An Angel's Story
The cold, grey skies rained down their tears upon the small, muddy graveyard of the dilapidated church of Osiriat that stood in this long forgotten corner of the city. It was once a great cult. Once. The pallbearers slowly wobbled their way towards the open grave awaiting the coffin, draped in a large, white flag, heavily ornamented with gold tassels, followed by three figures. The priest and gravediggers were waiting, the priest sheltered under an umbrella, his Holy Scroll pinned open at the appropriate passages. The grass was slick with mud, and the mud was thick and sticky. The other graves, droplets bouncing off them under the force of the rain, stood silently, like rows upon rows of dull grey headboards of silent beds.
The first of the three figures following the coffin was an old man, bent with age, though still pretty spry. He wore a hat, rimmed with droplets in the wet, and a long, rather battered old coat, even having been singed in one corner by some long extinguished flame. His face, though weathered and wrinkled, still maintained its strength and determination, which shone out of his sharp, intelligent green eyes. Though needing a stick to walk, he still managed to keep pace with the coffin and not slip nor tumble. Age may have weakened but it did not enfeeble.
The man walking behind him, clearly the older one's grandson shared the same strong, determined face and sharp green eyes, but he was young and still maintained a pretty strong build. The scars on his face and his posture showed him to be an experienced and ready fighter. He had thick, dockworker's boots, a long cloak and hood of rough black broadcloth with the hood up. It had been waxed for waterproofing and was successfully holding the rain off him, despite its stern attempts to soak everyone and everything to the bone.
The last figure looked a little out of place. He was quite tall, though not overly so, wore black coat, hose and shiny leather shoes, and wore no hat or hood. The rain splattered across his face, in his dark blonde hair and down his strong, angular features to run in drips off his chin. The most unusual thing about this last figure were his eyes. The irises were bright, crystal blue, and they glowed, quite evidently so on this dark, dull grey day. He was an Angel.
The pallbearers shuffled unprofessionally along, some not keeping time with the others, and two at such different heights that the whole was almost comical. Almost. However, it was still a funeral. The procession arrived at the graveside, and the coffin was lowered next to it.
The angel sighed. Why couldn't we get better people to do this? He was only one of us for 127 years. Only served the cause better than half the angels I know for a century and a quarter. Only died in the service of Our Lords as he lived. And yet all we apparently can manage is a gang of blokes from the nearest tavern, by the looks of them. One's even a lot taller than the others. What a mess. What a fatching mess.
The pallbearers lifted the flag off the coffin and folded it, or tried to, failed and got in an argument until the priest shushed them and they gave over the folding to one, who folded it up into a triangle and placed it on the lid of the coffin.
This is a joke. This whole thing. One big fatching joke. It's not a funeral, it's a farce. The angel stood silent, trying to at least maintain the kind of dignity this great man deserved. His name, Natael, should be written on banners on city buildings, and the bells of dozens of temples should be ringing to mourn his passing, but even in his own church, all he gets is this measly excuse for a funeral. It's not like it's a one off either. Every funeral I've attended of fallen brothers is the same. And there've been too many of those recently. Too many by half. The angel's eyes misted over as he recalled the night that Natael died.
The rain was battering the old cobblestones. On a night like this no one was out. Almost no one. Reports had come into the central office for the city that there'd been a fatality. A fellow angel was dead. The head man of the office, Azrael, headed out to see the scene of the crime. The alley was dark, and the neighbourhood was a bad one, but the Archangel walked without fear. On a night like this, HE was the greatest danger in the city. Ahead of him, in a quiet huddle, were a group of men standing with small lamps shining a feeble light in the dark night. One turned towards the approaching figure of Azrael.
"Evening, sir. You didn't need to come out, you know. We've pretty much got it covered here"
With a quiet and slightly distant voice, Azrael brushed off the admonishment. "Of course I did. He's one of us. So what have we got then?"
"Well by the looks of things, he was confronted after a previous fight further back along the alley. We found what looks like a fight between a couple of Gifted and him, he beat them and we reckon came down here to meet the main threat. A, er
A demon sir." The man, the same who would later attend the funeral with his grandfather, outlined his assumptions by pointing at the suspected route of the victim.
"And what about here? Any evidence of who did it?"
"Well, we was just beginning down here, sir. Trouble is this damn night won't allow for brighter light to see by." He shuffled uncomfortably, clearly irritated by the inconvenience.
"Light will not be a problem." So saying, Azrael lifted his hands above his head, and a sudden flare of light surrounded his body, illuminating the alley as if it were daylight. It revealed a scene of carnage. The walls on both sides of the alley were dented and broken in a number of places, and bits of brick and wood were littered across the alley floor. Blood was spattered across everything. Clearly Natael did not go down without a fight. Then again, he wouldn't go down any other way. In the puddles, the blood of both demon and angel mingled. There wasn't any division. No difference between them.
As to who did this, the sick bastard had taken Natael's blood and scrawled his name across the wall in it. Natael himself was cut, bruised and lying broken on the ground, the symbol of the Dark Temple of Skalaz carved into his chest. His clothes were torn and ripped from the fight.
"Take his body back to the office. Do it quietly. Make sure the Watch hear nothing of this."
"Get going lads. Bring the cart round for it!" then to Azrael "Shall I bring along some cleaners to deal with the mess sir?"
Azrael stood looking down at the body, the rain battering on his head, rivulets running down his face. After a moment he replied, still showing no emotion. "No
No, leave it to me."
"Yes sir, as you say."
The body was carefully collected up and wrapped in white shrouds before being bundled into the cart. The team got in and the cart quietly trotted into the wet darkness, leaving Azrael in the ruined alley. With them gone, he extinguished his glowing aura, leaving the only light in the alley the gentle bright blue emanating from his eyes. He reached down and touched the blood pool on the floor. He rubbed his finger and thumb together, feeling the blood on his hands.
There was a blinding flash, and then darkness once more. The blood, and rain, and bits of rubbish, and a couple of the bricks, had been vaporised. The clay mud floor had been quick baked into a solid block of brick. Azrael walked out into the night, vengeance on his mind.
It was two days later. The night was cool, the light of both moons were streaming through the windows on either side of the room. The silvery light shone off dark pools on the floor, and black drips on the walls. Blood. The room was a mess. Furniture and ornaments were splayed across the room, all broken to a greater or lesser extent. In the centre of the fury there were two figures. One was standing, one was dead. Admittedly, it was a bit of a close run thing whether the standing figure was alive. His clothes, or what were left of them, were ripped and torn, his torso uncovered much earlier in the fight. His chest had a number of gashes on, and blood dripped down his rock hard abs. His eyes, glowing light blue, gazed down at the dead Demon, the remnants of the adrenalin enhanced fury still hanging around his presence.
There was silence, broken only by the slow panting of Azrael, and the occasional sullen thud of another drip of blood landing on the floor from Azrael's open mouth.
Time passed slowly, and gradually life returned to Azrael's body. He began to think, and feel again. He winced from the pain that he felt, as the adrenalin effects stopped. He gazed around the room at the devastation wrought by him and his enemy who now lay defeated at his feet. He wiped the trail of blood from his chin, licked his lips and felt the tang of iron. Three of his teeth were missing, and another was badly chipped. He was utterly drained. His body sore from the beating it had taken and the adrenalin, his soul exhausted from using the divine energies to fuel his power during the fight.
He broke down, collapsing to his knees. Sitting back on his heels, he put his head in his bloodied hands and wept and wept and wept. Blood mingled with sweat and tears and rolled down his face and arms.
The rain thundered down on the small funeral party as the priest's voice began in a solemn, almost bored monotone to recite the Rite of Interring. Azrael gazed silently down at the coffin lying in its grave, mud dripping down the walls of the grave, trying to fill it prematurely. Azrael shifted uneasily.
Is that what they think of us? Does even Nature try to bury the fallen warriors of the Gods so they can be forgotten and people can move on? This guy laid down his life in a valiant attempt to destroy one of the Enemy's most important agents in the city. And yet, despite by his actions saving the lives of thousands across this filthy city, he is buried in a badly dug grave, while the people he'd fought so hard to defend and bring into the fold don't stand still in remembrance. Just three colleagues and the priest. And the priest probably has no idea as to the importance of this man in his own church.
Do They care? Does any of this fighting really matter? If no one but us are here to remember his deeds, is there truly any worth in what we do? All these questions, and I've always had the right answers for them, but now
.now I'm beginning to realise that they're just convenient lies. They are just there to keep me going. Many of these questions plaguing me don't have answers. And those that seem like they do make me uncomfortable.
Even things I've been so sure of all my life, like the belief that we were doing this to free people from the tyranny of the Demon Hordes. But are we? Are we really? We fight the Demon Hordes, and we die in the battle, as do they.
In a dark temple somewhere in the city there's gonna be a funeral just like this one. Just as depressing, just as mismanaged and unattended. There's no difference between us other than who our orders come from, basically. They're immortal celestial beings like us. They fight an ancient battle against the opposing force, just like us. They fight invisible enemies in the shadows of Civilisation, going almost completely unnoticed by the World. Just like us.
They die, just like us.
If there's no difference between us but our bosses and, basically style, then surely the propaganda they spread about us is just as untrue as ours is of them.
It's just as TRUE as ours of them. We think we're doing right, letting people free from the tyranny of Darkness. They say they're freeing people from the restrictions of the Light. But surely grabbing an arm and pulling the people out into the light, or back into the darkness, that is not freedom. That's tyranny, no matter who is doing it.
Freedom is the freedom of choice, and the cost of that freedom is to be hit by whatever the results are. Yet the cost of whatever we do is that you do not have choice, and we only offer a single path to follow. Sure, you don't have to feel to blame for the things that hit you, but its our fault they're getting hit.
I can't believe it.
I can't believe I'm even thinking these thoughts.
Azrael looked down again at the coffin. Ah, yes. That's why I'm thinking these thoughts. Because of him. Because of what happened to Natael. And for that matter because of what I did to the Demon. I mean, he's not to blame for Natael any more than I am. I failed him, then I just debased myself by following the same route as always. Vengeance. But that doesn't work, it just keeps going round. I've seen it happen. There was a war between two Agents that lasted almost 200 years, involving long drawn out vendettas between and over lesser agents. Lots of people died, and nothing changed. The island was only better for the battle having stopped. It didn't change anything. Not a thing.
Why do the Gods do this? Why do they fight the Greater Demons? Why do they kill so many of their own to kill a few of their enemies? Not for peace, nor for goodwill to all races. They just bring violence, that's all.
I know. I can see why. The answer's obvious. I've been staring it in the face for this whole time. Staring it in the face for all my life. And yet I still try to ignore it. But I cannot. Not after this. It's not about freedom, peace or goodwill.
It's about control. It's like two divorced parents pulling on the child's hands in opposite directions. Both want to get the prize, and both tell the prize that it's the right thing to do and that the other way will only lead to sadness, but they never give the prize to chose for themselves.
And the prize is belief. Stupid food of the gods that gives them power. They'd NEVER have enough belief to return to this plane again. Never. And yet, selfish and greedy, they try. They desperately try. They send forth their candy-thiefs into the world. Us. We disillusioned poor sods get sent in to fight and die just to feed the selfish greedy hunger of the Gods and Greater Demons.
Natael died for it. And they did not send hosts of angels to sing his praise. They did not send divine power from the sky to save him. They did not even have the decency to allow him, a faithful and devoted servant, the deserved honour at his burial. Instead they play their games, barely aware of what goes on here, sending us fevered dreams and visions instead of clear messages., and ignoring Natael's fall, and raining hard on his funeral.
They make me sick. But I am more one of them than anyone else in the World! I am an Archangel! Of all people who might question their faith, surely I cannot? But I am. More than questioning it, I am rebelling against it. I am fighting the Gods here. Today. On my terms, not theirs. And not the mirrored terms of the Demons. So what does that make me? I have failed my fellow Angels. I have failed Natael. I am no Angel, certainly not an Archangel. And yet I still am sure I have not failed the Gods. I still am convinced. They have failed me.
The priest droned on, nearing the end of the incantation. The old man and the young fighter got ready to place their parting gifts to Natael. The old one had a wreath made of Argentis polaris leaves, their silvery sheen meant to represent the halo, while the fighter held two leaves of Quercus aureoregionata, the Golden Oak, symbolising the Golden Forests which were heaven for those of this faith. Azrael was holding something very different. It was a small ring. It was Natael's. It had been ripped of his hand during the fight, and taken by the Demon. The others began to say their final farewells to their beloved companion as Azrael stood dazed by the grave side.
In his mind, hosts of new questions assailed Azrael, and these had no answers, yet. Who was he? What was he? What was the point of Angels? What would happen to the others? What was his purpose in life? This last was the most terrifying of all, as he had been created for a purpose. He had reason to his existence. But not now, and for the first time in his long life, he didn't know what to do next.
He looked at the muddy grave, at the futility and pointlessness of this whole thing.
Well, old friend, I won't take anything away from you. You lived, fought and died in honour. I will never doubt that. You were always one of our best. And you did the job you were made to do, and you did it well. Right up to the end. I'd like to think that you'd take comfort in the fact that we got the guy who killed you, but now you're dead, I'm not sure you'd care for vengeance much. I got your ring back though. He had no right to take that. Azrael looked at the ring in his palm, realising this was the last connection to the living body of Natael that anyone had. After that he'd be gone. And then not long before he was forgotten completely. But, it was his ring. With the priest looking impatient, Azrael reached out his hand, and dropped the ring into the grave.
The procession began to move off at a much less dignified pace than they arrived. Azrael stood for a moment longer, then turned and walked alone through the rain out of the graveyard, as the gravediggers covered the evidence of a great Angel, to be forgotten sooner than he should.
Outside the graveyard, along a wide, empty street battered by the rain that was still tipping down, Azrael stalked through the weather, not noticing its effects. He splashed unconcerned through puddles and filth alike. He was deep in thought, and fingering his own Ring of the Holy Orders of Angels. It was crafted out of Divine Gold, and was undamageable and untarnishable. But to Azrael's eyes it was tarnished and bloodstained by the pointless battles. Disgusted, he decided to detatch himself from the Gods once and for all, go his own way, whatever that might be. He was seriously considering suicide. He deserved it. He failed Natael utterly, and then dirtied himself with a pointless killing. Not to mention all the previous victims of his "divine mission". Yes, suicide would be the best way, but possibly too easy. More punishment is deserved. He didn't know what to do next, but he did want to break his life ties with the Gods.
With a dangerous and uncertain future clouded ahead of him, he slipped the ring off, dropped it and disappeared into the rain. The ring bounced a few times then hit the rivulet of water running down the centre of the street. It started to gently roll downstream towards an awaiting sewer, and the darkness that lay within.