Zuriphel's mortal servants strove against the advancing Malakim in vain. Gunshots echoed through the halls of the sacred grotto and the groans of the fallen were ignored in the fire of battle. The Symphony screamed with the strain of Celestial war on Earth. Emily Perkins wept in despair. She was a Soldier of God, sworn to uphold His Might and Word. How did it come to pass that she herself was fighting the angelic host?
Panting with exhaustion, Zuriphel himself looked beaten. The last of his Essence was spent long ago, and only the power of the holy place that was his charge supported him now. Zuriphel was yelling hoarsely, rallying his forces for a final attempt to break free of the tightening circle of enemies, when a hooded form entered the room. All fell silent, Malakim and Soldiers alike, overwhelmed by the presence of the Angel of Judgment. Emily had time for a single thought, that Zuriphel's transgression must be terrible indeed to merit the Archangel Dominic's personal attention. Then Archangel spoke.
"Zuriphel," Dominic's voice boomed through the chamber. "In His name I denounce you. You have consorted with demons, risking the safety and purity of those under your protection. Through your negligence the Enemy has learned of the order and disposition of many of our forces throughout this land. You have echoed the lies of the Enemy, tempting those who follow you away from the path of righteousness. The fact that you are entrusted with great honor - the Seneschal of this holy Tether to Heaven - only increases your blasphemy. For your crimes and sins against the holy Name, I cast you out. I drive you into the greater darkness, that you may meditate on your folly until the Final Days."
Zuriphel drew himself up straight, his eyes blazing with rage. "How dare you denounce me, you self righteous prick. You are the cause of all our woe. The strife amongst the angelic host only furthers the infernal cause. What sin is it to echo demonic words if they speak truth? How can you stand by while..."
Zuriphel's speech was cut short by the roar of flames. The angel screamed in agony as whirlwind of fire swept over him, pushing him back and down into the depths. The Zuriphel's mortal vessel burned away as his spiritual form was flung into darkness. Nearly all of Zuriphel's human servants stood stunned. All, that is, except Emily.
"How could you?" she screamed, plummeting forward. "How can you condemn him, who did so much for Heaven? He was kind, beautiful and good, and you cast him away without a moment's thought! Doesn't he get a say, a chance to defend himself? Can divine justice be so arbitrary, so cruel?"
Without even a glance, Dominic grabbed her coat, lifting her from the floor. He calmly directed the Malakim to clear the room and to guard against infernal invaders that might hope to take advantage of Heaven's temporary weakness. Emily raged incoherently and struggled in the Archangel's grips as her comrades filed hopelessly from the room. Soon her sobs where the only sounds left in the battered hall.
"Fear not, mortal," Dominic said. "You are free of stain. Zuriphel's sin has been cut off at its root, and no more of your companions will suffer for it. When Heaven's new warden arrives to protect this place, you may serve that angel as you did Zuriphel before."
"You bastard!" she cried. "I don't care what happens to me now. You've just destroyed the only thing that I've ever cared about. He never had a hope, no chance at all."
Dominic frowned. "His crimes were unpardonable, especially for one of his station. To spout that demonic prattle to mortal ears was ..."
"But it was true!" Emily burst out. "The archangels do bicker amongst themselves, and it does make Hell's work that much easier. Even if it was wrong of him to say so, you never gave him any warning, any chance to redeem himself."
"Enough!" The Archangel of Justice loomed over the young woman, cowing her into silence. For the first time Emily met his eyes, burning deep within his cowl. For the first time she realized the power of the being that stood before her, a Prince of Heaven unveiled, and she thought, Dear God whom I serve, he could destroy me with a glance. Preserve me!
She crumbled to the ground, expecting the death blow at any time. She trembled with her arms shielding her head, everything but her eminent demise forgotten. But only silence fell, and after a moment she heard a deep sigh, with the weight of ages wrapped around that breath.
"Sit child," the Archangel intoned. "Speak no more. Listen to this story before you choose to judge me, who judges all."
Emily looked up to see Dominic gazing into the distance. It was as if his vision pierced all the veils of time and distance, to some ancient past known only to the oldest of God's progeny. His arms hung limply at his side, his form perfectly still.
"In the days before the beginning of time," Dominic began. "The Lord called His angels before Him. He spoke of a world He would soon make, of a species of creature that would inhabit it. He spoke of our role in that world, as guardian and guides. To each angel, He gave a task, a Word to defend and uphold, that the Symphony could thus be sung.
"I was among the first who came before Him, and I confess that I expected to be gifted with honor and a great Word. Thus I was surprised when the Word I received was one never before heard in Heaven, that of Judgment. I asked His Glory, 'What is this thing Judgment? What does it mean?'
"I was not the first to ask such questions, and He explained His meaning as patiently to me as He did to all the others. He said the Judgment led to the punishment of sin, that those who worked against His Will be my domain. He told me that it was my task to watch for those who would stray from the path of truth and goodness.
"I walked away, humbled and confused. Such a thing was unimaginable to me. He Will was so manifestly righteous, so true, that I could not conceive how any could ever disobey it. I was lost long in thought, and so missed much of the great work of that eon. My mind ran it circles, and I began to feel that fulfilling my Word would be impossible. There would never be a need for it.
"As I pondered my dilemma, another of the Heavenly host, a lesser angel named Abdiel, approached me. It was a few moment before I notice his presence, and when I did, it was because his countenance, posture and attitude were so strange. It clear that he wished to speak with me, but that he dreaded it at the same time. He was in conflict, and I had never before seen such emotions on an angelic face.
"I waited, and at last he began. 'Dominic,' he said. 'There is something I ... there is something that you need to know. I think that I have witnessed something that falls under your Word.'
"I did not know what to say, and there was an uncomfortable silence before he continued. 'I have been with Lucifer. He has been saying ... things. Disturbing things. He has said that he believes the Highest will set the inhabitants of the new world above us, that they will displace us in His eyes. Lucifer said there is a prophecy of a king that shall rise from among them and lay us low. That they shall make an end to angelic glory, and force us to bow before them.'
"I was understandably shocked. I had some inkling of this prophecy, but never had I heard it interpreted in that way. The worst was yet to come, however.
"'Lucifer also asked how I felt about the Plan,' Abdiel went on. 'He seemed to want to know if I might feel as he did. I told Lucifer that I trusted in the wisdom of the Highest, that I had faith that all would be for the greater good. Lucifer bantered with me a while longer, prying at me, and then left me with some pleasantries. I ... do not think I am the only one he has spoken to. I believe he is gathering others, speaking with them as well. I do not know what he says to them.'
"'You did well to come to me,' I reassured Abdiel. 'I will look into this. Rest assured that the matter will soon be settled.'
"I left him then, and I do not know if he saw how troubled I was. I still could not believe such a thing was possible. Lucifer was more highly placed than I, one of the most favored of the Lord. How could I confront one such as he with such a terrible question? In the end I chose to speak to him even as I do now: plainly. I went to Lucifer and without preamble said, 'Have you been speaking with other angels against the Plan?'
"Lucifer was completely taken aback. 'Whatever do you mean?' he asked. I proceeded to explain all that Abdiel had told me; guilelessly I left out nothing. When I was done, he smiled at me. My doubts broke like mist before the beatific glow of that Seraph.
"'Surely Abdiel misunderstood my questioning,' was his answer. 'I have been speaking with many of the Heavenly Host. My task in the new world is a profound and complex one. I thought it wise to consult the opinions of my fellows in the problems relating to my Word. I am deeply sorry that my speech disturbed poor Abdiel. I am sure his task is difficult as well, and I hope my rambling did overly not burden him.'
"'But your words were spoken in such a way as to call into question the very Plan itself,' I replied.
"'But that cannot be,' Lucifer was quick to respond. 'How can anything counter the Plan? How can anything not be a part of it? The Lord's wisdom encompasses all. I only sought to perfect my own understanding.' That high angel paused meaningfully a moment, furrowing his exquisite brow as if deeply troubled. I remember next his words well 'If my speech disturbed Abdiel so, perhaps this is an issue that should be brought before the Council of the Seraphim. It is something that should be aired and corrected before proceeding with the work. It would not do to continue with the Plan when we are surrounded by uncertainty.'
"Oh he twisted my mind as if held my heart in his hand! That I was not the first to be misled by his wiles does not lessen my shame. I was quick to reassure him that no inquiry would be necessary, and certainly that no pause in the work was required. His protests only made me more certain. At last he allowed me to persuade him to relent, and I left him with an only admonishment to choose his future words more carefully. How that serpent must have laughed in his heart at my error!
"Not even when the Enemy's great deception was revealed, did I realize the extent of my failing. Only when I stood at the edge of Heaven and watch the Fallen plummet into the void did I know. So many spirits lost, so much glory wasted! I was told I could have done nothing that would have prevented it. I was told that Lucifer power was greater than mine, that I was not the only one to err that day, that the Fall may have been ordained from the beginning. None of it mattered.
"I know, I *know*, that if I had been more vigilant, I could have saved them. Even if I could not prevent the Fall, I could have saved some of the Fallen. I remained silent, and they were damned. Who knows how many Lucifer turned after I let him go free?"
Dominic turned his gaze on Emily once again. His eyes were now blank, cold and unfeeling. His voice was rigid as steel.
"That is why I do what I must. The poison planted by the Lord of Lies lingers until this very day. Judgment must be unwavering and eternal. There is no place in it for mercy. I am merciless, that others can have mercy. I am unforgiving, that others may forgive."
Without another word, Dominic turned and was enveloped in light. His glowing form lifted up, slowing fading from sight until no sign of it remained. Emily was left in the barren chamber, numb with loss.
"There will come a day," she whispered, "when you will be judged. And I dearly hope to stand and see it."
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