Chapter 21 – Heaven’s Shine

July 29, 2011

It was odd, Gabriel reflected as Belphagor took them across, how earthly time warped even the keenest of memories.  Limbus had been a place of desolation and despair to the archangel since time out of mind, but now – walking into it after an absence of one human decade – its beauty stunned him.  Writhing clouds of purple and orange gathered on the oblique horizon, painting all the creatures gathered there in its otherworldly light.  Its bleak prospect used to fill Gabriel with sorrow; now, it filled him with an ache.  He didn’t recognize the pain, he had no frame of reference for homesickness. He could only accept it as he stepped forward into the crowd of winged creatures.

The circle on the left opened slightly, and Gabriel saw both Sarah and Tawny in the midst of a group of demons.   Tawny was on her knees as some of the most rapacious demons hovered over her, waiting for their chance to savage the beautiful woman.  She was lost and terrified, and obviously had no idea where she was.  Her vulnerable beauty made her irresistible to the Dark Ones . They salivated over her, whispering unspeakable things, making dark, painful promises.

Sarah stood beside her friend, one of her hands lightly touching the crown of Tawny’s bright hair.  She opened her lips when she saw Gabe as if she wanted to cry out to him, but she closed them again and continued to meet his gaze in silent appeal.

Belphagor’s human aspect melted away as she stepped toward her kind.  Her leathery wings beat slowly as she joined the group and snarled at them in greeting. She approached Sarah and grasped the girl’s scarred arm. “See?” Belle crooned.  “I told you I’d take you to him.  Here he is.”

Sarah jerked away from her.  “Fuck off,” she said tightly.

A titter ran through the group of demons.

Gabriel looked at the group assembled to his right.  Ariel, Zadkiel, Camael, Uriel, Raphael, Sachiel and Uriel – all but one of his bright brothers stood together in silence, their wings forming a glowing wall of light behind them.  They wore a uniform look of disappointed compassion.

“Well, this is awkward.”  Az cleared his throat. “I guess I’ll wait over here.“ He pointed toward the group of Dark Ones.  “You know how it is.”

Gabe nodded.  “I know.”

He took the leash from Az and unclipped it from the collar surrounding the neck of the tall, powerfully built man beside them.

The man’s white skin glowed like sunlight on snow and his eyes were the color of a midday sky. Faint scars marked the fair skin around his mouth and nose as he gazed eagerly at Gabriel.

“Go to her,” Gabe said softly.

The man turned silently and made his way to Sarah.  He stood beside her and leaned his heavy frame against her.  She stared at him and reached up to touch the vibration collar around his neck.  He ducked his face under her palm as if demanding a caress and leaned more heavily into her.

“Well, that’s something you don’t see everyday,” Az snorted.  He turned to give Gabe’s a thumbs-up before joining the other demons.

“Don’t touch me,” Moloch sneered, moving away from Az’s presence.  “You stink of angels.”

“Oh, chillax, you asshat,” Az responded.  He gestured at the tall albino man.  “My dog will rip your face off.  Ain’t that right, Roni?”

The man glanced briefly at Az.  His upper lip peeled back threateningly.

“Or maybe not,” Az sighed.

Gabriel stood between the opposing groups and stared at the archangels.  “Get Michael,” he said.  “Tell him to bring me the child.”

Uriel held out his hands in appeal.  “Gabriel, don’t do this,” he said.  “Let Michael have the child, and the women can go back to their lives.  This is the way it must be.”

“This is not the way it must be,” Gabriel responded, “and it’s not the way it will be.  I want Michael out here right now and I want the child back.”

Uriel exchanged a look with Camael and they both stepped aside.  Behind them stood Michael, ablaze with heavenly light, with Shine beside him.  Tears were streaming down her face, but she showed no fear of Michael as she clung to his hand.

“Let her go, Michael,” Gabriel demanded.

Michael shook his head.  “The game is over, Brother.  What should have happened ten years ago will happen now and order will be restored.  I’ve explained it all to Shanyáo and she understands.” He smiled down at her.  “She’s a brilliant and gifted child.”

Gabriel held out his hand to her.  “Shine,” he said, “come here to me.”

She sniffed wetly and shook her head.  “I can’t,” she whispered.  “Michael says it’s up to me to fix everything.  That’s what I need to do.”  She glanced up at Michael.  “He promised me it won’t hurt.”

Gabe’s heart sank. “What won’t hurt?”  He stared at Shine, but she burst into tears and looked away.  “What won’t hurt, Michael?” he shouted.  “What did you tell her?”

“The truth, Brother. I’m going to end her earthly life as it should have ended ten years ago.  Then you’re going to take her soul to the Father like you should have taken it ten years ago.  She will be where she belongs and you will be back in with us where you belong.”  Michael smiled. “Everything will be forgiven and everything will be just as it was before you disobeyed the Father.”

Michael gestured at the women.  “The two human women and the – “ He paused.  “- the dog – they will go back to their lives as if this never happened with one notable improvement.”

He looked past Gabe and called, “Demon Asmodeus!”

“Oh, no way, man,” Az whined.  “You gotta leave me the fuck out of this.  I had nothing to do with him snatching the kid.  I just helped him out once in a while, that’s all.”

Michael waved his hand impatiently.  “Open that bag you’re carrying.”

Az started.  “Oh, this?” He swung the duffel bag from his shoulder and placed it on the ground.  “You want me to open this?  Okay.”   He heaved a relieved sigh as he untied the cords and pulled the neck of the bag open.  “Wow.”

Gabriel turned to look and saw rolls of money the size of a man’s fist, hundreds of them.

“So you see?” Michael continued gently.  “You don’t have to worry about the women.  I made sure they will be able to take care of themselves, especially Sarah.  After all, I am her guardian angel, as you know by now.”

Gabriel looked up from the bag of money to Sarah.  She shook her head slightly.  “And if I don’t agree?” he asked Michael.

The other archangel stiffened.  His wings fluttered as he drew them higher above his head.  “The child will still die.  I will take her soul myself.  You will be cast out of the present of the Father forever and the women will be given to the Dark Ones.”

Gabriel considered this for a moment.  The Dark Ones were rustling eagerly, but the archangels remained impassive.

Finally, Gabriel sighed.  “Then there’s only one thing to do.”

He took off his leather jacket, revealing his sadly atrophied wings.  He stretched them out painfully, aware of how stiff and unused they felt against his bare back.  Turning to Camael, he held out his hand.  “I need a sword.”

Camael’s mouth was drawn down in a sorrowful bow, but he nodded as he unsheathed his sword. “Many of us told Michael it would come to this.  And so it has.”

Gabriel took the sword and tested its weight.  Turning once again to Michael, he said, “Some guardian you are, allowing this woman to suffer the pain she’s endured.  You’re not fit to watch over her.  You’re not fit to watch over anyone because you lack the one quality that Sarah has in abundance:  Compassion.”

Michael glared at him. “How dare you?”

“And as for taking the child,” Gabe continued, “you’ll have to kill me first.”

“Gabe, no!” Shine wept.

Michael patted her hand gently before releasing it.  “I’m sorry you have to see this, little one.”

He unsheathed his own sword and stepped forward to meet Gabriel.

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