Chapter III

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Mountains of Hijaz, Present Day

LIKE A STONE PILLAR, he stood on Eden's wall, looking out over the enemy encampment beyond. He had led the Eden detachment of angelic forces since the Fall and knew a day like this would come. Just not so soon.

"Your orders?" His right hand said. He wore a gilded helmet and his breastplate gleamed, his expression communicating interest, but not a trace of fear.

He shrugged, a glint of sun catching in the chalk-white primary feathers of his wings. "They do nothing. Days have now passed with no word of intent." He squinted his eyes and looked at the details, like a hawk searching for prey. "Not so much as a scout to ensnare."

"This bothers you much, I can see,"

"Indeed, something is wrong. Why do they wait?"

Another winged soldier arrived and landed lightly on the wall. "The tree is protected, my lord; our best now guard it in three contingents. None shall cross the line."

Nodding, he began to pace the wall. The fact that the enemy had been allowed to get this close to Eden told him much about the state of the world now. "The thin places must lie in tatters." He gazed out beyond the trees, past the great river. It was a concern.

"What do you think they are waiting for?" One asked. His clean-bronzed face was the most boyish of the entire detachment, and that was saying something. Perhaps what was most striking about his appearance was that his eyes were so pure. He wondered how it would feel to lead angels like this into battle, how it would feel to issue the order that would, for some, and maybe for this one, mean death. The young one's golden armor shone like the rest of the Eden guard, but he had never seen battle, and it showed in those striking eyes.

"I do not know why they wait. Perhaps they await further orders." He glanced at his troops. "Much like you." But if that was true, it meant something on the other side had not yet happened, was not yet aligned. The truth was, the horde army would attack whenever it was ready to do so. After all, they'd come this far. And I thought that was impossible. He prayed whatever it was keeping them encamped would continue to hold them fast. If it came to open battle, his detachment was outnumbered three to one.

But over time, he had learned how to conceal his thoughts from the rest, so he hid all his doubt. "We have nothing to fear, my noble angels. El's Angel of Fire guards the gate night and day with a flaming sword on every side. None will pass through as long as he stands."

The man he considered his right hand said nothing. He had fought many battles, had won some and lost few. He did know he would take nothing for granted. Not now, as he could see with his own eyes these black hordes in bold trespass just beyond his walls. Even the Angel of Fire can be defeated. He dismissed the young angel and turned back to his old friend. "What is your assessment of morale?"

"Weak. As if their power is being drained from them, as if—" He stepped closer and lowered his voice, "as if the demons are feeding upon it."

He nodded. When the time was right, his troops would be defenseless. He had to admire the enemy strategy. If it were true. "Tonight is the new moon. It will be very dark. Send two of your best to go beyond the trees to the thin place and observe the state of it. Tell them to see if there are more enemy troops coming. Give orders that they are to make their way back so they can scout the enemy camp and report any intelligence they can gather."

"Yes, my lord."

"This waiting does not accrue to our benefit if a battle is to be fought." He spoke low, to himself. "The longer we wait, the weaker we get."

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