty sure He will do it again. Of course, there was one stipulation.”
“And what was that?” asked Okam.
“None of the angels that entered before,” replied Michael wistfully, “can ever step foot into the Lost Paradise again.”
“The stories and myths are then, true?” asked Noel, pointing to the leads. “The three of you have been into Eden? And you old friend – ” Noel focused his critical gaze at the Announcer “ – never once hinted or talked about this.” He shook his head.
Ignoring the First, Gabriel said, “Upon eating the fruit this other angel’s memory returned. The angel remembered everything that had happened, the events leading up to the disappearance and the disappearance itself. And much like Lily, this angel glowed before it teleported and recalled doing so by no willful action. The next thing the angel knew, it was covered in dirt and soot and lying on a wet floor of some forgotten back alley on Earth.”
“Who is it?” asked Noel. “And is this angel still alive?”
Gabriel’s eyes shifted for a moment and then stared at the opposite wall, “The angel still lives, but the identity remains a secret. The angel wished for no-one to ever learn of this, not wanting any sort of famous status to take away from the Almighty. And unless this angel chooses differently, we will continue to stand by that wish.”
All around the perfectly smooth table and throughout the room, angels looked at each other and wondered if that angel was among them. One of the greatest legends between the three orders of angels had been proven true, this along with everything else just learned was taking some time to digest and come to terms with. Harke, however, could have cared less – and he did. While the rest of the room wondered what it was like for the three leads to enter the Lost Paradise, or speculated on the identity of the other angel, the Herald was more eager in getting his Lily back.
“How did you find this angel?”
Uriel’s eyes shifted as well then darted straight to Harke, “The angel preached.”
“History lesson over,” said the Archangel, now a slight tone of impatience to his voice. Gesturing to Gabriel and Uriel, he continued, “We decided to form two groups. One will search for and return Lily; the other will enter the Garden to retrieve a single forbidden fruit.”
“Has anyone spoken to Jeremiel about this?” Phil asked. “He’s like a pit bull, so much fun to be around.” The cherub snorted and rolled his eyes.
“Don’t worry Phil,” said Uriel, “He doesn’t know yet, but we’ll send word ahead that you’re coming.”
“I’m going?” asked Phil.
“Yes, cherub,” said Michael, straight-faced, “to get the fruit it will be you and Art the Great. To return Lily we’ve decided to send Mary, Okam, and Noel.”
“I’m going to get her too,” said Harke defiantly.
“We’ve made our decisions Heralder, and it stands.”
“I don’t care what you three have decided, short of the Almighty coming in here and saying otherwise, I’m going.”
“Your disrespect will not be tolerated, the groups are formed, you’ll just have to sit tight and wait.”
Blatantly ignoring Michael, Harke turned to the angels beside him and said, “Mary, Okam, let’s go.” He then stood.
“How dare you disobey me—”
“Hold on Michael,” interrupted Gabriel, “if I could I would be going too. Harke is Lily’s fiancé, I think we can easily imagine the despair he must be going through.” The Announcer motioned with his eyes for Harke to sit, Harke did so grudgingly. “How about…a compromise? Let’s send Harke and Carol in Noel’s place, and then put Noel with Art and Phil? This gives us an extra body to search for Lily and puts three veteran angels together.”
The Archangel’s golden-tanned face had turned a menacing shade of dark-red. He stared at Harke unblinkingly for a good five seconds, who returned the same forceful glare in kind. Michael took a deep breath then immediately shifted his focus and softened his demeanor for Carol.
“What do you think? You up for it?”
The beautiful angel’s pale-blue eyes looked at Harke unimpressed and said, “He’s a messenger, you know he’ll slow us down” – Carol lifted a hand to stop an already open-mouthed Harke from objecting – “but he seems pretty determined. As long as he listens to what he’s told, we’ll bring the girl back in no time.”
“I don’t care what you tell me to do,” said a clench-jawed Harke, “as long as I go and as long as we find her.”
“I hope I don’t regret this, Gabriel,” said the Archangel. He pursed his lips and added, “Fine, he’s part of their group.”
Harke stood with nervous energy, “When do we go?”
As though answering him, each of the angels named to a group stood and began replacing their chairs. After Phil nodded to Uriel and followed Noel to the door, Carol’s athletic form then led the way for Mary and Okam. It was Art the Great who remained beside his glass chair waiting on a slightly taken aback Harke.
“Well? Let’s go brother,” said Art. “The Deceiver’s probably got a jump on us. If he knows about your fiancée and the Greatest Artifacts then I’m certain he knows what happened to her. He’ll want to get to Lily and the Tree before we do.”
The massive cavern was streaked with stalactites and stalagmites giving the surroundings the appearance of dangerously sharp teeth within a fearsome maw. Small pillars of fire burned from pools of black oil dotted the cave, back-dropping an eerie, orange glow for flickering, demon-like shadows. Dead center, sitting regally upon a lifted and polished-stone cathedra was Lucifer. A thousand-step staircase stretched before him to the cavern floor, far below, where cries of torment and torture rose into the air sounding like the sweetest of music to the Deceiver. Lucifer enjoyed his perch, not only were the wails of pain heightened bouncing off the cavern walls, but horrible scenes inflicted upon sinners were easily watched and reveled.
About six to eight steps from the cathedra knelt a demon; badly disfigured by fire, bleeding from self-inflicted gashes on his arms and chest, he waited patiently for his lord to acknowledge his presence.
“Stand my most trusted,” said Lucifer. “What have you to report?”
“M-Master,” replied Zephon, “your dark army w-waits for fu-further orders outside of Par Amor’s walls. Mur-Murmux and G-Gremory have taken leave with their hench-demons.”
A sharp-toothed smile spread across the terrifying face of the Devil, “Excellent. All of the plans are in motion. Murmux off to bring back the female messenger while Gremory leads the others to return me the fruit. Yes, things worked out quite well. Did they not?”
“Yes, M-Master,” returned Zephon, beginning to claw at his arms, “although the g-group of d-demons sent to bring the girl back f-f-failed, it was b-brilliant of you to send a second g-g-group to check on them.”
“It was, wasn’t it? How else would we have learned about the angel’s disappearance? When that second group returned with those images, the demon, the stupid cherub, the explosion…it sure brought back some memories.”
“M-Master, do you th-think it will take long to b-b-bring the messenger b-back?”
“Oh, no, not at all my most trusted. We learned long ago that an angel in human form cannot help themselves from preaching. The message will come out so easily, divinely inspired really, all Murmux has to do is search for a female preacher like none other ever seen or heard of before.”
“And why the f-forbidden fruit again, my M-Master?”
“A necessary remedy for an unexpected side effect of her disappearance.” The Deceiver chuckled and added, “You should have seen how long it took to figure this out the first time.”
With nothing more to report, Zephon awkwardly said, “M-Master, if you need n-nothing more of me, I will r-return to my normal d-d-duties.” The gross demon motioned to start its long walk down the steps.
“Hold on a minute, Zeph,” said Lucifer, “I do have something else, for you.” The Deceiver’s face and tone quickly became serious, “Remember when you almost burned Heaven?”
The question resonated within the demon. Zephon’s eyes glazed and his face became slightly mesmerized, “Yes, my Master. If it weren’t for that accursed Archangel…”
“How about we start with Par Amor this time, as practice, then Heaven?”
Zephon’s demon-twisted mind returned from where it had been, he stammered, “Y-Yes, my M-Master. This t-time it will be d-d-done r-right.”
“Good, good. Now go to the horde and provide them some direction, focus. Lead them, my most trusted, in my name.”
“Of course my M-Master!” replied Zephon crazily. “Anything f-f-for you. Thank you o’great o-o-one, I worship you and th-thank you f-for another ch-chance at Heaven.” The demon turned around so quickly he almost fell off the staircase, after catching his balance Zephon nearly took another tumble racing down the steps despite himself. The whole episode and the demon’s departure mostly ignored by Lucifer.
Shifting lazily on his granite chair the Deceiver looked around at his dominion pleased, “Yes, the plans are in very good motion, very good, indeed.”