Chapter 25

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GRAGRAFEL STOOD PACES behind one of the grand generals of the four armies of Zion. Mikhael assessed his assembled soldiers and patiently waited to give the order to deploy, his pair of griffins standing attentively to either side of him. In each direction, the other officios stood above their legions doing the same. Uriel gazed over her scarlet shoulders toward him, as Dux Horus whispered in her ear from behind his great, golden falcon helm. Gragrafel's chin shifted to the other side and he saw the dusky Gabriel in his emerald armor, in command of wondrous troops that stretched their influence into the deepest reaches of Samsara. Beyond Gabriel stood the gold- and ivory-clad Raphael. The sky was dotted by the souls of the air, fowl, and far more fantastical creatures, as well as air skiffs and transports for those who couldn't blink, slide, or fly. Folding his great arms, the general in front of Gragrafel scowled, impatient at having to wait for word from the supreme commander, Metatron. Mikhael's stony features expressed other emotions as well. His eyes swept the hundreds of wings, plates, and limbs, the varied faces of soul and duta. The armaments glinted in the setting sun and he frowned deeper, missing the red and blue he wanted to see there. Gragrafel decided to wait.

"That's the last of them, General," Sephr said, approaching from behind.

Sephr's leaders went to the other corps commanders. The Moon Order squads, once commanded by Maiel, were among them, leaderless.

"Not every last one," Mikhael replied.

Sephr shrugged, amused by the absences.

The general's eagle gaze could pinpoint each soldier. In his head, he kept a record of each, from family to friends. The newest youngling could approach him and be delighted to find that he knew their name, who was in their family, the skills at which they excelled, and something that interested them the most. The other commanders were quite capable of the same, but didn't use the knowledge to much effect. Though he was infallible in his faith and wisdom, he led with his heart. The others led from duty and tradition.

Gragrafel decided to make his presence known, now that Sephr had safely disturbed the general. The Principality maneuvered his marble-like form to stand at the general's side. Again, he waited patiently for his time to speak. Mikhael most likely knew Gragrafel was to blame for the absence of three key fighters from his divisions and the one from his sister general's elite units. The old engel said nothing. He wasn't about to claim the honor, when they were both working to retrieve Maiel.

"We'll stand at the gates and strike as soon as they rear their heads. Your man better have our erela in hand by then or his mission ends in failure," Mikhael said.

Gragrafel nodded. The blustering didn't bother him.

"No worries, alder. I'll not come back without both," Mikhael said, softening.

"You best not. We may still save him," Gragrafel said dryly.

Turning to Sephr, Mikhael unfolded his thick arms. His features drew into a terrible scowl. Like Gragrafel, he wasn't sure saving the human was the best thing for his captain, but he would sooner regret failing her than leave her to fall before she realized Dominic's threat. The attachment she and Dominic had was as good as real. Perhaps, in time, she would turn naturally toward the ketu they'd betrayed. Regardless, it wasn't her general who would be blamed, for he fought hard against creating this terrible secret. He only hoped she came to understand the purpose of the act and chose not to follow her husband should he decide to side with the princes of Abaddon. Because of the advanced stage of his burning, Dominic blamed the entire duta race, though blame deserved to be placed with just a few of the hierarchy. The king may have decreed it, but matters were far more complicated than just the king passing orders. The match was made to give the boy another chance to save himself from the abyss. This wasn't a truth that would remain hidden. Both would find out. Unfortunately, how they perceived such actions was up to them. Sadly, Gragrafel knew the human would never acknowledge his guilt. That attitude might serve to make his daughter angry with her friends. One hope they had was in Gediel's discovery of the truth and that his atman now pulled on Maiel. The magnetism of their attraction would grow and skew the odds of the mission's success.

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