© 2014 McElroy
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
War of Wings
Brown Books Publishing Group
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Dallas, Texas 75248
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For my angel, Isabella
Never give up on fairy tales.
I love you.
abriel swung the hammer with more force than needed, and sparks flew on impact as the beam slammed into place on the joist. He hit it again for no apparent reason while around him rang out the rhythmic sounds of striking tools and cheerful singing. When construction of the community building for the Ludus Paradisus was finished, its glistening rooms and classical façade would be pristine, lovely, even spotless. Perfection. Just like everything else.
Gabriel glanced over his shoulder, and then he struck the beam again, knocking it the tiniest bit off its mark. One miniscule imperfection in this flawless structure. No one would possibly notice. He smiled, suddenly more engaged with the project, and found himself actually on the verge of whistling.
“You’re a little off.”
He turned and saw a brown-haired virtue angel watching with arms lightly crossed and head canted. A silver necklace with the word
gleamed on her pale throat. She looked more perfect than the building they were raising.
“I didn’t think anyone would notice,” Gabriel said.
She patted his arm, and were it not for the quirk at the corner of her mouth, she would have seemed completely sincere. “Don’t worry. You’ll get it in a couple hundred more years.”
Gabriel watched her walk away, arms swinging loosely and a swivel to her hips like a church bell ringing. He dropped his massive hammer and the handle just missed Raphael’s foot as he approached, his white overseer’s robe brushing the floor.
“Were you just talking to Arrayah?”
“I’m not sure.” Gabriel shook his head and started walking in the other direction.
“Why was a virtue angel talking to you?”
Raphael picked up Gabriel’s hammer and followed him behind the lines of whistling workers. They were perfectly content and ordered, none missing a beat, and always just ahead of schedule.
“The ceremony tomorrow has been moved up two hours. How is your team’s production today?”
“They’ll get it done. They always do,” replied Gabriel.
He kept walking and snatched a brown satchel from a bronze table with tools all over it.
“Where are you going?”
“To have some fun,” said Gabriel.
“What about your construction team?”
“They’re all yours.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Gabriel noticed Michael heading his way. Great. What had he done now?
“Gabriel,” Michael said, waving a hand as he approached.
“I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Gabriel turned, leaped, and with three swift down-drafts of his wings was aloft and soaring over the construction site. He began to pass the training facility adjacent to it. No sooner had Michael flown up after him than Gabriel tucked in his wings and plummeted down to land with one knee landing in the soft earth of the practice field.
“Can you not sit still for five minutes?” Michael called out, landing gracefully beside him.
“Welcome to the practice field, Michael,” Gabriel said. “It was pretty clear at the last games that you didn’t know where it is.”
“Why practice when I have no competition?”
Gabriel clutched at his chest and staggered back. Michael, stone-faced, reached down to brush a spot of dirt from his polished boot. Did the archangel never smile?
“I have to tell you something,” Michael said.
“That you have the sense of humor of a wet phoenix?” Gabriel took two strides into the shadow created by the overhang of the training facility’s closest wing. He came back with a bow and quiver in one hand and a bag of ripe fruit in the other.
“Something important,” Michael said.
Gabriel stepped to a wood-and-metal structure at the edge of the field that had a scoop drawn back by ropes and pulleys. It was a small trebuchet, and he dropped two red fruits into the bowl-shaped end of its launching arm.
“Everything is always important,” Gabriel said. “Which is another way of saying that nothing ever is.” He kicked a lever, and the trebuchet catapulted the fruit so high into the air that even his powerful eyes nearly lost sight of it. He notched an arrow and drew the string on the twelve-foot bow to full tension, his fingertips just brushing his cheek. With a soft twang
and a rush of air, the arrow launched into the sky. At the moment of its highest arc, it struck the first fruit with such force that it exploded into a red mist. His motions almost too fast to track, Gabriel drew and fired another arrow, and the second fruit—still a good forty yards off the ground—was obliterated into pulp as well.
“It has to be a mistake.” Michael had that tone of voice he used when he seemed to have forgotten Gabriel was in the room. “There’s no way you’re ready for this.”
Gabriel rounded, gripping his bow. “What did you say?”
“If my vision had been about shooting fruit and playing games,” Michael said, turning away, “you’d be the one to tell.”
“Wait.” Gabriel grabbed Michael’s arm, which gave about as much as the iron hammer had. “Just wait.”
“Something’s coming, Gabriel. I saw it.” Michael shook him off. “And you had better figure out what’s important to you.”
Michael bolted off toward a towering mountain that jutted above the range surrounding it. Gabriel, squinting at the bright light pouring from its peak, felt a headache coming on. A massive city had been built just shy of the summit, a sprawling metropolis so big that he felt tired just looking at it. The wall that formed the city’s foundation had twelve layers made up of jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, and he had forgotten what else, though he knew them by heart once. All rare and precious, of course. Michael doubtless knew them all. Even at this distance, Gabriel tracked Michael until he landed heavily near the city’s gated entrance and soon disappeared from view.
Gabriel pulled an orange from his target bag and started to pace. There was no getting around it. Michael would only act offended until Gabriel apologized and he would have to listen to whatever it was anyway. Best to get it over with. He tore after Michael on the Great Mountain.
As the ground dropped away, Gabriel cast his gaze forward again. He neared the mountain rapidly. From his elevation, he could soon see much of the inner city. The city itself was pure gold—its streets, walls, bridges—but the gold resembled transparent glass. It was a little brighter than he’d remembered. Twelve massive solid-white pearl gates surrounded the city, forming three walls. The gates were supported by pearl columns positioned directly next to each other, keeping hidden everything within the gates. All the pearl reflected light in so many vivid colors that it looked like an aurora. Taking in their splendor was almost a physical burden on Gabriel’s eyes. He typically stayed on the outskirts and forgot the magnificence of the city. With a nod to the dominion guarding the gate, he rushed through and began scanning for Michael.
He soon caught a glimpse of Michael’s broad back. It was clearly him; Gabriel recognized the same perfect posture he was accustomed to joking about. Who walked that way?
Michael continued on, jumping over a body of crystal-clear water. It was the water of life. This gently flowing body of water wound through the soil as if the land had eagerly opened itself up for the water’s pristine touch. Gabriel kicked a little dirt into it. Michael continued to ignore him. Although there was no sun, the water was never dark because it led straight up to the majestic throne that contained the source of the glorious light. The river ran from the throne’s residence at the top of the mountain down to its lower slopes, from both sides on the northeast and southwest through the upper tiers and homes of the angels. The trees that grew on its banks bore twelve different fruits each, which had the most perfect shapes and the purest colors. Gabriel snagged a couple of oranges off the branches. The air smelled of fresh flowers and citrus.
“Michael, wait!” He still didn’t stop. Gabriel launched an orange right between Michael’s wings, where it struck and bounced back. Michael finally turned around with a sigh. Gabriel approached, peeling his other orange. The skin of the ten-inch fruit parted easily, in one piece.
Gabriel took a juice-filled bite and smiled at Michael as it dripped onto the Alexandrite stone around his neck and trickled into the golden words engraved in his armor. Each of the archangels wore one of these stones around his neck, but their armor inscriptions were unique. “Have you had one of these lately?”
“No, brother, I haven’t.”
Michael’s face was much more serious than Gabriel expected. Something really was wrong. “What was all that about back there?”
Michael seemed to search for the right wording and, not finding it, looked away.
“Is this about the games? I know you’re worried about me in the air-and-ground arms spar, but you’ll make it up in the agility and concentration events.”
“This isn’t about the games. Do you ever listen? When are you going to get out of your own little world and join the rest of us in the realities of Heaven?”
Gabriel felt the juicy pulp slide down his forearm. “I’m not like you, Michael. We don’t all know exactly what we are supposed to be.”
“You are an archangel just like me, Gabriel!”
“I’m not just like you. I’m not perfect. Read your armor, Michael.” Gabriel pointed at the words
engraved in Michael’s armored chest plate. “You are the war leader, not me. Did you ever think some of us are still trying to figure things out?”
“Well, we don’t have the luxury of time anymore. The life and order of the angels are about to change.”
Gabriel’s juicy smile slowly faded. “What does that even mean? Am I going to become one of the seraphim?”
“I am not joking, Gabriel.” Michael’s brow furrowed in concern. “God has shown me an unspeakable event. I don’t know how it will come to be, but the end result will be unfathomable.”
Gabriel looked around the busy city. There seemed to be more angels walking around than he remembered, and there were so many more pristine structures. Stressful. “What end result?”
“I don’t even have the words to describe it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Michael.”
“God told me that I will soon lead the angels in this time of change.”
Gabriel took a deep breath. “So why are you telling me if you can’t even describe what it is?”
“Because He also spoke of you.”
Gabriel straightened up his posture like Michael’s. His wings felt heavy. “He did? What did He say?”
“That you will play an even bigger role than I in this time of need.”
“What?” Gabriel felt deflated. Surely Michael must have misheard.
“He said that you will protect over half of the angels of Heaven.”