The Lanceolate Leaf

By William J. Keith


Laurence, leader of the Seraphim Council, focused on Salem, Angel of Cities, giving her annual report to the Seraphim Council. Slums were ripe for all manner of demonic Tether, of course, but one to Beleth? More subtle than her usual style... he considered as he listened.

The Commander General of the Host spoke with one of the bodhisattvas, resonating as he did so, probing for the reasons behind his request to become a Saint. He had always been a fine teacher, and could make a good Saint if his purpose was clear enough.

The Archangel of the Sword spared a bit of energy to respond to an Invocation from a servant on Earth, deciding not to make a full-blown arrival, since the question was clarification of orders rather than anything dangerous.

The elderly Brother Laurence slowly padded through the halls of the monastery on his way back from Matins, trailing his younger brethren on the way back to their beds. A quiet night. Quiet enough to hear the whispers on the sidewalk outside. He stopped and listened.

"Keep it down, will you? They'll hear us!"

"It's midnight, who's gonna hear us? A church doesn't have security guards!"

"Don't know much about monks and their schedules, do you? Just shut up already -- okay, here's the door. They probably keep the gold stuff in storage behind the main room."

Teenagers. Males, probably three from their footsteps, though only two had spoken so far. They were trying to pick the heavy lock on the side door of the monks' residential areas. Not Magpies, then, and from the shades of uncertainty in their voices, almost certainly human. He paused on the inner side of the door and considered his options.

It would be trivially easy to put the fear of God into them -- they surely were not expecting to open that door and find a grinning, armored man with a sword on the other side of it, waiting to give them all an appropriate hiding for their temerity. However, that would be quite a flagrant violation of Role, and while the Symphony might allow a Servitor a bit of leeway in maintaining even the best of Roles, an Archangel was honor-bound to hold himself to a higher standard. He could have another instantiation call for a few troops to do the same, but that again would be accessing help that Brother Laurence would not have. No, best to deal with this as a simple monk. He had faced trouble before without calling for backup. He paused in front of the door, put his hands in the sleeves of his robe as an old man would do to keep them warm, and waited with a small smile.

In a few minutes, they managed to open the door. The one in front, who had picked the lock, looked up and managed to get out a loud "Holy --" before the second one, a taller young man with an ear piercing, clapped a hand over his mouth. The third one in back, a younger lad with a suburban look to him, stared at Laurence in shock.

"Good morning, boys," he said. "I could have opened the door, if you had but knocked."

"He's a guard?" said the kid in back.

"No, doofus," said the tallest one, "he's just an old monk. He's not gonna hurt anyone. He's the one that's gonna get hurt, if he tries anything stupid... like yelling. Understand, old man?" He released his lockpicking compatriot, who wiped off his mouth with a disgusted look and put away his tool.

"Now why would I want to do anything stupid?" asked Laurence. "There's no call for anyone to do anything rash."

The tall one with the ear stud pulled out a knife. "Take us to the gold. The crosses, the chalices, all that sh*t."

Laurence frowned. "Poor language, my son. Especially in the same sentence as 'crosse-' uh!" The leader of the little group had clipped him across the ear.

"Shut. Up. And take us to the valuables."

Laurence hesitated, resonating the three of them. The tall one had as little sense of honor as he had seen in a human for a long time. He would not hesitate to kill this old Vessel. The youngest one defined honor in terms of his superiors; filling this role at the moment was the tall thief, supported by previous adulation shown by the lockpicker. The lockpicker with the blond hair was confused about such things, but would do as he was told. "Very well," said Laurence. "This way."

A knife was pressed to his throat, then hidden behind him. "No tricks, old man."

"No tricks." Laurence led the three of them through the back ways of the monastery, avoiding the sleeping Brothers' cells; other humans would complicate things at the moment, and possibly lead to trouble he would find it problematic to solve without breaking Role.

After a short trip, lengthened by the insistence of the boys on peeking around every corner to look for ambushers, they arrived at a choir practice room. Laurence entered and stood before an oversized hymnal on a low display table, surrounded by risers and chairs. "Here. The greatest treasure in this Church lies before you."

The tall one and the youngest were incredulous, looking around for the expected gold-plated paraphernalia. The middle lad was a little more intelligent than the other two, and eyed the old hymnal appraisingly.

"What the hell did I tell you?" said the tall one. "I said no tricks. There isn't anything here!"

"Dude," said the middle boy, "I think maybe it's the book. It could be antique, maybe worth a lot of money."

"The book? The book??" Their leader strode over to the hymnal and glared at it. He looked up at Laurence. "This worth money?"

"Very little. But it is nevertheless the most valuable object in this place, that I know of." No lie, either. Laurence considered himself to have been miraculously privileged to be there on the day when the Choir had sung the hymnal into a new existence, their sheer human worship and love focusing on the great hymnal they all shared, turning it into a holy artifact.

The boys knew nothing of this, of course. Angered, the tall one drew his knife, then put it back. "Grab him," he ordered his friends -- lackeys, now. They hesitated, but he asserted his authority. "Grab him!" They did so, one holding each arm. He himself went over and closed the door. "I noticed these walls have soundproofing on them, you old fart. Not so smart now, are you?" He grabbed a music stand and threw the loose top off of it, walking back over to the hymnal. "See your stupid book?" He used the stand's stem to bash the book and its pedestal off the table, leaving it bare. Fortunately, the book was not damaged. "Bend him over." He hefted the stand as the two boys led Brother Laurence's old Vessel over to the table and pressed him down. "You gonna lead us to the stuff, or not?"

Laurence bowed his head. "I will not help you rob this place. It is my home. It is a place of-" he gritted his teeth as the stem crashed down on his back.

The tall one looked at him in surprise. "Tough old bastard, aren't you? We'll fix that." He raised his weapon again, ready to strike harder.

Laurence's Archangelic toughness was not helping here; it was only fueling the young man to greater brutality. In the fraction of a second between raise and drop, he let some of his self slip away from the shell it was inhabiting, leaving the old body as frail as it looked.

Round metal rod on flesh covered by cloth is deceptively quiet. Pain such as Laurence had rarely known flashed through his awareness at the slight *thump*, and he let himself cry out.

The Wrath of God screamed in him to stop this evil. Take up your blade, cut it out of the Symphony, do not let it infect others...


Focus. Maintain discipline. The sword is not your weapon here. Defeat the evil with the tools at hand...


A rib had snapped. This Vessel would die soon if he let it. He was preparing a replacement elsewhere, but was only ten years old there. Preserve the Role. Use the tools at hand...


A slight shifting in the Symphony sang about him. No, not sang... crackled. A tiny motion. It would never become a full-fledged Tether, but the potential was building for a Tether. To Nightmares. But surely it was not for Laurence, a celestial, who was not afraid anyway. It must be coming from one of the humans in the room. A moment's Disturbance would shatter it, do it, you have an excuse... no.

At hand. It was surely not the human administering the beating that was the source of the nascent Tether. Laurence reached into his awareness and used the Elohite resonance on the two humans holding his hands and arms down. The young one on his left was afraid of being caught, of what the older one would do if he let go. Selfish fear. The one of the right had some of the same, mixed with fear for his future. Selfish fear, fueling the forming Tether.


How did one fight Nightmares? If he suddenly rose up and tried to punish the boys now, he might very well push the Tether into firmer existence and get it noticed. His weapon would have to be, then, his vulnerability. Combat fear. We must calm their fears. Calm....

Laurence's eyes widened imperceptibly. In the midst of his pain, he sent a tiny prayer of thanks to God for His remonstration and instruction, before trying to apply the methods of the Archangel of Flowers.

Salem ended her report. "Thank you, Cities," said Laurence. "I had a few words to say about some recent events --" he noted the subtle shifting in the room as lesser Word-bound prepared to 'sit through another one of Lord Laurence's speeches' -- "but I will save it for another time. If there is no further business before the Seraphim Council today...?" He looked about the room, and no one gave any sign of coming forward. "Very well. This session of the Seraphim Council stands in adjournment." Archangels and old Servitors began going their separate ways. Laurence called across the room quietly. "Lady Novalis. A word with you, if you have a moment?"

"Of course, dear." She was still plaiting the same laurel crown she had been fiddling with for the latter half of the Council meeting. Had it been necessary, she could have woven it in an instant, so it must have been for pleasure. For the love of Heaven, did she never take a moment's work?

"Laurence, if you must be familiar. Can you be serious for once?"

She looked up as they walked marble paths. "Why should I be grim, when the Symphony is filled with so much joy? So many of my peers seem to forget that too often. It's all well and good to fight to protect the garden, but all such work is useless if no one tends the roses."

"It is a worthy task. Some would say that angels are called for different tasks than that, but yours is a noble Word." A little uncomfortable with this line of discussion, he returned to his original purpose. "I admit to having had some difficulty incorporating the angels of Flowers into our strategies in the past. You seem not to mind being kept away from the front lines, of course...." He paused as a strand of laurel snapped between Novalis' fingers.

She quickly repaired the strand and looked down to continue her weaving. "Mind? That the Commander of the Host thinks us useless and would leave us idle to find our own purpose? I tell many of my servants that a flower will find the sun on its own, and give the impression that you understand that we will do our best work when kept away from the Sword's regimentation. I only tell them this on Earth, of course. I cannot say it outright in Heaven." She looked up at him. "We are angels of God, Laurence. Made to serve. My angels can take missions from me, but I have no such direction. It is an uncomfortable state of existence."

She was unhappy enough that it was showing. Bubbly Novalis, and it was him at which she directed one of the few frowns of hers that Laurence had seen. He sighed. He had a great deal to make up for in this.

Laurence examined the Elohite resonance more closely. There, in the middle lad, the one holding his right hand and arm down. Revulsion, and shame. Take advantage of it.

He turned his bearded head to the side, not needing to fake the panting or sweating after having pulled much of his strength away from this body. "Help me," he whispered to the boy. "He's... killing me..."

The fear intensified. The boy was torn. The stem of the music stand landed with another solid thump, dislocating another rib where Laurence's spine was turned. The pain he felt communicated itself to his eyes, locked with the boy's.

"Stop it." Not Brother Laurence's voice. The boy's.

The tall one paused. "What?"

"I said stop it. You'll kill him. I don't want to kill anybody."

"Shut up and hold him!" He lifted the stand again.

"No!" The blond let go of Laurence and charged the tall one. Laurence took advantage of the respite and fell away from the other boy, onto the table. The boy still holding his left arm was watching his two chosen superiors fight, trying to figure out what to do. Laurence leapt on the crack in his obedience, grabbing him by the arm to attract his attention.

"The... brothers... go get them. To your left out the door. Hurry!" In the heat of the moment, the boy who looked to superiors for direction took the order being given him in place of his two leaders now fighting. He ran out to alert the other monks. Laurence rested on the table, even as the two boys fought. His Vessel and Role would survive long enough to be replaced later, which had been his original goal, but several things far more important had been accomplished tonight.

Novalis glanced at the quiet Laurence. "You seem distracted."

"It's nothing."

Novalis reached up a hand toward Laurence's face. He turned his head and shielded, but she only brushed him with the edge of an Attunement, too gentle to push away. Her eyes widened. "You've been harmed."

"Only a Role."

"Let me help."

He understood the tone of her voice -- the naked impulse of an angel to protect someone who needed it. This, they shared. "I cannot."

The urgency in her expression added overtones of frustration. "You don't think I'm competent?"

"A simple old monk does not have Archangels to call on for help. I could deal with the situation myself in an instant if I allowed myself the privilege."

"Is the Role worth it?"

"The discpline is -- and there is more, anyway. Let it be -- this was not why I called you."

"Then why?"


"Beleth? I don't understand."

"I am bound to choose the best weapon for the job, Novalis. Blandine works best against Beleth. But she is hard-pressed, and Beleth is taking the fight to the corporeal realm, promoting fear on Earth. Blandine stays in the Marches and tries to gain ground there, and this is a respectable strategic choice. Still, it leaves an opening that we should address, and if the most obvious weapon is unavailable, I have come to believe that another lies ready to hand. Indeed, it may even be better in some respects. Where fear is abundant, what better remedy than peace and tranquillity? Or again: violence and strife bring fear and can actually strengthen Nightmares. But your methods, Lady, avoid this pitfall."

"Ah..." said Novalis, and it was understanding and acceptance and relief all in a single sound.

"Perhaps a flower does grow best when given space. But a garden can be designed and planted. Novalis, Archangel of Flowers, I direct you and your angels thus: strike at the Tethers and strongholds of Nightmares, not with violence, but with contentment and security and joy. I will give you free rein within this objective, giving you Servitors with whom your angels can coordinate, and ordering only that you recognize their expertise and make efforts to accept their counsel as to when it is in fact necessary to employ more direct tactics. In this way you can be tied closer to the plans of the War without altering your accustomed ways."

Novalis bowed, almost a dance move. "As the General of the Host commands, so shall we do with a glad heart." She rose. "If I may be excused; I have to organize some Servitors." Laurence nodded, and watched her go. He had erased the unhappiness he had seen earlier, and that as much as anything helped him believe he had done the right thing.

An alarm echoed in the hall outside. The young one had roused Laurence's colleagues. The tall one looked out the open door and cursed, but it was too late. The boy returned, pointing to his two fighting friends, and the priests quickly separated them while a few tended to Laurence. He signaled his wish to be helped over to the blond and the young one. In front of everyone, he said, "Thank you. If it weren't for you two, he might have killed me. I owe both of you my life. You did the right thing." The gentle gratitude was not what they had been expecting; he could see them realizing that they were going to let off more leniently than their leader. More importantly, he could see them realizing that the most important decisions they had made tonight had been the ones that had been to try righting a dreadful wrong. Laurence would see to it that they were sent through the justice system under the best of care, and his own testimony would influence their disposition. He would surely be able to pull these two lives out of shadow.

And the third? He looked over at the tall boy, still struggling. No sense of remorse, of dishonor, only frustration at his interruption and anger at the betrayals he had been handed, with some slight fear of punishment. Perhaps this boy was lost. But Laurence still had some control over his future, and his Role still had a few years of usefulness left to it. He would try.

Laurence realized that the forming Tether had dissipated without a trace. He nodded to his supporting brethren, and made his way slowly to the infirmary to await an ambulance. He would fight this evil with the weapons most appropriate.


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