Day One: Midday
Raphael had followed Odin to the Banquet Hall following their conversation in front of Thor’s memorial. Every Asgardian had gathered and a few distinguished members of the Holy Sefiroth, including First Lieutenant Khamiel, had been invited. Metatron, the Preeminence of the Holy Sefiroth, was notably absent.
The regal Banquet Hall was long, composed of polished white marble with black splashes throughout its design. Among the largest buildings in the land, three domes comprised its roof. Its center dome stood higher than the others on each side, and the Asgardian flag blew proudly in a calm breeze.
The twin marble doors had been left open in light of the day’s event. A few Angels and Asgardians were conversing outside. By the time Raphael arrived, Odin was mingling with the populace, and as always, he was smiling. Raphael had been all but ignored as he had arrived; it was something he’d grown used to. Even before the senseless deaths of over three thousand children, the effectiveness of the Holy Sefiroth had been called into question for allowing this war to go on for so long. Since the slaughter, questions had become accusations.
After four hundred years, everyone was ready for some type of resolution. Raphael understood that.
The king-chefs of the Asgardian Banquet Hall had put their best efforts into the day’s meal, and Raphael was immediately greeted by the aroma of freshly baked bagels, pancakes, and newly cooked, sizzling pork. The king-chefs were hard at work on the left side of the room, and Raphael smiled as he observed them. With the precision skilled masters, they quickly diced ingredients and prepared dishes made to order. Everyone in Asgard was some type of fighting genius, and only Odin could handle a knife like the king-chefs.
Conversations were going on throughout the hall, creating a low cacophony of voices throughout the room. Raphael moved through the room as a protective agent, surveying everything, ensuring that he knew where the exits were, and sizing people up to determine who might panic or try to be a hero in case of a crisis. Raphael had been a soldier for a very long time; such instincts were second nature to him.
At the head of the room, seated at a rectangular table draped with the decorative cloth, was Yang. He leaned forward, hands folded beneath his chin. He appeared to have something on his mind.
The table Yang was sitting at had room for four others, and Raphael did a quick mental check to account for the others traditionally seated for an occasion such as this; Yang, Odin, Metatron, Dominion…who is missing?
As if he’d heard Raphael’s thoughts, Yang raised his eyes to meet Raphael’s. Without changing positions, Yang merely gestured, nodding his head towards the chair at his immediate right—the one reserved for Odin.
Raphael scowled, not understanding. When Yang’s gaze didn’t falter, an uncertain Raphael moved towards the table. Yang lowered his eyes as Raphael reached the opposing side. Raphael stole a quick glance towards the crowd, and no one seemed to mind, much less notice, what he was doing. He almost felt as though he was getting away with something as he came around the table and took a seat at Yang’s right hand.
Odin had entered shortly thereafter. He quickly saw the seating arrangement and made eye contact with Raphael, who silently apologized.
Across the room, Odin appeared to laugh. Yang showed no reaction. Raphael felt like the punch line in a joke.
Raphael also noticed, for the first time, that he could hear the otherworldly sounds of an epic battle going on behind him. Fierce screams emanated as metal clashed against itself, followed by the sound of something hurting or dying—yet again. It would be healed or reborn momentarily.
As a youth, Raphael found it odd that Odin had chosen to seat a house of celebration behind a house of the dead. As he became more seasoned, Raphael understood without ever getting an explanation. Never forget, not even more a moment, that we are at war.
If Raphael had one concern about his one-time mentor, it was wondering what Odin would do when the war came to an end.
Odin quickly emceed the ceremonies after coming to the podium behind the table. Three hundred women had participated in the most recent training seminar, and a record four of them were being graduated as Valkryies. The women arrived at the ceremony dressed in black Valkryie armor, save for the helm. The graduation saw each woman take a knee and lower her head before Odin, who would complete her armor by placing the helm upon her head. They knelt as women, but they would rise as Valkryies.
As the ceremony drew to a close, Raphael had silently excused himself, heading for the front door and the library a few miles away. Yang had appeared at his right. “Raphael,” he began, keeping his voice low so the departing crowd would not overhear, “The cabinet is meeting.” He looked directly into Raphael’s eyes. “Join us.”
With that, Yang walked away. Raphael stared after him, mouth agape. Just like that, he had been appointed to a council that oversaw the affairs of Heaven, Earth, and all worlds in between.
Raphael remembered, before he retired, that he was the Third Lieutenant in the Holy Sefiroth. Now, flying with Odin and Yang towards the Assembly room off of Odin’s land, he felt like a child among giants.
Raphael landed behind Odin and Yang at the raised marble platform that led to the Assembly room. The structure was comprised of archways on its left side that allowed those passing through a scenic view of Elysium. Formerly a resting place for ranking deities who did not wish to go to Valhalla wound up here, an airborne grassy knoll off the eastern coast of Asgard. Since the massacre at Eden, the young survivors had been taken in by Kronos and Zeus, who now held sway over the land. Odin often teased Zeus, his younger, brother about his natural paternalism, which contrasted to his savage battle reputation.
The Assembly room was made of the same material as Valhalla, and as such, it was fairly dark inside. There was one small window on each wall of the room, allowing for minimal beams of sunlight to pass into the room at a downward angle. The room appeared poured, molded, and then allowed to cool into its final shape. Three onyx torch holders lined each wall above each window. A square table rose out of the floor, although there were no chairs. This was not a room in which one sat. This was a room where fate was decided.
Three other invited members were present, standing on opposite ends of the table, lost in their own thoughts. Yang entered first, flanked by Odin, to his right, and Raphael, on the left. Raphael immediately recognized Khamiel, who still bore injuries from that fateful battle at Eden. Archas, who represented the Earth-born Pangaean nation, was also present, although he seemed troubled. The other Angel was unfamiliar; young, confident, untested, and dressed in a derivative of the Seraphim garb. He bore a smaller version of the Holy Sefiroth flag on both shoulders, something which marked him as–
Raphael took a deep breath, immediately apprehensive. This is the Seraphim Leader.
As the three turned to bow, Yang immediately waved them off, proceeding to his place at the head of the table. “We don’t need to bother with that,” he spoke quickly. “We have business at hand.”
As Odin passed Khamiel, the two acknowledged each other with a smile and nod. The Seraphim Leader—the boy—only received a nod. Raphael took the spot opposite Yang at the end of the table. With his good hand, he touched the table for the first time. Cold, like the rest of the room…
“Archas,” Yang began, addressing the green-garbed, middle-aged Angel, “What of Earth?”
Archas leaned against the table, bracing himself on his hands as though a weight lifted from his shoulders. Raphael wondered what could’ve been so urgent. “My Lord,” Archas spoke gravely, “The civilized people of the Pangaean nation are being persecuted by the savages of the land, and they cry out for help. I would like to give it to them.”
“If it’s a human conflict,” Yang replied, “Then the humans need to resolve it. We cannot interfere directly.”
“I’m not suggesting we do, my Lord. But their civilization is being decimated simply for worshipping us. We gave our word to shepherd them. I’m simply requesting that we keep our word.”
Raphael was moved by Archas’ devotion to his charges. Archas knew the names of every last sentient being on the planet, including those who had perished. He took each life as his personal responsibility.
“We don’t interfere.” Yang reiterated firmly. “Doing so would violate the treaty both myself and Yin agreed too. I will not go back on my word.”
“You’ll be going back on your word, no matter which path you take,” Odin said, “If a promise must be broken here, we should break the promise that may save lives.”
“What would you have us do?” Yang inquired in a challenging manner. “Provide the civilized transients with our weapons? They’d accelerate their own self-annihilation. Would you send the Valkryie order to fight their battle? What would keep them from calling for the Valkryies every time they encountered a crisis? What would they do when the Valkryies did not appear?”
“Don’t employ sarcasm with me.” Odin said darkly. “I’m not suggesting we eliminate a campfire with a monsoon. But you lived and died a ‘transient’ life, Yang.” Odin replied, his tone dark. “You know what they face. They’re being hunted to extinction because you taught them to worship us. Pray, and it shall be delivered unto you, isn’t that how it works?”
Yang said nothing. Odin leaned in towards Yang, his eyes blazing. “They’re praying, Yang. It’s time we answered.”
Yang held Odin’s stare for a moment, and then turned back to Archas. “What are the Pangaeans praying for?”
“An end to their war, swift healing to their injuries, their missing returned…a common prayer seems to be a wish that they reach the Northern lands. They’ll be provided shelter by those who have learned to use the frozen tundra to their advantage. The natives have constructed a fortress from the ice and manufactured large weapons, meant to hold off large-scale attacks. The savages won’t come within one hundred feet. ”
Archas paused, as his proposal appeared to be given consideration. “It’s a long journey,” he continued, “And there is a mountain range to be traversed. Their children may not survive the journey.”
“We give them aid at the mountains.” Raphael spoke, having heard all he needed to hear to formulate a strategy. “How so?” Yang inquired, “We cannot destroy an entire mountain range.”
“No,” Raphael immediately replied, “But we can shake the fabric of the earth enough to open a small path through the mountains that will open at the North. We can lead the believers to this passage.”
“How?” Yang persisted. Raphael noticed Odin smiling approvingly at him and continued.
“Buffalo herds still run wild throughout Pangaea,” Raphael concluded. “Move the buffalo along the route they need to take. They’ll be given food for the long journey and the clothes will shelter them from the cold.”
This was Raphael’s first submission as a member of the cabinet, and he was pleased to see that it was being approved. Yang nodded, a smile forming across his face. “So be it.” He looked at Archas. “Go. Make it so.”
Archas nodded, bowing gratefully. “Thank you, my Lord.” As he prepared to exit, he quickly glanced to Raphael. “And thank you, sir.”
Raphael smiled slightly, bowing his head. He looked back up to catch Odin, who was proudly looking at him. “Ever the battle commander, eh?”
“I am as you made me, Odin.” Raphael acknowledged.
“If I may, my Lord,” The Seraphim Leader addressed Yang with a confidence that sickened Raphael. Had this boy ever even read about a battle?
“Yes, yes, Cutler, I know. Is this the usual business concerning Uriel?” Yang replied, irritated. At the mention of Uriel’s name, Raphael snapped to attention. “Forgive me, my lord,” Cutler continued, the confidence gone from his tone. “But the…Angel has begun killing my soldiers. If you lift your immunity, I can marshal a garrison after him and bring this savage to justice.”
Raphael frowned. Uriel is killing Seraphim? Good for him. Why?
Yang shook his head. “Cutler, I understand your frustration, and I understand you are trying to do the job your order was created for…but I can’t do that. I oversaw Uriel as a mortal, long before he became a commanding officer in the Seraphim. He has always maintained a code of honor. If he’s killing your soldiers, there’s a reason. I will not lift the immunity. I want Uriel brought here, alive, to answer directly to me for what he’s done.”
For the briefest of moments, Cutler seemed enraged. It passed quickly. Cutler nodded, his voice tense as he spoke. “As you wish, my Lord. But as long as my hands are tied in the pursuit of this fugitive, he continues to be a threat against the Kingdom.”
“Sounds like he’s more of a threat against you.” Raphael interjected. He then turned to Yang. “Why is Uriel wanted?”
Yang shook his head. “I can’t go into that right now.” Yang re-addressed Cutler. “But my order stands. Your men are not to go out of their way to arrest Uriel. If you see him in the commission of a crime, do what you must, otherwise, leave him be.”
“Yes, Lord. But my people must be free to defend themselves.”
Yang shrugged. “It’s their lives. I advise you to commit your efforts elsewhere.”
Cutler nodded, shooting Raphael a dark look. Raphael nearly reached for the sword at his hip.
“Khamiel,” Yang said, addressing the patient, wounded Angel, “Where is Metatron?”
“With due respect, Lord Yang,” Khamiel replied, his voice deep and thick with the accent of one native of the scorched hunting lands to the East. “Metatron has asked that I deliver this information to you before I speak on that.”
This was perplexing, but Yang nodded, gesturing with his hand. “Speak.” He invited. This was the first check-in from the Holy Sefiroth since the Slaughter of the Innocents; nothing could be taken for granted. If Metatron couldn’t be here, there was a good reason for it.
Before Raphael’s eyes, the top of the table began to shimmer as though light was attempting to break through. The light flattened on the surface of the table and came together to form a transparent map of all Heaven. Raphael, awestruck, reached down to touch the map, and his hand passed through the light harmlessly. As he surveyed the landscape, he saw that the map was almost current. The destruction of Heaven’s biggest cities, and the attack on the Capitol earlier that day were represented. An unwelcome flash of familiarity passed through Raphael as he remembered the dying Valkryie.
“Sir,” Khamiel said to Yang as Odin stepped in to look over the map. “We should move the Holy Sefiroth out of the main cities. Yin’s focus no longer appears to be on Yethra or Yevah…” Khamiel touched the map as he spoke the names of the two cities, and the blue flag of the Holy Sefiroth appeared in each location to signify their presence there. Each of Khamiel’s touches appeared to be drops of water, rippling throughout the map.
“The attacks have been reduced?” Yang inquired. “No,” Khamiel quickly replied, “They’ve stopped altogether. We haven’t seen so much as an imp in nearly a year.”
All present were stymied by this new information. “It makes sense,” Khamiel spoke easily, as though addressing groups of people came naturally to him. He gestured with his free arm. “The combined population of Yethra and Yevah once exceeded seven million. There are now less than two hundred Angels between both cities. Yethra and Yevah are ghost towns. Everyone else has been driven inward, towards the safety of the capitol city.”
“That safety has been compromised.” Raphael interjected. He pointed towards the Capitol, but didn’t touch the map. “The Capitol building was attacked earlier today.”
“We know.” Khamiel returned. “Had we been here, we may have been able to drive them off.”
“What if…” Raphael spoke the words as they came to him, “…what if this was Yin’s entire plan in the first place? The Holy Sefiroth is spread thin all across the Kingdom, our major cities lie in ruin, everyone is gathered in one place…why kill an ant when you can crush the hill?”
Odin and Yang reeled. “We need to recall the Sefiroth. Immediately.” Yang seethed. “I’ll send a Valkryie unit in the meantime.” Odin assured Yang, his voice grave.
“What about the Seraphim?” Raphael asked, challenging Cutler, who immediately looked at him, “It’ll take the Holy Sefiroth at least a day to return here, double that for the fastest Valkryie, but the Seraphim can appear anywhere they wish simply by envisioning that location.”
Cutler nodded, looking to Yang. “I agree.” The answer surprised both Odin and Raphael. “We could hold off almost anything Yin could send our way.”
Yang shook his head, placing on arm on Cutler’s shoulders. “I appreciate your willingness, but your charge must take precedence.”
Yang turned Raphael. “We should be able to hold off for one day.”
“So long as Yin doesn’t send all of Hell our way, we should.” Raphael grumbled.
Yang ignored him, turning back to Khamiel. “Now, about Metatron?”
Khamiel took a deep breath as he braced himself for what was coming. “He’s missing, my lord.”
“WHAT?!” The response was involuntary from Raphael, but everyone present had the same reaction. “He has not been seen since the Slaughter of the Innocents.” Khamiel finished. “We believe he may have been captured.”
Raphael began to pace. Metatron was one of Heaven’s most powerful, and knowledgeable Angels. He had led the Holy Sefiroth for almost two centuries. He had been wounded more than a dozen times in battle and hadn’t missed an encounter since the day he enlisted. He could even withstand exposure to Hell for limited periods of time. He’d done so in the past. He was as tough as they came.
There was no way Metatron would ever crack under pressure, but Yin had horrible ways of keeping someone alive—and everyone had their breaking point. Still, Metatron had such a powerful life force that everyone in Heaven would feel it when he died. Raphael was certain; Metatron was still alive.
“How certain are you that he’s been captured?” Raphael asked.
“The information I passed along was given to me in a Reach, although he seemed under duress,” Khamiel responded.
Raphael exhaled. “Then I’m going to go get him.”
Yang exhaled, nodding. “I figured that you would say that. Bring him back to us, Raphael, but remember, you have a duty to fulfill here in two days.”
Raphael nodded. “Yes, my Lord.” Raphael had no faith in the Nexus Stone plan, nor did he have any illusions about what he was about to do. He had never been to Hell, and Metatron was the only one who had made the journey and come back.
Getting Heaven’s greatest commanding officer away from the enemy took priority over any half-baked plan Yang might have come up with to end this conflict. Raphael shot a last look at Odin, who nodded respectfully at him. Before Raphael could depart, Khamiel called for him. “Raphael,” He said simply, “I am going with you.”
Raphael opened his mouth, and Khamiel opened his hand to hold him off. “I don’t want to hear about my injuries. If I wasn’t a capable soldier, I wouldn’t have been promoted to your rank after you retired. Metatron is my commanding officer as well. I owe him this.”
After a moment, Raphael nodded. “Alright.”
Side by side, Raphael and Khamiel exited the Assembly Hall. From there, they would descend into the bowels of Asgard – into Nifleheim, where the bodies of Odin’s family lay in icy repose. They would pass into Tartarus, Hell’s first circle, and then into the fiery mainland itself. Raphael planned to rescue Metatron no matter what it took.
He did not expect to return home.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.