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Chapter 9, Part 2



      A few angels passing by frowned at her. She grabbed one of them by the arm. "You! Where is the Archangel? He stripped me of my halo beyond God's will, and I demand its return!"
      The guard that had planted the spear in Mephistopheles' back jogged to her. "What are you doing?"
      "I want to talk to Michael now. I will not wait any longer!"
      "You'll go straight back into that tent until the Archangel deigns to see you, girl, or I will march you back into it myself!"
      Asrial's wings spread, feathers scything open and cupping the darkness of Heaven's lambent night. "You would not dare."
      "I would!" the guard said, just as the perimeter sentry cried out.       "They're getting away!"
      Her guard glanced that way, then tackled her. The grackle squawked and sprang from her shoulder and Asrial went down, clawing him with her blunt nails. He wrenched her arms to the earth and pinned her down with his body.
      "Get them! Stop them!" he yelled, then glared at her with blazing eyes. "Your friends might evade us, traitor... but you are for the Archangel. He will not take your little fiction half as well when he realizes what you've done."
      "I answer only to God," Asrial replied, panting.
      He spit on her face.

***


      They dragged her before Michael and threw her down at his feet, her hair in ragged knots around her face and her chiton torn and stained. She could not even curl her wings around herself for a shield; the giddiness had not left her and if anything had intensified, as if her halo alone had grounded her against the omnipresence and power of God's emanations.
      But she could feel his eyes on her. She did not know the fate of the others; the bird had gotten away, for which she'd been grateful. If only she had been so lucky.
      "You again."
      The words were so hard she could have bruised herself against them.
      "I thought I told you where to go."
      "We found her on the slope, sir. With two humans... and a demon."
      "What!" His hand seized her chin and jerked her head up so suddenly she gasped. So bright did his blue eyes burn that tears of pain sprang from her own. "You brought them here? To attack me? You betrayed us!"
      "No!" Asrial said.
      His hand knocked her cheek so hard she slammed into the ground and slid a few feet across the marble. "Silence! For such offenses we have no punishment dire enough! You are a God-forgotten Fallen demoness! Worse than any human!"
      Asrial was gasping for a breath when his foot connected with her ribs and flipped her onto her back, bending her wing at an awkward angle. The same blow crushed the breath she'd been seeking out of her lung.
      "I should have killed you in the beginning!"
      Asrial looked up at him, fighting to breathe. He towered endlessly, golden and white and implacable. Her body strewn at his feet felt suddenly like an offering she could no longer retract, and she closed her eyes, taking the words as blows on her unprotected soul.
      "But your crimes are so heinous I am forced to make an example of you. Guard! Take her to Raphael. Just before the dawn we'll hang her on a human crucifix.
      "And then," and Michael stared down at her, "We'll let her die there."
      Asrial did not resist when the hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her back up. She could barely help them. The room smeared into a kaleidoscope of light and stars and scents until she was manhandled onto a bench in another room, this one smaller and redolent with the perfumes of myrrh, vervain, and rosemary.
      The light on her eyelids was faint, so Asrial opened them. The waves of a heavy blanket obscured part of her vision, but beyond them was a small room, holding only a desk and a stool and a cabinet... and an archangel, his back to her, grinding some aromatic poultice with a mortar and pestle. Her entire body contracted in fear and she gulped for breath—which struck a lance of pain up her chest. She cried out.
      The archangel turned, then reached out. "Oh, no! Don't move. Sssh."
      Asrial ceased her struggles and concentrated on breathing shallow draughts.
      "Good." He sat on the stool, facing her, the mortar on his thighs. She found it strange to see the evidence of tears on an impassive face. "Ah, girl. You should not have come back. Michael is in such a state I fear he will not spare you for all the love in Heaven."
      She looked up at him. "Who... who are you?"
      "Raphael. I heal. Or I did." Raphael closed his eyes, then shook his head and resumed crushing the herbs. "I was there when he cast you down. Why did you come back? Oh, does it matter! You should not have!"
      "I had to," she said, swallowing. "The others. Where are the others?"
      "The two humans and the demon?"
      Asrial nodded.
      "No one knows. I suspect they're gone to wherever they came from."
      She almost whimpered, so strong was her relief.
      "But they left you behind," Raphael said sadly. "Such is the way of the Fallen, dear one. You should never have thrown your lot in with them."
      "The Archangel gave me no choice," Asrial roused herself to say.
      "I suppose not. But still."
      "Where... is... Gabriel?"
      Raphael paused, hands shaking. "Gabriel? Still in the nursery, I suspect. He's been there ever since... well. He's been there a while."
      "I need to talk to him. Now."
      "I fear you have little coin with which to make demands."
      Asrial bit back tears of frustration and pain. "I am dying already," she said. "You cannot hurt me anymore. Bring me to Gabriel."
      Raphael's brows furrowed even deeper. "Michael bruised your cheek a bit, and cracked one of your ribs, but you're hardly—"
      "I am dying!" Asrial said and panted against the pain the cry had exacted as price. "Bring me to Gabriel!"
      "Just calm yourself," Raphael said, patting her shoulder. "It will do you no good to become overwrought. I'd heal you, you know, if I didn't know... well, why bother? It'll be over tomorrow. I'm not really a healer anyway."
      Asrial struggled to hold on, but the utter impenetrability of the archangel proved at last too great for her. She slid, fighting bitterly all the way, into unconsciousness.

***


      Circling on the light winds of Shamayim, the grackle stared with hard yellow eyes at the small building in the center of the largest camp. A swift reconnaissance of the surrounding area had revealed no sign of the black-winged one, so it had followed the sweet-smelling one when she'd been taken there by the others. She had not returned.
      The air cut beneath its wings easily enough for flight. It veered away and went searching.



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