by ryan roth
The GM for this game, Casca <email@example.com> (Seraph of Archives) says:
I think, instead, that I will let one of my players do the telling. I must have done something right when telling the story, for I have recieved well over 100 Kb of replies from my players. [And this, for a *tabletop*, not a PBEM! --arcangel]
A few things you should know:
This is my story.
When I think of the beginning, it seemed so simple. A mission, much like others I had done. I craved activity, yearned for a place in the battle. Serving the Word of War is like that. Nothing is as grating as doing nothing to help the struggle. So, when Michael sent me down to support a small group of angels in San Francisco, I did more than accept the mission. I leapt at it.
Sometimes, I think that Michael might have chosen another. One more suited to what lay ahead.
Someone who could have, perhaps, prevented it.
I contacted the others readily enough. A chaotic little group. Very little direction in their efforts. But, it was not my place to provide direction. Michael expressly forbade it. I was to provide fire support, and try to keep the disturbances in the Symphony to a minimum.
Looking back, I performed rather poorly in that regard.
The group was trying to track down a cultist who was carrying a very powerful infernal relic. The Dagger of Bythinia, which contained an insane Demon Prince. Gebbeleth, the Demon Prince of Secrets. Unfortunately, the group was having a very hard time finding the man--the dagger did not want him to be found. There were also others searching for it-- servitors of Fate. It was a race to find him before Hell did. To make matters worse, there were distractions in the form of servitors of Nybbas, who were setting up for a major operation.
We hunted, but did not find. We asked, but not the right questions. We battled, but not at the right time. We understood, but only too late.
In the end, it was a Servitor of Kronos that took possession of the blade.
When it happened, was not where I should have been. I was tired of the fruitless search. I wanted a direct fight, and couldn't find one. I was frustrated and drained. So, when it happened, I was unprepared. And being unprepared betrays the Word of War. This was my failing, not my first, but one of the most important. It was not the last.
Once the minion of Fate had the blade, we all could hear it. The Malakite and I rushed to the scene. We both knew that this was the absolute last chance we had. We engaged the Balseraph.
He was strong and prepared, but we were desperate. We were also very fortunate. The battle turned against him, and I managed to rip the dagger from his grasp. I rushed to the nearest Tether, knowing that I had to get the relic to Heaven, where Hell could not reach it. My companions prevented the Balseraph from following me.
When I reached the Tether, I tried to ascend. I had thought that we had won. Gebbeleth had other plans. He would not ascend with me, and we became locked in that place between the Earth and Heaven.
I knew I would not be able to stop him from awakening. I knew I was not strong enough to confront him, or force him into Heaven. In desperation, I called for help. I called for Gabriel. And he came, bright and glorious.
I am not sure why I didn't summon my own Superior, Michael. I suppose I thought Gabriel would know best how deal with it. But, I am not really sure. All I know is that, when I cried for help, it was Gabriel's name I shouted.
He came to me, in that space between. He smiled at me. After all my failures, he smiled. I didn't deserve that smile. He said that the dagger couldn't be taken to Heaven now -- Gebbeleth was awakening. But neither could he be released. My heart quaked, not because I didn't see a solution, but because I _did_. Somehow, I knew what was going to happen, and also knew that I was powerless to prevent it. I aged ten thousand years in that instant. When Gabriel extended his hand for the dagger, I gave it to him.
I remember his face before he left -- calm and serene. He was fulfilling his Word at its highest level. It was his time, and he accepted it with absolute joy. And yet, before he left, he spared a glance towards me. I felt him seeing into me, seeing all I could ever hope to be. And he smiled. He smiled for me. It was the greatest gift I could ever hope to receive. And I never earned that smile.
Then, he descended. On Earth, he rose, faster that anything I have ever known. As he rose, Gebbeleth awoke and fought him. Gebbeleth screamed and raged, and Gabriel only smiled. They rose, higher and higher, Gebbeleth fought for his life, and Gabriel fought for his Word.
That is, I think, the most essential difference between Heaven and Hell.
As they rose, I followed, as fast as I could manage. I could not hope to be of help, but I wanted, at least, to be an observer. I wanted, needed, to see this perfect moment, burn it into my memory, so that I could tell others. So that it would never be forgotten. I could do this much for Gabriel. I owed him so much more.
When they reached the peak of their flight, their conflict ripped each other's Forces apart. They shattered, in a bright blaze, seen across all of creation. And everywhere, everything was silent. The Symphony was silent in observance of their passing. And then what was left of their Forces streamed down, showering the Earth.
It was then that I found, and gently caught, the last remnant of Gabriel. A few small Forces, just barely holding together, was all that was left of the Archangel of Destiny. And, with the greatest respect, I carried it back to Heaven.
The entire Host was gathered in the Eternal City, wanting to know what happened, and fearing that they already knew. All of their eyes focused on me, and that which I carried.
Blandine was the one that stepped forward, with that calm, simple yet grand presence that no other had. She lifted the Forces of Gabriel from me, and spoke. She said that she would now be the guardian of those Forces. As she embodied Hope, she would wrap Gabriel in the hopes of those who would see him return. She accepted his servitors as her own, until such time as he could return once more. Nurtured in the hopes of Heaven, Gabriel would one day join us again. It was his Destiny.
Thus Blandine spoke. An old Elohite of Destiny, with whom I had traveled, was so moved that he willingly gave up his own Forces to Gabriel, returning what he had once been given, so that Gabriel's return would come all the more quickly. Another of my companions, a Mercurian of Flowers, started to sing. He was quickly joined by others, and soon all of the Host had joined.
I don't know if I can describe the power of that song. It was grand and beautiful, and somehow vast beyond dimension. Its reverberations lifted up Heaven, brightened the Earth, and made Hell tremble. Such was its strength, that I was able to feel a sense of victory for a time.
For a time. It did not last long. Soon I began to feel unease. A kind of disquiet I could not readily explain. Something was wrong,
I am a Seraph, it is my role to determine the Truth. I wandered, trying to find the Truth of what I was feeling. Eventually, I found myself in the Groves.
It wasn't I surprise that I was drawn there -- I had spent the majority of my short existence in training there. For twenty earthly years I trained there, before I was given duties on Earth. A very short time, really -- it was a great honor to be given such duties, especially for one so young. But I had always considered the Groves my home.
As I wandered through the trees, I became aware of the others. Watching me, whispering when they thought I could not hear. 'There is the one,' they said, 'the one helped Gabriel achieve his Destiny. There is the Seraph who brought him back to us.' Eventually, groups of them approached me, groups made up of nearly every Choir, every Superior. There were many of them, most much older and more experienced than I, angels who had been my tutors, partners and rivals in training. Even a few who had been past up when I was sent to Earth. I asked them what they wished of me.
They wanted to meet me. They wanted to honor me. They wanted to pay me their utmost respect, for, in their eyes, I have played a role in an event that would be forever more remembered. I was part of a legend, a legend that had reached the whole of Heaven.
It was then I knew what was wrong. The Truth of it was, I had failed. I had failed in every important thing I had set out to do. My failure was so great that it required the death of an Archangel to repair. And they wanted to honor me for it.
I could not imagine a sicker joke. I could almost hear Kobal's chuckles echo up from the Pit.
I turned around and left them. No one stopped me. I suppose those Elohim that were present prevented the others from following -- they, no doubt, knew what I was going through, and knew that I needed to work it out for myself. I returned to Earth.
I didn't plan or think where I was going. I just moved. I was too caught up in my thoughts. I moved, black and morose, through the streets of San Francisco, a horrible wandering that eats at the spirit.
It was a minor disturbance that broke my dark mood.
It was a Calabite, to be sure. He had just used his infernal resonance to destroy a garbage dumpster. I don't know why he did it -- perhaps he was just throwing off some tension, so that his dark power wouldn't build to uncontrollable levels. Maybe he just needed to take his anger out on something.
He wasn't the only one.
He never saw who had killed him. Not even a glance. One moment he was basking in the afterglow of his entropic forces, the next moment his rib cage had been shattered from behind, a nice exit wound for the heart I now held. But it meant nothing. I looked at that heart, and realized that nothing had changed, I was still at fault. I could slaughter a million infernals and it would change nothing.
I dropped the still warm organ, cleaned my hands on his clothes, and moved on.
And so I sank deeper into misery, deeper into the thought that I had betrayed my Word and Heaven through failure. The streets seemed to move me, for I could not have been moving myself. And yet I moved, passing through strange and unfamiliar territory but never interrupted, hindered, or challenged. I just moved.
Until I stopped. When I did I found myself in an old junkyard. Not just a junkyard, though. It was a graveyard, a graveyard for trolley cars. San Francisco brought its famous cars here to sleep when they could no longer run. They rested here in peace, having served their function. I envied their simple rest, and wondered if I could have the same. It seemed so peaceful.
I found one that was very old. I went inside of it, mildly surprised at its good condition. In a daze, I wandered to the back of it and found a seat. I wished that oblivion would claim me, and believed that I wouldn't be allowed that peace. I slept, for the first time ever.
I have never before visited the Marches. Not my area. I respected them, though, if only as a battleground that was highly valuable. They are much more.
I found myself on a line. A great division between a dark, stormy landscape, and a brightly lit, peaceful one. And I could not decide which way to turn.
"What will you do?"
The question surprised me. I had thought myself alone, but should have known better. No one is ever truly alone in the Marches.
"What will you do?"
The question came again, this time from a grey-clad woman, who walked in front of me, standing on the line.
"I don't understand," was my reply.
"Yes, you do. You understand very well. You have a decision to make. What will it be?"
I thought for a while. A very long while. "I want to continue. To fight for the light. But I don't know if I deserve to. I may have once, but now... There is nothing I can do to replace what was lost."
I was surprised at the answer. Part of me hoped that I would be argued with. "Then there is no atonement possible." I breathed, and sank even lower.
I looked up, wishing, hoping. Afraid. "Even if I gave up all my Forces, it could not replace the smallest fraction of what he was."
"True. It is also true that there is nothing you can do to restore him."
"I don't understand."
The woman gestured to the dark landscape. "Would you choose this? Would you join the Enemy?"
I looked. I saw. "Never."
"Then don't help them by giving up. And know that, while you may do nothing to restore Gabriel, you can do something to help him restore himself."
"What is it? What can I do?" I had never wanted to know something as badly in my entire existence.
"You must support Destiny. You must retain Hope. You must continue the fight, knowing that giving up is the only way for the Enemy to win. And I will help you."
She reached down and placed a hand on my head. I felt the gentle, loving grace that comes with a new strength, handed down by the Highest.
"I give you a special attunement. Now, with a touch, you will know the _one_ thing you can do that will most help a person achieve their Destiny. You will know what will give them Hope. You will know what you can do to make a difference. And for each Destiny you help, Gabriel will be one step closer to returning to us."
She removed her hand, and I knew all she said was true. I would _know_ what I could do to help. To atone. I _could_ do something.
"This power comes with a price. You must use it and help Destiny to grow. You must help as many as you can, as often as you can." She leaned over to me, so that her eyes met mine. "But most importantly, you must never allow yourself to think that what happened was your fault."
I nodded, blinking away the tears of joy that had formed in my eyes.
"I will do it. I will fight for Destiny until the day he returns and beyond. I will do it, even if Michael disapproves," I vowed.
She smiled slightly. "Don't worry about Michael. Believe me when I say that, of all the Host in Heaven, he would understand this the best. Go now, honor your promise, and make good on your decision."
I shouted with joy, turned, and rushed headlong into the bright, beautiful plains.
When I awoke, I left Blandine's Tether, for Tether it was. It was a Tether that only she could have: symbolic, serene, and very, very subtle. So subtle that I didn't even recognize what it was until I had left the cable-car graveyard. But I had a new mission. And I could act on it without hesitation.
For I had come to realize something, when Blandine gifted me. I had used the new power on myself. And the best thing I could do to improve my own Destiny was: not to give up Hope.
Blandine returned to her tower after meeting with the Seraph. Strange, she mused to herself, how one so young and small could be thrown into history with such force. They were already calling him Gabriel's Herald. Some of the older servitors of Destiny had told her that he would be present at Gabriel's return. They believed he would help bring that return about. They had told her that it was important that he be guided, but that he must never know about his Destiny.
That is not why she lead him to her Tether, where she could speak to him. That is not why she gifted him. She had other reasons.
She went to the balcony where she could view the ever-changing landscape of the Marches. She closed her eyes and looked within herself, to the part that was not her.
"I wish you would tell me what you saw in him -- it would make him much easier to guide. But I suppose that's the point, isn't it?"
A warm feeling, like a child's smile, was the only response. Blandine smiled in return.
"It's so strange. He now fights for War and Destiny. Soon he'll be fighting for Hope and Dreams. And then, finally, he'll be fighting for us all."
Blandine's expression become somewhat darker.
"I wonder if he'll be able to shoulder the burden, when all he relies on is stripped from him."
And Blandine looked out once again across the Marches.
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