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Original Fiction The Salvation War - Pantheocide

The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 59

LTR

Don't Look Back In Anger
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Lemuel's Home, Eternal City, Heaven

"Is there any word of Maion yet." Lemuel paced backwards and forwards, marking the hours as they crawled by. "Time is running out."

"Don't sweat it old friend. I told you that I would allow nothing to happen to your beloved."

"But we have no idea where she is. How can we rescue her when we don’t know where she is."

Because I do know exactly where she is, dummy. The only real problem is that I can't tell you that I know where she is so we're going to have to find out another way. Of course, knowing the answer always helps to solve any problem.

"We find out. We've used up all our resources and got nowhere. So, we call on people whose abilities are far beyond ours and who never stop asking questions. As I told you, humans. In particular, somebody who does work for me. Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss."

"He is a great warrior?" Lemuel didn’t sound that hopeful.

"No, he keeps my household books in order."

"A book-keeper. Michael, we don't have time for your jokes."

"Yes, my book-keeper and arguably the greatest mathematician who ever lived. That's what we need now." Michael-Lan stopped and raised his voice. "Johann? Have you got all the information you need."

The human who came in was an inoffensive-looking man struggling with a great pile of scrolls. He barely made it to a table before losing his grip on them and sending them cascading over the floor. Looking at the chaos he sighed, muttered some words under his breath and started to gather them all up again. Watching the display, Lemuel nearly burst into tears. Then, the human peered owlishly at Michael. "I have everything I need, yes. All these maps, the Eternal City is so much larger than I thought. But I have them all."

"So, where is Maion likely to be held?" Michael-Lan was entranced, he'd always thought Gauss was a humorless old stick but the man was putting on a spectacular display of eccentricity.

"Maion. Maion? Oh yes, the angel who disappeared." He started scrambling through the scrolls again. "Here we are, she vanished from here did she not? Ah yes, the sight of an earlier bombing, that is very important. It allows us to use recursive analysis you see, with an asymptotic expansion to truncate the series. Now, any real number is said to be computable when there is a computable sequence converges effectively to it. So, with the abduction taking place at the same point as the bombing, we have our convergence point. This is very fortunate for a coincidence of position between these two coordinates allows us to modulate any desired level of accuracy. You follow me so far?"

Michael-Lan kept quiet, but Lemuel charged in with colors flying. "I follow you, yes."

"Well, you will understand than that a recursive natural number has an inherent error function that indicates exactly how far through the sequence of data we must progress in order to guarantee that the sequence has converged with the desired level of precision. Now, all the bombings over the last few weeks give us an exemplary data set. I assume that you realize that any real number which happens to be rational is, on this definition, straightforwardly computable, but not every computable real need be rational? And from this it follows naturally that by plotting the positions of the bombings, we can calculate the convergence point at which the command facility must be located."

"Of course." Lemuel tried to stop his eyes rotating in circles while the mathematical theory flowed around him.

"Very well then. Intuitively, a real number is computable if it can be approximated to an arbitrary degree of accuracy by an algorithmic method. By doing so, we create a series of paralexic synchronizations that define the intersection of the calculus and geometry of the statistical universe. Within those amphibolic subluxations, the set of all computable real and definable locations are intimately related to a set of rational conclusions that are, of course only denumerably infinite, while the set of all real locations is uncountably infinite. Since all real locations are either computable or noncomputable, this means that 'most' locations are noncomputable and can therefore be discarded from the calculations. Thus eliminating the noncomputable from the denumerably infinite we are left with only the computably rational. In fact, as is always the case with such non-metachorindal data sets, there is only one possible location that fits both the statistical universe and the paralexic homeomorphism. The young angel must, mathematically, be here." Gauss put his finger decisively on one of the scrolls, exactly where Michael had told him to put it.

"Right, now we can get moving. Lemuel, go to the Headquarters of the League of Holy Court and assemble a strike team." Michael watched Lemuel-Lan vanish through the doors on his mission of mercy. Then he turned to Gauss who was picking up the scrolls. "Johan, I've got to ask. How much of that little speech made any kind of sense?"

Gauss's eyes twinkled. "Michael-Lan, it wasn't just nonsense, it was demented nonsense. It sounded good though, yes?"

"Very good. I owe you for this."

"No, Michael-Lan, It is still I who owe you a great debt. It was you who made it possible for me to make peace with my estranged son."

Outside the Headquarters of The League of Divine Justice, Eternal City, Heaven

"Does everybody know what to do?" Lemuel passed word around the group in a theatrical whisper.

At this point Michael-Lan really wished he could have brought a human SWAT team up for this job, working with professionals made everything so much easier. Still he was stuck with angels and it just had to be that way. This was what made the whole plan so risky, there were so many points where things were the way they were because that was how they had to be. It was why he had to place himself at the center of things, time after time. Angels were unimaginative, set in their ways. Our enduring assumption that we are right because we are angels and angels are always right is probably our greatest single weakness. We just couldn’t adapt easily to changing circumstances. Thank you for that Yah-Yah, thanks to your assumption of infallibility, I doubt if we can adapt to the coming defeat as well as the daemons down in hell did.

The focussed trumpet blast from the assembled angelic assault group shattered the wall that surrounded the old temple that the League of Divine Justice used as its headquarters. The one I told them to use as their headquarters anway Michael thought to himself. He sensed the angels around him had already gathered their power and shaded his eyes as a blinding glare of the purest white light shone from them. Then, while the guards in the ruined temple were still disorientated by the trumpet blast and blinded by the glare, they stormed across the narrow gap and climbed the destroyed wall.

Michael-Lan quickly assessed the situation and came to the conclusion it was safe to do so before heroically hurling himself into the fray. Lemuel was engaged in a sword fight with a half-blinded member of the group. Michael recognized him as Qaphsiel-Lan-Shekinah and concluded he had probably been checking the guard when the attack had started. Worse luck for him although any chance that he might survive this night was already on the outer edges of utterly implausible. Qaphsiel caught sight of Michael and managed to gasp out "Mighty General. . . ." before Michael's sword, fully charged with all the energy he could muster sliced deep into him. As it did so, the sword discharged and Qaphsiel glowed briefly with the intense white light that was characteristic of the Angelic Host before he died.

"Come on, old friend, you must be slipping. Made a bit heavy weather of that one didn’t you?" Michael caught Lemuel by the arm and made a great show of quickly steadying him. "This is just like old times isn’t it?" Michael made sure his voice was a properly enthusiastic roar while he quietly thought to himself I always made a point of being at the head of the charge back then. How could I have been so stupid?

Another of the late Qaphsiel's men was trying to escape through the shattered gates. Michael ran over to him and struck him a mighty blow that severed his body from the neck to the groin. No need for a charged sword on that one. Edged steel was perfectly adequate. He took a look around him and saw that the assault team was already penetrating the inner sanctum of the ruined temple. It was time to encourage them onwards so he followed them over, hanging back just long enough to make sure that the last of the angels outside the building was cut down and killed before he reached the front ranks. The door was shuddering under the blows. It caved in and Michael, this time, really did lead the charge inside. There are times to lead and times to follow he thought to himself and now it really is time to lead the charge. A hashmallim angel was in his way and Michael parried his thrust, the sparks showering from his fully-charged sword as it clashed with his opponents. The parry was strong beyond the hashmallim's ability to counter and his sword went flying across the room. Michael struck him down, feeling the steel edge bite deep and the energy flow from the sword into his victim's body. With his recuperation system shocked and disrupted by the energy influx, the hashmallim fell and died.

Onniel's Prison Cell, The Headquarters of The League of Divine Justice, Eternal City, Heaven

Onniel had no idea of how many days she had been held prisoner in the awful place. She had been snatched from the street while she had been searching for somewhere to live. Then all her possessions had been taken from her and she had been thrown naked into the terrible cell. She had sat there in absolute darkness and complete silence, alone and apparently forgotten by everybody. After a while the silence had appeared to vanish and she started to hear quiet, gentle noises. A rushing sound, the beating of a drum, a strange creaking that would never quite end. After a while, to her horror, she realized that she was hearing the sounds of her own body, the noise of her breathing, the beating of her own heart and the creaking of her bones and joints. As she sat in the silent blackness of her cell, her mind shrank away from the nightmare that had engulfed her and retreated deep inside herself.

There, it remained when the silence was broken by crashes and the screams of the dying. Without any warning, the door to her cell was thrown open and a brilliant light flooded the darkness. Amongst other things, it completely blinded her. Eyes that had spent days in total darkness couldn't accommodate even the diffuse light of a heavenly night. Onniel found herself being picked up, dragged to her feet and a robe draped around her. From its feel, it was of the finest quality, smooth, soft and light. A voice whispered in her ear, it was a whisper although to ears accustomed to complete silence, it was a deafening boom. "When I prod you, just say. 'That's her, that's the bitch, by the command of He Who Must Be Obeyed, take her away for punishment.' That and no more." The whisper ended and Onniel was dragged from her cell.

Maion's Prison Cell, The Headquarters of The League of Divine Justice, Eternal City, Heaven

Maion's terror had subsided during the hours she had been held in her cell. The blackness had lasted for only a few moments before light was restored. After that, whoever had snatched her from the street had been very nice to her. They had spoken to her through the door, when she had asked for water they had brought her some. They had even asked her what she would like to eat and they had brought what she had chosen. She guessed she was being held as some kind of hostage and rationalized that she was being well-treated so her value would be greater.

Then, the sounds of fighting had erupted outside and she had moved away from the door. That had proved to be a wise decision for the door had exploded open, fragments from its wood lancing across the room. Two angels, Erelim she guessed, were standing there. "The Lady Maion-Lan-Lemuel-Lan-Michael?" The question was obvious.

"I am. Have you come to rescue me?" Maion was secretly pleased by the respectful address.

"By order of Lemuel-Lan-Michael and the Great General Michael-Lan himself, we are. I am Ephom-Lan-Sezotah. Please come with us."

"Thank you, just, thank you." The Erelim smiled at her and led her from the cell. "Are Michael and Lemuel here?"

"They are, but they are involved in mopping up the last shreds of resistance. Michael-Lan himself led the charge into this building you know." The Erelim's voice was full of respect for Heaven's great general whose gallantry was known to all just as his generosity with human contraband was known to comparatively few.

Then around the corner came a group of Erelim, clustered around a woman, one finely dressed and obviously of great importance by the way they appeared to defer to her. To Maion's horror she recognized Onniel, ex-Wife of Lemuel-Lan. Onniel strode imperiously amongst her guard, then stopped and gasped. "'That's her, that's the bitch, by the command of He Who Must Be Obeyed, take her away for punishment."

One of the Erelim escorting Onniel moved forward. "I am Abszin-Lan-Azrael. By Order of the Great Father Of Us All, I command you to yield Maion to our custody."

"I am sorry Lady Maion. Ordered in the name of The Most High, I have no option but to obey. Please go with them but be sure, I will tell Michael of this and he will see to your safety."

Maion stepped forward and the guards seized her, hustling her and Onniel out of the building. Behind her, Ephom shook his head sadly and went to find Michael and Lemuel.

He met them coming the other way down the corridor. Both were stained with the white and silver blood of the angels who had been in the building. There were no survivors from the League of Divine Justice, Michael's private orders had been very specific on that point. Ephom knew that the members of the League here had been told that if they didn’t fight too hard, they would simply be detained and released. But, they had all committed a capital crime, they knew too much and since they were not part of the core conspiracy, they would have to go. By the time they had realized they were fighting for their lives, they had already lost them.

"Ephom-Lan." Michael's voice was tired but exultant. "have we found Maion yet?"

"Yes, Mighty General. Maion was safe and well. But a group of The One Above All's guards arrived with Onniel. She ordered them to take Maion into custody and they did so, in the Name of He Who Must Be Obeyed. Onniel was dressed in fine robes and ornate with jewelry. When she spoke, the guards treated her with great deference and obeyed her in every respect."

"Why did they take her away?" Lemuel's voice was agonized.

"They did not say. Only Onniel spoke and she said that Maion was to be punished for her crimes. I know of no such crimes, Greatest of Heaven's Generals."

"Perhaps she has committed the most serious crime of all." Michael spoke with solemn gravity. "She may have offended one upon whom The Great Father Of Us All smiles." Inside, Michael-Lan was exultant. My little play had gone off to perfection. Ephom-Lan and Abszin-Lan have performed correctly and now it seems to everybody not in on what really happened here that Onniel has caused Yahweh's guards to take Maion away for some unspecified punishment. We've even managed to get Azrael implicated and linked to Yahweh.

"Michael-Lan, was everything we have done here for nothing?"

"Of course not old friend. Maion is out of the hands of these brutal terrorists and safely in the hands of He Who Shall Not Be Named. There she will be safe for who can doubt the everlasting mercy of His Peerless Self You, for a start, by the time this game is finished. "Once we have cleared up here, we will go back home and I will inquire at The League of Holy Court. They will tell me where Maion has been taken and we will rescue her from her plight. I fear Onniel was a more spiteful and vindictive ex-wife than you realized old friend." And if she is, then it will make her fate even more deserved. By now she will be dead and her body will never be found.

Michael wrapped his wing comfortingly around Lemuel's shoulder. "Come, old friend, we can leave the final work to our comrades here. We have our wounded to care for and Maion to find. It's time for home."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 60

LTR

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Headquarters, League of Holy Court, Eternal City, Heaven

"Ephom-Lan-Sezotah. You were in charge of the party charged with the rescue of Lady Maion-Lan-Lemuel?"

"I was, Mighty General. Until, as I told you, the servants of The One Above All took her from us."

"Do not be impertinent Ephom. If I require you to repeat a story for a thousand millennia, that is what you will do. Who led the servants of The Most High?"

"He did not give his name, but I believe it was Abszin-Lan-Azrael." Ephom-Lan spoke the desired sentence with just the right degree of reluctance."

"Azrael?" Lemuel-Lan gasped the name in shock. "But we know Azrael-Lan was behind the terrorist groups responsible for the bombings. Does his treachery reach so high?"

"That, we shall find out." Michael-Lan's voice was grim and foreboding. "Find Abszin-Lan-Azrael without delay and bring him here. And find out where Azrael-Lan is." You won't. I've got his badly-injured body tucked away in my private estate a long way from here.

Lemuel watched as Michael-Lan started pacing impatiently around the main room in the League of Holy Court temple. He wished that he could do the same, but the weight of misery and fear for Maion's safety that weighed down upon him seemed to crush any effort he might make. Instead, he just sat there, watching the bright white light of Heaven and trying to pray for Maion's safety. Suddenly, he realized the sheer futility of what he was doing. Maion had been taken on Yahweh's orders, she was being held somewhere at his command. Prayers would do nothing to save her, it was Michael with his strange team of angels and humans who were his only chance of seeing her again. With anguish in his heart, Lemuel realized that he desperately wanted to be with her again.

His descending spiral of misery and despair was interrupted by the doors banging open as Ephom-Lan-Sezotah returned with Abszin-Lan-Azrael. He leapt to his feet, the cry of "Where is she?" echoing around the temple.

"Quiet Lemuel." Michael-Lan's voice was calm and controlled. "Abszin was just obeying orders from his master as was his duty. Abszin-Lan-Azrael, what happened after you took the Lady Maion-Lan-Lemuel from the temple after we freed her from her captors?"

Abszin-Lan took a deep breath, ostensibly to steady himself, actually to make sure that the story he had been given by Michael-Lan was properly presented. "We took her to the Ultimate Temple Mighty General. There, we were met by other guards who were charged with taking her to the place of her imprisonment. They left to the east and returned within an hour."

"Why was she taken? Were you told this?"

"The other guards said that she was charged with treason and associating with those committing treason against The One Above All and His most trusted followers."

"Very well Abszin-Lan-Azrael, you may go now." Michael waited until Abszin had left then turned to Lemuel. "There you are old friend, your beloved is quite safe. Half an hour to the east suggests that she is in the detention camp set up by The Great Father Of Us All for those who were conspiring against him. I think this is just an error, that nobody realized there would be innocent prisoners at the headquarters of the terrorist group. Maion is in the Ever-Merciful Hands of Our Father, all we need to do is go there, explain the situation and she will be released, I am sure."

Lemuel was both doubtful and relieved. "Then why was Onniel there to condemn her? No, Michael-Lan, there is more to this than you think. Have you ever been to this detention camp?"

"No, there is no reason why I should. It is He Who Must Be Obeyed's own project. Since Hell is no longer available as a destination for those who conspire against him, He had to find another solution. But, I know roughly where it is. We should not take too long to get there. Come, old friend, we are nearly at the end of the quest."

Belial's Concentration Camp, Heaven.

"What horror is this?" Lemuel was aghast at the sights below him. There was a giant rectangular encampment, surrounded by what appeared to be gray stone walls on which angelic guards were patrolling. Inside were angels, obviously the prisoners of this truly Hellish creation, dragging themselves around. The inside of the camp had been churned into thick mud that had spread to smear and stain everything in its path. Worse than the sights was the dreadful stench that rose into the air, it was obvious that there were no sanitary facilities within the compound and the angelic waste had blended into the mud to form a dreadful ooze. Even that failed in sheer awfulness to overcome the sounds of despairing wails and moans from the prisoners within.

"I do not know." Even Michael-Lan was genuinely shocked by the camp below. He hadn't realized how thoroughly Belial would create a fair imitation of the Hellpit here. Still, all for the best. This is the one critical part of the scheme and the worse this place is, the better. "I had no idea that Yah-Yah would create something like this." He stole a sideways glance at Lemuel but the deliberate blasphemy had been ignored, overwhelmed by disgust at the sight beneath.

"Why do the prisoners not just fly over the wall?" Lemuel was having difficulty speaking so great was his shock at the sights below.

"I do not know that either." Michael looked down and picked out the main entrance. "Lemuel, I do not know what is going on here or who is responsible for this. Just follow my lead, is that clear? I'm going to bluff our way in."

He backwinged suddenly and landed in front of an entrance flanked by two buildings. As he walked towards them, two angels, Hashmallim by the look of them, hurried out to stop them.

"You can't come in here."

"Can't?" There was a menacing level of surprise in Michael's voice. "Do you know who I am?"

"Yes, and it doesn’t matter. Nobody is allowed in here without permission from Belial or The One Above All." The hashmallim smirked at the thought that he was giving the Mighty General Michael-Lan the run-around.

Michael just stared at him and his hand moved to grasp the angel. The hashmallim was suddenly pinned against the stone wall and was choking. "I find your lack of respect . . . . disturbing." Michael's voice was still calm and dead level. I've been wanting to say that for years.

He held the grip until the Hashmallim collapsed to the ground. Then, he turned to the other angel. "Any questions?"

The Seraphim gulped and shook his head. "Good, then open that damned gate! We are looking for the Lady Maion. Where is she?"

The Seraphim shuddered at the venom behind the question. "She is a new arrival. She will be in Section Six. The guards will be breaking her in there."

Michael simply glared at the hapless Seraphim. "I will remember you." Then he stalked through the opening gate, Lemuel following close behind.

The sight inside was far worse than anything they could have gathered from the air. The stinking mud that coated the inside of the compound rose high around their feet and stung even this peerless skin. In front of them, the prisoners were moaning with anguish as they tried to move in the all-encompassing filth. Lemuel only needed one glance to understand why none had attempted to fly out of the camp, at some point, they had had their wings methodically and comprehensively broken. From the look of some, the broken bones had started to heal and had then been broken again. After repeated breaks, the wings were healing deformed and he doubted if they would allow the angels to fly again. That was assuming they got out of this place.

"Has Yahweh gone completely mad?" Lemuel's voice was numb with shock. "How could he allow this?"

"You heard him. 'All the pains of Hell', he said. We all thought he was being his usual bombastic self. We never guessed he meant it. And did you hear who is in charge here? Belial, a refugee from Hell itself I guess. Yahweh wanted to recreate Hell, and he brought in a surviving daemon lord to do it for him. We'd better find Maion fast."

Michael set off at a determined pace, looking for Section Six. Around them, the crippled angels were trying to beg for help and food. To his mounting anguish, Lemuel realized that they weren't just crippled, they were far more than half-starved as well. Fortunately, on a number of levels. Section Six was quickly located. It was barely distinguishable from the others only, to Lemuel's eyes, the prisoners hadn't been starved yet and they were in marginally better condition. Beside him, Michael was quickly scanning through the figures that surrounded them. Finally, he saw the one he was looking for.

"Maion. She's over there. Hurry up old friend, we haven't got much time." He strode off, ignoring the mud and filth that was splashing over him.

"Don’t hurt me any more. Please . . . ." Maion's voice was a pathetic whimper. To Lemuel's horrified gaze, she was bloodstained and battered, her wings savagely broken and trailing in the filth that surrounded her.

"Maion, it's us. We've come to get you out of here." Michael's voice was comforting and consoling as he knelt beside her.

"Michael? You came? I was praying for . . . "

"Maion, did I not tell you that you are one of my people now. That if you got into trouble I would come and get you? You are one of us, Maion-Lan-Lemuel-Lan-Michael, one of my people and that means if they you help, it is for me to succor you. Leaders serve their followers Maion, just as much as followers serve their leaders. And Lemuel wouldn't leave me alone until we found you and came to your aid."

The words spoken by Michael cut through Lemuel's stunned consciousness. He had heard them before, from Charmeine-Lan. "Michael, you. You are the leader of the Montmartre Club."

"I am, Lemuel, and I have been trying to protect people who were at risk from Yah-Yah's growing insanity. I have been trying to save as many humans as I could from the Hellpit and give them some sort of life in Heaven. Now, I see I have failed." Michael theatrically sagged and started to weep.

Beside him, Lemuel put his arms around Maion and tried to comfort her. Instead, she screamed in renewed agony as his movements caused the jagged ends of bone in her broken wings to grate against each other. The sound clouded his mind with sheer fury. "Michael, what do we do?"

Michael gave every appearance of recovering from his breakdown and he drew himself up. "We must first get Maion out of here. That was and is our first priority. She's been very seriously hurt, her wings look so badly broken that I doubt if she will fly again unless she gets some very special care."

Maion was struggling to speak but the pain form her injuries kept breaking through. "Michael-Lan, you came just in time. One of the guards here said that Onniel had ordered my legs be broken as well. Please, help me."

"What do we do?" Lemuel was weeping uncontrollably.

"We can do nothing here. There are only one group of people who can treat injuries this severe and still allow the victim to make a full recovery."

"Humans?"

"That is right, humans. Lemuel, you must get Maion to the humans. They can cure her wounds and restore her body. We can create a portal to earth from here and you can take Maion through it." Michael turned his attention to Maion and his voice softened. "Maion, you are going to Earth for treatment. It will hurt as you go through the portal but you'll be out of here at least. Just be brave for a few minutes longer."

"What are you going to do Michael?" Lemuel had thought the situation through and saw that Michael-Lan was right. Maion's only chance lay on Earth.

"I will go to the Eternal City and confront Yah-yah. I cannot believe that he knows what goes on here. He has been mislead by bad advisors and tricked by Belial. Once he knows what is happening here, he will make things right. You, on your part, tell the humans of this. Beg for their aid in treating these wounded. Humans are very strange, they will kill without mercy yet present them with a scene like this and they will go to unimaginable lengths to aid the sick and wounded. Bring the humans here and try to save these people."

"Michael-Lan, it won’t work. The All-Seeing must know what goes on here." Suddenly all the pieces that Michael-Lan had so painstakingly crafted fitted together in Lemuel's head. "Michael-Lan, he doesn’t just know, he planned this. He knew there were those who opposed him so he used us to catch them. He used Azreal to cerate the terrorist movement so he would have an excuse for this. Michael, remember I asked if Azrael's treason went so high? Well, it didn’t, it started so high there is nowhere higher. Yahweh was behind the bombings, I am sure of it and he did it all to justify creating this place to punish those who were questioned him."

"I greatly fear you might be right." Michael-Lan put exactly the right amount of doubt and anguish into his voice. Well done Lemuel, you put it all together. Now, lets see if you can make the obvious final jump. His face settled into an expression that combined grandeur, nobility and offended honor. Michael was quite proud of the expression, it was one he practiced in front of a mirror often. "What should I do?"

Lemuel summoned up his strength and, as he looked down at Maion moaning in the mud, his mind was made up. "Michael-Lan, Yahweh knew all of this and knew it well. He is no longer fit to reign in Heaven. You, you Michael, must depose him and take over the throne. Then, you must make peace with the humans somehow. I do not know how you can do this or when you will achieve it but it is your duty to the whole of the Angelic Host to make sure that what we see around us now will never happen again."

"Lemuel, my old friend, I ought to strike you down for the words you have just said. But while my head tells me to do that, my heart says that you are right. Bring the humans, bring their armies for without them we cannot depose Yahweh. I will do what I can Lemuel, I will oppose Yahweh, I will try and prevent this atrocity from happening again. Yes, my old friend, I will attempt to remove him from power. Your words convince me of the need for this and for that I thank you." The poets were right, the power of love will achieve wonders. When used and steered properly of course. Michael gazed at Maion on the ground. "But first, we must see to your beloved. Be brave Maion, soon you will be on Earth and your wounds will be cured."

Michael and Lemuel reached down and lifted Maion, trying to disturb her shattered wings as little as possible. Once she was lifted, the two combined their power and pushed through a portal to Earth. Then, Lemuel took a firm grip on Maion and took her through the black ellipse.

Behind them, Michael-Lan watched the ellipse close behind them. Well, we are truly into the end-game now. He thought. The humans won’t just send aid although they surely will send that. They will send their armies as well and the first thing they see will be this nightmare. They'll see the angelic host as the victims here just as the dead suffering in Hell were the victims there. And that will preserve the host for they will forgive us.

Michael-Lan started to move away, to return to the Eternal City where the next stage of the complex scheme would take place. As he did, he saw the hellish conditions in the camp around him and one last thought popped into his mind. I wonder if I'll ever forgive me.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 61

LTR

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Washington DC Air Defense Interception Zone Command Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Washington DC, United States

In another city in the United States, the sudden wailing of an alert siren caused the staff to make a panic-stricken transition from the sleepy ambiance of an over-heated room at 3 am to the urgent activity of an operations center that faced an imminent, city-destroying threat. Nobody had forgotten the sights as the western side of Manhattan had been pounded by rocks falling from a portal in the sky. Nobody wanted to see the same thing happening in Washington.

"The DIMO(N) net is picking up data from the cell phone system now. We're getting increasing numbers of towers dropping off the network." Sergeant Manuel Oporto made the report in crystal clear English. At a very basic level, it was a sign of just how uncoordinated the US government was that he had been drafted by the United States Air Force and promoted several times without anybody seemingly being aware that he was actually an illegal immigrant. "The spectrum analyzer is showing a broadband hump peaking in the low gigahertz. The data is partial at this time but it's filling in fast. I'm going to call it Sir. We have a portal forming over Bethesda, Maryland. Confidence is high, say again, confidence is high for portal opening over Bethesda, Maryland.”

Even through the thick walls of the command center, the sirens wailing outside could be heard. Yet even they were drowned out by the howl of F-22s firing up their engines and moving to take off. Oporto could envisage the scene in Washington itself, with the air raid sirens screaming, the street lights flashing and, something that had been absent from the attack on New York, Marine-One landing at the White House to evacuate the President and his family. The war-room under the White House had been designed to stay functional during a nuclear exchange but nobody was confident of its ability to do so when hit by a rock of effectively unlimited size.

Across the readiness board that dominated the control center, lights were flickering, changing in color as the units they represented came on line. The entire room vibrated as the first of the ready-alert F-22s took off directly over the building, their engines on full afterburner as they clawed for altitude and swung north. Washington was lucky, the stealthy composite structure of the early F-22s made them unsuitable for use in Hell so they had never been fitted with the filters that allowed them to fly in the dust-laden atmosphere of Hell at major cost to their performance. These F-22s went supersonic within seconds of leaving the runway. Around the Beltway, missile batteries and anti-angel guns were coming to full alert as well. Soon, the command center would be swamped with target discrimination work as they tried to distinguish hostile targets from the defensive assets that were pouring into the area.

"Philadelphia and Richmond are on line Sir." Oporto's headset was constantly buzzing with updates. A part of his job was to filter out the routine data so that his officer knew what was happening without getting swamped by detail. In Oporto's private opinion, it didn’t take much to swamp an officer with details. "They confirm a portal forming over Maryland. They're ready to transfer assets to us if we need them."

"Very good." Major Coyote was watching the map display carefully, seeing the red carat defining the area of the newly-developing portal. "Data consistency?"

"The cell-phone system error rates and signal strengths still climbing Sir. We expect ingress any second. Hold that Sir, we have the portal, it's a little south of Bethesda." He hesitated slightly as the final data came in. "It's just a touch west of the I-270/Old Georgetown Road interchange. It's frozen in place, not moving the way the New York one did."

"F-22s on scene. They report the portal, no ingress. No rocks."

"Hold that one Sir, we have radar contact. Single object is transitting the portal. We have an inbound."

"Well done Sergeant. Send the data to all missiles and gun batteries, prepare to open fire."

F-22 Lightning "Oscar-One", Over Bethesda, Maryland.

"We have portal in view." Captain Joshua Slocombe racked his F-22 around in a tight curve. He guessed that the glaziers would be doing good business tomorrow, replacing all the windows that were being shattered by the passage of the four fighters in Oscar Flight. Out of consideration for the householders below and to try and keep an open firing solution on the portal that hovered a few hundred feet in the air over I-270, he dropped speed to well below transonic. "This is a weird one people, it's very low down. Rocks won't pick up that much speed when they come through."

"Topaz Control here. We have word of an ingress." The message from ground control was disrupted by the strange electronic effects caused by the close proximity of a portal but they were still clear and decisive.

"Roger that. Selecting AIM-120 now." If angels came through, Slocombe wanted to be sure he could start getting hits early. That meant missiles, he could shift to the AIR-120 later. "Confirm that Topaz, we have visual on ingress. Ready for missile shot. Fox- . . . . Hold that Topaz, there is something wrong here."

Slocombe looked carefully at the figure that had just come through the portal. Despite being clearly an angel, and thus a perfectly legitimate target, it was falling through the sky under the portal, frantically beating its wings in an effort to brake its descent. And, it was malformed somehow. It was the wrong shape, it wasn't the perfect humanoid that had marked the other angels that had afflicted Earth. As he analyzed the shape in front of him, it suddenly snapped into focus. "Topaz, figure is two angels, one appears to be carrying the other and attempting to fly for them both. Am holding fire."

"Acknowledged Oscar-One." There was a pause on the radio. "Sensors indicate portal is closing."

Slocombe took his attention off the falling angels for a second. "Confirm that Topaz. Portal is closed. Say again, portal is closed. Whatever we just got is all that there is."

The F-22 climbed a little as Slocombe completed another circuit. "Topaz, hostiles just landed on I-270, almost on top of Old Georgetown Road interchange. Confirm, two angels, one laying on road, other standing. Request instructions. Over."

There was a long, long pause on the radio channels while Slocombe imagined messages running up and down the command chain. Eventually, the radio broke silence. "Oscar flight is to remain circling area. Ground forces closing in to assess situation. For your information, alert is being cancelled."

Police Cruiser Adam One-Two, I-270, Bethesda.


One of the small advantages of gasoline rationing was that the roads were clear and people who wanted to drive at high speeds could do so. The previous night, Officer Peter Malloy had been in a high-speed pursuit of a Corvette whose owner had obviously decided to blow his month's fuel ration on a really fast run. The race had topped 170mph before the 'Vette had gotten clean away. In the secrecy of his soul, Malloy was looking forward to a rematch. In the meantime, this race along I-270 would have to do. "What's going on?"

Beside him. Jim Reed was listening to the scanner. "Two angels down just ahead of us. They're not doing anything, just standing on the Interstate. Well, one of them is standing, the other is laying down. Army and Marine ground forces are moving in but we're way ahead of them. Nobody seems to realize we're here yet."

"Good, let's keep it that way. If we can bring them in alive . . . ." Malloy's eyes were sparkling with delight at the prospect.

"Or get killed in the attempt?" Of the two, Reed was the more realistic. Or pessimistic depending on how one looked at such things.

"So? We go to Hell. You think they don’t need cops in Hell?" Malloy hit the brakes on the Crown Vic cruiser. "OK, we're there. Get ready."

He reached under his seat and pulled out one of his most loved possessions, a Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express Magnum revolver. Malloy was a cop partly because he liked it and partly because it had annoyed his parents who believed that their money should insulate their only child from such mundane lifestyles. When they had finally died in an auto wreck, he had become a very wealthy cop and had invested USD17,000 in an example of what was truly the most powerful handgun ever made. 'Malloy's Cannon' was a legend in his local police station and had caused him to be at the top of the "must call" list if there had been a Baldrick berserker raid. Sadly, in Malloy's eyes at least, the opportunity to fire the piece had never emerged.

"Do you want a hand carrying that thing?" Reed's question was a mixture of envy and genuine curiosity. A handgun that weighed just under 14 pounds was quite a load after all. And it made his .500 Smith and Wesson look positively feeble.

"Just watch those two." Malloy walked up to where the two angels were stretched across one of the Interstate 270 carriageways. For a moment, he was stopped by the sheer beauty of the one who was standing. Then his training kicked back in "Freeze, you are under arrest."

I-270/Old Georgetown Road interchange, Bethesda, Maryland

Lemuel-Lan looked at the two humans in blue walking towards him. They'd emerged from a car that had strange red-and-blue flashing lights on its roof, lights that reminded Lemuel of some of the shows in Michael's nightclub. That connection made him blink, the truth was that the rapid changes had left him bewildered. He remembered taking Maion through the portal to Earth that he and Michael-Lan had generated. They had emerged in mid-air and had fallen towards the ground below that seemed all too close and solid. He'd beaten his wings with all the strength he could muster and filled his flight sacs to bursting point in an effort to break the fall, yet Maion had still screamed with pain and passed out when they struck the road.

Now, these two humans were facing him. It occurred to him that their very presence meant that the aircraft overhead weren't going to rain destruction down upon them but they both had drawn guns and seemed very determined. And hostile, Lemuel reminded himself of that. These are not the meek and docile servants I knew in Heaven. These are the killers who destroyed The Eternal Enemy's Army with contemptuous ease, stormed his fortress, killed him and installed their own puppet in power. And now they will do the same thing to Heaven and that is the only way to save us from a madman.

Lemuel moved to place himself between the humans and Maion's gravely-injured body. "Don’t kill us I beg you. Maion is terribly injured, she needs your help." As if in answer, there was a thunderous crash and a brilliant flash of lightning.

Police Cruiser Adam One-Two, I-270, Bethesda.

"I said freeze sucker." The standing angel had tried to step sideways and Malloy decided it was time to fire a warning shot. For the first time since he had bought the piece, he squeezed the trigger on the Pfeifer-Zeliska.

It took a second for Reed to clear the after-images from his eyes and shake the ringing noises out of his ears. When he had managed it, he looked around for his partner. Malloy was laying flat on his back on the ground, staring up at the F-22s circling overhead. Behind the two angels, little bits of concrete were still falling off the flyover where the .600 bullet had plowed into the cement. "Too much gun?" Reed asked sympathetically.

Malloy climbed to his feet, also trying to shake the ringing noises from his ears. His hat had gone somewhere backwards and there was a red gash in his forehead where the recoiling pistol had hit him. "Nahh, just right," he mumbled. Then, in a stronger voice he addressed the lead angel. "When I say freeze you don’t move. Not a muscle, you understand? Now kneel down and put your hands behind your head. Jim, call dispatch, tell them we have two angels in custody. You, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in athe court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish one. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?" Lemuel nodded. "What's your name?"

"I am Lemuel-Lan-Michael. This is my mate, Maion-Lan-Lemuel-Lan-Michael. Please, you must help her. Just look what Yahweh did to her. Michael says humans are her only hope."

"You get those names Jim? What does dispatch say?"

"I think they're speechless. Oh, the Army is coming."

"Please help her." Lemuel was pleading, tears rolling from his eyes.

Malloy nodded and looked at the angel on the ground. She was indeed female and was as beautiful as Lemuel was handsome. In fact, she was just about the most beautiful thing Malloy had ever seen. Or would have been if she hadn't been beaten so badly. "You say Yahweh did this?" He couldn't believe it.

"It was done on his orders. Because a female he smiled on was jealous of her."

"Damn. Jim, get back to dispatch. Tell them we'll need some sort of transporter and a medical team. We've got an emergency here."

"That's all right Officer, we'll handle it from here." An Army Colonel had appeared at the scene. "This is ours now."

"Sucks to be you, Sir. We got here first, this is a Prince George County PD collar. And these are our prisoners."

Colonel Paschal sighed. He was beginning to see why Prince George County PD had the reputation it did. "And you are, officer?"

" Peter J. Malloy, Badge number 744, service number 10743."

"Well, Peter J Mallow, badge number 744, this area is under Federal jurisdiction and these are foreign military personnel engaged in hostile activities against the United States and, by the way, the human race."

"Hosile activities?" Malloy's voice was openly derisive. His family had been big on State's rights and the iniquities of the Federal Government. "Look at them. Lemuel there has been as good as gold. I've had more trouble busting little old ladies. And his mate is so badly smashed up, she needs emergency care right now. She's not hostiling anybody. We've got the EMS on their way, have you."

"Hostiling isn't a word." Paschal sighed again, then looked at the female angel. That was when he realized just how urgent getting her to a medical facility was. "And an EMS team won’t do much good. We need to get her to Bethesda at least. I can get a tank transporter here to move her."

Malloy twisted his mouth in a semi-grin. He was having a lot of fun baiting this Army officer even though he knew it would probably bite him in the ass in the long run. "I'll do you a deal. You take Maion there to Bethesda right away, we'll take Lemuel to Central Booking and get him signed in. How's that?"

"Malloy, if you look behind me, you will note that I have half a dozen armored cars here. They're armed with 20mm cannon. Now, I have seen that pistol of yours and I note that the dirt on the back of your uniform suggests you fell flat on your ass when you fired it. So, let's just assume that the balance of firepower is in my favor. So, I'll suggest a deal. We get Lemuel and Maion, we'll record you as being first-on-scene and them as being your collar. Fair enough? Oh, and I'll make sure your watch commander knows that you had the situation well in hand when we got here."

Molloy smiled at the Colonel. "That sounds right fair Colonel."

"Good, now take a hike before we have a falling-out."

I-270/Old Georgetown Road interchange, Bethesda, Maryland

The number of humans surrounding Lemuel was growing faster than he could count. All that mattered to him was that some of them had made a straight line for Maion and started to deal with her more obvious injuries. Lemuel knelt quietly on the blacktop, listening to what they said. He understood very little of what they were saying but he did comprehend the tones they were using to say it and that frightened him. Those tones were getting steadily more urgent and the actions of the people treating Maion were becoming more and more frantic.

"What is happening?" The words burst out from him.

The one Lemuel had heard called Colonel Paschal turned around. "She is your mate?"

"She is . .. Colonel."

"That makes you next of kin I guess. The doctors here are deeply concerned. They'll tell you all about it in due course but the short version is that your mate has numerous badly broken bones, severe internal injuries and a lot of superficial ones. We've got a vehicle coming, it'll be here in a few minutes and that will take her to the best local hospital we can find. That's a place called Bethesda up the road. At the moment, they are trying to stabilize her so she can be moved. They're not certain they can do that."

"What will happen if they can't . . . . . stabilize . .. . . . her?" Lemuel saw the sympathetic look on Paschal's face and knew the answer without being told.

"Lemuel, I'm not a doctor, so I can't give you a detailed picture. What I can do is this. We'll do everything in our power to cure her. More than that, I can't say."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 62

LTR

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I-270/Old Georgetown Road interchange, Bethesda, Maryland

"Get out of the blissful delight way Sir." The nurse pushed past Colonel Paschal and joined the scrum of medical personnel working on Maion. She was carrying large transparent packages that had just arrived on the HH-60M Medevac helicopter that was now sitting on the road a few dozen yards back. Volume expanders he guessed to himself, possibly the new oxygen transport therapeutics. I-270 hadn't seen this level of medical activity since a Greyhound bus had rolled over before the war.

"You'll have to forgive Grace Sir. She tends to get very focussed." The man standing beside Paschal was the copilot of the Medevac chopper.

"It's OK, she said 'Sir'. That makes all the difference Lieutenant . . . . Rawlings. What's going on? That was volume expander wasn't it?"

"Sort of. It's one we developed for use on daemons. Lot of them were really badly chewed up in Iraq and it turned out we knew nothing much about their blood chemistry. So we use that stuff, it works regardless of blood groups. Johns Hopkins did a quick test on some angelic blood and it seems to be OK for them too, so Mac and I got orders to fly a few gallons of the stuff down."

"A quick test. Is that all?"

"All we had time for Sir, word is, if we didn’t get that stuff down here fast, she isn’t going to make it." Paschal made 'shusshing' motions with his hand and pointed at Lemuel. "Sorry, Sir, didn’t realize."

Paschal looked at Lemuel-Lan who was staring at the scene around Maion with stunned incredulity. There were at least a dozen doctors around her now with as many nurses helping out, the whole scene illuminated by the blue, red and white lights on the emergency vehicles.. To Paschal's eyes, helping out was a misnomer since the nurses seemed to be doing most of the heavy work. One of the doctors detached from the group and ran over to Lemuel.

"You, angel, what's your blood group?" Lemuel started and looked down at the figure addressing him. "Hurry up, we've got an emergency here."

"What's a blood group?" Leemuel was bewildered.

The doctor twisted his lips. "What color is your blood?"

"Silver."

"Hers is white. We can't take the chance." The doctor turned to the team around Maion and made a 'negate that' gesture. One of the other doctors acknowledged and another bag of volume expander was opened. The doctor was about to go back when he saw Paschal looking at him.

"The wild primary colors in daemon blood? They're daemon equivalent of blood groups. We can transfuse green to green or yellow to yellow but not green to yellow. I was hoping Lofty here would be white blood but he isn’t. Tough on his girl that."

"Is she going to make it?" Paschal said the words softly but he saw Lemuel start and cautiously look around.

The doctor pushed his lower lip out. "She's got a better chance that she had a few minutes ago. Now we've got the volume expander into her, her heart's got something to pump around. Odds still aren't good but we've pulled people back from worse. I hear Yahweh had this done to her?"

"That's right. Or so we've been told. We haven't had a chance to do an interrogation yet."

"Damn. She's a mess. We've given her morphine to kill the pain but it isn't working very well. Either angels have a major resistance to opiates or . . . . " the doctors voice wandered off for a second and his eyes suddenly got suspicious. "As soon as she's got enough of her own blood to live on, we'll run a full panel on her."

"Look between her toes Doc." Malloy's voice cut across the conversation. "That's where women tend to shoot up."

"Our local cop with the howitzer. Malloy, what are you still doing here?"

"Orders from dispatch. Stay here and assist as needed. Reed's over there stuffing trash into bags." Paschal turned back to the doctor but he had already gone, heading back to the team effort.

"Colonel Paschal Sir. Message from Bethesda. They're setting up an emergency ward on the grounds. A big tent, the patient's too large to get through the doors. Bethesda say it'll be as well-equipped as any intensive care unit as long as it doesn’t rain. They've got jury-rigged power lines all over the grass."

Paschal nodded. Over by Maion, the medical team suddenly gave a loud cheer and the work pace slackened. Lemuel saw the reaction and looked over at Paschal, unable to ask the question he wanted to. "Don’t worry Lemuel, that's good news. At a guess, I'd say they've stabilized her for movement. The Doctor will tell you more."

It was the same doctor who had come across earlier. This time he was considerably more relaxed. "Colonel, I'm Doctor Zinder, Dan Zinder. Sorry I was abrupt earlier , but things were pretty close for a while there."

"No problem. This is Lemuel-Lan, your patient's mate."

"Lemuel-Lan. OK, situation. Your mate has lost a lot of blood and has severe internal injuries. We've stopped the internal bleeding for a while at any rate and we've bulked out her blood supply. That's a holding action, we're not quite sure what to do next about her blood loss. Normally we'd give her a blood transfusion but we don’t have any stocks of angelic blood. Johns Hopkins is looking at using daemonic blood and we're checking to see if any colors are compatible with white. Now, her wings. Each wing has been broken in five places, twice on the inner bone, twice on the outer, one on the joint between the two. We've splinted the straightforward breaks but the joints are a very complex injury, one we have no experience with. Our big worry in the short term is marrow getting loose from those broken bones and entering her bloodstream. If that happens and it forms a clot, its all over. Longer term, it looks to me as if the breaks were intended to permanently cripple her ability to fly. I've got a call in to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, they've got more experience in ruined joints there than anybody. If anybody can fix her, they can."

Doctor Zinder stopped as the HH-60 spooled up its engines and started to take off. Over by Maion, the staff surrounding her were bracing themselves. "One, two lift" and they transferred Maion on to a load pallet. The HH60 moved overhead, cables hanging from its slung-load hook. They were fastened to the corners of the pallet and the HH-60 started to lift to take the strain. Three nurses jumped onto the pallet as well, Paschal recognized one of them as 'Grace'.

"Doctor, riding the pallet like that is . . "

"Against regulations and they aren’t wearing safety harnesses either. But we absolutely need them on there to make sure nothing goes horribly wrong in mid-transit. Anyway, ever tried stopping a Navy nurse from looking after a patient?"

The HH-60 climbed away and turned south-east for the Bethesda hospital, Lemuel's eyes following the helicopter as it set off. Paschal thought for a second and then made his decision. "Lemuel, we have to drive around by road, It'll take us ten or twenty minutes. You can fly there much faster, just follow the helicopter. Try not to break anything when you land."

Lemuel's expression was disbelieving. "You will trust me?"

"Of course we trust you. You've got your mate to worry about, that'll come first for you. Now move." Paschal watched Lemuel take off. I wish I could do that. he thought, then he got on the link to the F-22s still circling overhead. Trust, but verify.

Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

"It's a bit like a bat." Doctor Zinder was looking at the X-ray on the computer screen. "Feathered of course and there's no leading edge claw. There are three bones running back from the leading edge, not two. Otherwise, very similar. That joint, it's complex and it's crushed. Doctor Mackay?"

The reply came over the computer in the harsh accent of northern Ireland. "We know those injuries. The wing breaks, triangular with the shatter pattern downwards. I'd say the wing was held across two blocks and struck by a heavy bar over the space between. The joint the same. Very much like the IRA used to do. We'll need better X-rays than this though. I'll get my team ready to come over."

"Thank Hell for that." Zinder was relieved. "We're out of our depth here with those joints. We're fixing the wing bones now, extending the wing inserting titanium screws to hold the bone parts together and splinting, but that five-way joint. .. . We don’t even know where to start. You're portalling through?"

"Of course." Mackay was laughing. "With that damned volcano in Iceland spouting dust, it's getting to be like Hell here in Ireland. Only aircraft with hell-filters are flying and they can't make it across the Atlantic. We'll be arriving as soon as the portal is opened."

"We'll be waiting for you Eamon. And thank you."

Zinder shut the link off and went back into the main body of the extemporized ward. It was still being set up and a long line of technicians were bringing equipment over and plugging it into the spaghetti-tangle of extension cables. Maion was stretched out on an operating table constructed from stout cargo pallets. Her wings were almost invisible under the array of two-by-four timbers being used as splints. Beside her, Lemuel sat silently, holding her hand.

"What is this?" Lemuel had looked up and was pointing at a display.

"That monitors her heartbeat, the other one is her blood-oxygen level. We call them vital signs indicators. Maion's look pretty strong. She's got this far Lemuel, and she's a fighter. That's the most important thing of all. And she's got all of us fighting alongside her."

"As long as I do what you say." Lemuel assumed that was naturally the case and was shocked when Doctor Zinder exploded in anger, his face going dead white except for redness surrounding his eyes.

"How dare you! How dare you suggest I would neglect a patient because you wouldn't do what somebody else wanted. Listen to me Lemuel, and you'd better remember it. I do not know what kind of society you come from although I can make some guesses. But you are on Earth and this is a hospital. Maion will get the best treatment we can possibly provide. No reservations, no exceptions. When you suggest we might do anything else, you insult me, you insult the people who are working here all night to look after her, you insult the three nurses who risked their lives to make sure she got here safely. You are insulting a group of Irish doctors who are coming thousands of miles on the off-chance that their skills and experience will help Maion fly again."

Zinder paused, took a deep breath and let his blood pressure go down. "That Colonel out there, Colonel Paschal, yes, he will want you to do things. Give us information, provide us with data. Probably more. And he will offer you deals and put other kinds of pressure on you. But if he walks into this ward and tells us to stop work, we'll kick his ass out of here. Or, if he talks to that nurse there," he pointed to Grace, "Colonel or not if he makes the same suggestion to her, she'll probably head-butt him. Now do we understand each other?"

Lemuel nodded. "I am sorry Doctor." What neither of them knew was that was the first time in more than four millennia that an angel had made a sincere apology to a human.

UH-60L Quebec-Four-Two, Approaching Bethesda, Maryland.

"An angel. A real, live angel." Norman Baines was as close to ecstatic as he'd ever been.

"Two of them in fact. Only one of them won't be talking to anybody for a long time. She's in intensive care and the medics are still iffy about whether she will survive." General Schatten hoped that she would, it would make maneuvering her mate so much easier. He looked at Baines and shook his head slightly. Their trip had been slightly delayed while the Director of Research had been found in the archives by his secretary, cleaned up and quickly fed.

"What happened? We shoot her up as she came in?"

"That's what we are trying to get a handle on and that is why you are here. Her mate brought her in. She's been badly treated, lost a lot of blood and her mate said that Yahweh ordered it done. His version is that a woman Yahweh favors was jealous of her so Yahweh ordered her to be imprisoned and beaten. Her mate rescued her and brought her here so we could treat her. His story is pretty incoherent."

The sound of the rotors diminished as the pilot brought the UH-60 in to land. The helicopter landing area was full to capacity with a variety of different birds including one massive helicopter with red-and-blue stars painted on its tail and wings. "What's that." Baines pointed at the big helicopter.

"Russian Mi-26. When they heard we have two angels, the Russkies sent it over in case we needed heavy lift capability. Stuffed it up with medical goodies for the angels and vodka for us to celebrate. Look over to the left, we've got a Hellgate open to speed transport here. I hear kitten herself opened that one. That's how the '26 came in."

The helicopter landed on the road outside the medical center and the passengers disembarked, making the traditional bend down in deference to the wash coming off the rotors. "Sirs, if you will come with me, I'll take you to the Angelic Treatment Ward." Once they would have ridden in an Army staff car or Humvee but the fuel shortage had put an end to those pretensions. These days, even Generals walked.

Much of the frantic chaos that had surrounded the angelic arrival in Bethesda had ebbed away by the time they reached the treatment area. All the necessary equipment was set up, the female angel was stabilized on life support and all that was left was to watch and wait. The male angel was sitting on the grass outside, his head between his knees. That was convenient since it minimized the size difference between him and the humans.

"I'm Norman Baines, Director of Research at DIMO(N) Office of Nonhuman History and Research. How is your mate?"

"Maion is resting comfortably so I am told. The doctors say she is in a chemically-induced therapeutic coma. I hope that means more to you than it does to me."

Baines looked at the angel carefully. "You are of high rank are you not? May I know your name?"

"I am Lemuel-Lan-Michael. I am Ophanim." Lemuel paused for a moment "You know the Hierarchy of the Angelic Host?"

"In outline, yes. Ophanim is very close to the top is it not? And you are a servant of Michael himself, the Great General of Heaven?"

"What is going on?" Schatten was a General, he was supposed to be the one who treated people like mushrooms.

"We've got a real catch here. 'Lan' means 'servant of'. Lemuel here is a direct servant of Michael-Lan-Yahweh which puts him two steps below the supreme power. He's an Ophanim which puts him very close to the apex of the Host hierarchy. The holy texts describe the Ophanim as being four, eye-covered wheels each composed of two nested wheels. It's long been thought that the description is symbolic and actually refers to the Ophanim as being the powers that actually keep Heaven running. If Lemuel is defecting to us, its like, oh, the Secretary of State going over to the enemy." Baines shook with sheer delight. "Lemuel, what was your role in Heaven?"

"I was chief investigator of the League of Holy Court."

"If our references are anything like correct, the League of Holy Court is Yahweh's very own police force and intelligence service. Forget what I said about the Secretary of State going over, this is like the head of the KGB coming over to us in the middle of the Cold War." Baines spoke quietly, then turned his attention back to Lemuel. "Why did you come here Lemuel-Lan-Michael?"

"Maion was badly hurt and might die. Michael-Lan said that only humans could save her." Lemuel gathered his breath and finally committed himself. The outburst from Doctor Zinder was still running through his mind and he thought of the way the doctors and nurses were fighting to save a being who they had never met before and, if anything, was one of their enemies. Yet the sights, sounds and smells of the concentration camp where Yahweh dealt with his foes still swirled in his head and the contrast between the two was tearing his soul apart. When he spoke, he did so very fast as if he was trying to get the words out and commit himself before he could change his mind. "Yahweh has gone mad and is destroying the Angelic Host. He has established camps run by demons where angels who he dislikes are sent. Maion was a victim of one such camp. He is creating factions in Heaven and putting one against the other. After seeing one such camp, Michael-Lan sent me with a message for humans. He says that he will fight Yahweh, try to prevent more slaughter and destruction. He will try and depose Yahweh but he desperately needs help. He tasks me with opening a portal for you so that you can send your armies to depose Yahweh and your . . . . doctors . . . to aid those who have been so cruelly used. If you will allow me, I will open the way to Heaven for you."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 63

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Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

"I'm sorry ma'am, but I'm afraid the helicopter operations are a military necessity." Chief Petty Officer Michaela Harris silently raised her eyebrows and shook her head in exasperation. "Yes, I do know that the big helicopter is likely to make your house shake when it takes off. Unfortunately, we need its lifting capacity. . . . . . No, ma'am, any casualties can't wait until morning . . . . . . Well, it is your privilege to call your Congressman but I should advise you that he is one of the volunteers out here helping us with our work. . . . . . Now, there is no need to use language like that." She hung the phone up, paused a second and pushed the button for the next line. "Bethesda Naval Hospital, CPO Harris speaking. . . . . . Why, thank you Sir, we are always in need of blood donations here. Sir, if you would like to come along tomorrow morning, the U.S. Volunteers on guard will direct you to the correct area. Thank you for your patriotic offer, Sir, and have a good day."

"Rough time Chief?" Colonel Paschal was sympathetic.

"Calls backed up to the Potomac and beyond. People are guessing something is going on from all the air movements and that Russian Mi-26 is attracting a lot of attention. Mostly, people seem to think there's been a big skirmish in Hell and there are a lot of casualties coming in."

"Wait until tomorrow morning when the real news breaks." He was interrupted by the noise of yet another UH-60 coming in to land. He glanced across at the bird, it was an old one, probably a boneyard recovery, and didn’t have hellfilters. "Carry on with the good work Chief. My package has just arrived."

Paschal ran over to where the helicopter was spooling down. Five figures were getting out, four prison guards and a single female figure in orange coveralls. "Why, Miss Branch. I hope you enjoyed your flight here."

She looked at him dully. At least, her appearance was better now she'd been taken out of General Population and housed in a Supermax. For many prisoners, Supermax was a haven rather than a restriction. Branch was one, Paschal seriously believed that if she had been left in General Population, she'd be dead by now. As it was, she just stared at him, saying nothing.

"We've got a special privilege for you Miss Branch. A pair of Angels have just defected to us and we thought you might like to meet them. One of them is a close associate of your old friend Michael. The other is his mate. You''ll be really interested in meeting her although she isn’t really up to speaking yet. We'll start with Lemuel-Lan-Michael. By the way, any word of your family yet? No? Ah well, they must still be in the Hellpit somewhere. Don't worry, we'll get to them sooner or later."

"They're in Heaven. Yahweh promised." The words came out in a dogmatic pout that reminded Paschal of a child stamping his foot and swearing 'it ain't so.'

"Miss Branch, as far as we can make out, no modern residents of Earth went to Heaven. None at all."

"That's not true Colonel." Lemuel had heard the remark as they approached him. "There are some modern humans in Heaven. Michael rescued them. He has them hidden in his organization. At first I did not know it was he who had saved them from Hell, it was only when we rescued Maion than I realized it. But, they are the ones he was able to rescue and those that he could find hiding places for. There is only so much he could do."

Oh great, that's all we needed,
Pashal thought. Finding out that the Great General Michael-Lan has actually been emulating Oskar Schindler.

"Lemuel-Lan, would you tell this young lady what happened to you and Maion please?"

For Lemuel, it was something in the way of a cathartic release. The story poured out, how he had started investigating one small conspiracy, how the investigation had mushroomed as more and more leads had led to the discovery of additional conspiracies. It ended with him finding Maion in Yahweh's concentration camp and escaping to Earth so she could be saved by human medicine. By the time it ended, Branch was weeping, at least partly in response to Maion's fate but mostly at her own disintegrating beliefs.

"You're lying. None of it is true." It was the same, child-stamping-its-foot tone again.

"Come with me." Paschal led her into the tent that housed Maion. Even surrounded by medical equipment, most of her face covered by an extemporized breathing mask and her wings surrounded by a maze of timber splits, she was still stunningly beautiful. That only seemed to highlight the injuries she had received. "You see Miss Branch? Yahweh did this, or to be more accurate, he ordered it done. Angels can't lie, that's what your belief says isn't it? If your beliefs are true and Angels can't lie, then what Lemuel-Lan told you is true. Yahweh did this because another female angel was jealous of Maion. If angels can lie, then that proves that your beliefs are wrong anyway."

It was the final blow to the core of Kathryn Branch's beliefs. The simple presence of Lemuel on Earth, the battered figure in front of her and the story that linked them together was the end. The faith that had kept her going through months of imprisonment crumbled as inexorably as a sand castle facing the incoming tide. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything, but we'll start with one key question. The attack on DIMO(N) at Fort Bragg. You told Michael-Lan about DIMO(N)?"

"Yes." The words came out between sobs. "It was to protect Heaven. He said that humans couldn't attack Heaven if DIMO(N) was destroyed."

Paschal sat back slightly. "Right Miss Branch. Now, we'll start from the beginning and you can tell us everything that happened since the day of The Message." And after we've finished with you, we'll get to work on that worm Yitzhak.

War Room, The White House, Washington D.C.

"Welcome back Mister President." General Schatten seemed inordinately pleased with himself. "Did you enjoy the brief excursion to Andrews?"

"When I used 'yes we can' as our election slogan, I didn’t expect it to be used in the context of 'yes we can pick you up, throw you in a helicopter and fly you out of the city at a moment's notice'. The Secret Service can be very insistent sometimes." The President's voice was a curious mixture of amusement, anger and resentment, liberally mixed with admiration for the efficiency of the system that had got him out of the danger zone so quickly.

"Back in the day, Mister President, we had minutes, perhaps seconds, to try and get the command authority secured. The one thing we disliked intensely was the idea of a decapitation strike. We'd thought that one through ourselves and gave it up as counter-productive but we were never quite sure the opposition had come to the same conclusion. So, the whole scheme was set up to preserve the national command authority. Still is come to that. The Secret Service have an absolute duty to protect you. If you think this was bad, ask about the rows that took place when your predecessor wanted one of the museum recovery F-102s as the 'Presidential Interceptor'. The Secret Service almost went into orbit at that idea. "

"I did not like the idea of leaving Michelle and the children behind." The President had been distinctly unhappy about that part of the emergency evacuation and had made his opinions very clear.

"Believe it or not, Sir, nor did we. There are various plans that apply to different levels of warning. This one was probably the most time-critical. If the rocks were about to start coming down, we had to get you clear at any cost. Under those circumstances, if the First Family aren't immediately available, they have to follow later."

"I don’t like that. I want those plans revised; get the contractors we employ to work on it."

"Yes Sir. The good news is, Sir, there is lots of good news. It wasn't a rock attack, it was two angels escaping from Heaven. We have two high-class defectors and one of them has already stated he will open a portal to heaven for us. The long stalemate is over Sir. Assuming that our defector is operating in good faith, and we already have every reason to believe that he is, then we have our way into Heaven."

"Does General Petraeus know? And how about the rest of the Yamantau Council?"

"General Petraeus, yes. He was told while you were on board your helicopter coming back here. He's getting the plans ready for the assault now. Yamantau? Not officially although the Russians know unofficially. So do the Irish. Official word hasn't gone out yet though."

"The Irish? How did that happen?"

"One of the Angels coming through has had her wing joints crushed. Deliberately, on Yahweh's orders. Anyway, the doctor on the scene contacted the Royal Hospital in Belfast for help. They treated a lot of crushed joints from IRA kneecappings and he needed expert advice. It leaked out from there. One thing Sir, and this is something Yamantau certainly do not know yet. It's beginning to look as if Michael-Lan may be an ally, not an enemy. Or, at least, he may be an enemy we can work with."

"I find that hard to believe. Remember Tel Aviv?"

"That wasn't Michael-Lan's work Sir. We believe that was carried out by another angel, Azrael. And Azrael is very strongly linked with Yahweh. We've been looking at Michael-Lan's work and he does seem to have concentrated his attacks on military targets. Pretty much so anyway. Our initial assessment is that he was a Yahweh loyalist until something went badly wrong and caused a split between the two. By the way, we also have strong evidence he's been rescuing humans from Hell and hiding them away in Heaven. We might have found our heavenly Abigor Sir. That's something for you to take to Yamantau. There's a meeting there scheduled for morning."

"I can't get there by then."

"Portals Sir, you must learn to think in portals. We'll set one up from here to Hell and one from Hell to Yamantau. You can be there in minutes. Don't forget to take your breathing filter."

Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, US

"What we want you to do, Lemuel, is to open up a small portal to Heaven. One that's a long way away from habitation or anything that will draw attention to us. Or warn people that we have a way into Heaven." Colonel Paschal had flown in a V-22 to get to Dover AFB, Lemuel had flown under his own power. He'd spent the rest of the night at Bethesda giving the humans as much information as he could about the geography of Heaven.

"I do not understand." Lemuel was bewildered. "The angels suffering in Yahweh's prison, they need help right away."

"We've got a saying down here. Hasten slowly." Colonel Warhol had arrived from Hell by through the permanent Hellgate a few miles west of the air base and his uniform was still coated with helldust. "There's another. Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. We want to know what we're getting into."

"Speaking of reconnaissance, the Predator should be up by now. Lemuel, the gate if you please."

"We using an Air Force bird?" Paschal was curious. This whole situation had come apart so fast, everybody was playing patch, grabbing whatever assets could be used.

"No. CIA. In fact the guy flying it is the same man who flew one through Abigor's Hellgate a couple of years back. I guess the CIA do have a sense of humor."

Paschal and Warhol looked at each other. "Naaah."

"Lemuel, we want to send a recon bird in to tell us what Heaven is like. We lost people, quite a lot of people, because we weren't properly prepared when we went into Hell. So, we're going to send a Predator in. That's an unmanned aircraft and it'll be carrying a reconnaissance pack that will take air samples and other environmental data. Provided that shows us everything is OK, we will have a battle group on the ground in hours. Now, if you could please open up the portal. Big enough to take one of those." Warhol pointed at a Predator on the ground a few yards away.

Lemuel concentrated and the familiar black ellipse opened up close to the ground. The Predator assigned to the mission dived down and flew through the portal. Ten minutes later, it reappeared, its shining gray and white paintwork still pristine.

The Yamantau Council, Yamantau National Redoubt, Russia

"Gentlemen, Ladies, I have news of the utmost importance. A few minutes ago, we flew a Predator reconnaissance drone into Heaven. Doctor Surlethe has just arrived with the results." President Obama sat down, noting the rapt interest that the 15 members of the council were devoting to Doctor Surlethe.

Surlethe cleared his throat. "Members of the council, we can confirm that we are have broken through the walls that prevented us from entering Heaven. Early this morning, a Predator unmanned reconnaissance aircraft flew through a portal opened by one of the two angels who defected last night and spent ten minutes flying in Heaven airspace. We gathered air samples, radiation readings and visual imagery. Also, of course, we recorded the process by which Lemuel opened the gateway to Heaven. With some work and careful digitalization of that signal we should be able to modify our standard GSY-1 portal opening system to work with Heaven as well as Hell.

"Conditions in heaven are, as far as we can determine, near-perfect for us. The air is clean, identical to Earth in its make-up and contains no toxic elements. The light is brilliant white, we are recommending that First-Life humans going into Heaven wear sunglasses but there is no need for any other precautions. Unless something goes wrong or we find something totally unexpected, we are ready to invade."

"What is the terrain like?" The Singaporean Prime Minister asked the question.

"Rolling hills, covered with green grass. Perfect tank country so I am told. Lots of hull-down positions to fight from, long open ranges. The geometry of Heaven is off by the way, just as it is in Hell. In fact, according to our initial measurements, the spatial distortion in Heaven is exactly the same as it is in Hell. We believe that this is strong confirmation that both Heaven and Hell are separate planet-equivalents in Universe-Two. This, of course, also suggests that any other bubble-planets we find in Universe-Two will obey the same physical laws."

Putin nodded happily. "Thank you Doctor. Do you have word on the other Angel, the one who was badly injured."

"She is still unconscious Sir. Deliberately so. The medical team do not wish to operate again on her quite yet, she is too weak for a further spell on the table. They hope they'll be able to start reconstructing her wing joints in a day or so. Whether they will be successful or not, nobody knows."

"Very good. I now call for a vote of the Council. The motion is that General Petraeus be instructed to execute the invasion of Heaven."

The screen that dominated the conference chamber flicked over to show a line of 15 boxes. Each box was randomly assigned to a member of the council so that votes were secret. The code was simple, green for yes, red for no. There was a flickering and the majority of the boxes turned green. As the seconds ticked by, the remaining boxes filled with green as well. Eventually, the 15th and last blocked in with the same color.

"Very well, the vote is unanimous. General Petraeus?" Another display screen came to life, showing the General sitting behind his desk. "The Council has voted unanimously to authorize the invasion of Heaven. How soon will you be able to execute the assault."

"We will have a bridgehead in 48 hours. Thereafter, we will be moving First, Second and Third Army Groups into their assault positions in Heaven. I've got the geographical information from our Angelic friend and used it to select the appropriate plans from the options we have prepared. We'll be hitting the Eternal City from three sides. All we need to do is to get the beacons set up."

"Thank you General."

Putin turned around and looked at the members of the council, a broad grin on his face. The Americans may have got the credit for the assault on Hell, but he would go down in history as the man in charge when Heaven fell. "That leaves us with just one thing to decide. Shall we have milk or plain chocolate biscuits with our tea?"

Headquarters, First Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California.

"How deep is this water?" General Mills tapped the rough sketch map of The Eternal City. A river ran from the Ultimate Temple to a vast lake in the city center.

"Hundreds of feet according to our source." The operations officer blinked at the sudden thought. "Sir, you're not thinking of a direct assault are you?"

"Of course not. Not unless we already have a surrender in our pocket. But it's an option we should have." He paused and grinned. "And it is in accordance with the prophecies."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 64

LTR

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Headquarters, 118th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Virginia National Guard, Phelan Plain, Hell

The screen blacked out suddenly and the General sitting behind it looked as if he was about to explode. He managed to contain himself and when he spoke, his voice was courteous and calm. "Could you tell me what happened please?"

"I'm afraid you just got killed." Captain Ledasha Oates took a quick look at the Umpire's situation log. "As I thought, General, you haven't moved your command location for more than 30 minutes. The Opposing Force, the Opfor, picked up your radio transmissions and got your location by a combination of direction finding and deduction accurately enough to drop a rocket launcher salvo on you."

"But I only used the burst transmission facility sparingly. Is their, our, direction finding capability that good?"

"They probably only got a loose fix but I would guess they looked at a map. They saw the crossroads in the suspect area and made a calculated guess you would set up either on it or very close to it. So they took the crossroads out."

The General gave a gusty sigh that set his beard shivering. "But a crossroads gave me good communications and allowed us to move quickly in multiple directions."

"And that's what made it a good target General. You must learn to look at a map and see what the enemy will see. If it looks good to you for a reason, it will make a good target for the enemy by that same logic. Information isn't quite a weapon in its own right but it's an invaluable force multiplier. That applies both ways, you have to think of what the enemy knows and make allowances for it."

"So a good defensive position is a bad defensive position because it is obviously a good position."

"Exactly. That's exactly right. And don't worry too much about roads, our cross-country mobility is good enough so we can do without them."

General Robert E Lee sighed again, gently this time. "Did I do anything right in this exercise?"

Oates looked at the print out again. "To be honest Sir, no. Your frontal attack was walking right into a fire trap and your flanking move was far too close to the main body. It was going to swing across the Opfor front, not into their flank. You were thinking in horse cavalry terms and didn’t allow for how much more ground a modern cavalry unit covers or the ranges its weaponry can cover. For us, four hundred yards is close range. And, Sir, you must remember artillery fire. As long as a forward observer has a line of sight, they can bring intense fire on your positions. That observer can be an unmanned aircraft just as easily as a traditional observer. Frankly Sir." Oates bit her lip, wondered whether to sugarcoat the judgement and decided not to. "You'd have got the entire regiment wiped out. Again."

Another gentle sigh. "For the fifth time I believe. Please do not take my mistakes personally Captain, you are an excellent teacher."

Lee reached out and put his hand on Oates's arm. She pulled it away quickly, flushing slightly as she did so. She dropped her voice so they would not be overheard. "General, a quiet word on etiquette. If you are going to touch a woman like that, reach out and put your hand over her arm without touching. She will see and if your touch is welcome, she'll leave her arm where it is. If she doesn’t want to be touched, and there could be any number of reasons why, she'll move it. Just a word to the wise."

"In my day, an inappropriate gesture towards a young woman would have been the responsibility of her father, brother or husband to answer. I suppose it was only to be expected that an Army that has women soldiers would expect them to guard their own honor."

"Your gesture was neither inappropriate nor unwelcome Sir. Just unexpected." And in your day, I would be up against a whipping post having my back flayed raw for speaking to you like that. Oates shook herself slightly, it was difficult for her to keep remembering the cause for which this kind and gentlemanly officer had fought so hard. She couldn't help herself, the question just burst out. "Meaning no disrespect Sir, but how could you? How could you have fought so well for a cause like that?"

Lee looked at her, startled. "Captain, we are all products of our time. What seemed to be normal and reasonable back then is only now obvious for the foul thing that it was. I regarded Virginia as my home and I fought for my home." Lee held his hand up to forestall any immediate answer. "I am not saying that the states rights argument is anything other than a feeble excuse. If the truth is of any meaning at all, the only states right that was in dispute was that of owning slaves. But Virginia with all its faults was my home. I just did not recognize, then, the gaping ugliness that laid at its heart. Today, looking at fine citizens and soldiers such as yourself and your fellow neg . . . African-Americans, I can see just how wrong I was. But, before Hell was overrun, I was trapped in the opinions and beliefs of my time. For that, for allowing my sense of duty to overcome my sense of what was right, I spent a century and a half rolling a massive boulder around in Hell. Now, all I can do is to ask your forgiveness."

Oates smiled, silently accepting the apology. "We can run another exercise this afternoon if you wish. An advance-to-contact perhaps?"

"Like Gettysburg?" Lee halted for a second. "I suppose there is no word of my old warhorse Longstreet?"

"No Sir. I am afraid not."

Lee sighed yet again. The truth was he felt lonely in this clean, aseptic and oh-so-deadly army. He had a hunch he would have preferred to start his military career again as an enlisted man than as a General. He doubted if life for a rifleman had changed that much. "I would enjoy that Captain, but I fear it is impossible. I have an appointment with General Petraeus this afternoon at two."

"Very good sir. Tomorrow morning then. If you would excuse me?"

Oates left and Lee leaned back in his seat, looking at the master display and trying to imagine what his battles would have been like if he'd had this equipment then. Oddly, he thought, at least half of them would never have been fought at all. Then he heard voices raised in the next room, seeping through the partition.

"Oatsy, you can’t talk to Massa Robert like that."

"Somebody's got to Jimbo." It was clearly his tutor speaking. "If he gets command of this regiment now, we'll all be dead thirty minutes into the action. You've seen those exercise playbacks. He hasn't got a clue how modern units communicate or move let alone fight. He's a real nice man, but everything we take for granted, senses of space, time, distance and what they imply, they just aren't there. To us, in our heads, twenty miles is a trip to the store. To him, in his head, it's a long, hard day's journey."

The voices faded away and Lee was left staring at the master display. The silver disks that held the records of his previous exercises were in a storage rack and he put the oldest one on, just as Oates had showed him. What he had done looked reasonable to him but it ended the same way as it always did, his regiment dying in a chaos of blood and fire. Oates was right, he just didn't understand. By the time he had finished running through his records, it was time for his meeting and his mind was made up.

General Petraeus's Office, HEA Headquarters, Hell

"General Robert E Lee, to see General Petraeus."

"Yes Sir. Please step right in." The sergeant opened the door for him.

Lee stepped inside and came to attention. "General Petraeus, Sir, I would like to withdraw my request for a combat command. I would still wish to serve my country and my flag in any other way you might find appropriate."

Petraeus looked up. "Sit down Robert. What made you come to this conclusion?"

"Sir, for a week, I have been attempting to understand how your army works. With the aid of a very skilled and patient tutor. Sir, I regret to say I have failed completely. I am not fit to command and I must recognize that as a fact. One day, perhaps, but not now."

"Captain Oates taught you properly?" Petraeus was inwardly relieved. The thought of Robert E Lee commanding a modern unit was a political nightmare.

"She did sir and her patience with me was apparently inexhaustible. She is a fine officer Sir, and deserves your interest. The fault is mine. I do not know what I need to know, nor do I know yet what I need to learn."

Petraeus nodded. "Robert, I do have another command for you if you want it, one for which you may be very well qualified. All the histories speak of your concern for your men, the lengths you went to for them and the loyalty you inspired in them. Every day now we are pulling victims out of the Hell Pit. Some of them are ex-American soldiers from various eras. Whatever the time they came from, and whatever side they fought on in the previous unpleasantness, they are now our responsibility. Many are deeply traumatized by their fate, others feel alone and unwanted in an era that is vastly different from any they knew. Yet, they are still our people. We are setting up a convalescent home for them, a refuge if you like. It needs a man like you, Robert, to run it. A man who can inspire loyalty and affection while still maintaining a strict discipline. That posting is yours if you wish it."

"To care for our veterans, soldiers from every era in our history." Lee was entranced by the idea. "Sir, I do not just wish it, I desire it with all my heart."

"Then the position is yours. You may start tomorrow."

Lee saluted and left. Behind him, Petraeus smiled down at the paper in front of him. It was a politely-worded but firm report from Captain Ledasha Oates that stated in her opinion Robert E Lee was unfit to hold a combat command at his existing level of knowledge and some other posting should be found for him. It wasn't often that political and operational needs converged, but it was nice when they did. Then he transferred his attention back to his large-screen monitors and asked himself the questions that had been on his mind ever since the invasion coordinates had come in. This is my plan, this is how we will carry out the invasion. Now, what can go wrong and if it does, how do we cope with it? What is out there that we don't know about? Who will I be fighting when we arrive and how does he think? How can I win this war at minimum cost to the men and woman I command. Soon, he would know the answers because it was now time to move. In the final analysis, the decision and the responsibility was his, just as General Lee had recognized his responsibility and acted accordingly. Now, it was time for him to step up and shoulder his burden. He reached out and picked up the telephone on his desk.

Fort Knox, Kentucky.

"Are we ready to go?" Colonel Warhol looked around at the set-up to make sure everything was in place. A dozen or more V-22 Ospreys were standing by, their engines idling as they waited for the long-sought after Heavengate to form. All the equipment was set up, Lemuel-Lan was ready to open his portal from Earth to Heaven. The moment he did so, his signal would be monitored, recorded, digitized and fed into the waiting computers. That was all humanity had been waiting for, that one signal that would open up the gates of Heaven. They already had one from the first brief recon contact, now this data would confirm it. Across the open space of the testing ground, he could see another team getting ready to set up the link from Hell. Experiments had proved that having portals too close together would result in unfortunate effects, not the least being the merging of the two into a larger portal of uncertain destination. Portal science was beginning to be established as a real branch of scientific inquiry now, one day soon the links between it and the main body of scientific knowledge would be found and the glaring anomalies that currently existed would be explained. That applied to all the areas of study that had opened up since Hell had been discovered and not one of them was of any great interest to Colonel Warhol.

"kitten, you and Dani had better mount up. You'll be going through as soon as the portal is open. You know how to find here, no matter what's on the other side, punch through a portal of your own if this one closes behind you. We want to depend on him as little as possible."

"We got the briefing." Dani sounded slightly surly. He didn't like the implication that he had to be told things more than once. He tugged on kitten's leash and the two of them boarded the closest of the Ospreys.

"Hellgate is open now." The message came over the radio but Warhol could see the black ellipse that had suddenly formed. It was strange how the sight of a portal had ceased to be awe-inspiring or threatening. Now they were no more significant than the 'welcome to' signs that graced American highways when somebody crossed a state line. To a military man, they were also far from threatening. Once, an opening Hellgate meant that a daemonic attack was imminent, now it showed that one of the armored units of the Human Expeditionary Army was within a few minutes drive. That simple fact had changed military planning out of all recognition. It had also created an entirely new branch of alternate history. Warhol was reading one such novel now, by some author called Turtleshell. It asked a simple question, what would have happened if Abigor had brought his Nagas along instead of leaving them behind? If he'd accepted the limitation they imposed on his mobility in favor of the ability to generate large, tactically significant portals? Still, such questions were for authors; Warhol was a soldier and soldiers deal with what is, not what might have been.

"Lemuel-Lan-Michael?" Warhol looked at the message in his hand. "I've just had a message from Johns Hopkins. Maion is out of surgery, they've repaired the damage to her wings. She's resting now, under sedation, but the operation was a success. Whether that will mean she can fly again, we just don’t know. We've never treated angels before, especially one with such major injuries."

"Thank you Colonel." Lemuel's eyes were sunk deep into their sockets and his face was drawn and tired. He hadn't slept since he and Maion had made their desperate escape to Earth. "Do you want me to open the portal to Heaven now?"

"If you would please. Make one large enough to take that." He gestured at the V-22 that was assigned to carry kitten and her equipment through the Heavengate. Lemuel's eyes widened at the size of the portal he was being asked to create but nodded. He could do it, for Maion, for all the angels suffering in Heaven, and for his friend Michael who was trying to save them, he had to.

"Transit-prime, this is Sirius-Prime actual here. We're coming through the Hellgate and forming up now. Hokay guys, we'll be ready to move in five minutes."

Sirius-Prime, the armored battalion that was the spearhead of the Third Herd. And if Warhol recognized his accents, with Colonel Keisha Stevenson in command. That wasn't a surprise, ever since the initial fighting with Abigor, she had been Petraeus's go-to officer every time he wanted something unusual or dangerous done. She was (so far living) proof that gaining a senior General's attention was all too often the key to a short but exciting life.

Lemuel-Lan closed his eyes and concentrated. He found the location in Heaven he wanted, Belial's concentration camp, easily enough. The sights, sounds and smell of the place were scarred deeply into his mind after all. All he needed was to energize the contact and the job would be done. Lemuel very much doubted whether the humans realized what they were asking him to do. The simple act of opening the portal was betraying the teachings of countless millennia. He summoned his strength, linked to the point he wanted and poured energy into the connection. Opening a portal from Earth to Heaven was difficult at the best of times and his still-present doubts made it all the more so. Still, he thought of Maion as he and Michael had found her, crawling in the mud and whimpering as she dragged her shattered wings behind her. That alone was enough. It was not he who had betrayed his faith, it was Yahweh who had betrayed him and every other Angel in the Host..

Suddenly, in a blinding flash of understanding, Lemuel-Lan understood why the humans had taken this war so seriously. Why, in their rage they had sworn to destroy the power that had so contemptuously betrayed them. Michael-Lan had been right all along, the humans had fought Satan the way they fought all their enemies, no more and no less. Satan had been a self-declared enemy of humanity and they could understand and even forgive that. They had dealt with such enemies before and doubtless would do so again. And, when they had dealt with them, they had made peace. But, humans did not tolerate betrayal. They had destroyed Satan and ground down his kingdom but they loathed Yahweh beyond any measure he could imagine. If they invaded Heaven, and if they didn’t do it today, they would at some time in the future, they wouldn’t stop fighting until Yahweh and the Angelic Host were crushed so thoroughly they would never recover. Michael-Lan was right, this had been the only way. In front of him, the great black ellipse formed and stabilized.

Cockpit, V-22C "Dragon-One-Zero", Fort Knox, Kentucky.

"Hold tight, here we go." Captain Mark Sheppard's hands moved on the controls and the Osprey lifted off, then transitioned from vertical to horizontal flight. Then, he accelerated his aircraft and headed straight through the portal that had formed in front of him. As he went through, he couldn't resist giving out the traditional battle-cry "Geronimo!"

The Heavengate transition was no more spectacular or marked than the familiar one through a Hellgate. The blue sky of Earth was quietly and unassumingly replaced by the clear white sky and light of Heaven. The one thing that marked the different destination of the Heavengate was the ground. Instead of the red-dominated, dusty landscape of Hell, the skies of Heaven were clear and bright. The ground was green pasture, spread across rolling hills and valleys, interspaced with clumps of earth-like trees. It was beautiful, incredibly beautiful and for one brief moment Sheppard actually regretted that these lovely hills would soon be the scene of fire and destruction, the inevitable trademark of a human army at war.

Then, his Osprey crested a hill and any pretension of beauty was left behind. Stretched out underneath him was a scene that was indeed straight out of Hell. Not just out of Hell but from the Hellpit itself. A great enclosure with walls and guard towers. Inside it, thousand of angels, dragging themselves along, their shattered wings trailing in the mud behind them. Sheppard thumbed his microphone, he still had a direct line of sight to the portal so his radio worked. "Transit-Prime, this is Dragon-One-Zero. Concentration camp sighted as described. Much worse than described. Looks like our friend was telling the truth. Swinging past now. There's what looks like a good base location about ten miles out from here. If you forget the concentration camp, this place is beautiful."

The Osprey skimmed another ridge, dropped out of sight below the ridgeline and then headed for a low plateau that marked a suitable site for a base area. It transitioned from horizontal to vertical flight and then settled down on the lush green grass that covered the site. By now, the drill was well-established and the equipment had all the benefit of nearly eighteen months of technical development behind it. As a result, it took barely ten minutes to set up the AN/GSY-1(V)4 Mod 6 portal generator and another five for kitten to use it to create another portal back to Fort Knox.

Fort Knox, Kentucky.

"Shut yours down. And thank you, Lemuel, head on back to Washington Maion needs you." The black ellipse that had marked the original portal vanished without a sign that it had even existed. A few hundred yards away, beside the beacon set up for the purpose, a new portal had opened. Warhol watched as the Spearhead Battalion of the Third Armored moved through it and vanished. A few seconds later, a message came over the radio that caused an eruption of cheering all over the base. It said, quite simply, "Base Heavengate-Alpha established."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 65

LTR

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Base Heavengate-Alpha, Heaven

"Hokay, so we do a Thunder Run Sir. Anywhere in particular or do we get to choose?"

"Not quite a Thunder Run this time Colonel. You will push in the direction of the concentration camp established ten miles from your present position. A medical unit is following you, your orders are, and your primary responsibility is, to get them to that camp alive and unharmed. You will then force an entry to that camp, secure it and maintain security while the medics work on the inmates. After they have finished, you will cover their extraction."

"Very good Sir."

"And Colonel. Last time an American division liberated a concentration camp, they lined the guards up and shot them. That was then, this is now, don’t use that as a precedent. We want the guards alive and most especially we want the daemon running that camp alive. Belial has a lot to answer for."

"We'll do our best Sir. I won’t make promises I can't keep though. If those guards fight, we'll have to take them down."

"That's one thing. Having them all mysteriously 'shot while trying to escape' or 'resisting arrest' would be something different."

"Understood Sir." Colonel Keisha Stevenson shut down the communications terminal and stepped outside the tent. Communications wouldn't be a tent for very long, the pre-fabricated building that would be the permanent communications section in Heaven was already being erected. The concrete base was already drying and the walls were ranged out beside it, ready to be hoisted into place. The same scene could be spotted all over the base area. Buildings were going up fast as Base Heavengate Alpha-One was turned into a full divisional encampment. Just one of many that were being set up fast as the Ospreys could transport portal teams to suitable areas. First Army Group was pouring into Heaven literally as fast as vehicles could be driven through the portals. Overhead, the V-22s were already flying out to new locations north and west of the Eternal City so that bridgeheads could be established for the Second and Third Army Groups. This onslaught was a far different scene from the early days in Hell when Stevenson had been convinced the brass were making up the plans as they went along.

"Thoughtful Boss?"

"Yeah Biker. We got the orders to move out. Take that concentration camp west of here and watch over the medics as they do their thing." Stevenson looked around. "Kind of miss the old days in Hell."

"Like the day we got a disabled driver sticker, put it on the tank and parked it in the Colonel's space?"

"Just like that. Although we should have asked him to remove his Humvee first. I don’t know, look at this place. Pretty rolling green hills, nice little forests, air so clean it tastes like wine. Well, it does until we start the tanks up. It's too pretty, it lacks character. Hell had character."

"Mostly bad."

"Yeah, but at least it had some. This place looks like its somebody tried too hard to make the perfect world. It's the Stepford Wives version of an environment. Hokay, we're going to blow it up anyway, it's time to roll. Biker, get the troops together and we'll try and liven this place up a bit.

Farming Community, Five Miles West of Base Heavengate-Alpha-One, Heaven

Nobody had removed the body of their angel. He was still sprawled out on the ground on the outskirts of the village where the soldiers had shot him down. Haropamiel-Lan-Mihmakeal had seen the column of vehicles approaching and stepped out into the road in front of them, holding up his hand, palm facing the newcomers. The Ishim had held his ground, even when the newcomers had driven right up to him and fired their guns at his feet. Then, three of their vehicles had opened fire on him and Haropamiel had fallen. Now, half the village was wailing in grief at the death of their lord while the rest were stunned by the sight of an Angel being casually killed.

"Hokay, we hold here until the medical convoy joins us, then we push the rest of the way." The commander of the newcomers was speaking to another officer.

Benedict almost fainted with terror at the thought of what he was about to do but his duties left him no choice. In point of fact, he had no official duties, Haropamiel had been the only authority in the hamlet but Benedict had been his right hand in dealing with the humans and the habit still held good. Anyway, with Haropamiel laying dead in the dirt, surrounded by a pool of his peerless white blood, somebody had to take charge. He squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and addressed the officer of soldiers. "Sir, it is time for us to make our daily reverences to the Lord of All."

The officer turned around and, to his shock, Benedict saw that the officer was a woman. Not only that but a Nubian. "And you are?" Her voice was cold and not very sympathetic. The accent was one that Benedict had never heard before. Nor, come to think of it had he seen clothes like the ones she was wearing. Tunic and trousers all covered in an eye-deceiving pattern of red and gray squares, a thick and heavy-looking jacket colored the same way. There was much equipment carried by this officer, more than that carried by the Roman officers Benedict had seen during his life on Earth. Most frightening of all though were the things that covered her eyes. They were mirrors, ones that reflected the image of Benedict standing before her yet concealed her own expression completely. Combined with the impassive expression, Benedict had no idea of how or what she was feeling. One thing Benedict did understand, this human wasn't dead. Heaven was being invaded, the war machines parked in his village and those flying overhead proved that. Heaven had seen nothing like them before.

"My name is Benedict. Since you have killed our Angel, I am in charge here."

"Hokay, then stop that damned wailing."

"I am sorry Sir, but our angel is dead. Without his protection and guidance, what shall we do?"

"Try standing on your own feet."

Benedict almost wept with despair. He had hoped for sympathy, or at least that his need to carry on with the duties of reverence for The Almighty Lord would win some favor. But there was none to be found here. He looked closely at the officer and saw the signs of authority that had marked the Roman officers he had known long ago. "May we perform our rituals?"

"Sure, this is your village, such as it is. You can do what you wish." The voice changed slightly and some warmth crept into it. "You'd better get used to that. It's called being free. The days when Angels ruled this place are ending pretty damned soon. And you don’t have to do that reverencing stuff any more. Unless you really want to of course. Can't see what you would want to give thanks for though."

Benedict took offense at that and at the casual invocation of damnation. "We have much to be thankful for. We live in comfortable homes that are ours to keep. No soldiers come to burn them down in the night. We have our fields to tend and our crops to grow and they do not get trampled down or stolen. We have clothes to wear, all we need to eat and much more besides. We live our days in peace. Truly, is this not the Paradise we were promised?"

Benedict waited to be struck down in the way that any who spoke to an officer of soldiers would have been struck down. Instead, she burst out laughing and started shaking her head.

Spearhead Battalion, Third Armored Division, Heaven

"Hokey, so this one has got guts. Some anyway." Stephenson looked around at the cluster of hovels that surrounded her unit. She guessed that some hillbillies living in the back end of nowhere probably had worse living conditions but she couldn’t be sure of that. What she did know was that in any American town, these shanty homes would be condemned as a health and safety hazard. Nobody, but nobody, she knew had to live in conditions like this.

"He's probably right Colonel. I'd guess this place does stack up pretty well against the conditions people had to live in two thousand years ago. Ever heard of the Lekker Lewe?" Stephenson shook her head. "Read about it in a book about the Zulu wars. The old Boer settlers had a lifestyle they called the Lekker Lewe, the sweet life. For them, the sweet life meant doing the minimum of work needed to provide them with a minimally comfortable lifestyle. Put a lot of emphasis on living in balance with the land. Bit like environmentalists I guess although most of the enviro's I know would go apeshit at the idea their ideas were upheld by a bunch of South African Boers. It was the sort of ideal the Boers clung to even when times changed and they lived a lot better than they ever could hen living the Lekker Lewe. I guess the same applies here; in comparison with living on the brink of starvation and always in danger of being looted or killed or both, this place doesn’t seem so bad. It's just that we are seeing it through different eyes. It's not just our weaponry that's changed, its our expectations of what constitutes a Heaven."

"Ain't that the truth Biker. Looks like our medic friends are about to catch up with us. Yo, Benedict. Any more angels around this way?"

"No Sir. Our Haropamiel was all."

"Watch it Colonel, I doubt if these people have been outside their fields in millennia. They've got no idea what's out there."

"Sure. Tell everybody to mount up. And to take things real careful."

Belial's Camp, Heaven.

"Most Blessed Lord, the human army is approaching. Already their war machines are near our walls." Ohiel-Lan-Epidan wasn't quite sure how to address Belial. A Grand Duke in Hell was, or had been, the equivalent of a Chayot Ha Kodesh but to give one of the Fallen the same titles seemed wrong on too many levels. Yet Belial was doubtless in charge here and was favored by The Almighty Father Of All. Had not He Who Is Above All himself placed this Grand Duke in charge of this place of punishment? And had not Belial chosen him, a lowly Cherubim as one of the guards here. Ohiel-Lan-Epidan had taken to his work very quickly, with the authority granted to him he had been able to take down the arrogant Seraphim and Hashmallim who had once lorded their superiority over the lower ranks of Angels. Now they whimpered in the mud while he, Ohiel, a mere Ishim, had his foot on their necks.

"They are called tanks." Belial spoke without too much concern. He had already decided that, while carrying out this task, that it was not worthy of him. It was all very well to torment a few hundred angels but he was used to better things than this. Once he held sway over tens of thousands of daemons and billions of human souls. He had been a favorite of Satan himself. All of which he had lost due to the betrayal of that bitch Euryale. Her words "kill him" still echoed through his mind. He needed vengeance upon her; he needed her to die a hideously lingering and agonizing death for what she had done.

Coming to Heaven had been a mistake. With a flash of intuitive insight, Belial realized that he had been so demoralized by Euryale's betrayal, so crushed by the contemptuous ease with which the humans had overwhelmed everybody before them, that he had fled the battle before it was truly lost. He could have done so much more, all he had needed was the spirit, the internal resources to do it. Certainly the humans had destroyed the center of power Satan had built around Dis but the daemons had only ever occupied a small portion of the vast land mass of Hell. There were vast lands outside the daemonic domain where the humans were unlikely to go. There must be tens of thousands of daemons who would not accept the cowardly surrender of Abigor and who wished to continue the fight. All they needed was leadership, the sort of leadership that only a Grand Duke could provide.

By running for Heaven, he had so nearly missed his chance. He had taken himself out of the competition for leadership of the resistance to human rule of Hell, the resistance that he knew had to be building somewhere in the hinterland of Hell. This also was Euryale's fault, if she hadn't betrayed him so brutally, so finally, he would never have fled to this pale, insipid Heaven. Instead, he would have been the leader of the daemonic resistance and, once the humans had been driven out, the ruler of a new kingdom. For a moment he allowed himself to slip into a daydream, one in which he devised new and ever more excruciating torments to be inflicted on Euryale as soon as the opportunity arose.

"My Lord?" Ohiel-Lan-Epidan spoke carefully. More than one Angel had been transferred from guard on the outside to prisoner on the inside for offending Belial. "Your orders?"

Belial snapped himself out of his reverie, one in which Euryale had been begging him for her death. "All Angels will form up on the walls and fight off the humans. Go now and spread the word."

He watched the angel head off to the walls, carrying the word that would start the fight against the humans. Then, he turned away and started the mental disciplines necessary to open a portal to Earth.

Spearhead Battalion, Third Armored Division, Heaven

"York crews, get ready to deal with any Airborne angel attacks." The six M1314A1 anti-harpy guns were spread out in a long line to cover her tanks and MICVs. "Alpha and Bravo companies, concentrate fire on the gatehouse in front. Five rounds rapid, Alpha Company advance to the gully after three. Use up the sabot ammunition, keep the HEAD and beehive rounds for when we have to deal with the Angels. Charlie and Delta companies, use your chain guns to hose down the top of the wall. Bravo will advance with me as soon as Alpha is in position. On my mark .. . . . Fire."

Thirty 120mm sabot rounds streaked across the gap separating the tanks from the walls of Belial's concentration camp. The crystal-clear picture of the gatehouse vanished under roiling clouds of dust as the rods slammed into the stone, powdering it and sending fragments spinning into the sky. Looking at the scene, Stevenson realized that it had a distinct resemblance to the dust-laden atmosphere of Hell. So, we've brought Hell to Heaven. Angels, meet depleted uranium. And the more you fight, the worse it is going to get. Her tank lurched again as her gunner slammed out a second. She could see the dust cloud covering the gate roil as the sabot bolts tore through it. The third salvo ripped out, then the fourteen tanks of Alpha Company accelerated out of their positions and started to move to a deep gully that would provide them with hull-down positions for further shots at the already-battered gatehouse. Her own tank lurched twice more as two additional shots were squeezed off, then her two command tanks led Bravo company in a leap-frogging movement to their next designated fire positions.

Half way through the move, she was checking on Alpha Company to make sure they were sustaining fire on the gate and wall around it. Back in the old days, she wouldn't have had to do that but the massive expansion of the Army had meant quality had dropped. A lot. Still, the company were firing slowly and deliberately at the gatehouse structure. One of the towers was already down, the other looking decidedly battered from the sabot rounds that were splitting the marble apart. As she watched, a great sheet of shining white stone detached from the face of the tower and crashed to the ground. Then, there was a sound that reminded her of a bell chiming and her tank lurched.

"What the hell was that?" Her loader's voice came over the intra-vehicle comms system.

Stevenson thought for a split second. "Trumpet blast. Our insulation took most of it and the active noise cancellation system a lot more so what we heard was what leaked through." Enough to make a 70-ton tank rock she thought. Angels were a lot more dangerous than daemons.

She switched over to the battalion command frequency. "Charlie and Delta, we're taking trumpet blasts here. Maintain fire on the wall. York, any angels trying to fly yet?"

York Battery's commander was probably listening on the radio, waiting for the chance to blow something up. "No sign of any flight activity ma'am. All trying to stay under cover I guess."

"Hokay, use the radar for surveillance and pick off any that do appear. In the meantime, switch your gun to electro-optical and hose down that wall."

I guess his finger must have been on the fire button all the time. The brilliant red streaks from the 57mm tracer rounds were slashing at the wall-top before she had time to formulate the thought. By the time her attention had returned to the gatehouse, her tanks had opened fire and the different angles of impact had brought the second tower down. "Shift fire to the gate itself. One round HEAD."

With the protecting bulk of the towers down and the gate supports severely compromised, the single barrage of HEAD rounds were enough to leave gates themselves a mass of burning splinters. "Bravo Company, follow me. Alpha, pick up behind. Everybody else , keep hammering the wall top either side of the gates."

The temptation to open the tank up and watch what was happening through the open commander's cupola was great but Stevenson crushed it down hard. The lesson of Hell was quite clear, humans were more or less safe inside their armored vehicles. It was when they left the protection of rolled homogenous armor that things went wrong. Her tank started to rise as it crossed the burning rubble of the gate, then its nose dipped and Stevebson saw what lay inside the compound. For a brief moment sheer blind fury grabbed hold of her and she wanted to swing her coaxial machine gun across the camp guards who were already throwing down their swords. She managed to master the impulse, just, by the barest of margins. For a second the lights inside the tank flickered and the computers blipped, then there was a rattle that she recognized as machinegun fire hitting her tank.

"What happened?" Her voice was terse and strained.

"One of the guards, took a swing at your tank with what looks like an electrically charged sword. Bravo-three, four, five and six took him down with coax."

"Roger that. Thank's for the service guys. Tanks, spread out, keep the rest of the guards covered. For pity's sake be careful how you maneuver, we don’t want to crush the poor bastards in the mud." She took another look at the center of the compound where the prisoners held there were staring at the human tanks that had just blasted their way into their own private Hell. "Charlie and Delta, move on up. York, follow them. Which one of you has that TV crew on board?"

"That's us Colonel. Charlie-Seven."

"Hokay, get up here fast. The world has got to see this."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 66

LTR

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Sampson Household, Sapulpa, Oklahoma, USA

"The following news items contains images and stories that some viewers may find distressing. Viewer discretion is therefore advised. Nikole, are you there?" The news broadcast cut away from the studio into a scene that, from its clear white light, should have been Heaven. Only, the sight of the walled enclosure and the vile, filth-drenched mud of the ground seemed more like Hell than Heaven. The wailing from the crippled inhabitants of the camp made the situation even more confused. John Sampson had spent most of his life as a fairly observant Episcopalian but he was sure that he had never heard of anything like this in Heaven. In the background, a large group of humans were trying to lift an angel out of the mud and load the victim on to a tank transporter so it could be moved away from the scene. For a brief second, the sounds of the camp were drowned out by a Mi-26 helicopter flying overhead, carrying another angel as a slung load. Then the pitiful sounds of the camp returned, the contrast with the roar of the helicopter engines making them even more plaintive.

"Hello, Anita? Good to hear from you." She turned slightly and faced the camera rather than the monitor off to her left. "This is Nikole Killion reporting from Heaven. Earlier today, the Spearhead Battalion of the Third Armored Division overran this concentration camp, here, in Heaven. Ladies and gentlemen, I spent six months in Hell as your assigned correspondent there. I saw many things in Hell, some too dreadful ever to put on television. I saw our tortured dead being retrieved from the Hellpit. I saw battlefields where the mangled corpses of the daemons who died trying to fight our tanks with bronze tridents covered mile after mile. I saw more than I ever wanted to of horror in Hell but I saw other things as well. I saw our humanity as we succored those in need, I saw the tenderness and compassion of our troops as they treated the crippled and wounded. And I saw the guilt of the daemons themselves as the evil influence of Satan faded and they realized the error of their ways. I saw their joy when the realized the weight of oppression was lifted from them. But never did I see in Hell anything like the scenes I have witnessed here today."

Behind the camera Killion saw the producer made the traditional 'you're laying it on too thick' sign. Before she could resume though, there was a dreadful scream from behind her. The angel had been lifted on to a cargo palette so that it could be moved more easily but one of its broken wings had caught the edge and been twisted around. Undoubtedly the bones had grated against each other to produce that scream of pain. Killion glanced again at the producer and got a 'forget it, you were right' sign.

"This concentration camp is something beyond our understanding. The Armenian Massacres, Auschwitz and the rest of the Holocaust, the Rwanda Massacres, the Hellpit, all of those were executed by one group oppressing another. That isn't an excuse for them of course but it highlights the fact that this place is different. The only thing that separates the angels in this camp from the rest is that these ones didn’t quite agree with everything Yahweh said. For that one crime, they ended up here, their wings, and in many cases their legs, broken beyond repair. The doctors here have told me they will do what they can but these are the worst bone injuries they have ever seen. Colonel Keisha Stevenson, commander of the Spearhead Battalion, has spared a few minutes of her time to speak with us. Colonel, what is happening right now."

"Hokay, Nikole. Our first priority is to get the victims in this place out. I'll be honest with you, some of these angels are not going to make it. The least we can do is get them out of here so they can die in more comfortable circumstances. We've got a hospice area set up a mile or so away, we're moving the beyond-hope ones there and doping them up with morphine so their final hours will be as pain-free and pleasant as possible. The rest, we're trying to get to hospitals on Earth. It's triage I'm afraid, separating those who can be saved from those who cannot. The worst duty of any doctor tasked with handling a major disaster has to face."

Across the bottom of the television screen, a message bar started to roll. It was an appeal for assistance in handling the unfolding disaster. One of many such appeals that had been launched ever since the Salvation War had started. John Sampson looked at his wife, Ellen, and exchanged nods. They didn’t have much left but they'd send a little money to help.

"Colonel, have we any idea who was responsible for this horror?" Killion was having trouble keeping her voice level.

"We do. The orders came from Yahweh himself. We have them exactly. ' For defying My Eternal Will they should suffer the agonies of Hell for all eternity. I decree eternal damnation for them with all the suffering that their vile treachery deserves.' And those orders were issued to the commandant of this camp, the daemon Grand Duke Belial."

"Belial?" Killion could barely believe it and her voice rose uncontrolled. "Belial ran this camp? The one who was responsible for Coventry and Detroit? What connection does he have with Yahweh?"

"Appears to work for him. And be Satan's replacement. Of course, since he seems to have been appointed Satan's replacement by Yahweh, well, it makes us think right? The guards here are nobodies, lowest rank angels. Hierarchy is pretty strong here in Heaven and the lowest ranks of angels are pretty much servants of the higher ranks. That's what the lan in their names means. 'Servant of'. From what we can see, the prisoners here are all middle rank angels so the guards took their millennia of servitude out on them."

"What happened to Belial? Is he in custody?"

"No such luck Nikole. He portalled out as soon as we appeared. Probably went to Earth and then back to either here or somewhere in Hell. We'll get him in the end."

"So Yahweh is directly responsible for all of this." Killion shook her head. "Where do we go from here?"

"Hokay, here, we need help, need it bad. A single combined arms battalion and a med unit aren't nearly enough. We're not trained for it, we're not equipped for it. We need disaster relief specialists right away. For the Spearhead battalion? We gotta job to do over in the Eternal City. There's folks that need rescuing over there."

"Humans or angels?" Killion couldn’t help asking.

Stevenson looked around at the scene surrounding them. "Both, I guess."

Welfare and Assistance Group, Phelan Plain, Hell.

The queue at the camp was endless, as quickly as those at the head could be processed, others arrived and joined the tail. Once people had been reborn as second lifers or rescued from the Hellpit they had been taken through the identification and induction formalities at the initial reception center. Some who came through the gate had already restructured their finances to allow themselves to continue with their existing assets in the second life. They could leave right away, either to the areas run by their own country or to one of the new mini-states that were proliferating across human-occupied Hell. Others had not had that chance and many, many more, especially the refugees from the hellpit had nothing to start with. And so they came here, reborn or recovered, to get some help easing into what was rapidly becoming the most aggressive free market economy in history. Making sure that they had a fair deal and the best start possible was the duty of the Welfare and Assistance Section.

For a peculiar complex of reasons, Australia had been uniquely placed to fill a gap. Its primary industries were now in overdrive to provide raw materials and refining for the growth of the world's armies and that had caused its unemployment rate had dropped to levels unseen since World War Two. This slump in demand for welfare and assistance had combined with their existing agency's experience in operating a large and complex welfare system to give them the experience they needed. Add in disaster and crisis response and the fact that Australia had not yet been and was not likely to be a target for a major attack had made them the ideal choice to lead the new multinational welfare organization.

The past year had been a hectic one for Donald Weems. He'd been heading up what he now knew to be a Yah-Yah enhanced cyclone response task force in Queensland, arranging emergency finance, fast-tracking new identification and legal documents for those who had lost them, managing emergency housing as well as dealing with all of the standard welfare agency issues that the affected population had when the call had come through. Five hours later he'd been a QANTAS 747-400 Longreach to Leeds with two hundred staff, spending most of the flight on a conference call with the British welfare agencies, lawmakers and a gaggle of IT groups trying to figure out how to integrate everyone. They'd barely gotten the mess of bureaucracy and technology sorted out when Detroit had been hit and that had been even more of a mess due to the strange idiosyncrasies of the US social security system.

Then the Plateau of Minos reception point had been taken by the H.E.A., where it quickly became clear that the military was not capable, nor motivated to run that service into the future. The announcement had been made that a new second life welfare agency was being created to supplement and eventually replace the military-run holding and recovery facilities. Funding was a nightmare, not least because of certain elements had started raging about "welfare succubae". Eventually, it had become clear that there were significant savings being made from retirement and old age pensions funds. People were beginning to realize that there was no real point in suffering through a painfully terminal illness when a new life and body were waiting for them 'the other side'. Earthside medical costs were already falling as terminal care was made obsolete by the escalating suicide rate. Several countries were already discussing the legalization of euthanasia. The savings that would bring would allow the Welfare and Assistance Group to function in the interim from existing budgets. At least until a revenue stream from Hell could be established.

It had been eighteen months or more since he had taken over the operations at the camp, and progress was being made rapidly. The tent city that had been the symbol of the reception camps was being slowly replaced by Dongas, pre-fabricated dwellings designed for use at mining sites in the Australian desert, perfectly suited for use in hell. Schools, trade colleges and universities were opening to provide modern education and training. A massive hall had been constructed with the assistance of the New Roman Republic to act as a site for a career and job expo, where people could come and look at their options and be wooed by the ever increasing number of nations and corporations that required workers or citizens. Even sports and recreation facilities were now being built, the YMCA (the C now stood for Charitable) had twenty buildings either completed or nearing completion, the IOC had pitched in for the construction of an athletics ground and swimming facilities. Every attempt was being made to make the transition easier, lives better and help people become self sufficient in Hell.

For all the improvements and rose-tinted publicity though, the bread and butter of the job was still dealing with trauma, grief, shock and pain. For every former pensioner who had chosen to end their painful cancer-ridden life in favor of a healthy second life start or rich, dumb kid who'd wrapped their car around a tree and was now suing for early release of their trust fund as they'd never reach 21 years of age, he had a thousand who's deaths from famine, disease and violence who required far more resources to support. The worst were the long-time Hell victims who needed constant support for weeks and even months on end from the team of psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, social workers and counsellors just to bring them to a level where they could begin the most basic human processes once more. Recently, the armies had started to establish their own facilities to care for their veterans but that left all too many others without a solid foundation for what promised to be a very long life.

The initial contact point was still manned around the clock, with each new arrival to the facility being processed and added to what was inevitably going to be the largest database of personal information in existence. If possible a brief interview would identify their needs, then they'd be assigned to housing. It never ceased to amaze him when he came into his office which overlooked the main waiting area at the contact point, the variety of humanity that was there. Queues of men and women of every race and age. Special areas where children from newborns to teenagers sat with nurses, social workers and other specialists as they waited to see if any family could be found to assist them. The processes that followed this initial contact were becoming increasingly complex as more and more options became available. He'd decided to make his task for the day to try and build a new streamlined framework to take into account all of the new resources. The phone on the desk rings, pulling his attention away from the mountains of briefing papers, tenders, proposals and financial data that awaited him. "Hi, Weems here. How can I-"

"How soon can you have a crisis response group ready to go?" The voice at the other end of the line was urgent and spoke with the tone that he'd learnt was unique to Colonel's and above who needed to be heard *right now*.

"That's a very open question. What kind of crisis? How many affected? First or second lifers? Where is it and . . . . . sorry, who is this?"

"This is Colonel Paschal, Director of Operations for DIMO(N). We're looking at way over fifteen thousand victims in a concentration camp environment. Hand your work over to your deputy, thin out your staff to the minimum needed and get the rest assembled for a quick move. We have a major disaster on hand and it's a complicated scenario."

"Complicated how?" Weems didn’t like being ordered around so abruptly but he'd learned that, here in Hell, the military forces had the upper hand and their brusque, terse approach to problems actually worked.

"Most of the victims are angels."

Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

"What is happening? Are we on Earth?" Maion spoke weakly. She was confused and bewildered by everything that had happened. The last thing she could clearly remember was the pain and filth of the prison she had been sent to. Then, the rest was a mixture of half-remembered scenes, flashing lights and humans everywhere. Humans who seemed to be in charge.

"We are. You are in a thing called a hospital, it's where humans treat their sick and wounded. They call such people 'patients' and have people called 'doctors' and 'nurses' who look after them." Lemuel paused and look rueful. "Don't argue with them Maion, just do as they say. They get very angry if others try and interfere with them looking after their patients."

Maion very carefully lifted her head and looked around. The movement attracted the attention of a human woman dressed in white with a name-tag reading "Grace" on it. She took a clipboard from somewhere and started writing down numbers from the equipment that surrounded Maion's bed. "Well, Maion, how are we feeling today?"

"I can't feel much at all." Maion was slightly confused and also resentful. Humans were menial servants, that was how it had been all her life. The idea that one could address her, not just as an equal but as her superior, drove through the strange fog that filled Maion's mind.

"I'm not surprised. We had to pump you full of morphine so you could recover. When did you become an addict by the way?"

"What?" Lemuel was shocked by the casual question.

"Don't interrupt." Grace snapped the response at him. "Maion, we ran an analysis panel on your blood, once you had enough to analyze that is, and that told us you were a heroin addict. A couple of cops we have helping out here told us where to look and we found the injection marks between your toes. That's not a good idea by the way, you can get gangrene and lose your feet doing that."

Maion was bewildered, she couldn't understand a lot of what the nurse was saying and the fact that the humans had discovered her secret so easily shocked her.

"About two years, two and a half. At first it was just a bit of fun, it made parties so much better. Then, I found how bad it was if I didn’t get it. In the end, I had to work at the club to earn enough." Maion cudgelled her brain, trying to remember what it was that she could say and what she had to keep secret. "Michael-Lan's nightclub that is. I had to dance there and do other things, just to get my stuff. I'm sorry Lemuel, I wanted to tell you but I was ashamed."

Lemuel moved closer to her and took her hand. Grace caught the action and smiled to herself, at least these two would help each other out. She'd seen enough addiction treatments to know that recovering from addiction was much easier if it was a joint affair. "Don't be hard on her Lemuel, you’re an addict too."

"What?" Lemuel was genuinely stunned by the offhand comment.

"We ran a panel on you too. You've been using opiates in small quantities for quite some time. You're not hooked the way Maion is, but you're an addict just the same. Kiddies, don't mess with this stuff, it will really screw you up."

"What?" Lemuel simply didn’t understand what was happening around him. He was out of his depth, flailing around in an effort to get his mind around the things he was learning.

"Say that once more and I'll have you assigned to washing out bedpans." Grace smiled to take the sting out of her words. "Look, we can handle this. It's no big thing really. Anyway, Maion, don’t worry about this great lummox, we'll take care of him as well. When we get time that is, we're getting overworked with all the concentration camp victims coming back from Heaven. You're not alone here any more, there are more than a dozen patients just like you here. Some of them worse. If it's any consolation to you, everything we learned treating you is helping us look after them better."

Maion lifted her head again and looked carefully around, feeling the strain on her neck and shoulders as she did so. There were three other angels in her ward, all surrounded by the same equipment as hers, all with human staff looking after them. She also saw her own wings stretched out within a wooden frame.

Grace caught her glance. "The surgeons operated on your wings. They managed to repair the damage to the bones between the joints. You've got titanium screws in there to hold the bones together. The joints? Well, they've done the best they can but the damage was very severe. We had experts come in from Ireland, that's a place thousands of miles away, to help fix the damage but whether they did any good, we just don’t know."

"Will I fly again?" Maion was almost desperate, trying to imagine a world when she couldn’t fly any time she wanted.

Grace hesitated. There were times to lie and times to tell the truth and it was hard to know which applied here. In the end she settled for the truth. "I don't know, but the doctors think the chances are not good. We're not quite sure how you fly, but the surgeons think those wing joints will be very stiff and hard to move, even when they're healed. If they heal. That's all for the future though, we can cross that bridge when we come to it." She switched her attention to Lemuel. "As for you, you look pretty sick too. Lack of sleep, no food and withdrawal symptoms. Get some rest. That's an order."

There was a racking groan from the other end of the ward. One of the other angels was coming around. Grace reinserted the clipboard into its holder at the end of the bed and took off in the direction of the sound. Overhead, the roof of the tent shook as Bethesda's Mi-26 brought another angel in for treatment.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 67

LTR

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Headquarters, Incomparable Legion Of Light, Heaven.

"Oh man, can't we all just get along?"

Raphael-Lan covertly raised his eyebrows in despair. "I really wish we could, especially after all the work you put in with the humans a couple of millennia ago. Michael-Lan really admires that, you know. The sheer patience and concentration needed to control that carpenter for so many years, well, it was an achievement he really respects. A pity it all turned out so badly. Anyway, we, or rather you, have a job to do. He Who Must Not Be Named wants you to lead the Incomparable Legion and its human levies against the army invading Heaven."

"Oh crap. Why don't we just sit down and talk this out with them? Anyway, which one, man? There are human armies all over the place."

"The nearest one will do." Which, just by great good fortune happens to be the one best fitted to kill you and wipe out Yahweh's personal bodyguard. "In any case, The One Above Us All has a personal interest in them. The prison used to hold those who betrayed His Holy Will has been overrun by humans and it must be recaptured. Immediately. Such are the unquestionable commands of The Most High."

Raphael-Lan watched the figure the other side of the table shake his head. "He really needs to mellow out and smell the roses. My Unspeakable Father has palaces all over Heaven, what's one more or less to Him?"

"I think it's the angels within His Omnipotence is worried about. They defied His Holy Will after all."

"Ominpotence? That's a joke. What things I could tell you. Still, if the Old Man wants it, I guess it must be done. Keep Him chilled out. Where?" There was something subtly different about the last word, one that made Raphael-Lan look sharply across the table.

"Here. I suggest you take the entire Legion and hit this point just opposite the camp. There's only a thin skin of human forces there, most of the rest are spreading out to secure their base area. When the Incomparable Legion breaks through here, you can spread out inside and collapse the whole area. You will earn yourself much glory in the eyes of He Who Is Above Us All."

The snort of laughter surprised Rafael-Lan. "Like sure, man. Like My Eternal Father is going to be cool with anything I do. Thank you, Rafael-Lan, for your wisdom and insight. Pass word to He Who Must Be Obeyed that his Dutiful Son will lead the Incomparable Legion to victory."

Raphael-Lan made his obeisance and left the tent to fly back to the Eternal City. That was getting more dangerous now there were human aircraft in the skies over Heaven. Their fastest and most powerful could sweep down and take out their target before there was any sign of their presence. Things in Heaven were already changing fast. Less than a week since Lemuel and Maion had opened the doors and already Angelic control of Heaven was slipping.

Back in the headquarters, Enatenael-Lan-Elhmas was staring at the map spread out on the table. "Eternal Lord, do we do as Raphael suggests?"

"Like hell man. Raphael and Michael are good people but they just don’t know humans the way I do. We throw in an assault at the point he suggested sure, but it'll be a feint. The humans will have to respond to it, they have hordes of human civilians helping out at the hell-hole My Auspicious Father created. They'll want to protect them, so they'll pull in units from all around to stop us. Enatenael-Lan, take one cohort of the Incomparable Legion and its human levies. That'll give you 10,000 angels and five times that number of levies. Keep pushing at the forces the humans throw at you. Once they've stripped the rest of their perimeter to stop you, I'll lead the other nine Cohorts and their levies in. They'll punch right through the thinned-out human lines. It'll be rough on you and your Cohort but it'll cost us less overall."

"Very good Eternal Lord." Enatenael-Lan crossed his wings in front of his face and swept out to gather his forces.

Far, far overhead, beyond the ability of Angelic eyes to see or ears to hear, the RQ-4 Global Hawk turned at the end of its reconnaissance run and relayed its pictures of the ground below back to the surveillance center.

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

As a command center, Heaven beat Hell any day. It was, well, heavenly just to be able to open a window and let fresh air enter the building. After almost two years spending most of his time in Hell, General of the Armies David Petraeus appreciated the simple virtues of being able to breath fresh air, unprocessed by filters and electrostatic precipitators.

"Well, they're on the move at last." It surprised Petraeus that it had taken the Angelic Host so long to react to his invasion. He didn’t regret it, the most crucial hours of any invasion were those as the first units started to arrive. At first they had been too few and too spread-out to offer a solid defense but the delay in Angelic response had made them miss the opportunity. He had an entire Army in Heaven now with additional portals opening up daily. The Russians and Chinese were pouring in as well, doing the same as he was, establishing a perimeter and making sure it was secure. Back in Hell, Fourth Army Group was ready to move as soon as any news of an Angelic incursion on to Earth was reported. The possibility that the Angelic Host might try an end-run and suck him out of Heaven by threatening Earth had occurred to Petraeus and he had made preparations to allow for it. With Fourth Army Group ready to portal to any point on Earth and human leg infantry and militia there already, Earth was as secure as he could make it.

"Splitting their force too." General Sir Michael Jackson looked at the displays that dominated the wall of the command center.

"That's a feint." Major-General Asanee tapped the smaller of the two forces. "It's heading for Belial's concentration camp. I guess the enemy commander knows us well enough to realize we have to protect the civilians there."

"And he thinks we'll strip the forces we have on the rest of the perimeter to do so. He doesn’t know us as well as he thinks." Petraeus thought for a second. "We do need to move up some reserves there though. Michael, where are our First Demonic and Caesar's Third Legion?"

Jackson flicked through the sheets on his clipboard. "Well-placed David. We can have them up there quickly enough to set up a good defense." He hesitated briefly, "are you sure you want them to take this on. Neither unit is seasoned and we don't know if either can actually fight."

"Then we had better find out hadn't we?" Asanee was staring at the map, her mind working out distances and times. "This is a golden opportunity to do so. It is a feint so if they crumple, we won’t lose too much and we can restore the situation using my corps and Third US Armored. I wonder if the guy on the other side knows Third has moved south?"

"Probably." Petraeus was also calculating time and distance. "My guess is that the humans here are funnelling information to him. They're pretty loyal to their angels. So, we can assume that the opposition have a lot of tactical intelligence on us but very little strategic level stuff. They're not fighting completely blind the way Satan and his commanders did. We can expect a lot more skill tactically but they still haven't grasped how fast we can move or how much firepower we can switch around. I must admit, I find the loyalty of the humans here disappointing."

"I don't find that at all surprising." Jackson was interrupted by a snort from Asanee. "Remember we haven't found any humans here from later than the latter part of the dark ages. We might regard the status of humans here as seriously dire but compared with what they are used to, this place really is paradise. We might even hypothesize that the Gates of Heaven were closed once our expectations exceeded the reality of this place."

"I'm sure the historians will love discussing that." As a scholar himself, Pestraeus could understand the fascination of solving such puzzles. But, that was for later. "So, we let the two integrated demon and second life human units take the brunt of this feint." Petraeus thumbed a button on the intercom system and rapped out a string of orders. The aide on the other end would be taking them down and turning his General's wishes into military movement orders. "We'll give them a helping hand of course, there's a reason why we've given priority to moving artillery units into the bridgeheads. Now, that brings us to the main force. Any ideas?"

"Assuming it moves on a direct path to its target, that means it will hit around here." Jackson tapped the display with a wooden pointer. "The Global Hawk is telling us this push is a really big one, some 90,000 angels and more than 450,000 humans."

"About the same size as Abigor's push in Iraq. I wonder how well those humans will fight. If they're so downtrodden as to think this place is Paradise, do they have the spirit to fight at all?" Asanee was thoughtful. She produced a laser pointer from a pocket and shone the red spot on the display. "They'll be hitting all along this area. They're lagging behind the feint though; I'd guess the idea is to draw us off."

"That'll play against them. We won’t just be learning how well our own demon units fight, we'll be learning how the Angelic Host fights. That's going to be important, according to DIMO(N) the combat strength of the Angelic Host is in excess of 60 million angels and up to 300 million humans." Petraeus noted the sharp intakes of breath from Jackson and Asanee. "Food for thought isn’t it."

"Mostly, how come the daemons fought them to a standstill in the Great Celestial War." Asanee was trying to envisage commanding an Army that big. "They've got a weakness, a bad one somewhere."

"DIMO(N) has an answer for that as well. According to their research, daemons are pretty fertile and their birth-rate replaced their casualties. Angels, not so much. Their fertility and birth rate are low so they are short in replacements. That probably translates into a very casualty-adverse mindset. I think if we study that Great Celestial War we will find that it was mostly skirmishing with the Angels refusing to get too heavily committed for fear of the casualties they'd take while the demons tried to avoid major battles because they knew they'd be heavily outnumbered."

"So, we hit this army hard. Give them a butcher's bill that'll make their eyes water."

"Exactly right, and when we hit that main force, we have just the tools we need to do it." Petraeus sighed. "Here we go again. I suppose I'm going to have to write another inspiring order-of-the-day."

"You are lucky David, you can email it out. If Caesar was sitting there, he would have to give it personally. With the size of our Army, that could take years."

Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

The results looked as if they were just about as bad as he had feared. Doctor Daniel Zinder held the x-rays up to the light and peered at the reforming bones. It turned out angels did have the same remarkable healing powers as daemons but in this case it wasn't helping his patients at all. Maion was the most advanced of them and the bones in her wing joints were indeed recovering. The only problem was, they were fusing into an immobile mass of bone. Flying was out of the question, it would be a miracle of she could fold her wings at all.

"Doctor, there is a fiend from Hell waiting to see you."

Zinder looked around sharply, Grace was standing in the doorway, smiling broadly. "Nurse, the word is daemon. We don’t want to be charged with racial discrimination or harassment. Anyway, ask him to wait five minutes then trot him in."

Zinder put the X-rays away and settled down at his desk. Grace returned, bringing the daemon in with her.

"I am Doctor Zinder, how may I help you." He reflected that was a bit curt but formality was still catching up with the rapid changes in relationships. 'Half-believed mythological legend' to 'hideous reality' to 'mortal enemy' to 'defeated foe' to 'de-facto ally' in two years took some getting used to.

"My name is Memnon, I am currently Minister of Communications in the Government of President Abigor. I understand that you have large numbers of angels here to be treated?"

"We do." A horrible thought crossed Zinder's mind. "You don’t want to eat them do you?"

Memnon laughed, uneasily aware that not so long ago that was exactly what he would have wanted. "No, but I may have some information that may help you. Our information is that the wings on these angels have been broken, crippled. Is this true?"

"It is, some have had their legs broken the same way. We're doing our best but even with the best reconstructive surgery, we're not doing so well."

"This does not surprise me. Breaking the wings of angels was a favorite sport of ours when we held them prisoner during The Great Celestial War. But, I should tell you something. During the invasion by Abigor's Army, I was attacked by some of your fighters. My colleagues were killed and my wings were badly burned and mutilated by a missile. They grew back, malformed and distorted so that I could not fly. The doctors said that it was because metal fragments from the missile warheads were interfering with the nerves and blood vessels but I think it was because the fragments were iron and iron is poison to us."

Memnon paused and flared his wings outwards. Zinder was struck by how similar the basic structure was to the angelic wings. They were black and scaled like lizard skin of course, not white and feathered, but even without X-rays, Zinder could see the bone structure was the same. He could also see that Memnon's wings were fully functional and un-mutilated. "So what happened Memnon?"

"My wings were so bad that the Doctors decided the only thing to do was to amputate them. They did so, and my wings grew back again. With the iron fragments removed from my body, they grew back perfectly. They may also do so on Angels."

"Do all your limbs grow back if amputated?" Zinder was fascinated. He was also furious that a piece of vital information like this had been concealed or lost. He knew the reason of course; Memnon must have been treated in an Army hospital, this was a Navy facility. Inter-service cooperation would be a wonderful thing if it ever happened.

"They do, although removing a crippled limb to allow a new one to grow in its place had never occurred to us before."

Kinder thought carefully. He could see several problems with this, not least of which was obvious from Memnon's wings. Despite the similar structure, Angelic wings were bird-like, Daemonic wings were more akin to those of lizards. And many earth lizards could regrow lost limbs. That didn’t mean that humans could. "Memnon, why are you telling us this? Angels are your enemies, just as they are ours."

"Why do you treat them in your hospital?" Memnon paused. "For millennia, uncounted millennia, so far back that time itself became misty, we did things that were brutal and cruel beyond limits. We gloried in that cruelty and measured ourselves by it. Then you humans came and you slaughtered us. It was so easy for you that you defeated us and cast us down in a few weeks. By our standards we would have been your slaves and treated as cruelly as we treated our victims. But you didn't. You healed our wounds, you repaired what had been destroyed. In doing so you showed us the deadliest of all your weapons, compassion. You changed us and gave us a different way of looking at the world. Now, those of us who saw the destruction you can wreak on those you fight, we want to be like you. By changing the environment in which we lived, you changed us. To help the crippled Angels is our first step back from the pit."

Zinder nodded slowly. It had long been argued whether a foul environment bred crime and cruelty or not, and if it did, whether improving that environment would reduce them. It looked as if he had a substantial part of the answer to that question sitting in front of him.

"Thank you for coming here today, Memnon, we must investigate this carefully. There may be problems and we must be sure that, first of all, we do not harm." He paused slightly. "Here on Earth, Doctors take an oath before we are allowed to treat patients. One part of that oath, in my opinion the most important, is 'first of all, do no harm.' But I think you give me hope for this case that I never had before."

Bivouac Area, Third Legion. Heaven

Tucker McElroy looked at his command paraded before him. This wouldn't take long. It had better not because there was a lot of digging to do before the enemy arrived. "Soldiers of the Third Legion. Our Commander, General of the Armies David Petraeus, has issued the following order of the day.

"Our battle against Yahweh now reaches its climax. Never forget that we have turned him away by the force of our arms before. Dare we forget the valor of our ancestors? When the Heroes at Troy wounded the Gods and drove them from the field? When the mortal hand of Rama struck down the demon Ravana after invading Sri Lanka on his bridge of hurled stone? Remember that Yahweh himself quailed and fled before the Iron Chariots of Sisera. Satan might have been the Prince of Hell but it was Yahweh who put him there and it was Yahweh who controlled who was to be tortured and who wasn't. Daemon and human alike, he oppressed us. Now, this is our moment to break free from the cycle-curse. If we can turn away the strength of Yahweh with Iron, then that is reason enough for us to make common cause and turn on the ruler of Heaven with full fury. The angels choose to make war on us. More fool them; we'll kill them, and we'll drive Yahweh from his throne at gunpoint. Then we will exhort the moral in spirit who reside in Heaven to rise against the injustice of a God turned against his own word."

McElroy looked up. "I've just got one more thing to say. First-life humans, they look on us second-lifers as helpless victims who had to be rescued and you daemons as little more than massed targets. It's time to show them that we can fight as well as they can. So start digging, the spade is brother to the sword. So it's time we started digging in."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 68

LTR

Don't Look Back In Anger
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Helicopter Base, Third Legion. Heaven

"What you're going to be doing is very dangerous isn't it." First Consul Gaius Julius Caesar looked along the line of MH-6T helicopters. Their pilots were mostly inside or around them, doing the final checks necessary before take-off but the pilot of Diana-One was sitting on a Hellfire missile, speaking to her husband. Second Consul Jade Kim was going to back to war, this time in a way she was trained to do. At the head of a helicopter attack squadron.

"Very. Last time I tried this, I got killed. Things are different now, we have fighters up to cover us if we run into flying angels and the ground here is nearly perfect for what we will be doing. Lots of cover we can duck behind." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Don't try and stop me doing this Gaius or we will have a falling–out."

"Stop you? I'm applauding you. A Consul leading from the front is in the best possible Roman tradition. I just wish I could come with you. Just waiting here doesn't sit well with me."

"Both Consuls in the same helicopter is a bad idea Gaius. We're getting our new state working properly at last, we don't want it decapitated. In fact, you and I should never be on the same aircraft together. Can't you oversee the ground troops or something?"

"I'm not wanted there. Oh, nobody has said anything, but it's obvious I'm just in the way. I can't understand what they are doing or why. The strategic stuff, that I already have in hand but I've given the orders and other people are executing them."

"Welcome to being a modern general Gaius."

"It doesn't please me. What's worse, on the ground, what's happening makes no sense to me. So I have to sit here, out of the way, while I watch and learn." He poked his breastplate ruefully. "They tell me my armor just makes me a better target."

"And they're right. I can see that gold shining on my optronic display from miles away. I hope the angelic commanders have the same shiny breastplates, I've got four Hellfires loaded up ready for them." She grinned very nastily. "So you can say bye-bye to at least thirty of their top commanders by the time we've finished. Then we'll be back here to re-arm and refuel."

She stood up, hugged Caesar and rested her head quickly on his chest, her flight helmet making a dull thud as it hit his breastplate. "Now, wish me good hunting and a full bag of kills."

Caesar gave her a Roman salute which she gravely returned, then she slid away and climbed into her MH-6. Her hands moved over the engine controls, starting the ignition sequence. While the rotor was spooling up, she glanced quickly at her co-pilot. A newbie, a police pilot who'd crashed his helicopter trying to pick up survivors after a hurricane had devastated a South Carolina town. Before that, he'd flown UH-1s for the Army. She'd have preferred it if she could have had her original copilot on board but all her veterans were spread out across the other helicopters.

"Ready for lift-off?" He grinned at her and gave a thumbs-up. "All Diana Birds, lift off."

Her hands moved on the controls again and the helicopter lifted, its nose dipping as she gained forward momentum. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the figure of Caesar shrinking and she watched him give another salute. Then, he was gone and she concentrated on the flight plan. The Global Hawk overhead was tracking a large formation approaching the hill held by Third Legion. The position was being relayed directly to her, showing up on her navigation screen. The same screen gave her details of the terrain between that position and her flight of nine helicopters. It was time to do something about that.

"All Diana Birds. Separate into three-ship formations and spread out to attack positions. It's time to party."

She led her element of three helicopters down into a valley, the young trees underneath bending and swaying as the MH-6s passed. The map showed it leading to a low ridge with the center of the Angelic column just over the other side. In other words, a perfect set-up for the kind of ambush the MH-6 was designed to execute. Overhead, Kim saw a flash of light, surprisingly yellowish in the brilliant white light of Heaven. Reflection from the cockpit of a fighter, probably a Lawn Dart she thought. The filthy atmosphere in Hell had been rough on single-engined aircraft. After the initial panic had subsided, they'd been pulled out and flying missions in Hell had been assigned to twin-engined birds. Here in Heaven it was different and the single-engined fighters had come back into their own. The yellow reflection was almost certainly from the gold-inlaid cockpit canopy of an F-16.

Kim brought her helicopter into a hover behind the comforting screen of the ridge, then allowed it to rise slowly. As soon as the mast-mounted sight was exposed, she got a good view of the army that was advancing on the positions held by Third Legion. It didn't actually look that much different from the last force she had ambushed this way and her skin crawled slightly when she remembered how that had turned out. The dominant color here was white, not black, but there were still the columns of troops marching on the ground while overhead flew their cover. This time they were angels, not harpies.

Then her face broke out into a broad grin as black clouds of smoke erupted in the center of the flying groups. The Lawn Darts had launched a salvo of missiles at them and were now racing in to the attack. The Angelic ability to hit aircraft with trumpet blasts had been a nasty surprise but countermeasures were available. Primarily, to move fast. If the aircraft came in beyond the speed of sound, the angels would be most unlikely to see them before they were hit by rocket and cannon fire. Once the jets were past, by definition the trumpet blast couldn't catch them. A dozen or more angels were already dying in the missile blasts as a quartet of F-16s streaked through them. Then, the fighters were up and away, climbing for altitude and distance, leaving chaos behind them.

Kim let her helicopter rise until it was just over the ridge and rippled off her four Hellfire missiles. She'd already designated one angel whose size marked him out and the gleam of his armor made him vulnerable. He was still looking up, searching for the fighters that had slashed through his formation so quickly when the Hellfire struck him. He vanished in the rolling black and red cloud that marked a missile hit while Kim shifted her designator to another likely-looking angel. A few seconds later, her last missile had struck home and her MH-6 dropped below the ridge. She spun the Little Bird around and poured on the throttle. Bitter experience at work here, she would not hang around.

"We got problems Boss." Her copilot gave the warning she dreaded. Behind them, at least two dozen angels had crossed the ridge in pursuit. I've been here before. The thought running through her mind was treacherous because it made her hands shake.

"Falcon Flight, Diana-One-actual. We need help down here."

"On our way Diana-One."

The voice on the radio was heavily-accented and she couldn't place it. There was no doubt about the pilots skill though, they slashed down in a power dive, breaking up the angelic formation with a dozen AIM-120 missiles then hammering the survivors with AIM-9s and cannon fire. One of the F-16s was caught by a trumpet blast and lost a wing, the crippled bird nosing over before plowing into the ground. The group pursuing Kim's formation broke up and fled under the impact. Angels don't match daemons for sheer bloody-minded guts, she thought. "Well done Falcon Flight. We're clear now."

"Compliments of the Polish Air Force Diana-One. We've got reserves up here if you need more cover."

"Thank you, we're on our way back to reload now. New Roman Republic owes you one. Call me in New Rome sometime. Good hunting."

"No debts owed Diana-One, just had a message from Diana-Five. Our pilot punched out and one of your people picked him up as soon as his feet touched. So, all square. And good hunting for you also."

Her helicopters were skimming back through the valleys, returning to her forward base. Well, that went better than last time. Kim found herself humming cheerfully as she started to plan the next strike.

Forward Edge of the Battle Area, Hill 117, Third Legion, Heaven.

It wasn't just the weapons humans had that made the difference, it was the fact that they thought about everything they did. The foxhole he was in proved that. Dripankeothorofenex had assumed that digging a hole and sitting in it was easy, a simple task fit only for a kidling. Not the way the humans did it. They had looked at his scrape in the ground and laughed at him. "Now that is one pathetic effort Drippy," their human commander had said, mixing disapproval with dismay. Then, he had gathered all the daemons into a group and shown them how to dig a proper foxhole. An officer digging, that was something Dripankeothorofenex had never seen before. The hole had been deep and narrow to offer as much protection as possible from overhead blasts. Then the back wall had been hollowed out so the daemons inside could crouch under some cover when artillery was pounding them.

The dirt had been piled in front of the pit so the two occupants could fire out to the sides on a diagonal but not directly forwards. "What do we do when the enemy is in front?" Dripankeothorofenex had asked. "Don't sweat it Drippy, your buddies on either side will deal with them. You protect them, they protect you. The mound in front will protect you from incoming fire."

And there it was, a simple hole in the ground turned into a warrior's work of art. Beside him, his buddy Maskelodoroarnathsan was watching his assigned zone. Neither tried to lift their heads over the mound to their front. As their officer had explained, the armored carriers were behind them and they would be hosing down the area in front of the infantry positions. That meant their streams of shells would be only a few inches above their heads. "Do you see anything?"

Maskelodoroarnathsan shook his head. "Nothing yet. Wait, listen."

Dripankeothorofenex swivelled his ears forward and listened hard. Faintly, in the distance, he heard a chanting, one that had been all too familiar to his clan during The Great Celestial War. It was nearly drowned out by the rumble of diesel engines idling behind him but the words were clear, carried by the perfection of the tones. More clearly than anything else, it told him who the enemies were for neitheir daemons nor humans gave out war cries like this. Daemons were taught to believe that a silent enemy was more fearsome than a noisy one while humans never believed in telling their enemies anything about anything. But still, he heard the words echoing across the peaceful hills of Heaven.

“Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Dies iræ, dies illa, Solvet sæclum in favilla."

Then peace was gone forever from those hills for overhead the sky itself started to scream. Dripankeothorofenex crouched down in his foxhole for he knew what that terrible screaming sound was. Across Third Legion there were other daemons who knew it as well, the survivors of Hit, of the Phlegethon River, of all the battles where human artillery had left the ground mounded high with the bodies of those who dared to challenge them. Beneath his feet, the ground shook as the first salvoes pounded into the Heavenly formation that was approaching. Dripankeothorofenex could see nothing of them for his unit was dug into position on a reverse slope and the Angelic Host was still advancing up their side of the ridge. The spotting for the artillery fire was being done by one of the small remote-controlled aircraft the humans liked so much. That gave him great comfort for how he had heard many tales of how the humans also liked to hide behind ridgelines when they brought their deadly arts to bear on their enemies. Now he too, a daemon, was armed with human weapons and was soon to be fighting like a human.

"Kyrie Eleison!! Kyrie Eleison!!" The rhythmic chanting had turned into the screaming battle-cry of the Angelic Host. Dripankeothorofenex took a chance and lifted his head so that he could see out of his firing position towards the direction of the attack. For a brief moment, he thought he was back in Hell and he felt a quiet moment of peaceful tranquility as he looked at the roiling red and black clouds thrown up by the human artillery barrage. The dust and smoke was forming clouds that drifted upwards, changing the clear white light of heaven into a filthy red glare that made him quite homesick. Then the noise crashed in on him and he realized that it was time to go to work.

"Fix bayonets!" The human battlecry at last. Dripankeothorofenex took the two foot long triangular steel out of its sheath and clipped it to the end of his rifle. For a moment he missed the trident he had been brought up to use but this was a human weapon so it had to be better. The human levies came over the ridgeline in small groups, their formations shattered by the pounding of the long-range guns far behind the human lines. What had once been the traditional concentrated charge of the Angelic host had already been broken up and that left it weak and vulnerable. Dripankeothorofenex shouldered his Martini-Henry, pushed down the lever underneath and inserted a 20mm round into the chamber. Idly, he wondered what an MG151 was for that was the gun this round had been originally been used in. Lever up to close the action and he was ready. The first of the Host to enter his arc of fire was a human, dressed in the white robes and glowing golden breastplate of the Angelic Host. Only now, the robes were stained and black and the breastplate had been dented. A careful aim, and his instructor's voice echoed in his ears. "Pick your man, mark your target as he comes. Lead him by just a fraction." And the recoil of the Martini-Henry jarred his shoulder.

His target spun and went down. He might have risen, he might not. Dripankeothorofenex had lost interest in him as he worked the action on his rifle, picked another target and repeated the drill that had been hammered into him and sent another member of the Angelic Host tumbling. Now, he could see why the foxholes were designed the way they were. The angels were charging straight at them and their arrows and trumpet blasts hit nothing but the piles of dirt. Concrete or stone would have shattered under the blasts but soft earth just absorbed the energy. But, as the enemy advanced, they were moving into the deadly crossfire from the daemonic riflemen.

Out, across the battlefield, he saw an angel, a large one, possibly even an Ophanim, rising over the ridgeline, his wings carrying him up as he fired arrows from the bow in his hands. Suddenly, the angel was in chains of red fire, the brilliant links securing him to the ground. Cannon fire, Dripankeothorofenex thought, the three 23mm cannon on the armored personnel carriers. Several of the tracked vehicles were concentrating their guns on the angel, tearing it apart in mid-air. The Ophanim was lurching, trying to recover from the impact of the long bursts of gunfire but it never had a chance. It burst into blue flame as its flight sacs ignited and crashed to earth.

To his amazement, he realized he was still loading and firing, even while his mind had been absorbed by the spectacular death of the angel, his hands and eyes had been firing shot after shot at the host members in his arc of fire. Overhead, the red streaks of tracer were screaming past. His section's own armored carrier was using its guns to rake the Host that still pressed in on the defense line. He was tempted, so tempted to lift his head and look over the parapet so he could see what lay in front of him but he forced the temptation from his mind and concentrated on the mantra. "Pick your man, mark your target as he comes." And another member of the host crumpled to the ground from the bullet strike. Only this one got up and turned to stare at him. It was an angel, a lowly Ishim, no bigger than a daemon but stronger and faster than the humans. It didn’t matter. Dripankeothorofenex didn't hurry and as the angel opened his mouth to trumpet, he carefully shot the white figure between the eyes. The angel dropped and stayed down Was it dead? He didn’t care.

"They're coming over!" The warning echoed in the radio earpieces along the line. The armored personnel carrier cannon were scything down the angels but there were too many of them to be killed and too few guns to do all the killing. A human had run up the mound in front of his foxhole and was trying to slash down with his sword. Dripankeothorofenex intercepted the blow using his rifle, knocking it to one side, then thrusting forward as the human tried to jump down. The long spike bayonet went right through him and Dripankeothorofenex used his strength to hurl the body on his rifle over his head so that it landed behind him.

As he turned back, he saw Maskelodoroarnathsan sprawled out on the back wall of the foxhole, his body terribly ripped by a swordblow. He was shaking, twitching uncontrollably, the effect of the energy charge that the angel's sword had dumped into his body, Angel? Dripankeothorofenex looked at his enemy, the angel who had killed his buddy. A Bene Elohim at least, possibly even a full Elohim. The daemon could even see himself reflected in the golden armor, a black figure in the red-and-gray uniform, helmet and body armor of the human infantry. He and the Angel locked eyes, each measuring up the other. The Angel's sword was dead, lacking the dancing lights that revealed its lethal charge. It would be live again soon enough. He tried a tentative thrust but this angel was experienced and didn't fall for the feint while all the time his sword started to regain its charge. Dripankeothorofenex thrust again and this time the angel reacted, slashing down at the bayonet-tipped rifle. He turned his rifle on its side, intercepting the slash on the wood so the charge wouldn't arc through the metal of his rifle. The sword and rifle met and it was the sword that gave way, thrown to one side.

It was the opening and Dripankeothorofenex used it to the max. He thrust hard and strong, no mere feint this, and the long blade struck home, piercing the angel's side and sending him staggering back. A savage yank and the bayonet came out of the wound, dripping with white blood. Then Dripankeothorofenex thrust again and again, into the stomach, the groin, the heart, the throat all the points his instructors had told him to go for. The angel went down, sprawling next to Maskelodoroarnathsan and the sight of his buddy gave Dripankeothorofenex new heart. There was vengeance to be won and he thrust again at the dying angel, his bayonet slicing through the angel's eye into its brain. A pig-sticker, that was what the instructors called the vicious triangular bayonet and they had explained that the wounds it inflicted never quite healed right. Then he heard a sound before him and spun to confront an Ishim who had jumped into the trench behind him. Confused for a split second, he had thought the battle with the Elohim had taken hours but it could only have lasted a few seconds, he nearly let the sword hit him but he parried the swing at the last second. Then he thrust and saw his bayonet sink deep into the Ishim's stomach. Suddenly, Dripankeothorofenex knew the fierce joy of fighting with the bayonet, how the long steel spike on the end of his rifle could gain him mastery of the battlefield. It could defeat sword, it could beat spear, it could beat trident. Here, at close quarters, the bayonet ruled. The Ishim was screaming as Dripankeothorofenex's thrust carried him backwards to slam his body against the wall of the foxhole and he was screaming as he pulled the trigger, using the recoil to pull the blade clear. The Ishim slumped to the floor, his screams turning to weeping as the bayonet slashed down once again.

The foxhole was empty, the angels who had made it through the barrage were dead. Dripankeothorofenex understood what had happened, the occupants of the foxholes on either side of him had seen the angels break into his position so they had concentrated their fire to prevent any more gaining ground on him. They had saved him, and just possibly Maskelodoroarnathsan as well. Overhead, the frightful noise of the battle was joined by a curious reverberating roar, one that Dripankeothorofenex would never have recognized a few years earlier. Overhead, a helicopter emerged from the smoke and clouds of dust, a dull red helicopter with a purple circle bearing a golden eagle and the number three painted on its fuselage. A stream of orange fire was pouring from its nose, hammering the ground somewhere in front of his position. Then it was gone again.

Suddenly, Dripankeothorofenex realized he didn’t have a target. With Maskelodoroarnathsan dying, he had to cover both firing loops but there was nothing to shoot at in either. Another roar gained his attention, the APC was pulling up and his officer jumped out of the back. "Get on board Drippy, this isn't over yet."

The daemon was suddenly tired but he waved at the scene in the foxhole. "Maskelodoroarnathsan is hurt Sir."

The officer jumped down and quickly looked at the casualty. "We'll get help here for him. Into the APC, now."

Dripankeothorofenex joined the scramble into the back of the APC. The human gunners on the side guns grinned at them and waved quickly at the scene in front. The ground was carpeted with bodies, some the small shapes of the humans, others the larger winged bodies of the angels. "You guys done good. Drippy, we watched you work with the bayonet. That was fine work man."

They had called him a man! Dripankeothorofenex couldn’t believe that he, a lowly daemon had been accepted by these humans as one of them. He clapped one of them on the back, being careful to make it just a friendly tap. The APC lurched forward, leaving behind another with red crosses painted on its side. The medics had arrived for Maskelodoroarnathsan. "Where are we going Sir?"

"We fought off the attack. Cost us but we did it. First Daemonic down the line is in trouble, so we're hitting the force attacking them from the side. Like a door swinging open. We'll show them what Romans are made of."

"I'd rather show them what Angels are made of." Dripankeothorofenex thought again of how he had killed the Elohim with his bayonet. Around him the surviving members of the squad laughed and cheered at his joke. Third Legion was advancing into its counter-attack and a legend was being born,
 
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The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 69

LTR

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Lead Elements, Third Legion, Heaven.

It didn't look good. That much was obvious to Dripankeothorofenex as he looked over the metal wall of his armored personnel carrier at the battlefield opening up in front of Third Legion. Below them, 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Demonic) was obviously in trouble. Their front line was being enveloped by the leading edge of the Angelic Host advance. Some of their infantry positions were being overwhelmed while others were being outflanked and engaged from the sides and rear. Most disturbing of all were the black columns of smoke that marked the spots where the battalions armored personnel carriers were being knocked out. He could see where most of the problem lay; the angels had got in close enough to severely limit how much the battalion could use its artillery support.

"Right lads." Their officer had turned to face the crew and passengers of his APC. "Time to pull First Demonic's nuts out of the fire. We're to advance down the slope and hit the angels in the flanks and rear. Then, we'll roll their entire formation up. The APC gunners will do most of the work, the rest of you get ready to debus and take out any survivors. Those of you who haven't used your bayonets yet, watch Drippy at work. He's got it down to a fine art."

Dripankeothorofenex saw the other daemons in the back of the APC look at him with a mixture of respect and envy. They all knew that to catch the eye of an officer was the key to a successful career while to win praise from a human was reward indeed. He guessed what some of them were thinking, why should he have had the luck to be attacked by three angels while they had not. They didn’t know how close that little battle had been to killing him. Then, he felt the APC lurch and its engine start to race as the wave of armored carriers started to accelerate down the slope.

Ahead of him, the Angleic Host was pushing in against the crumbling resistance offered by the First Demonic. They could see nothing else, they were so focussed on turning the impending defeat of the battalion into a complete rout that they simply didn't see Third Legion cresting the ridge to their left. Nor did their commander who was in the forefront of their lines. Dripankeothorofenex could see him clearly, his armor gleaming in the brilliant light, his mighty sword flashing as he drove through the defensive positions, his trumpet blasts scouring the ground before him. Dumbass, he thought. To make a target of himself like that. Then, with what amounted to extreme shock, he realized that he was thinking like a human.

How much so quickly became apparent. He heard the rhythmic beating sound again and looked behind him. Three helicopters of the Third had lifted up from behind a forested hill and their missiles streaked overhead. The great angel leading the charge was surrounded by their blasts and went down, his body torn in ways that were all too visible even from this distance. He tried to raise himself but another quartet of Hellfire missiles finished him off completely. Without its leader and greatest champion, the Angelic Host was decapitated.

That wasn't altogether a good thing though, Dripankeothorofenex could see that. The missile salvoes had attracted the other angel's attentions and revealed the threat that was descending on their left flank. They reacted by starting to shift backwards and to their right, away from the charge of Third Legion while ordering their human levies to about-face and move against the new enemy. They were slow though, they didn’t have the speed or coordination that the human units took for granted. They were still only partially through the process of refacing when Third Legion's APCs opened fire, their 23mm cannon lashing out with streams of tracer at the combined force of angels and humans before them. For a few seconds, the Angelic Host was frozen by shock, the ferocity of the attack and the sheer massed firepower being thrown at them caused them to just stand and die. Then, when feelings returned to them, when they realized that the armored carriers were not going to stop, they broke. Angel and human alike they broke and ran, their formation crumbling and their ranks scattered.

By the time the massacre was over, the ground was carpeted with bodies. Dripankeothorofenex saw human warfare from a new perspective now. Before now the daemons had only been the victims of massed firepower, they had been the ones cut down in swathes by the relentless armored vehicles and their fast-firing guns. Now he, and the other daemons in Third Legion had seen that firepower from the other side, how it had enabled them to fight a force many times their own number and reduce that force to bloody, slaughtered chaos. He understood well at last, the humans were not gods possessed of unfathomable power, they were simply very good at what they did. And others could be just like them. In Dripankeothorofenex's mind, hero-worship was suddenly replaced by ambition. If he wanted to, he could be just like them. All he had to do was learn how.

His reverie was interrupted by the tail ramp of his armored carrier dropping. "Hey Drippy, come with me, there's some people I want you to meet." His officer was calling him and like any good legionary, he obeyed the call.

1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Demonic) was a mess. Its ranks were collecting their casualties, pulling them out of the foxholes and wrecked vehicles where they had fought and sorting the dead from the wounded. Another change, Dripankeothorofenex noted, the care for the wounded. Something almost unknown to daemonic armies. Scattered amongst the groups were figures in white, their hands held above their heads. He could here their words, 'kyrie eleison', no longer an arrogant battle-cry screamed out in the frenzy of attack but a plea for mercy, chanted amidst weeping in the hope of survival. Once, Dripankeothorofenex, would have seen them as an opportunity for an afternoon's entertainment as they were tortured but he knew that was not what humans would do and he had to learn from them. Humans were merciful to those they defeated. So would he be. He made the decision out of a simple desire to copy humans but then the realization hit him. Treat prisoners well and others will be more likely to surrender.

His officer was searching through the scene, looking through the dead and hunting through the groups of living. Eventually, Dripankeothorofenex saw his face brighten and he called out in a voice that rang across the battlefield. "Yo! Aeneas! Ori! Over here."

Two humans turned around and saw the figure running towards them. The three met in an exchange of hugs and back-slaps. "Tucker, I heard you had joined the Eagles. How goes it old friend?"

"Well, Caesar's a good boss and we're getting our legions put together. Hey, have I got somebody you two want to meet. Drippy, over here." His officer called him and he doubled over to where he stood with his friends. "Drippy, this is Aeneas, a Spartan, and Ori a Samurai. Old friends of mine from the pit. Aeneas, Ori, I'd like you to meet one of my Legionnaires. His name's quite unpronounceable so we all call him Drippy. Don't be fooled by his gentle demeanor, I saw this guy take down three angels in thirty seconds with the bayonet. He's getting to be one of us."

Dripankeothorofenex saw the other two humans staring at him with an expression he knew well. The way most humans rescued from the pit looked at the daemons. A mixture of anger and desire for revenge, in this case overlaid by the fact he was one of their friend's soldiers and he had spoken highly of him. His mind was in turmoil, he knew that the correct daemonic response would involve genuflection and prostration but he had quickly learned that such displays did not go down well with humans. He would try and be a human instead. "Sirs, I am pleased to meet you. Do not let my officer mislead you, they were very small angels. But, you have wounded here, how can I help you with them?"

He held his breath and looked at the two humans. Their expressions softened slightly, the anger fading quickly. One of them, the one who carried a sword as well as his rifle nodded. "You are right Tucker. He is indeed one of us."

Helicopter Base, Third Legion. Heaven

Gaius Julius Caesar sat on an empty fuel drum and watched his helicopter attack unit landing. Five birds were already down, their ground crews closing in on them as the crews dismounted. His heart was dropping slightly because the figure he was searching for hadn't yet appeared. Two more MH-6s were landing and he scanned them with urgency. Then, he almost sagged with relief. She was there, she was getting out of the cockpit. She had made it.

"Second Consul. Went the day well?"

His voice was formal and grave. Her eyes widened slightly, she'd been expecting a more demonstrative welcome home, but she knew he was Roman and stoicism was a cardinal virtue. She drew herself up and tried to match him. Privately she decided she would introduce him to a modern military custom, the post-'holy crap I can't believe we're both alive' decompression session. But now, they were in public and had an image to uphold.

"Very well, First Consul. Your Third Legion defeated one wing of the enemy assault and drove it from the battlefield. Then, it crushed their center and relieved an allied unit while putting the enemy to flight. Our casualties are not great, we have lost one helicopter disintegrated by a trumpet blast while another had engine failure and has landed with our ground troops. It will be available as soon as it is repaired. I do not know the losses on the ground. Perhaps we should go and see?"

Caesar nodded. "Will you fly me?"

Kim frowned. "That's not a good idea. There might still be some angels up. We should go by ground or fly in two birds."

Caesar looked at her solemnly. "Just this once Jade. I've never flown with you before and I've never seen a battlefield from the air. We'll do the separate aircraft bit from now on but just this once."

She bit her lip, it was a bad idea but the desire to show off her flying skills was too much. "Very well. But, I'll get two other birds to escort us."

A few minutes later, her Little Bird was skimming over the battlefield again. Caesar spent half his time watching her deft and economical movements as she flew the helicopter, the other time looking at the scene on the ground. He'd never seen anything like it, nor had he realized the appalling carnage modern weapons could wreak on those unwilling to adapt to their presence. In his heart, he wished this was a sight he had never seen.

They skimmed over a ridge and he saw another sight before him, one that told him his presence was expected. His Legion was drawn up in something equivalent to a parade formation although he did note that guards were out and at least some of the units were in combat deployment. The MH-6 reared slightly, and settled down to land on the shattered ground. The clean purity of heaven had gone, perhaps never to return for the air was laden with smoke and dust and it had the sulphurous stink of explosives, liberally mixed with burned metal, fuel and flesh. Today, Hell had come to Heaven.

"Tribune Madeuce." He saw the commander of Third Legion come to attention. He could barely see the man's rank markings, a subdued dark brown against red. Human officers didn’t like to be distinctive on a battlefield. That was hardly surprising considering what they did to those who were. "How went the day?"

"Sir, we count an estimated four hundred angels dead and over ten thousand humans. Our losses total eighty one dead and two hundred wounded. We have taken over a thousand prisoners, all humans. Your Legion fought well Sir. Better than the H.E.A. unit that made up our center." There was a pleased, almost boastful sound to Madeuce's voice. Or, as Caesar realized, not boastful but proud of how his unit had performed.

"So I see. Only four hundred angels dead? Out of ten thousand?"

"They fled Sir. When the battle turned against them, they abandoned their human troops and fled. The fighters from our allies got many but the rest escaped."

Caesar nodded. Then he called out, waving the assembled daemons and humans of the Third Legion closer to him. "Soldiers of the Third Legion, your commander tells me that you fought well today. You shall be rewarded for your bravery. Today, your Legion shall be named. Let me explain this. Every Legion gets a number, it arrives with the rations." A ripple of respectful laughter spread across the ranks. "But a name, now that is something that a Legion must win on the field of battle. From today onwards this unit will be Legio Tertius Laurifer. The Victorious Third Legion. And should anyone ever speak ill of your courage and bravery, there will be no need to take anger. Just tell them that you served with the Laurifer Legion today and they will hang their heads in shame and hold themselves of little account that they were not here beside you."

Cheering erupted across the ranks. Caesar grinned broadly at Kim and winked at her. "Now, Legio Primus and Legio Secundus will be desperate to will a battle so they will also be awarded names. And the next group of legions we raise will be even more desperate to do so, so they can show the arrogant first three that they are not the only ones who can fight.

Kim grinned back. "I see you've read Henry Fifth."

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

"Well, they can fight." General Petraeus looked at the feedback from the Global Hawk circling high over the battlefield. "And it looks like Gaius Julius can still make inspiring speeches. Do you think we can find out what he said?"

"He'll probably have put it into a best-selling book by the end of the week." General Sir Michael Jackson spoke gloomily. He was well aware that Caesar wrote very well and his 'real histories of Rome' books had been best sellers. They had better be because the royalties were a significant part of the income of New Rome. HBO had just started their serialization of "The Gallic Wars" made by the same team who had produced 'Rome' and the credit at the end 'Technical and Historical Advisor: Gaius Julius Caesar' had also been an expensive commodity. "What are we going to do about the main body."

Petraeus looked at the operational displays, calculating safety margins and degrees of separation. Yes, it would work. "Sodom, for Gomorrah they die."

501st Tactical Missile Wing. Heaven.

The transporter-erector-launch vehicle groaned as the four-round missile launcher module elevated to the firing position. It paused there for a few seconds, then the whole system rocked as a missile emerged from one of the tubes. Originally a long cylinder with a rounded nose, it changed as soon as it was out of its tube. Wings sprouted from its fuselage, tail surfaces deployed and an air intake dropped out from under the belly. What had once looked like a torpedo now was an unmanned aircraft. With the Ground-Launched Cruise Missile on its way, the TEL lowered its launch module. The deed was done.

The missile, known officially as the Gryphon but actually called the Glickem by everybody, had its course carefully laid out. It climbed to 100 feet and then set off along the planned route, the radar set in its nose measuring the height of the ground ahead of it and ensuring that the clearance of 100 feet was carefully maintained. By its standards, the missile didn’t have far to go and the task it had been given was insultingly easy. Just fly to the specific point it had been aimed at and then do its thing. A few miles short of that point, another program cut in and the missile began to climb. It was of no interest whatsoever to the missile that the final point on its pre-planned course was directly over the center of a mass of 50,000 angels and more than 450,000 of their human levies.

It was at this point that signals from both radar and air pressure sensors prompted an electronics package to begin the initiation process. That package sent an electrical impulse down 72 different wires to various points on an explosive shell at the very heart of the W83 warhead at the center of the missile. After 0.003 microseconds those impulses set off a pair of detonators at each of those 72 points, causing the mixture of explosives to converge into a perfectly spherical explosive wave travelling inward. After 10 microseconds the explosive wave had already started to compress successive hollow spheres of various metals. In 3 more microseconds the compression wave had crossed an empty layer to reach the heart of the warhead--a sphere of uranium 5 inches in diameter. The blast from the explosives crushed that sphere into a fluid mass 2 inches in diameter.

At that time, 19 microseconds after detonation, a small particle accelerator in the front of the warhead fired neutrons into the uranium sphere. These neutrons were absorbed by uranium atoms and caused them to decay. In the highly compressed mass, there was nowhere for the decay particles to go; they hit other uranium atoms and caused them to decay as well. This chain reaction cycled 60 times in the next microsecond before a small amount of compressed deuterium-tritium gas was injected into a hollow in the center of the uranium core, increasing the cycling rate to 80 times in the next 0.1 microseconds. By then, the uranium core had reached a temperature of 40 million degrees fahrenheit. That didn’t matter too much, what was important was that the gamma rays given off by the nuclear reactions radiated through the exploding mass and were absorbed by the weapon casing, 0.003 microseconds later. The casing was heated and reradiated the energy as x-rays. It was those X-rays that set the next part of the chain into action.

At the rear of the core of the W83 was a cylinder of lithium-deuteride, 10 inches in diameter and 30 inches long, with a radiation shield protecting it from direct radiation from the primary. It was surrounded by an inch-thick layer of depleted uranium; it also had a rod of uranium in the center. The x-rays reradiated from the warhead casing heated and compressed the outer wrapping of depleted uranium. In 0.1 microseconds this crushed the lithium-deuteride to a cylinder only 2 inches in diameter. At this point, neutrons from the primary arrive at that inner rod of uranium, coming through a hole in the radiation shield. These caused a nuclear chain reaction to occur in the rod, super-heating the lithium-deuteride from within. Neutrons from the chain reaction split the lithium atoms into helium and tritium atoms. The colliding tritium and deuterium atoms fused into helium for another microsecond. Then, the force of the fusion reaction crushed the original core of the device so thoroughly that the dying fission reaction was revived and what was left of the original fission fuel was consumed in the inferno.

At that point, 20 microseconds after initiation, the temperature was 600 million degrees Fahrenheit and yet the outside of the warhead was only just beginning to disintegrate. Gamma radiation from the nuclear reactions had already radiated up to 1,300 feet in every direction. A region of space about the size of a small angel over the main body of the Incomparable Legion Of Light now held the equivalent explosive energy of 1.2 megatons. This enormous release of gamma radiation had been absorbed by the surrounding air, heating it to a point where it released radiation itself. This formed a glowing ball of gas that was already 400 feet across and yet was continuing to expand at many times the speed of sound. Oddly, the center remained extremely hot while the temperature of the outer part fell as it pushed the surrounding air away. The heat radiated by the outer layer had produced an initial flash of light as bright as the Sun to the observers at the Third Armored Division 25 miles away, now it generated a blast wave that separated from the fireball surface. This travelled at ten times the speed of sound and pushed the air away before creating a partial vacuum behind it. The blast wave reflected off the ground and the surrounding hills, reinforcing itself in some areas, cancelling itself in others to produce a crazy-quilt pattern of blast effects on the hapless Incomparable Legion Of Light below.

A mere 0.08 seconds after initiation the fireball was no longer pushing the blast wave before it and so it began to release the large amount of thermal energy it contained. At 1.07 seconds after initiation it started to rise rapidly as its surface temperature and brightness began to decline. However, it continued to expand until at 8 seconds after detonation it finally reached its maximum size. With a surface temperature of 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the fireball was glowing a dull evil red as it topped the traditional mushroom cloud..

And so it was that the prophecies were fulfilled. The Sun Of Man was indeed rising over Heaven.
 

PsihoKekec

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Canned sunshine, a guaranteed way to liven up the party. Was Gryphon launcher newly built or a reactivated museum example?
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 70

LTR

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Spearhead Battalion, Third Armored Division, Heaven.

For a brief second, it just didn’t make sense. Keisha Stevenson knew what the wailing sirens and ear-splitting rattle meant but the knowledge didn't make the needed connection to her brain. Then, the connection was made and the knowledge sent her running for her tank. All around her, the initial shock had worn off the men and women of the Spearhead Battalion and they were heading for the comforting bulk of their armored vehicles. Stevenson reached hers, scrambled up the side on one continuous motion and pushed herself through the cupola on the turret. In doing so, she banged her face on the breech of her .50 machine gun and managed to mash her breasts on the cupola ring. That hurt.

That didn’t stop her movement, she resisted the temptation to hold herself, instead reaching up to the hatch and pulling it shut. Then she span the locks that held it in place and spun them again to make sure the hatch was tight.

"This is an exercise, Ma'am, right?" Her gunner was looking at her with eyes wide open. "A dummy drill?"

She shook her head. "We don’t play games like this in operational zones. This is the real thing. Somebody is about to pop a nuke."

"That's us right?" The voice was trembling.

"I sure do hope so. Hokay, brace for nuclear initiation procedures." She leaned forward and cushioned her head on her forearms. Surreptitiously, she rubbed her breasts, quietly wishing she was back with her old tank crew. They'd been a small, self-contained little community, one where the Army had got mixing compatible people up right for once. And hitting herself on the cupola ring had really hurt.

What happened next was eerie. There was no sound, no warning, no movement, but from every crack and crevice in the tank, a pure, blinding white light poured in beams that had an almost tangible quality to them. Dust mites hanging in the air were brilliantly spotlighted, swirling in patterns that defied any easy analysis. The tank was supposed to be airtight and leakproof but the light was strong enough to show how wrong that belief was, The holes were no greater than pinpoints in size yet there was enough light coming through them to illuminate the whole of the inside of the tank. It caught in people's hair, making them seem as if they were crowned with halos of pure light. Braced in her Commander's seat, Stevenson was counting seconds in an effort to work out how far away the initiation had been.

She'd reached one minute and thirteen seconds when the tank was hit by what felt like an underground sledgehammer. The ground wave, she thought. The egg-heads will learn all sorts of stuff from that. The irrelevance of the thought surprised her. The front of the tank was lifting with the ground shock, then her head slammed forward as it dropped. She hadn't felt anything like this since she'd been taken to an amusement park for her birthday and had insisted on trying the roller-coaster ride. This had all the characteristics of that ride, only the tank was shaking violently as well. The three-dimensional movement made her feel violently ill, another phenomenon reminiscent of the ride she had taken so many years ago. The only difference was that this time she wasn't filled up with cotton-candy to make sickness a reality. All around her the air was filling with dust, the red dust from Hell, the yellow sand from Iraq, the brown grit from wherever it was in the States that this tank had come from. Instinctively, with the conditioned reflex of a First-Life human who had spent a lot of time in Hell, she clapped her bandanna over her nose and mouth. Anything to avoid breathing in the pumice. Unfortunately, her gunner misunderstood the movement, decided that if his Colonel could be sick, so could he and vomited all over the main gun.

"You'll clean that up." Stevenson was in no mood for the smell in her tank while the violent shaking continued. Then, to her immense relief, the vicious movement subsided. Her mind was still ticking away the seconds. One minute and forty three seconds since the flash of light, roughly 23 miles from Ground Zero. General Dynamics Land Systems, just how big was the nuke to give a ground wave like that this far out? Then, the air-wave and sound of the blast hit. The 70 ton tank was lifted slightly, the howling blast-wave catching the barrel and causing the turret to turn against the gears that rotated it. Stevenson could feel the heat rising in the tank, and the air conditioning laboring to keep conditions under control. Even with that aid, she could feel herself sweating and that was when she realized what she could hear wasn't air conditioning, it was the tanks positive pressure system trying to ensure that the air pressure in the tank was higher than that outside. Only, the air pressure sensor was trying to cope with conditions that the tank designers had considered only in their worst nightmares and the positive pressure system was working overtime to match. Stevenson felt her ears pop as the pressure climbed.

Then, as suddenly as it had started, the shockwave was past. The tank radio crackled into life, ordering everybody to remain under cover while the surrounding area was checked for radioactive contamination. Stevenson sat back in her seat, then opened up the tank's electro-optical system to see what was going on. What she saw made her catch her breath. On the horizon was the familiar mushroom cloud. It was no longer glowing, she'd missed that part of the display but it was still a dull reddish color in hue. Just like Hell, she thought. She couldn't see the top of the cloud, from her knowledge of nuclear weapons she guessed it was at least 12 miles high, extending well into the stratosphere and far beyond the elevation limit of her equipment. As she watched, she saw the great mushroom cloud slowly turning white as it cooled and started to absorb moisture from the air around it. The thermal currents and winds were already interacting to wrap the mushroom cloud in a strange, impressive and incredibly beautiful system of cloud layers.

It had all the fascination of a train wreck. Stevenson wanted to look away from the great cloud but couldn't. For a brief second she thought there had been another initiation and started to duck away to save her sight but then she realized it was just lightning. The massive electrical charges in the atmosphere from the initiation plus all that condensing water vapor was a perfect breeding ground for thunderstorms. There would be tornados as well, all around the blast area. Idly, she wondered if Heaven had ever seen tornados before.

"Attention. For your information, there has just been a 1.2 megaton nuclear initiation over the main body of an Angelic Host twenty four miles due west of our position. The initiation was a high air burst using a nuclear device optimized for clean performance. We do not expect excessive radioactive contamination. Specialized reconnaissance elements are in action now, checking for fallout and other effects. All personnel may now leave cover but be prepared to find shelter at short notice. Message ends."

Stevenson sighed, she guessed that her battalion would be getting orders soon, ones that would direct her to advance on Ground Zero.

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

"We're getting the data in now. The initiation was complete and on target. The preliminary estimate is between 150,000 and 250,000 dead. I'm sorry, General, but military targets are obdurately linear and nuclear blast effects are obdurately circular. We planned this one so the Host was caught between two hills and that squeezed the circle into an ellipse. Still, the nose and tail of the column were out of the immediately-lethal area."

"You're sorry." Petraeus couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "We kill a quarter of a million people in a split second and you're sorry because you didn't get more of them. Just who are you anyway?"

The Targeteer smiled sadly. "Brennan, Don Brennan. By the time this thing has run its course, there'll be a lot more than a quarter of a million dead. Even allowing for the way angels and Second Life humans recuperate, we'll be way over four hundred thousand. Look on it this way Sir, if we'd done this to a city, we'd be looking at half a million dead right now and more than a million by the time the week is out. If the powers that be in the Eternal City get the message, we'll all be spared that."

Brennan was interrupted by a messenger from the National Reconnaissance Office. "Global Hawk pictures Sirs. Obliques of course.

"Which RQ-4 took them?" Brennan sounded interested. "Did she survive?"

"Donde Esta, Sir. She's fine, circling out of harm's way."

Brennan nodded. "That's good, I like that one. She always comes through with the goodies." He flipped through the photographs and nodded with satisfaction. "Most of the Angels were within the total kill zone. Including the big one who was leading the Host. No sign of who he was I suppose?"

"No Sir. Without radios to intercept, we're a bit stuck there."

"No problem, we'll find out eventually. Thank you." The messenger left, privately glad to be away from that flat, uninflected, monotone voice.

"We used to get lectures on this but even the films didn't convey the reality of it." Petraeus was speaking very quietly.

"They never do sir. You have to be there when one goes off to really understand it."

"You have of course."

"Of course. Not an American test, but I was invited there as a guest. It's something everybody who wants to run a country should see."

"I'm inclined to agree with you." Petraeus pushed a button on his desk intercom. "Sir Michael? I'll be resting for a couple of hours. If anything comes up, handle it. There shouldn't be, everybody has their mission objectives and we've got good people in command slots."

He paused and got up from his desk. "Brennan, if there are any developments at Ground Zero or if we get warning of fallout, call me immediately." There was a long pause. "You know, I could almost wish that the things didn't work up here. Almost, but not quite."

10 miles from Ground Zero. Heaven

The great ball of glowing light in the sky had been more than 700 times brighter than the normal light of Heaven. Uxhalar-Lan-Sarael had been blinded by the flash even though, by pure chance, he had been looking the other way. His partner in the scouting team, Amanael-Lan-Asohar had not been so lucky. He had been looking west at the time and he had been blinded as well. Only, for him there would be no recovery. His eyes had melted.

Uxhalar wasn't well, but at least he was alive. The great thunder and the howling wind that had followed the flash of light had thrown him from the sky and damaged his ears. There had been an eerie silence between the flash and the crash of thunder. That's what had amazed him so much. In a way, it had shocked him even more than the thunder, though the display was far greater than anything he had seen before. When he had risen, bruised and shaken, he had looked out from the crest of his hill across a sight he had never expected to see. The whole area was blackened, the grass seared away to bare soil, the trees burning. Everything that could burn was burning and the pyre of black smoke stretched high into the sky. Not high enough though for he could still see the great mushroom-shaped cloud that glowed red as it slowly changed color. Red was the color of Hell, and, impossible as it might seem, the humans had brought Hell to Heaven.

He stretched his wings and started to fly towards the cloud. The small forests that had once been scattered so artfully over the landscape were gone. Some were still burning but others were just scattered around, all over the track that the Host had been following on its way to do battle with the humans. On an instinct, he flew down to look at one closely, landing on the track in the midst of a cluster of burned tree logs. As he walked towards one, he heard a long, rasping groan of agony. It seemed to have come from one of the logs. He looked more closely and saw just a burned, charred log. Then, it opened its mouth and groaned again. To his horror Uxhalar realized that the 'logs' were all that was left of the human levies that had formed part of the column. He hurried away, taking off as quickly as he could, anything to be away from the sight he had just seen.

To his relief, the 'logs' vanished after a while. He realized they had to be the ones who had been on the outer edge of the strange weapon that had wiped out The Eternal Father Of All's personal guard. Rigt on the edge, to close in to escape, to far out to die quickly. Further in, all that was left was the blackened stains on the ground where the people had exploded into flames and burned to ashes. And yet still further in there wasn't even that trace of the survivors. Just the shadows of the dead, burned into the bleached ground. Human, Angel, it didn’t matter. They had died as if they had never existed, leaving only a shadow behind them

That was when Uxhalar stopped in his tracks, backwinging so he could absorb the immensity of what he saw. For, in front of him, the landscape had changed and become something he couldn't have imagined. For at least three miles in front of him, the ground had been completely flattened and turned into glass. Soil, trees, grass, animals, people, Angels, all had gone leaving nothing behind but the sheet of glass. He tried to imagine what could have done this, what great power could fuse soil unto glass. He flew over it, looking down, realizing that this glass plain was the only memorial to the Army that had been once marching through the valley. Through the valley, that was not true any more for even the valley itself had been changed. The hills had been distorted, their pleasing symmetry destroyed, looking as if a giant hand had pushed them away.

Another strange sight caught his eye. Right in the middle of the great glass plain was a lake where no lake had been before. An odd, perfectly circular lake that was slowly expanding as it filled with cobalt-blue water. Uxhalar could sense evil from that lake and he stayed well away from it. The sight distracted him though and he was shaken by a flash and another thunderous roar. For a hideous moment he thought it was another one of the great explosions but he quickly realized it was just a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. Not that thunderstorms were common in Heaven unless He Who Is Above All Others willed it. And yet, it was a storm unlike any other he had experienced. The rain that began falling from the sky over was jet black, a mixture of water that was condensing on the plentiful dust and smoke particles. The black rain soaked into his wing feathers and along his back, causing an intense burning sensation on the patches of skin they touched. He tried to brush them off, but they stuck to him and all the efforts he made just spread the burning sensation further. He gave up, he would just have to tolerate them.

Eventually, the plain of glass with its strange, evil lake was behind him. He pointedly did not look at the track below until he was clear of any hint of the 'logs'. It was then that the one thing he had not seen struck him. On all his flight over the site where the terrible thing had happened, he had not seen a living creature. Had the entire army been destroyed in that one great blast?

He flew a little higher and started a methodical hunt for any survivors of the Host. It took time and he was rained on again in the process, but he found them. A ragged column of survivors headed west, away from the death of their army. Had he not known better, he would have assumed they were Fallen Ones, for they were black overall. Even from above, it was obvious that few could see, most staggered along, their hand on the shoulder of the one in front of them. As he winged down, Uxhalar tried not to look at their faces, he knew what he would see there and he had already seen too much this day.

On the ground, he tried to find an angel he could speak to. Surrounded by the moaning of the survivors, he searched for anyone who could tell him what had happened. He saw hands with the fingers so burned that the knuckles stuck through the flesh and the skin peeled off in cylinders that retained the shape of the fingers within. He saw muscles that had once been red turned black with deep splits that ran to the white bone beneath. He pushed through the crowds, trying to hide his eyes and feeling only shame that these were suffering so much while he was unharmed. Then, at last, he found an angel, one badly injured where debris from the blast had carved deep into his body but an angel nonetheless.

"I am Uxhalar-Lan-Sarael. What happened? Where is our leader."

The angel looked at him. One eye was clouded and blind, the other reddened and inflamed. "The mighty Elhmas, son of He Who Is Above All and leader of our host? He is back there, I think. He was over the column when the thing happened. He is part of the glass and the black rain. Our Eternal Father has no son any more." Then he pushed past Uxhalar and was lost in the shuffling column that wound past him.

Uxhalar tried to take off but the effort suddenly seemed too great for him. He inflated his flight sacs to the maximum but it was no use, he was just too heavy to fly. So, he turned around and started to walk west with the rest of the survivors. As he did so, he noted that his wing feathers, once a pristine white but now stained with the black rain, were beginning, one by one, to fall out.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 71

LTR

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Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

"How are you feeling Maion?" Lieutenant Grace Zachariah looked at her patient with professional concern. A concern that felt slightly ridiculous given that the size differential between them was so marked. According to the medical records, Maion-Lan-Lemuel was about 15 feet tall standing up. Fortunately, she wasn't doing that right now. She was laying while Lemuel was sitting cross-legged on the ground beside her. The other thing that made concern seem unnecessary was Maion's beauty. Now the bruising had faded from her face and body, she was radiant.

"I am much better thank you. But I feel sick and my skin crawls. As if there were insects underneath it."

"That's you getting free of your drug addiction. Didn't anybody in Heaven tell you to just say no to drugs? I'll get you some methadone, you're about due for a new shot anyway." Lemuel's expression was one of resentment at the prolonged treatment and Grace didn’t like that. "Not a word from you Lemuel. We're detoxing you as well, remember?"

"How long is this going to last?" There was a hint of petulance in Maion's voice, one that reminded Grace of car trips and her little sister asking 'are we there yet?'

She hesitated before answering, partly because of a nurse's instinctive caution in telling patients anything and partly because any answer she gave would be a guess. When the Salvation War had started, the last thing anybody had expected was the problems inherent in treating drug-addicted angels. "If you were human, it would take between three and six months to get you cleaned up. Angels, we just don’t know. We're only just beginning to get a handle on how daemonic and angelic body chemistry differs from ours and without knowing that, our best predictions are guesswork."

"How is our patient Nurse?" Doctor Zinder had arrived and was reading the patient's clipboard.

"Suffering from mild drug withdrawal problems. I'm getting her daily methadone dose to deal with that. Otherwise, much recovered."

"Very good. Memnon is waiting outside, would you ask him to step in please?" Zinder turned to Maion. "You are looking much better. But, you must have realized by now that something is seriously wrong with your wings."

"They won't move." Zinder also noted the petulant intonation.

"Let me show you why. These are called X-rays, they're a sort of photograph that shows the inside of your body. These white things are the bones of your wings, these very bright white bits are the screws we put in to hold the long bones together while they healed. Now, these are pictures of a healthy wing, they're of Lemuel's actually. Compare them with yours, you can see the difference in the wing joint here. Lemuel's is a marvel, five bones coming together in a joint that has three axes of movement. Your joint, on the other hand, is just a fused mass of bone. Left to itself, it will never heal to anything more than that."

Maion started to cry, causing Lemuel to grip her hand and wrap his wing over her head. Zinder paused for a second, then carried on. "There is another option. There's somebody I would like you to meet."

Lemuel looked around, then his eyes opened with shock. "A Fallen One. What is he doing here?" The question was directed at Zinder and had a degree of anger in it.

"This is Memnon, a senior member in the government of President Abigor. Memnon lost his wings in a battle with our forces. As you can see, he got them back. I'll let him tell you the story."

Zinder sat back while Memnon told the story of his adventures in Iraq and Hell to the two Angels. While he did so, Zinder watched him carefully, trying to learn as much as he could from what, he had no doubt, was the most unusual meeting ever held in Earth Hospital. When Memnon finished, Zinder took over the conversation. "We can't be sure that angels regenerate the same way daemons do. So you have a choice Maion. You can stay with wings that are present, but paralysed and useless or we can amputate them and hope that they regrow. If they do, you should have fully functional wings again, if they do not, you'll be wingless. Up to you. Something I have to add, you're the most advanced patient we have here. What happens with you will determine how the other Angels are treated. Some of them are in much worse condition than you are. Their wings were broken and re-broken while some have had their legs injured the same way as well. If this amputation and regrowth doesn’t work, they won’t be able to walk, let alone fly."

Maion started crying again. "That's horrible."

"How do we know he's telling the truth?" Lemuel spoke belligerently. "The Fallen Ones are our enemies, they always have been. They have plotted against us for millennia."

"As you have against us never-born. Your arrogance wearies me as it has done for centuries." Memnon was equally belligerent and Zinder got the same sort of feeling he did when dealing with his children squabbling over who had the largest apple.

"Shut up both of you." Zinder looked at them both with exasperation. "Lemuel, I got the medical records from the hospital that treated Memnon. It took a little time because it is an Army facility and this is a Navy installation but I've got them. I've even got the X-rays of his wings before and after the amputation and regrowth treatment. They confirm everything he has just told you. I wouldn't have let him even mention this without checking out his story. Listen, both of you, it's time to let old hatreds die. Isn't it obvious by now that both Yahweh and Satan played you all for suckers? Us too, only now we're doing something about it. Memnon, coming here to help was a generous and kindly gesture and you should appreciate it Lemuel. But this is a hospital and I'll have no squabbling here. Either of you causes trouble and out you both go. The only person who really matters here is Maion and all that matters is what's best for her. Get it?"

Memnon and Lemuel looked at each other, their mouths hanging open with shock.

"Err, yes." Lemuel was speaking for them both. "My apologies, you too Memnon. We'd better forget what happened in the past or the humans might get angry with us."

"Doctor, the wings I have will never work again. I do not need your pictures to know that." She paused took her breath. "Lemuel, with your permission, please let them cut off these wings. They just get in the way now. I do not want to spend the rest of my life walking through doors sideways. Even if they don’t grow back properly, I'll be better off."

Lemuel nodded while Zinder made a cellphone call organizing an operating theater, as much white angelic blood as they had in stock and a couple of lumberjack-grade chainsaws. Then, he left the ward to get his surgical team ready. Memnon fell in beside him. Walking beside the daemon, Zinder couldn't help but ask a question that had been bothering him.

"Memnon, all we have learned about the Great Celestial War says that you daemons rebelled against Yahweh. Before that you were all part of the same host. Now, your superficial appearance is utterly different. What happened?"

Memnon thought carefully for a few seconds. "We were all similar once. But then, soon after we took over Hell and made our home there, the great volcano that is now the Hellpit erupted. The old stories say it was terrible with a poisoned gas that smelled of bad eggs spewing over the land. Slowly, we became changed, loosing our white coats and feathers and becoming as you see us now. Our offspring also changed, a little bit at first, then more and more until we had split into all the groups you see today. It was always said that Yahweh caused the great eruption to try and destroy us but he only partly succeeded. Satan himself made things worse by experimenting with breeding one group with another. And there was . . . . ."

Suddenly the voice he had first heard in the deserts of Iraq whispered in his ear. That is enough. They need know no more. The end of your story is still far away. With those words in his mind, Memnon fell silent.

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

"Are the latest damage assessment pictures in?"

The officer from the National Reconnaissance Office nodded. "They are, although I suggest we do not release them for publication. Or put them on the military intranet, we've got a problem with leakage there. Somebody doesn’t know where their final loyalties lay. We've had videos of some actions leaking out already."

"I know." Petraeus was annoyed by the development. "We've got the Criminal Investigative Services looking into it. What's the situation?"

"Pretty grim. What's left of the Army on which we dropped the hammer is wandering away from Ground Zero. I wouldn't call it a retreat or a rout, it's more like they're stunned and just getting away from the scene. They're dying like flies as they go. We can track the various groups of survivors by the trail of bodies they're leaving behind them. Our estimate of the force subject to the laydown was around 450,000 human levies and around 50,000 angels. By counting up survivors and the dead outside the blast zone, we think the number of dead has reached 349,000 humans and 45,000 angels. It's still climbing."

"Not for much longer." The Targeteer spoke from one corner of the room. "It should level off at roughly that level now as the last of the critically-exposed die off. We'll see another surge in six to eight weeks when the longer-term exposure cases begin to expire. From what I've seen of the pictures, radiation poisoning is pretty much endemic to the survivors. Some of the close-ups already show humans loosing their hair while the surviving angels are shedding feathers. None of them seem able to fly any more by the way. They're all walking."

"The Trail of Tears." Petraeus was thoughtful. "What's the radiation count like?"

"Declining quickly. We have a small plume trailing south but it's way sub-critical. We were lucky." The NRO Officer had pictures showing the intensity of the contamination from the initiation. A great circle around Ground Zero with what looked like the tail on a comma pointing south.

"Luck had nothing to do with it. " The Targeteer's voice never deviated from its flat monotone. "We waited for still air and initiated high enough to reduce contamination to a minimum. What we can see now is what there's going to be. We've sent out a warning to the troops to watch out for any snow-like particles and to get under cover immediately if any are reported. What we don’t know is how the spatial geography of Heaven is going to change things. We've never performed an initiation in a self-contained space before. At least we know that nuclear physics is more or less the same thing as on Earth. All the parameters we measured track with our Earthside results. One thing we should worry about, a lot of the potential fall-out got blasted high. On Earth, it wouldn't come down for months and by the time it did, it would have decayed into insignificance. Here, who knows when it will come down."

"Safe for troop movements?"

The Targeteer thought for a second. "If we have to. Armored forces anyway. However, I would urge that we keep out troops away from the area around Ground Zero and that fallout plume. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should."

Petraeus nodded vigorously "I agree. There's no reason to take chances with the long term health of our troops. There's enough good ground up here to give us plenty of other options. In fact, we've got nothing but options. There's no real bottlenecks we have to go through that I can see. Thank you gentlemen, I'll study your reports in detail later. Please be available if I have any questions to ask."

Survivors, 23 miles West of Ground Zero. Heaven

Uxhalar-Lan-Sarael stopped to vomit but his stomach was already empty and ached from the constant retching. He had suffered from diarrhea as well but now his intestines were cramping as they tried to drive non-existent waste from his body. Walking was becoming more and more tiring and he wasn't sure how much longer he could carry on. Members of the group he had joined were dropping out all the time, collapsing by the side of the path they had been following. One of them had been the angel he had first spoken with, Ursais-Lan-Anadiel. He had seemed to have survived except for his burns and the deep lacerations from his wounds, but the white blood from his veins had continued to flow despite all efforts to stop it. The wounds had been joined by bleeding from inside when Ursais had started to vomit blood and it had seeped from his ears, nose, eyes and back passage. The constant bleeding had weakened him fast and he had collapsed by the roadside. Uxhalar had wanted to stay with him but he had died almost immediately.

Overhead, a sharp, rolling clap of thunder caused the column of survivors to look up in fear. That fear faded when they saw it was not another flash-bang weapon but simply a pair of human aircraft flying overhead. The scream of their jets followed the boom of their passage and Uxhalar saw them disappear into the distance with dull disinterest. It was a measure of the times that the human aircraft were now less of a threat than the misery they now faced. As his stomach cramped again, he seriously started to regret that the passing aircraft hadn't turned around to bomb and strafe them. That would have been a quick release from this slow, lingering death.

"Exalted One, please do not give up. Come, we will help you." Uxhalar felt himself being lifted up. He didn’t remember having fallen or laying in the grass but he had. A group of four humans were struggling to get him to his feet again. They lacked the strength to really help, but their devotion and the effort they were making inspired him and he staggered to his feet again. It was unbecoming for a member of the Angelic Host to thank a mere human for efforts performed on his behalf so he left them behind and once again began the laborious effort of raising his feet and taking steps further away from the horror that had destroyed this army.

He didn't get that much further. A few hundred paces more and a fit of coughing racked his body. He made a great effort and raised his hand to his mouth, seeing on it the traces of white blood that he had coughed up. There was more splattered on the path beneath him and his mind flickered back to Ursais-Lan-Anadiel. He felt dizzy, the coughing fit had disturbed something in his mind and he tried to walk further. It was too late, his legs were no longer strong enough to support him and he collapsed again. By the time some humans tried to help him, he was dead.

Presidential Palace, City of Dis, Hell

The problem with being a Lordly Daemon was that computer keyboards were simply not large enough or strong enough to survive his use. Abigor had destroyed six keyboards before he had learned to restrain his strength sufficiently to protect them. Then, he had managed to have some keyboards made that were actually large enough so that he didn’t press all the keys down at once with a single talon-stroke. Now, with a large monitor, his own keyboard and a small but growing knowledge of what computers could do, he was beginning to learn his way around cyber-space. He even had his own webpage, created for him by a friendly human, where he could post news about the daemonic community in Hell. He particularly enjoyed reading a page called "Ask Abigor" where humans could post questions to him about Hell and its inhabitants. He had a staff to find the answers of course but it was all part of his long-term plan to rebuild the image of daemons in human minds.

In his wanderings around the internet, Abigor had also discovered the vast variety of web communities where humans met with others of their kind. They had been confusing at first for what one group took as the undiluted and indisputable truth was viciously derided as imbecilic nonsense by the rest. Then, he had realized that disagreements were actually part of human strength for in the battle to prove "their" side right and "the other" side wrong their search to find the unanswerable argument had led to ever-deeper understanding of the world that surrounded them. On the other hands, some of the people on such sites were obviously completely nuts. Abigor had just finished reading a long dispute with somebody claiming that shooting people in the head wasn't an efficient way of killing him. Abigor would have liked to introduce the writer to Asmodeus who had been killed very effectively by repeated rifle shots to the head. Unfortunately, nobody knew where daemons, angels or second-life humans went when they died. If, indeed, they went anywhere when they died.

His break over, it was time to get back to work. Abigor closed the discussion site down, wondering briefly if humans really thought they could destroy stars, and went back to the news pages. Yahoo now had a separate section for news from Hell and from Heaven. He opened up the Hell section, wondering briefly why it was that he got all the best information on what was happening in his own country from a computer website based on Earth. There was nothing really spectacular happening, the Orcs were rioting again, demanding to be restored to their ancestral lands and possessions. Abigor sighed at that, it meant another morning negotiating with them, the humans and the other surviving Lordly Daemons in an effort to find a solution to the Orc problem. In a way, things had been much simpler in Satan's day.

Out of curiosity, he opened up the heaven page to see what was happening in the human invasion of Heaven. Was Yahweh having as bad a time of it as Satan had? The first headline gave him all the information he needed on that. Yahweh had sent a force to attack the humans as they invaded Heaven. The humans had destroyed it, totally. That was no surprise, Abigor would have been more surprised if they hadn't. What did shock him, on reading the story, was that they had done it with a single weapon. His mind flashed back to an afternoon two years earlier where he had watched the human film on the making of the atomic bomb and had met with one of the humans who planned its use. He had gained the distinct impression that humans were very reluctant to use those weapons but they had dropped one on Yahweh's force with almost no hesitation.

Idly, Abigor wondered which of the Angelic forces had been destroyed. He was prepared to bet that it had been Yahweh's personal guard, the Incomparable Legion of Light. Abigor had fought them once, when they had been commanded by Michael-Lan in the great charge that had swept the daemonic armies out of Heaven. Now, they were gone, swept away by humans. Did that mean that Michael-Lan himself was dead? Every so often, Abigor had been kept awake at nights, wondering if his decision to surrender to the humans had been correct. Looking at the story on his screen and the pictures of the place where the humans had struck, Abigor knew he would never have to ask himself that question again.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 72

LTR

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Montmartre Club, Eternal City, Heaven.

The Incomparable Legion of Light was gone. The unit that had been his personal command during The Great Celestial War had been wiped out, literally within the blink of an eye. Michael-Lan knew the destructive power that humans had at their command but this stunned even him. The Incomparable Legion of Light had fought throughout the Great Celestial War right from the first days when Satan had broken into the Eternal City itself. Michael remembered the vicious streetfighting that had taken place, how he had thrown civilians into the battle against the daemonic army in an effort to prevent them taking over the city. Then, The Incomparable Legion of Light had been the only trained body of troops he had. He had used them as a fire brigade, throwing them in piecemeal wherever the daemons had appeared to be breaking through. When the tide of the battle had turned, they had been the spearhead of his attacks that had finally driven The Eternal Enemy out of the city.

Right up to the present, The Incomparable Legion of Light had contained veterans of that desperate battle, ones whom Michael knew by name and recognized of old. Valued old friends whose family Michael knew and loved. Angels who Michael-Lan had knowingly and deliberately sent to their deaths. I am sorry old friends, more sorry than you or anybody else can ever know. Wherever you are, know that you have served Heaven better in your deaths than you did in the battles of The Great Celestial War. Then, you saved The Eternal City, now you have saved the whole of the Angelic Host. It was true, at least Michael knew he was telling himself that. The dreadful blast that had destroyed The Incomparable Legion of Light could just as easily taken place right here. And still might.

"Michael-Lan, the people are frightened." Gabriel-Lan spoke from the room behind Michael's balcony. His own voice was loaded with fear and foreboding. Outside the city was in shadow for the first time in countless millennia. A huge plume of smoke from the fires had darkened the whole city. In its penumbra, the Angelic Host shivered in the streets. The same cloud had cut the temperature quite drastically. Normally, Heaven was a temperate place, the climate warm enough to be comfortable, cool enough to be invigorating. Now, the sky was overcast and the cold was enough to hurt a people unused to it.

Michael-Lan glanced at the thermometer he had mounted on the wall of his balcony. He had bought it on a whim, from one of the open-air markets the humans loved so much. In all the years he had consulted it, the temperature had never changed. Now, it was showing The Eternal City to be almost twenty five degrees cooler than normal. "We have sent people out with Geiger Counters?"

Gabriel-Lan nodded. He didn’t understand what the human boxes that clicked were supposed to do but he had guessed it was important. Michael-Lan had been very insistent that people go around the city and take readings from the boxes, then compare them with charts he had supplied. "Yes Michael. The readings are higher than before but still within the safety zone on the charts. The highest readings were where the frozen water fell. They pushed the upper limit of your charts."

Michael-Lan nodded, almost distantly for his mind was still occupied by the faces and named of The Incomparable Legion of Light. The 'frozen water' Gabriel had referred to was hail. The language of the Angelic Host didn’t really have a wealth of words to describe bad weather since there wasn't any in Heaven. Only, this hail wasn't a natural phenomena, humans had created it just as they had created the great cloud that hung over the city. An area more than 20 miles across was burning where The Incomparable Legion of Light had died and that was the source of the smoke. The fire was still spreading although it was also thinning and dying as it spread. The filthy black-stained pellets of ice that had fallen were a product of that fire.

"Just frightened Gabby?" Michael forced his mind back to business.

"No, Michael, more than that. They are bewildered, apprehensive, confused. Rumors that The Incomparable Legion of Light has been destroyed by the humans are spreading throughout the City. The Host cannot understand what to make of this, they hear the rumors and see the great cloud over our heads but they do not know what they portend. Already rumors spread that the end-days are upon us."

"They are, Gabby. They are. The reign of the Angelic Host is ending." Michael-Lan snorted with laughter. "The prophecies always were that we would bring the end-days to the humans just as we brought them to those who went before. Yet, it is the humans who bring them to us. In the great game of existence, it is the humans who have reached the end row and become crowned."

Michael-Lan looked over the Eternal City in its uncharacteristic dim light. Without the steady glare of Heaven's white light, the myriad precious and semi-precious stones that lined the walls of the innumerable temples and palaces had lost their iridescent glow. Without that, the Eternal City had lost the one feature that made it unique above all others. More than that, without the constant refracted light from the walls, Michael could see the chipped plaster and peeling paint that underlay the superficial gloss. The Eternal City pretended to be Las Vegas but underneath it all, it was more like Atlantic City. The comparison made Michael snort again. I am probably the only person in Heaven who can understand that simile.

"The humans have stepped up their timetable Gabby. I wasn't expecting them to use a nuke this early, or even at all come to that. I knew we would lose The Incomparable Legion of Light but I thought it would be a ground battle, the way they destroyed Abigor's Army. A long battle, lasting several days and one I could exploit to bring about the downfall of Yahweh when all our preparations were in place. Only they tossed that nuke instead and in doing so they told us what they have planned. Where are their armies?"

"Reports from the countryside say that three great armies are assembling around us. One to the north, one to the southwest, and the Americans to the southeast. All advance very slowly while more troops pour in behind their leading edge. The watchers say that their numbers are so great they cannot be counted and that they advance with great numbers of monstrous machines.

"Armored units." Michael spoke almost absently. "They're hitting us with everything they've got. They were taken by surprise when they fought Hell, they went to war with what they had available. This time, they've cast their plans carefully. We're running out of time Gabby. Our hands are being forced, we are going to have to move now. Before those armies are complete and they blast their way into The Eternal City."

Michael stopped took a deep breath and committed himself in a way he had never done before. "Assemble the inner circle in my office for a final briefing. We are go for the coup."

Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

Maion-Lan-Lemuel woke up with her head aching and her mouth utterly dried out. Beside her, Lemuel noted that she was finally out of the anaesthetic and pressed the button that called the nurse over. In doing so, he was very careful not to push his finger through the wall. Grace Zachariah hurried over and started taking down Maion's medical readings. "How do you feel Maion."

"Thirsty." Maion sounded confused.

"I'm not surprised. We had to pump a lot of medication into you before you went under. We've got some iced water for you, that's all you can have at the moment." She finished taking down the readings and hoped somebody, somewhere could make sense of them. "Your operation went fine, you're wingless now, just like us. There's two small stumps where your wings were. Now, if the records from Memnon are correct, they should be even if they are from an Army hospital, those stumps will heal first. Then, they'll start to grow back into a new set of wings. If this works with you, we'll apply the same treatment to any of our other patients who elect to go through the procedure."

Grace drummed her pencil on the chart, then obviously elected to make a hard decision. "Maion, your drug addiction, it's taking longer to clear out than we thought. Just how many angels up in Heaven use drugs?"

Maion reached into her mind, a mind that was still clouded by the residual anaesthetic from her surgery. "Not many. They are very expensive. To work in Michael's club was the only way I could afford them. He gave them to me as long as I worked for him."
"As a whore." Grace couldn't keep the condemnation out of her voice, try as she did. She had once been an observant Catholic and the early indoctrination was still there. Maion started to cry and that made Grace feel even worse about her outburst. She put that feeling to one side and turned to Lemuel. "And now we come to you. How did you get hooked?"

"I don't know. I didn't know until I came here."

"You never injected anything? Smoked anything?"

Lemuel shook his head. "I took Excedrin or Tylenol sometimes. And drank Gatorade. Reverencing Yahweh made my head hurt and my throat dry. The pills eased my head and the gatorade quenched my thirst."

Grace nodded. There was a reason why nurses asked these questions, patients opened up to them in ways they wouldn't to a doctor or a policeman. It sometimes amused her that patients thought they were just chatting to a nurse without realizing that there was no such thing as something unplanned happening in a hospital. "Did you feel bad at other times?"

Lemuel thought for a moment. "If I stayed away from the temple for too long, I would feel tired and irritable. But as soon as I went back, all would be well again."

"A feeling of peace, tranquility and a sort of glow?"

"Exactly. How did you know?"

"You were mellow, stoned out of your mind my boy. And when you were away, you started suffering mild withdrawal symptoms. Was this any temple? "

"No, just the Temple of Everlasting Acquiescence. After a few visits, I enjoyed the tranquility so much I only went there."

"Did you eat while you were there?"

"Not at first. But, later I started to eat hamburgers made there."

"Well, that's it. I would guess the drugs were in those burgers. It's a common trick, usually used on women though. Put drugs into their food, get them hooked and put them out to work to pay for their habit."

"Who could do such a thing to me?" Lemuel was appalled and outraged.

"Who did it to her?" Grace pointed at Maion and then departed with her records. Lemuel was left with a very thoughtful expression on his face.

Board Room, Montmartre Club, The Eternal City, Heaven

"Is everybody clear on where we go from here? Any questions at all, speak up now. The way the humans are moving has caught us before everything was ready so we have to move."

"How will we know the coup has taken place?" Charmeine-Lan's nervousness was apparent in her voice.

"You can count on thunder, lightning and sound effects. Multi-colored lightning for a certainty and really impressive thunder, probably covering most of the city. You people here, just ignore that and keep the bands playing. That'll keep everybody's mind in synch so I can draw on your power. Think of this place as a hose and me as the nozzle. When everything stops, it'll all be over. Then, once Yahweh has lost that battle, I'll put out a call and we'll get the new government set up. Once it's in place and running, there'll be very little opposition. The Host is conditioned to accept absolute leadership from the Ultimate Temple. As long as Yahweh is dead, there will be no trouble, the Host will accept new leadership as an alternative to no leadership. We'll have our people out there of course, making sure that line gets pushed hard. Then, once our power is solid, Gabby, you and Raffie get through to the humans and tell them we want to surrender."

"Suppose . . . . you lose?" Leilah-Lan was uncertain and frightened at the prospect.

"Me? I'll be dead. Very did and probably crushed out of this and any other existence. You lot, you'll be safe here for a little bit. Yah-yah has no idea this places exists or that he has any reason to find it. You'll have a few minutes before that idea sinks in. That's why I don't want you in the temple with me. Use that few minutes to run like hell. To Hell, or better still to Earth. Try and get the staff here out as well. It'll be a real panic so do the best you can. Then get out. Trust me you don't want to be in this city when Yah-yah goes berserk and especially not when the humans blast their way in."

The other members of Michael's inner circle exchanged glances. Nothing that had been said before drove the dangers of what they were about to try home so clearly. Michael looked around the room and nodded. "If there is nothing else, I'm off to the Ultimate Temple. If you do nothing else, keep the music playing right?"

Michael-Lan left the room and started wandering through his club. He had conceived it the day he had realized that human development would eventually lead into direct conflict with Yahweh and that the rapid escalation of human abilities meant that conflict would be immensely destructive. The Montmartre club had been modelled first on a Paris night club but had grown to include features from American speakeasies and Las Vegas casinos. At some point during its growth, the club had ceased to be a tool that Michael intended to use and had become something he loved. Now, he was very well aware that he might well be seeing it for the last time.

He left through the front entrance, winding his way out of the maze into the open air. Then, he inflated his flight sacs to the full and took off, climbing high above the city. Stay clear of the cloud he reminded himself. It might be hotter than you like. Underneath him, the shadowed Eternal City lay in its splendor. Splendor? Michael looked down again and once more saw the shabbiness and ill-repair that lay underneath the superficial gloss. Poor city, your problem is that nobody really loves you. We'll have to fix that. If I survive of course...

Ahead of him was the great Lake of Placid Contemplation that formed the centerpiece of the city. Fed from a river that started in The Ultimate Temple itself, the vast expanse of water was Yahweh's own private park, one where others were only allowed as an extreme sign of favor. Michael had plans for that lake, ones in which the words "Yachting Marina" figured prominently. Of course, he would still have to win the impending battle first.

He circled above the great square of the city. 1,500 kilometers on each side, the walls pierced by 12 gates. Michael knew well that some humans believed that the gates were named after the tribes of Israel but that was just a human legend. Their names were older than that. In fact they pre-dated humanity completely. They pre-dated humans but they would not post-date them, not unless Michael's plans worked. He had a brief vivid mental picture of the city below screaming as the great mushroom-shaped clouds rose over it. The humans would not even try to take the Eternal City by storm, they would destroy it utterly. Michael knew that as surely as he knew his own name.

He paused for a second. Did he know his own name? Was he still Michael-Lan-Yahweh or had he in truth become Michael-Lan-Michael? He mused over the point for a few seconds while his eyes took in the sights that he may never get the chance to see again.

Michael sighed and backwinged, dropping through the air towards the forecourt of The Ultimate Temple. There had been a time when this place had filled him with superstitious awe. Now, he viewed it with little more than contempt. Yet, it was still an impressive enough building, one that would make an excellent tourist attraction. Briefly, Michael contemplated installing a 'What the angel saw' machine in the forecourt and the idea made him chuckle. That, at least, broke the mood of apprehension that had been gathering within him.

"Welcome Mighty General." The gatekeeper genuflected in front of him. Michael acknowledged the obeisance with a curt nod and entered the forecourt itself. Once again, he looked around, gathering in the sights that might soon be eternally denied to him. Then, he squared his shoulders, tucked his wings into place and started the climb up the alabaster steps towards the throne room where Yahweh awaited him.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 73

LTR

Don't Look Back In Anger
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The Ultimate Temple, Heaven

Michael-Lan strode forward into the Temple. All about him, the people sang; he could feel the artificial ecstasy of the choirs of angels, of those few, fortunate saved humans. As he entered the Holiest of Holies, the thick marble of the temple walls drowned out the beautiful music outside; reduced to a dim glow, he focused his attention on the sight before him.

He knew the sight was supposed to awe him, every time without fail: the great white throne, with its flashing lightning and pealing thunder surrounding the giant figure who sat on it, the One Above All Others. Before the throne were the seven great, gold lamps, burning their ceaseless incense so that the clouds of scented smoke hung thick and hazy, the smell clinging to everything. Once, Michael loved it, for it appealed to his sense of the ridiculous. Now he’d just about had enough of it and of the pretensions of that throne’s occupant. There was one consolation to his chosen course, one way or another he would not have to visit this place after today.

At the four corners of the room stood the four living creatures, chanting their ceaseless cry: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come;” and the twenty-four members of the Private Choir. They were ancient even by the angels' standards, and were constantly on their faces before the throne, murmuring, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." Time was, their voices had outstripped even the living creatures in volume, but even here they were not free from time's ravages. An astute observer might look closely into their eyes and see the misery and despair there. Singing the same praises for untold millennia was not as heavenly as it sounded. Soon, their misery would be ended, one way or another.

In the back of the hall, Archangels were gathered around the Master Mason but watching Michael. They gauged his mood, was it good? Or bad? Was there going to be a thunderstorm and flying rock chips or a quiet and peaceful meeting. Did they need to buy tickets for the mason's bunker? Or could they save the gold? With more and more humans pouring into Heaven and occupying the land around the City, the prices of food and other supplies were already beginning to rise. Rise enough to make even angels careful with their money. They held their breaths as Michael-Lan made his entrance. What to do?

All right, here we go. The only thing left is to hope he gives me the one opening I need. Michael stopped in the middle of the lamps and knelt down on both knees, prostrating himself. He pressed his lips, still scarred from the times he had been exposed to human weaponry, against the cold, dark jade floor. As though sensing intentions, the four living creatures quieted, and the twenty-four elders' murmurs died to whispers. From the white throne, the voice of Yahweh thundered: “Michael, my good general, what news do you bring me?”

"Oh nameless one, Lord and God of all, I prostrate myself to your presence. I have to tell you that The Incomparable Legion Of Light has been utterly destroyed. It was wiped out within the blink of an eye. Your son is dead with hundreds of thousand of human levies and tens of thousands of angels beside him. Few survive the human firepower that destroyed them. Those that did are maimed and sick. A circle twenty miles across burns with the fires the humans created and the clouds of smoke darken the city and chills its air. All this they did with one weapon, with one blow of their fist. The warmaking ability of the humans has proved far beyond the capability of the fallen ones and beyond ours.

Yahweh was silent for a moment, then spoke. "They failed me. It was my irresistible will that they defeat the humans. How dare they not do so.”

You bastard. They died for you and that is all you can say about them? Not one word of regret for their deaths or gratitude for their service? Through his outrage at the casual dismissal of the Incomparable Legion's destruction, Michael-Lan felt his heart skip a beat. Yahweh hadn't failed him, he had the opening he was hoping for. All the maneuvering, all the scheming, all the corruption was about to pay off. That knowledge filled him with a strange, wild joy. It was all over, there was no more waiting, no more doubts. The final showdown was on its way. For good or for bad, it would end the way it would end. One way or another, the End Days had started. Michael looked up at the figure towering over him with nothing but contempt, then climbed to his feet.

"Oh, shut up."

There was a complete, awed silence from the crowd of spectators. Nothing moved, there was not the slightest whisper of sound. For the first time in countless millennia, the constant chanting from the Private Choir of 24 Elders was stilled. Their copper-colored skins, green eyes and silver hair were completely motionless as the unimaginable silence continued. The silence, so intense that it seemed to have a gentle hiss all of its own expanded and enveloped the hall. It wasn't just the three words that had stilled the echoes of millennia, it was the withering loathing and contempt with which they had been spoken. Nothing, not even the legendary final confrontation between The One Above All and the Morningstar, had ever come close to the undiluted malignancy of Michael-Lan's words.

The silence was broken by the panic-stricken whimpering of terror from the Archangels at the back of the hall. A whimpering of mind-numbed fear that swelled into a wave of utter, uncontrollable hysteria. The Archangels were screaming in horror as they tried to crowd into the bunker, pausing only to thrust all the gold they had into the hands of the Master Mason. Inside the walls, those who had decided discretion was the better part of valor complimented themselves on their foresight. They didn't really care what was happening as long as they weren't part of it. They were content to learn the truth as soon as the survivors decided what it was.

Michael-Lan watched Yahweh staring down at him. The great face was motionless, the eyes without expression or feeling. Suddenly, a flash of insight told him the truth. He can't believe it. He's had nothing but fawning adulation for so long, he literally doesn't know how to handle opposition. Or even to recognize it for what it is. He's completely lost.

"Michael, my Great General. . . . ."

"I'm not your anything. What I am is sick of your posturing and your self-importance. I'm sick of clearing up the messes you make and covering up for your blunders. You're a brainless, arrogant dolt who is drunk with unwarranted power and stoned on unearned adulation. You've caused millennia of grief and misery with your insatiable demands for worship. Now, you've pushed too far and the creatures you play your little games with have decided to hit back. Their worship of you is over, Yahweh. They've got a saying down there now, worship is not owed, it is earned. You've done nothing to earn their worship and you've done nothing to earn mine. So shut up and let me try and fix this mess as well."

"Michael, you go too far. . . . ."

"Oh no, no I don't. If I wanted to go too far I would call you a apogenous, bovaristic, coprolalial, dasypygal, excerebrose, facinorous, gnathonic, hircine, ithyphallic, jumentous, kyphotic, labrose, mephitic, napiform, oligophrenial, papuliferous, quisquilian, rebarbative, saponaceous, thersitical, unguinous, ventripotent, wlatsome, xylocephalous, yirning zoophyte." Thank you humans, I've been wanting to use that for years. That would be going too far. But I'm not going to call you that Yah-yah. I'm just going to point out that even Fluffy and Wuffles couldn’t stand the sight of you." Oh, that felt good. Millenia of repressed frustration bursting out at last. It suddenly occurred to Michael that he was enjoying this confrontation far too much.

It was the mention of Fluffy and Wuffles that did it. The suggestion that his beloved pets might have actually hated him combined with the uneasy recognition that the suggestion might be true caused Yahweh to snap out of his stupor. The rolling thunderclouds swirled the thick smoke that filled the Holiest of Holies and caused strange, exotic patterns to appear within them. Sheet lightning flickered across them as Yahweh started to lose his temper. In the earpiece that Michael was wearing, he could hear the bands in the Montmartre Club playing. He couldn't place the tune for a second then it clicked into place. The theme from the film "Dambusters". The bouncing march was just what Michael needed. Clever little humans. A good choice to start the game. Good film too, even if they didn’t get the name of the dog right in the History Channel version.

"Michael, you forget yourself. Your impertinence is intolerable. I strip you of your rank, authority and titles and order you to your estate, never again to enter the Eternal City."

"Drop dead." Michael-Lan's voice slashed across the Holiest of Holies, ricocheting off the walls and ringing in the ears of all present. "I have to put this mess right and I can't do it with you around. So get out of my way. But first, take your decree and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine." Will he even understand that? It just sounded so good, I couldn't resist using it.

There was an appalled silence. The Archangels watching finally understood that this was more, much more, than just a dispute between The Most High and the Great General. This was confrontation. A battle for supremacy, just as the one between The Morningstar and The Most High had been. The last time this had happened, the result had been The Great Celestial War and the great schism between Heaven and Hell. It slowly dawned on them that they were watching the most significant historical event imaginable. The Eternal Enemy had died under the lash of human weapons. Now, Michael-Lan was moving to take his place.

"You defy me?" It was less a question than a scream of rage and disbelief. Then Yahweh's voice dropped into a bewildered, near-whisper. "Why, Michael, my old friend?"

"Why? Because what you have done has put the whole Angelic Host at risk. Because your actions are no longer possible or acceptable in the world that is evolving around us. Because if we do not change, we will all be destroyed. Because we cannot change while you occupy that throne. So, yes. I defy you and will do so until you are removed from that throne, never again to have power on Earth, in Heaven, in Hell or anywhere else for that matter. Your day is done, Yahweh. Leave now before I force you to do so!"

"You force me?" The scream of rage was back, this time pitched high and loud. The gathering thunderclouds roiled and the sheet lightning gathered in intensity. Suddenly, it erupted in a white blanket of light, directed in a torrent against the figure of Michael-Lan.

He was waiting for it, this was what he had been expecting, how he had always known this confrontation would end. He summoned his own resources, carefully not drawing on those of his allies. Not yet anyway, although that would come. This battle would have to be carefully managed, he would have to expend his power grudgingly, using just enough at any one time. No more and very definitely no less. Michael-Lan was under no illusions about the situation, he knew that Yahweh had not gained his throne by being the creature he was now. He was an immensely powerful being, certainly far more powerful than Michael himself. Michael's edge was that he knew what that power was, where it came from and how it could best be harnessed.

Satan and Yahweh hadn't. They had a glimmering of an understanding but one that was so mixed up with their own pre-formed characters that the understanding had been corrupted beyond recognition. A psychotic sadist, The Morningstar had believed it came from the suffering of the creatures around him. The whole of Hell had been built around that belief with humans tortured in the pit so Satan could draw on their power. Not to boost daemons over the energy barrier to the next life as he had led his followers to believe but to energize his own control over Hell. Was there even a next life? Michael thought as he braced himself to resist the blast. He looked at the figure on the throne, a figure that was now seething with rage. Yahweh was a self-obsessed egomaniac. He had believed that constant singing of praise was the source of the power he could draw on. Oddly, he was closer, much closer, to the truth that the Morningstar had been. That was probably why he had done so much better and why Heaven wasn't as dysfunctional as Hell. It was music that was the key. It allowed different beings to synchronize their minds and that meant their mental power could be synchronized as well. Michael's great breakthough had been to realize that it didn’t matter what sort of music. Anything would do and if people enjoyed listening to it, then its effects were so much greater. That one realization had been the reason behind his nightclub and the gathering of the bands within it.

The blast came, enveloping Michael-Lan in a hurricane of white light. Even as it struck, Michael-Lan knew that it hadn't been intended to kill, merely to hurl him backwards against the walls behind him. Bad move, old fellow. When you decide to strike, don’t hold back. Go for the quick kill. Although I'm rather glad you didn't this time Michael had already concentrated his mind on resistance and his own clouds had gathered around him, the sheet lightning rippling in their shapes. The blast from Yahweh met those energy-charged clouds and the two merged, crackling and flashing, the stink of ozone saturating the atmosphere. Michael concentrated hard, feeling the pressure bearing in on him and carefully measuring out his own power in response. He didn’t need to stop the attack completely, he just needed to slow down its advance. Neither he nor Yahweh could maintain an assault indefinitely; as long as he held out long enough, Yahweh would have to rest. All he had to do was to stop the flood of lightning from reaching him.

He managed it although the effort left his head beaded with sweat. He had just worked harder than he had done for millennia and the sheer effort involved astonished him. Now, as never before, he realized how futile The Morningstar's rebellion had been. He had stood up to The One Above All on his own and fought him alone. He had never realized how important it was to have allied and that mistake had first doomed him then destroyed him. Did Yahweh realize how important his allies had been? That was one of the critical questions that ran through Michael's mind for all these years. It had only been when he had started to kill Yahweh's allies off and watched how little Yahweh really cared about them that he had had his answer.

Michael-Lan watched the flickering displays of sheet lightning change from purest white to vivid multi-colors as Yahweh's fury built up. Michael-Lan knew he had already won a victory simply by surviving that first blast of power. He had shown that Yahweh could be fought, that he could be resisted. That knowledge could never be undone and, if the Angelic Host survived when Michael did not, somebody else could build on his example and challenge Yahweh again. Whatever else happened today, Yahweh's era of unchallengeable rule had just ended.

"You shall not defy me!" Yahweh's scream echoed around the room, mixing with the constant roll of thunder that dominated everything else. Those astute enough to listen and knowledgeable enough to know what to listen for would sense that there were two storms filling the room, each with its own timbre and resonance. Then, the steady roll of thunder changed to a flat, vicious crack as a multicolored lightning sheet burst out from one storm and again tried to envelop Michael.

That blow was meant to kill. No doubt about it. The preliminaries are over, the real fight has just begun. The realization formed in Michael's brain as he poured power into the storm around him, watching his own lightning display shift from white to multicolored as it merged and blended with the bolts from Yahweh. He felt the immense pressure, saw the sheet of energy pressing in on him and realized just how outclassed he was by the figure on the throne above him. He could resist this blow, he could see his own lightning balls were holding fast, but for how long he could maintain this effort was another matter. For the first time, his mind reached out and locked into the network he has so painstakingly created. Across the city, Angels were listening to the massed bands playing in the Montmartre Club, their minds locked into synchronization with his own by the rhythm of the music. Many didn’t even know that they were part of that network, all they knew was that the entertainment supplied by Michael's club had added variety and joy to a heavenly eternity grown stale. But the network was there and Michael made his first tentative withdrawals from it.

Not to defend against the assault that pressed in on him for Michael's own resources had that under control no matter by how small a margin. Instead he used the energy margin he had just gained to hurl an energy blast at Yahweh himself. It was a weak and feeble blast compared with the storm that was engulfing him but nobody before had ever directly attacked Yahweh. Not even The Morningstar had done so, not even at the height of their battle. Enraged by resistance, Yahweh was hurling his power into the attack on Michael and had left himself without a defense in place. Despite its weakness, Michael's pure white blast struck Yahweh and pushed him backwards into his throne. The success was momentary only, black clouds of thunder gathered around The One Above All and his sheet lightning brushed aside Michael's feeble attack. And yet Michael counted it as his second victory and this one was a victory on two counts. The attack had forced Yahweh to divert energy from the attack on him to Yahweh's own defense and the pressure on him had slackened. Michael had learned something else, Yahweh's energy management skills were not that great. He had used far greater force against Michael's weak attack than he had needed to. While Michael was measuring his energy expenditure with an eye-dropper, grudging each tiny packet of use, Yahweh was being profligate. There was no reason why he shouldn't be, he had always had such a massive supremacy over his opposition that there had been no need for learning the virtues of economy of force. Michael, on the other hand, had read books by humans on strategy.

The second reason why Michael counted the exchange a victory was that he had actually struck at Yahweh. Just the way his survival of the first exchange had shown Yahweh could be defied, now the second had shown Yahweh could be attacked. A blow struck at him could succeed. In the part of his mind that was concentrating on the battle now being waged, he felt the pressure subside. The second great surge had ended. Michael-Lan was under no illusions, these two battles had been skirmishing only. He and Yahweh had tested their powers and now they both new exactly the magnitude of the task that they faced. The only questions that remained were, had Michael killed enough of Yahweh's key supporters to reduce his power to manageable levels? And did Michael have enough support to compensate for his own inferiority to Yahweh? The vicious battles to come would answer that.

Michael took the opportunity to glance around the room. It was still, appearing empty with the Archangels taking cover behind anything solid. The walls were chipped and blasted, the damage far worse than anything he had seen in Yahweh's tantrums. He simply had not been aware of how much damage the combined lightning storms were doing. Then, his eyes caught the 24 Elders in Yahweh's private choir. They were silent also, just standing and watching Yahweh. Their leader turned and his oval green eyes met with Michael's clear blue. The Elder smiled sadly then he reached up with his two-thumbed hand and drew it over his mouth in the traditional "zipped shut" gesture. Whatever else happened, the Chorus was silenced and with it Yahweh had suffered his first major loss.
 

PsihoKekec

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Michael's strategy kind of reminds me of Demon's Souls, kill off the ''conduits'' of power and the way will be open.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 74

LTR

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One mile from Ground Zero, Heaven.

The small group of armored vehicles cautiously approached the cobalt-blue crater lake at Ground Zero. The troop of Challenger 2s and accompanying platoon of Warriors spread out to cover the two Fuchs NBC Reconnaissance Vehicles. Very pointedly, the infantry on board the Warriors did not dismount while the Fuchs started taking readings and soil samples.

“It’s still pretty hot around here, Sergeant.” Corporal Peter Matheson, one of the vehicle’s operators, reported.

“To be expected I suppose.” Sergeant James Franks, the vehicle commander, replied. “Nobody is going to coming through here anytime soon. The Big Boss is routing the entire army group around this place, not through it. It’s the Boffins who will find our readings and samples interesting. I hope they appreciate them.”

Franks had been a member of the CBRN Reconnaissance Regiment for ten years, having served in 1 Royal Tank Regiment for ten years beforehand. However as soon as The Salvation War had begun he had tried, unsuccessfully, to transfer to a tank regiment so that he could see some proper action. Unfortunately for him, CBRN specialists were too thin on the ground to make the transfer possible. After all, at the start of the war, nobody had known how quickly it would go nuclear. Now he was finally getting the chance to put his training into action for the first time.

Several other NBC reconnaissance teams were exploring the area around the initiation, most equipped with the Fuchs, or M39 Fox, as American units knew it, but none had gotten as close to GZ itself as the two vehicles commanded by Sergeant Franks. However Franks did not want to hang around too long, not even with the NBC protection system carried by the British vehicles.

“Should we risk taking a sample from the lake?” He wondered out loud and tried to ignore the frantic shaking of heads from his crewmates.

A mile or so away, Lieutenant Tom Potter, the OC of 2 Troop, A Squadron, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, was a nervous man. Like a lot of people, he had a morbid fear of radiation and he hated to be this close to the site of a nuclear initiation. Even if it had been a low fallout air-burst. That actually made him a very good CBRN recon team escort commander. Now, he traversed his commander’s independent sight to watch the progress of the nearest Fuchs as it continued to move slowly around the lake taking soil samples. “I wish those prats would get a move on. I’ve no desire to glow in the dark, or grow an extra head.”

Back by the lake, Sergeant Franks had successfully managed to get a sample of the highly irradiated and very poisonous water from the lake. Now he was keen to withdraw from the area as soon as he could. "Okay, back us up.” Sergeant Franks told the driver who obeyed with unseemly alacrity. The two Fuchs withdrew first, the Challengers and Warriors following a moment later.

“What was it like, Sergeant?” Franks’ troop commander asked an hour after he had returned to base.

“Pretty eerie, Boss.” The sergeant replied. “It looked like everything that could have burned had done so and we were driving on a sheet of glass for last couple of miles. Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. We went though all the training into dealing with this sort of thing, yet nothing really prepared us for seeing it close up.”

"It's worse further away. You were at Ground Zero, you didn’t see what the outlier margins are like. Fires are still burning out there. Being dead is one thing, the angels and humans out there didn’t die at once. Some of the angels are in a pitiful state. They're encased in massive, fast-growing cancers. Like that Indonesian tree-man. Nobody here knows what to do about them. They've never seen anything like them. As far as we can make out, cancer was unknown until the Big Boss popped that nuke."

Franks shook his head. “I know, I know. Still, after having seen Ground Zero, all I can say is I’m pretty glad I wasn’t under it when it went off.”

"Tell the angels that. If they don’t jack it in soon and the rumor mill is right, there'll be a lot more coming."

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

"By the holy half-chewed cigar of Saint Curtis, will you look at the size of that place?" General Norton A. Schwartz looked down at the pictures of The Eternal City with something approaching awe. Large areas were obscured, partially at least, by the smoke clouds from the fires at Ground Zero. Yet the rest was stunning in its sheer size. The Eternal City was a lot bigger than Dis.

"At least 1,500 kilometers per side. Those walls are thick, fifty meters at least, and a hundred meters high. Major redoubt at each corner with even thicker and higher walls. Three gates along each wall. Each gate flanked with guard towers." The photographic analyst looked up ar his audience. "The slums where the humans live are outside the walls of course. They add another band around the city. Those slums look pretty much like Dis as far as density and configuration are concerned. People packed together, narrow twisting streets."

"Meaning we'll be in for a hell of a street fight before we even get to the city walls." Petraeus sounded gloomy. He could see himself being forced into a decision that he really did not want to take.

"At least." Marshal Dorokov sounded even gloomier. The days when the Russian Steamroller had infinite amounts of men at its disposal were long gone. All the trouble that had cropped up in the Russian Zone of Occupation in Hell had stretched his manpower resources even thinner. "And punching holes in those walls will not be easy."

"It will." Petraeus disagreed politely. "We can nuke our way in. But, anything short of that and we'll be in a world of hurt."

There was a saddened sigh around the briefing room. "Once we're through, Sirs, things might be easier. The city itself is thinly populated. Most of the buildings are these big palaces and the streets are very wide, very straight. We could just roll down them and shoot the buildings on either side to crap. With all these trees, the place is more like a park than a city."

"The distance is the real problem." Sir Michael Jackson sounded seriously depressed. "We can't get to the center from outside, not without stopping and refuelling. This place has the same ground area as Algeria. It isn't a city, it's an urbanized country."

"Perhaps we ought to rename it Coruscant." The photo interpreter grinned at his own joke.

The grin slowly faded as Petraeus just stared at him. When the interpreter was feeling thoroughly miserable, Petraeus spoke carefully. "That might not be a bad idea. Its present name is certainly inappropriate. We'll make that suggestion to our political masters."

"Sir, if I might make a suggestion, Sir." General James Conway covered the awkward gap caused by the interpreter's faux pas. "My staff has been looking at this problem and we think we have a solution. Or part of one anyway. If you can detach the Marine Corps from First Army Group, we can portal an amphibious task group and carrier battle group to that lake in the center of the city. Lemuel-Lan-Michael says it's so deep nobody knows where the bottom is and its almost a hundred kilometers across by fifty wide. We can land the landing force right in the middle of the city, barely ten kilometers from Yahweh's palace."

"Don't we need a beacon or something?" Jackson was intrigued by the idea.

"We thought we would borrow one of those big Japanese flying boats. The Shin Meiwas. Fly it in through a portal, land on the lake with a sensitive on board. That can act as a beacon. Enterprise is fitted to generate her own portals. She can open the way up and take her battle group in to the city. Then the amphibs can follow through."

Petraeus shook his head. "That's an occupation plan, not an invasion. If Heaven folds, we can consider it." He looked more closely at the photographs that showed the area of Yahweh's palace. "What's going on here?"

"The Ultimate Temple Sir?" The photo interpreter spoke a lot more carefully than he had done before. "That foxes us completely. We took these shots from a Global Hawk a few minutes ago. She's still over the scene sir, and the anomaly is still there. It looks like there are two thunderstorms directly over Yahweh's palace. Take a look at this."

He slid another photograph over. It was a close-up shot of an Angel's face. Taken from more than 50,000 feet over the city and crystal clear in detail it showed one thing that was indisputable. The angel was terrified.

Petraeus reached out and tapped the anomaly. "Just what is going on down there."

The Ultimate Temple, Heaven

Yahweh had gone beyond raving anger. He was now possessed by a cold, deadly determination to destroy the opposition to him that had so suddenly and unexpectedly erupted. Opposition from a quarter he had never even begun to suspect. He was summoning his strength to wipe that opposition out. In the meantime, another part of his mind was trying to understand how his most trusted servant could have turned against him.

"Michael-Lan-Yahweh, it is still not too late. Submit to my justice, cleanse yourself of the sin of pride and I may yet spare you from the full force of my wrath. Do not force this to its inevitable conclusion."

"It's Michael-Lan-Michael now. I am your servant no longer. And it is already far too late. It was too late the day you betrayed the humans and closed the gates of Heaven in their face. It was too late the day you had the incredible stupidity to tell them that was what you had done. It was too late the day you condemned those who had made it here to being menial servants instead of living in the paradise you promised them. I will not submit to your justice for you have shown you do not understand the meaning of the word. How could you condemn humanity to everlasting torment and still speak of justice? You say you may spare me the full measure of your wrath? Be careful Yah-yah. The humans are coming and they will not spare you the full measure of theirs. Already their armies are encircling the Eternal City and starting to choke off its life-blood. Perhaps if you were to throw yourself on their mercy, they might hold their hands. Humans are oddly merciful to those they defeat. Usually. In your case though. . . ." Michael-Lan-Michael shook his head.

The music in his earpiece had changed to Mars, The Bringer of War. Whoever put this program together had done well. Michael thought. Let's hope it's enough.

The sheet of multi-colored lightning that enveloped him came with almost no warning. The only slight hint Michael had was that Yahweh had reserved some of the power for his own defense and the sparkling globe that protected him had become visible a tiny fraction of a second before the onslaught started. Grimly, Michael realized that Yahweh's appeal had simply been intended to lure him off guard. Had he fallen for it, he would have been caught completely unawares. As it was, his own protection, his own blast of lightning, was only just barely adequate to prevent him being crushed out of existence. He could feel it crushing under the strain, buckling under the relentless pressure of Yahweh's power. Michael reached out, sensing the mental energy of those minds that were in step with his own, incorporating it with his own. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the situation stabilized with Michael in the middle of the storm yet untouched by it.

Yahweh's scream of frustration shook the whole Temple and echoed around the Eternal City. Word was already spreading of the cataclysmic events taking place within the Ultimate Temple and, all over the city, angels of every rank stood and watched as the cloud of storms engulfed the Temple. Inside, Yahweh was reaching out for his allies, to add their power to his. By instinct, his first instinct was to call on Uriel.

Michael-Lan-Michael felt the call go out and relaxed ever so slightly. Had the call been received, this confrontation would have been over. Uriel had been Yahweh's sword and shield. His massive power had been beyond that even of Michael and his ability to bring death wholesale had made him an enemy of unshakeable power. Together, Yahweh and Uriel were utterly unbeatable. Only, Uriel was dead. Methodically blasted apart by humans. Michael remembered the days and weeks he had spent maneuvering Uriel into attacking one human fortress after another. Always trying to throw him into the teeth of the human defenses and staying awake nights when time after time, Uriel had escaped. Michael's coup would have remained forever an abstract concept if Uriel had not died at the hands of humans for killing him had been far beyond Michael's power.

He felt Yahweh reaching for his sword and shield, his mind seeking to lock with that of Uriel. But, all it reached was a blank emptiness. Uriel was dead and the reality of that suddenly sank in on Yahweh's rage-engulfed mind. He reached out further for his less-powerful allies, seeking for the tiny margin of power that would allow him to overwhelm the rebel who stood before him. He ran through the list, trying to bring in each of his allies. Each to be met by the grim silence of death,

Colepatiron, killed by humans.
Nesupeh, killed by humans
Sacereor, killed in a terrorist bombing
Neripon, killed by humans
Erikehan, killed by humans
Irnasodeor, accused of treason and died under interrogation
Esetatuteh, killed in a terrorist bombing
Tonolpalon, killed by humans
Lesoteminiel, killed by humans
Hisralraman, killed in a terrorist bombing
Ritosehon, accused of treason and died under interrogation
Zaslohael, killed in a terrorist bombing
Umadipsah, killed by humans
Pinaliel, killed by humans

Michael-Lan-Michael sensed the lack of response from Yahweh's greatest and most powerful supporters. He also felt the rejection of Yahweh's touch by those who had forsaken him. All of the Chayot ha Kodesh that had survived refused to aid Yahweh and by implication threw their support to Michael. He sensed Yahweh's growing desperation as the truth was slowly forced on him. Every one of his allies had been killed. Either thrown against the humans and died under their guns and missiles or blown up when the terrorist bombings in the Eternal City had struck their temples. It dawned on Yahweh at last that those terrorist bombings had been nothing of the sort. They had been carefully planned assassinations and Yahweh finally understood who had been behind them.

Tahenael, killed by humans
Arsasaum, assassinated by Michael
Tcuadahiel, assassinated by Michael
Zunael, killed by humans

In desperation, Yahweh turned to the one ally he was sore he had left. Michael-Lan-Michael felt Yahweh reach out to his son, Elhmas, for the support he needed. For a tiny fragment of a second, Michael thought that Elhmas had answered the call and the chill of defeat started to sweep though him. But, Michael crushed it down even as the grim silence made the answer obvious. Elhmas was dead, destroyed so thoroughly by humans that not even a shadow of him was left.

Michael felt the assault on his existence beginning to ease very slightly. He had survived another round but he knew that he was dangerously close to using all the power that he had available to him. He had called on his allies, he had taken every effort they had offered to him. He had destroyed Yahweh's allies and forced him to fight this fight alone, unaided. For all that, he was barely a match for the immense power of Yahweh. In fact, it was an open question whether he was a match at all.

As the pressure on him slackened, Michael allowed his own energy output to decline. He needed to conserve strength and economize on that he was drawing from his allies. Slowly, his consciousness expanded away from the duel to take in his surroundings. The throne room, once resplendent in its brilliance was blackened and charred. The floor was covered with the precious stones from the walls, many cracked, blackened and charred from the energy discharges that had flooded the chamber. Poor stones. Michael thought. Looted from worlds beyond number and brought here to be baked. Too bad.

He took a deep breath and looked through the shimmering arrays of lightning that still crackled and swirled around him. Then, he spoke once more, his voice loaded with scorn. "Is that the best you've got?"
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 75

LTR

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Angelic Treatment Ward, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD

"What do either of you know about cancer?" Doctor Zinder asked the two angels in the ward.

Lemuel and Maion exchanged bewildered glances. "What's cancer?" Lemuel answered for them both.

Zinder frowned, it was a strange reminder of the fact that the two angels were from a different universe. "Strange growths on or in the body. They grow out of control and will kill the victim unless treated. And treatment can be very difficult indeed. You've never heard of things like that?"

Both angels shook their heads. Again, it was Lemuel who answered. "Never. In all the millennia I have been in the Eternal City, I cannot recall anything like that. We are as we have always been, perfection."

"I doubt that very much." Zinder tried to hide his annoyance at the unwitting arrogance of Lemuel's reply. "The absence of cancers is remarkable. Your healing capability should make you more vulnerable to them. Obviously there is something about your physiology we don’t understand yet. No matter. We'll sort it out. We're not perfection, just smart." Zinder took an unprofessional delight in the jab but to his disappointment it didn’t seem to register with either angel.

"Why do you ask about this thing." Maion was confused and slightly disappointed. Behind her, the stumps of her amputated wings were changing, slowly morphing into a new set, wings that were but miniature reproductions of her original pair but ones that enlarged every day. She had been hoping to show them off.

"We took out one of your formations, some 50,000 angels and five times that many humans. The weapon we used killed most of them but many of the survivors have developed skin cancers. The victims are being covered in them. We've tried cutting them out, but they grow back even faster. We've tried every thing in our arsenal, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, to beat the cancers and we've failed. Frankly, you two were our last hope. We thought you might know something that might help. Without a few new leads, we're out of ideas and that means our patients won’t make it."

"The Incomparable Legion of Light? Gone?" Lemuel could hardly believe what he had just heard. He knew that was the unit ordered to attack the human invasion but that was all. Yahweh's own personal guard gone? By a single weapon?

"Was that what it was called? No matter. It's gone." Zinder was slightly irritated again. He wasn't really interested in what had happened except in as much as it affected his patients. "I believe the Army nuked it. We think the sleet of radiation from the blast is the cause of the skin cancers. The oncologists believe it mutated the DNA in the victims so your rebuilding mechanisms have gone out of control."

Lemuel and Maion looked at each other again in confusion. That almost caused Zinder to grin openly. These angels might think they are perfection but they know less science than a human seven year old. Then he decided to try something. "Perhaps Michael-Lan might know more?"

Lemuel answered very carefully. "Ah yes, Michael-Lan. There is much I wish to discuss with my old friend Michael."

Hill 331, Overlooking the Western Wall of the Eternal City. Heaven

The ZBD-97 platoon was parked in the trees that covered the crest of the hill. The scouts had left them and moved forward so that they could overlook the massive city that lay below them. Captain Tao Gan had very specific orders from his command, orders that did not eventually trace back to H.E.A. supreme command. He had followed those orders exactly. His reconnaissance platoon had slipped through the countryside with all the stealth that four armored personnel carriers could muster. He had avoided contact with enemy forces, steered clear of population centers and done everything else to make sure that his presence on this hill was undetected. From this hill he could see as far into the Eternal City as was possible. The Chinese People's Liberation Army didn’t have the wealth of equipment than the Americans did but they now had an asset in place that could substitute human eyes for remote-controlled aircraft.

The Americans had promised that all the information they gathered would be shared out but the CPLA commanders had been suspicious. Perhaps that was the wrong word Tao Gan thought. Cautious might be better. With his unit here on the hill, they had a way of checking whether the information the Americans sent them was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

"Sir, look at this." The voice from his 3rd-Level NCO was barely a whisper. The staff sergeant had been operating a pair of tripod-mounted surveillance binoculars, a set far too large and heavy to be lifted by hand. Tao Gan slid over to his position and looked through the binoculars. A slight adjustment of the focus was necessary to bring the street scene into sharp relief. Once done, he could see the angels in the street. Most of them were standing still, staring in the direction of the far-off city center. They seemed strangely motionless, as if they were in some form of trance. Or so terrified by what they saw that they were incapable of motion. Tao Gan's thought spurred his next decision. He needed to report back to Corps HQ.

The Ultimate Temple, Heaven

Michael-Lan felt the first beginnings of fear darken his mind. Even with the support of his network, he was only just barely surviving the barrage of electric bolts that enveloped him. Yahweh had given up talking to him or trying to persuade him to drop his guard. Now, he was relying on sheer brute force to batter down Michael's defenses and crush him out of existence. The non-stop onslaught was wearing Michael down. He could feel his legs weakening and it was all he could do to stop himself staggering. He was actually using some of the power drawn from his allies to keep standing firm and erect. It was a vicious cycle and he knew it. The more power he used for that purpose, the less he could feed into his defensive shell. That meant more of Yahweh's attacks reached him and weakened him still further. That meant he would have to use still more power to stand tall.

Michael caught himself, his momentary inattention had caused him to slip slightly, to begin the twisting fall that would end with him helpless on the ground. He chanced a brief glance at Yahweh, seeing with relief that his brief lapse had gone unnoticed. Then, to his intense relief, the grinding assault slackened and faded. He, Michael-Lan, had survived another confrontation with Yahweh's raw power. His senses reached out, feeling for the reserves of power that Yahweh still had in store and noting grimly how far they exceeded his own. He sucked the cold, ozone-tainted air into his starved lungs, feeling it rasp at the raw lining of his throat as he breathed in. His mind reached out, embracing all those of his network, all those whom he had lured into his net. His plan had worked, he had allies when Yahweh had none. He knew how to draw on their power with maximum efficiency while Yahweh did not. He understood economy of force while Yahweh was profligate with his power. And yet, for all that, Michael-Lan knew that he was slowly losing this fight. For a moment despair seized him. He felt it cloud his mind and the treacherous realization of just how easy it would be to give up and let go started to coil into his consciousness.

Michael looked up and saw the vindictive half-smile on Yahweh's face. That told him where those treacherous thoughts had come from. Yahweh hadn't slackened his assault, he had simply changed one mode for another. For a brief second, Michael wished he had one of the hats that humans had taken to wearing, the ones that protected them against the mind-deceptions of the daemons. It would do him no good of course. The hats only protected humans against daemonic mind-entering powers and incompletely at that. Those tinfoil hats were of no use against a being with Yahweh's power. Now if I had one of their tanks . . . . . The thought of him sitting in a human tank, suitably enlarged of course, made Michael snort with laughter. And that wiped the smile off his face.

"What's the matter Yah-yah? Getting weaker and feebler? You know, you should be grateful for me taking over. Gives you a chance to take a nice holiday. Why don’t you take a tour? I hear the other side of the Minos Gate is nice this time of year." Michael stepped sideways suddenly. It was nothing to do with Yahweh's response to his gibe, simply a large slab of marble had become detached from the ceiling and its fall was just a touch too close for comfort.

"I will crush your very soul from existence for this treachery." Yahweh's voice could have been used to grind rocks such was the grating venom loaded into each syllable.

"Now that's a good question." Michael tried to keep his voice light and goading despite the tiredness that consumed every muscle he had. "Can you actually do that? You couldn't do it to The Morningstar and his resistance didn't last this long. You know, old chap, I really don’t think you have it in you any more."

Michael actually missed Yahweh's reply to that for the music in his earpiece had changed again. Now, it was Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie. As the massed bands poured the music out, the stirring score caused Michael to wonder if the old Norse gods were actually coming to his aid. Is that the message they are sending me? Reinforcements would be very welcome at this point. But the Aesir had retreated from Earth long ago, back to their own bubble world. Why should they help Michael who had commanded the armies that forced their abandonment of the Earth? Anyway, the human bandleaders didn’t know that little bit of history.

Still the changed music helped and Michael felt his spirits lift. Just in time for Yahweh chose that moment to launch yet another blast of raw power against him. Michael-Lan's defenses were up but they crumpled under the massive blow, allowing the energy to pour in towards him. He threw every last shred of power he could scrape up into the breach, saw the flood of multicolored light grind to a halt a few bare inches before it had contacted him. He sweated, breathed deeply, summoning the tiny reserve of power he had, feeling the muscles in his legs weaken as he did so. But, Yahweh's fireball was pushed back, the gap around Michael widening slowly, fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch until enough of a safety margin existed to allow him some tiny comfort. For all that, he knew this was the end. He had thrown everything he had unto the battle. He had nothing left. Soon, his power would run out and it would all be over.

In the background, outside the consciousness of the immediate struggle, Michael-Lan-Michael heard a familiar banging noise. It took a second for it to register then its identity hit him. It was the sound of the doors to the Throne Room opening and then slamming shut. He was also aware of something else. He now had a power reserve, a tiny one for certain but one that was growing. Grimly holding the line against Yahweh's furious assault, Michael sneaked a look through the scintillating globes of power towards the door.

Leilah-Lan had entered the room. Not just entered it, but made an entrance. She'd dyed her wing feathers black and was wearing her full dominatrix outfit. She strode across the throne room floor, the heels of her boots clicking on the marble as she turned and stood beside Michael, her face screwed up with concentration as she tried to pour power into him. Michael felt Yahweh's assault slacken and fail with the sheer shock of what had just happened. Leilah-Lan in full professional outfit was something this throne room had never seen before.

"What are you doing here? I told you to get ready to run if this failed."

"You did. You seem to forget Michael, I don't take orders very well." She chanced a quick grin at him.

"You're mad. . . . ." Michael's words were cut off by the doors banging again. Charmeine, Raphael and Gabriel walked in, striding across the rubble-covered floor to take up position around Michael. "All of you."

"Grateful isn't he." Charmeine-Lan spoke lightly in the silence that had followed their entrance. "And us flying all the way here in a thunderstorm just for him."

"What's happening at the Club?" Michael was actually at a loss for words. He had assumed his inner circle would make a run for it if he lost. Their decision to come here and stand with him, he just hadn’t seen that coming.

"The humans are running it. We explained what was going on and why. Told them what we wanted to achieve. What you were trying to do and what you were risking to do it. So, they took over there. Glen's officially in charge by the way. That freed us up to come here. They aren't leaving either by the way. They're going to keep playing until we win or Yahweh pulls the roof down on their heads. More of our high-ranking clients are on their way here . . . . ."

"Get ready." Michael suddenly remembered why he was here and what the battle with Yahweh was like. "Yah-yah's got a habit of throwing attacks without warning."

"Nasty of him." Leilah-Lan sounded most disapproving. "I'll have to . . . . . . ."

She was interrupted by a massive blast of power from Yahweh. This time, the response was different. With his most trusted allies around him, Michael didn’t have to worry about drawing power from his network. They were pouring it into him and the difference was more than significant. This time, he stalled the blast half way towards him and held it there. The pressure was immense but for the first time since the battle began, he felt as if he was in control of the situation. He was aware of something else as well. The choir outside the room were no longer singing hymns of praise. They were singing in tune with the broadcast from the Montmartre Club.

That was when Michael felt his power slacken slightly. Leilah had pulled herself out of the net, stepped slightly to one side and hurled all the energy she could muster at Yahweh. The discharge cracked and was followed by the flat vicious hiss of her whip as it flailed across the room and struck Yahweh full in the chest. The unexpected physical impact pushed him hard back against the throne and sent splinters of marble flying through the air. It was a one-shot trick-pony that relied on surprise rather than force for its effect and Michael knew it but, once again, Yahweh's poor power management had left him open to it. For a few seconds, his assault stopped and the blast of power from Michael flooded across the room and besieged Yahweh in his throne. Leilah had slumped to her knees, exhausted by the effort needed to generate the blast but she had made a historic mark, one that would never be forgotten in Heaven. For she, an Erelim, had managed to attack and hurt Yahweh. From within the shield of energy that surrounded them, Charmeine reached out and pulled her into the protection of the field.

For a moment, the initiative was in Michael's hands. He poured power at Yahweh, exhausting himself and his allies in the process, but he had Yahweh on the defensive at last. Now it was Yahweh who was struggling to hold back the assault, it was Yahweh who was fighting to prevent the energy breaking through and crushing him. Concentrating on managing the assault, Michael was only dimly aware of other angels from his club entering the room and joining the group around him. He just felt their energy joining his and supporting the streams of power that mixed and blasted inside the shattered throne room.

Never in the memories of anybody present had there been anything like the displays that now saturated the throne room. The scintillating, interacting arcs of light had gone far beyond white and multicolor. Now they shimmered with iridescent hues beyond the imagination of those watching in awe. The confrontation left that between Yahweh and the Morningstar pallid by comparison, pallid and lackluster for the brilliance of the light battle was enough to blind those unprepared for it. Just as Michael had clawed his way back from the brink of defeat just a few minutes earlier, now Yahweh tried to do the same. He also poured power into his defense and saw the assault on him slowly forced back. Watching him, Michael realized that, for the first time in uncountable millennia, Yahweh was actually running out of energy.

The battle was deadlocked. The two great shimmering walls of light energy were stationary in the middle of the room, their interface twisting with wild, unknowable colors and were beyond any mind to describe. Neither side could disengage now, both were locked in a death-grapple that could only end with the defeat and utter destruction of one. Or both thought Michael. That's an outcome I hadn't considered before. He looked behind him and saw another thing he had not expected. There was a disturbance around the entrance to the mason's bunker, now stained, blackened and scarred by the battle. The mason himself pulled free of the crowd inside and walked across the room to stand with Michael and his allies. The added energy pushed the wall a little bit further back towards Yahweh

Michael-Lan-Michael looked around, quickly assessing the situation. Leilah-Lan was back on her feet, tapping the palm of her left hand with her riding crop as she poured her recovering energy reserves into the battle. He had more than a dozen allies around him now, including at least five Chayot Ha Kodesh of the first and second degrees. For all that, he still hadn't quite got the edge to finish off Yahweh. They were evenly balanced, Yahweh on one side, Michael and his allies on the other and that was it.

There was one question Michael needed to know the answer to. That one question would be decisive in the titanic struggle that was now reaching its conclusion. Michael asked it of himself time and time again, his mind searching desperately for the answer. How would the humans handle this situation?
 
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