PROLOGUE - The Song of Sariel

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     "What's your name?"

     Michael grabbed me in the darkness, amidst a steady barrage of flame belching up from the bowels of Peace. His hands were massive and hard, wet with the blood of the fallen. I remember the smear of his palm on my shoulders, reddening the metal of my armor. I remember not being able to remove the stain. Michael clutched me in those huge hands, made me face him.

     "Sariel," I told him, afraid of what would come next.

     I should have been.

     "You are a commander now, Sariel. Understand?" Michael said and pointed at a host of angels flowing over the rooftops of Peace. There were hundreds of them and they snaked between buildings, along alleyways, around spires, their silver wings glinting like sparks in the darkness. I watched dozens of them hush into light and ash against the buffet of flaming spears. I saw their quivers of fear, watched their flight patterns become spastic and erratic, heard their screams in the black.

     Michael said to me, "Those angels are your responsibility. Do not lose another soul."

     And Michael turned from me and lit up the sky charging a line of fallen souls. Alone. For us. There were four hundred angels, seraphs and dominions, thrones and virtues hanging in the darkness next to me, watching the Captain of the Host wipe the blood of the dead on me and call me Commander. He didn't let the fear in my blue eyes or the shaking of my hands deter him. He ignored the youth in my face, the inexperience of my bow, the hesitance in my sword. Michael the Archangel chose me, gave me purpose where there was none. Made me matter.

     "Protect the others!" he said and then he left.

     I turned to the others, shouted above the din, above the war, "You heard him!"

     Four hundred inexperienced angels, slaves and artisans, builders and workers, pulled shivering swords and spears into ragged bows, released bolts of light into the darkness. We heard the screams of pain, the echoes of agony, the cheers or our compatriots.

     "Again!" I said and Peace crumbled at my command.

     Light rained on buildings and stone, tearing through darkened flesh and reddened eyes, boring holes in the very edifices we'd spent our lives building. For me the irony was lost: I was from Wisdom and Azazel had destroyed our city long before the war started. There was no loss in the action, no emotion in the carnage I inflicted. No remorse for the horrors I unleashed. But for my compatriots, for those hanging in the darkness next to me, they wept openly, tears rolling down their cheeks as they notched glowing arrows in their bows.

     They were destroying their own homes. They were killing their friends, lovers, brothers, sisters. They were burning their own city.

     I repeated something I heard Michael say to Raphael the Peace Keeper. "Cry about it later," I told them, rolling beneath their volleys. "Now is not the time for tears. It is the time for hard eyes and tight fists, brothers and sisters. This is war. Cry about it later. After we've won."

     Peace burned in plumes, thick smoke filling the streets and coating the entire city in a haze. Bolts of white light split the fog only to be answered with streaks of flame from below. But our charges, that host of angels led by Uriel, was lost in the shadows, the faint light from their bodies barely visible to us. We would lose them in moments. Then a squadron of the fallen split from Michael's assault above us. Spiraling down into the haze. Spiraling down after Uriel.

     Do not lose another soul.

     I wouldn't.

     "Keep up the assault," I said to the virtue to my right. "Tell them, do not stop, no matter what. Understand?"

     "You heard the Commander! Do not fail her!" he yelled and I rolled out in front of the line of angels, my angels. I pointed at five warriors, thrones and dominions, "Grab ten more, each of you, and follow me!"

     "In there?" said a dominion. "Michael said for us to—"

     "He named me Commander, dominion. Those souls are flanking ours. They'll pick them off and we can't let that happen. Now," I pulled my bow into a longsword, brandished it at the dominion, "would you like to fall in line or just fall?"

     He didn't hesitate. Neither did his companions. Each turned, tapping ten others on shoulders and heads, diving into the cauldron that was Peace.

     The smoke burned our eyes, the flames licked our hands. And the demons were waiting for us.

     We'd hardly gotten accustomed to the haze, huddling on a domed rooftop near the edge of the city, when spears of fire roared at us from all directions. The two angels on either side of me exploded in plumes of ash.

     "Dive, dive! Take to the streets!" I said, leaping backward and smacking spears from the air. My sword poured into the bow and I loosed three bolts, striking two demons in the throat and winging a third.

     We fell through the haze, closer to the flames that licked at the buildings. Here, in the embers of Peace, we could see the hell we'd unleashed. And we could see the monsters floating above us.

     I pushed two groups of virtues ahead of me, bringing a finger to my lips. "Move ahead two blocks and wait for us," I whispered. "We will catch them in the middle. Don't let them pass."

     They vanished in the smoke and I turned to the dominion to my side, Varian. "I will push them to you. Keep them between you and the others. They cannot move forward. Understand?"

     I was airborne before he nodded.

     My bow pulled into a sword, I screamed in the haze, swiping at the first two demons I saw. Heads became rocks, limbs burned to ash beneath my blade and I dove ahead, leaping from building to building. The squadron took the bait and followed me, tumbling their black horror upon me. Bolts of fire flashed past my face and I caught one, reveling in his power. I flung it back and felt the crush of its owner: I'd impaled him and he tackled me.

     We fell, spiraling in the darkness, him shouting for his brethren, me calling "Now, now, now!"

     The streets of Peace exploded in flashes of white. Spears of flame lashed outward, flailing, missing their mark, burning into building, spires, rubble. Varian pressed forward, pulling his squadron up and over the falling demons, pressing them toward the certain death of the virtues waiting for them.

     I didn't lose another soul.

     I smashed an armored elbow into my assailant's face, heaving him from me. He twirled and tumbled, angling backward onto a low rooftop. I pressed him into stone, kneeling on his chest, sword at his throat.

     "Doesn't matter, seraph," he said and smiled at me. "It's all over any way."

     He was right: the heavens lit and thunder crossed the skies. Our revelry ceased. We floated above the haze, from the bowels of Peace, our mission forgotten, our charges absent from mind. We rose, beings of divine white fire now charred by the fires of war, only to see the Temple of the Host crumple upon itself. We saw tendrils of white light leech from the City of Light across the remaining cities, snatching our adversaries from our grasps, freeing them from our blades. Pulling them into oblivion. And we saw the City of Light shake and rock, dip off-kilter, and finally fall beneath the Waters.

     The last thing we heard was Lucifer's scream, echoing across a silent Heaven, "The Father was wrong! The Father was wrong!"

     We thought it was the end.

     It was only the beginning.







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