And With Dawn Comes Illumination

By Eric A. Burns


"He's recruiting," Azrael said, picking his steps carefully. The boulders and rocks were as the sea and time had left them, so they weren't particularly designed to be walked over. Still, everyone did, making their way from the parking lot down towards the water, seeing where the tidal pools lay, smelling the cold, crisp salt air. "He's gathering his followers."

"Only among the Watchers, or among the Children as well?" Soldekai was following, gracefully choosing his path among the stones and water. Azrael didn't mention how incongruous a man wearing Armani looked, down by the bones of the Earth. He was sure Soldekai had no idea, and wouldn't care if he had. The Malakite had other priorities.

"Only among the Watchers, so far. He's approached a few of my own Servitors. And gotten them, I'd add. What he's selling they're buying. If I didn't have some non-Grigori--"

Soldekai breathed in, sharply. It sounded almost like a hiss.

"--among my Angels and helpers, even today, I'd never know it was happening."

"Why? Why risk exposure by contacting the Watchers -- and more, recruiting them? He's likely doing things that cause Disturbance while he's at it. He could disappear down here and we'd never find him...."

"Like all the other Outcasts?" Azrael asked mildly.

"That's not what I mean." Soldekai looked back. "Gog is a fugitive from Heaven. Every Archangel from Judgement to Trade has marked him for destruction. An unparalleled number of celestials are on the Corporeal, searching for any clue. If found, Gog will be facing Laurence, David, Janus and Jordi within moments -- and no matter how strong he is, he will be destroyed. So why isn't he entrenching against that assault?"

Azrael closed his eyes, breathing in the heady sea mist, down where the breakers crashed. "Why haven't you signed on with War or Destiny? Or even Faith? Why do you cling to a Superior who is clearly mad and just as clearly won't ever get better?"

Soldekai froze. He slowly turned to look at the Archangel of Death. His voice was low, and very measured as he spoke. "We have been friends a long time, Azrael. In the name of that friendship, I will give you an opportunity to recant your words."

"And why does she continue to burn and move and follow her insane path," Azrael said, opening his eyes and looking at Soldekai. "And why did I not prostrate myself before a Heaven I still love, leaving my fellow Grigori behind? I could have, you know. I never succumbed to temptations of the flesh. I still haven't. So why did I not protest my outcasting?"

Soldekai's stern glare softened. "Why indeed," he asked quietly.

"Because we each are serving a higher principle. A higher power. A higher duty. You remain where you are because Gabriel is your Superior, and because she follows the spirit and dictates of God Almighty. You have faith that this is the most just, best course possibly available to you. Gabriel follows the voice within her head, wherever it may lead, regardless of the cost. And I, like all my Choir, swore an oath to stand together and face Judgement as one, and stand there to this day." Azrael looked distantly said. "If I'm right... Gog believes more in his cause than in his survival."

"And what is his cause, Azrael?"

The ancient Grigori looked the Malakite in the eye. "Pride."

Soldekai arched an eyebrow. "That is a deadly sin."

"Perhaps so. But it also has a value." The Archangel of Death knelt, lifting a small seagull that had been nestled between two of the stones. Its wing was clearly broken, and the bird was clearly weak. "It would be a deadly sin for me to ignore this small spirit, in pain and suffering, because I was too proud to extend my office and agency to it. Shh... shh... it's almost over little one." He lifted the gull to his lips, kissing gently, and the bird stilled, peacefully. "Fly with Jordi's flock, little one, where your wings will be whole."

"So what value does pride have?"

"The nobility of spirit that keeps a poor man from stealing. The strength of character that keeps a lustful man from seducing a drunken girl. The sense of responsibility one feels for their fellows. I swore my oath to my fellows, despite knowing their crimes, because my pride as a Grigori--" Soldekai's wince was clearer, this time. "--compelled me to stand with my fellows in their shame. Their sins stained me. That pride compelled me. And Dominic's Judgment fell upon me. And when I am cold, and lonely, and yearning to feel the Light of Heaven upon my face once more, it is pride that keeps me from Falling... that keeps me serving my Word and my mission, that gives me the strength to carry on and serve the Lord."

Soldekai nodded. "I understand."

"Then understand this... it has been tens of thousands of years since the Grigori were Outcast. In that time, we have tried to serve, to atone, to survive. But it has been so very hard. Our Heavenly brothers hunt us -- the Davidians almost made sport of it, once upon a time. When our Vessels are killed, we find ourselves in Limbo. The terrible, horrible, emptiness of Limbo. When we claw our way free, we are alone and cold in a world we often do not recognize. At any given time... there are less than fifty of us free of Limbo. There were thousands of Grigori--"

"Azrael," Soldekai said quietly. "Please... 'watchers.' The name of your Choir--"

"I know," Azrael replied, not unsympathetically. "The Host believes that the word Grigori causes harm to the Symphony. You do not speak our name in Heaven -- the name given to us by Yves -- out of shame and superstition. I am a Grigori, Soldekai. If the word damaged the Symphony, even the tiniest bit, I would hear it." Azrael shook his head mournfully. "And you wonder why Gog recruits my brothers... and why they follow?"

"What does he offer?"

"In rumors? He offers hope. He offers the world. He offers security. It's even said he has a way to keep a vessel-killed Grigori from Limbo. As for what they want... I don't yet know their plan. I only know one thing."

"What is that?"

Azrael looked out over the ocean once more, still cradling the small, dead bird. "I know he frightens me. Song too was frightened -- she has gone to ground, as hidden as any Dark Grigori, and seems to be waiting it out. I have not and will not hide from him... but that may easily mean my doom, unless I join him."

"Will you? Join with him, I mean."

"I honestly don't know." Azrael looked back at Soldekai. "I suppose it depends how many innocent 'Watchers' are sent to Limbo by the Host during this search. After all, the safest Watcher is a stilled one. Isn't that right?"

Soldekai didn't answer, looking away. "I have to get back."

"Tell them, Soldekai. Warn them." The Archangel of Death stared intently at him. "Warn them that the Judged may yet judge, and that Heaven would not like their verdict."


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