Uthniel flitted about the Halls of Creation, keeping under
control the sparse dust that accumulated in Heaven and ensuring that
all the machines of creation were kept in working order, much as he
had done for the past several decades. While no one made much use of
the equipment these days, making sure it worked was still important,
as there were occasional artist and visionaries that came to work,
and who was to say that Eli himself might not return at any moment?
One day, as the little reliever was cleaning the stained glass
windows in the north wing, he overheard some of the blessed souls
discussing the events of the day, and one of them spoke of a great
challenge which the Archangel of War had laid out. Somewhere deep
within Uthniel, a spark of an idea dawned...
Laurence flipped through a list, checking off a few entries. "Next up is some reliever of Creation that wants to challenge you."
Michael's eyebrows peaked, and a look of inquisitive amusement crossed his face. "Indeed...I hope he's not going to try the same thing that imp did--I'd expect more creativity from one of Eli's gang..."
"No, instead he appears to be proposing another combat by proxy."
The Seraph's face took on the expression of one angry at being mocked. "What? You're not going to tell me that some reliever has servitors, are you?"
"Not at all. He seems to propose choosing anyone."
Michael subsided, and replied in a more pensive tone, "Well, I'm certainly impressed by his audacity--show him in." The massive door to the chamber swung open, and the little servant of Heaven was let into the room where the two archangels were conducting their deliberations. The many eyes focused on him, and the voice that went with them boomed out, "I am intrigued by your challenge, yet is sounds much like some I have fought before. Explain to me what I have to gain by accepting it."
A voice that seemed impossibly small squeaked out into the vast room, still reverberating with the echoes of the last statement. "Oh most esteemed and holy sir, the terms of my challenge are thus: We shall assemble a group from the hosts of Heaven, all of whom have agreed to fight on either of our behalves. Each of us shall select a champion from among this group, and they shall face off in whatever manner of combat they so choose. There are two lessons to be learned from this. The first is that not all weapons are suited for all foes, and that some trump others. The wise general must select his implements carefully, for he cannot use all at all times. The second is a lesson of trust. The good general must be able to select the best soldier for a task, then leave the resolution of the matter in the hands of others."
Michael replied thoughtfully, "So I see. You means to make it a test of skills not as warriors but as commanders, and to even the odds by selecting from the same pool."
Laurence felt the need to add his own words. "Still, your eons of experience as commander dwarf the skills of our ambitious but young friend. On what basis could he even select a champion? I fear such a battle would be most uninteresting."
"Remember, Laurence, even the youngest lieutenant can invent a crazy plan that will fool the most grizzled veteran, rare as it may be. I will accept, but with one caveat--what do you offer me if you should lose, young one?"
"Most ancient and revered one, I being a humble reliever, I have little to offer to one of such a great a stature as yourself. I have nought but a boon of my own to give. However, if you rightly feel this is lacking in fairness, then I propose that there be no prize for the winner, and the trial be fought only for honor's sake."
Something deep within Michael was touched by such a display, prideful as it may have been. "Very well, we meet tomorrow at noon."
The reliever beamed with happiness and bowed while chirping how honored he was.
All through the night, Michael thought of his choice. Laurence himself was a keen fighter, though still young for an archangel, and an older, more cunning foe could defeat him. If the reliever chose Janus, choosing Laurence would not be so wise. What then of Janus himself? Not a bad choice, but could he be trusted at all times? Michael was loathe to stake the outcome of the trial on someone so subject to variation. Likewise, Gabriel, if she could even be found. Perhaps Yves, for he was wise indeed. Yet what if he claimed that it was his opponent's destiny to win. No, still too unpredictable. Jean, on the other hand, was a dangerous foe, when one took into account his razor-sharp wit, knowledge of the symphony, and array of gadgets. Yet, did he have the will needed to face down an opponent, rather than fence over the centuries, as his agents did with Vapula's. Hmmm...
The next day, as noon approached, all the archangels which had gathered for the previous challenges appeared one by one, preceeded and followed by a great many of their servants, turned out by news of the unusual challenge by one so insignificant of one so great. Laurence stood at the center of the growing crowd, flanked to either side by Michael and Uthniel. The little reliever seemed amazingly relaxed, and waited patiently. Michael appeared to be deep in thought, his many eyes lingering over those in the crowd, giving careful consideration to the measure of each. At the appointed time, Laurence raised his hand, and a hush fell over the gathered angels and souls, each quite interested in the outcome of this unorthodox matchup. Laurence then announced in a loud voice that carried to the further reaches of the assembled members of the Host, "As declared yesterday, Michael, Archangel of War, and Uthniel, reliever of Creation, shall face off at this time. Each shall select a champion from among those present, and the two shall square off in the manner of their choosing. All those who do not wish to be under consideration as the champion of either side, please step back from the crowd." A few moved back, though most remained in place, either unafraid of being chosen for such an honor, or certain that they would not be chosen. "When you have made your decisions, please inform me."
Uthniel spoke almost immediately, "I have made my decision." All eyes were staring at the tiny being, shimmering in the rays of light from above.
"Very well," replied Laurence, "please tell me alone."
Uthniel flitted over to Laurence's ear and whispered something. The Malakite's face blanched at the sound of what he heard, and seemed about to say something, then regained his composure and managed to speak, "Michael, have you selected your champion?"
"No, I am still considering all those present."
The reliever then spoke up, "If it would enable you to choose more quickly, I am willing to disclose my choice of champion."
Michael frowned, a look of worry furrowing his brow. "You are aware that doing so would give me an enormous advantage, do you not?"
Laurence hesitantly managed to utter, "Michael, perhaps it would be best if this were done."
The Archangel of War's expression deepened to one of severe concern. "Very well, if you as judge deem it a wise decision..."
"He has chosen you, Michael."
A gasp of shock swept through the crowd as his words hit their stunned ears.
"I can only rule it to be a legal choice. You did not step out of the crowd when given the opportunity."
Silence was the only reply his old companion gave him.
"Have you made a decision?"
"I do not know if there is a decision I can make. By the rules of the trial, I must fight my own champion honorably, and do my best to win. Thus, to win the trial, I must choose someone I feel can defeat me. I can win the battle to lose the war, or win the war by showing I can be beaten. Either way I lose."
His speech was followed by a tense silence that hung in the air with an oppressive heaviness.
"It appears you have found a way to turn my best weapon against me, young one...I concede."
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