Yves has many methods of travel. Perhaps the most common is just
appearing, whereever it is he's going. Or taking innocuous transport
to go remarkable places. Or simply walking.
Which is what he did on this day in Heaven. He made his way from the Library, a book tucked under his arm, and he walked into Heaven. He walked past the gleaming Halls of Progress and the shining Cathedral of Laurence. He stepped lively through the Baazar, taking the thoroughfare to the road on the edge of the Eternal City. The road to the Groves, the fields of practice, where War's forces lay and rested and trained eternally.
Deep in the Groves themselves, the Archangel David stood outside a tent. He had been standing there for days, now -- never moving. Constant, as a Malakite should be. He had turned and looked into the tent once, at the request of the inhabinant. Otherwise, he had simply stood and waited.
The horse's hooves thundered as the rider approached. David did not turn to look -- he knew who would be riding, and did not need to see the boy to envision him. Eventually, the boy rode into view anyhow. Erect in the saddle, wearing a simple leather jacket, jeans and a tee shirt. David had never seen James Dean movies, and had no comment for the young general as he approached.
"Has he moved," Laurence asked, tersely, as he slipped out of the saddle. A sword hung on the saddle, and Laurence took a moment to transfer it to the sheath on his belt, waiting for David's answer.
"No." David felt no need to elaborate.
"Your angels have been defending the mortals," Laurence continued. "Against the desperate push of the Princes. I wanted to commend them -- their strength has allowed us to carry the battle to Hell's gates on other fronts."
Laurence opened his mouth to say something else, but decided against it. "Has he had any other visitors?"
"Novalis, to heal him. You can imagine how well he took that."
"Mm." Laurence nodded again, and slipped past David, into the tent.
It was well appointed inside, but unstaffed. Bright banners were furled and stored. Various axes were set in racks nearby -- not that any showed use, but for the well kept great axe by the cot.
Laurence was brave and honorable. Too honorable to turn away from the Archangel who lay on the cot. Too honorable not to look straight at battered, injured form. He could percieve flashes of the six eyes and six wings Michael showed every so often. He could see the tall human body Michael generally showed. He could see the bandages, the blood, the sheer battering that the mightiest of all Archangels had withstood.
"Laurence," the Archangel croaked.
"Firstborn," Laurence half-whispered. "You're looking better."
"You're a damn liar. Come closer."
Laurence moved to Michael's bedside, kneeling. "Yes?"
"How is the world. And don't sugarcoat it. I hate that."
Laurence nodded slightly. "It's in contrast, right now. The princes are launching desperate attacks -- almost open ones -- to bolster their Words. But with their strongest Servitors failing, it's becoming easier and easier to contain them. The Seneschals are dying, so their tethers are war camps or vulnerable. Hell has lost more ground in the last month than in the three hundred years before it."
"That's because Hell gained ground for the last three hundred years." Michael spat to one side. "They're weak?"
"Critically weak. The Princes are faltering. The infernal Word-bound are dying or dead. The Symphony is rejecting them, without Lucifer to demand their presence."
Michael closed his eyes, a smile touching his lips. "Then it worked?" he whispered.
"You have driven them back, Firstborn," Laurence whispered. "You stood against evil and prevailed."
"I nearly lost," Michael said, eyes opening again. "If he'd hit me before I hit him... any of my Distincted could beat me now. I'm so weak...."
"You won. You didn't lose." It was like a mantra. Or an expression of faith. "You beat back the night."
"Laurence," Michael hissed, grabbing at his arm. "This is your moment. Your time. You must start it! Start Armageddon now!"
"Don't you see? We could win now. It is certain. Yes, we would need to trigger the signs ourselves, but then we could destroy Hell's army and remake the world into Heavenly glory! They have no leader! This is your moment." His eyes burned. Burned like Gabriel's at the cusp of her visions. Burned like a preacher's in the pulpit. "Do it now, boy...."
Laurence took a deep breath. "They do have a leader, Michael."
"What? Baal convinced--"
"Not Baal. Lilith. She's apparently forming a court in Hell. We know that. We have unprecedented defections. The Fallen and Hellborn alike are taking any route out of Hell, any chance. God and Heaven, Michael -- even demonic Word-bound in Limbo have been forcing themselves out in any vessel, and fleeing to us. Michael, we're winning. We don't need Arma--"
"Lilith." Michael laughed. A rasping laugh that became a cough. "That's like saying Marc took over in my absence."
Laurence felt his face burn. "He didn't. We miss you, but--"
"Nothing is changed. Laurence -- strike! Call down the host and decimate the horde! They couldn't stop you -- not now!"
"It was considered. The Seraphim Council elected to pursue the war into Hell if possible, and contain the Infernals on Earth. We'll wait out the death of the demon Princes."
"No! Laurence -- this is the best chance we have had in twenty thousand years! We must--"
"They're deserting, Michael. Unprecidented numbers are redeeming. Do we meet them with swords and blood and destruction? We don't need Armageddon. We're winning the War! You have won the War--"
"Laurence..." his eyes looked desperate. "Laurence -- I know that Flowers and Trade will fight you, but this is your chance to end it all. Can't you see?"
Laurence looked in Michael's eyes. "It is writ that Armageddon will come down to the battle between Heaven's Champion and the Champion of Hell. That all will be decided by that battle. Is it not so?"
Michael didn't answer, his need for the end of the War on his face.
"You couldn't beat Baal now, Michael. Hell, you couldn't beat Nybbas now. You'd die. What would happen then?"
"It's a prophecy. Damn it, Laurence -- another can fight. You can! You could take Baal -- especially now!"
"I am the General of the Host. You are Heaven's champion." Laurence stood straighter. "We're winning the War without Armageddon, right now. Why should I trigger Armageddon, when all signs are we would lose, because Heaven's Champion can barely lift his axe? Or that someone unworthy to be the Champion of Heaven will join the field and lose? There's no need to, Michael. You've already won the battle. Maybe your battle was Armageddon, and Lucifer Hell's Champion -- and now our final victory is assured."
"Laurence..." Michael whispered.
"No. You've given us an incredible advantage. That's what we need to pursue."
"That's my decision, Michael. Given the current tactical situation, Armageddon can only favor Hell, because Heaven is poised for final victory. We will wait them out. They can't endure much longer. We will welcome the defectors, and redeem those we can. Those who can't be redeemed will be destroyed anyway. We will contain the Princes and prevent them from starting Armageddon. And we will watch Lilith's power play carefully."
Michael looked away, angrily.
There was a throat clearing. Laurence turned.
Yves stood at the flap of the tent. He had a book under one arm. "May I come in," he asked mildly.
"Oh, perfect," Michael snapped. "Please. Come in. On your way, drive one of these axes through me."
Yves moved closer to the other two Archangels, sitting on the ground. "I'm sorry," he said, quietly.
There was a long pause.
"For?" Michael finally asked.
"I tried. I tried my best to explain, to appeal, to... what's your word, Michael? Manipulate? But in the end, she chose her Fate."
Laurence frowned. "She? Who?"
"Lilith." Yves took a deep breath. "You've been critical of me, Michael, but I've always done what I thought best. But sometimes... sometimes, Fate wins over Destiny. She has embraced her Fate."
Michael snorted. "No shit. She joined Hell."
"That was her battlefield. Her war is lost. We must focus on winning ours, and it will be much harder now. Perhaps impossible."
Laurence blinked. "We're winning the War," he started.
"We are gaining ground. We must take all we can, and hold it. We must limit Hell's options as much as possible. And we must work with humanity. We must give them reasons to embrace selflessness. Embrace Destiny." He looks down. "I thought... I could explain it to her. I thought...."
"Thought what?" Michael tried to force himself upright, shaking with the effort. "For once, tell us what you're talking about."
Yves took a long breath. "Nothing is set in the future, Michael. Nothing. There are paths can be taken. Destinies. Fates. Sometimes both. Lilith chose the path of selfishness in the end. And that choice affects the entire Symphony."
"Because... Lilith is Hell's new master?" Laurence sounded incredulous. "Yves, you know I have faith in what you say, but... how can Lilith possibly be so dangerous. I thought it reflected the desperate state of Hell. Now, if Kronos had taken the Granite Throne -- or Baal...."
"Lilith lives within the Symphony, where Baal denies it. Baal could be nothing more than Lucifer, and would have to reach impossible new heights to even equal him. He could, at best, impose his Will on the Symphony. Lilith is woven into the Symphony, and her choices can move the Symphony in ways Lucifer... and we... could not dream of."
Michael frowned. "It's said Kronos is connected to the Symphony. Not that you've ever explained just what Kronos is...."
"Kronos could not rule Hell, any more than I could be the General of the Host. For what it's worth... I'm sorry, Michael." He pressed the book into the wounded Archangel's hands. "Heal quickly, Michael. As quickly as you possibly can."
Laurence took a deep breath. "Then... perhaps... Michael is right. Perhaps Armageddon--"
"We could not start it if we wished to. Baal could not start it if he wished to. That phase of the War is over. The next phase begins now, and we must not let our hubris overshadow our duty." Yves rose, striking a cigarette. "We will speak again, soon."
"You and I?" Michael asked. "Or you and Laurence?"
"For what it's worth, Michael -- well fought. Bravely fought. Your victory was profound." Yves took a long drag off his cigarette. "I only hope... and pray... we can be equal to that example."
The General and the Champion watched Yves leave. The odor of cigarette smoke clung in the tent afterward, mingling with leather, sweat and antiseptic.
Michael looked at the book in his hand, and opened the leather cover, to read the frontspiece. THE WAR OF HEAVEN AND HELL, it read. PART ONE -- The Life and Death of Lucifer. He took a breath, and closed his eyes to rest. And heal. Hopefully.
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