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 Once Hannah was dressed again, she led me into the house.  Hannah explained that her mother was sleeping, and quietly confided that she feared her mother was becoming ill.  I tried to reassure her, but she told me that it was nothing to fear:  if Mother got well or even died, it was the will of God.  God had His reasons for everything, and Heaven is there to reunite loved ones who lost each other.

            Being an angel, I had to concede that she had a good point.  What she said was obvious to me, but it was surprising to hear it from a mortal.  Ever since Adam and Eve lost the Garden, we angels had been of the opinion that Man was pretty much a lost cause, without the ability to understand the glory of God’s grace.  Yet Hannah constantly showed unwavering faith: to her every single event in life was God’s will and therefore right, no matter how sad.

            We got breakfast quietly, hoping to avoid disturbing her mother, but she must have awoken on her own, for she called for Hannah.  She rushed immediately to her parents’ bedroom, ever the dutiful daughter.  I followed behind slowly, unsure if I should enter the room or not.

            Hannah decided for me, for she came out of the room to grab my arm and usher me in.

            “She wants to meet you,” Hannah said, evidently having informed her mother of my presence.  “Come say hello.”

            I walked into the darkened room and approached the handcrafted bed and the small figure in it.  She was visibly aging and tired, but she still smiled when she saw me.

            “Oh my, Hannah, he’s beautiful.  Like an angel…” She said weakly.  Hannah and I shared a conspiratorial smile at her mother’s words, for they had innocently remarked upon what I truly was.  Of course she didn’t know that, but it was still amusing to hear.

            “Such lovely hair, like gold…” Her mother continued.  “Come here, young man, so I can see you better.”

            I knelt at her bedside obediently.  She gestured for me to come close, and whispered so that only I could hear:  “I know why you’ve come.  You’re here for Hannah.  Take good care of her.”

            “I’m not taking her anywhere, good lady.  I have come only to offer myself.”

            “I know, son.  I saw you…” She coughed then, spasms cutting off her words.

            “Saw me?  What do you mean?”  I asked quietly, feeling a strange sensation run up and down my spine.  What is it that people say, goose bumps?

            “I saw you…  in a dream…  golden hair and a beautiful face, come for her…  it is God’s will.  You are meant for each other…” She stared directly into my eyes, her hand on my arm.  She spoke with great insistence:  “You must take care of her.”

            “I promise to love Hannah with all my heart and do my best for her.”  I vowed.

            “No!  Not just Hannah…  soon, there will be a daughter…” And with those prophetic words spoken, Hannah’s mother leaned back in her bed and fell asleep, a look of relief and joy on her face.

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 Curiously, I felt the wind and the cool dew of the grass on my feet.  The leafy blades tickled at my skin.  I had not felt the earthly plane so personally since my time in Eden, for since then I had not made myself manifest as an earthly body.  I looked at my arms and legs, and found none of the delicate, perfect grace of an angel, but rather the shorter limbs of a man, a human, clothed in the rough garments of a shepherd.

            For a moment I felt sudden shock and alarm.  I was mortal, without my powers or wings.  The shock lasted only for a moment though, for the cool wind in my hair calmed me and brought me to my senses.  God had simply put His plan into effect, and this was the first step.  I wondered what the next would be.

            This general query was answered when I felt a disturbing spasm from within.  Again I was frightened, until it dawned on me that this strange sensation must be what hunger felt like.  As the sun gently rose into the sky, I realized that this was the hour where most men broke fast and ate the first meal of the day.  Once I understood the sensation, it was actually rather stimulating, as it was new and different.  Soon, though, its novelty wore off and I was simply hungry.

            I began to walk down the hill, in the direction the girl would always take to get home.  The shepherd’s family was the only hope for food in the desolate hills, and that was where my maiden, my goal, would be found.  What is that saying, killing two birds with one stone?  I could get rid of the discomfort being hungry caused and also find my love.

            For a little while I enjoyed walking, but it too grew dull as I began to miss being able to fly.  I found myself wondering how humans could stand having to do it all the time.  Then it began to hurt, as my feet were bare and without a single callous.  Having never needed to walk so much before, the world was wearing down my virgin feet.

            Gradually, however, I realized the progress I was making despite the pain, as the family’s home came into my view after I crested another small hill.  A stream went by the house and it flowed through a meadow.  In the stream was my maiden, bathing.  As I grew closer I realized that she was unclothed.

            I remembered her routine, suddenly.  Before heading off to bring her father his noon water, she took the opportunity to bathe in privacy behind the house in the stream.  She would repeat the ritual every evening upon her return home to wash the day’s sweat and dust from her form.  It was a ritual I had observed countless times before.  I came closer, and leaned against the side wall of the house.  I watched her, as I had always watched her, while she splashed around.  I was lost in thought about how beautiful her dark hair was, and how lovely her tanned skin.  So lost in thought, I took no steps towards concealing my presence, so when she turned to the bank to get out of the stream, she caught me staring.

            She screamed, and then grabbed her robes and rolled out of sight on the grass to the back of the house.  As I came around the corner, hoping to reassure her (I had realized my unexpected presence must have been alarming), she swung out with a filled water-bag, catching me across the forehead and knocking me to the ground.  I fell onto the grass, clutching my brow.  Pain, like hunger, was a new experience, but not one I felt I needed to take time to appreciate.  It hurt.  I saw that she was about to hit me again, so I did the only thing I could think of to avoid getting pounded.  I spoke to her.

            “Hannah, wait!” I said in her language, speaking her name for the first time, “I come in peace!  In the name of God, please let me speak.”

            I don’t know if she stopped her second swing with the bag because I knew her name or because I mentioned God.  It doesn’t matter, I guess, since either way she decided not to strike again.

            “Who are you and what are you doing here?”  She demanded instead, lowering the bag but keeping it in her hand, just in case I should have proved hostile.

            “I’m…” I realized suddenly that I had nothing to say, save for the absolute truth.  As unbelievable as it would be to hear, it was also honest, and my love for her made me feel truth was the best policy.  I looked up at her, radiantly angry and beautiful, naked as the day she was born, and confessed why I was there.  “I have been sent by God.  That’s how I knew your name.  My name is Raphael.  I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

            “God sent you?”  Her expression, which had been one of fierce determination to protect herself and her home in case I was threatening, instantly changed to a softer, hopeful look.  I had expected her to be disbelieving, simply because many people are sceptical about God’s presence, but she took my word as truth.  Faith can be a powerful thing, and she had been waiting for God to send someone for a long, long time.

            She bent down to look me in the eye.  She studied my face carefully, looking for something…  whether for signs of dishonesty, truth, or the mark of the Lord, I cannot say.  She closed her eyes suddenly, and seemed lost in thought.  It was a tense moment for me, as I wondered what she was pondering.  My heart began to throb within my chest as she sat there, unmoving.  Finally, she opened her eyes.  Evidently she must have come to some positive conclusion, for, as her eyes opened, she placed a cool, somewhat moist hand to my cheek and smiled brightly.

            “I’m sorry for hitting you, but you must admit, it was awkward.  One never really expects to be watched while one is bathing.” She almost laughed.

            So did I, out of nerves and relief.  As she had stared into my eyes, I had gazed into hers.  I found myself lost in their brown depths, and I never wanted to be found.  I was tremendously happy to be near her, to speak with her, to have her hand upon my cheek.

            “And why were you watching?  I fail to see how a servant of God can find it acceptable to view a naked woman without her knowledge or consent.”

            “I am sorry for that.  I had forgotten that I might be seen, out of habit.  I was just watching, I meant no harm.  And, what crime is there in watching something beautiful?  God created things as beautiful so we would praise His Creation.  Such is right.  We only sin when we seek to own or destroy that which the Lord gives freely.”

            She pondered my answer for a moment, her palm never moving from its place on my face.  I began to feel as if I would never want to move again, but that eternity could be spent like this, she and I together.

            “I understand your reasoning.  There are men who would feel lust and wish to possess me, but you do not, that is what you mean?”

            I nodded.  She possessed me in a way, because I loved her and thought of nothing else, but no being has any right to truly own another.  Desire for such is pride and greed, the ways of sin.  I merely wished to be with her and serve her out of love.  Lust did not enter into it.

            “Yet you say I am beautiful.  Is it not true that men lust for beautiful things?  And you said it was your habit to watch, and I am afraid I do not understand what you meant.”

            I hesitated for a moment before answering.  My love required honesty, but so much so that I revealed that I was an angel to her?  Did she need to know?  But could I honestly say that I loved her, if I was unwilling to put my trust and faith in her?

            “I am not a man, so lust is not an emotion I have.  I am an angel, entrusted by God with the duty of watching over you as your guardian.  I have known you your whole life, been with you through it all.  While I do not lust for you, my time near you has made me love you.”  I spoke with strength, my feelings for her revealing themselves.  I, a mighty archangel, became completely vulnerable for a moment, trusting a mortal woman with the truth of myself and my soul, for that truth was wound up forever with my love for her.

            Her face held an expression of complete surprise, frozen in her tracks, but her eyes positively glowed with emotion.  Somehow my words had touched into the deepest recesses of her being.  I think perhaps that she was overwhelmed at the idea that her prayer, her dream, might be coming true.

            “I know it must be difficult to believe, but it is true, Hannah.”  I continued in earnest, hoping to convince her.  “I love you, and I am an angel.  Your angel.  I can prove it.  I can tell you something no once could possibly know, because you were alone, unless they were invisible, like an angel.”

            She could not speak, so overcome by emotion, but her eyes implored me to go on.

            “I was there the day the dove fell, and the day you met the hawk.  I know of your prayer to God, your wish.  He sent me to grant it.”

            She fell over in surprise, landing in the grass.  She began to laugh and weep at the same time, her warm brown eyes shining.  I sat and watched her, uncertain whether I should say anything.  Gradually the laughter and tears subsided and she wiped her eyes.  She looked at me and smiled.

            “Forgive my laughter,” she began, almost giggling under her words, “But I find it quite funny that I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear those words, and yet I struck you when you arrived, a messenger of God.  The man, or angel, that He sent to me.  And I could have killed you!”

            With that she began to laugh again, there in the grass by the stream in the sun.

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Angels I had watched the girl child’s birth, and her growth through infancy to young womanhood.  Each day she awakened with wonder to the world that God had made, and each day I waited with anticipation for that first moment.  There was nothing like it in all Creation, as she awoke with a look of complete surprise on her face, as if the world were brand new and made especially for her just moments before the opening of her eyes.

            Who was I to watch this private moment between a girl, her world and the God who created it?  I already told you, I’m Raphael, an archangel.  Weren’t you paying attention?  I’m just kidding.  I know you didn’t forget.  (Unless you did, in which case, shame on you!)

            In truth, I was her Watcher, the angel assigned to the job of being one of her guides and guardians through life.  It was an easy job in the old days:  several hundred million angels for only a few thousand humans.  Since then it’s gotten harder, what with some six billion humans to watch live and die, marry and give birth. 

            It’s a big responsibility now, with harried deadlines.  We’re not omnipotent and omniscient like God, you know, we can only do so much.  You try watching little Betty’s first steps, Jimmy’s first home run, Vladimir’s first date, Mai-Ling’s labour pains, Consuela learn that she has cirrhosis of the liver, Apu’s thesis dissertation , Martine’s reunion with her estranged father, while Karl drinks his first beer, Sammy fails a mathematics test and George signs a multi-million dollar movie deal.  That’s hard work, and with some three hundred million angels and some six billion people, it means each of us watches twenty of you.  Thank God for time zones and your necessity for sleep, although people who stay up late can be a hassle.

            Anyway, back to what I was talking about.  What was I talking about?  Oh, yes, the girl.  Simply put, she fascinated me from the moment of her birth.

            Some might question why one of God’s best and brightest, an archangel, the first to speak to Man, the angel who defeated the demonic fallen angel Azazel and trapped him under the desert, the great Raphael, would be relegated to the position of a Watcher in the dawn of Mankind’s reign on the planet.  With a few thousand people and several million angels, why waste an archangel’s time with such an easy job?  Gabriel has to guard Eden’s gate, Michael’s the general of Heaven’s armies, Raguel keeps order in Heaven with Saraquel and Ramiel helping by running the angel corps, Uriel oversees the sun, what’s Raphael doing watching an ephemeral, a lowly mortal girl?  That’s a very good question.  One several other angels asked of me.  My only answer is, and was then, too, that “God moves in mysterious ways.”  It was my job, and the Boss had His reasons for choosing me to do it. 

            The more I watched her, the more I found myself enjoying my work.  It began much like the affection a father or older brother feels for a newborn baby girl, she makes you want to watch over her and play with her.  But as she aged, my feelings for her changed dramatically.  Around the time she turned eighteen or nineteen, I was completely in love with her. 

            Surprised?  I was.  I’m an angel, beloved of Heaven.  There was a tendency amongst my brethren to disdain Mankind.  Truth be told, some of us were jealous.  Well, okay, most of us.  Here we were, first creations of God, and you, the new kids, got to have your very own planet, specially made just for you.  Here all of my friends and relatives are complaining about humanity, how they get their own planet and we have to watch over them, and then I have the sheer audacity to fall in love with one.  It just simply wasn’t done, I’m afraid.

            I wasn’t much interested in what the others thought, however, I was too busy admiring the object of my affections.  I was madly in love with her, and felt I knew her intimately because I shared every waking moment, and watched her even as she slept.  I could not tear myself away.

            As she got older I watched her journey to her hill every day and look out towards the horizon.  Every day she went and waited there until the stars came out.  It was not for daydreaming now, the visits to the hill were to wait for someone.  Her dream, that of a child, required a lover, and she waited for him every day, at that time when the sun melts into the horizon and dusk gives birth to night and the cold gaze of the stars.  Each day she went, expectant and hopeful.  Instead of becoming frustrated, she lingered a little longer each evening.  My heart ached with sympathy for the disappointment she must have felt, until my heart could bear no more.

            One night not long after the maiden passed her twenty-first birthday, a day after all of her other elder sisters had been given in marriage, I left another angel at the maiden’s house, one of the seraphim responsible to me, who would watch her while she slept while I went to the Throne of God.  It was the first time I had left my post since her birth, she had so enthralled me.

            I turned from her bedside and unfurled my white wings to lift myself from Earth towards Heaven.  As I rose, I turned to look at her and to salute my comrade while he guarded her.  I then turned my gaze towards the night sky and soared towards Heaven.  It took but a moment to achieve the celestial plane, as we angels can move with the speed of thought if we choose.  I approached Heaven’s pearly gates slower than that, however, for I felt the need to prepare myself.  I had to think about what I was doing, and why.

            The Celestial City appeared before me upon a white cloud, shining splendidly with God’s radiance reflecting from golden and bejewelled palaces.  The sight is truly a marvel to behold, and impossible to accurately describe.  Every time it inspires awe in me, and I’ve seen it a lot over the past few millennia.  Try to imagine the sun appearing from behind a cloud, how bright and blinding that is, and then pretend there is a city at its centre, the most beautiful city you’ve ever seen, constructed of jasper and agate and sapphires and gold and any other jewel you’d care to see.  What you’ve just imagined doesn’t even come close to the beauty of Heaven, but hey, at least you tried.

            There are walls all around Heaven, and three gates on each of the four sides.  I headed for the main and largest gateway, the Gate of Judah.  At the gates I found some of my brethren awaiting me.  Among them were Michael and Raguel, fellow archangels, resplendent in long white robes, their hair shining like spun gold.  As the shining pearl gates opened before me to allow entrance through the high walls, Raguel stepped forward.

            “My brother,” He offered a perfunctory greeting, “Why do you come to Heaven’s Gates, Raphael?  You have left your earthly post.”

            “I seek audience.”  I said, not needing to mention with whom.  They knew Whom I wanted to see.  “Will you grant passage?”

            It seemed somehow a tense moment, three archangels standing in the arch of the Gate of Judah as the cherubim and seraphim hovering around us watched every motion and heard every word.  Michael stood by calmly and silently as Raguel stared at me.

            “Perhaps if you enlightened us as to your intentions…” Raguel prodded.  I found his attitude intrusive, and my response was somewhat lacking in diplomacy.  I was set on my goal, and my general cordial manner gave way to impatience easily thanks to this unexpected imposition.

            “That is between me and our Father.  If I had wish of your counsel, brother, I would seek audience with you.”  I said harshly.  I could hear soft murmurs of surprise from the crowd at my tone.

            “Such impatience.  Perhaps you have been among the ephemerals too long, Brother, and learned some of their ways?  Perhaps that is why you have come?”

            I sensed something in my brother, some disapproval, and it suddenly incensed me.  I spoke out, and angrily.

            “What’s this, Brother, resentment for our Lord’s new children?  Disapproval of His Creation?  Why do you not let me pass, what do you fear?”

            I made as if to walk past him.  Raguel’s eyes blazed as he stepped towards me, perhaps to halt my egress, and that was what caused Michael to step between us and speak.

            “Easy brothers, we need not argue.  As archangels, beloved of Heaven and the Lord, we are compatriots and equals.  No need for this, is there?”  His tone was confident and soothing, a diplomatic attempt to smooth over our differences and avoid further confrontation.  Raguel nodded his silent agreement and stepped aside, leaving me an open path.  His respect for Michael was evident.  Angered by the lack of respect he had shown me, a fellow archangel and equal, I turned to go in disgust, only to have Michael take my arm.

            “Brother, you have been long among Mankind, by their standards.  Perhaps your time there has coloured your feelings, making you impatient and coarse?  I think I can persuade Raguel of that, and apologize to him for you over the anger I see in your eyes and hear in your voice.  Would that suit you?”

            “What of his behaviour?  His contempt…”

            “Raguel holds us all accountable, such is his place.  I may lead our armies, but if I were derelict in my duties, his duty would be to hold me to account.  He wanted to know why you are here and not at your posting.  If he held his duty so strongly that you took offence, I will talk to him and see about his apology.  Does that suit you?”

            “Yes.  I suppose…”

            “Only one thing more, Brother.  Your matters are your own affair, but I want you to think on this:  is your course one that you follow for yourself, or one you follow for God?  Act according to your station, Raphael.  If you cannot, do not act at all.”

            I left the gate and continued through the celestial city, passing each bejewelled golden palace without noticing any of them, lost in thought.  I had not given any consideration as to why I was here, only enough to know that I had come to see God about my maiden, about my love.  I thought of my fallen brethren, those angels who had lost Heaven for their desire of Mankind’s children.  Was I to be like them?  Or was I doing God’s work, was I meant to love her?  Was my decision reckless, prompted only by selfishness developed over my time with the humans, or was it the Holy Spirit at work?

            I thought on Raguel’s behaviour and found myself angry again.  The sanctimonious prig dared to judge me, without even knowing of my feelings or intentions.  I was surprised that a fellow archangel could be so closed-minded.  I wondered if Michael was right, that maybe I was impatient because I had spent too much time on Earth.  But then I figured that I would rather become like the ephemerals than ever become as conceited and self-righteous as Raguel.

            I resolved to continue on to the Throne.  As God’s archangel, I served Him in all things.  If my love was right, it was right because of Him.  If it was wrong, He had planned it that way.  My fate was His to decide, and if my fate was to fall, I would embrace it willingly, as my place in His plans.  God would see me through. 

            Despite having rationalized my position, I still approached the Lord’s glowing Throne slowly, determined in my course yet in awe of the Creator.  Even we angels who live with Him are subject to the aura of love and reverence that He projects.  Sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. 

            The Throne sits by the River of Heaven, perhaps the most beautiful part of Heaven, to my mind.  It is like the most exquisite park in the middle of the most beautiful city you can imagine.  The Garden of Eden was designed around the same basic parameters as this area, yet was not quite as beautiful.  Perhaps that was because of the presence of Him who I had come to see.

            “Welcome, my child.  You wish to speak, Raphael?”  The Lord saw my approach and, unsurprisingly, knew of my intentions.  His voice, deep and warm, seemed to envelope me as much as His light did, as if there were chords throughout my being that His voice set to strumming in a glorious symphony.  My spirit soared and sang as I neared my Father and, beside Him, the Son. 

            “Yes, Lord.  I must ask a boon.”  I knelt at Their feet in the soft grass of Heaven’s garden, humbled in Their presence.  I basked in His gaze and light, feeling His care for me.  “I love a mortal…” I began timorously.

            “I know.”  God spoke, cutting me off and sparing me further words.  “I grant permission.  Go in peace, My son.  You will know what to do, and you shall do it with My blessing.  So I have spoken, so it shall be done.”

            I had not thought it possible to be any happier than when one was in the Lord’s presence, but I was pleased to find myself mistaken, as the joy in my soul doubled at my Father’s words.  A little stunned at how quickly His answer had come, I stood and bowed in thanks, assuming the brief audience to be finished.  As I turned to go, the Son spoke.

            “Love is the greatest force in Creation, Raphael, but it has a price.  Such is justice, that we make sacrifices to obtain that which we hold most dear.  To gain, one must also lose, for that is balanced and right.”

            Despite the love in my soul for Him and the Father, and for my maiden, I felt a disquieting chill run through my spirit at the Son’s words.  I turned back to match gazes with the Son, filling my eyes with His bright glory.

            “What price love, then, my Lord?”  I asked, my nervousness suddenly gone.  “What cost, what sacrifice must be made?  I love her, and am willing to suffer any payment You ask.  But what cost?”  I spoke with conviction, knowing that our Father had already given His blessing, and any expense was worth having my love.  I was resolved.

            “A time will come,” The Son said ominously, “When We shall ask a task of you.  You will make the greatest sacrifice, and watch the cost of this love, the suffering, befall another.  You will know that you are fully accountable, but you will be unable to relieve this other’s agony.  So it shall be done.  Do you still wish to stay your course, knowing your joy shall harm another?

            Here I wavered.  Could I accept the responsibility for the pains another would suffer, knowing that my actions caused such torments?  Was I so selfish that I could put my happiness before another being’s welfare?

            “My Lord, I cannot harm another for my own gain.  Such is evil, the way of the Fallen, and of sinful men…  I cannot in good conscience act knowing that another will pay my debts for me, they are mine alone to bear.  Is there no way for me to bear the full brunt of the cost?  No way to spare this unnamed innocent?”

            Our Father spoke in answer:  “The ways of God are mysterious, even to His greatest servants.  It has been decided.  You will love, and the fruits of that love shall be bitter.  So I have spoken, so it shall be done.”

            I found myself in disagreement with my sovereign Lord, something most of my brethren, if not all of them, would find impossible.

            “What justice, this, that an innocent soul pays my debt for me?  That another suffers while I prosper?  How can this be right and just and balanced?”  I angrily demanded.  Of their own accord, my wings unfurled themselves to their full length with a sudden rushing sound that echoed in the garden.  The confrontation had not exactly angered me, for it was my beloved Father before me, yet I was extremely vexed.  I would have seemed imposing at that moment to any human, demon or angel, I am certain, with my eyes aflame and my wings spread as I floated before God and His Son upon them.  Yet God and His Son were not easily impressed, and my lack of humility before them seemed to go unnoticed.

            “It is fair, for you shall suffer even as you watch them suffer.”  I was told.  “That is your payment, to watch and do nothing.  Such will be unbearable, for yours is a powerful will, and to be unable to act is unthinkable to a being with such powers as yours.  It will make you humble, as humble as a newborn man.  It is just, for while the other must suffer, they shall also receive great glory for God.  It has been decided.”  The Son spoke again, and His words fell like stones, each one a new weight on my shoulders and on my soul.

            I found myself confused, uncertain of what He meant.  How could another’s agony bring glory, and how could my own inaction be unbearable and humbling?  I did not understand, but I knew my duty as the Lord’s archangel.  I had to follow the course He placed before me.

            “So it shall be done, then.”  I answered resignedly, bowing again, my wings drooping as I set foot in the grass again.  I made as if to go, only to be halted yet again by my Father’s voice.

            “She must sacrifice, too, for her desires.  She will have her child, Raphael, but you must bring it here, to Heaven.  It cannot remain among Man.  Such is the cost of granting her wish.  Make certain she understands that.”

            “Thy will be done.” I acquiesced to Their commands and bowed to show my understanding, and soon found myself on her hill, watching the dawn, sent from the celestial plane to do my task.

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One evening, just before the sun disappeared in the west, and with the gentle caress of a cool wind on her face, the youngest daughter returned to her hill.  She had been far too busy during the visit of the three suitors to watch her dove, and she found that she missed her daily daydreams on the hill. 

            When she got to the hill she lay in the cool grass as always, and looked up at the sky as always.  Everything was still the same.  Everything, that was, except her.  Something was definitely different within her, as the feeling of longing and dissatisfaction had intensified since her sisters’ parting. 

            Confused, she began to ask God for guidance.  She prayed for enlightenment, something she had never done before.  She loved to speak with God, telling Him of her delight for His world, but she had never thought to ask Him to change anything in it for her.  The world was as it should be, the way He made it.  Why should it ever be any different?  But now there was a difference, one inside her, and it longed for an answer to an unspoken question.

            “Lord, what is it that has entered my heart?  What does my soul long for, and why has it such a hold on me?” She asked, kneeling on the crest of the hill.

            The dove reappeared suddenly, floating on the invisible wind, drawing delicate circles in the air with its wings.  It seemed to her that her heart suddenly began to beat in time with its wings, fast and hurried, like there was a dove trapped in her chest, in a cage formed by her ribs and breastbone, and it yearned for its freedom.  Suddenly, she knew what it was her heart wanted.  Her wondering was replaced with clarity as swiftly as a still and clear day could be replaced with a storm by a sudden rushing wind.  She now had the words to express her feelings.

            “Lord, I wish for someone to love, just long enough for me to bear a child.”  She spoke with conviction and power, her words borne away by the wind, perhaps to be carried off to the sky and the audience they were intended for.  “I wish for a child who might one day be as free as the dove.  I love my life here, but I would see my child have one away from these hills.  Your will be done in all things, Father in Heaven, but please make this unworthy shepherd girl’s wish Your will.  A child, Lord, a baby girl.”

            Her heart lifted, and she began to rise to go home.  The sun set, a smouldering fire on the edge of the horizon.  The wind touched her face and hair, a gentle stroke, and then it was gone.  With the wind’s passing she suddenly heard the shrill war cry of a hawk as it plummeted from the sky like a feathered spear thrown frown Heaven’s lofty heights to strike the dove from the air.  Its exquisitely sharp talons pierced the soft dove in a flurry of white feathers, the victory scream of the keen-eyed predator and the heart-wrenching death cry of its gentle prey echoing together over the hills.

            The sensitive and caring girl ran home in tears at the loss of one of her greatest friends, and was plagued all night by frenzied dreams of a great hawk swallowing her, with its cries echoing over and over, bouncing off of the hilltops until an earthquake began and shook the ground until each hill collapsed in a mighty upheaval of earth and stone.  Her sisters awoke to her screams and it was many hours before they could calm her enough that sleep could return.  The next day she did not go to the hill, and neither did she pray to God.

            One day not long after, the girl took her father water and then visited the sheep in the field, calling each by names that she and her sisters had bestowed.  The sheep were old friends, and each knew her well.  Still upset by the loss of the dove, she took comfort in their number until she noticed one was missing.

            “Father, where is Old Mother?  She is missing.”

            “Not missing, girl.  Simply gone.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”  The girl asked, suddenly fearful.

            “We fed her to your sisters’ husbands during their stay.  We often eat mutton, child, that’s nothing new.  It is the way of things, all things take from others to survive, and then the cost is balanced when they die.”

            She listened with attention with a new comprehension of facts that had been before her all her life.  So simple, yet until now she had not seen it.  She pondered her father’s lesson, and life continued on.

            It was still several weeks before her return to the hill.  It was late in the year, and cold compared to the wondrous summer the country had enjoyed.  She knelt in the same spot as always in the grass beneath the tree and looked to Heaven with arms outstretched.  Teardrops fell from her brown eyes, running down her face like tiny streams glistening in the autumn sun, the warm rays of light it projected in its setting turning them into tiny reflecting rivulets of gold that ran down her cheeks.

            “Lord, forgive me.  I have ignored you of late, and did not mean to.  The hawk is your creature as much as the dove was, and did not kill it for spite, but for its own survival.  So you made it, so it should be.  I am sorry for not having understood.  That’s all.”

            She looked away from Heaven to wipe away her golden tears, and felt the wind caress her face again.  The cry of the hawk echoed from the hilltops, and she was amazed to see it suddenly land before her, on a branch of the small tree on the crest of the hill.  She froze stiff, for she was behind it and out of its sight for now.  She watched it, silent and still, as it ate some meal trapped in its claws.  She saw each feather, and the cool gaze in its sharp, bright eyes as it turned to leave and saw her.  A gasp escaped from her as the bird’s startling gaze met her eyes.  As their eyes met, she realized that the hawk was as beautiful as her dove in its own way, and then it left, as suddenly as it had come, free to soar the wild skies again.

            It was seven years later that I appeared to her.

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 She was beautiful, inside and out.  Her hair was a deep brown that cascaded in waves down her back, as wild and alive as the spark in her equally brown eyes.  In those days, and for a long time, men only saw a woman’s hair loose and long after they were married and in private.  Ordinarily it was braided and coiled, shrouded under veils and shawls.  Women’s bodies were hidden in loose robes. 

            In the “modern” age, people seem to think that skin is nothing special.  Young women walk around in shorts and shirts that barely qualify as clothing, leaving little to the imagination.  Go to a beach on a warm summer’s day and you’ll see over ninety percent of every woman’s body, and a nude beach lets you see everything.  But, during the dawn of Mankind’s days on Earth, everything was left to the imagination.  There was mystery in a woman then, one tantalized men by being an enigma, shrouded in secrecy.  A glimpse of an ankle or a lock of hair could send a maiden’s suitor into fits of passion.

            Unfortunately, this young beauty had no suitors.  She was the daughter of a shepherd that lived in isolation among the hills.  She was not lonely, for the shepherd had a wife and seven daughters, but there were no men for the daughters to marry.  Often one or another would ask their father about where all the men were, since their mother had obviously found him somewhere.  Their father would always brush off the question, saying that when they were older he would find them husbands.  He had taken his beautiful wife to this remote home to avoid other men, for he feared she would be taken from him.  Now his beautiful daughters wanted to leave him, and he feared their loss.

            His youngest and most beautiful daughter, the dark beauty we have been talking about, was the only one that never asked.  She was content to keep the simple life that they all shared, and saw no reason to seek something different. 

            Every day, from the time this young maiden was seven years old, she had the same chore.  Perhaps an hour or two before mid-day, she would set out from their home in the hills with water-bags filled from the stream behind the family’s house.  She would then trek across the miles to her father’s flock, trading with her father for his empty water-bags and bringing him his lunch, so that he would receive refreshment and nourishment during the time of the hot sun at noon.  Along the way she would sing songs of her own making, and whistle along with the many birds.  Sometimes she would stop to look at trees and their leaves, or stare at tiny insects crawling over rocks. 

These were her friends and playmates, these inhabitants of the wild world around her.  And her best friend was God, for she spoke to Him constantly on these long walks, thanking Him for each wonder He revealed.  All in all she was happy, for she could play with her sisters, talk to her father’s sheep, watch the sunset, dance with the wind and stare dreamily up at clouds.  She revelled in the beauty of the world, and thanked God every day for making it.

            On one of these days, in the fourteenth summer of her life, she had the urge to set out early in the morning, for that way she could take more time to visit nature and God before delivering her father’s water.  She walked along the well-worn path away from the house, and, on a whim, she mounted the tallest hill in the region, one with a tree at its crest.  She lay in the green grass just below the summit of the hill and she watched the clouds with rapt attention (and did that one not have the face of a lamb?  And, goodness, is that one not unlike a fish swimming in the stream near the meadow, only it swims in the air?).  As she lay there and began to daydream, she was startled from her idle reveries by a sudden flurry of motion.

            She sat up, surprised, and saw that it was a white dove, floating through the sky on grace-filled wings.  She could not take her eyes away from the delicate ballet it danced with the wind.  She marvelled at the precise shape of each exquisite white feather, each one working in unison with the others to create motion and lift.  Such a perfect design, such a marvellous creation!

            The girl was enthralled by the bird.  She watched the gentle bird in amazement for a time, and she thought some more while it played with the breeze.  A strong gust pulled at some loose tresses of her dark mane, so she removed the hood of her robes from her head, freeing her hair so that she could better feel the breeze on her face.  She could feel the wind pull playfully at her newly freed dark tresses, as if inviting her to come along and dance with it and the small bird.

            For a moment she wished that she could fly, to soar like the bird on the wind, and even spread her arms to feel the air ebb and sway beneath them.  The girl closed her eyes to revel in the sensations of the wind’s caress.  She imagined herself flying, going higher and higher, but then suddenly felt the need to ground herself.  She opened her eyes.

            “God made the dove to fly, but I am on the ground.” She said aloud, pondering.  “I am me for a reason.  Why should I want to be anything else?”

            She stood to leave, but as she walked she felt a quiet longing in her heart that she had never had before, a longing for something indefinable and elusive, yet real for all its intangibility.  Try as she might, she could not ignore this feeling, nor could she dispel its hold on her.  She trudged slowly down the hill to eventually walk the remaining distance to her father and his flock, delivered the water to her father, and then found her way home in a dazed state of reflection on that morning’s events.

            From then on she returned to the hill every evening, when the day’s work was done, and she would watch the sunset.  Some days the dove would dance for her, while others she simply lay in the green grass and watched the soft white clouds until they gave way to the brilliant dark canopy of night and the stars.  Each day she let her mind wander in search of an answer to a question in her heart, a question she did not know how to ask with words.

            At home her parents saw the sudden restlessness in their youngest daughter.  They sensed that this state of faraway reverie was a sign of discontent, and mistakenly assumed it was the same as what her sisters felt, a dissatisfaction with the simple life of the hills.  The parents knew the time had come to assuage at least some of the restlessness that all of the daughters seemed to be feeling.  It was decided that their father would walk back across the green hills to the town which had once been home to him and his wife in their youth, where there would surely be men looking for wives.

            After a week he returned, bringing with him three men from the village, three men who wanted wives and had come to woo one from among the seven sisters.  Both parents agreed that the three youngest were still too young for marriage, but the suitors could vie for the hands of the eldest four.

            One man was a burly and quiet shepherd, not unlike their father.  This man was obviously the father’s favourite, for like calls to like, and he figured that the girls were all used to the simple life that was the lot of the shepherd and the shepherd’s wife.  The second was a rich young man in town on a journey, the son of a wealthy merchant.  The old shepherd’s tale of seven beautiful daughters inspired the traveller, for he had long searched for a woman that he could love.  The other man was a shopkeeper in town.  The young traveller had been in his shop discussing a trading route between the shop and the rich son’s father when the shepherd had come to town with the story of eligible daughters, and the two men had decided to see the young beauties for themselves.

            As the shepherd had expected, the three eldest daughters were quite taken with the trio, and the fourth was resigned to wait her turn.  Also as expected, the men were amazed by the beauty of the sisters. 

            The eldest daughter, always responsible and a virtual second mother to her sisters, ended up spending the most time with the young shepherd, making the statement that “What was good enough for Mother is good enough for me!” when one of her younger sisters questioned the choice.  The second daughter, the most rebellious and restless daughter, was quite interested in the merchant’s son, with his stories of far away places and strange animals, the sea and cities.  She wished to travel and see the world, and was charmed by the young man’s quick educated wit and warm smile.  The third daughter chose the shopkeeper.  She was very timid and shy, and the shopkeeper was much the same.  A quiet life in a town, where things would be different from the hills, but not too strange, seemed to her the best choice.

            After a few weeks, good-byes were said as the eldest daughters left with their suitors to be married and to start new lives.  Their mother and younger sisters wept at their departure, waving until the newlyweds disappeared over the crest of a hill, while their father stood stoically by, his arm around his wife’s shoulders.

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Raphael So I’m guessing that right now you’re pretty confused.  What’s going on?  Where’d these angels come from?  Well, read on and you’ll find out.

            I call this The Opening because it isn’t really the beginning of the story.  I could begin this story at The Beginning, if I wanted to.  I watched it, and that is where all stories really begin.  All the tales ever written, imagined and told are just branches and leaves, while the roots for all begin with The Beginning.  The ending of all stories was planned at The Beginning, for that matter.  However, I really don’t care to go over ancient history again.  It’s in Genesis, after all, and Paradise Lost, if you’re at all interested.  I don’t want to tell a story that’s been told before, and I imagine you don’t want to hear a story you’ve heard before, either.  To begin this story at its real beginning means doing that, so I decided that I would skip ahead to a point that seems like a good place to open the tale I want to tell.  This tale nobody knows but me.  Well, from every angle, inside and out.  Well, God knows, but He knows everything.

            So, this story starts with me, if you absolutely have to have a beginning for it.  The story isn’t about me much, although I do show up for some of the crucial scenes.  I’m important because I saw pretty much the whole thing, from beginning to end, and can tell you all about it.  That’s not the only reason I’m important, but that is why I’m the narrator.

            Who am I, you ask?  Oh!  I’m sorry.  I should have introduced myself sooner.  Where I come from, everybody knows pretty much everybody else, so I forget sometimes that you ephemerals need introductions.  I am Raphael, one of God’s seven archangels, beloved of Heaven.  My name means “God Heals,” just in case you’re wondering.  Some people do.  Wonder, I mean, about names.  Have you ever wondered what yours means?  They all mean something, you know.

            God does heal, you know, if you ask Him right and really believe that He will.  Sometimes He’ll even surprise you and do it when you don’t ask.  And I don’t mean little things like paper-cuts or hangnails.  God could heal those, don’t get me wrong, but He prefers to find ways to lead you to healing your soul, for when balance is brought to the spirit, the body follows.  Remember that, it’s important and there may be a test later.

            But, I digress.  For an angel, I do that a lot.  Take my brother, the archangel Michael, for instance.  He would never digress.  He’s always straight to the point, serious as anything.  You can’t really blame Him, though, because of all the responsibilities on His shoulders.  He leads Heaven’s armies and has to be on constant guard against evil and Satan’s minions.  The Adversary never rests, so neither can Michael.

            Me, I’m more light-hearted.  That’s kind of rare in angels.  We’re all nice people, don’t get me wrong.  However, being the closest thing to perfect in the universe this side of the Father and the Son can make you take yourself a little too seriously, if you know what I mean.  You know the type on Earth, I’m sure, people who can be self-righteous and almost snobby because they do everything right.  Angels virtually can’t make mistakes, since we’re God’s servants and everything.  Some of us act like perfection is a sacred institution that must be upheld like it was a law or something.  I’m a little more relaxed about it.  Don’t ask me why.  Take it up with God if you really want to know.  He made me.  Why are you the way you are?

            Part of my different attitude is probably because of my exposure to humans.  I was the first angel to speak with them, you know, in the Garden.  I warned Adam about Satan, (Once again, Paradise Lost, for those who wonder) and ever since I’ve had an interest in the ephemerals.

            My interest is kind of what inadvertently got this story started. 

            After the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, humanity grew and began spreading across the Earth.  We angels were set the task of watching them, and some of the Watchers got a little too interested in Mankind’s affairs.  It’s right there in the Book:

            When mankind had spread all over the world, and girls were being born, some of the sons of God saw that these girls were beautiful, so they took the ones they liked.  Then the Lord saidI will not allow people to live forever, they are mortal.  From now on they will live no longer than 120 years.”  In those days, and even later, there were giants on the earth who were descendants of human women and the supernatural beings.  They were the great heroes and famous men of long ago. (Genesis, 6:1-4)

            Some of the Watchers, also called the “Grigori” if I remember my history, became known as the Fallen, for they took Mankind’s daughters in lust, which is a sin for Man and angels alike.  They were cast out of Heaven for their sin, much like Satan and His minions were cast out at an earlier time for the sin of pride, a desire to rule.

            There were angels that actually fell in love, however, which is different.  Love, real love, is a bonding of spirits.  Parents and children love each other because the child’s spirit was created by the mingling of the parents’, they all spring from a mutual source.  That familial wellspring of spiritual connection also bonds you to your grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles.  Exploring that feeling, and an exercise in logic, could lead someone to love the whole human race, because you are all connected.

            True love is even more powerful.  God created souls in pairs, perfect matches that are each other’s destinies.  When two souls like that come together, they complete each other, their love binding them and making them stronger.  If such a love bears children, the souls born of that union are stronger, too, because of the pure love that birthed them.  I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

            This story opens with true love, and ends with it, too, for that matter.  What else really counts in all Creation?  John’s first epistle, chapter four, reminds us that God is love.  Maybe there is nothing else that matters.

            So, here’s where the story opens.  Finally.

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 Ethan reached the hills somewhere around midnight.  The moon was high above him and full, lighting the ground beneath with pure white light, allowing him to see.  There was some grass, growing sparsely here and there.  He hoped that this meant that there was water nearby.

            The hills were rocky and boulder-strewn.  It reminded him of Drumheller, the place in Alberta where they would find dinosaur skeletons.  His family had visited it on one of their few vacations, heading west to see their cousins on Vancouver Island. 

            As he surveyed the land around him, Ethan’s peripheral vision caught a glimpse of movement.  He turned, and headed into the hills after a dancing shadow.  It seemed to be bounding along, leaping from place to place.  Ethan came over the crest of a hill and saw the shadow bouncing down the valley beneath him.  On the off-chance this was the first sign of life he’d seen in ages, he ran off after it, but lost it among the rocks.  He climbed one, struggling his way up to the top.  It gave him a view of the boulder-strewn valley.  He couldn’t see the shadow, but he espied the river running the length of the valley.  He was surprised to note that, in his thirst, he could smell the wetness of it even at this distance. 

            “Water,” he whispered gratefully, and offered a silent prayer of thanks to God above.

            An adrenalin rush hit at the sight of the water, making his breath come a little quicker, his heart beat a little faster, his senses a little sharper.  The sight of it thrilled him, the thrill that comes from finding what you’ve been searching for.

            This had been a particularly challenging search, considering that he’d come across burning wastes to find it.  Considering how challenging the search had been, his excitement was understandable.  He laughed at the sight of it, and prepared to get down off the rock.

            The night air was cool and ruffled his hair.  It had grown fairly long since his last hair cut, and he again wondered how long he had been out here.  He had felt his beard, and it was a beard, not just stubble.  He cast aside such idle, useless thoughts.

            Fate had the shadow reappear just then, as he began to climb down the rock.  He looked away from the water towards it and realized that it wasn’t just an animal.  The shadow had wings and a tail, but it was no bird that Ethan had ever seen.  It seemed to be black, and he felt a sudden aversion at the sight of the creature.  It felt evil, as if a wave of sinister emotions was emanating from the thing.  That’s when it happened.  That’s when everything went crazy.

            A body-sized object went hurtling through the air and crashed into the rock beside him.  Ethan stood up and looked at the projectile in surprise.  It was a man, clad in golden armour, now pulling himself up from the rock.  He’d crashed with such force that he had left cracked rubble behind.  Golden light began to glow around his fists and eyes, and he seemed angry.

            Ethan then looked back at the shadow, who was stupidly standing a few metres away, looking up in shock at this sudden occurrence.  Ethan then looked across the valley, back the way the golden man had come, when he heard an ominous voice.

            “Surrender, Michael.  There is no escape.”

            A group of strange figures was standing opposite Ethan on another rock.  They all stood aggressively, hunters on the prowl it seemed. The man beside him, Michael, was apparently the prey.  And Ethan was standing next to him.

            There were twelve of them.  Eleven were much like the odd, grotesque creature skulking about on the valley floor.  Of varying sizes, they were all equally ugly, with membranous wings and dripping fangs, hooked talons and tails snapping angrily in the air.  The one in front, the speaker, appeared to be a man.  His hair was waist-long, and black as a moonless, starless night.  He wielded an obsidian sword, and pointed it towards Ethan and Michael.

            “Where is your brother?” he asked.  His sword began to glow with a furious red light and he pointed it directly at Michael.  A little too close to Ethan for his comfort.

            Michael moved swiftly as the leader fired a colourful blast at their rock.  He caught Ethan in his arms and soared up and away from the boulder, feathered wings unfurling from his back.  The rock exploded behind them with the force of the blast from the dark man’s sword.

            “You’re flying.” Ethan said, incredulous.  A flying man in armour.  And it had started as such a regular day.  They landed on the floor of the valley, not far from the river, and Michael pushed Ethan to the ground, using himself as a shield between Ethan and their attackers.  A golden glow began to emanate from his armour and seemed to surround him.

            “Yes, we flew.  Now, stay down.”  He spoke, his voice commanding obedience.

            “No argument from me.”  Ethan said amiably. 

            Ethan lay in the grass of the valley and peeked past Michael’s legs and saw the curious band on the rocks above.  A winged figure was ascending towards the sky and seemed to be conferring with the leader.  He nodded and then seemed to give an order.  The others spread their wings as one and roared.

            The demons leaped into the air to join their friend and they soared off into the night sky.  They all disappeared, save for their leader.  He stood staring down at Ethan and Michael with a threatening gaze. His sword was still glowing, and he began to hurl bolts of flame at Michael.

            Ethan craned his neck and looked in the opposite direction to avoid the bright intensity of the blasts.  He saw the first demon creature, the one who had apparently been standing dumbstruck throughout the entire scene after leading Ethan into the valley.  He now turned to run, not wishing to fall victim to this hail of energy, but it was too late.

            Michael’s shield of golden energy deflected the blasts from the dark man, and several headed towards the snivelling little devil.  The ground suddenly erupted beneath his feet as a red blast from above collided with the earth.  He flew into the air screaming and landed with a sickening crunch.  He seemed to be alive, however, and struggled to crawl away, to survive.  This was futile, however, as a red bolt hit and Ethan heard the sizzle of burning flesh.

            Michael’s golden glow seemed to be keeping the energy from hitting Ethan or harming him, but he would occasionally shudder as a bolt hit.  There was no telling how much longer he’d last.  Long enough to keep them alive, Ethan hoped.

            “When I stand up, run.” Michael said.  “I’ll hold them off.  They want you, but I think that I can slow them down.”

            “Them?” Ethan asked.

            “The demons.  They’re coming back.”  He pointed upwards.

            The eleven demons that had flown off were now coming towards them from the sky, from eleven different directions.  They were trying to cut off all points of escape so that they could swoop in for the kill.

            “Right.”  Ethan said.  “Thanks for the save up there.”

            “You’re welcome.  Always glad to be of service.  Now, go!”

            He stood suddenly, and turned to face the three demons coming from the west.  He drew a sword, and white light erupted from it and collided with them, causing the demons to dissolve into sulphurous smoke.   Ethan took this as his cue to exit and scurried off towards nearby boulders as a red bolt from the dark man narrowly missed him. He could feel its heat as he scampered by, and was glad to enter the dark safety of the rocks.  He caught his breath and then sprinted on,

            Ethan headed westwards, following the river.  He knew it was west despite the sun having set because he always had been able to feel where north was, and it kept him from getting disoriented.  It was a gift from his father.  Some people could keep time in their head to the exact second, some people had photographic memories or were lightning calculators.  Ethan, like his father before him, was born with a good sense of direction.

            He heard the sounds of battle getting quieter and quieter as he ran, so he slowed down.  His heart raced, his breath rasped in his chest, his pulse pounded in his ears.  It sounded an awful lot like running footsteps.

            As I turned the corner, he realized they were footsteps, for I collided with him.  We both fell to the ground with surprise.

            “Watch where you’re going!”  He said sharply. 

            Ethan stared at me.  My hair was now a lighter brown than his own, although it was uniform in colour.  If you looked closely at Ethan in the right light, you could spot the hidden blond and red highlights.  Usually, though, it’s a dark brown to the untrained eye.  His eyes were blue, like mine, but mine were of a deeper, warmer shade than his own icy orbs.  I was dressed in light cloth, perfect for protection from the hot desert sun and the possible sandstorms.

            “Sorry.”  I apologized.  “But I’m trying to keep you from getting killed.”

            ‘Well, so am I!”  He said, rising to his feet.  “Wait a minute, you’re trying to keep me from being killed?  How’s that work?”

            “Duck!”  I shouted, and he dove to the earth.  I drew my sword and cut the demon that had been diving towards Ethan right down the middle, sending him back to his infernal master.

            “Oh,” Ethan said.  “Thanks.”

            “Glad to be of service.  Now, we have to go.”  I grabbed hold of him, and unfurled my wings.  I leapt into the air and headed west, carrying the young man like he weighed nothing at all.  We followed the course of the river through the hills.  I looked back, and saw the remaining demons approaching.

            “We may have to make a stand.”  I told Ethan.  “Or, rather, I will, while you hide.  Is that all right?”

            “I guess,” Ethan said.  “I don’t think I have much to say in the matter, seeing as how you’re the one with the wings.  I try to fly on my own, and I’m pretty sure that I’m just going to end up as a smear on the terrain.”  He smiled at me, and I marvelled that the boy could find the courage to make jokes while in the midst of such strange circumstances.

            I landed and saw the other fliers coming towards us.  The eight demons landed and bared their teeth and claws at us.  They didn’t seem to be happy to see us the way friends are when they reunite, I can tell you that.  It was more like the happiness of cats when they finally find that darn mouse.

            “So, we have found you, Raphael,” said a demon, spittle dripping from his jowls.

            “So you have.”  I agreed, drawing my white sword.  Ethan got behind me without my needing to tell him to, realizing that I was his only chance at survival.  “But who is the hunter, and who is the prey?”

            One demon laughed.  “There are eight of us, Archangel, and only one of you.”

            “Sounds like pretty good odds.  Too bad for you.”  I said.

            “Why?” snarled one of the horned devils.

            “Because the odds just changed.”  I dove forward, swinging low through three of the demons and eviscerating them before they were even aware I was attacking.   Another flaming white sword cut through the heads of another four from behind, and I grinned at Gambiel as he returned his blade to its sheath.  He had lain in wait until all the demons had revealed themselves, and then joined the skirmish just in time to do Ethan and me the most good.

            The last demon cowered before us both, pathetically clinging to the earth like a frightened animal.  It cringed as I pointed my blade at it.

            “Go, and tell your master that the boy is guarded.  No demon may approach him while we watch.”  I ordered, and the cowardly little gargoyle flitted off into the night sky.

            Ethan looked up at us from the ground, sitting naked in the grass in astonishment.

            “You’re angels,” he said.  “Real angels.”

            “Yes.”  I agreed.  “And those were real demons trying to kill you.”

            “I see that.  Can I ask why this seems so familiar?  It’s eerie, but it’s like some of this has all happened before.”

            “You imagined much of it once.”  I told him.  “In a way, you have been through this all before, but that is just the doorway.  There is much on the other side that you will not understand.  This first phase is but to prepare you for the unknown.”

            “I imagined this before? ‘I always try to believe six impossible things before breakfast.'” Ethan whispered the last to himself, but I heard him quoting Wonderland and smiled.

            “You have been chosen for a unique task.”  I said. 

            “I know.”  Ethan said, standing.  “I’m supposed to find the cross, for some reason.  I saw it in my dreams.  It’s out here, somewhere, isn’t it?”

            “Yes, but it’s not a cross…”  I said.  Gambiel put up his hand, gesturing for me to stop.

            “We aren’t supposed to explain anything right now.  He must journey and be tried.  Answering his questions will make it easier, and it must not be easy.  He must strengthen on the journey, or he will fail.”  He looked at me, urging me to refrain from interfering.

            “You’re right,” I acquiesced.  “But, you can at least get him some clothes.  It’s going to be a long journey.”  Gambiel nodded and soared away, towards Heaven.

            “Can I ask something?”  I nodded, so he asked, “Which way do I go from here, then?” 

            “West.”  I answered.  “For now.  You’ll know when that should change.  We’ll be watching, if you’re ever in trouble.  Don’t worry about the demons.  You’ll have enough to worry about besides them.  The wastelands are anything but safe.” 

            Gambiel returned then, carrying a bundle of clothing for Ethan.  Hovering in mid-air by gently flapping his wings, he dropped it at the young man’s feet and then looked at me.

            “We must go.”  Gambiel said.

            I nodded, and then glided up to float next to him.  I looked at the young man and silently blessed him, hoping that he was up to the great task before him.

            “Good luck.”  I said out loud, and then saluted before turning towards the sky with Gambiel flying beside me.

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