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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2160941
Mihdael teaches Aleilah basic self-defense
GUARDIAN AT ARMS

THE ANGEL ALEILAH SERIES
BOOK 2 OF 6

Contents

Intro – From Part 1 005

One – Raphael’s Plan 011

Two – Laying the Groundwork 019

Three – Training Begins 035

Four – Conflicts and Contests 045

Five – Night at the Theatre 057

Six – First Trial 065

Seven – Introspection in Eden 071

Eight – Second Trial 085

Nine – Third Trial 089

Ten – Guardian at Arms 095

Eleven – First Blood 101

Twelve – Worthy Foe 105

Thirteen – Small Discovery 117

Fourteen – Hell a la carte 127
EPILOGUE 143


©2000 Melinda S. Reynolds. All Rights Reserved. This is an original work of fiction, and may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author. Short quoted passages allowed for reviewing purposes, but such quoted material must be less than 10% of the total word count and/or content.


NOTE: CHAPTER PAGE NUMBERS ARE FOR 6” X 9” BOOK; THERE ARE 97 PAGES IN 8.5” X 11”, AND NO EXCERPTS.
FURTHER INFO FOR BETA READERS WHO HAVEN’T READ ANGELWARRIORS: EARTHBOUND


All the characters in this series are from the ANGEL WARRIOR series; Aleilah is not in any of the ANGEL WARRIOR books,

Michael – Archangel, Commander of the Army; stoic, steadfast, unyielding… qualities he thinks a Commander should have, but not certain of the effectiveness of those qualities. He is accustomed to being obeyed without question, but tries to be more lenient and receptive toward non-military matters. His six wings are shades of emerald to forest green with gold glints; the inner, smaller pair remained folded most of the time; the larger outer pair used for flying. Tan skin, dark red hair, silver eyes; silver armor, accented with rubies; sword hilt is formed from a single ruby; silver cloak, black tunic.

Mihdael– Michael’s Second-in-Command (and created at Michael’s request), but relieved of duty and that position just before the War in Heaven (EARTHBOUND) dut to his association and friendship with Lucifer. This story takes place after HELLBOUND, and, due to Lucifer’s clever manipuation, Michael and Mihdael are not on good terms; also, Mihdael refuses to re-join the Army or accept Second-in-Command (both offered by Michael). He also takes on and maintains a Dark Angel persona in appearance: Black hair, black wings, gray/black armor and tunic, black cloak, dark skin, dark blue eyes.

Liftheon – Michael’s Third in Command of the Army, and Second in Command to Mihdael. Commands the First Legion in Mihdael’s place. Ebony skin, black hair, golden eyes, gold wings; gold and black armor, red cloak.. Light-hearted and affable, he never questions Michael’s authority or commands.

Raphael – the Healer, and most “human” of the angels. Also the most vocal and open-minded; doesn’t hesitate to voice his opinion about anything to anyone. Red hair, golden skin, green robes; teal wings, two pair.







INTRO:


FROM PART 1 – ANGEL ALEILAH, GUARDIAN & COUNSELOR


CHAPTER ONE


After the Great Flood, God sent Archangel Raphael to Earth to give Noah the Sefer Noah, a book to teach the patriarch and his family how to care for the newly created Earth. Raphael remained to aid in this undertaking as Noah’s preceptor angel, and the Earth’s healing angel.

Upon his return to Heaven, God summoned him and he responded, alighting in the Celestial Courtyard.

“I am here, Father.” He bowed, his jade green eyes revealing his curiosity.

Raphael, the Earth is experiencing a new beginning, and there will be a new beginning in Heaven as well.

“In what way, Father? Thou art not considering flooding Heaven, art Thou?”

Not quite that extensive, Healer; and, hopefully, not that disastrous. I am thinking of creating a new Angel, one with very special duties. I would like thy learned input on this, if it so pleases thou.

“I am honored.” Raphael bowed, then straightened. “What will his duties be?”

This Angel will be a Mediator, amongst Humans as well as the Host of Heaven.


“Then he had best have a formidable aspect and be fearsome of mien if Thou expect the Cherubim to agree with anything, much less be willing to listen to him – as he will be only an Angel.”

God laughed. Quite so. Hast thou any suggestions?

Raphael thought for a moment. “Aggressive, unyielding, dedicated, persevering, and very, very, very patient.”

Brilliant sparks of Light appeared in the air between them, energy surging in white and blue flashes; deep purple plasma suffused the widening arcs, carrying the Angel’s foundation of being.

“Will he be tall, and big, and fearsome of mien?”

Not ‘he’, Raphael, she. He placed emphasis on the last word.

“She?!” Raphael’s surprise gave way to delight. “She...” he mused. “You said he, er, she would be a Mediator. I fear the higher Choirs – the Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphs – will be most difficult. They will disdain an Angel’s advice, and presence, amongst them. There will be comparisons with the Ha-Satan, with Eve of Eden... especially with the Cherubim. Unless, of course,” he added with a grin, “She is tall and big and fearsome of mien.”

Art thou not the ruling Prince of the Cherubim?

“Oh, I see; it falls on me, then.” He gave a fatalistic shrug of shoulders and wings. “Sometimes being a Prince is not all it is cracked up to be.”

A wave of God’s hand, and the energy shifted, and reformed.

Raphael smiled, nodding with approval as the Angel’s energy contracted to a brilliant, pale violet outline. Petite and feminine, the Angel knelt before the Creator.

Thy name will be ‘Aleilah’, a spirit born of God. Thou shalt mediate, and aid the Host when called upon; thou shalt arbitrate Human affairs as well, as decreed by My Will. Doest thou accept this role, and vow thy soul and life to Me?


“Yes, Father, with great joy.”

~~~~~~~~~~
And Aleilah joined the ranks of the angels, the only one of her kind among the Host of Heaven.

Accepted and respected by all, she found herself mesmerized by the Army’s Commander… an Archangel who had no time or interest in her. At first…

She fell in love, and fell from Grace, sentenced to live on Earth as a mortal female until such a time she could return to Heaven as an Angel, no longer desiring the Archangel who remained beyond her reach.

Longing to return to Heaven and her fellow angels, she asked God for mercy… and a favor.

Reluctantly, God granted her request to lose all memory of her love for Archangel Michael; that she would view him as simply another Archangel.

However, Michael disapproved, and regretted his attitude towards her. He determined to wait her out, and keep her past and secrets for her, until such a time as God decided to return all she wanted to forget.

But Michael would never forget, nor forgive himself for his role in her decision


Chapter One
Raphael’s Plan


CIRCA 1991 – Heaven:

“Oh, Rafe,” Aleilah smiled up at the Archangel. “It is not that bad, really--” She watched as Raphael’s healing teal green AngelFire enveloped her reclining form.

“Bad enough that I had to bring you here personally.” Archangel Raphael shook his head, his green eyes betraying his amusement. “If you insist on arguing with such unsavory characters, Leea, at least make certain of their true natures.”

“I was not arguing; I was pointing out alternatives. Their leader had a very good disguise--I did not realize it was one of Berrat’s minions. It looked very human. Well,” she amended, watching with interest as one of the deeper slashes began to heal, “his face looked human; the rest was covered up.”

“No doubt to conceal its extra set of arms,” Raphael commented dryly. “He made up in savagery what he lacked in size... and brains.”

Neither reprimand nor expressions of concern, he knew, would alter this Angel’s commitment to duty. He had responded to her mental call for aid, and quickly transported both of them to his Retreat, safely tucked away in the foothills on the outskirts of Heaven. Fortunately, the only witness to that was now deceased.

Although the wounds were not fatal, if left unattended, the blood loss would have been detrimental to her in her human form. A form she insisted on maintaining even while he healed her.

“I want to be certain,” she had offered in way of an explanation, “that I appear no differently -- aside from the healed over wounds that a human would normally have from such injuries -- when I return to Earth to finish my mission.”

“At least promise me you will call for someone, if you get cornered like that again.” A sudden breeze gusted through the large, open archways, ruffling his greenish-teal feathers, and scattering strands of long, curly red hair across his lean, bronzed features.

“I think I did pretty good.” Aleilah gave him a hurt look. “After all, he was twice my size, and I managed to hold him off until you whisked me away.”

Raphael nodded. “That you did; however, you still sustained quite a bit of damage.”

Her expression changed to one of adoration. “Not as much damage as he sustained. You were…simply incredible! The way you tore into him, I almost felt sorry for the despicable toad! Mihdael told me you were a fearsome fighter, but I never realized how much! I am surprised Michael has not drafted you as one of his Lieutenants.”

The Healer smiled, accepting the praise with grace. “’Tis but one of my skills, to extinguish such Evil whenever I can. Like Mihdael, I, too, was trained by Michael, and I am always willing to respond to his call to arms.”

As the healing neared completion, Aleilah sat up and gazed past the Archangel, into the garden just visible past the far archway. “Speaking of Mihdael--how is he? I have had no time to inquire about him, but I am very glad to know he is back with us again.”

“He is…progressing.” He stepped back, surveying his handiwork. Freshly healed wounds with pinkish scars now curved over her arms, shoulders, and back. Her waist length, blue-black hair covered most of them. “Try to finish this mission in one piece, Angel; will you do that for me?”

She gave him a quick hug. “Thanks, Rafe.” The air sparkled around her as she began to fade away, leaving the lasting impression of her impertinent grin. “And you worry too much, ya know?”

“Hmmffffttt! If I did not worry, and constantly watch over you, who would?”

The last few energy sparks had just faded when a quiet voice interrupted Raphael’s introspection. “Was that Aleilah?”

The Archangel tried to hide his surprise, and satisfaction, at the unexpected question. He turned, smiling at the warrior. “Yes; she needed some repairs.” He was less successful, however, at concealing his concern over Mihdael’s appearance.

Not only did Mihdael persist in wearing one of the Healer’s long, hooded robes, but the Warrior still retained his Dark Angel image; an image at variance with his true nature.

“Is she well?”

“About as well as you are.”

“It has been…a very long time since I last saw her.” A deep sorrow glinted in the Warrior’s steel blue eyes. “Although she is not allowed to communicate with me, I was always warmed just by her presence.”

An idea occurred to the Healer, a way to accomplish two purposes at once. Aleilah needed to learn some form of self-defense; Mihdael needed to concentrate on something other than his current situation.

Aleilah’s self-imposed memory loss diminished her vivacious, out-going character; she took risks, unmindful of the consequences to herself and others. And Mihdael... His three-year sojourn in Hell – while it could be deemed successful – left a lasting impression, and deep, inner scars.

Both turned inward to cope with their personal problems, and neither would actively seek out help from another. Raphael smiled wryly to himself. With careful planning, the two angels could help each other out.

“I had thought to ask Michael to train her in the basics of self-defense,” Raphael began in an off-handed way. He knew of the less-than-satisfactory meeting between Mihdael and Michael from Uriel, and he gambled that Mihdael would not want Michael to be the one to teach her.

The warrior remained silent, a troubled expression on his face.

“Do you not agree? After all, Michael trained you…”

“Exactly. Which is why I think it would be best that someone else teach her. Michael can be very exacting, and critical.”

“Liftheon, perhaps? He would be willing, and they are very good friends. He would not be so demanding of her.”

“No, he would not; but it would be like a game to them. She would not take such lessons from him seriously.”

“Who would you suggest?”

“Asiriel is patient, yet persistent--but he is guarding the Outer Regions. Kahiel or Laviel… no, they are assigned to the Thrones at the moment… Matafiel has trained several of his bowmen; however, he is guarding the Dark Universe… Adriel would be--no, he is patrolling the Outer Rim…” his voice trailed off, brow furrowed.

The Healer tried to keep the pleased smile off his face--not only was Mihdael beginning to think outside of his own frame of reference, but to know where and what the other Warriors were doing was a positive sign. He just needed a bit more motivation. “It seems most of the warriors are either on assignment or unavailable. Perhaps I should--”

“No disrespect intended, Raphael, but you are too much like Liftheon. It would turn into a game, and you would become exasperated with her.”

“You seem to know her well. At least, well enough to be aware of what she needs to learn. Are you volunteering?” The Archangel waited, hoping he hadn’t been too quick or too obvious.

A surprised expression crossed the warrior’s drawn features, and he seemed at a loss for an answer. “I… would not be able to do so,” he finally found the words.

“How so?” Raphael frowned. It wasn’t like Mihdael to doubt his abilities. “You are the best Warrior in Michael’s army, and you have an innate--and enviable--talent for relating to others on a common level.”

“God has forbidden the Angelic Host--with the exception of yourself and Michael--to interact with me in any way. She would not be allowed to speak to me, or even remain in my presence.” The deeply felt pain and sorrow returned--in his dark eyes, his tone, his very attitude; more so now than before. The separation from the Angelic Host had been difficult for him before, but now… “How am I to train her under such conditions?”

Raphael kept his expression carefully neutral. “If I could have an exception made in this instance, would you agree to her training?”

“To be able to communicate with any angel once more, I would agree to run naked through the streets of Heaven.” Although he didn’t smile, his somber mood lightened.

“That might be entertaining, but I do not believe it will be necessary,” Raphael said, smiling broadly.

This was the first instance Mihdael had given of being interested in anything outside of his own immediate problems. Not only would he ask God that the ‘non-communication’ ban be lifted from Aleilah, but from Liftheon as well. Mihdael needed the companionship of his fellow angels if he was to heal emotionally as well as physically.

The Warrior nodded, almost eagerly. “Then, yes, I would agree to train her in basic self-defense. If she also agrees.”

“I would not be concerned about that. She will no doubt be willing to add any expertise to her repertoire of talents. Her current mission will be finished soon, and I will petition God on her behalf that you be allowed to train her.”

A bit of sparkle returned to Mihdael’s somber eyes. “I think I would enjoy that, Healer.”

Chapter Two
Raphael Lays the Groundwork


I
Archangel Raphael, Prince of the Cherubim and one of the Seven Archangels who stood in the Presence of God, sometimes felt quite powerless.

As the Angel of Healing, he felt personally responsible for the well-being--spiritual, emotional, and physical--of all the Host of Heaven. His healing powers were second only to God, and as the preceptor Angel of many of Mankind’s great leaders of the Biblical world, he had a deep and vast understanding of the emotional and mental state, and how one’s perceptions of oneself, and of others, could not only influence, but dictate and define, one’s relationships.

Knowing that was one thing; being able to implement such knowledge was something else altogether.

Raphael fully understood Archangel Michael’s misgivings concerning his Second-in-Command; after all, few returned from Hell unscathed and unscarred. Conversely, he fully understood Mihdael’s reactions to the Archangel; the Army’s Commander could be tactless and severe, never knowing he was so. He could counsel both, but could not ensure that such counsel would be accepted and acted upon.

But Mihdael was too valuable to lose to the depths of depression, and he could not pull out of it on his own. Aleilah had become a very necessary part of Heaven, and he did not want to risk losing her to an overzealous demon or minion.

Deep in his musings, he found himself at God’s House. The muted songs of the Seraphim Choir settled over him, calming and suffusing his soul with praises of their Creator.

Raphael, enter and stand before Me.


The Healer flew through the great, golden doors as they opened at his approach. He alighted before the Golden Throne, and knelt. “My Lord God, I seek Your aid to implement fully the duties You have given me.”

Rise, and state thy request.

“You are aware of the mental and physical states of your Angels, Aleilah and Mihdael; I am given charge of their well-being, to provide Healing as needed. They need more than I alone can provide, Father. They need the support and curative interactions from shared experiences.”

He paused, uncertain how to continue without questioning God’s decree.

Continue.

“I respectfully request that the non-communication ban You have placed against Mihdael be lifted. To complete Aleilah’s Healing, and to return Mihdael to his former state of mind, he must be able to interact with others. I ask that You reinstate the former status quo for Mihdael as needed for Angel Aleilah and Angel Liftheon. While Aleilah and Mihdael will find solace in each other, Liftheon will be the balance and the conduit between them.” Raphael spoke steadily and with conviction. He bowed, then stood, awaiting God’s decision.

The gentle, harmonious hymns filled the silence as God considered Raphael’s request. He fixed the Healer with a kind, but somewhat stern, look.

I know thou wouldst not make such a request lightly, Healer, knowing as thou doest the reason for Mihdael’s penance for his transgressions. However, I do not want to hamper his recovery from the detrimental effects from his stay in Hell.

Nor do I wish to deprive Aleilah any source of support and understanding that would aid her. I will grant thy request, but only for the duration of Aleilah’s weapons training.

Raphael’s eyes widened with astonishment. “But... I did not mention—” Then he grimaced, shaking his head. “I do not know why I even bother talking to You. I should just pound on the door and ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. It would save me a lot of time and effort.”

God smiled, settling back. Thou hast nothing more to add?

“Not aloud.”

Then return to thy duties, Healer, and implement thy plan. Know that I approve, and commend thy wisdom.

Raphael bowed. “Thank You, Father.”

II

The Healer smiled to himself. Aleilah had been, from the moment of her creation, a unique and unparalleled experience. His gentle smile became a broad grin, then outright laughter at the memory of Michael’s first vision of her…

She had been created shortly after his visit to Noah, to deliver to the Patriarch the Sefer Noah, and to provide his aid to the rebirth of the Earth. And the newly ‘created’ Earth was a renewal in more ways than one--a new Angel was to be created as well. He had been surprised that God had sought him out for suggestions, and pleased that those suggestions had been taken to heart--His Heart.

There had been considerable give and take on how she would ultimately appear, but the Healer was more than pleased at her gentle, petite appearance that belied a core of steel determination.

God had presented her to the Heavenly Host in a special ceremony just for her. She was a beautiful, delicate creation, newly formed and untried; innocent in thought and spirit. Her position of Guardian and Counselor fit her well, and suited her curious, free-willed nature.

She proved to be wiser than any of them knew, or gave her credit for, at first. In her role as mediator, the older, more powerful Host would have been on their guard against another male Angel, or even an adult female; but to see a young female before them, willing to listen and advise with a wisdom born of God… that was different. They made allowances for her, and in so doing, made allowances for themselves.

The mid-to-lower Choirs viewed her as completely neutral, and therefore willing to listen to her advice.

And the Angels and the Warriors saw her almost as a kindred spirit--youthful, full of fun and a zest for life. The Angels welcomed her among them, and the Warriors practically adopted her.

At first, before Michael made a difference…

The Archangel had been absent during her presentation. Away on a mission of routing demons in some far-off dimension, by the time he had returned to Heaven the Earth had orbited its Sun many times. He was totally unaware of the new member of the Heavenly Host, and God had not brought him up to date.

The Healer had made it a point to be nearby when she literally ran into the Army’s Commander in Eden. He would not have missed that event for all the wine in Heaven. Never had he seen such an astounded expression on the face of an Archangel, and traces of that first impression still lingered on Michael’s stern features.

And then the subtle change occurred. All the Heavenly Host--either consciously or not--had a tendency to take their cues from Michael. A young female Angel, who aggravated him incessantly, yet adored him above all other angels, was something so far outside of his experience that he had no idea how to deal with her. Michael made the first mistake of telling her how she should appear, the second mistake of telling her how she should behave, and the third mistake of not realizing he had made the first two.

Raphael frowned a bit at how fast those few errors in judgment had precipitated so many unfortunate events. He was never certain how it had happened. There didn’t seem to be any one event where he could point to it, and say with any degree of confidence: ‘There, that is where it started.’ He only knew that it had happened, and Aleilah had very nearly been lost to them forever.

Her brief existence on Earth as a mortal had happened without his knowledge or approval; neither had he been allowed to interfere when Michael was sent as her Guardian Angel. That, he would have told them, was not the best decision God ever made – to place the one Archangel she had come to ‘love to loathe’ in charge of her well-being. And the only member of the Host allowed to help her.

The faint strains of the viola came to him, and Raphael was not at all pleased that the notes were as mournful and depressing as ever. They were so much alike, he realized with a start.

Before Aleilah, Mihdael had been the youngest Angel in Heaven…

Before Aleilah, Mihdael had been the smallest Angel in Heaven…

And before Aleilah, Mihdael had been the most misunderstood Angel in Heaven.

And like Aleilah, he had been created to the limits of perfection and purity; he had been granted Free Will to make the decisions that would affect his entire existence.

Raphael hadn’t been involved in Mihdael’s creation, and the Warrior’s initiation into the Heavenly Host had been more or less a matter of course. He served as Michael’s Second-in-Command, pretty much cut and dried in and of itself.

Mihdael had brought youth and a vigorous vitality to the staid Army, had discovered the wonders of Creation and Eden outside of his station as Warrior, and had incurred his Commander’s displeasure more than once. It wasn’t that Mihdael intentionally did anything to embarrass, or irritate, or mortify the Archangel--it just seemed to turn out that way.

And he was courageous to the point of foolhardiness; Raphael knew of no other Angel--not even Uriel--who would stand up to Michael as Mihdael had done. The Warrior never hesitated to question the Archangel’s orders if he thought those orders were inappropriate or too severe; and he did so with respect, with never a hint of insolence. He bore Michael’s ill-humor with patience worthy of a saint, and weathered his Commander’s temper with good humor in most cases, and with shield to sword in a rare few cases.

Until Michael made a mistake, the first of many concerning Mihdael.

And nearly cost the Warrior everything he had and everything he was.

Yet through it all, Mihdael remained forgiving and loyal--until recently. Raphael had never realized the full extent of Michael’s actions until he had attempted to heal Mihdael after the Archangel had ‘rescued’ him from Hell. And even then, Mihdael defended him; but he had his limits, and the Healer was fearful that the Warrior was fast reaching his limit with Michael.

The situation with Michael and Aleilah was very similar--albeit with one important exception. But the results were very nearly the same, and Raphael determined that Michael’s contentious history with Mihdael would not repeat itself with Aleilah.

He had decided, after considerable meditation, to simply tell Liftheon and Aleilah that Mihdael would be training her in basic self-defense, that it was a form of therapy for him to get him ‘back on track’, and then rely on the close bond between the two warriors and Aleilah to see them all through it--successfully.

Mihdael’s problem was short-term and specific; Aleilah’s was constant, and, well, nebulous. They could, however, help each other to some extent. Their major problems stemmed from the same source, and they would be able to find strength in each other.

And then, Raphael promised himself, he’d deal with the Archangel responsible for it all.

III

“Raaaafe…” As she called out, Aleilah leaned into the elegant, open archway to Raphael’s earthbound Retreat.

The Healer’s personal aerie soared into the heavens as all other aeries, but his Retreat was the only angel ‘residence’ anchored on the ground. Composed of three connecting domes of filigree arches, his Sanctuary extended along the low foothills. Set back from the others, the main, central dome nestled up against the mountainside, with cantilevered balconies hovering over lakes and valleys.

The East and West domes, connected to the Main Dome by flower laden pergolas and open framework archways, extended over the lake. Waterfalls fell from the marbled ledges of the tiered levels of the West Dome, with crystal, gemlike flora draping every level.

Towering evergreens flanked the vineyards surrounding the East Dome, the forest blending into the woodland edging the mountain range. The vineyards, like the myriad gardens, were interspersed with small courtyards and alcoves – peacefully remote areas for solitude and meditation.

Next to Eden, Aleilah loved the Retreat more than any other venue in Heaven, and visited the vast gardens, forests, and vineyards as often as possible.

She called out again. “Rafe, we are her--” she broke off suddenly.

“Theo, stop that!” She slapped playfully at the dark Angel’s large hand. “You know I hate that!” She sent AngelFire over her russet coverts and arches, smoothing down the small, gently glowing feathers that he had brushed backward.

“I know,” he grinned at her, “but you look adorable with your feathers all ruffed out--and you have such a cute vexed expression.”

“Cute? I will give you cute!” She managed a half-way convincing look of anger, and her delicate wings lifted her to his eye-level. Pale lavender AngelFire flashed from her slim hands, arced around Liftheon’s mass of blue-black curls, and frizzed them out until he looked like a dark, over-blown Dandelion. She giggled. “Now, that is cute!”

The Archangel entered the foyer at that moment, smiling in spite of himself. He arched an auburn eyebrow at the Warrior. “Is that a new look for you, Liftheon? You appear to be trapped in an energy field.”

“Ah, I am trapped by this one’s quirky humor!” The ready grin flashed again, and his hair returned to normal with a quick surge of his own AngelFire.

“Nothing he doesn’t deserve.” Aleilah smiled at the big warrior.

“Anyway,” she continued, and shoved Liftheon in the side with mock roughness. He laughed lightly, and she strode past him as though he wasn't there. She entered the retreat ahead of the warrior, tossing a smile back at the ebony Angel. “You wanted to see us about something?”

The Healer nodded as they entered. Indicating for them to follow, he crossed the foyer to the side garden. “Actually, I have two reasons for asking you here…”

Aleilah settled lightly on one end of a green marble bench, and Liftheon placed a foot on the other end, resting an arm across his bent knee. They waited, silent and attentive, for Raphael to continue.

Raphael stood before them, contemplating his words, and his amused expression faded. “First, both of you are aware that Mihdael is still recovering here at my Retreat?”

“Yes.” They answered together, and Aleilah added, “He is all right, is he not? You have not called us here because he is--”

“No, no, he is progressing…”

“That is what you told me last time I was here, and that was quite a while ago. A Healing shouldn’t take this long, should it?”

“Normally, no; but this is not a normal Healing.” Raphael crossed to a small table, poured wine from an emerald carafe into three long stemmed glasses. He handed the wine to them, then settled into a large chair opposite the two angels.

“Physically, Mihdael has nearly recovered; emotionally... he is constantly on the edge. His temper usually has a long fuse, but now he has tenuous control, at best.

“His nerves are frayed, and a normally innocent remark or action could set him off. His innate constraint is deficient, due to his, um, contact with HellFire.”

Raphael left out the fact that where Lucifer and Satan had failed with Mihdael, Michael had unwillingly achieved. There was no need, he felt, to create further conflict within the angelic ranks.

“He may look and sound strong, but he is not. He is far from being up to par. I know your little sparring sessions can get… involved; Mihdael has a tendency to overdo, and overestimates his own recovery.”

“Mihdael has not attended any combat practice sessions, nor are any scheduled specifically for him.” The big Warrior nodded, eyes solemn. “However, I will be watchful.”

“Just do not get too rambunctious.”

Aleilah smiled faintly at her brother Angel. “Anything else we can do or say to help?”

“Tread carefully. He has opened up some over the past few Turns, but not enough. Listening is important; if he wants to talk, let him. Offer advice if he is receptive to it, but do not broach a touchy or painful subject on your own. He will withdraw and undo all that has been accomplished.”

Aleilah sipped the tart beverage, then offered, “In other words: Michael.”

She and Raphael exchanged appreciative looks, and Liftheon gave both a puzzled stare. “But... Mihdael has to deal with this problem between himself and Michael, and come to terms with it. I spoke to him shortly after his return to Heaven, and when I mentioned Michael’s invasion of Hell to rescue him, he became angered. I did not expect that, or understand it, but he would not explain. To continue as he has does not bode well.”

“Exactly. Which is why I called both of you here: to discuss a possible solution. Or at least,” he added with a wry smile, “the beginning of one...”

IV

Liftheon and Aleilah had been the easier task.

Now, all he had to do was speak with Michael.

The Archangel Commander, punctual as usual, arrived shortly after Liftheon and Aleilah departed. Raphael explained his plan in quick, short sentences, not allowing the Archangel to interrupt. He finished with a stern look. “I do not want you to place undue stress upon him.” The Healer’s tone left no room for argument.

“ ‘Undue stress?’ ” The silver eyes met his with the same sternness. “He is an Angel; such does not apply to Angels.”

Raphael gave his brother Archangel a narrow-eyed look. “Michael… in other words: Allow Mihdael to train Aleilah as he sees fit.”

Michael started to protest, and Raphael forestalled him. “DO NOT,” he added emphatically, “circumvent my proposal for Liftheon and Aleilah to aid in his recovery by replacing him as Aleilah’s instructor. God has agreed to my plan, and has allowed both Liftheon and Aleilah to interact with Mihdael for the duration of her training.”

Michael considered, then gave a short nod. “I have no objection to that; it could very well be the motivation that Mihdael needs in order to re-claim his post in Heaven. He will not accept such aid from me, but I am certain--as you are--that Liftheon and Aleilah will be able to accomplish what we cannot.”

“I have explained it all to them; they know what to expect.”

Michael paced a few steps, pausing at the broad archway that opened out onto the marble courtyard. The golden light glanced off his silver armor, glinted in gold highlights on his emerald wings; wings that shifted occasionally with discomfort. “My only misgiving is that Mihdael has no experience training other Angels. It is an exacting responsibility, and requires discipline from both parties.”

He turned to face the Healer, features lined with concern. “Ordinarily, Mihdael would be very patient and persistent with her; but now his mental and emotional state is somewhat suspect--else, you would not have considered such a ploy.”

He hesitated, obviously uncomfortable discussing his Warrior's questionable mental state, even with Raphael. “I fear he will be either too lenient with her; or worse, that his frayed nerves will give way to his temper, and he will be too harsh with her.”

Michael…” Raphael refrained from another frustrated sigh. “She is quite aware of Mihdael’s emotional state, and it is the closeness that she shares with him that will enable her to deal with any situation. She is not a fragile thing of porcelain. After all,” he grinned suddenly, “She has weathered your tempestuous tirades quite well. What could Mihdael say, or do, to even equal your mildest diatribe?”

“Nevertheless, I intend to monitor her training, and I will intercede if necessary.”

“Just make certain,” Raphael cautioned, “that it is necessary.”

Chapter Three
Training Begins

I
“Now, pay attention, Leea.” Mihdael indicated how to assume a defensive stance. “It is important that you understand everything I tell you.”

“Yes, Michael,” she giggled.

“That is not a good start,” he said severely, but with an amused smile.

They stood alone on one of the practice fields just outside of Eden. Mihdael had dispensed with Raphael’s long robes, and now wore a basic tunic and light armor. Not his own personal armor, but the grayish, unadorned practice armor. Aleilah wore only a short-sleeved, white tunic. As she did not wear any type of armor in her normal duties, she would be trained as such.

The warrior was glad, for the first time since the Decree was proclaimed, that the Heavenly Host were not allowed around him. He did not want Aleilah training before an audience of angels, especially the Cherubim Archangels. The Angels would be a distraction, and the Cherubim would be openly – and loudly – critical.

“Okay, Mihdael. What do I do first?”

“First, know your own abilities and limitations. Never let the enemy know you have any weaknesses or limitations.”

“I fear my limitation is very obvious.”

“And what is that, Little One?”

“Exactly what you said. My size. I am much smaller and shorter than everyone else.”

“Do not take that as a limitation. Am I as big and tall as the other warriors?”

“Well, no…” She gazed up at him, undaunted; he stood a head taller than she did. She could never see the ‘prideful nature’ that the Cherubim continually attributed to him of having; she found a kindred soul with Mihdael as they shared the disapproval of the elitist Cherubim Archangels. Although the shortest warrior in Heaven’s Army, his self-confidence was legend, and not even the armor could conceal the power in his muscular frame. “But--”

“No; no excuses, not for anything. My smaller size and shorter height has been an advantage for me more than a disadvantage. It will be so for you as well.”

“You, and Liftheon, and Michael…and all the other warriors--you make it look so easy; so…simple. You move effortlessly, and with unnerving calmness and precision. How could I ever hope to learn such exact techniques, when I cannot even perform a simple back-flip without landing on my as-- er, rear?”

Mihdael smiled at her plaintive tone, and placed a large hand on her shoulder. “Such is true, Little One; the Warriors were created to be expert fighters. But you have abilities that not even the most seasoned Warrior possesses. Those are the abilities that we will hone to perfection.”

She looked up at her taller brother, eyes wide. “What abilities, Mihdael? Tell me.”

Aside from Liftheon, Mihdael was the only other warrior--or angel for that matter--who accepted her as she was, and never belittled her. No matter what image she chose, or how she behaved, or when she was less than ‘Angelic’ in temperament, he never became angry or frustrated with her.

“First, you have the inherent aspect of innocence, of one unaccustomed to warfare--”

“Well, that is true. My battles are more verbal than physical.”

“Exactly, and that will give you the upper hand at the start. The enemy will not be expecting you to match them.”

“And they are right; I have the bruises to prove it.”

“Second,” Mihdael continued, “as I mentioned before: your size. You will be able to out-maneuver your opponent. That, combined with speed and agility, will give you the edge you need over your larger, heavier opponents. You will have your enemy on the ground, your sword at his throat, before he is even aware of what has happened.”

“You certainly know how to make a girl feel good about herself.” She grinned at him, and was rewarded with a faint smile. It wasn’t the dazzling smile she was accustomed to seeing, but it was a start.

She knew only the bare basics of what the rest of the angels in Heaven already knew about Mihdael’s recent sojourn in Hell. Raphael had respected the warrior’s privacy, and had not given her any details of Mihdael’s ordeals in Satan’s domain. But she only had to look at him -- and the image he now wore did not fool her, no matter how darkly fearsome he appeared -- and listen to him, to know how devastating it had been for him.

Deep down, she really didn’t relish the thought of being trained to kill in the most efficient way possible. However, she wanted to alleviate her brother’s internal pain, and if Raphael believed that this would help Mihdael to cope, then she would do it.

“The warriors are always given the choice of weapons. Do you have a preference, Aleilah?”

“Welll…” She considered for a moment. “I don’t want anything too obvious. So the lance and longbow are out, but a sword would be too large and cumbersome for me, too.” She gave him an impish look. “You recall what happened the time I tried to even lift your sword, much less use it defensively.”

He did laugh this time, an amused chuckle at the memory. “Yes, but you must remember, my sword is attuned to my spirit; it is meant for me and no other. Just as your weapon will be attuned to your spirit by God--once your training is completed.”

“Something smaller than a sword,” she mused, “that can be easily concealed, or go unnoticed. A small dagger?”

Mihdael nodded thoughtfully. “I recall Liftheon suggesting the same thing. But not too small; it must still be effective.”

Aleilah watched as the air between them shimmered, and a dagger--its blade the length of her forearm--appeared. It was composed of a dull, grayish metal; a practice weapon only. Another weapon appeared next to it: a gray metallic sword. Mihdael took the sword, and gave the dagger to her.

“These are for practice only, Leea; the blades can cut, but you will feel no pain. The injuries will heal almost immediately, but you will know where your weakness lies.

“Learn your weaknesses first, and your strengths will follow…”

II
Mihdael flew the utmost height of Heaven’s golden sky, not wanting to draw attention of any of the other Host. However, one Archangel could locate him anywhere in the Universe, and he frowned as he received Michael’s mental command.

~Mihdael, I would speak with you…~

~I am on my way to the Practice Field; I do not have much time.~ Or any desire to see or talk to his Commander.

~This will not take long. I request your presence.~

~As you will, Commander.~ The warrior responded off-handedly. He’d been expecting the Archangel to intervene at some point, but not this soon. Despite the annoyance, he acknowledged a trickle of amusement at the mental image of the Archangel lying in wait for him. He angled his flight into a gradual downward spiral, and alighted near the main Armory building where Michael awaited him.

The Archangel acknowledged his arrival with a short nod, then plunged in. “Raphael has informed me,” he began in a carefully measured, non-confrontational tone, “that you have taken upon yourself the matter of Aleilah’s combat training.”

“It is hardly ‘combat training’; I have agreed to instruct her on basic self-defense.” Mihdael remained several paces away, wanting the conversation to end quickly. Michael, however, seemed quite content to waste his time.

“I have given the matter some thought, and--”

“No.” He definitely did not want this discussion.

Michael looked at him, surprised. The Archangel still could not reconcile this dark-haired, black-winged, bronzed-skinned angel as Mihdael; it was too disconcerting. He had hoped that he had made it clear at their last conversation that such drastic measures were not necessary--or even wanted. Apparently, the warrior disagreed. “As Commander, it is my prerogative to oversee any type of warrior training for the Angels.”

“I have no objection to your ‘overseeing’ her training; however, she is not a warrior, and will not be trained as such.”

“That is a point I would discuss with you--”

“No.”

Michael bristled, unaccustomed to hearing that word twice in a lifetime, much less twice in as many minutes. “Might I remind you that--”

“Commander, unless you plan on supplanting me as her instructor, there is nothing else you need say to me.”

As Raphael had been very clear on that particular point, the Archangel resisted saying what he wanted to say. Raphael’s instructions, and his own memories of the whip of Hellfire burning and tearing through Mihdael’s back and shoulders--done so only because the Archangel himself had enabled it, kept his temper in check. “You have never trained any of the warriors… or angels. You would find my advice helpful.”

“I need only to choose the part of my training as applies to her in her job as Guardian. As she is usually in human form, and on Earth in that capacity, I am training her in her human form. She will be able to defend against any human adversary, and against most inhuman ones. I will also teach her how to be more aggressive, and to head off an attack before it actually occurs.”

Michael nodded. “That is a well considered plan, as far as it goes…” The Archangel brushed by, his voice taking on a more authoritative tone. Re-establishing the status quo was the only way he knew how to deal with the situation between himself and Mihdael.

“Aleilah has no idea of physical discipline, and while her mental capacities are well-suited to her duties, they will not lend themselves to defensive training as they are. She will need a firm hand to keep her focused on her goals, and stern guidance to keep her on track to her objective.

“You cannot be lenient with her, and still expect her to react with proper self-discipline. She will need her reflexes honed to lightning swiftness until her fighting skills are the equal of any threat she may face.”

“For one who has given her very little attention, and even less of your time, since her creation, you now know what she needs?” Mihdael didn’t wait for an answer, “Aleilah has been very diligent and attentive thus far; she recognizes the importance of her training. She has, in my opinion, done quite well.”

“She will still require an unwavering, steadfast attitude that will brook no lighthearted, less than serious, response from her. Or worse, encourage such a response.” Maintaining a reasonable tone, he added, “I know you well, Mihdael. You have a tendency to overlook her faults, and ignore—”

Mihdael finally exhausted what little patience he had left. “Do you doubt my ability to train her properly?” The last thing he needed at this point was his Commander’s continuing doubt and mistrust of his judgment. Why couldn’t he just say ‘Let me know if you need any help or advice; otherwise, carry on…’? Was that so difficult for the Archangel, to express any degree of confidence in him? Apparently, it was…

Michael bucked up, unyielding as ever. “You have no experience as such. It is not a sign of weakness to accept suggestions from a more experienced--”

“Understand this, Commander: I do not want your suggestions!” So be it, then. If Michael wanted to continue to be a stubborn ass, fine; that did not mean he had to suffer it. “I do not even want your presence at any point during her training.”

“Understood, Warrior. Be aware, too, that I will intervene at any time and place that I deem such intervention to be necessary.” The huge, emerald wings extended, preparatory to flight. “And be aware, also, of your place, Warrior.” With that, the wings swept him aloft.

Mihdael seethed inwardly; he recognized a threat--no, an intention--when he heard it. The anger coursed through him, with no one or nothing to vent it upon. He knew he would have to calm down; he was on his way to Aleilah’s next lesson.

Changing into his natural state of pure energy, he took off with the speed of a comet. Mihdael flew with all the speed he could muster, letting his anger burn away in the heat and AngelFire flaring in his wake. It took a bit longer than he expected, but he would not return to Heaven until he felt certain he had expended his negative energy.

Chapter Four
Conflicts and Contests


I
Flying within sight of the training area, Mihdael heard the clash of swords. Frowning, he banked, braking quickly when he recognized Aleilah and Liftheon sparring. No, not sparring. Playing… Doing exactly what he had so vehemently denied, and Michael had insisted would occur.

His anger simmered, then quickly boiled over; anger he would not have felt, much less given into, prior to his descent into Hell. The moment he touched the ground, he shoved Liftheon aside, out of his way, neither speaking nor looking at his Second-in-Command. Liftheon stared at him, too startled to react.

Aleilah continued to fool around, laughing; Mihdael easily blocked the downward thrust of her dagger as she swung around, not expecting to see him there.

Mihdael grabbed her chin in his hand roughly, Aleilah's exuberance letting his anger get the better of him. His grip wasn’t enough to be painful, but she couldn’t move. She stared up at him, frozen with shock.

“Do you think this is a game, Aleilah? Do you think you will survive a battle with a light heart that is quick to laugh?" His voice grew dark, like his skin, and she wasn't sure how to answer him.

Liftheon came forward, teeth clenched and weapon glowing. He knew that to challenge Mihdael would be hazardous--especially in his current state of mind--but he was handling Aleilah in a way that made his Angelic blood boil. "Release your hold on our sister, Mihdael. Else you shall face one more suited to your temperament." To blazes with Raphael’s cautions; enough was enough, and in this case, too much.

Mihdael looked up at him, away from Aleilah's eyes. She watched him, seeing the dark anger brewing in his face. She felt the energy from Liftheon's blade near her back as he stepped closer to Mihdael.

"I said, let her go." The big warrior’s tone boded trouble, and she realized neither one of them would back down from a confrontation, or a fight.

Aleilah felt she was in no danger from Mihdael. She sensed a deep concern underlying his actions, and any anger he felt wasn’t directed at her. It was directed inward, where it simmered and boiled, seeking any release before it consumed him. She would have to defuse this situation somehow.

Briefly, with one hand behind her back, she indicated with quick, short waves for Liftheon to back away. He glanced at it, but chose only to stay still, rather than move in either direction.

Mihdael’s dark brows drew together over angry eyes, and he was about to respond to the ebony Angel, when he felt Aleilah's small hand on his forearm. It did not grip him tightly as if to push him off. It did not grip him at all; it rested there, a light, calming touch. She looked deeply into his eyes, and he saw that hers held no fear.

"What vexes thee, my brother?"

Her voice was gentle and kind, almost undetectable. Even as such, it went screaming though his head with the silence that had befallen the trio. Her words sent reverberations of guilt though his very soul, for he knew he was forgiven before he was even accused. And his actions had been worse than unwarranted, they had been unjustifiable. Perhaps Michael had been right to question his competency.

Mihdael released her immediately, and he stared down at his hand, perplexed and saddened. His anger drained away, quenched by an ice-cold wave of humiliation. What was he doing? He had never reacted with violence to Aleilah’s playful nature; he had never laid a hand on her with anything other than affection and good-will. She had done nothing wrong; she wasn’t involved with any lessons, she was being her usual light-hearted self with her favorite brother Angel.

He fell to his knees before her, head bowed and gaze cast down. "Please forgive me, Little One… Never would I harm thee, not in any way…"

Aleilah smiled, took his hand in both of hers. “There is nothing to forgive, Angel."

“I apologize for my anger--”

“Anger? I saw no anger, only your concern. You reacted as your heart told you to, in a way that would get my attention. Should I fault you for that?”

He looked up at her face. Her eyes were shining with tears, but she was still smiling. "Are you certain? Do you still want me to finish your training? I will not blame you if you say no."

"Nonsense," she said, a hint of humor in her voice. "Given the choices I have for a teacher, you are the only suitable one."

Liftheon 'hmpfed' his disapproval behind her, and re-sheathed his weapon.

Ignoring the slighted warrior, she placed a hand to Mihdael’s cheek and caressed it gently. "Think of how I shall turn out if Michael or Liftheon instructs me, hmm?"

Liftheon waved his arms in the air and walked away, grumbling. “Females… angel, mortal, demon. Impossible to understand!”

Mihdael stared into her deep violet eyes, seeing nothing but love. "Thank you, Angel. It will be my honor to continue your training."

She bade him to stand up, and he walked over to Liftheon, placing his hand on his brother's shoulder.

"I am sorry, Liftheon. It was unforgivable of me to speak to her thusly. You were right to intervene."

Liftheon, still a little put off by her comments even though he knew they were in jest, looked back at him and spoke in a gruff tone. "Just do not allow it to happen again, and I will not have to gut you." He gave Mihdael a sardonic smile and sat down out of the way of her lesson.

Conscious of Liftheon’s watchful eye, Mihdael picked up where they had left off: one-on-one defensive tactics. As he was training her to defend herself while in human form, both of them dispensed with their wings and faced each other in completely mortal form. Aleilah’s natural agility served her well, only her tendency to neglect the finer points of defense tripped her up occasionally.

“Aleilah! Do not leave yourself open like that! Keep your weapon closer to your body, until you know which angle to strike. Make yourself as small a target as possible; do not attack full on, turn your body sideways to your opponent--make him come to you…” Mihdael indicated for her to stop, then demonstrated the stance.

“That is awkward for me, Mihdael; I feel like a crab…”

“Better than feeling like a corpse. It will become natural for you with practice.”

“If I make my opponent come to me, as you suggested, then he will strike first as his sword or weapon will most likely have a longer reach. How am I to defend against that?”

“Easier than you might think, Little One.” He turned to the dark warrior watching them. “Liftheon, would you care to aid me in showing her how it is done?”

He tossed Liftheon his practice sword, and Aleilah gave him her practice dagger. “But, Mihdael, it is an even smaller weapon for you…”

“Do not be troubled by it, Leea; I am not.”

“Hah! You will be!” Liftheon took up the role of aggressor with quick eagerness.

Mihdael smiled at Aleilah. “Over-confidence,” he jerked a thumb at Liftheon, “nails them every time.”

As Mihdael’s back was partially to Liftheon as he spoke to her, the other warrior lunged forward, without warning. Startled, Aleilah instinctively jerked back, but Mihdael turned sharply on his heel, turning his body sideways as he had shown her. The practice sword thrust past him, and he brought the hilt of the dagger down hard against Liftheon’s arm.

“It could just as easily have been the blade; in which case, my Second would be temporarily minus an arm.”

Even as he spoke, Mihdael ducked under Liftheon’s second thrust, and slammed the dagger’s hilt against the warrior’s side, where the armor joined. “Again, the blade would have penetrated enough for a disabling wound. I would either finish him off or run.

“I suggest that you run.”

She watched, wide-eyed, as they performed a few more exercises; Mihdael expertly blocked, countered, and turned his defensive tactics into offensive ones. Aleilah knew that Liftheon gave it his all; the dark angel did not hold back. Mihdael was simply the better warrior of the two, and she voiced this observation.

“Okay, Angels, it seems to me rather obvious that since Mihdael is second only to Michael in fighting skills, he would have no trouble countering Liftheon’s attacks.

“Would it not be a more equitable demonstration for Liftheon to counter your attacks, Mihdael?”

“You no longer perceive my smaller size to be a disadvantage, Leea?” There was a smile, at least, in his eyes.

“For you? No, not any more.”

“Such is half the battle.” He and Liftheon exchanged weapons. “Now, you will see how well Liftheon can defend against a stronger opponent.”

“It is well you said ‘stronger’ and not ‘more skillful’, Mihdael.” Liftheon smiled widely at him.

Mihdael shrugged. “The ‘more skillful’ was simply understood…” And he swung the sword toward Liftheon’s chest--quite a large target.

Liftheon countered, quick and expert, the dagger’s blade striking against the sword at the next-to-last possible moment. Mihdael used the momentum to complete the downward arc, and then disengaged to strike again.

Despite the fact that she found it disquieting to see her beloved brothers hacking away at each other with such enthusiastic determination, Aleilah was nonetheless awed by their display of skill. She watched, fascinated in spite of herself, as the blades clashed and clanged, as Liftheon managed to deflect or counter most of Mihdael’s attacks.

She also noted--but would never mention--that Liftheon did not score any strikes against Mihdael--and not because he wasn’t trying to.

They broke apart, finally, and Mihdael indicated that the session was over. “You see, Aleilah? Liftheon had ample opportunity to counter, strike, and retreat, if he had chosen to do so.

“Your goal will be to counter and retreat. You are not to fight to the end unless there is absolutely no other option.”

“Do not worry; I do not mind the hit and run strategy.” She went over to the dark Warrior. “Liftheon, you were… just amazing! No one could fight like you just did!”

Liftheon’s shoulders straightened, and, with a broad smile, he returned to the sidelines to watch the rest of her lesson.

“All right, Aleilah; try again…”

They exchanged weapons, and Mihdael attacked. She countered, fumbled, recovered; but not before the edge of the sword grazed her upper arm. The superficial wound healed quickly, and she sighed, “I am sorry, Mihdael; I put too much into the first parry, leaving no time to counter your return arc.”

Mihdael nodded, pleased. “As you have recognized your error, it negates your mistake. Learn from it, Leea,” he paused at her downcast expression, then continued in an encouraging tone. “Just as I learn something new every time I practice with Liftheon or Michael. Training is practice, and gaining skill and self-confidence through the mistakes we make. Trust me, I have made my share of mistakes… probably more.” That got a smile from her.

And a loud guffaw from Liftheon. “So that is how you achieved such a high intellect and ability--from all of your mistakes…!”

Mihdael turned on his heel and sent a Superior Officer’s glare at him. “As you were, Lieutenant.” It didn’t matter that technically he was not Liftheon’s superior officer, the authority was still there.

Liftheon only laughed harder.

Before Mihdael could respond, a muted fluttering of wings intervened and Archangel Michael appeared before them. He spared the angels hardly a glance before advancing on Mihdael.

“How is the training progressing?”

“Quite well.” Mihdael kept a civil tone, but his hands tightened into fists.

Michael nodded, not entirely satisfied. “I see. And when will the Angel Aleilah be ready for her First Trial of Combat?”

“The Angel Aleilah is ready right now, Archangel.” She broke in, tired of being ignored.

Mihdael’s tension vanished as he stepped in, and waved her off. “Three more sessions, Commander, and she will be ready for the First Trial.” He sent her a quick smile, “She is an exemplary student.”

“We shall see. Very well, as you were.” The great wings extended, and he was soon lost from sight.

“What was that all about?” Aleilah watched his flight, then turned a genuinely puzzled expression to Mihdael. “Why does he care if I’m ‘progressing’ or not?”

“As Commander of the Army, Leea, he oversees all training. He will be checking on us at intervals.”

“ ‘Us’ ?”

“You are not the only one under Michael’s scrutiny.”

“Hmmmm, Mihdael?”

“Yes, Little One?”

“You said ‘First’ Trial. How many Trials are there?”

“Three.”

“All at once?”

“No. Your training will consist of three levels. At the conclusion of each level, your knowledge and skill will be tested against another warrior.”

“Oh. Who?”

“Well, myself, Liftheon, and… probably… Michael.”

“Terrific.”

“Do not worry, Leea; you will do just fine. Am I not the one training you?”

She smiled up at him weakly, but said nothing.

II

Michael flew beyond sight of the three Angels on the Practice field, then circled back. He landed out of sight behind a line of flowering shrubbery, masking his presence to their Angelic senses. It felt a bit odd, shielding his presence from them, almost cowardly.

But he was determined to oversee as much of her training as he could, without disturbing Mihdael or making Aleilah self-conscious – and therefore inattentive to her lessons – while he observed her fighting skills.

As the session drew to a close, he left ahead of them; he had noted a few fine points that needed addressing, but was unsure how to present them.

Or how to explain how he knew the corrections were needed.

Chapter Five
A Night at the Theatre

I
Michael flew down in a careful arc, towards the point where he sensed Aleilah's presence, as she waited in the rafters of an Earthly music hall for Liftheon. Her warrior brother would not be attending this concert. Michael had ordered him to another dimension to fortify a border post. No matter how temporary or minor the assignment, when Michael spoke, his warriors flew.

However, when Liftheon told Michael that he was supposed to have met Aleilah on Earth, he politely asked his Commander to find her and explain his absence.

Michael agreed--a little too quickly, even. And without elaboration.

Apparently Liftheon and Aleilah had been doing this for some time, meeting on Earth for recitals or concerts when their schedules allowed it. And these 'dates' had not stopped, even though her training with Mihdael had begun. Michael knew his ebony warrior and Aleilah were the closest of siblings, and he did not discourage their relationship. But he'd meant to get around to asking her how her training had been going with Mihdael, and had never found the right moment. This might provide just the opportunity.

Things still remained so complicated with her--at least, when it came to him. It gave him pause, trying to relate to her. Michael knew she could detect how uncomfortable he felt around her. But, thankfully, she still chalked it up to either him being irritated with her, or him being an ‘old, stuffy, Archiac-angel’. He didn’t like being called that, but never let on to anyone that it bothered him.

As Michael glided into the music hall, the concert players began warming up their instruments. Aleilah perched on a beam above the stage, watching intently how the humans interacted.

She looked up, gazing into the empty air, and spoke aloud to the darkened recesses of the curtains where she felt his presence. "Michael? Why are you here? Is Liftheon all right?"

"He is fine, Angel. He had other duties to attend to. He wanted me to inform you that he will not be meeting with you tonight."

She nodded, and looked down at the orchestra. "I see… that is unfortunate, he was looking forward to this one. They are doing Peter and the Wolf tonight. Care to join me?"

He moved in and sat next to her and, unfortunately for him, he had to sit closely. There was not much room on her chosen rafter. Instinctively, his outer wing found its way behind her, and the tip reached out for the railing, balancing itself there. His emerald wing, though very close, never actually touched her red-russet ones.

The members of the orchestra began settling down, and the conductor came on the stage. The audience applauded politely. The gray-haired, distinguished narrator moved up to the podium, and the lights began to dim.

Michael leaned over and spoke quietly. "How goes the training with Mihdael? Are you making progress?"

She frowned. She wanted to watch a performance, not talk shop with this Archaic-angel. She could probably be rid of him in an instant just by using that term, but for some unfathomable reason, she didn’t want to. The clapping died away, as the music floated up to the rafters.

"Uh, well… I'll never be a warrior, but I will do okay, I guess. Mihdael is a wonderful teacher. He is a bit preoccupied as of late, what with all that business in Hell…"

Her voice drifted off. It was not something she liked talking about; especially since she knew so little about it. "But he stays focused on my training … mostly…"

Michael frowned. "Mostly? Is there a problem?"

"No. Not really. We had a slight... um... misunderstanding early on, but we cleared it up."

Michael's features darkened for a moment at her hesitant, and vague, manner. He had a tendency to fill in the blank spaces himself. "He did not hurt you, did he, Angel?"

She turned to look at him, not wanting to get her beloved brother in more trouble than he was already recovering from. But then she smirked, finding the opportunity to mess with Michael. Unfortunately for him, she had discovered long ago how to pierce his emotional armor.

She shifted, straightening out her tunic casually, and spoke in an unconcerned tone. "Oh no, no, not at all. Mihdael flew up for my lesson, catching Liftheon and me playing at battle. And you know how we get; we were just having a bit of fun.

“And he landed, *bam*, right in front of us, then he just shoved Theo aside, for no reason.”

Eyes widening for effect, she poured it on. "He was in a really foul mood for some reason, and he stopped our game, scolding me, and grabbing my chin thusly."

Then, with lightning-fast movements, she demonstrated, by grabbing the Archangel's chin in her nimble fingers the same way Mihdael had done to her just days earlier. She knew he would not be prepared for such a strong and fast gesture. Her intent was to provoke him into some kind of unguarded response, and put him on the defensive.

But the effect was… far different. Michael and Aleilah found themselves staring into one another's angelic eyes. The colors of her eyes swirled about, deep violet and sparkling aqua mingling with pure Light, reflecting the very essence of God's Love darting about in them. Michael's eyes also reflected God's presence, with tiny silver bolts streaking through the gray. It was His Power and His Glory, as such the Archangel bestowed upon anyone who happened to look there.

Michael felt compelled to fall into those amethyst pools, wanting to free himself of his worries to her, and never come out. Wanting to share all she was, and would ever be; wanting her with him forever, and unable to bear another second with her. Their tangled past inhibited his thoughts, his actions; and her forgotten memories – by her own choice -- forbade him to pursue any association other than Angel and Archangel.

And yet…only her touch seemed to affect him so. Brought, unbidden and unwanted, to the surface carefully buried feelings and …desires. Desires he thought too dangerous to express in any manner, especially now.

Aleilah always felt safe at the sight of God's Strength in Michael’s eyes, knowing that nothing in the Universe could harm her when he was near. Yet, it wasn’t his protection she yearned for. She wanted, needed, something deeper, something stronger, something… unAngelic; something she felt he would never share with her, or anyone.

His stoic, uncompromising, and uncomplaining spirit had always intrigued her, and his total devotion to duty and God came before everything and everyone else. To hope for the impossible, longing for an indefinable response from him that even she couldn’t name, and now demanded fulfillment, presented a contradiction she couldn’t understand or manage.

Although they participated in the occasional Joining, it had always been superficial--Michael had always held back with her. And now, at that moment, with him being caught unawares by the simple act of her touching him…

Aleilah could tell--she knew, just by their gazing at each other—that something more than friendship lay between them. Memories she had chosen to live without; memories that involved him. And he knew something about them. Probably all about them…

Disconcerted, she lowered her hand and backed away. "I…I am sorry, Archangel…It was improper for me to touch you in that manner. I was only playing…I--I should not have…I will not--”

Michael shook his head quickly. "No… Angel, it is all right. Do not be upset. I do not mind."

Still, even with his reassurance, she recoiled, uncertain of the reason for her inner turmoil. She pulled away from him, and hovered above the rafter. She trembled before him, and spoke haltingly. "I have to leave, Michael… I--I have to leave now.”

Only the outstretched wing betrayed his feelings. It left the railing and inched towards her, seeking to wrap her in it and calm her fears. She tilted her head, apprehensive at his silence, and unconsciously transformed into her energy state. For a moment she wavered before his face, then her essence shot off like a rocket and vaulted through the roof.

II
Aleilah’s residual energy trail caused the lights in the music hall to flicker for a few moments. The audience and the players paused for a moment, confused. From his podium, the narrator joked. "Looks like the lighting is only slightly younger than I am, huh?" The audience laughed, and the concert resumed.

Michael never heard his joke, or anything else for that matter. He just stared up at the ceiling, where the remnants of Aleilah's AngelFire danced around in firefly sparks until it dissipated, and faded from his view. He had wanted to stop her, to not allow her to fly off in such an unsettled state. But his natural reticence and aversion to emotional displays had delayed his response, an instinct counterproductive to his desire.

He suppressed a wave of self-anger; he had allowed her to catch him with his defenses down, and now this went and happened--a thing he swore to her, long ago, that he would never let transpire. Had they been Joining, it would have been a complete disaster. He had promised himself he would harbor her fears and self-doubts until such a time when she could cope with them on her own.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, not knowing what to do about this new problem… not knowing in the least.

Chapter Six
First Trial


I

“Mihdael, could I speak with you for a moment?”

The warrior faced his Second-in-Command, knowing what Liftheon was going to say. The last lesson of Aleilah’s First Level had just ended, and she had performed quite well. Mihdael had forced himself not to let up on her, or let small errors slide by, uncorrected.

Her First Trial was scheduled for the next Light in Eden, and Liftheon had not departed with her when Mihdael dismissed her. “Yes, Liftheon, what do you want to say?”

“While I would not think to question your methods, I am not so certain of your manner. You seemed much too demanding of her during the last few exercises.” He strode a few paces away, then stopped, clearly having more to say and not sure how to say it.

Mihdael tried not to show his amusement at Liftheon’s protective nature. He simply nodded as he removed the practice sword belt, and sent a wave of AngelFire over it. It faded away in a swirl of sparks, and he waited for Liftheon to finish.

“Her errors were not that serious, and did not warrant such reprimands from you.” The big warrior stood with his arms crossed, determined to see it through.

“I see. And do you suggest that I just ignore such ‘non-serious errors’ because they were minor? Would you ignore them?”

“Of course not. But there are better ways of pointing out her mistakes and correcting them, than--” He broke off, not wanting to get Mihdael angry.

“Than what?”

“Well… blast it all, Mihdael,” he finally threw his hands up in the air. “At times you actually sounded, and acted, like our Commander!”

“You flatter me,” Mihdael answered quietly, without ire. “Now I know I have trained her well. She is ready for her First Trail.”

Liftheon nodded, glad to have avoided a potentially unpleasant scene. “Yes, she did quite well with the last six exercises. Nearly perfect, in fact.”

“She learns quickly. I also want you to continue her practice bouts, especially before each Trial.”

“Have you decided on her first sparring partner?”

A flicker of amusement glinted in Mihdael’s dark blue eyes. “I can think of no better angel than you, Liftheon, for her… first time…” and he smiled.

“Quite so.” Liftheon gave a broad grin.

“And remember, warrior, to take your own advice: be gentle with her.”

The big warrior’s grin faded a bit.

II

“Oh, dear, Mihdael. Are you certain I am ready for this?” Aleilah stood alone on the Practice Field, with sword and shield scaled to her smaller size.

“Of course! It is only Liftheon.” Mihdael grinned, and she sneered in return.

“Only? Only the third best Warrior in Heaven,” she muttered, hefting the sword.

“Stand ready, Aleilah,” Mihdael ordered, moving aside as Liftheon appeared.

Two Angel Warriors, Matafiel and Adriel, followed him; they joined Raphael near the rows of benches bordering the arena.

The big warrior stood, strong and silent, at the far end of the field.

Mihdael stood between the two Angels; he drew his own sword, and raised it high. “Angel Aleilah, Angel Warrior Liftheon, approach and stand ready for Aleilah’s First Trial of Combat. As Aleilah is not a Warrior, and her conflicts usually take place on Earth, all physical and natural laws of Earth will apply in her Trials.”

Aleilah straightened, sword and shield at the ready, all business as Liftheon approached and halted several paces from her.

Mihdael’s sword flashed downward. “Begin!”

Liftheon charged. Aleilah side-stepped at the last second, surprised at his speed; twisting, she lashed out at him with her sword, which he easily deflected.

Pulling back, she assumed a defensive stance, waited for his attack. He charged forward with lightning speed, and she side-stepped at the last second; her short sword severed a few feathers as his momentum carried him past her. Emboldened, she swung her sword at his huge bulk, and her blade struck his shield as he countered her attack. Liftheon quickly followed through with a powerful blow with his shield against hers.

The force sent her backwards, and she landed hard on her backside, her wings fanned full beneath her. She clutched her ankle, face twisted with pain. “Owww! My ankle... it hurts!”

Liftheon hesitated, halting his forward lunge. At that second, Aleilah swept upward, and her sword flashed through his guard, the point against his breastplate. “Gotcha!”

He stared down at the blade, then laughed. “So you have, Little One, so you have!”

Mihdael nodded. “Not quite what I would recommend, Leea, but you scored the winning point.”

Raphael joined them, smiling broadly. “That was the quickest Trial I have ever witnessed. Did anyone think to time the length?”

“In this instance, length is not important,” Mihdael offered.

Both Aleilah and Liftheon chuckled, and he looked at them. “What?” Thinking a moment, he reddened slightly. “Oh.”

All three fell silent and smiles faded as Michael approached, his stern features set in a frown. “As Mihdael has given this match to you, Aleilah, I will not dispute his judgment.

“However, you should not take this as a victory. On the contrary, you counted on Liftheon’s concern for your welfare. Such will not be the case in actual combat. The enemy will have no concern whatsoever for your well being.

“I expect a better demonstration of your expertise at your Second Trial.”

“Nonsense, Michael,” Raphael intervened, his smile still in place. “She did quite well. She sized up her opponent and used his weakness against him. Even if her opponent cared not for her, the ruse would still have drawn him in, open to her attack.” He clasped her forearm. “Well done, Leea.”

She nodded at him, her troubled gaze remaining on Michael.







Chapter Seven
Introspection in Eden

I
Aleilah alighted in the midst of the fragrant garden, her thoughts as uncertain as her steps. Mihdael, Liftheon, and even Raphael, had insisted she had done well on her First Trial--had even surpassed their expectations.

Only Michael had been reserved, and critical. His words had cut deep; not intentionally, she was certain of that--but it seemed that his opinions carried more weight with her than any other Angel or Archangel in Heaven. His disapproval troubled her, and she felt somehow at fault; as if she had failed to achieve a goal he had set for her, failing to meet his expectations.

She couldn’t understand it. Why did she even care, anyway? He wasn’t her Commander; she didn’t live or die by his every word… Yet, how she longed for his slightest look of approval; even his simply spoken ‘well done’ would have meant more to her than all the accolades of the Heavenly Host combined. But he had frowned, and the lines had deepened in his strong, handsome features, and his voice had been level and almost a monotone, as if he was doing nothing more than reciting an oft-spoken reprimand.

She sighed… She didn’t even merit a personal reprimand, it seemed; just a revision of the same speech he gave his warriors. She paused at the crystal lake, made a face at her reflection. Did she really want a personal reprimand from him to begin with? She followed the grassy bank toward the waterfall, still lost in thought.

Michael had seemed…different, more open and almost approachable, back on Earth when he had joined her in the rafters overlooking the theatre. But that had been a brief interlude, and a very minor one compared to their long-standing relationship.

Relationship? Did they even have that? She recalled the moment she had asked God to remove her memories of the recent past, and nothing before that. That is, not between 1730 to a few months ago; before 1730, she could recall quite well Michael’s indifference towards her.

But recently, he seemed to be everywhere she looked. Especially after she had abandoned her youthful image in favor of a fully formed female of twenty-two Earth years. His indifference had subtly changed as well; but she wasn’t sure what it had changed to. And she wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. He seemed more involved with her life, her work, than he had ever been; and at the same time, more distant.

She wanted to scream in frustration. What was wrong with him, anyway?

Or… what was wrong with her?

*** *** ***
From the opposite side of the lake, another Angel sought the soothing tranquility of Eden’s garden to calm his thoughts. It was hopeless. He knew it was hopeless; he just had to admit it, deal with it, and try to get past it.

The dark wings folded over his back, his hands clasped behind him as his somber gaze lowered to the flower-bordered trail – one worn bare by Aleilah’s many visits. Lost in thought, he followed the pathway as he reviewed his options.

He could give over Aleilah’s training to someone else. That idea brought an immediate rejection, for he knew the ‘someone else’ would be Michael.

He could finish her training, and ignore the Archangel’s presence. That would work for him, but he doubted if Leea could ignore Michael’s unnerving silver eyes watching, and judging, her every move.

He could ask God to send his overly-critical, judgmental, tactless Commander on an ‘important’ mission; but then he would be admitting that he felt incapable of dealing with the situation. He paused at the crystal lake, made a face at his reflection.

Did he really want to run to Daddy, complaining about his big brother?

Not likely.

That left only one option: He’d have to kill the over-bearing son-of-a--

His dark brooding broke off suddenly as he came around a bend, and saw a very familiar pair of legs extended over the low bank, bare feet dipping idly in the cool water.

*** *** ***
Aleilah glanced up at the warrior’s approach, sent him a wan smile. “Mihdael, what did I do that was so wrong?”

He shook his head, pausing next to her. “Not a thing. And that is why he was upset.”

At her confused look, he laughed quietly. “I suppose that was unfair to Michael, but also quite true. I will explain it to you sometime--as soon as I figure it out for myself.”

“I sometimes wonder,” she mused, “why do we even care?”

“Because, deep down, we know he is right.”

“Well… yes, there is that. But does he have to be so… so obvious about it?”

“Michael has always been open and forthright; it would never occur to him to be otherwise.”

“Sometimes--a lot of times--I’ve found his forthrightness to be very unpleasant.”

He looked down at her forlorn figure, then sat down on the bank next to her. “He does not mean to be.”

His dark wings flexed slightly, settling onto the ground, the long, black primaries fanning out. “Michael cares about you a great deal. He does not want you to come to any harm. He feels protective towards all of us; it is his nature.

“And part of that protectiveness,” he added wryly, “demands that we be at our absolute best at all times.”

“I suppose so…” She leaned against him, a slim arm sliding under his wings, her voice soft. “I have always felt so very comforted by your presence, Mihdael; and completely safe.”

He had to smile at that. “I am glad you gain comfort from me, Little One; but it does not say much for my manly attributes that you feel ‘completely safe’ with me.”

She punched him playfully. “You know what I mean…”

She studied his profile, perfect, strong--so much like Michael. Yet there was something else there, too: a gentleness to his spirit that Michael rarely displayed. Oh, she knew that as Michael’s best warrior, Mihdael could slaughter millions if so ordered by God. But now, at this moment, that aspect of his character was submerged, buried under the guilt and shame that rolled off him in waves. It would not have been so evident to her if she hadn’t been touching him; if she hadn’t allowed herself to be open to him.

The fear came through strongest of all, and that startled her. She’d never seen any of the Angels exhibit fear, and she wondered how, or if, she could ask him about it. “I sense this, well, gap between you and Michael. And neither of you seem all that interested in bridging it. Your attitude towards him has changed; it’s almost hostile.” She paused, feeling his muscles tense at her words.

“I don’t mean to pry, or make things worse, but... It troubles me, Mihdael, to see the two of you at odds. He needs you, and--”

He interrupted with a snort of derisive laughter. “Michael has never needed me. I was a convenience at best, and a conscience at worst.”

Aleilah gazed up at him with a sad expression, not knowing what to say. She knew that, deep down, Mihdael did not believe what he had just said.

“Forgive me, Little One; my temper gets the better of me at times.”

She nodded, her smile not quite chasing the sadness from her eyes, and decided to change the subject. “Mihdael, if you could ask anything of Michael, and have it granted, what would it be?”

“That he would trust me once again.” He gazed toward the distant mountains, then glanced down at her. “And you? What would you ask of him?”

“I would like to know… his innermost heart.”

“You might be surprised.”

“I doubt it.” She shifted a bit, pulling her legs up and tucking her damp feet under her skirt. “He’s either hyper-macho or hyperbole. Add that with being a stubborn, authoritative autocrat, and you have Commander Know-It-All. ”

Mihdael frowned at her. “ ‘Autocrat’, Leea?”

“Wellll, maybe semi-auto...”

“You... are not serious, are you.” More statement of fact than inquiry.

She smiled faintly. “Sorry; I was just messing with you. I’m usually better than this at lightening a situation. I guess... all things considered... Mikey’s not so bad. Over-bearing at times, but well-meaning...” her voice trailed off. “Not at all like you, or Rafe, or Theo.

“And speaking of Theo… he’s just the opposite,” she continued in a lighter tone. “He’s so overprotective, as if I can’t take care of myself in a dangerous situation. I fear he may be injured, trying to protect me from harm and leaving himself vulnerable.”

“I will not argue the point about Liftheon. But for Michael… I admit, he is all you have said.” She looked at him, brows raised. “But that is not all he is. Michael is kind, generous, caring--but he has so few opportunities to express those emotions that when such an opportunity does present itself, he does not recognize it.”

“You can still see all those qualities within him?” That amazed her, given Mihdael and Michael’s current circumstances; not that Mihdael would recognize it, but verbalize it.

“Yes.”

“You still respect him?”

“Yes.”

“…and love him?”

“I would like to change the subject.”

“No fair, Mihdael!” Aleilah pulled back, giving him playful shove. “Avoiding answers won’t help you avoid the problem. And anyway, that’s not like you.”

“You, too, can see those qualities in him, Leea.”

“Yes.”

“Then why do we still find him so--” He broke off, at a loss for the moment.

“Frustrating?”

Laughing, he swept his dark wings around her. “Ahh, Little One, do you think we will survive…?”

“Our enemies, or our friends?” Her gentle laughter joined his.

“Well, we have thus far survived our enemies…”


II
A third party alighted in the center of the Garden, an Archangel who also sought Eden’s calming influence.

Michael’s arrival went unnoticed by Mihdael and Aleilah, although they were only a short distance away, within earshot. Michael heard their voices and hesitated, not wanting to disturb them; their voices came clearly on the cool breeze, and he debated whether to remain or leave.

He had not known they would be here as well; although he halfway expected Mihdael to retreat to either Raphael’s secluded retreat or Eden’s comforting surroundings. Leaving might attract their attention, which he didn’t want at the moment; staying smacked of eavesdropping, yet what could they say in private that could not be said in public? He decided to remain, and was about to block their voices when he heard his name mentioned.

Both self-conscious and curious, he remained until they finished their conversation and departed. He mulled over their words, deeply concerned by them.

And he found himself envious of them.

Not the common ground they had as Angels, or the open exchange of ideas and feelings; not even the closeness they shared. No, none of those qualities bothered him.

It was their shared, easy-going, companionable laughter that he envied the most.

*** *** ***
Raphael glanced up, surprised, as Michael alighted in the Healer’s garden that bordered his retreat. “Michael, I was not expecting you.”

“Perhaps you were expecting Mihdael, or Aleilah? Or Liftheon? ”

“They do drop by quite often,” Raphael smiled, turning his attention from crystalline flowers to the Army’s Commander. “Is this a social visit, or an official one?”

Not sure how to begin, Michael chose a general topic. “Your strategy for encouraging Mihdael’s recovery appears to be working. He retrieved his personal armor from my aerie, which means he intends to wear it.”

“Were you present at the time?”

“No.”

Raphael nodded, then surmised, “That is not why you are here. Something troubles you.”

“I have...learned some things that trouble me; but I know not how to approach them--”

“By ‘them’, I assume you mean Mihdael and Aleilah?”

“Yes.” Michael strode a few paces away, then stopped, exasperated. “Mihdael is on a hair-trigger, Aleilah is flitting around as if losing her memories of our...past association is of no consequence, and Liftheon is completely oblivious to all of it. And you,” he added, pointing an accusatory finger at Raphael, “have thrown us all together.”

The Healer smiled, not denying it; but not defending his actions, either.

Michael began pacing, needing some sort of physical activity to fuel his thoughts and emotions. “I know I am not in favor with you at the moment, due to my involvement with them.

“I am aware, as you have already pointed out, that I am the source of some of their problems--”

“‘Some’?” Raphael interjected, brows raised.

“Some.” Michael continued smoothly, as if the Healer hadn’t spoken. “I am a military commander, Raphael; I cannot be expected to deal with damaged psyches and bruised egos.

“I have done, and said, all the right things; and in doing so--by being right--I have made the situation much, much worse, almost to the point that it may be irreparable. And that makes no sense, and I cannot fathom it.”

“Logic circuits starting to melt down? Is that it?” Raphael managed to suppress his amusement, but not before Michael saw it.

“I know Aleilah’s problem, but cannot help her, not until God returns her lost memories.

“With Mihdael... Well, I do not know where to start. I know Uriel has told you of our last confrontation, and how it ended on a less than satisfactory note. I am not pleased with the outcome.

“This is not a military exercise, where all I need do is out-maneuver, out-think, or out-fight the enemy. My...opponents...here are my friends and siblings, and I am in danger of losing them.

“All of my efforts at reconciliation have met with failure, or misunderstanding; I am at a loss, Raphael. So I ask your advice.”

The Healer nodded absently, brow furrowed with thought. “First, I suggest you stop treating them as enemies or opponents. And stop reacting like a military commander. We are angels, and our natures are to understand and forgive.

“Aleilah is learning to cope, and her future is in God’s hands--you will have to abide by that. Not the solution you want, I know, but you will just have to ride it out with her.”

“As for Mihdael, he needs more freedom from you--”

Michael stopped himself from pacing again, and fixed Raphael with an austere look. “He has rejected my offer to reinstate him as my second in command, and refuses to re-join the Army. He ignores my commands most of the time, and challenges them all of the time. How much more freedom should I allow him?”

This time Raphael continued as if Michael had not spoken, “And a few words of praise and support every century or so would not hurt, either. Pull back a bit, and allow him the freedom to act as he wills.

“Keep your counsel unless he asks for it; relinquish your overpowering need to dictate his every thought and action; let him make mistakes.

“And let him know that he is needed.”

“You do not ask for much, Raphael.” Michael’s tone and demeanor was less than pleased.

“Well, you wanted advice.” Raphael turned his attention back to the fragrant, exotic flora, effectively curtailing the conversation.

“Yes, I did. I will consider your words, Healer.”

Chapter Eight

Second Trial
I
“For your Second Trial, Aleilah, the requirements are different. You will need to out-maneuver your opponent and escape.”

Her violet eyes sparkled at him, her tone teasing. “‘Escape’? I thought Warriors killed demons on sight.”

“Warriors, yes; but you are not a Warrior. My main concern is your continued safety and existence. So, you will escape.”

“Okay.”

II

The same audience gathered for her Second Trial. Liftheon, Matafiel, and Adriel sat close to the practice area, curious to see how Mihdael would fare against a non-warrior opponent. Raphael stood next to Liftheon, his somber gaze not on the practice field, but fixed on the tall Archangel directly opposite him, on the other side of the field.

Michael stood, arms crossed and expression unreadable, as he waited for the Second Trial to begin. His brief nod at Mihdael as the warrior entered the battle area earned a salute in return, and his similar acknowledgement to Aleilah received a faint smile.

Mihdael faced Aleilah. He wore his personal gold armor, white tunic, and gradient blue cloak. His black wings unfurled fully, battle ready. “Angel Aleilah, your Second Trial will consist of defense and escape. You must get past my guard and cross the boundary of the battle area. If I strike you before you reach the boundary, you will fail the Trial.”

Aleilah visually measured the distance between Mihdael and the bright green outline of the circle encompassing the ‘battlefield’. Mihdael had not made it easy for her. Her speed and agility would be tested to the utmost.

She smiled, and nodded. “I understand. I’m ready.”

Mihdael raised his sword, then swept it down. “Begin!”

She feinted and lunged, but Mihdael effectively blocked her; she retreated, and parried his thrust with seconds to spare. Using the momentum to duck under his sword arm, she slashed at his breastplate with her dagger. His shield intervened millimeters from his midsection, deflecting her dagger and throwing her off-balance.

She stumbled back, recovered quickly, and, pulling herself into as small a target as possible, rolled under his slashing sword, and leapt to her feet behind him.

Grabbing his cloak, she threw the folds of material over his head and shoulders. His outstretched wings kept him upright and on balance, but the long, voluminous folds entangled his sword arm and hampered his shield arm.

Leaving him to disentangle himself, Aleilah ran with all her might toward the nearest green boundary line. Ten or fifteen paces from her goal, she heard the quick beat of wings; glancing back, she saw Mihdael flying after her. She watched his sword arm as she ran, and, as his sword descended toward her, she fell to the ground, twisted, and rolled over the boundary line.

The point of the sword struck the green border, the blade embedded half its length, a hairs-breadth from her arm.

She jumped up with a big grin of triumph. “Well? Did I pass?”

Mihdael nodded, returning a faint smile. “You succeeded, Aleilah; marginally, I admit.”

“Very much a borderline victory,” Michael added, not smiling at all. “I hope your training is more applicable for your third trial."

Aleilah met his disapproving gaze, knowing he would not have granted her the victory. She tried to hide her frustration and hurt feelings, but her eyes betrayed her. She spoke quietly. “I understand, Archangel. I’ll try not to disappoint you again.”

III

“Aleilah! Pay attention!” Mihdael’s voice was sharp as he brought the practice session to an abrupt halt.

“I’m sorry, Mihdael, but all I can think about is facing Michael at my Third Trial.”

“I am trying to prepare you for that. I know Michael better than anyone. I know his strategies, his skills, and his weakness.”

“‘Weakness’? Michael?” She nearly scoffed at him, but managed a pout instead. “And I notice you used singular and not plural.”

“None of us are perfect, Leea. But... I am not certain if I should reveal his one weakness to you.” He chuckled, “You might not even consider it a weakness.”

She contemplated for a moment, then shook her head. “No, I don’t want any unfair advantage--and does that ever sound weird! Unfair advantage over Michael!” She laughed heartily, amused at that thought. “Imagine, that Archangel having an Achilles’ heel!”

“Well, not his heel...” He smiled with her.

Chapter Nine

Third Trial


I
Only two spectators appeared for Aleilah’s Third Trial: Raphael and Liftheon. Mihdael didn’t know if this was in deference to her, or just indifference to the outcome. Or a tacit belief in the only possible outcome.

Michael had arrived first, and waited for them on the Practice Field. His tall, imposing figure, armored on all levels, did nothing to allay her misgivings.

Mihdael and Aleilah alighted together; the warrior started forward, intent on his job. “Mihdael, are you sure about this?” She held back, gripping the warrior’s arm tightly. “I mean, what if I fail?”

Mihdael shrugged, nearly pulling her along with him as she retained her hold. “If that happens, then it just means you aren’t at that level of fighting skill. You can choose to continue your training, or accept a Level Two status.”

“Oh...” A nervous giggle escaped, and she released his arm. “So, it isn’t like total disgrace and humiliation, and drummed out of the corps, and turn in your wings, or something?”

“No, of course not.” Mihdael indicated the marked off area of the field. “Come on, Michael’s waiting and he just gets grumpy...grumpier when kept waiting.”

II

Michael raised his hand as Mihdael lowered his sword to begin the match. “A moment, Mihdael.” The Archangel faced his smaller opponent. “Angel Aleilah, I have considered carefully, and as you were trained to fight in human form while on Earth performing your duties, I have decided to concede to those conditions as well.”

AngelFire sparkled around his form, and his physical appearance altered. When the AngelFire faded, a much shorter, stocky, lightly armored demon-like being stood before her. One pair of greenish, bat-type wings replaced the six wings; rough, scaled skin gleamed blue-green, and long, black hair fell wild and loose around his massive shoulders. An ordinary sword took the place of Michael’s sword, and the sword belt also held a knife. A lance with a blade the length of her forearm completed his armament.

The being spoke with Michael’s voice. “The possibility of attack from demons is a very real danger, and in such cases you will revert to your Angel form to defend against them.

“Therefore, for your Third Trial, you will defend while in your Angel form. Your objective will be to survive the match with no more than three strikes on your person. If you should score a strike on my person at any time during the match, you will win, and the Trial will be over.”

“A score against any part of your person?”

“Yes. Do you accept these terms?”

“I accept.”

“Very well.” He nodded to Mihdael, who had retreated to the sidelines. “Continue.”

Mihdael nodded, and as he resumed his position he sent Michael a broad grin and a wink. An acknowledgement, Michael realized, to his own concession to Aleilah. He had not expected that, but it pleased him.

Mihdael raised his sword, then brought it down. “Begin!”

Michael’s bulky demon form lumbered forward, and Aleilah took to the air, arcing over him. The lance sailed after her, the razor edged blade nicking her left primary wing. A severed feather floated to the ground and vanished.

“One, Michael.” Mihdael’s voice rang out.

She banked, flew around him, searching for an opening and finding none. He now held both the knife and sword, and intercepted her line of flight. She blocked the side sweep of his sword, but the knife cut across her forearm.

She pulled back, the cut healing in a flash of AngelFire, as Mihdael’s voice called out from behind her.

“Two, Michael.”

Aleilah retreated, as far back as she could, to the borderline of trees that marked one end of the battlefield perimeter. Michael’s demon form was as inexorable as the Archangel himself, and she watched for the slightest shift of weight or position that would indicate his next move.
Even so, his headlong rush came at such speed that she barely avoided it. As she twisted aside, however, her dagger caught the knife’s guard and cut the hilt in two. She turned her momentum into a side kick, her bare foot sinking into Michael’s side and slamming his demon form off-balance and into the tree line.

In the millisecond it took for him to recover, she threw her dagger from a wing’s breadth away. The blade flashed through the air, toward his shoulder. Michael brought the dark wings down, and with half a millisecond to spare, dropped his shoulder and swung his sword.
Michael’s blade missed the dagger, and Aleilah’s dagger missed his shoulder. The sharp, narrow blade thunked into the tree behind him, and Michael lunged forward, sword raised and ready to strike.

Michael’s forward lunge and Aleilah’s instinctive retreat were stopped by Mihdael’s strident voice.

“One, Aleilah! Cease hostilities; the Trial is over, and is awarded to Angel Aleilah.”

Michael halted, surprise evident on his ogre-like features. He looked toward Mihdael, who stood next to the tree where Aleilah’s dagger remained firmly embedded in the thick trunk.

“Over? She did not strike me; she has not yet won.”

Aleilah flew around him, and alighted next to Mihdael. “Did you not, Commander, say that any strike against your person qualified?”
“Yes, but—”

Grinning broadly, she pulled her dagger from the tree and a long lock of black hair fell into her waiting hand. “I believe this is--was-- part of your person.”

Michael blinked, stared, then blinked again. AngelFire swept around him, and he appeared as Archangel once more. The missing lock of hair quickly replaced as well. “That cannot be deemed as a fatal blow, not even an incapacitating or restraining one.”

“She met your spoken requirements, Commander,” Mihdael interceded, frowning. “She has passed her Third Trial.”

Aleilah met Michael’s keen stare unflinchingly, and stood rigid as he approached her. He halted a few steps away, and, to her amazement, gave her a courtly bow.

“My compliments, Angel Aleilah.”

She barely caught the unexpected sparkle in his silver eyes as he straightened to his full eight-foot height. “Uh...um...thank you.” Somewhat flustered, she backed up a few steps.

As he strode past Mihdael, he said quietly, “Continue her training; she is good, but she can be better.”

Chapter Ten
Guardian at Arms


I
A small ceremony followed a short time later; only Raphael, Michael, Liftheon, and Mihdael attended Aleilah’s formal recognition of the completion of her training.

Angel Aleilah, thou hast concluded thy training and met the required Levels of proficiency as relates to thy station as Guardian.

“Thank You, Father.”


Mihdael stepped forward, a long, narrow box under one arm. “Angel Aleilah, I would like to present this to you in acknowledgment of your successful completion of your Three Trials.”

Accepting the box, she opened it; with a pleased cry and expression of delight, she withdrew the contents. A dagger formed of intricately wrought gold rested in a gold scabbard. She withdrew it, examined it closely. Cabochon amethysts that glowed a purplish-red adorned the hilt, complimented by fiery red rubies; the blade glinted blue-white, made of flawless crystal. A delicately beautiful weapon.

“Ohhh, Mihdael, it’s fabulous! Thank you!”

Mihdael bowed, smiling at her. “Delicate, deceiving, dangerous...” He winked at her, then resumed his stance of formal attention.

She knelt before the Throne, placing the dagger on the marble tiles. God’s Light swirled around the dagger, lifting it into the air before her.

This dagger is now attuned to thy spirit, Angel Aleilah; no being can employ it against thee.

She accepted the dagger in silence, then stood and bowed.

Michael stepped forward, very military and proper. “Congratulations, Angel Aleilah, on the completion of your Three Trials.” He resumed his position before she could respond.

Raphael sent him a reproving glare, then embraced Aleilah. “You did well, Leea.”

She grinned up at him. “Thanks, Rafe.”

Raphael, thy perceptions have once again proven correct and beneficial. I commend thee.


Raphael acknowledged the praise with a smile, and a slight bow.


Mihdael, thou hast performed thy duties well; in return, I will continue to allow Raphael, Michael, Liftheon, and Aleilah to interact freely with thee.


Mihdael knelt. “I thank You, Father.”

He rose, smiling at the others. Both Aleilah and Raphael noted that most of the deep stress lines seemed to have faded from his features.

Now, I have a new assignment for thee, Aleilah.

II

Aleilah soared over the remote borders of Heaven with gleeful abandon, glad to have the three Trials over and done with. Although Mihdael had suggested she maintain her training, she had gently resisted, at first, then agreed to consider it.

Details of her new assignment now filled her thoughts, and she flew with no particular destination in mind. A sudden rush of air startled her, and she cried out, more surprised than hurt, when something crashed into her in mid-flight.

Recovering, she glanced down at her burgundy, jewel-trimmed tunic, at the horizontal tear across her midriff. A pinkish welt of equal length marked the superficial wound, and she ignored it in favor of the more important damage.

“What...? My tunic!” She looked around, anger replacing her astonishment.

A large, dark red shape flew past her again, the strong air gusts from long, narrow wings buffeting her. “You tore my tunic, you creep!”

“Sssssooo pretty, Pretty...” the creature hissed, turning to face her. Its hands had three fingers and a thumb that terminated in black claws, the curved edges glinting in the faint sunlight. “Will dissstroooy Pretty, ssssooo Pretty will not tell the Warriooorssss…

“But not too ssssooon; maybe I will play with Pretty. Issss Pretty here all alone?” The thin, serpentine tongue whipped about the gaping, fang infested mouth. The demon grunted, snuffled, and snorted to convey its attempts at seduction. “I might reconssssider, if Pretty issss niccce to me... a sssnuggle, a kisss, a quick--”

“Jerk!” She lunged at it, and the creature swept past her, the talons raking her arm.

Ignoring the wounds, she slashed the demon across its bone ridged back. It screeched, reeled back, and turned a furious glare on her.
“Sssstupid little Angel,” it spat at her, “your death will be sssssslooow...”

“Whatever.” She swerved, avoiding its next attack with millimeters to spare.

Then the demon braked, angled wings twisted in mid-flight, performing a maneuver very familiar to her as she had learned it only a short time ago. And not from a demon...

Her brow furrowed a bit; she reversed flight, her thoughts racing. The demon, although obnoxious, lewd, and disgusting, had not behaved in a ‘demonic’ manner. At least, not according to past experience.

She smiled to herself, and her wings swept her under the creature, and around it. It followed her, and she flew in an upward spiral, faster and faster, creating a whirlwind of motion. The demon faltered, disorientated, wings and limbs in a torque as it fought to regain its equilibrium. Her slim body arced, and she flew back, down, and under the floundering creature. She struck, plunging the dagger deep into its chest.
As it fell to the ground below, Aleilah followed. It screeched and groaned, and flailed the air as it fell. It hit the ground with a heavy thud, and lay, groaning and moaning, and generally expiring in a very dramatic, and noisy, way.

She alighted next to it, leaned over, and yanked out the dagger with no finesse at all. It screeched again, and she placed a foot on one leathery wing.

“I should eviscerate you, or at the very least lop your head off. To hell with this ‘running away’ crap.” As Aleilah raised the dagger, she scowled at her defeated assailant. “After all, Mihdael, you taught me well!”

The creature shimmered, and AngelFire altered its form.

Mihdael lay on the ground, unharmed, amusement glinting in his dark eyes. “What? You are a critic now? You did not appreciate my death scene?”

“Less is more,” she grinned down at him, and stepped back, releasing his wing.

Mihdael got to his feet, shaking the dust off his wings. “Congratulations, Leea; you have passed your Final Test. How did you know it was me?”

“That last maneuver; you told me when you taught it to me that you had devised it yourself.” She shrugged. “Pretty simple deduction after that.”
Mihdael nodded, “Nevertheless, the result stands.” His dark wings extended. “I leave you to your duties, and I wish you well on your next mission.” He hovered, smiling back at her. “I know Raphael will rest much easier now.”

His unexpected laughter flowed back to her as he flew into the star filled sky. “And Michael will have the nightmares.”

Chapter Eleven

First Blood
\
I

Aleilah alighted quietly and gently on the thick carpet of grass, her Angelic senses attuned to the creature she hunted. Feeling more self-confident and “battle-ready” since passing her Third Trial against Michael, and re-enforced by the surprise “attack” by Mihdael, she remained in the open, unseen by human eyes, casting about for her target.

The distant sound of children’s laughter reached her, and she directed her Angel senses in that direction. The demon she sought, Zirax, was a corruptor of the innocent, preferring to prey on the young. Zirax would find a very different “prey” this time.

II
Zirax sidled around large, concealing bushes, keeping low out of habit, as the disgusting creatures in the clearing could not see or hear it. Tentacles whipped about, as the slug-like body slid over the thick slime that facilitated its progress. Red eyes circled the bulbous head, providing a 360 degree range of vision.

Running feet caught its attention, and it shrank back behind a large tree trunk.

A small white ball bounced past, followed closely by a young girl in blue clothing and carrying a thick, wooden stick. Before Zirax could formulate a plan, the girl stopped near the concealing tree, and looked directly at it. No, not at the tree, but at the ball that had stopped in the deep hollow formed by surface roots.

As the creature mulled the options of possession or persuasion, the girl scooped up the ball and turned to rejoin her companions. Zirax leapt from concealment, landing a few feet in front of her; casting aside the veil of invisibility, it appeared before the human child as its true self.
The young girl stood her ground, swinging the bat. “You don’t scare me. You’re just an ugly old slug – and I have a Louisville Slugger!”

Tossing the softball up in the air, the bat cracked against it in mid-air, and the ball struck Zirax with a solid “squish” … then fell to the ground.

Not wasting a second, the girl waded in, swinging the bat and connecting with dull whumps; no fatal blows, but still effective.

Squirming, writhing, and dodging, Zirax’s long tentacles whipped about; two found purchase, and one wrapped around the bat, pulling it from the girl’s grasp. Hardly taller than itself, the demon lifted her off the ground, effectively rendering her helpless.

Neither noticed the arrival of a third party, as Aleilah landed quietly behind them, dagger drawn.\

“Release her, Zirax! You’re no match for a ten-year-old mortal, much less an Angel!”

Zirax spun to face her, and it was difficult to determine who was more surprised: the demon or the mortal. Both froze, all but gaping at her. Multiple red eyes blinked, and several tentacles flicked about nervously, unable to reach the Angel.

The girl took the opportunity to bash the demon on the squishy head; it hissed and sputtered, somewhat dazed.

Aleilah soared aloft, pulled the girl from the stunned creature’s grip, and added a solid kick to the mushy midsection to discourage the thing further. She flew to a safe distance, near the tree line bordering the ballpark, and set the girl down.

Aleilah knew she should return the girl to her friends, who had continued their game, seemingly not to have noticed her absence. And to further ensure that all of them would return home safely and unhindered.

A few seconds of consideration, and she decided it would be easier to just dispatch a minor demon than to herd a group of children to general safety and several homes.

The girl had remained silent, still wide-eyed and startled from her sudden rescue and flight to safety. She appeared undecided whether to stay or bolt.

“Stay here,” she ordered, not worrying, at the moment, about the problem of the girl seeing her in full Angelic form and flight, “I’ll be right back.”

***
Zirax remained where she had left it, still bent over and groggy; its bulbous eyes were half-closed, and it hissed with anger and pain. It had, however, enough residual strength and stupidity to lunge at her when she landed before it.

The flaring blade of her dagger tore into it, severing tentacles that sought to grasp and hold her. Each severed tentacle sizzled and faded, leaving only the oozing trunk.

“Return to your dimension, Zirax, or face destruction.”

Instead of replying, or obeying, the demon hissed, and heaved its great bulk up, over, and on top of her.

“Ohhh….Yuk!” Aleilah squirmed out from under the slimy mass, slashing the dagger lengthwise from top to bottom. Black ichor sprayed out, and creature sizzled and disappeared in wisps of greenish black smoke. Only a rancid stench remained, resisting the efforts of a strong breeze to disperse it.

Getting to her feet, a quick flash of AngelFire cleaned away the slime and grime. Replacing her dagger into the gold scabbard, she smoothed out her tunic and flexed her wings, shaking out bits of leaves and dust. Pondering what to do about – and say to -- the human girl, she caught a slight movement from the corner of her eye. Instantly on guard, her hand went to her dagger, as she turned to face a new threat.

Lowering the dagger, she relaxed as the human girl appeared, eyes wide with wonder.

No, not wonder – with discovery. Unpleasant discovery.

“An Angel.” The voice was flat, toneless, and completely at odds with a young girl. “Damn. And Zirax had shown such promise… for a slug. A few more lessons, and he might have been a worthy foe. Ah, well…”

The human image wavered, replaced by a towering mass of scales and muscle. A three-eyed, noseless face appeared in the center mass, the mouth filled with ragged fangs. It braced on two stocky limbs. Four arms took form: two on top of the torso where the head should be, and one arm on each side. All four arms had three joints, and terminated in four-fingered hands. One hand, Aleilah noticed, wore a black, metallic glove, holding a small dagger-like weapon.

Almost three times her height and twice as wide, the older demon loomed over her, four huge, spine covered wings extended as it advanced toward her. A dark flash of green DemonFire created a double-bladed axe for the three weaponless hands. “Guess I’ll have to do a bit of avenging.”

Taking a well-practiced defensive stance, Aleilah backed up, staying beyond reach of those powerful arms. The thick, stubby legs allowed little clearance for darting through, despite the creature’s height. She judged she would have a slight advantage on the ground than in the air, as the bulky demon depended on brute strength over agility.

“What is your name, little Angel, so that I may report my victory to Zirax’s mate?”

“You won’t need it.” She kept her gaze on all four limbs, prepared for any attack.

“I am Zebetha. And I guarantee you will not be needing it, either.”

Chapter Twelve

A Worthy Foe

I
~~Mihdael, if you aren’t too busy, I could use a some help.~~

Aleilah’s mental summons came to him as he relaxed on an AngelFire lounge, an urgent call along the planes. An unsettling sensation accompanied the call, apart from her, but near.

Mihdael paused, lowering the bow and viola, senses attuned to more than music. He separated the dissonance from her mental call, finding a warp of sorts, a familiar feeling from long ago.

It took a moment to sort it out, alarm sending him to his feet, then into the air.

He traced the faint vibrations to Earth, and sensed Aleilah’s energy. Reaching the perimeter of Heaven, Archangel Michael’s mental command found him, sharp and clear, and he halted.

~~Mihdael, hold!~~

~~There is no time. I am the closest-- ~~

~~You will stand down!~~

~~She is in danger; you sense it as well as I. She cannot overcome such a powerful demon on her own. I will not gainsay my duty to any of the Host, nor send another in my stead.~~

~~I ORDER YOU TO STAND DOWN! You are not ready; you are not able to-- ~~

Mihdael instantly and effectively shut him out. Since Michael hadn’t shown up to physically stop him, Mihdael figured the Archangel was too far away, and too involved in whatever mission, to leave. And that suited him just fine.

He increased his speed, the rush of imminent battle coursing through him. He needed this; he needed a good, knock-down-drag-out fight. Anything to dispel his depression, and burn away the coldness inside.

II

Michael’s mental search turned up no other available Archangel or Angel capable of stopping Mihdael, and going to Aleilah’s aid in his stead.

How could that be?

Unless…

~~Father, is this Your Will?~~


Yes, Michael.

The Archangel had little time to spare, as the leading edge of the Demon Horde, cloaked in clouds of dark energy, roared into sight on the distant horizon.

~~The danger is great, the foe too powerful. She cannot defeat it, and Mihdael is not ready-- ~~

Trust Me, Michael. They must learn. They have come to depend on thee too much. And by doing so, they have become careless, prideful, and foolhardy, knowing that thee will always come to their aid if called.

The roar and clanging of weapons increased in volume as the enemy surged forward, and Michael readied his Warriors.

~~I am aware all that Mihdael had experienced was to prepare him for his descent into Hell – to strengthen and fortify him for the travails he would face there. To be able to endure, and function effectively without his Warriors, and Thy Presence…

~~Are You now preparing him to act in my absence, without the possibility of my aid?~~
He didn’t ask what circumstances would prevent him from answering a call for aid.

Everything is possible.

The first clash of the two opposing armies ended the conversation.

~~As You Will, Father.~~

III

“I had hoped for a challenging contest. You are not a worthy foe.”

Aleilah backed away slowly, deeper into the dense woods, leading Zebetha further away from the ballpark. None of the players seemed in any hurry to leave, despite several loud blasts from a car horn.

Concentrating on healing a long gash that ran from elbow to shoulder on her right arm, she flew up and over the creature, avoiding the slashing axes. She knew she was outclassed from the first swing of the first axe, followed closely by a second and third. The third axe found her arm, and caused her instant retreat.

Her initial impulse was to call for Michael, but she quickly reconsidered, and called Mihdael instead. At that moment, she dreaded the Archangel’s lectures more than the demon facing her.

The bulky, clumsy-appearing creature moved with remarkable speed and agility. The arms rotated in all directions, accompanied by green DemonFire.

The DemonFire flared against her AngelFire, sending spider-web cracks through her defensive barrier. Deflecting two of the creature’s arms, the third cut through, knocking her dagger from her grasp.

She flew upward, and over, the demon, intending to angle around Zebetha and retrieve her dagger.

The edge of the axe sliced into her side, and she fell, rolled, and sent her energy to heal the cut.

Zebetha stood over her, ready to deliver the final blow, when a brilliant bolt of golden light streaked from the heavens.

Without pause, Mihdael’s energy-formed body crashed into the demon dead-center, the tremendous force slamming it backwards several yards, taking a few trees down in its wake.

The glow alighted, transformed quickly into human form; watching the still stunned creature, Mihdael knelt next Aleilah. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, just a few cuts. Nothing too serious…”

He nodded, and turned back to the demon, just as it rushed toward him. “Ahhh,” it growled, baring ragged teeth in a grin, “a worthy foe. An honorable victory with two trophies…”

Aleilah sat back to watch the show.

Multiple axes cut empty air as Mihdael easily evaded them. Sword drawn, white-gold flames leapt from the upraised blade; two axe-wielding arms fell to the ground. The Warrior reversed flight, intentionally slowing the fight and drawing the demon away from a still weak Aleilah, giving her time to heal her wounds.

Zebetha saw the angel’s attention diverted to the female, and feinted with its remaining axe arm; then followed with the small, thin knife held in the metallic glove. Both weapons missed, as the sword deflected the axe expertly; but the knife clipped his armband, raising dark sparks.

Mihdael jerked back, startled. Dark energy flowed from the knife, circling the golden metal of his bracer; dark energy, that he had experienced only once before in his existence , slowly dissipated.

Aleilah, seeing an opening, retrieved her weapon, and surged forward, her dagger ripping across thickly scaled wings. With a roar, the demon whirled, knife arm lashing out and knocking her back against a group of sturdy oaks that bent and shuddered when she hit.

The distraction enabled Mihdael to land a bone-jarring blow right where its nose should have been. His AngelFire burned away the DemonFire field that had protected Zebetha, the rays piercing scales, muscle, and tendon. The demon wavered, off-balance, its DemonFire fading out. Ducking under the swinging axe, Mihdael drew his sword back and drove it with all his strength into the center eye. The fiery blade cut downward, nearly bisecting the demon; then Mihdael withdrew the sword and stepped aside.

Zebetha reeled, screeching and roaring, the remaining two arms flailing as its neural connections disrupted. The short, heavily muscled legs gave way, and it fell forward.

Giving it only a cursory glance, Mihdael covered the short distance to where Aleilah still lay. The impact against the large oak trees hadn’t fazed her; the glancing blow of the knife had.

“Leea, are you hurt? That knife, I think it is—”

He broke off as something slammed into his back, at the joint of wing and shoulder blade. Strength and will left him, enveloping him in a dizzying, senses dulling blackness… A sensation he knew all too well…

Aleilah stared at him, wide-eyed, as he slumped forward. “Mihdael…!”

He heard her voice, distant and frightened; with every effort of will he possessed, he forced himself to his feet. But not on his own, as he felt Aleilah’s small hands supporting him. His vision dimmed, blurring out the hulking figure; the glint of a descending axe caught his failing vision, and he reacted instinctively. The gold fire of his blade sliced the demon in half, and it sizzled and faded from existence before either part of it hit the ground.

Dark energy centered and spread out from the juncture of wing and shoulder, and he collapsed. Vision nearly gone, hearing followed, as he tried to respond to Aleilah’s faintly heard words.

“Mihdael, what is it? What’s wrong? Hold on to me; I’ll get us back to Heaven, and Rafe can--’’

“No!” He meant to shout, but it came out as a hoarse croak. His voice would be gone soon. “No, not Heaven. We must stay here… bring Raphael… here…” He felt her arm brush against him as she reached for the knife hilt, and he slapped her hand aside. “Do not… touch it!”

“Sorry – I--”

His eyes, color draining from them, gazed past her. “That glove…” Each word came with concentrated effort; he knew he didn’t have much longer. “Use… use that. Do not touch--” The blackness enclosed him completely, cutting off all vision, hearing, and voice.

Sending a quick request to Raphael, she picked up the metallic glove that had fallen on the ground near them. It hadn’t vanished with the demon’s demise, which meant it wasn’t of the demon.

A bright, white-green flash of Light appeared near them, and Raphael took form before her. His all-encompassing glance took in the situation, and he knelt beside them, noting that Aleilah’s wounds were nearly healed. He motioned her to move aside, and she shifted her position to be out of the way, but still held on to Mihdael’s hand.

“You will need to let go of his hand, Leea; the contact will interfere with my mental link.”

She obeyed, reluctantly.

The Healer touched Mihdael’s forehead, the skin already cold, and becoming translucent. His black hair faded to gray-white, and fine, web-like black veining spread slowly over his shoulders and neck.

Aleilah stared at the effect, aghast. “Rafe, what’s wrong with him? I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“Aleilah, return to Heaven. There is naught you can do for him.”

“Is he--” She stopped, bit down on her lower lip as tears threatened to fall. “You… you can fix him, right?” Her effort at levity fell flat, her voice wavering at the end.

Already, his teal-green healing field swept around Mihdael from head to toe. But a large gap formed around the knife hilt, the feathers and skin around the buried blade becoming black, losing definition. Raphael flinched at the dark energy expended by the thin blade, knowing he would have to touch it in order to pull it free. And he had to remove the knife, before a more thorough healing could begin. He looked again at Aleilah, knowing she should not be present – not because of the detrimental effect it had on Mihdael, but because of the physical and mental effect it would have on her.

“Go back to Heaven, Leea. You can wait at my Retreat. I will not be long.”

She watched as he turned his attention back to his patient, tentatively reaching for the knife, obviously not wanting to remove it, but having to. Then she remembered – “Rafe, wait…”

She picked up the glove lying on the ground next to her leg. It was six times the size of her hand, an iridescent black, glossy metal very thin and lightweight; she held it out to him. “Just before he went out, Mihdael said to use this if you needed to touch the knife. He was really insistent about it; he wouldn’t let me touch it. He wouldn’t let me bring him to you in Heaven…” She knew she was rambling, but couldn’t stop.

The Healer accepted it, looked it over curiously. “Odd…” He noticed instantly that the proximity of the dark energy no longer affected him, as he held the glove between himself and the knife.

“Now, you must leave. I cannot remove the knife until you leave.” At her lack of response, he hardened his tone. “Leave, NOW.”

“All right, Rafe; I’ll wait for you at your Retreat.”


Chapter Thirteen
A Small Discovery


I

True to his word, Raphael appeared at his Retreat before Aleilah had time to notify any of the Host about what had happened. And at his arrival, she immediately forgot about telling anyone, focusing her attention on her brother angel and his injuries.

“Blast it, Mihdael,” Raphael muttered, as he adjusted the teal-green healing field around the unresponsive Warrior. “You just had to fly to the rescue, did you not? Are you so impaired that you forgot that no other angel can assist you, or be in your vicinity??? You were not ready for an encounter with a … a bumblebee, much less a powerful demon.”

Satisfied for the moment, Raphael turned his attention to the huge glove that Aleilah had given him. His AngelFire swirled around it, separating the metallic material from the other fabric forming the glove, resulting in an irregular, double-ply piece of cloth about three hands wide and four hands in length. The knife remained wrapped in the folds, and he took it into an adjoining room, placing it on a small pedestal.

Returning to the Healing Chamber, he glanced at Aleilah, acknowledging her presence. His usually pleasant features grew annoyed. “And you, did you not heed my cautions?

“Why did you not call for Michael, or Liftheon, or even me? Look at this mess! There are hardly any unaffected areas at all; the residual HellFire burns are not helping any, either.”

“I… I didn’t think; I just… reacted.” She stammered, taken aback at the Healer’s crossness. “He was the second one I thought of; it was more or less involuntary.” She remained near the archway, not entering the large, airy Chamber without invitation. “I couldn’t call Michael; he is so--”

“Busy with my duties to God and Heaven.”

Both looked up as the Archangel flew into the room, his huge wings trimmed to pass through the off-center opening in the domed ceiling.

He landed near Raphael, sparing a glance at his disobedient Second. “What is it this time? I sensed the presence of Tekite, and I still sense it.” His gaze swept the room, searching for the aberration.

“Both of you, come in here.” The Healer led them to a small, adjoining antechamber. He paused at an ivory pedestal, a folded cloth resting on it. “Now, I am very curious as to this metallic fabric. And, Michael, the Tekite you sense is right there, concealed in that cloth.”

“Tekite? What is that?” Aleilah looked to both Archangels, puzzled.

Raphael’s annoyance shifted to Michael. “Am I going to have to start a class on this wretched ore? ‘Tekite: Avoid At All Costs’? Since no one else in Heaven seems to think it is important for all angels to know such a simple fact.”

He looked at Aleilah, ignoring his brother Archangel for the moment. “Tekite,” he explained patiently, “is the only created substance in the Universe that can adversely affect the Heavenly Host. It will not cause death – ” He sent a quick glance toward Mihdael, “Usually. But in Mihdael’s case, he had not fully recovered from the HellFire,” and he sent his accusing gaze to Michael, who remained stoically silent. And unapologetic.

Picking up the cloth-wrapped knife, he continued. “The extent of its effects on angels is determined by proximity, length of exposure, and the stamina of the angel. At the very least, it causes temporary paralysis; at the very worse, it creates a condition of complete sensory deprivation and a comatose like state. It is easier to heal the effects here, in my Sanctuary.”

Michael took the cloth covered knife, placing it inside his over tunic.

“Then, he’ll be okay?” Aleilah pressed, to concerned about Mihdael to wonder at, or question, Michael’s action.

“I am not sure what ‘okay’ is for Mihdael. But the Tekite blade pierced through to his internal energy, which is not good. I am not sure what to expect, as I always eliminated the threat before it reached the innermost energy levels; or the angel took care of it himself. Michael is the only other angel I know who has experienced, and self-healed, a prolonged internal disintegration of Tekite.”

Michael nodded. “Even then, I was completely immobile,” he glanced toward the Healing Chamber, “and Mihdael does not have the stamina, nor the healing capacity, of an Archangel. He may not fully recover; this is unchartered territory for angels.”

“Rafe,” her tone became serious, realizing what she had narrowly escaped, “tell me he will recover.”

“I do not know if Mihdael has the strength left to do that; he might need more aid than I alone can give him.”

They followed him back to his patient. Aleilah could not see any improvement. Worse, his mortal image faded in and out, becoming translucent.

“Then… what can we do?”

“Whatever he will allow us to do. I think…” He gave Michael a bemused look. “I think he might be receptive to you, Aleilah.

“Would you be willing to help me with his Healing?”

“Anything I can do, I’ll do it.”

“Think this through carefully, Leea, and be certain. This will not be a normal, everyday type Joining. We will access all levels of his being, and,” he added with emphasis, raising a hand to forestall her automatic response, “he will see, know, and experience your innermost being and thoughts.

“Are you prepared, and willing, to do that?”

“Deeply private… and personal… thoughts and experiences can be blocked,” Michael quickly interjected. Both angels looked at him, each for different reasons.

“That is true. If he is strong enough to block those areas. In either case, it will be an intrusion he may not want, but be unable to stop. He, uh, might resent you for it later…”

She glanced away, mentally reviewing her past… what she could recall of it. A few missteps, some silliness, several ill-advised words and deeds… Nothing she considered too terribly unAngelic.

“Most of my ‘bad’ memories are gone. And I’d rather have him around resenting me, than not have him around at all.

“Tell me what to do.”

***
Raphael indicated the front foyer of his Retreat. “I will prepare her for the Healing, Michael; it would be best if… you were not present.”

“Understood.” Michael nodded shortly, wings extending. “Summon me when you are finished.”

Raphael watched as Michael flew to his own aerie, then turned his attention to Aleilah and Mihdael.

II
“Revert to your original form of pure energy.”

Raphael watched as she transformed into her natural state: pure energy suffused with sparkling casts of violet and lavender, with God’s White Light at the center. His white-green energy glowed in brilliant cascades of Light as he stood next to her and continued.

“Attend my words carefully, Aleilah. I will guide and heal; you will follow and act as a buffer and conduit, as we will meet resistance. It is instinctive on his part, even if he is not aware of it.

“I will form a mental link between both of you on a subconscious level – he may, or may not, respond to you. It depends on how deeply and thoroughly the Tekite has affected him.

“I am not knowledgeable in this instance, due to the numerous internal breakdowns. Once the mental link is established, he will know we are here, and will ‘hear’ you; do not be alarmed if he does not respond to your presence. The Tekite cuts off all sensation and hampers thought in normal, surface contact. Internal contact is much more debilitating, and causes extensive damage.”

“I understand.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

His energy field overlapped hers, Joining them spiritually and mentally; their souls remained separate, so each could better perform their individual tasks. Raphael guided their combined energy to mesh with the healing teal light surrounding Mihdael, and she felt the first jarring shock of the warrior’s internal injuries.

“Ohhh, Rafe… There’s so much… damage--” She broke off, suddenly aware that Mihdael might be able to hear and sense her alarm. She flinched back from the large, gash-like blackened areas that slowly spread along lines of energy.

“Stay with me, Aleilah; do not waver. The link is formed… now.”

She mentally held on to Raphael as her spirit and soul fell into dark, bleak oblivion…

Nothingness…

Filled with an overwhelming sense of desolation and dispiritedness; the only sensation one of complete despondency, draining away will and hope. It engulfed her mind, and only Raphael’s strength of will enabled her to resist, and kept her on track.

“I have begun the Healing, Aleilah. See if you can contact him.”

She searched out God’s Light, a small, but steady glow surrounded by blackness. She concentrated with effort, focusing on the Light. “Mihdael… art thou aware?”

At first, nothing; she waited, then sensed a tentative, seemingly distant, response. “Leea? How…? Where… are we?”

Her soul nearly leaped with joy at even that faint reply. “Mihdael, I’m so glad you can hear me! We’re at Raphael’s Retreat. Rafe is with me, he--”

“Yes. I sense his presence now. Is… anyone else--?”


“No, just me and Rafe.” She felt a distinct easing of tension, and he became more receptive.

As her consciousness swept through him, unhindered, she saw aspects of his true character, feelings, and experiences. She scanned over them quickly, not wanting to intrude any more than necessary. She encountered several blocks – weak, insubstantial; she could break through them with ease if she wanted to. Temptation to do just that, to learn everything she could, to know aspects of his life that he had kept from her that the rest of the Host already knew, rose within her with unexpected intensity.

And he was aware of it. “Leea… are the blocks still there?”

“Yes,” she caught herself mentally nodding, and stopped. “Several of them. Weak and unsteady, but there, and intact.”

“Wilt thou… honor them?”

“Yes, of course.”
Regretting her sudden wave of uncontrolled curiosity, she backed up. Aware of his restraint at prying into her buried memories, she felt even more shame.

“Please, Mihdael, allow Rafe all he needs to Heal you. I will be the conduit for him, but it will be easier, and more effective, if you willingly allow it.” This two-way link revealed her thoughts and feelings to him in a way she hadn’t considered, despite Raphael’s cautions. She smiled as his amusement reached her.

He lowered many of the barriers himself, keeping only a few intact. She waited, patient and undemanding, yet there to offer what comfort she could if he needed it.

“Very well, Angel…” His ‘voice’ faded as he relinquished all resistance, conserving what strength he had left to aid Raphael with the Healing. “I trust you.”

II

Archangel Michael flew straight to his aerie, alighting on the main entryway. Ascertaining that none of the Host was near, or intending to visit, he strode to the innermost room. Casting AngelFire about the room, encompassing floor, ceiling, and walls, he withdrew the strange cloth from his tunic.

Surrounded by his AngelFire, suspended before him, the cloth unwrapped, and the knife hovered, dark energy sparking around it. As expected, the long, thin blade, formed of Tekite, emitted raw energy; iron and interwoven silver formed the handle, plain and unadorned. He flinched back from the short-wave energies, and brought up his own AngelFire defenses.

Thinking for a moment, he vanished in a flash of blue-white Light, then reappeared. He held an oblong box made of Olivewood, the length of an arrow. It had been discovered at the Ha-Satan’s aerie shortly after the Fallen Archangel had been banished from Heaven. He had sensed lingering traces of Tekite within the box, and easily deduced its purpose. Now, he would use it for that same purpose.

Chapter Fourteen
Hell a la Carte


I

~~Thou art doing well, Leea. The minor areas are finished, and have strengthened him to endure the healing of the two remaining major areas of damage.

~~Both must be healed completely; if not, he will never reconstitute those areas of his composition.~~

~~Can you rephrase that with one syllable words?~~

~~He will not be the same if the healing is not complete.~~

~~What two areas are they?~~

~~Part of his time in Hell, and… Michael…~~

~~Oh. Well, that just figures, doesn’t it? He will allow your aid, yet--~~

~~You will need to help him.~~

~~Whatever he needs, I’m willing to give him.~~

~~If at any point you need to separate, tell me. DO NOT break the link on your own. You have to stay with him.~~

~~I understand. Hopefully, his blocks will hold.~~

With Raphael’s careful guidance, she skimmed over the large, blackened sections, avoiding the broken arcs of energy within them. The Healer had not exaggerated; already, the foundation of much of Mihdael’s basic being broke down. The remnants needed restructuring, before disintegrating completely.

The teal-green Light suffused the areas, surrounding and reforming the energy arcs. She moved aside slightly, to allow him more leeway; that slight movement brushed against Mihdael’s weak barrier, and it suddenly collapsed…

Without warning, her mental ‘self’ plunged into a dizzying, soul-shattering spiral into Hell…

###

Instinctively, she sought to halt her descent, but the whirlpool pulled her down with a rush of furious mental currents. All that Mihdael had buried deep in his subconscious now free of restraint, and allowed to surge to the surface.

She felt buffeted by the conflicting emotions, and memories, jumbled together, one over the other, overwhelming her. Worse of all, the very essence of Hell permeated every atom of her being: the acrid, burning stench of brimstone, the alternating, soul-searing currents of heat and frigid cold, and an all-pervading atmosphere of desolation, despair, and abandonment.

And hopelessness. Abject, soul-crushing hopelessness…

Her soul, her mind, recoiled from it; more than anything, she wanted escape. But there was no escape…

‘Aleilah… you cannot be here—‘

‘How do I get out?’ Her mere mental response felt desperate to her; she forced herself to calm, knowing he felt everything she did.

‘I… do not know. I am sorry, Leea; I cannot stop the memories…’

‘It’s okay; just stay close to me. I won’t leave you.’ As she ‘settled in’, her mental connection meshing with his deepest memories, serenity flowed over her, negating the former fear. She smiled to herself, recognizing Raphael’s protective presence.

‘I want you to leave. I do not want you to… to go through this…’

‘I’m not afraid, Mihdael; let us help you. Give the pain and fear to me; take from me what strength you need, for I give all willingly.’

~~Take my hand, and give me your fear.~~

A thread of amusement, and faint awakening hope, crept through as he replied. ~~Holding hands, Leea? Then… shall we jump from the frying pan together?~~

~~You mean… this isn’t the fire??~~

~~Not even close, Leea; not even close…~~

The fleeting, overlapping events slowed, skewed and leveled, becoming clearer, and revealing.

His strength, and willpower, returned in slow degrees, enabling him to rush by many of the events in Hell; minor ones, unimportant ones – leaving the major ones to her view. And involvement.

Where she had not been present, she appeared now; hearing, seeing, and experiencing his deepest buried memory of Hell: Michael’s rescue.

From only his viewpoint, and his interpretation, the scene replayed.

The at-first-hopeful, then the stark truth of the Archangel’s unexpected appearance next to Lucifer.

~~Surely he was there to free you from that horrible place.~~

~~In a way. Leea,~~ and his mental voice took on a pleading tone, ~~there is no need for you to see, and experience this. It will serve no useful purpose, and cannot change what is.~~

~~If you share it with me, it will be easier for you to bear. Through me, Raphael can dull the pain, so that only the images remain. I can filter it, and you can keep whatever you wish, and submerge in your subconscious all that you no longer want to feel, but still do not want to forget.~~

~~Only if you promise to have Raphael remove those memories from you, and… if it becomes too much for you during this process, you will stop.~~

~~I promise.~~

~~Then… I will cut right to it: ~~


As if on a nightmare stage, Hell’s dungeon appeared around her. Stark rock walls, cracks and fissures glowing with Hellfire, the air heavy with brimstone fumes and heat. Her viewpoint was his, and the dull, echoing sound of a metal lock being opened drew their attention to the iron-bound door to the cell.

As the door swung inward, she followed Mihdael’s startled gaze, ignoring, for the moment, the lashes of the HellFire whip as it cracked the air near him. His Light, as faint as it was, protected him from the whip; and the sight of Michael filled him with hope for the first time since his arrival in Hell.

Lucifer’s cold, imperious voice filled the confines of the cell, as he gave an incredulous order. “Hold him down, Michael; hold him until I am finished. Then he is yours.”

Mihdael forced himself to his feet, ready to fight. With Michael at his side, he could not be defeated.

The whip cracked once more, and Mihdael lunged across the chamber, in a renewed surge of strength and hope. He had barely managed to avoid the HellFire whip in his depleted state; with the Archangel’s presence, he would be able to avoid it easily.

“Michael, you will stop him; strike him down.”

Mihdael charged directly toward Lucifer, wings flung back for least wind resistance, his form a blur of motion. His forward impetus was unexpectedly brought up short by a blast of blue-white force, the energy crackling around him. He fell to the ground, rolled to his feet; he lunged again at Lucifer, and another, stronger blast of blue-white energy struck him, followed by a hard, solid backhand that sent him reeling backwards, into the boulders—a staggering blow that had not been dealt by Lucifer.

Even as that implication sank in, he lurched to his feet, eyes blazing at Michael. “If you are not with me, then get the Hell out of my way!”

He lashed out, and his wrist was seized in a grip of iron. He looked up with surprised horror into Michael’s silvery eyes, eyes that seemed to look right through him. He was dragged, hardly resisting, within range of Lucifer’s whip. He tried to pry the fingers loose with his free hand, as the lashes tore across wings and shoulders, searing both flesh and feathers. He recoiled from the impact, hardly aware that both wrists were now tightly held. “Commander, will you…not fight with me…?”

The lashes struck again, and his shoulder slammed against the Archangel’s solid frame, attempting to knock him off-balance, to wrench free…to no avail.

In the few seconds he had, as the whip was pulled back, he rested his hands against the cool, solid surface of Michael’s armor, letting his perceptions reach past the mortal form, assuring himself that the Archangel was no illusion. He shook his head, not wanting to believe that Michael was forcing him to endure this.

“Commander,” his voice was low, strained with confusion and anger, “Why? Has God sent you to ensure my—” His voice broke off in a gasp of pain as the whip burned through him, the lashes wrapping around his waist and chest. Even as the fire burned through his soul, he waited for Michael’s answer -- an answer that never came.

The whipping continued, unabated; he felt strength and will drain from him, felt his knees buckle under the onslaught, too weak to support him. He fell against Michael’s solid frame, the agony tearing through him; he was trembling with the effort to endure the searing pain. But even an angel, even a warrior, could endure only so much… Awareness faded away, his last coherent thought consumed in the torturous flames of Hellfire… That Michael had done nothing to aid him, and, for whatever reason, believed he deserved this punishment… deserved it, and ensured it…

And Aleilah felt all of it, experienced his bewilderment and sense of betrayal.

Michael held the warrior up, letting his smaller frame rest against him. The six lashes continued to flay the angel’s back and shoulders, blood flowing freely, sizzling whenever the energies of the whip touched it.

She saw Michael’s gaze looking into Lucifer’s implacable eyes, black slits ringed with red-orange. His hands tightened on Mihdael’s wrists as the warrior sagged against him, head down, blond hair flecked with blood. She, as well as Michael, could sense the angel’s life-force ebb, could see the Light wavering, and fade as the whip struck again and again.

And unable to physically retreat, Mihdael retreated from within; away from Lucifer, the whip, and Michael…he retreated from all of it.
Even withdrawing into himself, he felt the Archangel’s great wings curve protectively over his torn back, the emerald feathers alive with a golden Light that sent renewed strength throughout his being,

The whip halted before executing another arc, and Lucifer’s voice cut coldly into him. “You break your word, Archangel, not to interfere?”

“Not before you break yours. You can see as well as I that he cannot endure. Your own bargain guaranteed he would be alive when you finished and gave him over to me. If those terms are to be met, this…punishment cannot continue.”

“One hundred lashes I was commanded to mete out; there are twenty still to go.”

“He cannot survive twenty. He is only an Angel, Lucifer.”

Lucifer smiled at Michael’s words, a smile that only emphasized the Prince of Darkness’ cruel nature. “… ‘More than Angel. For You, and Michael, are asking more of him…’ Remember my words, Commander? I, I, gave him strength and power—he was second only to you. And you, you made him all-forgiving, made him weak and submissive. Ironic to discover that his strength and power was used against me; and his weakness and tractability was used against you…

“He would never submit to me, and he would never stand up to you.

“He will survive. I will not say for how long, but his own pride will not let him yield to me – in life or death.

“Either stand away, or leave now – without him.”

Michael’s silence continued for a moment, and he used the brief respite to channel his strength to the warrior; Mihdael hovered just below the surface of consciousness, the additional strength starting to revive him, bringing him to further awareness. But not quite to a conscious level of hearing clearly.

Aleilah focused her mental link to pin-point accuracy, wanting to hear, and know, what Mihdael had blanked out. Not intentionally; he just didn’t want to hear any more of Lucifer’s gloating.

The dimly seen and heard image became sharper, their voices clearer. Michael spoke quickly, his silver eyes flashing a challenge. “Let me, then, take the last twenty lashes. You cannot deny that the prospect of me at the end of your whip is far more… gratifying than a lowly Angel.”

“You would do that? You would take his place…willingly? You would humble yourself to Hellfire, to allow your enemy – your archenemy – to degrade and humiliate you? For the sake of a lowly Warrior?”

“Yes.”

“How touching, and tempting. But I fear I cannot take you up on your selfless offer. Mihdael already thinks the Universe revolves around you; I will not give him added incentive to continue to think so. On the contrary, I think this incident will bring you into much clearer focus in his eyes.

“Now, do I resume, or do you abandon him yet again?”

Michael closed his eyes tightly, willing more strength to Mihdael as his wings retracted; he wasn’t at all certain that the warrior’s stamina alone would suffice.

Aleilah’s spirit trembled with the agony from the HellFire whip, and her own spiritual wings swept around Mihdael, embracing him, taking into her being what she could bear, and enabling him to survive the ordeal once again.

Mihdael flinched at the first five lashes, made a weak attempt to pull away at the next five. The following five cut deeper than any of the previous ones, and he cried out through clenched teeth, collapsing at Michael’s feet as the final five lashes burned deep into his soul and he surrendered, finally, to the merciful embrace of oblivion.

And Aleilah collapsed to the rough, uneven cavern floor with him; she had managed to endure all of it, and knew she still had a lot of work to do…

They ‘came back’ gradually, together, leaving a substantial barrier around that particular memory. Raphael’s healing presence surrounded both of them, and he quickly took all the pain that Aleilah had taken from Mihdael and banished it from her memory.

Strengthened by the Archangel’s presence, she maintained a comforting, supportive foundation for Mihdael, pleased that the Healing was nearly complete.


She waited while Mihdael adjusted to his current surroundings, and she sensed a different attitude – and appearance. For as his mortal image coalesced and stabilized, he was once more his blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-winged self. The Dark Angel image vanished -- visually, mentally, and emotionally.

His bemused thought reached her clearly, no longer weak and distant. ~~I did not realize… I knew Michael had to have a good reason for his actions… but I would not let him finish any explanations… That wretched temper of mine again...

~~And he offered to take the punishment in my stead… Perhaps now, after a while, I can find a way to reach him…~~

She smiled with agreement, and said nothing, leaving him alone with his thoughts and new found knowledge.

*** *** ***
“I am nearly finished, Leea. Would you like to leave now?”

“If it’s okay, I’d rather stay. He’s very calm now, and I can almost feel the reconnections, and the injured areas healing.” Aleilah maintained her mental ‘holding hands’.

Mihdael hadn’t resisted her, or asked her to leave. Raphael’s teal healing energies swept through his entire being, unrestricted; welcomed, even. She watched as dark, damaged areas glowed with teal AngelFire, and begin a slow, measured Healing.

“As you wish, Angel.” Although noncommittal and very professional, she sensed that Raphael was pleased with her decision to remain.

*** *** ***
After cutting an adequate section of the metallic cloth with his sword, Michael wrapped the smaller piece around the Tekite knife blade; the hilt lay on the side table, as it presented no danger separate from the blade. Placing it in the Olivewood box, he bound it with his Light-fueled AngelFire. On its own, the Olivewood dampened the Tekite’s effects considerably, as well as preventing any angel sensing its presence in the box. And as a further precaution, the exotic cloth negated the Tekite’s effects completely.

“Uriel, wilt thee attend me at my aerie?”

Uriel’s pure blue Light appeared before him, his brilliant rays of energy filling the small, enclosed area. In a bright flash, he took on mortal form, his aura contracting somewhat. “Thou hast need of me?”

“Yes.” Michael’s AngelFire lifted the box, and it hovered near Uriel. “There is a Tekite dagger blade in this box. It needs to be locked away in a … safe place.”

“You mean to allow it to remain in Heaven? Did you not chastise Mihdael about that very thing?”

“Mihdael was attempting to create Tekite; this is already formed, and must be kept from the Host.”

“So… You entrust it to me.” Blue flames in his eyes flared, then settled. “I am not certain of the wisdom of this, but I will keep it at my aerie. Unless you have someplace else in mind…” He accepted the hovering box, placing it under one arm.

“No. It will be safe with you. Form another box from Olivewood, place this box in it. Bind it and encase it with your own AngelFire. That should prevent any of the Host from discovering it, even if it is within arm’s length of them.”

“I, personally, do not think it wise to have such a powerful weapon in Heaven. It would have, after all, only one use.” At Michael’s lack of response, he continued, “Mihdael is the strongest, and most powerful, Angel in Heaven; you are the most powerful Archangel in Heaven. Tekite has brought both of you down, rendered you helpless, even if only for a short length of time. Do you anticipate using it for… a similar purpose in the future?”

Michael delayed answering leading the way onto the largest balcony overlooking Heaven. “This falls within my purview as it pertains to the defense and protection of Heaven. Much of the future is unknown to us. It behooves me then, as that defender, to ensure that even the strongest and most powerful in Heaven can be neutralized, if it should become necessary.”

“I do not think you intend to include yourself in that category, Commander.”

Michael’s gaze returned to the vast, golden city below them; the numerous spires, domes, and edifices stretched to the limitless horizon. Only himself and Lucifer (and, of course, God) knew of Mihdael’s hidden ability. An ability granted to him by God at his creation, and unknown to the Warrior himself. And only he or Lucifer could reveal that ability to Mihdael, unless the Warrior discovered it on his own.

God hadn’t restricted him or Lucifer from revealing it anyone else, but He hadn’t given them permission to do so, either.

“Simply think of it as a last ditch option,” he replied finally, his back still to Uriel. “To be used only as a last resort.”

Silence settled over them, then Uriel nodded, his tone cautious. “God appears to be silent on this,” he mused. “Very well, Archangel; I will do as you ask.”

III
Michael watched as Uriel’s blue energy dwindled in the distance, then returned to the inner chamber where he had left the metallic cloth.

“Now,” he said quietly, “Let us see what this is made of…”

AngelFire swirled around the cloth, light glinting in dark rainbow colors, lifting it from the table. It unfolded, and spread out. AngelFire surged around it, isolating the cloth’s components, the pinpoint rays separating molecules and parting atoms.

He discerned the configuration of Olivewood, silver, and an element he couldn’t identify. A metallic, black iridescent element that resisted his analysis.

Pondering the composition and origin of the unknown element, he glanced up as he received Raphael’s mental message.

~~We have finished, Michael. I am optimistic for a full recovery. He is now strong enough to complete the Healing on his own. If I can persuade him to stay inactive as much as possible.~~

~~My compliments, Healer. Your skills are extraordinary. And so are hers…~~

~~Very true. She helped immensely. She’s staying with him until he is back on his feet.~~

~~When he is aware and well enough, tell him he is confined to his aerie-- ~~

~~Really, Commander?~~
Raphael interrupted, his exasperation with both of them evident.

Michael continued, ignoring the comment. ~~For as long as you deem to ensure complete recovery.~~

~~Ahhh…yes; very well, then.~~







EPILOGUE:

Putting aside the problem of the exotic, red metallic material, Archangel Michael flew over the city of Heaven, performing his usual Evening Tide patrol. He rarely had an opportunity any more to make a general fly over of Heaven, and he enjoyed the satisfying sense of duty and routine.

Everything seemed peaceful, and perfect.

The Tekite dagger was safely stored away, and he now had the means to discover a defense against it.

Aleilah’s training, which he considered a moderate success, was, nevertheless, effective for her.

And Mihdael’s eventual recovery was assured.

Everything was perfect.

For the time being…

*** *** ***
Aleilah flew a low, leisurely course over Eden, toward the Falls.

All seemed peaceful, and perfect.

Mihdael, to her vast relief, was doing very well; was even conscious and aware when she left Raphael’s Retreat.

She had a new mission to Earth pending.

And Michael, for once, hadn’t shown up at all to lecture or reprimand her for whatever he felt were her shortcomings.

Everything was peaceful.

For the time being…


NEXT: HeavenBound
DEMON HUNT

Reading Order of Books:

EarthBound
Aleilah, Guardian & Counselor
HellBound
Guardian At Arms
Demon Hunt
Changes in Attitude
Alternate Reality
Archangel’s Atonement



THE ALEILAH SERIES


WHAT IF... There were no female angels in Heaven?
WHAT IF... God decided to create one female angel, shortly after the Great Flood?
WHAT IF... She found herself captivated by the stoically rigid Commander of Heaven’s Army?
WHAT IF... Archangel Michael found himself responding to her in an entirely unexpected (and bewildering ) manner?

These concepts and more are explored with humor and insight as Angel Aleilah evolves from an innocent child-like being into a fully mature female who longs to experience all life has to offer: in both Heaven and Earth.

Part 1 – “Aleilah: Guardian & Counselor”
After the Great Flood, God creates a new Angel to serve as Mankind’s guardian and counselor for the Host of Heaven.

Part 2 – “Guardian at Arms”*
Angel Warrior Mihdael teaches Aleilah basic self-defense techniques, under Michael’s watchful eye.

Part 3 – “Demon Hunt”* (originally DEMONOCALYPSE)
Michael, Aleilah, Liftheon, and Mihdael are sent to Earth to stop Lucifer’s plan for his own version of the Apocalypse.

Part 4 – “Changes in Attitude”*
Aleilah’s attentions to a Troll-like creature sets off Michael’s jealous temper.

Part 5 – “Alternate Reality”
God sends Aleilah to an Alternate Reality as she attempts to prevent the War in Heaven.

Part 6 – “Archangel’s Atonement”
Michael’s decision costs him his title, rank, and authority in Heaven. Mihdael takes over as Commander of the Army. Last story in the Aleilah Series.

*Currently available at lulu.com

Contact info: Angel Aleilah Series melindar1951@gmail.com c/o Melinda Reynolds P O Box 143; Poole, KY 42444

© Copyright 2018 AngelArchiver (msreynolds at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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