Part 1: The Infection
The forces of Hell thought they had the upper hand. They drove towards Heaven, forcing the gates open with the sheer numbers of their horde. They actually thought they could pull it off this time.
They were wrong.
Oh, things seemed evenly matched for a while, but the tide turned against them. Some say that a faction of demons turned against their brethren and helped Heaven slaughter them. Some say that even the numbers were not enough for the combined power of War and the Sword, and their allies of Stone and the Wind. Some say it was Destined to happen the way it did.
But that is another tale.
At the edge of the Marches, Michael and Baal faced each other at last while their servitors battled around them. They had met in battle before, but never truly tested each other, both knowing they had to wait for The Day. This was that day.
The details weren't even that important. The critical moment came when Michael at last struck Baal down, the demon's dark energy tearing out like something Hollywood would dream up. Some of it tore into Michael's body instead of dispersing into the Symphony.
Around them, the battles paused to look at the spectacle. The demons who could turned and fled, realizing they were outmatched without their leader. Most of the angels took off after them, not ready to abandon the fight just yet. The rest paused, looking at Michael, waiting for his direction.
The Archangel had fallen to his knees, clutching his head. The servitors closest to him stepped forward, reaching out to comfort or Heal. With a roar, Michael sprang up and struck them down, before even the fastest could react.
The rest could see, and feel, the Discord that had suddenly infected their master. Somehow the remains of Baal's rage had torn Michael, dragging him to the edge of Falling, and the rage was still in control.
One of the Malakim, a Master of Valor, barked out orders. "Ofanim, go for help. David if you can find him, but any of our allies. The rest of you, to me. We have to hold him here." Somehow, was the unspoken addendum as the broken Archangel advanced on them.
Songs flew as angels tried desperately to restrain their master, and as the Songs bounced harmlessly against his will. Blood and worse flew as they leapt into the combat, trying to slow him. Wounded, unconscious bodies fell to either side of his path, fell with suddenly empty vessels. Some managed to strike him, but the wounds were far too light for him to even notice.
Even with many attacking him at once, it was soon down to three, all Masters of Valor. The Malakite who had taken charge, and two of his closest teammates, a team that had worked together for centuries. They had learned to work together without speaking, they could sense each other, move as one. It only bought them a few seconds.
The Cherub, a Word-bound, fell first, trying to protect the Seraph. Michael's axe sliced down, biting into his chest. It did not kill him, but he was unconscious before he hit the ground. The Seraph and Malakite struck him together, drawing blood, but the axe found the Malakite's wing joint, cutting deep and spurting blood for several feet.
The blade sliced deep into the Seraph's leg, dropping her to the damp ground. As he loomed over her, she murmured, "Forgive me, Archangel," and struck, driving her short sword into his side. He howled in surprise and pain, then struck her, breaking her jaw and knocking her unconscious.
At last, he was unopposed. At last, he could continue on his path, find and finish of the rest of his enemies, the cowards who had fled the field of battle, the...
A lone figure stepped into his path, glittering sword drawn. "Michael, you must stop this insanity. I challenge you to..."
Michael's axe flashed again, lopping off a length of Laurence's hair. The younger Archangel backpedaled a step, dodged the next blow, and was caught by Michael's fist, sending him tumbling. With a growl, he turned back to his path, turned on his heel...
And slammed into another Malakite, standing resolute. And naked.
"I do wish it had not come to this, old friend," David said sadly, as others joined the field, scurrying to help the wounded, and retrieve the bodies.
"Get out of my way," Michael croaked, trying to push Stone out of his way.
David sighed, and cold-cocked the First Seraph, sending him sprawling on the ground. "He will hate me for this when he recovers," he said to a cloaked figure that approached behind him, "but bind him. Gloat over it, and I'll consider it an attack."
Efficiently, if sadly, the endangered Archangel of War was carried away to a safer location, to wait for the master healers of the Council to try to remove the dark infection. Within a few minutes, three Archangels hovered over him, while he was still unconscious, and bound to the bed.
"Yes, yes, it's in deep alright. You see it there Novy?"
The smallest of the three nodded. "Yep. This is going to be a challenge."
Eli grinned. "Sure is."
"But you can do it?" the first asked.
"If you get out of the way. Go on, shoo."
Dominic found himself outside as the door closed, wondering just how Eli had done that. A small furry face peered up at him from inside a voluminous sleeve. "Mwr?"
Dominic sighed. "Yes, I suppose so."
Inside, Eli echoed the sigh. "You realize we may have to rip off some of his Forces as well." Novalis nodded slowly. "Yes. Let's get to it."
Part 2: The Healing
Michael woke up with a splitting headache. With a groan, he reached for his head, and was surprised when his arms refused to move. Or his legs, for that matter. Or anything. Why in the three planes was he bound to his bed? No, not even his bed.
"Ungh. What the..."
A cool hand found his shoulder. "Easy there."
"Wha... Doxas? What's going on?"
"What do you remember?"
Michael paused, considering what he did remember, and it wasn't enough. "I... I remember fighting Baal. I remember finishing him off, at last, and..." he frowned. "That's the last I remember. What happened, why in the Upper Heavens am I tied DOWN like this," he struggled vainly against the bonds, "and who gave you that cut?"
Doxas looked at him sadly. "You did."
That stopped his rant. "What?"
"Michael... when you killed Baal, it somehow infected you. His dark energies, they think, they were suddenly a part of you, and it sent you into a rage. You struck out at whatever, whoever was in your way. They say... they say you were on the brink of Falling."
Michael choked down a few choice oaths. "By all that is holy. My own loyals?"
Doxas nodded. "They tried to keep you from chasing to earth or farther, to keep you from becoming the enemy, while they sent the Wheels to get help."
Tears welled in the old Archangel's eyes. "How many did I..."
"You sent a few dozen into Trauma, soul-killed three, and wounded about a dozen more."
He strained against the bonds again. "I have to go to them, I have to try to help them."
"I can't remove those, I'm afraid. They said it would take three Archangels together to release them."
Michael sighed. "They?"
"The remaining Council."
"Remaining? What happened, the war..."
"You should rest, you took quite a beating yourself."
Michael growled at her. "Whether the Hyena likes it or not, I am still War. What happened?"
"The quick summary, we won, but it's not over. We sealed the surviving Princes in the core of Hell, David's troops are scouring for the followers who fled before the seal was finished. Along with Baal, Belial, Alaemon, Asmodeus, Haagenti, Mammon, Malphas, and Valefor are dead. Nybbas and Fleurity have been reduced to gremlins. Beleth is missing, we've got Vapula and Kobal, the rest are sealed away."
"Ah, captured and pleading Redemption. The Council's still arguing over what to do with them, and the others."
Michael's jaw clenched. "Others?"
"There's a large group of demons that surrendered and are begging a chance to redeem. At least they're keeping Dominic's people busy."
"How many did we lose?"
Doxas sighed. "Gabriel, Litheroy, and Marc are dead. Janus was severely wounded and knocked into Trauma. Christopher and Jean lost enough Forces to lose Archangel status. Blandine is missing."
"Laurence and David?"
"Laurence has a new haircut thanks to your axe, David is battered but strong."
"I attacked Laurence too?"
"He tried to stop you. I think the bruises have healed by now, although his views were shaken."
Michael sank into the bed. "Who stopped me?"
"A few of your Masters held on till the bitter end, hurt you enough to slow you down and delay you until Laurence and David arrived. David was the one who finally stopped you. If your jaw still hurts, that's why. Novalis and Eli teamed up to get the discord out of you..."
The door opened on that cue, letting the two Archangels just mentioned in. "You were quite a handful, you know," Eli said with a gentle smile. "How are you feeling?"
"Grandmother of a headache, but I'd really like to take a walk," Michael said bitterly.
Novalis murmured something to Doxas, who nodded and left in search of something. "Michael, you must know... some of Baal's poisoned energy was wrapped tightly around your own. You've probably lost a few Forces."
Michael considered, then nodded. "Some, yes. You both did what you had to, and you did well. I... thank you."
Dominic swept into the room and studied Michael, who was simply glaring at him. "I suppose you're enjoying this," Michael sniped.
"While I know you do not wish to believe it, I am not." Dominic nodded to the other two Archangels, and they joined him in seizing Michael's bonds. The clasps opened with a quiet pop, and Michael was quickly on his feet.
"Thank you," Michael offered, although it seemed to pain him. "Now let me get back to..."
"Michael, you are under house arrest for what you have done. The Council has agreed to let you walk in Heaven, under the condition that you are guarded at all times. You will stand Trial as soon as we make a decision about our two renegade Princes."
Michael's jaw worked silently for a moment, aching slightly. This could not be happening again. "How can you do this?"
Dominic's jaw set. "Perhaps you should go visit the survivors of your rampage. See those cowering in Trauma, those in the healing centers fighting for their lives, and the bodies where they lie in state. Your own angels, Michael. Go ask them why I must do this."
Part 3: The Casualties
Michael drew a deep breath, released it slowly, then nodded once. He looked to Novalis. "Will you take me to them?"
She gave him a sad smile, and gently guided him out. On the way, he assumed his true form, the mighty First Seraph. One pair of eyes locked ahead, concentrating on the path and ignoring the pain of motion. Another pair was introspective, trying to fathom how this atrocity had happened. The last was downcast, realizing that no matter how it had started, the Truth was that it had happened.
He stoically ignored the looks, the whispers that were silenced as they passed. Novalis took him to the Groves first. The Malakim guarding the core, guarding the Hearts, stepped aside for Michael, if somewhat slower than normal. Doxas met them there, led them to the victims of Michael's rampage.
The angels were wrapped around their hearts like terrified children with a favorite stuffed toy. Each had a Mercurian with them, offering comfort in whatever form was needed. When Michael approached, they saw him. The traumatized ones cowered back, some whimpering, some trying to shelter behind their helpers. The fear was obvious in their otherwise vague eyes.
Novalis and Doxas drew him out of the core, assuring him that his healers were doing everything they could to help his angels. They walked to the bodies next, laid to final rest in another area of the Groves, attended by Saints as well as angels. Michael paused at each, touching their faces, murmuring long prayers of apology in the Angelic tongue.
"The severely wounded are recovering in my Gardens," Novalis said.
The servants of Flowers paused in their work to look at their Archangel and her guest, although their looks were more of sorrow than fear. Novalis took Michael deep into her Gardens, to where the most severely wounded of the battles had been taken, to Heaven's best healers.
By the time they reached the last forest-room, all of Michael's eyes were moist. This, Novalis explained, was where the last three Masters lay; the last three who had tried to save him.
Ahrionel, Cherub Angel of Recruiting, was sprawled on the ground in his celestial winged-bear form. When he noticed Michael, he tried to fold his wings and stand, to give a proper greeting. Michael waved him down.
"As you were, it's alright." As he had with the other wounded, Michael looked at the wounds, the pink stripe across the bear's chest. While it was healing well, it was clear that the angel was still in pain. A flash came to his memory, a single scene from attacking this one.
Ahrie looked at Novalis, then at his own Archangel. "Michael, you are... well?"
"Not well, as such, but the madness is gone. Ahrionel, I know I cannot say enough, but I am truly, deeply, sorry for what happened."
"You are free from the darkness now. Our goal was met, our battle ultimately won. There is more work to be done. We will continue." Despite his words, the bear's eyes kept drifting to the low cot next to him.
Michael's eyes followed the gaze, saw the Seraph who had stabbed him. The wound in his side felt a faint twinge of pain as he remembered another scene.
"Ainel," he murmured.
"She..." Ahrionel had to search for the right words, the bear's face twisted with grief. "The healing isn't working well, they say because she doesn't have enough Forces to overcome the power of your rage. They... they've put a collar on her, to keep her in the vessel. They say if she takes her true form now, the damage to her leg would damage the Seraph's spine."
Michael knew how long the two had been working together, knew how deeply Ahrionel loved her. "If it was my rage that did this to her, then I should be able to heal her," he said. Novalis nodded silently, and Michael folded his serpentine body onto the ground, wrapped his wings around his servitor.
A gentle light peeked through the feathers of his wings, the Symphony sang out. The bruising of her jaw faded, returned to its normal shape. Hidden under the blanket, severed bone and muscle knit together once more. Michael withdrew his wings, and Ainel sighed, shifted, and went into a relaxed, comfortable sleep. Ahrionel wept openly.
"Eternal thanks, Archangel."
"I only wish I could do more," he answered sadly. "Novalis, that collar?"
"When she is strong enough to wake, she will be able to remove it herself. For now, it will be more comfortable for her this way."
A Malakite limped in, leaning on an Ofanite, both in their true forms. "Lanus, they did it, they healed her!" the Ofanite sounded off. "They... Michael."
Both paused, the Malakite starting to attempt a bow. Again, Michael waved it off. "That isn't necessary. Should have known you two were here if..." a last flash of memory struck him, and he drew a deep breath. "You were there as well. What... what did I do to you?"
With Raniel's help, the Malakite turned his back, showing Michael what was wrong, showing the stump where a wing had been sliced off. Michael paled.
"Lanus, I... I beg your forgiveness."
"There is no need, Archangel," Lanus answered, turning to face his master. "It was necessary."
"At least let me heal it back?"
"No. You are my master, and there is nothing to forgive, but let it heal on its own. Let it remind those who may need to remember."
Lanus backed away a step. "That was not intended, Archangel."
"No, but True nonetheless. If that is truly your wish, I will grant it, but at any time you want I will restore it."
"If it becomes necessary."
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