Azrael came out of the shadows at Farishta Manor Gardens, just out of the side door. Belial was unconscious; Azrael had to fold his wings herself as she carried him in her arms – odd enough sight because he was taller than her. Azrael lightly wrinkled her nose, curious as she perceived the smell of food and heard voices coming from inside the house. She carefully held Belial, his blood running down her arms as in the scape rush she hadn’t made any other stop. //Rishta! I need your assistance//, she mentally called. She didn’t call out to Michael or the others, simply allowing them to sense her presence.

Rishta paused in the hallway, as the two brothers began to speak. When the first one said Camael, Rishta’s heart froze for a second, mistaking Camael for Cadmiel. As the angel spoke of not experiencing dinner since loosing their human form, Rishta gave a small smile. “It is an honor to meet you both. You are welcomed at my house at any time. I am Rishta, daughter of Cadmiel.” As Adriel then spoke, Rishta smiled. She has such a soft, pretty, crystalline voice. It was sad that they had had to meet under such circumstances. Rishta had the notion that they would have been great friends. She got along with everyone. Nodding at her words, Rishta turned to lead them through a set of heavy oak doors, which had been opened by awaiting servants. Like the outer doors, these had etchings, but of odd scenes. Angels. Anyone who didn’t know the truth could say that this family had an obsession with them.

Stopping abruptly at the doorway, Rishta turned and looked past Michael as though trying to see something. Azrael was at the side door. Why didn’t she come in…? Something had to be wrong. Brushing past them all, with only a small nod for a pardon, she quickly went through a few halls and opened the door, stepping out. Rishta gasped, then gasped again as she saw that she had stepped on a mouse. Ew… She nudged it away before ushering Azrael into the house and into the nearest room. “Put him on the sofa… you are both a mess…”

Azrael promptly did as Rishta said, getting into the first room Rishta indicated and heading for the couch; Azrael laid unconscious Belial on it, carefully keeping his six wings folded. Some feathers stuck to her hands. Azrael carefully put his hair away from his face, damp in blood. “Azazel tortured him”, she murmured with her cool voice. “He’s severely wounded.” Azrael proceeded to remove pieces of his armor to uncover the wound on his side.

Rishta stood there for a minute, tears filling her eyes. They were all going to die. Azazel… amazing how one name could cause such hate, such fear. Instinctively she wiped the tears away, trying not to give in to the terrifying desire to collapse and cry. Raziel, Gabriel, Uriel, Tabris… dead. Belial, possibly Azrael wounded. Raphael with eyesight gone. Father, gone. It was maddening. Taking a deep breath, she walked towards Belial, looking lost. I offered you a chance to escape… but I bet Azazel would’ve found you anywhere. I’m sorry, it’s my fault. I should have tried harder. Could’ve done something more. Always something more I could have done… but I didn’t… Holding her hand out, she placed it directly on the wound – blood no longer causing her to sadden. Within the night, she had realized that there was going to be a lot of blood in London soon. Once again, the dark soil would take on a crimson appearance. Once again, blood would run like rivers in the streets, being soaked up by earth, tainting the world with their ancient feud. She pinched it shut, and began to focus. But before she could heal him, she turned to Azrael, hand still tight on the wound. “How are you? If you are injured, I want you to sit there and hold on for a minute.”

Azrael blinked. “You should be careful”, she told her, “for Azazel’s evil power lingers on the wound. Belial himself is a Fallen; you’ll need to take that under consideration.” Azrael tilted her head. “There’s a part of him where Light remains; use it for it’s not alien to you… I am not wounded.” Azrael folded her wings neatly on her back. “Raziel and the others are under my care.” Azrael gently touched Belial’s forehead. “He is also my responsibility. It is my duty to take him back.”

Rishta looked at Azrael, with a sort of stunned shock. Dark? So? Belial was not evil, just misled. That made all the difference in the world! Azazel, sure – that was something to be concerned about, but she really didn’t expect to live out the week. But she was relieved to hear that Azrael herself was alright. That would make it a little easier. Ignoring Azrael’s warning, Rishta began to draw on her own powers, and a bit of Belials light, and mixed them. Seeping them into his would, she shut her eyes and concentrated. Belial had to be alright! Something she couldn’t explain… but it had to be! Meanwhile, in the back of her mind, Rishta was grateful the souls of the dear departed were safe. But, what did Azrael mean when she had said ‘take him back’?

Azrael took out two long pieces of cloth that seemed to be made of the same unearthly fabric of her black robes. The archangel held them in her hands and murmured a spell; the Sigil of her Name floated over each piece. Azrael waited for Rishta to complete her task, holding the pieces of cloth in her hands. She noticed Rishta didn’t seem to fully understand her words. Azrael’s serene gaze remained on them as she stood next to the couch where Belial laid. “Of you have questions, you may ask”, Azrael unexpectedly murmured. “Also, Raziel has a last message for you; something of great importance.”

Michael had been picking at his food ever since he had gotten it. The moment he had felt Raziel’s passing, what little appetite he previously had went shooting out the window. He didn’t think he could keep any food down, even if he tried. Only a moment later, after Raziel’s death, Michael felt Azrael’s presence. Rishta quickly hurried off; she must have been summoned by Azrael. Another powerful being was with Azrael, and it felt very much like Belial, though it was incredibly weak. The Fallen must have been on the very edge of death. Not worth saving, in Michael’s eyes. Best to kill the scaping bastard and get it over with. But, he figured, that was Azrael’s decision to make. Not his. He felt betrayed by the ones he once called friends They would be not here now if it weren’t for the Fallen…

Michael slowly stood up, shrugged his templar coat higher up onto his shoulders, and followed Rishta into the adjoining room. Just as he suspected, Azrael had brought along Belial, complete with a gruesome wound. This close to the Fallen, Michael could feel Azazel’s taint all over Belial. The angel smiled, though it was cold and grim. “There’s simply no hope for you, is there? You betrayed us first, and then, the ones you sided with millennia ago. Sickening. For your sake, I hope Azrael takes it easy on you.” His smile slowly faded as he turned to the angel of death. “I’m leaving. Azazel has to be stopped.” His templar coat flared behind him as his sword of fire and light, Ezurewrath, exploded into his hand. “This isn’t about the betrayal anymore. Innocent people are being hurt… ones that should never have to suffer for someone else’s sins. If I die, I die.” Michael turned around and started off for the front door, but stopped before he left the room, and looked back over his shoulder at Azrael.

“What you do with my soul when I die is of no consequence to me,” he said, almost to himself. “You’re the angel of death. You decide.” Gripping his sword tightly, Michael marched out of the room, and left the house, pushing off the ground and taking flight as soon as he was outside. For the first time in recent memory, Michael dropped his human guise, and exploded into his angelic self. Two bright, shimmering wings that were tinged with fire flared out from his back, and his bright white coat was pressed tightly against him by his sun-golden armor. In a flash of fire and light, Michael sped off towards the opposite end of downtown, where Azazel’s unholy power was like a beacon to his senses. ‘Raziel, Gabriel, Uriel… I’ll do right by you, and bring down a wrath onto Azazel the likes of which he’s never seen!’

Azrael had a number of objections to make but Michael of course didn’t stay to hear them. Azrael frowned and her night sky eyes darkened. As Archangel of Death and Destruction she was not the one to judge others decisions, but as an Elder like Raziel she was supposed to offer guidance. It was up to the others to take advice or not. //I can’t make decisions for you and I won’t point out the rights or wrongs of this course of action you’ve chosen; but you ought to remember you are the Leader of the Heavenly Armies and you are not supposed to fight alone. Azazel is powerful and he has the backup of his Army from the Abyss.// Azrael’s frown went deeper. //Raziel completed his task. Autumn knows about the ring – she will be of help.// Azrael tilted her head upon sending her mental message to Michael, seeing he was unmoving in his choice.

“Head General”, she coolly called out to Raphael. “The Heavenly Armies are under your command. Are you in conditions to lead them?”

Rishta had her eyes tightly shut, wound slowly healing as the people rushed around, or simply sat, eating. The wound was quickly healing, his body wanting to heal itself, Rishta just pushing it along – since she herself wasn’t powerful enough to heal the wound. Don’t think of anything. Keep your mind blank… just like Uriel said. Michael… NO! Don’t think about questions, or Michael… Michael… Why do I always think of him…?

Outside, Belial’s skin was quickly healing, the muscle grew, the veins creeping back over the body, flesh beginning to reform where it had been torn. His energy could not be changed – but at least no more had to be spent on the gruesome wound. Rishta’s hand was deep red, the blood drying on her skin, her dress spotted now with his blood. Azazel’s taint was strong, and she felt the evil creeping around, touching her skin, then seeming to recoil at her thoughts of Michael. Belial himself, was tainted with the Dark – but to Rishta, it wasn’t the evil Dark that Azazel emitted. It was a good dark, like the night that was filled with stars. But the Dark of Azazel persisted in Belial’s body, trying to bring him back to Darkness, where he would be finished.

Rishta couldn’t allow that to happen. Mentally, it was like putting out a fire. With the “pure water” of her energy and Aramis’, they were able to drown Azazel’s taint, and put it out completely. But it kept on resurfacing, and every time she and Belial put it out – it tried to come back. Snapping back as the wound continued healing, Rishta took a look where Michael and stood and tears slowly began sliding down her face, unable to finish healing – she was too drained. He’s going to die… We’re all doomed… lord no… Standing, shaking a bit, she leaned against the back of a chair to retain her balance. Looking at Azrael, unable to stop the gentle flow of tears, she murmured. “Raziel had a message… for me? And Michael…”

Gripping the chair with sudden harshness, Rishta slowly expanded her wings, so her balance would be kept. She felt a bit dizzy from all the energy she had used, but blinked as her retained balance felt odd. Looking down, Rishta gave a small smile between the tears. Her clothing had changed, the soft white dress replaced with soft white robes, over which clung deep silver armor, blue topaz glittering, forming patters upon the armor. At her side was her sword, in a case of silver and topaz, shimmering in the light. Her necklace hung around her neck, the loose front strands of hair held back by a silver fastening. The rest of the dark cascade flowing behind her shoulders. Looking at Azrael again, she finished her sentence. .”.. why did he go?”

Like Michael, Raphael has little pity for Belial. The injuries on Belial did not move Raphael a bit. Yet he could feel the dark poison of Azazel in Belial’s wounds, and Raphael felt a little upset that Azrael saved him. “I am of perfect condition.” Raphael answered defiantly, not caring for Michael’s opinions, “And why did you save this traitor, Azrael? He betrayed us in the past, and now he has betrayed the Dark side. Belial is treacherous in either way. Why not just kill him off and do ourselves a favor?”

Raphael fidgeted a little as he touched his scarred eyes. He turned to Rishta and pat her shoulder comfortingly. “Don’t worry…” Raphael said softly, “Everything will turn out well… The Dark always seems stronger… but Light will prevail.” Raphael bowed his head. His old friends were mostly gone by now. Gabriel, Uriel, Raziel… and even Tabris, even though Raphael never really regarded him with much respect. Gabriel had went to avenge Uriel on Beelzebub. Even though Gabriel was much weaker than Beelzebub, Raphael knew that Gabriel was anguished over Uriel’s death and would do just anything to hurt Beelzebub to the maximum. ‘I will do the job for you, Gabriel… For you, and myself…’

Turning to Adriel, Raphael nods and said, “I’m sorry Adriel… but I have to go now… Will you exercise the Heavenly Armies for me for the meanwhile…? I will be back soon…” Without waiting for a reply, Raphael went to the door, spread his glowing white feathery wings and flew off towards Riktophen Manor.

Azrael’s frown disappeared, her face again immutable. “Raziel wants you to keep Sapentia till he is able to live again and retake his task.” Azrael opened her hand. A silver locket from a large tome appeared on it, a chain loosely hanging between Azrael’s pale fingers. “Sapentia is linked to Raziel’s soul and it’s a great honor for you he’s chosen you to keep it, but it’s also a great responsibility he expects you to fulfill.” Azrael gave Rishta the pendant.

“Michael left for such was his decision.” Azrael looked at Raphael but she didn’t reply. Azrael tilted her head as Raphael left, for she was aware where was he heading to. “It’s my duty to take Belial back”, she muttered. Azrael turned to Adriel. “Regroup the Armies and join my Legions; Camael and Zoriel will assist you.”

Adriel and her companions had promptly followed the group from the dinning chamber; the angels of death and destruction took a bow upon receiving orders. They did not say a word about the scene in the room, but they cast a strange look upon Belial. “As you wish”, they replied to Azrael and Raphael, leaving the place.

“I will not allow anyone to harm Belial. Azrael, what are you going to do with him?” Rishta’s voice was soft yet hard, wondering yet serious. She felt deep pity for Belial, due to a suspicion she couldn’t tell anyone. Everyone is acting so foolish, not sticking together, allowing emotions to overtake them… its not good, it will lead to failure… angels will not be able to do this alone… When Azrael gave Rishta the pendant, Rishta smiled and clasped it to her, then slipped it on. “I will do my best to fulfill his wishes. …Lord, I hope we are ready.”

Azrael shook her head slightly. She proceeded to take one of Belial’s hands and bandage it leaving his fingers free using one of the pieces of cloth she held in her hand, then took his other hand to do the same. She looked at Rishta and showed her the marking on the palm of his hand in the shape of a scythe. Azrael put the bandage on his hand, again leaving his fingers free. Azrael’s sigil lingered on the bandages.

Belial’s lips trembled, yet he still was unconscious. Images danced like phantoms in his delirious mind; disturbing, scattered visions. A deep cold surrounded him like the waters in a chilling pool; distant voices came to his ears but he could not make out the words. Belial struggled to grasp the images and sounds drifting away from him but it was futile. He could be dead, for all he knew. Belial felt numb, ice-cold. He tried to remember… Azazel. Azazel had tortured him. He was going to kill him and he called him…

But the Dark One had arrived. Maybe then, he was dead after all.

The angel leaned against the wall of live rock as they stood in the narrow trail carved in the face of the mountain; he didn’t need to look down to perceive the bottomless immensity before them: one could fall for years, ages before meeting the bottom of the precipice. Belial put his hair out of his eyes and carefully affirmed his feet on the narrow cornice they stood on. He looked at the angel beside him, the Head of his Order; her back was turned to him, her six huge, black wings half-closed for balance. Her lustrous black feathers shone darkly; they almost brushed against his skin. Belial’s lip trembled with his untold emotion; it was a kind of sweet torture to be so close to her. Some debris at his feet fell down the face of the precipice with a crystal-like sound.

“Follow me.” Azrael led him down the narrow trail, always with extreme care till coming to a halt at the shelter of a large monolith in the face of the mountain. “We’ll wait here”, she said. Her voice was seemingly emotionless, but it was not cold.

Belial nodded. He dozed lightly and rose his head with a start. Azrael’s voice surprised him.

“You need rest, Belial.” The angel opened his lips to reply, but she continued, “You’d better try and rest while we wait. I’ll stand watch.”

Somewhat embarrassed, Belial nodded. “As you wish.” Pause. Belial tried to find a comfortable position to take a short nap in the narrow space.

“Lean against me”, Azrael suggested.

Belial blushed; his heart began beating faster. He complied in silence, leaning against her. After a few seconds, he murmured, “May I… may I lay my head on your back?”

Azrael nodded slowly. “You may.”

Belial laid his head against the soft feathers of her back, between her mighty wings; the soft, fluffy feathers between her shoulder blades were warm; the feathers had a subtle perfume to them. Belial closed his eyes, a sharp but ever so sweet pain piercing his heart; he trembled with her proximity and a loving smile formed upon his lips. Azrael’s wings were strong and ever so soft; his own wings brushed against hers as he fell in a beatific sleep – he was in love, he was in a peak of happiness but he was also in pain. ‘I must tell her… I have to tell her I love her’, he thought. ‘I must…’

He never knew how long it lasted. He slept soundly, his cheek pressed against her feathers, her scent intoxicating him to an ecstasy. The enchantment painfully broke when his dreams were starting to bring a deeper blush to his cheeks.

“Belial”, she gently said. “The others are coming; you have to wake up.”

Belial sat up, rubbing his eyes and hoping the chilling wind would cool down his burning cheeks. Azrael peered in the Dark before them. A row of angels flew towards them from the other side of the monolith. Azrael motioned to Belial. “We must go to the other side of the mountain to catch up with them; let us go.” Belial rose and followed her across the peak of the mountain to the other side; the winds had decreased. Azrael took flight and Belial flew right beside her; moments later, they joined the company.

Long gone times would never return.

Belial’s eyelids opened slowly. The pain persisted, but most of it was gone. Belial had a small shiver but he didn’t even feel like moving. The holy energies weighed heavily on him. “Am I not dead?”, he absently muttered.

“No. You’re at my home. Welcome.” Rishta’s voice was soft, yet it didn’t have the panicked undertone that she was so used to hearing in herself. She knew what was going to happen – or at least, had a good inkling. If she survived, well, something was definitely wrong with the cosmos. Walking to a small table, she poured him a glass of tea and then took it to a table next to the sofa. “How are you feeling?” Moving away from him so he could breathe, she went and poured herself and Azrael tea. Giving her the cup, she looked curiously. “What am I supposed to do for Raziel? And what is going to happen now?”

Belial tried to focus. He did not want to meet Azrael’s gaze. Belial narrowed his eyes and suddenly realized his hands had been bandaged, covering the marks. Belial found it difficult to breathe, anger rising inside of him. He cast a sideways look at Azrael, then looked away again. “You shouldn’t have interfered”, he muttered. “Nobody asked you to.” Belial recognized the insignia on Rishta’s armor and bit his lip.

Rishta looked at Belial, his uprising getting her a bit nervous. Looking at him nervously, she placed the tea down before she spilled it. Walking to him, her balance unsteady, she looked at his side. “Please don’t move too much, I wasn’t able to fix it completely. I’m sorry, but I’m drained.” Sitting in a chair next to the sofa, she invited Azrael to sit down. Both of them in the same room… tense. Sighing, she wondered what Belial had stared at when he looked at her. Glancing down at the armor, she smiled as she saw the insignia. Daddy. “Azrael, what now?”

Azrael’s cold gaze fell on Belial. “Death is not an escape – you should know that well”, she severely said. She turned to Rishta. “Now that he is gone, you will protect Raziel’s task. You’ll be able to use his Book and the tools he trained you to use.”

Belial moved on the couch; he winced as he did but he was visibly agitated. “Maybe it is not”, he hissed. “It’s not hard to tell what the outcome will be if you take me back. You could have saved time!” Belial closed his fists and the sigils on them shone darkly. “You know that”, he muttered.

Azrael pulled the chair Rishta had offered her and sat; strange little lights and eyes showed briefly in her dark wings as she did. “Do I?”, she murmured. “I am not the one to judge you; the Council or the Order is. I was given the task to capture you and take you back, dead or alive; I have preferred the second choice. I have my reasons”, Azrael nodded, “but a greater battle is at the doorstep and I can’t keep prisoners. I have offered your people a choice. This time, if you won’t willingly follow, I will let you go; the Angelic Host needs every one of its members and I don’t have the resources to keep you against your will. Rishta might not be able to fully heal you right now and she won’t stay behind. It’s your choice, for I won’t take your life now.” Azrael forced a strange smile. “How’d you foresee the will of the Council? You can’t do that, Belial. I have never suggested they will destroy your soul, if that is what you think they would do.”

Belial’s eyes darkened in a mix of indignation and amazement. He rose his eyes to look at her cold, serene face. Belial felt like strangling her but at the same time a familiar sadness and despair filled his soul. He frowned. “Is that all?”, he coldly asked. “Will you let me go, and that is it?” Belial frowned. “If they said dead or alive, you can still complete your task… Dark One, that is what you are supposed to do.” Azrael remained immutable. Belial’s silver eyes shimmered. “Do you hate me so?”, he suddenly asked, narrowing his eyes.

Rishta looked at them, her presence seeming to have faded into nothingness. Sipping her tea, and stirring the sugar with a mechanical sameness, she reached her mind towards Michael. He didn’t want to stop… so determined to kill Azazel… Azazel. Heartless, cold… and with Autumn. Autumn… why had she left this house!? This place was a sanctuary compared to that platform! And Raziel wouldn’t have had to go after them, and then Belial would not have been summoned… and so many things would not have happened. Why did she go to that CHURCH on that day!? Getting up abruptly, she walked out of the room and into the dining hall, and glanced around the cold, deserted room. “The end has begun…”

Azrael tilted her head to the side with a bird-like air and her gaze met Belial’s. She seemed to peer inside his eyes to his very soul for an instant. “I don’t hate you”, she simply said, rather emotionlessly. Azrael’s gaze followed Rishta. She rose from her chair to follow the girl and cast Belial an inquisitive look. “Choose”, she murmured.

“Choose…?” Belial’s brow twitched; his silver eyes were flashing. “In the end it will be the same; it makes no difference”, he bitterly said. “I am a Fallen, an Archdemon; I wouldn’t have a different fate from that of Lucifer. All trace of his soul is gone, isn’t it?” Belial clutched his side and sat up on the couch with some difficulty. “I might be struck down now, but I can recover”, he hissed. “Even though you’ve captured my Legions… I can start from scratch again.” Belial pressed his hand against his forehead. “I have lost so much but still I can start again..!” He slid his hand down his face and pressed it against his lips, watching the Archangel with shimmering eyes. Belial’s shoulders sank slightly.

“You… don’t hate me?”, he asked. “You should…” He looked at the bandage on his hand with Azrael’s sigil on it. “I’d kill you if I could.” Belial paused. “Do you…” He bit his lip. “Have you ever had any feelings… about me?”, he murmured.

Azrael was surprised. Her serene gaze fell on Belial, but part of her usual coldness had receded. Azrael’s gaze turned inward, as if pondering in her heart what to answer to him. After a long instant, Azrael spoke. Slowly, like a child who must recite a lesson she hasn’t quite understood yet, Azrael let her thoughts out. “I am not supposed to have any feelings”, she said. “At least not more than those of duty and responsibility to do what I’ve been brought to existence to do. I am the Dark Angel; unlike the rest of the Angelic Host who find their strength in the Light, I belong in the Void, in the Dark; because of my work I’ve always been alone.” Azrael nodded.

“I was alone till you appeared. I knew you’d need guidance, for your powers and your skills were steadily growing; once your thirst for knowledge became to strong for you to manage alone, I took you under my wing, to guide and teach you. I let you work with me; I devoted time to you and thus I was alone no more.”

Belial wished he could shut down all the sounds in the world after hearing those words. His mind automatically wandered off, not wanting to hear anything else from those painful words. She didn’t even hate him… Belial winced, closing his fingers tightly on his half-healed wound; however the emotional pain surpassed his physical pain. He shook his head slowly, still perceiving scattered words. All he had done before to get closer to her and all he did later to nurture his hatred for her… all had been equally useless. All reduced to a task in her list of duties.

“When you joined Lucifer, I warned you, your ambitions were mislead and you’d both lose all you could get and even all you both already had. You became an Archdemon and you took with you the weapon we had forged for the Archangel the Order was to choose to lead the Legions of Death and Destruction. The Order needed someone to oppose to you and they chose me, even though I am the Head of the Order; they chose me because I volunteered.” Azrael nodded again.

The pain was a cold blade slowly piercing through his heart, making it difficult for him to breathe. Belial bit his lip till blood came out of it. He felt so absolutely defeated it was despairing. He could never reach her; this realization struck down the remains of his will to plan for an uncertain future of fights and struggle for survival. Belial brushed his hand past his forehead, trying to pull himself together. He rose his eyes to look at her. She was talking but he did not hear a thing. Belial narrowed his eyes, forcing himself to focus.

“When you left I came to realize I was alone again; I understood the difference and there was pain in my heart.” Azrael nodded slowly. “I knew in the end you would need help to find a way back. The Fall would lead you only to despair, as I showed you it could happen, in my Mirror. I can’t choose for you, but I do not wish to take you back hopeless. I’ve offered you a choice. Don’t let your hatred for me cloud your judgment, Belial; if Azazel wins you already know what to expect. If you defy the Angelic Host again, you’ll be alone. You can still have a path to follow and find your self again.”

Belial blinked. “Pardon me?” Azrael blinked too but Belial insisted, “What did you say? About… what’s… what’s this difference you understood”, he quickly added. “What’s that difference?”

Azrael blinked again. “The difference I understood…?”, she murmured. “Well. It’s the difference between being alone and sharing my life with someone else. You are the only one I’ve ever allowed close to me.” Azrael frowned slightly, tilting her head in a bird-like movement with her night sky eyes half-closed; she laid a hand on her heart. “It is strange. I just…” Azrael’s slight frown went a little deeper. “I just know“, she absently said.

Belial suddenly noticed his mouth very dry. He swallowed. “Why won’t you kill me now? The Council’s order would allow you to”, he slowly pointed out. “They said you could capture me dead or alive, didn’t they?” Azrael did not reply. “Dark One”, Belial insisted, “Why do you still offer me a choice? I have done great evil and I have tried to kill you.” There was anxiety in Belial’s eyes. “I altered your Book!”

Azrael was seemingly unmoved, yet she was now perplexed at Belial’s reaction to her words. “I’ve just… told you”, she said. “I knew in the end you would need help to find a way back; the Fall would lead you only to despair. I showed you on my Mirror it could happen; I do not wish to take you back hopeless, so I’ve offered you a choice because I know you could still have a path to follow and find your self again.” Azrael nodded and cast him an inquisitive look as he clutched his side. “I thought at first I could take you back with me”, she explained, “but then I saw that was not your wish; many things have happened ever since; but even though you’ve done terrible wrongs I still believe you can take a different path if you wish.”

Belial was dumbfounded; he opened his eyes wide. It took him a few seconds to put some order in his mind and find his voice again. “Perhaps you remember…”, he murmured, “that earlier tonight you told me… you did not understand why I composed a Ritual to split myself in Light and Darkness. I will… tell you why I did.” Belial was intensely pale. He absently brushed his hand past his forehead. “It was an accident”, he bluntly said. “I did not intend it to happen that way. After a long time after the Battles and my scape from the Abyss, I decided to use my power and knowledge on myself, risking my life to… to tear off from my soul what I thought was a burden I hadn’t been able to get rid of, ever since I crossed the Heaven Gates for the last time.” Belial winced. “I… had been trying to perfect the Ritual to remove from my soul and imprison somewhere out of me… certain feelings I could not bear to keep. I was convinced… I was sure it could be done.”

Belial leaned against the sofa, struggling to pour out the words yet part of him still refused to let out the truth. Blood flowed between his fingers clutching the half-healed wound on his side in faint streams. Belial didn’t seem to notice this. “The Ritual failed and I… found myself split in two. All I achieved it was to split myself in my Light and my Darkness, yet the feelings I wanted to get rid of persisted… on my side of Light. I had to mask it before the Others, as you know.”

“You need to rest”, Azrael said.

“I’ve not finished”, Belial hissed. “I must… tell you.” His shoulders sank slightly. He looked down and for some time he didn’t utter a word, anguish showing on his eyes and his pale face. Finally, he rose his eyes to look at her. “Do you remember when you showed me the many futures that could be… on your Mirror, the day I left the Heavens?” Azrael nodded. Belial swallowed. “What was the last image you saw? The last thing that could be seen on the Mirror…. The very last image on it, after the visions.”

Azrael took a moment to answer. “The last image… It was the two of us”, she murmured in perplexity. Azrael looked at him, noticing he was considerably more agitated. “Why do you ask me these things?”

Belial leaned his forehead on his palms. “I do because… you told me those images could show me the future that would be. When I saw the two of us on the Mirror, I realized… that was the Future I wanted. All I’ve ever wanted… was summarized there. The two of us…” His voice seemed to trail off. “Together…”

Rishta stood there, leaving the two alone for some private time. Obviously, these two knew each other and had some issued that needed to be working out. This is not how I thought we all would end up… and to think I thought there was a chance we could avoid this war… Sighing, she indicated for some servants to clear up the dining room, her appetite gone: and she doubted many people would be alive to have dinner when this was all over. Becoming very tired of the room, which to her had become cold and lonely, Rishta walked back to Azrael and Belial, coming into the room, not hanging out by the doorway – so they would not think she had been intruding. “How are you feeling Belial?”

Belial’s wings moved slightly, snapping out of his daze as Rishta came back into the room. He moved his hands away from his face but he did not look up at the girl. After a few seconds, his lips moved. “I don’t know”, he muttered in reply to Rishta’s words. He stared down at his hands, bandaged and tainted in his own blood. Belial shook his head slightly and motioned to stand up with some effort, pressing his hand on his half-healed wound and trying to get his own wings out of the way.

Azrael’s eyes widened slightly. She stared at him with a blink. “I don’t understand”, she said. “We were together before.” She touched his shoulder to stop him. “You need to rest; you’d better stay there and lay down.” She looked at Rishta and blinked again. “Maybe if you allow him to, he could stay here”, she said.

Rishta blinked as Belial tried to stand, and as Azrael held him back. They had definitely had something awhile back… even a human could see that. Sighing, she looked at them carefully, a bit surprised by Azrael’s request. “Of course he can stay here. Belial, you can stay as long as you would like.” Walking back to a chair, she sat and looked at them both, a sort of lost look on her face. “What are we going to do now?”

Belial had a small shiver upon Azrael’s touch. He stared at them as Azrael asked Rishta to let him stay. His jaw was set. “I’m not staying here!”, he hissed. “I can go and solve my own problems on my own!” He was pale and agitated. “I don’t need… your help.” Belial cast a frustrated look at Azrael. “You will leave, won’t you?”, he muttered. “I have no reasons to stay.”

Azrael was confused by Belial’s words. His actions and his words pulled in different directions; the Archangel’s feathers puffed slightly and a small frown of concern formed on her forehead. She looked at Rishta, then back at Belial. “We must join the others”, she told Rishta. “The Armies will be moving soon; we must join them.” She looked at Belial and her frown deepened. “You can’t leave like that”, she emphatically said. “You’re still wounded. I need you to make a choice. I do not understand… why you said you wanted us to be together, then you say you won’t stay. What do you exactly want? You could get killed if you leave; I need to know… what choice you’ll take!” Azrael’s shadow fluttered around her feet.

“Don’t move – it won’t do you any good.” Rishta softly said as Belial struggled against their wishes. It was amazing how stubborn he was – and how he would go to great lengths just to get his way. “Sometimes you need to rely on others so you can do your best.” Rishta nodded wisely and stood. Yes, the war had begun, yes: the first blows had be dealt, now: she would join it. Memories flooded her head – the last war.. oh yes, she remembered the rivers of blood, the screams for mercy, the barbaric yells of her enemies… Memories like that never fade away. Sighing, but refusing to be daunted, Rishta looked back at Azrael, her eyes sad yet firm. “I understand – when do we leave?”

Belial felt his blood pump up to his head. He struggled to get up but he was too weak to get his way. His silver eyes flashed as he glared at the two. “What’d you know?”, he growled. “And what’s the use to stay anyway…?” Belial bit his lip. He guessed he could leave anyway after they’d leave. However… He cast an anxious look at Azrael, then at Rishta. Belial moved his wings uncomfortably like a bird in a cage that’s too small for him. Azrael was waiting. Belial winced.

“Choose…? What am I supposed to say to that?”, he bitterly said. “What I could I choose to do… when all I want…” Belial looked down and ceased to move. “All I want is you”, he muttered. “I love you, Azrael.” Belial’s eyes filled and he pushed her hand off his shoulder with one of his wings. “I’ve loved you ever since I saw you the first time….” He narrowed his eyes. “I do not wish to continue living.”

Azrael’s eyes widened. She retrieved her hand and stared at him for a few seconds. The myriad of tiny lights in her night sky eyes seemed to intensify their brightness in the dark blue as a frown formed upon the Archangel’s face. She slowly rose her hand as if she were about to slap him but stopped before doing so. “I don’t understand”, Azrael murmured. “How come you now say you love me? You’ve told me you hate me. I’ve never done anything to win your favor. In any case, Death is not an escape; it is not a punishment! Death is not an end.”

The Archangel straightened her back, her face again calm. “I can’t chose for you”, she said. “You must choose on your own. I…” Azrael looked at him, and there was a strange warmth to her gaze. “I believe you can leave the Fall behind and free yourself. You’ve done terrible wrongs, but if you wish you can take a different path. It’s not going to be easy but I know you can do it, for I believe you can succeed.” Azrael rose. “What’s your decision?”

Belial gasped. He stared at Azrael with wide open eyes; he suddenly didn’t seem to care any Rishta was in the room with them. “I don’t care!”, he bawled. “I’ve just… told you I love you! Does that mean anything to you…? I tried to hate you… I did try… but it didn’t work! I tried to remove the love from my soul… and you know what happened to me!” Belial struggled to get back on his feet till he managed to stand up unsteadily. He was not exactly looking his best, but he was getting angry again yet he was anxious and anguished. “Dark One, I lied when I said I hate you… but you must believe me, I love you!” Belial winced and clasped his hand on his wound, using the chair for support. “It cannot be you don’t care…”

Azrael was again surprised. She laid her hand on her heart and felt it was racing. She looked at Belial with a blank expression as he spoke; the Archangel was confused and strangely shaken by his words in a way she could not understand. “I don’t know”, she slowly said, “but I care… about you. When you left the Heavens… I felt it in my heart. I’ve missed you. I just want the best for you; if you’d choose to be judged, I know you’d be able to win your way back home. I had never considered the meaning of what a home is… but you don’t belong in the Fall.”

Azrael summoned her Book. She chose a bookmark and opened the large tome at the mark; a long black and white feather marked the pages. “This fell from your wings when you left”, she explained. “I kept it in my Book. I’ve kept a record of your life here, since you were chosen to belong in the Order.” Azrael touched the feather. “I am not supposed to have any feelings for individuals, but I know… I feel about you.” She tilted her head in confusion. “I feel it within me”, she said, “but I don’t know what it is. I just wish you would turn away from Evil.” Azrael slowly closed her Book. “I can’t choose for you, though.”

Belial felt a mix of relief and confusion; at least she had said she cares and yet his heart longed to hear from her words of love, her feelings had fueled his hopes again. Belial was surprised to see the feather – which he recognized as one of his own – and he was even more surprised to learn she had kept a record on his life in her Book. Belial blinked. There was a certain number of personal things about him and things he had done he would rather not have her know about, and he couldn’t but to wonder if she knew about all those, too besides his activities as Master of the Dark Arts. A feeling of shame crept within him and he paleness grew intense. “Do you believe I can win my way back… despite all you know about me?”, he asked.

Azrael rose her eyes to look at him. She gazed into his eyes for an instant and suddenly, she smiled. “Yes, I do”, she said. “I believe you can.” Azrael tilted her head. “Choose”, she said. “Rishta and I will be leaving soon.”

Rishta’s face softened as she listened to their exchange. Them, together… it seemed so… so right. It was as though Belial had been lost in the dark, and found his way back to the light – Azrael. It was somehow ironic that her nickname was “the Dark One,” but Rishta knew that it was a different darkness – and obviously Belial knew that too. Quietly, Rishta walked to the doorway, turning to them, not wanting to interrupt their peace, but unable to stay silent anymore. “Azrael, if you feel here…” touching her heart, Rishta looked at the night sky that was Azrael’s eyes, “then what you feel is called love.” Letting this sink in, she turned to Belial. She didn’t know how to tell him not to let this chance slip by, why he should not die, why it would be better if he remained safe here. So, she just looked at him, then turned and walked out of the room. After all, there was a war to fight.

Belial blushed at Rishta’s sudden words as if he had momentaneously forgotten she was there with them. He bit his lip and anxiously watched Azrael to see what effect Rishta’s words had had on her. He noticed Rishta’s look to him and yet in his nervousness he didn’t fully get what she meant, he simply looked back at her with a sort of grateful look in his silver eyes. Belial bit his lip. “I choose to be judged”, he finally said. “I’ll accept the will of the Council…” He looked at her and had a bitter smile. “We’ll see what happens, I guess.”

Azrael pressed her hand on her heart and seemed to get deep in thought at Rishta’s words; she still looked confused. A faint blush appeared on her cheeks and slowly faded out as she pondered on Rishta’s words. She rose her eyes to look at Belial as he spoke and she nodded. “I am glad you’ve taken this decision”, she softly said. Azrael slowly rose her hand and shyly touched his cheek. “Let there be hope”, she told him. “I believe there is.” “You’d better stay here”, she told him. “You need to rest.”

Belial closed his eyes, leaning his head into her touch; a wave of warmth ran through his body at the soft caress. The pain disappeared; Belial felt his heart so much lighter; he still doubted but her words soothed his soul. Belial opened his eyes. “There’s no way I’m staying”, he said. “I can’t stay sitting here while you fight.”

Azrael blinked. “You are wounded”, she stated. “You can’t fight like this; you’d better stay here, Belial.” Azrael shook her head. “You need to heal and to rest.”

Belial shook his head. “I’m not staying”, he replied. “I can’t stay…” Belial leaned on the chair, the blood loss was getting to him again, making him dizzy. “How could I stay while you go and fight?” He shook his head and tried to steady his balance.

Azrael shook her head and helped him back on the couch, despite his resistance. “No… you’ve lost too much blood. You shouldn’t even be on your feet.” Azrael helped him to lay down. “No… you do need to rest.” She put his hair away from his face with some shyness. Her feelings got her confused. “Just try to rest.”

Rishta stood outside the doorway, her tall frame hiding in the shadows cast due to the candles which were placed around the hallways. Quietly, she listened to Azrael and Belial. He refused to stay. Refused to stay while she fought. If only they had come to this peace on a different night, under different circumstances. Not on the night when it was certain someone would die. What are the chances of us surviving until the dawn? I can feel it. This place, changing, darkening… It’s like I can hear the Armies of Azazel resonating in my soul – but that is impossible… It must be fear, dread – dread of the unknown… fear of War…

Continuing to listen to their conversation, Rishta came to the conclusion, that no matter what – Belial was going to be fighting. He refused to stay, and she knew that as soon as they had gone – he would follow. Really leaves me only one choice. I just hope I can do this. Uriel… why did you have to die so soon? Stepping into the room, she lightly walked over to the newfound couple. “Belial, I can seal that wound for you if you wish. I may not be as good as dear Uriel, but she taught me a few things… and if you’d like, I could try to finish what I started.”

Belial tried to resist to Azrael’s wishes but half because he was too weak to struggle and half because they had rarely been this close, he let her help him back on the couch. Belial clasped a nervous hand on the couch and he slowly closed his hand on the shoulder piece of her armor. There was a subtle perfume to her feathers he remembered well. Rishta’s voice startled him. Belial blushed. Why did Rishta always had to pop out from nowhere? Belial however nodded quickly. “Yes… please do as you say, Rishta”, he replied.

Rishta smiled as Belial agreed, for once loosing his stubborn nature. Then again, one could argue that he agreed just so he could fight. Hah. Well, they’d see who would get their way. Pulling up a chair, she sat down next to Belial and Azrael. Once again, she placed her hand on his wound and closed her eyes – beginning to concentrate once again. That’s all life has become now… get wounded, heal, then get wounded again.

Azrael had a small shiver as she perceived the tension in him when he clasped her shoulder as she helped him back on the couch. When Rishta returned, Azrael gently but quickly freed herself of his grip and stood next to the couch, a faint blush on her cheeks. Azrael let her wings drape around her as Rishta proceeded to heal Belial, her feathers lightly puffed. Azrael’s fingers rolled on a knot in her armor, seemingly distracted. She tilted her head in a bird-like movement, watching them again.

Belial stayed still as Rishta healed him, trying to keep his mind calm to help her achieve her purpose; his mind however drifted again to Azrael. He turned his head to look at her. Her lustrous black feathers shone in the candle lights; Belial perceived she was again confused and deep in thought. He looked at Rishta but still didn’t say nothing, waiting for her to finish.

Rishta’s hand and mind worked deftly, her body now used to the skill that was healing – most likely due to the fact it was forced upon her. Healing round after round. Everyone would need it sooner or later. The muscle reformed, and the skin began to crawl back over the wound. Blood dried, making the body appear as good as new. Of course, she wouldn’t be able to replace the blood he had lost, but at least this was a start. After a good few moments of silence and concentration, she was done. Opening her eyes, she looked at him. Yes, it was finished. Standing up, she poured herself another glass of tea with sugar – she needed the energy. Sipping it, she sat back down in her chair. “How are you feeling?”

Belial sat up slowly. He concentrated, checking up his senses and the state of his body; Rishta’s healing was effective, yet a general weakness still bothered him. “I feel much better”, he said with a nod. Belial touched his forehead and rose back on his feet. A number of worn out, charred feathers fell to the ground, but new ones had taken their place. Belial picked up the pieces of his armor Azrael had removed and snapped them back in place after checking the place where the wound had been. Belial put his hair away from his face. “Thank you, Rishta”, he gravely said. He turned to Azrael and rose his hands to her. “If you’d please remove your sigil…”, he murmured.

Azrael slowly rose her hands and delicately unwound the bandages she had used to cover the marks of the Scythe in his hands, removing her Sigil at the same time. She tied the bandages to his shoulder plate. The marks on Belial’s palms recovered their normal appearance, making him again able to summon his weapon. “You must wear these bands I’ve tied to your shoulder”, she told him, “till I take you to the Council, after the Battles.” Azrael nodded. “You will come into Battle with me, if you wish.”

Rishta sat there, smiling. Sipping her tea, her mind was almost at ease for a moment. But with the war on her mind, she wasn’t truly at peace. It was a chaos that she had sheltered herself from, in this manor. Now she had to face it. But all things could be fixed, as Belial had just proven to her. “You’re welcome Belial.” Sighing a bit, Rishta finished her tea, and looked at the cup for a minute. Gone, already? Just like peace. Ah well… Carpendium – Seize the Day. “Shall we be leaving?”

Azrael nodded. “Yes, we’ll leave now.” Azrael’s gaze fell on Rishta’s armor. “Cadmiel would be proud”, she said with a brief nod. She narrowed her eyes. “The Elders are to decide in which Order of the Heavenly Host you’d belong, but even though you have good healing skills and you’ve learned fast, I believe they will appoint you into the Order of Destiny”, she motioned to the armor, “in which your father belong. For this time, I’ll enlist you in my Legions.”

Belial examined the hole in his armor; he had put the pieces Azrael had removed back in place, but still the armor needed to be repaired and there was no time for that. The armor itself was able to heal, but slowly because Belial had no energies to spare. While Azrael spoke to Rishta, Belial absently sipped the tea the girl had prepared for him when he woke up, which was already cold. Belial narrowed his eyes as he did.

//I never claimed any strength beyond what fate granted me. I never claimed any knowledge beyond what duty gave me. I always took responsibility beyond what life bade me. You can never say the same.// Raziel’s mental voice flickered and faded as his body was consumed.

Belial narrowed his eyes as he sipped the cold tea.

Moloch’s pale, once beautiful face was twisted into a horrible sneer. “How do you like be to left helpless, dear Belial? Alone, with no one to call ‘ally?’ You seem to have fallen in quite well with the Host! Even they turn against you, betrayer!” Moloch cackled, more than a thread of hateful madness in her high-pitched voice. “No one loves you! No one cares about your fate other than to see your existence END! You left me ALONE!”

Belial placed the cup back on the table. Slowly and without a sound, he walked to the chamber door and stood on the threshold.

“Enough, miserable creature!!!” Azazel flourished Lufernatia, which at once burst in flames again. “I’ve had enough of you, despicable spawn of Heaven!” Azazel shot a beam of infernal power to Belial, piercing his armor and his body in a single blow. Belial staggered back, bleeding profusely. Azazel smirked darkly.

Belial closed his hand; the Staff of Simara appeared in it. Conjuring in his mind the spell he had used at the ruins of Rishta’s old home, he sought through the last hours in the chamber, tracking the familiar presences he could perceive, this time making the spell private for only his mind to see and hear.

Michael slowly stood up, shrugged his templar coat higher up onto his shoulders, and followed Rishta into the adjoining room. Just as he suspected, Azrael had brought along Belial, complete with a gruesome wound. This close to the Fallen, Michael could feel Azazel’s taint all over Belial. The angel smiled, though it was cold and grim. “There’s simply no hope for you, is there? You betrayed us first, and then, the ones you sided with millennia ago. Sickening. For your sake, I hope Azrael takes it easy on you.” His smile slowly faded as he turned to the angel of death. “I’m leaving. Azazel has to be stopped.” His templar coat flared behind him as his sword of fire and light, Ezurewrath, exploded into his hand. “This isn’t about the betrayal anymore. Innocent people are being hurt… ones that should never have to suffer for someone else’s sins. If I die, I die.” Michael turned around and started off for the front door, but stopped before he left the room, and looked back over his shoulder at Azrael. “What you do with my soul when I die is of no consequence to me,” he said, almost to himself. “You’re the angel of death. You decide.”

Belial absently changed the view to another scene.

“I am of perfect condition. And why did you save this traitor, Azrael? He betrayed us in the past, and now he has betrayed the Dark side. Belial is treacherous in either way. Why not just kill him off and do ourselves a favor?” Raphael fidgeted a little as he touched his scarred eyes. He turned to Rishta and pats her shoulder comfortingly. “Don’t worry…” Raphael said softly, “Everything will turn out well… The Dark always seems stronger… but Light will prevail.”

Belial tapped his fingers lightly on the Staff as he suspended the spell. He rubbed some dried blood off his face. I must be a mess, he thought, looking at his hands and the state of his robes. Belial rose his eyes to look at Azrael, standing next to Rishta. He asked himself if he did care about being alone, like Moloch had said he’d be. Belial knew from before he’d be an outcast to both sides – he probably hadn’t fully realized to what extent until he rebelled against Azazel. Belial bit his lip slightly. He had to admit in that instant he was truly grateful for Rishta’s attention; but despite the winds that seemed to blow against him Azrael’s care for him was a harbor in the tempest. Belial’s eyes shimmered. He’d need to wait and see what options could he get – after all… he now had a reason to survive. He rested the Staff against his shoulder, waiting.

Azrael tilted her head, sensing Belial’s spell. Despite he had canalized the spell to himself alone, she did perceive the nature of it. Azrael turned and looked into his eyes. The nature of her own feelings was strange and mysterious to her, but it compelled her to worry and to want to know what was troubling him. “We need to talk”, she told him, “but others need help now.” Azrael turned to Rishta again. “Let us go”, she said, leading the way out. Once they left the manor, they took flight back to Luna’s manor.

As Rishta heard Azrael’s words, she felt immediately grateful. Her father’s only gift hugged her perfectly, as though he had known she would need it beforehand. That was not totally impossible… but, she found one part puzzling. How did he know what size she was going to be? Rishta nodded solemnly. Her father had been an Angel of Destiny… “I would be honored to fight alongside you Azrael.” As Azrael looked to Belial, who had obviously done something she could not perceive, Rishta frowned slightly, more out of frustration then annoyance. Ah well, nothing could be done know. Walking out of her house, hopefully not for the last time, she took flight after Azrael, not wanting to think about the odd feeling in her stomach – the one that was saying that war was very close.

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