I had been having a sense of something close upon me for a while
now. Something was about to change -- not necessarily impending doom, but
a difference was coming. I had been waiting for it patiently, but the
urgency had been growing. When I had finally made up my mind to request of
him some leave to seek it out, he arrived unsummoned and granted me the
time I would need. I thanked him and returned to Heaven.
Now I paced the streets of the Eternal City. I do not know how humans feel it, but besides knowing that it is the Paradise of the Blessed, I have always felt it to be "home." Normally, having the chance, I would have happily wandered the passages of the Library until a book caught my eye, and then ensconced myself in a convenient nook and read with interest. But the need on me was too great, and I was driven to motion among the souls going to and fro on their business outside.
I had girded my sword out of habit, and now my hand rested on its pommel. It was sheathed, of course -- peace would reign here while I still stood -- in a gilt scabbard depending from links of golden chain. No gaud, that; the belt was the first and foremost of my Oaths.
"Never suffer an evil to live, when it is my choice." My purpose in existence. But 'twas the beautifully worked scabbard that hung from the belt, and the simple sharp sword that rested in the scabbard, and no question which of the two I preferred. I had been in the Order of Redeemers for almost as long as I had been a Malakite. That was my weapon of choice against evil. Unlike the sword, after centuries of practice I still couldn't keep this weapon from occasionally turning in my hand and injuring its wielder, but there are simply some weapons that make bearing a shield impossible.
"Never surrender in a fight, nor allow myself to be captured by the armies of Hell." My promise that I would serve God eternally, never giving up. A simple earring that hung from my left ear, it was always the lightest of burdens.
"Never strike until I'm sure they've stopped listening." This one appeared as a bracer on my right forearm. It made it hard to make a fist sometimes -- or draw a sword. It wasn't quite David's "Don't hit first," or Novalis' "Only if absolutely necessary," but it was restrictive sometimes. Oh, I'd believed in the Oath from long before I'd taken it. As an overenthusiastic reliever I'd taken it upon myself to decide that the Balseraph was stringing us along and could use some relief from that heavy Vessel, thus bringing to ruination a plan that required his presence (certainly not his trustworthiness). But it had taken me a while to really respect the warning pressure that came with the experience. Now I valued it. Sometimes the first noticeable crack in the demon's facade came when he saw a Malakite refusing to draw.
"Always know the plan." That included having a plan when I was on my own -- it didn't necessarily mean stick to the plan, but if you're going to change course midstream, at least have some idea where you're heading, and what you'll do when you get there. I rubbed the torque that was almost a collar on my neck. It really had pulled me up short a few times, usually when I had needed it the most. It was an outgrowth of that same experience, plus some other times that youthful exuberance had bested my judgment. I'd taken it, among other reasons, because I was scared as anything that Yves wouldn't accept me unless I proved I could restrain myself the way an angel of Destiny should. That restraint had served me so well that it was only now, looking back over my life like one would read a book, that I saw the pattern with the clarity of an outside observer. I was sure I couldn't count the number of times it had affected something I'd never expected, giving me an opportunity to do some good that I would have otherwise missed.
Encircling my left wrist was a light chain, resembling a woman's charm bracelet, tiny golden links connecting two slips of metal. One bore the name she'd taken, the other the Oath. "Always remember." Aiella was the first time I'd loved, I think.
I'd heard some Disturbance, come to its site and seen a man leering over a prone woman. I'd shouted for him to leave her alone, and he'd told me off. When my fist struck flesh and I heard the Disturbance, I realized my folly and let him flee. Aiella -- she wasn't called that then, but it would be the name I would always remember -- didn't make the same mistake I did, but looked at me for a moment and gave her agreement to a deal I hadn't known I was making.
Still, running off someone's attacker makes a good first impression, and Aiella was young enough to be excited by a dangerous relationship. Eventually, I admitted love; she finally dared to tell me her doubts and fears, and I recalled for her the times my Oaths and Destiny's necessary restraint chafed. That night, I asked if she would be willing to join me in the Light. She'd only cried, and didn't answer me until dawn. Then we went to Yves, and I was privileged to hold her hand as she was remade.
It hadn't lasted, of course. A tinge of haste had colored our relationship after that, as if she knew what was coming. She was no fool -- she'd stayed in Heaven rather than take corporeal jobs, researching in the Library. But it hadn't helped. After a few decades, restlessness took over. She wanted to be helping people, and though I'd never read her Destiny -- I'm no Elohite, to face such a personal possible future with equanimity -- we knew that she belonged on Earth.
All too soon, they found her. She couldn't rid herself of the Geasa she held on other demons, which they could use to track her down. The Game... the Game only held me at bay. Her former sisters did the actual work... except for finishing off her Remnant. That, they left to me.
But for some reason, whenever I thought about her, I remembered the first years.
It was easy to see the influence that Aiella had had on my future work. I focused on the Daughters of Lilith -- some say the most difficult, if a Squadmember had to choose a specialty, especially with the Liline talent for drawing one's feelings further into the relationship. But after Aiella, they were all competing against a ghost. Given the buffer distance, I was able to maintain a pull from the right direction.
The effects were always fascinating. Other than the visual change, you wouldn't think they were that different from their demonic sisters. You had to really get to know them to know what it meant to them to be an angel; what the angelic version of their touch upon the Symphony signified, how it worked. Their view of Needs, of promise and fulfillment, became something nobler, more powerful. I'd striven to understand this change; in some way that I couldn't really share, it appealed to a Lilim's better nature. Once you could find that nature, of course. It was close to a Malakite's honor, but something about it was... softer. Subtler, gentler. Perhaps it had something to do with the thread of humanity that ran through their natures.
I mused as I walked on through the City. Something about this line of thought struck me as accurate. A pity it only led to far deeper philosophical complications, since humanity was far more complex than any Choir or Band would ever be. And yet, if I could just strike the right note...
Demon, angel, human, Bright born in shadow, born in Light darkest Daughters, darkest Choir Honor Bound -- and something Higher.
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