“I know at least part of the reason for why we are here.  The Lord spoke to me before we left, and informed me that, before I go, I am to gift the child.”  Gambiel said, and it seemed as if it pained him to admit it.  “Not only am I to watch him, but I have to bestow whatever gift I think appropriate.  He informed me that you must do the same.”

            I raised an eyebrow in thought, curious as to why the Lord had seen fit to tell me how to fulfill one portion of our mission and Gambiel the other.  I wondered, too, what the gifts were supposed to be, but guessed that the Lord would make that known to me in time.  Beside this thought was another, which I had been pondering ever since Gambiel had been made a member of our party.  He was a good friend of Raguel, and had little patience for humanity.  Why was he here at all?

            Gambiel landed beside the sleeping boy, and Mara moved aside respectfully.  The angel’s fingertips began to glow, and he touched them to the boy’s brow.  The child stirred for a moment in his sleep, and then settled again.

            “I gift him with the ability to reason well, to think, so that he might better find the Lord and His path for this child.  He shall be curious, with the desire to understand the mysteries of life, those same mysteries I have been given dominion over.  I have always believed in the power of rationality, of thought, and it has served me well.  May it aid him, too, so that he might better serve our Lord.”  That said, Gambiel lowered his hands to his sides, again dim.

            I stood beside him, and raised my hand.  It too was aglow with a bright light, seemingly of its own volition, and I knew what I had to do, why the Lord had decreed this gift.  I also now understood why Gambiel and I were both here, or at least had a suspicion of why.

            “Then I shall give him guidance through his heart, so he might never forget that love and light are the way of the Lord.  I have been given dominion over the hearts of men, and have often played the part of a guide in life.  May his heart guide him well through the task our Father has ordained for him to perform.”  I placed my bright hand on the child’s chest, infusing him with the gift, and then it too faded.

            “What exactly am I to do?”  Mara asked.

            “You will know when it is time.  The Spirit will move you, and him, too.  Until then, you must watch over him.  That is your only task for now, and you must perform it the best you can.”

            So she did, hovering above his crib as he slept.  The baby’s fists were curled up tight, as he gurgled softly and dreamed infant dreams.  At one point in the night he awoke and saw us there, and he smiled.  Babies, freshly sprung from God’s creative force, are close to him in a way only the dying and prophetic can be, so he, brand new, was still able to have some insight into the celestial plane.  Mara smiled back and gently touched his hand, and then his brow.  He slowly drifted back to sleep, as if understanding that she was watching and protecting him.

            “What child is this, that he has three protectors?”  A voice loaded with venom hissed from behind me.  I turned with alarm to see the glowing, malevolent yellow eyes of a demon staring out of a shadowed corner in the room.  Two more materialized from behind him, seeming to melt out of the darkness and into being, drawing their forms from the shadows.  Gambiel had his hand on his sword, but I gestured that he should stay his hand until they made some threatening move.  I hoped to prevent any violence during the child’s birthday.  Such contests have their proper times, but this was no place for such a battle.   

            The first demon was a misshapen creature with dark mottled skin and membranous wings, hunched over and drooling.  He wiped the spittle from his chin and stepped aside for the other two.  One was not all that different from the first, ugly and revolting, but the other held my attention.  I recognized this devil.

            “Hello, Brother.”  The third greeted me, mocking derision in his tone.  I felt my skin crawl at the presence of this malicious soul.  “What brings you to Earth on such a cold, dreary morning, filled with wind and snow?”

            “Greetings, Azazel.”  I answered, locking eyes with him.  They were dark and piercing, and he stared back with such loathing that I would have recoiled, had I been a lesser creature.  Being an archangel, I fortified myself, holding steady under his unwavering gaze.  “We were welcoming the child to the world on this fine, God-blessed day.  The snow is as pure as the boy’s innocent soul, and the wind is as God’s breath, giving His blessing to the world it blows across.  Gambiel is the boy’s Watcher, and I am his Guardian.”

            “How sweet,” Azazel said with scorn, “Still doing your Lord’s will, I see.  A pity that you still see fit to be a slave to that egotistical, self-righteous prude.”

            “It is my honour and pleasure to be His servant, doing God’s work because I am loyal and I love Him.  A slave works out of fear and ownership.”  I watched him, still as graceful as ever, as he slowly walked from side to side of the room. 

Azazel was as tall as I, and fit.  He wore a dark black robe and his hair, once as golden as mine, was now long and black, cascading down half his back.  Even his skin and demeanour were dark.  While we angels glowed, he seemed to cast shadow wherever he walked.  He kept taking glances past Gambiel and I, trying to look at the child we guarded.  Greedy, covetous glances that made me wish that I could draw celestial steel and bury my sword to its hilt in his chest.  I knew, however, that this was what he wanted, to enrage me, so I waited.

            “But who is this beauty with you, Raphael?”  Azazel ignored my words, trying to find a new venue to offend me, “What is your name, child?”  He smiled wolfishly at my daughter, and it was then that I almost did draw my blade, but I felt Gambiel’s hand on my arm, restraining me.

            “She was bound to meet demons sooner or later, brother.  We must see how she handles it.”  He whispered, while keeping an eye on Azazel’s grotesque escorts in the shadows.

            “I am Raphael’s daughter.”  She said calmly, “Who are you?”

            I saw Gambiel nod with approval out of the corner of my eye, as I was watching Azazel’s conversation with my daughter.  She had not given the fallen angel her name, remembering that names have secret power if given by their owner freely.

            “Why, then I am your uncle.  I had not heard of any angel bearing a child in the past eight or nine thousand years.  I had thought the last had been born of my fellows, the Fallen Grigori.  They came to their senses and realized the pleasures that were possible with Mankind.  Have you followed in their footsteps, Raphael?  Am I to congratulate you, Brother?  Are you finally one of us now?”

            “No, God be thanked.  I followed God’s will and married a mortal woman, my soul mate.  I broke no law, and did not sin.  Sorry to disappoint you.”

            “That is unfortunate.  You could accomplish much if you were not a lap-dog to your Father.”  Azazel threw another of his verbal spears, hoping to hit home with one eventually.  I stayed patient, however, disregarding his callow taunts.

            “Is the Lord not your Father, too, Uncle, if you are my father’s brother?”  Mara said to him, and the tone she used when acknowledging his relationship to her made the word a better insult than any he had thrown my way.

            “No.  Good old Dad disowned me and my fellows when we disobeyed Him.  Only the loyal sons and daughters got to stay at home, to bow and kneel at Daddy’s feet.”

            “Enough of this, Azazel.  What are you doing here?”  Gambiel demanded, his patience again wearing thin.

            “I heard from this one here,” He gestured at the second demon, “That he and his associate had discovered three angels watching over a babe.  I decided that it was worth my while to investigate, when I heard that one was my dear brother Raphael.”

            “Did you come to pay your respects, then?”  Mara inquired, “Or so that my father could defeat you yet again and imprison you for a second time?”  She delivered this verbal coup de grace masterfully, reminding him of my victory over him in the desert when the world was young, biting him to the quick with the remembrance of his defeat and subsequent shame.

            “This little one has teeth, Raphael.  She bites.  You must be very proud.”  Azazel said, taking her gibe in stride.  “And so beautiful.  I wonder what her mother was like.  Was she soft and sweet, Brother?  Did you enjoy the carnal acts?  Oh, I’m sorry.  She was mortal, so I must assume that she’s dead.  Worms have probably finished with her by now, and her bones nothing but dust.”

            I saw Mara set her jaw at this remark, and realized he had hit a soft spot.  She had never known her mother, and he was reminding her of that loss.  However, Azazel probably did not realize that striking out at Mara in such a way was not wise, as he did not know my stubborn daughter.  She had a superb memory, and was not one to forget a slight or insult.

            “My mother will meet with us in Heaven one day, as is God’s promise to the faithful.  Oh, I’m sorry, you won’t be there on that bright shining day, you forfeited that right when you turned from His path.  I’m sure that the eternal torments of Hell must make up for that loss…  no, wait, that’s probably no fun, knowing that every passing moment brings you that much closer to your inevitable punishment.”  She struck back with biting sarcasm, impressing both Gambiel and I with her courage.  Although I had defeated Azazel in combat before, he was a great warrior, and it had been no simple task.  Many angels had fallen to his blade.  Mara was facing off with one of the most vile souls in Creation, and yet was holding her own well.

            “Watch your words, girl.  Haven’t you learned not to speak back against your betters?”  He glared at her, and pointed sternly in anger. 

            “My father did teach me so.  Yet I am not speaking to one of my betters, I’m speaking to you.”  She threw the words at him bravely and calmly, meeting his loathsome stare.  One of his demons chortled from the shadows, to see his master so insulted, but the look Azazel sent his way sent a visible shudder through the creature, and it winced as if stricken.

            “I am not here to bandy words with one so insignificant.”  Azazel said, pretending that Mara’s words had not stung as much as they did.  “My demons tell me that you gave this child gifts, and I thought it only fitting that I do the same, since he is so obviously special, for some reason.”

            It was Mara’s turn to glare in anger now, as he threatened her charge.  “No you don’t!  You have no right!” 

            “I have every right, unless you wish to stop me.  Is this child so valuable that you would start a battle over him?  Do you dare challenge me, girl?” 

            I stepped forward and drew my blade swiftly, placing it between Azazel and the child.  It hummed with its divine power, and glowed brilliantly.  The child awoke and stared in wonder at the shining sword, enchanted by its radiance.  He tried to reach out for it, but found it beyond his grasp.

            “I have been sworn to guard the child, Azazel, so it is my duty to prevent you from harming him.”  I spoke with conviction, daring him to cross blades with me.  His dark eyes met mine again and failed to reflect the light of my sword, but burned with his hatred for me.

            “I will not hurt the child, Brother.  I only wish to give him a present.  I ask again, are you willing to fight over him?”  He gestured, and I saw that the glowing eyes of at least a dozen demons surrounded us.  I cursed myself silently for not thinking to bring guards to cordon off the hospital.  Mara was as of yet unblooded in battle, and while a superb warrior, Gambiel could not hope to battle Azazel.  That task would be mine alone, and not an easy one.  That meant that the others would have to deal with the rest, and that just didn’t seem possible.

            “Very well.”  I said resignedly, “You may bestow your gift, but do not harm him.  If you do, I will strike you down.  I will throw caution to the wind, and there will be a battle here today.  You may defeat us, it is more than likely, but doing so will no doubt spark a mighty confrontation.  You and your demons will be hunted, and there might even be war.  Is this child worth that much to you, Azazel?”  I delivered the words solemnly, making it clear to him that I would follow through on them if needed.

            “Your warning has been heard, Raphael.  Now step aside, so that I may bestow my gift.”

            I removed my blade from his path but kept it at hand in case he failed to heed my warning.  He looked at the child again with that same vile, greedy grin, and then raised his hand.  It was alight with black fire, and he placed it over the child’s face.  The boy began to cry, and I saw Mara struggling with herself.  The boy was her charge, and it must have pained her greatly to let Azazel anywhere near him.

            “I grant the child sight, so that he might see all points of view around him.”  Azazel said simply, and removed his hand, now back to its normal condition.  Mara breathed easy as he stepped away from the child and back towards the shadows and his demons.

            “Remember this day, girl.  I will not forget you, or your God-blessed child.  May the Devil curse him.” Azazel promised as he disappeared into the blackness.  “And you, too, Brother.  You and I shall still have a day of reckoning between us.  I have not forgotten how you shamed me in the desert, and I will have my revenge.”

            “I’ll not forget you, either, Uncle.  Have no fear of that.”  Mara shook, enraged that he had dared touch the boy.  She rushed to his side and soothed the baby so that his crying subsided and then, once Azazel and his minions were gone, she smiled at me.  “That wasn’t so bad.  He didn’t do anything, for all his blustering and posturing.  I’m not afraid of him.”

            “Didn’t he, though?”  I wondered aloud.  “He must have had his reasons for what he did.  Azazel always does.  I fear what he might have done.  I just wish I knew what it was, and what it means.”

            I felt myself again seized with fear for a child’s future, as I knew that the fallen angel’s gift must have some sinister purpose.  What did he intend for the boy, and what was to be done about it?  Only time would tell, I reminded myself, but that was a reminder I had to swallow far too often for my tastes.  I was beginning to grow tired of not knowing just what exactly was going on.

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