By Moe Lane


"I will not insult you by asking whether you're sure about this."

The Archangel of Faith turned and looked his brother straight in the eyes. An independent observer might be forgiven for thinking that no expression of quiet mirth had taken possession of Khalid's features.

"And yet, the question is there - without ever it technically being said. Your position has taught you subtlety, brother."

The Archangel of the Sword half-frowned. "Among a number of other things. One of them is that the Seraphim Council hates surprises. I can see the strategic value of your demonstration, but are you quite so certain of its tactical utility? Our colleagues will be in an uproar for days over this..."

"And is this such a dreadful outcome?"

Laurence chuckled softly. "Possibly not. If nothing else, it should get Janus firmly in our camp. He will find the next few days enjoyably chaotic, no doubt. That's three. I am certain that Blandine will not cause much of a fuss, and of course my mother will almost certainly beam one of her diabetes-inducing smiles and then fall immediately into our camp. This brings us up to five ... six, if I have read Gabriel correctly ... and that will be enough for a start. We can get the others to accept the inevitable in good time. After a good deal of screaming and shouting, of course."

At this point, the slight figure, cloaked in the combined attention of two Archangels, spoke up. "Forgive me, Great Ones, but I would not have my affirmation cause an unseemly contention between His servants..."

The Archangel of the Sword cut her off with a sudden gesture of the hand, his black wings flickering in almost-irritation. "Your pardon, milady, but this has been already settled. What you are must be accepted, and the sooner the better. My colleagues on the Council tend at times to forget that while I listen to their counsel, it is my duty and privilege to command ... and that I am remiss in my duties if I fail to use any and all honorable weapons that come to hand. You are most assuredly an honorable weapon, and I will not allow you to rust uselessly away." Laurence looked up to meet Khalid's eyes. "We have been doing too much of that lately as it is.

"And I suppose that I have answered my own question, brother. You are no stranger to subtlety, yourself: your silences are most eloquent."

The Archangel of Faith spread his hands. "You always did find the right answer, if given the chance to work through the problem." He quirked his head. "Eventually."

Laurence grinned. "Remind me to have you up on charges of insubordination later. If this goes extremely badly, Dominic might even try to give us adjoining cells." The Archangel placed one hand on the door to the Council Chambers and opened it.

"Ladies before gentlemen ... and, of course, age before beauty."

Khalid murmured as he passed, "You are happy that I am back, it seems."

"Of course," came the equally quiet reply. "If nothing else, it gives my Sergeant-Major someone else to benevolently tyrannize."

The Council Chambers were, of course, packed. An announcement from the Archangel of the Sword that he 'requests and requires' the presence of every Superior is exceedingly rare, and taken quite seriously for just that reason. Of course, every Archangel present had also decided to come escorted with quite a few aides, adjutants, assistants and ceremonial guards, the better to underscore the fact that, indeed, they were all very busy entities who should not have their collective time wasted. This did not particularly bother Laurence: indeed, he expected it. The more witnesses to this, the better. It would save valuable time later.

The Archangel of the Sword could feel the shifting dynamic in the room as everyone present attempted to look at him, Khalid and their mutual guest at the same time, only to be blocked by Superior-level shielding. The mass attention gradually coalesced upon him as he ascended the podium - after all, he was the only one of the three actually doing anything - and focussed sharply as he accepted the ceremonial gavel from Marc. Laurence recognized the slightly apprehensive flavor of that attention, and grinned inwardly as he led the congregated angels in a short prayer.

"I am not here to make a speech." The apprehensive flavor notably decreased. "In fact, I am not going to speak much at all ... except to say that Khalid bears my message. He also bears my full, total and utter support for that message." Laurence unblocked part of his shielding. "Full support."

The Archangel of the Sword looked down on his brother. "Lord Khalid, you may proceed. Do you require the podium?" The Archangel of Faith shook his head slightly as he laid a short carpet on the ground.

"No, Lord Laurence. Indeed, I will follow your example and not give a speech at all. Like you, I have someone who will speak the message that I wish to convey. Anushin-rawan, you may step forward, if you so choose, and speak."

The cloaked figure came forward. "I thank you, Great One." She moved forward to the edge of the carpet, stood for a moment - and both Archangels silently removed her shielding. The Council was stunned to utter silence as her form was revealed.

She was a Djinn.

Not one of the demons called by that name: her imago was clearly ethereal, and showed her to be one of the spirits associated with Middle Eastern legend. Technically, it would be more accurate to call her a Djinniya, or possibly an 'Ifriteh: while her garb was modest, it made no attempt to hide her femininity ... or incongruous beauty. As she stood there in utter silence - an ethereal, standing in a place where no ethereal could be expected to stand and survive - it was clear why human legend spoke of her species as being made of 'smokeless fire'. She burned, and was not consumed: she shed light, and did not bring shadow.

Up on the podium, Laurence allowed himself a slight smile as he witnessed Dominic and Michael simultaneously read Anushin-rawan's essential Truth ... only to sit back with identical looks of shock. He idly noted that Litheroy, Marc or Zadkiel did not look particularly surprised, and filed that piece of information away for later use.

In a perfectly timed moment, before the inevitable cries and shouting could begin, Anushin-rawan curtseyed to Laurence, bowed low to Khalid and knelt on the carpet, prostrate before the Light of Heaven. Her voice was musical and rich as she spoke.

"La Ilaha-Illa Allah, Muhammad al-Rasul Allah."

The words of the traditional Muslim profession of Faith rang out like a bell. The two sons of Uriel looked at each other. One smiled; the other slowly nodded.

And then the screaming and shouting started.


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