Divinity, Part 1, Book 1: Before the Fall, Chapter 1

I

A cool breezed passed through Azrael’s hair as he and his apprentice, Adalyn, touched down on the steps of the Most High’s temple. It was a beautiful morning in the Celestial World. There was not a cloud in the sky to impede their flight.

Azrael landed first, his silver armor still showing tarnish from the days of war long passed. His wings were in no better shape; many of their feathers had been stained black or red from the fighting. He was a worn, but proud warrior angel.

Despite his less than glamorous appearance, he still tried to make himself presentable for his audience with the Most High. His brown hair had been cut short and he wore a new white tunic with red seems under his armor. He sucked in a deep breath and turned in time to see his apprentice hovering at his side, “Adalyn, you land this instant. Don’t forget that even now you’re in the presence of the Most High!”

Adalyn hovered for a moment before folding her wings behind her and dropping to the balls of her feet, “Forgive me, Master. I guess I’m just more used to flying than I am walking. I never understood why the Most High would forbid us from flying in his presence.”

“Ours is not to wonder why.” Azrael replied. “Just do as you have been commanded as is our mandate.”

Adalyn nodded, “I understand master, I am doing my best.”

“How is it you fought through as much of the war as you did without having to use your legs?” Azrael asked in a simultaneously amused and annoyed tone.

Adalyn shrugged, “I guess I just got lucky. There was always enough space to fly. What little time I actually spent on my feet, I was usually hiding.”

“Luck is a fickle thing. It can run out very easily. You’d best get used to using your legs. They are far sturdier than your wings and can help supplement your speed. Someday your wings could get injured and you’d be forced to use your legs to walk. Where would you be then?”

Adalyn nodded, though his words seemed cryptic, “Master… I understand. I will endeavor to do so.”

Azrael nodded, “Good.”

“I wonder why the Most High would summon us at such a late hour when he plans to take rest.” Adalyn said as she brushed a strand of blonde hair away from her face and tucked it behind her right ear.

“Such is the way of the Most High.” Azrael responded. “We’re angels; our job is to be at his beckoned call. Be patient, we will soon discover his motives behind this meeting.”

Her bright blue eyes shined with wonder as she looked up the long staircase of ivory and gold to the massive cathedral at the top.  The stairs were long and winding, and seemed to go on forever. It would not be a quick stroll for them.

Adalyn stretched her clean white wings and then folded them behind her back with a single thrust. She didn’t want to anger the Most High or her master as they made their way to his chambers. She wasn’t used to walking, but she had good enough balance to manage.

Adalyn had only been called before the Most High once or twice previously and those times were during the war. At that point, the no-fly restriction had not been imposed around the Most High’s home. Just looking at the stairs, she could tell that her legs were going to be sore.

Azrael beckoned to her forward, allowing her thoughts to escape, as he moved, “Keep up Adalyn, he’s waiting for us.”

Adalyn nodded as she adjusted her beige maiden’s dress and tightened her sash. The soft cotton tightened around her hips as her hands moved to her hair. She parted it in the middle and made sure that the few loose strands were brushed back behind her ear once again. The blonde strands flowed to her neck and shimmered in the sunlight.

Once she felt presentable, Adalyn followed close behind Azrael. Finding balance wasn’t easy for her, but she did the best she could. She found it hard to believe that the Most High’s beloved children had to walk like that every day of their lives.

It took some time for the two angels to reach the top. The stairs seemed to stretch onward forever. They were beautifully carved and perfectly smooth, but the ivory still began to hurt her feet as they were not used to continuous walking.

Once at the top, Adalyn saw two large gold statues standing with their spears crossed, blocking the entrance. Neither statue reacted to their presence as the angels approached. They looked like nothing more than large, lifeless pieces of metal.

Adalyn took a close look at one of them, examining its face. The sun gleamed from the statue’s shiny surface. Its eyes were glossed over, making it difficult to tell if they were opened or closed. She turned to Azrael with a surprised look on her face, “I wasn’t aware that the Most High employed titans.”

For a moment, it appeared as though Azrael didn’t hear her. He simply closed his eyes and nodded at the two guards. Adalyn’s eyes narrowed as she reached out to her mentor, “Master?”

As though responding to some silent command, the statues immediately came to life. What looked like nothing more than shiny metal, now looked organic as the statues pulled their spears back and cleared a pathway for the two angels. Their movement was sudden and unexpected, causing Adalyn to jump back with a slight yelp.

Azrael smirked at her reaction, knowing that this was not her first encounter with these creatures, “Why were you startled? You saw titans on the battlefield, you know?”

Adalyn nodded, “Yeah I remember, but they weren’t so… mechanical at that point. I never saw them as statues.”

Azrael shook his head as the two angels proceeded inside. Adalyn’s eyes remained on the guards as she passed under their spears. Part of her expected to see them come crashing down on her as she walked.

Once the angels were through, the massive guards closed the doorway and resumed their silent vigil. There was no further movement from them as the angels continued forward. Adalyn looked back at them for a moment, studying their stance.

After a few seconds, she turned back and followed closely behind her master. The stone tunnel was dark, but there was a bright light at the end. It was the only illumination that the tunnel had.

The next room was unlike anything a mere mortal could imagine. The cathedral ceilings surpassed the beauty of those in the mortal city of Rome. Murals of all creation covered every inch of the ceiling above them.

The tall, lead plated, windows stretched up to the top of the walls. The dome at the top had windows with multiple beautiful colors carefully laid into the panes, while the glass lower to the ground was crystal clear and looked out on a star field. Whole galaxies could be viewed from any one of the windows.

The ground was an unusual combination of stone and grass with cool mist slightly obscuring it. Adalyn’s bare feet tickled as she slowly stepped out on to the small field. It was a sensation that she was unfamiliar with, having relied mostly on her wings for travel.

The top of the cathedral was an ornate dome with several murals depicting the deeds of the Most High’s children. Hovering near the ceiling was a bright star-like orb that pulsed slowly. The silhouette of a human was in the center of the orb.

Azrael walked out onto the field and stopped directly under the orb with Adalyn to his left. There was a brief silence when Azrael closed his eyes. His chin rose slightly as though he were listening to someone above him.

Azrael opened his eyes, “Yes Master, I understand. The final pockets of resistance from those loyal to Lucifer have either been banished from the immortal realm or eradicated. Our work here is finished, the war is over, and the restoration of our world has begun.”

Again, Azrael closed his eyes briefly and then reopened them, “The mortal world has gone awry? How?”

There was a long hum before Azrael responded, “A recent increase in the wars amongst your children? So you believe that the recent increase has been engineered somehow… No, I don’t believe that the continuous fighting is coincidence either.”

Adalyn rolled her eyes, “The mortal world is continuously at war with itself. I should know. I’m the one ferrying their souls to Hell. They find new ways of killing each other all the time, what makes you think that this is any different?”

Azrael turned and glared at his apprentice, “Adalyn!”

The chamber shook with a mighty roar as a nervous Azrael turned back, “Forgive her, master. She is still ignorant of the proper decorum when in your presence. I accept responsibility for that.”

Another low hum emanated from the ceiling. Azrael smiled and nodded, “I will, don’t worry about her…”

Then his face quickly turned serious as he spoke, “Master do you believe that Lucifer is behind these events?”

The room began to tremble as though something massive had slammed into the wall. Azrael twisted his lips thoughtfully and shook his head, “No, I don’t believe so either. His powers outside the underworld are severely limited. I agree that he is most likely no longer a threat.”

There was another brief silence before he continued, “Master, is it not possible that the ones you love the most have begun warring on their own? Our prophets and our messengers ceased so long ago. Given how easily corrupted their minds can be, is it not possible that your children are warring because of their own lust for power?”

Azrael could feel an angry vibration under his feet as Adalyn defended his position, “The Church you guided and helped to create has taken over most of the known world, but they have become corrupt and decadent. Their power is beginning to dwindle. The uprisings of these new revolutionaries, who are now waging a religious war, must truly be a burden on you.”

The room trembled harder this time. Tiny cracks appeared in the wall, causing Adalyn to step back. She clenched her jaw as she looked up, “Master, with the utmost respect, they’re a savage race, not worthy of this much compassion…”

“Adalyn, be silent!” Azrael yelled out as he stepped in front of his apprentice. “You’ve said enough.”

Adalyn lowered her eyes and stepped away, “Forgive me.”

With his apprentice finally subdued, Azrael turned back to the star, “Master, do you believe it may be time for another cleansing, as it was in the time of Noah?”

The floor rumbled for a moment, causing Azrael to frown, “Perhaps not…”

At that moment, the echoes turned their attention away from Azrael. The Most High’s attention turned to the younger angel. Azrael turned nervously to his apprentice to see what she was going to do.

Adalyn closed her eyes as the floor began to tremble under her, “Yes, I do understand Master, but I do not share your faith in human kind anymore. They fight and tear one another to pieces. Would it not be better to start over and…?”

The room shook harder as an angry moan resonated around the room. Adalyn stepped back, “Forgive me, Master, it was not my intention to speak out of turn. You are right; perhaps such actions are no longer appropriate. Humanity is not so quick to believe that you are responsible for such natural events any longer.”

Azrael shook his head as the voice turned back to him. Once it quieted down, he spoke, “Very well, Master, we will investigate your suspicions to the best of our ability and report them to Michael if we see anything suspicious. Until then, we are to continue to repair the damage done to our world.”

He then bowed and turned to Adalyn, “Come, the Most High needs his rest. The battle with Lucifer and the situation in the Mortal Realm have left him weary.”

Adalyn curtseyed before following Azrael, “Rest well, my lord.”

The two angels turned and exited the massive cathedral hall. The bright aura levitating near the ceiling slowly dimmed as they exited. Adalyn looked back to see the room slowly going dark.

Neither one of the angels spoke as they made their way outside and back down the ivory staircase. The silence lingered until they reached the misty ground. It was an uncomfortable walk for Adalyn. She could feel tension in the air as she followed her master.  It didn’t help that her feet were also aching as she walked.

Neither angel wanted to face the grim reality that everything they had known was changing. Adalyn knew in her heart that their world may never be the same. Its beauty that was at one time unequaled was now healing from a war that had been over for eons.

Large fields where angels had once frolicked were now scorched from a massive flame and peppered with massive craters from demon attacks. The angels had begun restoration work, but it was mired by the remaining pockets of resistance from the war, as well as the work in the mortal world. It seemed like the restoration would never get done.

Once they had reached the misty ground, Adalyn stretched her wings and turned to Azrael, “The humans may be warring, but at least there is finally peace in the Celestial Realm. With Lucifer and his top followers finally gone, things should settle down.”

“Peace…” Azrael responded as his battle hardened features began to soften. “It’s hard to believe that something so beautiful could be so fickle. Do not trust it and never count on it lasting. There will always be darkness in the distance. It is the reason we must remain vigilant at all times.”

Adalyn nodded, “Your words are true and wise, Master. I spoke without thinking, forgive me.”

Azrael smiled, “You are still new to the way of the orders, your duties and the wars have stalled your training. The innocence you possess is not a failing. You will learn quickly. There is nothing to forgive. Do not be afraid to speak your mind around me.”

“Thank you, Master.” Adalyn responded appreciatively. “Your patience is most kind. As it was when you trained me during the war.”

“You have become a fine warrior for the Most High and I am very proud of everything you’ve accomplished.” Azrael replied, “Remember everything that I have taught you… Remember the swordsmanship, remember the techniques and the power, but more important than anything, remember to keep your heart true.”

“Yes Master,” Adalyn said obediently, “always.”

“Good, just remember everything that I have taught you…” Azrael said darkly, “and you should be safe.”

His words sent a chill down Adalyn’s spine, causing her wings to flutter. She looked at her mentor with an air of concern as she spoke, “Safe from what? Is everything okay, Master?”

Azrael blinked as though he were coming out of a trance, “Oh, um, yes, everything’s fine. Don’t mind me, I’m just feeling a little ominous right now.”

Adalyn smiled, “You’re always feeling ominous, Master. It’s like the war has made you paranoid.”

“Maybe it has.” Azrael admitted. “Would you excuse me, Adalyn? I have some work to do.”

“Work?” Adalyn asked. “I thought we were going to make for the training grounds?”

Azrael nodded, “I know, you go on ahead. I’ll meet you there later… once I’m done.”

“If you’re sure. Finding someone to spar with shouldn’t be a problem while you’re gone.” Adalyn replied.

“Good.” Azrael said. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Azrael gave Adalyn a smile before spreading his wings and launching himself into the clouds. At that moment, his form disappeared into a bright light. It almost seemed like the sun had momentarily expanded as Azrael disappeared.

Adalyn covered her eyes to protect herself from being blinded. The light lasted only a moment, but when it disappeared and she was finally able to lower her hands, Azrael was gone. There was no sign of him anywhere near by.

Adalyn could make no sense of her master’s cryptic words. Her heart was filled with wonder as she contemplated what he had said. Did he know something that could threaten the fragile peace that they had fought so hard for? He had been acting unusual recently, but Azrael was known for being eccentric.

Throughout the war, Azrael had been more than a mentor to her; he had been a close friend and confidant. No matter how much work it was, or how stubborn she could be, he never gave up on her. Part of her always suspected that he did not entirely trust her, and tried to keep her at arms length. She resented it, but he may have been trying to protect her.

After a few minutes of tossing her thoughts back and forth in her mind, she decided that it was best to just let it go for now. He had never led her awry before, so there was no reason to believe he would now. She trusted him, but made it a point to ask him to explain his words later.

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