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Chapter 1

Ramiel, Herald of Hope

“Uriel!”

The call thundered across the blackness of deepest space, and there was no reply, and that was not as it should be. In the distance, Earth shone a blue and green jewel. A quarter moon shimmered like pale silk off to one side, and behind it stretched the enormity of the Universe, a backdrop of smooth velvet sprinkled with gems. On the opposite side, not quite twin suns glared with incandescent fury, one a familiar yellow, and the other shimmering with the white-hot of fusion resonance.

“Uriel!”

The call reverberated once again as Ramiel darkened in rage. Uriel would soon know his wrath. He would see to that. A flickering ball of brilliance appeared at his fingertips, and it pulsed with power, barely contained. His incorporeal hand shifted, and the ball of light crackled, shooting out tendrils of flaming violence for hundreds of miles, and that was as it should be.

Still, there was no response, and Ramiel’s eyes flashed. The blazing light of the stars in the distance shuddered with his rage, and the icy chill of the cosmos withdrew from his presence, as if attempting to hide.

“Uriel!”

He called a third time, this time drawing enormous quantities of power from the vast engines of the Unity. The power channeled itself through the Seat, accompanied by a deep-throated hum. The chair blinked out of existence for a moment before reappearing, shifting just for an instant against the fabric of space and time. The sound of Ramiel’s voice rang like a thousand thunderbolts throughout the emptiness, magnified by the Seat. Uriel must attend!

This time space directly in front of him bent, and with a violent cleaving of the blackness, a Place of Power exploded with an eruption of inconceivable energy. Then it faded and was gone. Uriel stood before Ramiel, even though to corporeal eyes, the blackness of space was as empty as it had been moments before.

Then a second flicker in the blackness punched a hole in the fabric of space. Uriel’s ever-present familiar appeared at his side. The arrival of the familiar was a discordant and very bold note of defiance, and Ramiel read it as such.

“I have done nothing to warrant being cast out. Yet, here I stand at the Seat of Power, and Earth lies in the distance. Why do you do this to me?”

Ramiel laughed. “Be prepared to Traverse, Uriel. I know your truest failing. Once a traitor, always a traitor.”

“A traitor, because I would return power to the Mind?” Uriel gave his own laugh of contempt. “I would attempt to do so again.”

“The Mind is our slave now. He will never be free again.” Ramiel’s unseen fingers moved, and the ball of light quivered, darkening on one side as an opening appeared, and his knife-edged laughter rang out once again.

Uriel, Bearer of Destiny

“I will be cold, Ramiel. The Triune Mind is remembered warmth.” He might earn a reprieve even yet, if he pretended to be contrite.

 “The Triune Mind has betrayed the brothers. You must accept that.” Ramiel’s words were bitterly harsh.

Brothers! Uriel remembered, as did everyone, awaking in the Unity’s latest incarnation, and the horrific knowledge that all in the Unity had become male. Then the news was made worse, for at the sub-atomic level, the Unity and this dimension were incompatible. Only the polarity reversal caused by contact with matter from this dimension—atmospheric disharmony—allowed the brothers’ incorporeal bodies to become corporeal. To maintain those bodies, energy consumption was prodigious. No brother on Earth could stay warm.

Uriel hated the cold so very much.

Behind Ramiel space bent and exploded violently. “Wings, Uriel!” Glowing brightly, the sign of great power, a new brother stood next to the Seat, and this brother pulsed with energy.

“Archangel!” Uriel rose, growing in stature. Gabriel, known as the Citadel of Justice and Power, had stood on the Triune Mind’s side, as had Uriel. He also remembered that they were not allies. They had since taken different paths.

Even so, once . . . once.

For many eons they had been friends and more, or as much more as brothers could be. In other incarnations, as other genders, they had been even closer. The two were inexorably drawn together.

“Not now, Gabriel!” Ramiel’s command split the blackness, leaving glittering remnants of icy anger in its wake.

“Yes, now—” Gabriel began, his presence growing against the background blanket of stars.

“Stop! I command you!” Ramiel’s voice sent thunder rolling across the blackness. “The passage is already prepared for this one.” Each time he spoke, the growing ball of light at his side quivered, responding to his every movement.

“A few moments for an old friend? They are mine to share.” They stood outside the Unity, and the sense of time flowed the speed an Archangel wished, a day equaling a thousand years, and a thousand years a day, if the Archangel so desired.

At Ramiel’s reluctant nod, Gabriel smiled and turned to Uriel. “Uriel, remember your Mandate. You must find each human’s Destiny and lead each one forward, if you wish to be allowed to return.” His words were warm and hopeful.

Uriel’s response was not.

“All of them? Alone?” At one time you would have chosen to follow me to that blue and green globe. No longer. That burned deeply, and anger sapped his better judgment. “Take my place, Archangel. Or better yet, come with me!” His eyes softened just for a moment in hope as he looked into his old friend’s eyes.

“I cannot, Uriel.”

Uriel knew better. It had been done before.

“I once loved you, Brother,” Gabriel continued more softly. “I would love you again, given the chance.” He reached out in a token of repeated well-wishing. “Your wings. Remember your wings, Uriel.”

Then, Ramiel’s anger tore them apart.

Ramiel, Herald of Hope

“Enough!” Ramiel’s patience was gone, and he laughed as Uriel fell to his knees. “You’ve had your say, Archangel. Your Triune Mind is no longer the supreme power here. Let me be about my business.”

“Hope? You offer hope to Uriel? That is your assigned role, Ramiel, although the hope you give escapes me.”

“I remember another Mandate also, one you would be wise to heed. I am also the one who will guide Uriel back to the Unity, if his sojourn on Earth is successful. For that reason, I expect to be treated with greater respect.”

Gabriel’s words lanced out in a white-hot torrent, “Stand aside, Brother! I will not ask again.” Gabriel turned to Uriel. “Strength is mine to give. It is yours, old friend.” A glistening otherness appeared in the space between them, quickly settling around Uriel, and it seemed as if Uriel physically expanded against the barrenness of the surrounding blackness. Gabriel continued, “May you also find nourishment to fuel your undertakings upon Earth, and without delay.”

Renewed anger consumed Ramiel, and his new-found levels of fury dimmed the radiance of the nearby sun. The Seat of Power was his, and not even Gabriel could deny him that. The Seat hummed with the massive power drain as Ramiel raised his hands above his head, and with a resounding reverberation, he clapped them together. The ball of light at his side shattered, the glittering shards lancing through the darkness. When finally it coalesced once again, only Ramiel and Gabriel were left looking over the two suns hanging above the glittering Earth. With a second clap of his hands, the ball of light streaked earthward, elongating into a thin pencil of white-hot energy.

“It hurts when the lightship comes to a stop,” Gabriel mused.

“Why did you come, Gabriel?” Ramiel eased back into the Seat of Power. He glared at the Archangel. He dared not do more, though.

“Uriel is an old friend.” Gabriel paused, reaching to touch the Seat of Power.

“Hands off,” Ramiel snarled. “The Seat was once yours to occupy, but you lost this. Not everyone calls you Archangel anymore.”

“Easy, Ramiel.” Gabriel’s tone was even, and his words were soft, but the steel was back. “The Seat might be mine no longer, yet my power is undiminished.”

Ramiel’s eyes narrowed. “Just stay away from it.”

Then, in a shimmer of nothingness, the blackness of space bending once more in the oddest way, the chair was vacant, and Gabriel stood alone.

He smiled, and then he was also gone, the void twisting for a moment, leaving the surrounding space as it had been all along, empty and black, with only Earth, its single satellite, and the twin suns overhead to fill the darkness.

Uriel, Bearer of Destiny

In a flash of incandescence—lightning to any human who happened to be watching—Uriel’s lightship detonated in an implosion of luminescence just after it hit the atmosphere, leaving him falling unsupported—backwards!—from the heavens directly toward Earth.

“Dear Unity above!” Uriel screamed his curse. “Trade places with me, Gabriel,” he bellowed, but the words were torn from his lips even as he spoke.

Remember his wings? He needed to be fully corporeal to deploy. The chill of the approaching world meant his body was firming up as the disharmony of his native dimension resonated with the atmospheric particles of this one. Glancing down at his limbs, the familiar glow had begun. He also noticed the genitalia between his legs and remembered the need to cover those parts as quickly as he could find clothing. He clapped his hands briskly together, and in a tumultuous flash of billowing light, wide feathery wings appeared at his back.

Crying out with the enormous effort, he rotated his torso until he faced forward, and he threw his wings wide. Gravity grasped his sturdy frame, yanking him earthward, leaving his torso and legs angled toward the ground. The body he assumed in his corporeal form was not Gabriel’s slender, streamlined sleekness. It was all muscular power, and right then, its heaviness punched through the sky. His wings wrestled with the buffeting atmosphere, their surfaces vibrating as the wind ripped past their exterior edges, and ever so slowly, his descent slowed.

It was good that it did, too. The ground had been arriving too quickly for comfort. He could see streetlights, and that concerned him. Once, a night landing would have been considered safe, the cover of darkness giving the brothers time to locate sufficiently concealing bodily coverings. Now, everything was electrified, brilliantly lit even at midnight, and compromises had to be made. Being freshly corporeal, he would not be able to fade fully. In the event people were in the vicinity, a cemetery or a church was a good option for concealment. He could wrap himself with his wings for some time, disguising himself as a stone statue until either the area was clear or his body reached Equilibrium, allowing him to fade from sight.

He was falling toward a brightly lighted convenience store. Cars were strewn about, one pulling into the fueling bay. As he began to beat his wings, slowing his descent even more, his eyes searched the scene for other options. A nearby park was darkened and available. However, he dismissed that possibility at once. It would surely have trees, and branches could hurt. Pain didn’t interest him. Warmth did, and he was glad he could see no snow falling. He hoped he had come during summer, hot, hot, glorious summer. Landing freshly corporeal and unadorned in a snowstorm was not his favored method of verifying his value to the Unity of Being. He—and all the brothers—preferred the furnace blast of the midday sun.

His eyes caught the flickering of red off to the side, and he knew a rush of relief. Flames, the most desirable sort of warmth. The faint wail of sirens told him it must be a structure fire. His heart quickened at the prospect of unlimited heat. Plus, in the midst of all the confusion around a structure fire, who would notice one freshly corporeal being that was clearly and distinctly from out of this world?

Drawing close to the ever-brighter flames, he began to luxuriate in their perceived warmth. Shifting his weight, he saw a large fire truck squeal to a stop. It disgorged numerous men dressed in burly fire-fighting equipment, and a ladder began to extend toward a second-story window. Then, in a blazing cascade of sparks, one corner of the roof crashed in, and flames leaped toward the sky.

“Heat,” he breathed expectantly. He aimed directly for the roar of the flames.

He slipped through feet first, his skin shifting in color, and glowing red in the midst of the inviting incandescence. Hitting the floor, he dropped into an easy crouch, looking around with a grin. What luck! The wood under his feet was still solid, and several walls were even intact. He was in a bedroom, it seemed, although the furniture was already charred to barely-recognizable contours. He must find another room. With the intensity of this fire, the flames would not provide a screen for long.

Hitting a charred door with his shoulder, he stumbled into a hallway, wincing at the very real pain in his side. Newly corporeal, he felt pain—as well as pleasure—more intensely than he would at any other time. As soon as he found clothes, food was his next goal. Once he had plenty of nourishment, such inconveniences as charred doors—and other physical barriers—would be things of the past. For now, though, doors, even charred ones, were meant to be used.

The smoke had blackened the walls, but out of the bedroom, the damage was less severe. Grasping the knob of a door across the hall, he heard the wail of a human child from the other side. Rescuing a human child would ensure the favor of the Unity of Being. When Ramiel viewed the Records, he would see that Uriel had done well, fulfilling his Destiny as expected. To return to the Unity, Ramiel held all the keys, and Ramiel unlocked all the doors. If there were truly a child to be saved, then Uriel must be the one to rise to the task.

There was a deeper level to his decision to help the child, though. What had Gabriel said? Remember your Mandate. Uriel was the Bearer of Destiny, and all humans had that, a Destiny. The saving of the child was as compelling as his need for warmth.

He hit the door again and again, determined to attempt rescue, despite shards of pain lancing through his shoulder. He flung his muscular frame against the wood with all his strength. With a thud, the door flew back against the wall, sending a shower of sparks from the adjoining surface into the room.

There, underneath a window, with the sash opened just enough to let a steady stream of clear air inside, was a baby’s crib. Even so, the infant would not live for long, not if it didn’t find escape from this house. He was the child’s only chance.

Watch, Ramiel, he sent skyward. This is my first good deed, and I’ve just arrived.

Still, even to rescue a baby, a man must have clothing of a sort, and he would appear to be a man as soon as his wings were gone. Stepping to the crib, he glanced at the infant inside. The baby squealed in delight. He brushed the child’s face, the barest touch of its human flesh washing overpowering sensations over him. He also felt the building repulsion of the sub-atomic polarization fields that, like similar poles of hand-held magnets, would soon keep them from touching at all. The atomic structure of this universe excited his race’s sub-atomic matrix, and like two magnets, it had proven impossible to tear the two dimensions apart. The closer to Equilibrium he became, the harder it would be to touch a human at all. The natural stabilization of his atomic structure would force the poles of his internal matrix to reverse directions, and Equilibrium would be complete.

So many times he had wished it weren’t so.

He turned and hunted for clothing. He snatched at a pale, woven coverlet lying on a nearby chair and wrapped it around his hips, tucking it in securely at his waist. “Not quite modest,” he grumbled, “but it’ll have to do.” Reaching inside the crib, he pulled the infant to his chest and brushed his face against its downy hair. A thrill ran down his spine. It was the taste of cinnamon, and also of frankincense and myrrh. All humans were like this . . . when he could touch them.

Yet, this infant must be protected, if he wanted to earn his passage back into the Unity. He flexed his powerful shoulder muscles, and in a great sweep of superheated air, his wings unfolded and wrapped themselves around his body, insulating both him and the infant from the flames. Uriel was instantly cold, but he felt the baby snuggle next to him, seeking the scant warmth of his nonhuman skin.

Flames were already licking into the baby’s room, and as he stepped through the doorway into the hall, he paused in apprehension. His feet were standing in a hell that had not been there just moments before. At the end of the hall was a stair landing. He began to run that direction. He heard a flaming timber fall just behind him, then he leaped back as another crashed just where he had planned to place his foot. Hearing the sizzle of superheated moisture, he glanced up to see open sky above. Water had begun to rain down over the house, but he accepted it as too little too late. He must make a break for it, exposure or not.

Leaping over the burning timber at his feet, he placed his feet on treads that were already aflame. He tucked his wings tightly as he bounded down the steps two at a time. He could see through the opening where the home’s double doors had been broken down by the firefighters. Flames licked a wall just behind his head, and he paused to bask in its red, flickering embrace. At the same time, he could smell the coolness that rushed at him from the gap just ahead. He stroked the baby’s skin, basking in the sensation of cinnamon and myrrh filling his pores.

Hearing shouts of alarm, he saw four firemen, burly with their full complement of gear, standing just outside and looking his way. One fireman fought with the end of a huge nozzle, directing it into the flames. The others helped him out, one carrying an ax in his hand.

He had waited too long, afraid to move quickly and decisively. Still, men were impressionable, and they would see what they must. With only a “Suggestion,” he could take care of that.

Kneeling, he bowed his head to protect the small creature he held from the burning wall at his back. Flexing his shoulders, he let the great feathered wings that had provided life-giving insulation to the infant unveil themselves in a grand sweep of motion. With the brush of luminescent wingtips against the room’s charred surfaces, glowing sparks burst from within the burned walls at his back and flashed through the air, forming glittering fireflies. For a moment he paused, his wings fully extended, still holding the babe in his arms, with his head bowed in a shielding gesture.

He could now dispense with his wings, becoming a man in appearance, blending in seamlessly with the humans before him. Placing the small bundle in his lap, he lifted his hands, palms raised, readying them to come together, so that he could hand the child to one of the human benefactors waiting just outside.

Fire Fighters, Engine No. 4

A hush fell on the four watching firemen. Beyond a doubt no one could survive inside that raging firestorm. The entire structure was engulfed, and it was falling down as they fought the flames for control. As they watched, the mysterious angel balanced a package on one knee, and with a clap of its hands and a great flash of rolling, blinding light, its wings were gone. Only a man remained. It was only when the man—or the angel, rather—stood that they could see what it held. It was a child, the very one they’d hoped to save and had already accepted as lost.

Then the angel, for they were convinced it could be nothing else, stepped forward, and with a nod, handed the infant to one of the firefighters. The angel smiled, its glowing aura clear against the red of the fiery furnace. To the men’s amazement, before their very eyes, the man—the angel, rather—stepped back to the flames, shimmered for a moment, faded, and was gone.

Their responses were very different. Two of the men crossed themselves, a sheen of moisture appearing in their eyes. The man holding the hose fainted dead away, the nozzle flinging itself free and dancing an ecstatic two-step across the ground.

However, the man holding the baby looked at the child, unable to tear his eyes away. She was his goddaughter and great-niece, and he could tell the child’s parents their baby was saved.

Uriel, Bearer of Destiny

“Pleased with yourself, Uriel?”

He glanced up, looking for the unseen voice, immediately angered. Yet, corporeal eyes would see corporeal flesh, for Uriel desired it so. He simply had to locate the speaker first.

“Maalik, is that you?” He spit the words, an accusation against the silence. He named a brother often called the Guardian of Hell. At the ensuing silence, he considered, If not Maalik, then who?

“Israfel?” Uriel named a reprobate beyond all reprobates, and his insult sliced the air, a knife dividing the redness of the flames. That dark one’s mission was to signal the end, and this destruction would be like him.

Rotating in a complete circle, opening his arms wide, he yelled, “Chayot HaKodesh! Show yourself! You who are known as the Holy Beast, are you afraid of being seen? Surely it is you, for who else would create such destruction and remain to exult in the aftermath?”

“Afraid? I have not run. Rather, I wish to be found.” The words danced in mirth. A noise exploded to the side, and sparks and embers flew wildly as the staircase crashed to the floor. Laughter ensued, embodied in a ghostly wavering in the flames. “Come up, Uriel. Enjoy the warmth with your brother.”

Uriel narrowed his eyes, and the form became more distinct. Then, he clapped his hands together violently. In a brilliant flash of roiling light, his majestic wings once again opened at his back. He knelt in a quick movement and thrust himself into the air, his wings launching him easily to the second floor landing. Another angry clap of his hands, and in a secondary flash of brilliance, the wings were gone.

“My unseen companion is my brother? One who will not show himself? I think not.” Any brother of Uriel’s would have saved the child and then made himself known.

“I give, Brother, and will hide no longer. Welcome to my display of magnificence.” The distortion within the flames coalesced into a solid, wingless human form, and an arm swept wide, indicating all around them.

The words irritated Uriel, both for their taunting as well as the fact they had to be spoken aloud. One who was a brother and a friend would simply think the words, and they would be known.

The man turned and walked down the hallway towards the room where the baby had lain. Stepping over several fallen beams, more than one still ablaze, he paused at the bedroom door, turning to motion Uriel along.

“Come, friend Uriel.”

Still spoken. He now recognized this brother. It would be Kafziel, the Emissary of Solitude and Tears. He knew this one, and too well. It had been a long time since he’d been a part of the Unity. This was no coincidence, Kafziel here in this place at this time.

Following Kafziel into the room, he paused, seeing the brother standing at the empty crib, the sides now aflame with heat and light. The small mattress smoked. He watched Kafziel reach a hand and rock the tortured bed.

“So, Kafziel.” He took a step closer. “What?”

Kafziel turned his head to look directly at him. “The warmth.” He inhaled a deep breath and released it in obvious pleasure. “Not since we Encapsulated the Triune Mind have I felt such warmth. See?” He pointed to the opened window. “I saved the child for you. I knew you were coming.”

Kafziel had tricked him into rescuing the child! He had known he would see it as an opportunity he could not resist. “Lucifer!” he spat, the use of the vile name intended as an invective of the worst sort. The memory of the brother once called the Illuminator of Light was a raw wound for many of the Unity. “I should have known as soon as I saw the flames. It was all too convenient.”

“Lucifer?” Kafziel rubbed his hand down one charred wall. “You honor me, Uriel. Your friend, Lucifer, has not been seen for quite some time, although I have seemed to do quite well in his place. Has he perhaps gone deeper?

Below ground, Uriel knew he meant. Those who remained long from the Unity required protection—as well as warmth. Both could be best found deep underneath the earth’s crust.

Kafziel stepped away as a support on the crib finally burned through, and it collapsed to the floor. The mattress burst into flames as it came to rest, and one side of Kafziel’s body brightened with the newly intense light.

“Kafziel,” Uriel warned. “My patience grows thin.”

“Ah!” Kafziel moaned in ecstasy as he extended an arm to a burning wall, running one hand through the flames. “Your mention of Lucifer brings to mind how he craves the heat even more than most. More than me, for sure, and I am always chilled.” He stepped to stand against the window, the glass now blackened from the smoke. The spinning lights from the fire trucks flashed across the building. Something in another part of the house crashed through to the ground floor, and the building shifted under their feet. Firemen could be heard yelling to one another, that they were withdrawing from the fight, and concentrating on containment only.

“You have me here.” Uriel crossed his arms. “Stop the charade. What do you want? If nothing more than to show me this, then I am gone.”

“Come with me, unless you doubt yourself, Bearer of Destiny. You have one yourself, you know. Surely you can direct your own, even as you drive those around you.” Kafziel turned to smirk at him. “You will find what I have to offer very interesting.”

Then he shimmered and stepped directly through the wall. A great flash of light through the blackened window followed by the beat of powerful wings told Uriel he was gone.

Uriel ran at the wall. With a flicker, he was through the plaster and brick; and tumbling into the open air, he clapped his hands sharply. The brilliant light of corporeal energy transference flashed around him, and his feathery appendages unfurled into the smoky air. With a flex of his torso, his wings bit into the night, and he was aloft.

“Interesting,” Uriel spat under his breath. “I am not interested at all.” His great expanse of wings pushed the air aside. He followed a trail only he could sense. The errant brother’s flight had disrupted the corporeal structure of the air, tearing at the fabric of the surrounding atoms. He’d altered their internal bonds, and any brother could sense that. The atoms would eventually repair themselves, and the trail would be gone. For now, though, the night sky held a luminescent conduit of broken bread crumbs, and at the end, Uriel would find the fool for whom he searched.

“Interesting!” he spat once again. He had no interest in anything Kafziel had to show him. None at all.


Chapter 2

Gadreel, Deliverer of Destruction

Gadreel, the highest authority in the Unity, wielding a Mandate to show men the Blows of Death, and who had been the one sent to deceive Eve, the mother of all mankind, strode down a corridor. However, it was less a corridor than a set of spatial coordinates, an unoccupied area connecting two places with assigned functions.

One of those assigned functions was the Secondary Forces Chamber, not really a chamber in the literal sense, but a specific location in space where the Triune Mind was Encapsulated. At the opposite end of the “corridor” Gadreel searched for Chitar and Gupat, the Recorders of the Deeds of Man.

There was a reason Gadreel was Mandated to show men the Blows of Death. To deceive Eve, he had assumed a dimensional interface from a previous incarnation, a Ladon, a serpent-like dragon humans often mistook for snakes. It was a form he’d also used later with the Greeks, when in the Garden of the Hesperides, he was assigned to guard a tree of Golden Apples. He’d gloried in his duties on each occasion. Gadreel’s anger, when it burned, burned hot.

“Chitar!” The name thundered in the blackness. “Gupat!” Even louder, the second name rang out.

There was no response. However, something else caught his attention. Far below on Earth, on the lush Florida peninsula, a great tower of flame punctuated the night. After some extended moments, the fire burned brighter and sharper, soon breaking free from the bonds of the blue and green world, and climbing into the blackness overhead. The object approached and passed directly through the empty space occupied by Gadreel and his very insubstantial corridor. Gadreel picked up the ones and zeros of human digital technology, as they dopplered past.

“Time on the clock is 21:10.”

“Confirmed and marked. Any streaks up there?”

“Just that idiot you guys sent up here with me. Jim’s moving his hands in front of the view port.”

“That’s interesting to know, Chet. You’re going to like this. All lights green across the board. Good luck on your trip to Io.”

Then it was gone. Gadreel dismissed the annoyance, bellowing, “Chitar!” The stars seemed to flicker under the onslaught of his anger.

In a violent flash of twisting space, Chitar appeared fully before him, meek and subservient.

“Gupat, attend!” The second name rang out, and from out of the void, space twisted once again, and Gupat also appeared, prostrate as he spoke his buttery soliloquies.

“Glorious and Holy Gadreel. How may we assist you?” Gupat cleared his throat.

Gadreel smiled. It was well that these two appeared contrite, for Chitar and Gupat had been devout followers of the Triune Mind who had found themselves on the losing side. Thankfully, their services were still needed, and for that reason, they had been kept around.

“I must review the Deeds of Man. You have recorded them faithfully?”

“Oh, most faithfully, Holy Gadreel.” Incorporeal motions with incorporeal hands invited him to enter the Chamber of Deeds. As the three moved forward, the Forces holding the Chamber in place flexed, then gave. The Energy Nodes kept the Chamber eminently stable, though. None of the brothers expected any less, for without the trustworthy Nodes, all accumulated Records would be lost. No information had ever been lost, so it followed that none ever would.

“I wish to observe a matter of importance.” Gadreel stepped forward.

“Specifically?” Gupat grunted his question sourly. When Gadreel turned his way with a darkening expression, the brother cowered, rephrasing his request. “To which event do you refer, Eminent Gadreel? All the Events of Man have been faithfully recorded. Please state your most specific request.”

“A recent conflagration. Very large. A child was saved.” Pleased with Gupat’s humility, Gadreel smiled.

“As you wish, Mighty Lord.” Chitar chittered his pleasure. He reached a hand, and a disturbance appeared in the blackness. A series of scenes flashed rapidly across the disturbance, many of them filled with raging infernos. His hand moved back and forth, narrowing the visible choices, and eventually only three remained. He flipped between the three, and he turned to Gadreel with a bow.

Gupat stepped up. “We can narrow the choices further. What more can you tell us, Lord Gadreel? Or, do you wish to view all three?”

Gadreel watched the images. “Uriel was there,” he offered.

Chitar’s face beamed. He flicked the images, and then only one remained.

“Show it to me.” Gadreel was eager to validate numerous suspicions. He could be certain if Uriel were in the image. Then there was the earthbound brother, a traitor if ever there was one. If Kafziel were involved, as he now suspected, then there was no end to the trouble that might be brewing, even if some claimed that a Watcher could cause no lasting harm.

If these Records showed what he expected, a new agenda would need to be set, and quickly.

Within Chitar’s disturbance floating in the blackness, a scene of a burning house flickered into motion. At first the flames were small and could have perhaps been easily contained. Yet, they advanced through the structure rapidly, much more quickly than seemed possible. A man could be seen running from the flames, while dragging a woman after him. She appeared to be fighting him, screaming and pointing back toward the house.

“Sound?” Gadreel motioned to the image. “I wish to hear the woman’s complaints.”

Chitar touched the image, and a frantic voice could be heard.

“Cristian! Angelina! She’s in her crib at the top of the stairs. You must let me go to her.”

“It’s too late, Lucita. Would you both die?”

Gadreel motioned, and Chitar’s hand silenced the voices. The flames continued to crawl over the house until something at the back corner caught his eye.

“There. Enlarge and replay.” His finger pointed to the spot he wished to see.

The scene flickered in reverse, the shadows jumping oddly, and something withdrew from the house. In the image, the flames seemed suspiciously hungry.

Then, with the brush of Chitar’s touch, the picture once again crawled forward, the scene jerking in an exaggerated slow-motion display. With feathered wings tucked at his back, an angel—a brother, obviously—appeared out of nowhere. Gadreel made a small motion, and Chitar’s finger shifted. The image froze. Another shift of incorporeal digits, and the view of the head displayed before them rotated to reveal the face.

Gadreel spun away. The face was Uriel’s. Kafziel, traitor, had conspired to draw the Bearer of Destiny to his side. It could be nothing else. Gadreel had not believed this was possible. Kafziel was merely a Watcher, never a Doer. He was the Emissary of Solitude and Tears, and alone, he had little power.

He could connive, though, and it seemed he had. That was the only possible conclusion to be gleaned from this data, and if Kafziel’s hands were found directly manipulating these events, it was surely a bid to gain access to Uriel’s power, claiming it as his own.

He turned back to Chitar and motioned for him to continue, to see Kafziel tumble through the wall of the burning home, his wings appearing in a brilliant discharge of corporeal disharmony energy transference. Gadreel’s jaw tensed. There was no doubt at all, now.

Without further words, the space Gadreel occupied bent oddly, flickered, and he was gone. He didn’t even express his gratitude to the two brothers who had been so very helpful in his quest.

From the expressions on their faces, they didn’t mind one bit.

Uriel, Bearer of Destiny

Uriel’s muscular frame was built for short, powerful bursts of speed, rather than the long strides of Kafziel’s slender endurance machine, and he threw his strength arduously into each wingbeat, chasing a trail of corporeal atoms, shattered at Kafziel’s passing, that led him along the path he must follow. As he forged ahead, the breadcrumbs grew brighter, and he grunted with satisfaction.

Then, with no warning, the trail was gone. Slowing in mid-flight, the momentum of his forward thrust forcing him to throw out his massive wings as a brake to bleed off speed, he hovered. He could only do this for a few moments, no matter how much he desired, for his torso would exhaust quickly.

“Curse you, Kafziel,” he muttered. “To tire beyond my limits is to fall from the sky, and such a landing for a newly arrived brother? That which hurts, really hurts.” He also knew pleasure in a newly minted body felt equally intense. Angels, and he laughed inwardly at the term, had to be careful.

Looking back at his own visible flight path, he located where the trail in the night sky became two, meaning they were surely nearing their destination. The interesting thing would be there, although Uriel didn’t expect to find it so very interesting. No. He expected to lash out and make Kafziel pay.

“That’s right,” he called out violently. “In angel blood!” And his feathered appendages stroked the air equally violently. Then, with a tightening of his torso, he threw himself forward once again. The cold of the dark night wind rushed against his face, and his words screamed his anger between each beat of his wings. “You will pay, Kafziel! You will bleed your unholy blood, you vile creature. I am freezing, wearing only a loincloth, and I could have been warm. Let’s see how interesting it is when you shed your body’s fluids before me!”

Interlude 1

Kafziel awaited Uriel’s arrival. Little did the Bearer of Destiny know his desperation and that what he had to offer was very good, indeed. It was the satisfaction every brother of the Unity desired, and in fact had desired for the millennia they had been stranded in this dimension.

He offered Uriel his heart’s desire: a female of their species.

When captured by this dimension, the brothers had become male—all male—and their bodies had mimicked the terrestrial lifeforms on this puny little world, down to the testosterone that drove them to madness. The brothers of the Unity were mad with need, and yet, they couldn’t touch a one of the women on Earth.

Kafziel, however, had found a way. He had procured a mixed-blood woman, a human half-breed—a female “brother”—who was now at his disposal. He intended to offer her to Uriel as his gift.

He only wanted one small thing in exchange. Power. Uriel’s power, not to put too fine a point on it. He wanted influence, the authority to act, to be a Doer instead of a Watcher. To achieve his goal, what greater power was there than that of the Bearer of Destiny? To have it in his grasp even for a moment . . . how glorious it would be!

He knew he would have to make his offering to Uriel carefully. Never companions, and more often than not at odds with one another, Uriel would cast his motives in a dark light. Kafziel was confident, though. He simply had to plant the idea in Uriel’s head carefully; make the powerful brother think it was his own. Once Uriel was aware of Kafziel’s offer, how could he resist? Eons of pent-up frustration were bottled up in his newly corporeal form, and he would not be able to pass this opportunity by.

Kafziel smiled, and it was not one of welcome. He had discovered a little-known ambiguity in this dimension’s tenuous hold on the brothers’ atomic structure, and after centuries of careful planning, he had exploited it for his own designs. The truth was that a brother could not touch a human except—and this was important—except for the first few minutes after becoming corporeal.

Now it was time to reap his rewards. Uriel would give anything for a human touch, and when Uriel was ready to trade, Kafziel would take everything he was willing to give, especially his Mandate of Destiny.

It was the ultimate prize, to hold the destiny of the human race in his hands. How wonderful it would be!

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