"We have been thinking, War. We have been thinking that there is a
fight you are unfamiliar with."
"I doubt it, Jordi. Certain animal instincts are close to the heart of War, especially barehanded. When a human is fighting for his life, he is as close as many of them will ever come to the ideal you promote."
"This is both your opinion, and largely True. But you were never human, you were not born in a body, and rarely have you worn animal form, to know the instincts forged into the animal's own body. We think you need to gain some understanding of what it *really* means to fight dirty."
"As you wish. What is the setup?"
"It will be in our Savannah; we will be with the animals. We will-"
"Hold up. You can possess the spirits of animals in Heaven?"
"It is not possession... it is a sharing of awareness unlike what can ever happen on Earth. The essential nature of all beings involved are preserved. May we continue?"
"We will fight, with any means necessary, save that we will do so without any Songs other than Healing. You win if any of the Savannah's animals are harmed without our being immediately able to heal them; i.e., if I lose a Force and must reabsorb it quickly. Likewise if we can do sufficient damage to you to cause the same. You've been wounded before in these contests, but this is... somewhat higher stakes than your previous battles."
"Did you think I would shy away from serious stakes? Of course I accept! To one Force-loss, then. Laurence?"
The Commander of the Host nodded. "It seems fair. Jordi, one assumes damage to any specific creature will be limited."
"Of course. If any specific animal takes any wound, I will cause them to flee, and quickly repair their forms before leaving them outside the nearby battle zone. Michael wins if I lose a Force from any portion of myselves, so am thus unable to do so quickly."
"And the prize?" Laurence asked.
"A gift to give to thirty-three of your servants, at whatever times you wish, that three times on Earth they may call the animals to fight for God at their side. And once, a hundredth call, for you alone."
"Either way," said Michael, "the prize will be worthy of the danger of the fight. But wouldn't leading so many animals to harm make you dissonant?"
"We will not be possessing them - do you not remember that the ox and the lamb bowed for the Lord? Animals have their own pure awareness of God of a different measure than humans' or our own, and if the call is phrased correctly, a request to help Him will be honored."
"Everything seems in line, then," Laurence declared. Jordi left for the Savannah without another word. Laurence turned to Michael. "Of course, there are no Shedim with the ability to possess multiple beings these days. This fight may yield less valuable information than the others."
"The supremely egotistical beings of Hell may not bear out your simplistic appraisal of the possibility of another Legion, Laurence. Someone else may decide that they can make it work where Legion could not, or perhaps that it's worth the life of another Archangel. I'd prefer not to oblige, if possible." Michael smiled. "Besides, there's also Jordi's... stated purpose."
Laurence considered that smile as they headed to the Savannah.
Laurence hovered in the updraft above the great bonfire at the heart of the Savannah. He could feel Michael's presence, and Jordi's, although the Kyriotate was spread out across the entire cathedral. This battle had no watchers in the Cathedral; where could you possibly await the action?
He brought forth a small silver bell, and rang it once. The sharp sound echoed across the entire landscape.
Michael, in human form, summoned his axe. He was loath to give up the protection of the bonfire at his back, but the crackling sounds and his own shadow interfered with his senses. He stepped away, every sense on alert.
This area was grassy. Hip-high grass. Easy enough to conceal some of the smaller predators within it, and he himself stood above it. He was at a disadvantage. How to rectify?
He started moving at higher speed. Now he could hear rustles in the grass, following him at the same speed. He prepared himself, then quickly turned and lunged backward. The blade connected with celestial flesh, which fell clumsily to one side, wound healing immediately. The animal did not even seem to feel any pain; of course, Jordi would have absorbed it all to protect his host. Not enough to shear a Force, however.
The other rustle came upon him, and a hyena leapt out at him, clawing at face and neck. Bleeding from tiny wounds, Michael only laughed, wishing he could get rid of every hyena that bothered him this easily. He summarily ripped the little animal off of himself with his left hand, giving it a smack with the handle of his axe to speed him on his way. A rib cracked and healed, and the hyena slunk off. "Is that all you have, Jordi? I can defeat a pack of them!"
A pack, yes. But a swarm? Yellow jackets surrounded him - a breed that could sting, and not die. Single attacks would never work - there was a flowing river nearby, but he'd be a Ofanite before he'd retreat in the face of a bunch of insects. Fighting off as many as he could with the physical attacks he was limited to, he walked towards the water while Healing the itchy, flaming wounds and focusing on locating places on his flesh where they were trying to concentrate their efforts, trying to sever a Force, and brushing them away there. Finally, he reached the water and dived in.
A school of fish flashed toward him. Piranhas, jaws ready to slash and tear. He sped toward them, taking Seraph form, wings swimming in Heaven's waters as well as they flew in air. Tail strikes incapacitated numerous members of the school as he passed by and flew/swam downstream, just faster than the fish could swim, tail strikes taking out the school one member at a time.
The school suddenly lost interest. A glimmer flashed by him as Jordi transferred his awareness to a few barracuda ahead of him, now turning towards him and flashing through the water right in his path. Michael altered his path upwards, jumping out of the water, into the air, and into another part of the Savannah.
Birds of prey struck at him, but he brely noticed as he fought them back. Jordi was vicious, numerous, but hardly the most expert tactician - except that Michael was beginning to think that there might be a subtle imbalance in the rules. How did he sever a Force from an Archangel with whom he'd agreed you could use songs of Healing, and could scatter his Forces at will?
Michael searched the ground for a target for his idea. There. A small - what? herd? whatever you called a group of them - of elephants. Something that needed a lot of Forces to join with. More importantly, they were just a bit of a ways off from a pride of lions. He folded his wings, pretending to avoid the raptors, and dove straight for the lions, gaining screaming speed. The lions responded, roaring and challenging him, claws and jaws gleaming.
As he approached ground, he snapped his wings open, straining for curvature. He rocketed horizontally above the lions, straight towards the elephants, unprotected by Jordi's shielding presence. He howled a challenge, watched the elephants panic, and, out of the corner of his awareness, saw Jordi leap out of the lions toward the great gray towers.
With barely a thought, he was in human form, carried forward by his momentum. He'd only be aloft for another moment, but it was all he'd need. He summoned his axe, bringing it around to slice through Jordi's naked celestial form. With a whine eerily reminiscent of the bell which had started the event, a Force cleanly severed from Jordi before he could gain shelter within the elephant.
Michael hit ground, tumbling over and over until he came to a stop. The memory of a thousand cuts, tears, and stings burned in his form, but he was whole, while Jordi was patiently reattaching a loose Force, with Laurence descending from above.
"The winner is Michael," he declared.
Jordi radiated agreement. "The boon is yours, Archangel. It seems you *do* understand the straightforward path of the hunt."
"No, Jordi. Animals don't fight dirty, they fight hard. There's a difference. Dirty is targeting someone or something uninvolved in the combat and taking advantage of your enemy's need to protect that thing. It's not instinct, it's tactics, and I'll use it when it will win. Thank you for the contest, and the boon. Laurence?" Jordi went off to his duties, leaving the two in human form on the Savannah.
Laurence was not in a good mood. "That was hardly kosher, Michael."
"That's the way it goes, Laurence. If it brings you any comfort, I had no actual wish to involve the thing. Had Jordi not reacted in time, I had a backup plan to wait until he did, arriving atop the elephant and then doing considerable amounts of damage to sever one of the multiple Forces he would have needed to invest in the host."
The Malakite didn't seem any happier. "Tell me, did you learn anything useful?"
Michael shrugged. "I won't know that until I've analyzed it for a bit. Maybe. Another Legion would be unlikely to have an object other than himself he'd care much about, so he probably wouldn't be vulnerable to that final kind of assault. As for the tactics before then..." he shrugged again. "Ask me later."
Laurence nodded once, curtly, and departed. Michael waited. After a moment, a lion loped up to him, and spoke
"Do you think he got any of the message?"
"Doubt it. He's seen dirty tricks get used before, and he still didn't like them. I don't even think the spectre of another Legion focused his mind on what it might be necessary to do to destroy such a creature."
Jordi waited a bit. "Mind you, I thought *I* was the one who was supposed to be displaying the idea of less-than-honorable combat. The rules setup, and so forth."
"I wasn't going to dissemble in front of him any more than absolutely necessary. We agreed it would be a real fight. I fought a real fight. Didn't you?"
"Yes. Force-severing *hurts*, you know. And, of course, the boon is yours."
Michael nodded. "I've got a few Soldiers who'll find it useful immediately." He turned and grinned at the Kyriotate as he left. "See you on the battlefield, brother."
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