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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