Rona felt anxious by the time she arrived at the cemetery. She had to be prepared for anything. She reached inside of her coat pocket and ran her fingers over the length of her Elnign dagger. It was a twelve inch blade with a long, red rope attached to the hilt, making it effective in both long and short range combat. One could never be too cautious when wandering through a graveyard alone at night.
Rona opened her door and surveyed the area. She wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, just a stone’s throw from a bus stop, which meant getting home would be a nonissue. She paid the cab driver then walked up to the large imposing gates that surrounded the cemetery. The gates were locked and the cemetery was closed but Rona leaped the fence and landed on the other side without making a sound. She paused in a crouched position, taking in her surroundings. The moon provided minimal lighting which made it tough to see too far in the distance. She placed her palm down flat on the ground. The earth was so wet, that her hand sank a few centimeters into the dirt as she did so. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Wet earth made it difficult to feel the vibrations that traveled through the ground, but it was her best bet at seeing what was out there in such limited lighting. Aside from the movement of some small rodents and insects, she couldn’t discern much. As far as she could tell there was nothing larger than a stray cat moving around in the cemetery. But she couldn’t be sure.
She could still hear traffic in the background and smell the scent of freshly cut grass as she stood up and began walking through the cemetery. Her feet sank a little into the Earth with each step. Pausing at the first headstone she reached, she knelt down to read it:
Here Lies Marvin L. Roodhouse
Devoted father, Husband, and Son
You will be missed
At least that was a good sign. As far as hallowed ground was concerned, graveyards were tricky. As long as the people here were laid to rest by people that had cared about them, that would afford some protection against unwanted entities. It was the arcane graveyards with the unmarked graves that one should avoid. The not-so-dearly departed, buried only to be forgotten. Their headstones would read: “good riddance and burn in hell” had anyone bothered to put one there.
A bit of assurance worked its way back into her as she proceeded, being sure not to step over any headstones. She tried her best to make as little noise as possible as she searched for whatever Ward had said she would find. There was no one there. No homeless people, burglars or teenagers; no undertaker making rounds. And yet, Rona couldn’t shake the feeling that she wasn’t alone. The thought of being watched made her skin prickle.
Some sort of structure appeared up ahead. It was too large to be a tomb or grave marker. Dabs of drizzle began falling by the time Rona was close enough to make out what she was looking at. It was magnificent. A statue of an angel kneeling down on one knee, its hand on a sheathed sword. Its wings were spread out, almost to full length. They were extended horizontally, providing shelter underneath them. The look on the angel’s face was confident and strong. Although the eyes were simply stone ovals, there was something about them; something beneath the stone exterior. Melancholy perhaps? At the base of the statue read: “Angelus Custos” Latin for “Guardian Angel.” Rona sighed deeply as she stared, hypnotized by the grandeur of the work.
The wind picked up and a sudden feeling swept through Rona. She wasn’t alone. She drew her dagger from her jacket and twirled it around by the rope, searching the area and preparing herself for an attack from any direction. There was someone else there, someone that she couldn’t see. Her heart rate increased and her breathing grew deeper as she searched the area. She caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. She whirled around and with lightning speed, hurled the dagger toward the figure behind her. The blade whizzed through the air, spinning like a windmill as it flew toward the young woman standing akimbo against a tree. Rona yanked the rope on the hilt, stopping the blade in midair, an inch from the woman’s face. The blade dropped harmlessly to the ground at the woman’s feet. The woman didn’t even flinch.
Rona recognized her.
“Angelica?” said Rona, drawing out the name a little longer than she needed to. A stew of emotions came to a boil when Rona saw Angelica’s face. She was speechless. The two of them stood frozen in position.
Angelica was truly beautiful, confident, and radiant. She was a few inches shorter than Rona. She had an olive complexion and rose-pink, shoulder-length hair. She wore a long white trench coat that hung down past her knees. It shifted as she stood up to her full, unimpressive height. She placed her hands calmly into her coat pockets.
“Hello, Angerona. You look good. Strong. Healthy. I love the hair,” she said warmly. Her accent was reminiscent of Victorian era England. Her voice was soothing and gentle.
Rona wanted to run over and embrace her, and tell her how much she had missed her and how happy she was to see her, but something inside of her held those impulses hostage. Angelica waited patiently. She just smiled a warm smile.
“Angelica? What are you do—how did you—why—what’s going—huh?”
Angelica gave a good-natured laugh. “All good questions. And I have answers, but first, let’s find a dry place to stand, out of the rain.”
“It’s barely drizzling,” said Rona, looking up at the sky. At that moment a rainstorm erupted. Rona took cover under one of the wings of the angel statue. She beckoned Angelica to follow. Angelica obliged, walking calmly until she stood next to Rona under the statue’s massive wing.
“Aren’t you going to get your Elnign Dagger?” asked Angelica.
“Oh, yeah,” said Rona. She dragged the dagger to her by the rope. She wiped the dirt and grass off on her pant-leg, before wrapping the rope around the hilt, and placing the dagger in her jacket pocket. “Sorry about throwing it at you, I didn’t know it was you.”
“Well, I most certainly hope not! I’m sorry if I frightened you. You’re a bit on edge these days, I see.”
“You have no idea,” said Rona. She noticed that Angelica was completely dry despite the downpour. “Could you make yourself corporeal? Just for a second?”
“Perhaps,” said Angelica. She closed her eyes and tilted her chin up in deep concentration. Her image faded in and out for a split second before coming back into focus. “Ah, yes I’ve got a little bit left. Why do you as–”
Before she could stop herself, Rona ran over and embraced Angelica with all of her might. She lifted the smaller woman off of the ground and squeezed tight, leaning her head on Angelica’s shoulder.
“It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you so much,” said Rona, her body shaking a little.
“I’ve missed you too,” said Angelica. “It’s a good thing I don’t need to breathe.”
Angelica’s image flickered again and Rona found herself holding nothing but air as Angelica’s body passed through hers. She let out a sigh then walked over to the edge of the cover, reached out and filled her palms with rainwater. She doused her face with it, wiping her eyes vigorously. She faced away from Angelica and placed her hands on her hips. She threw her head back and exhaled loudly.
“Sorry, I guess that was the last of my power for now,” said Angelica.
Rona waved it off, without turning to face her.
“How have you been?” asked Angelica.
Rona scoffed rudely.
She reached for more rainwater and wiped her eyes.
“I’m maintaining,” said Rona, turning only her head and talking over her shoulder.
“You look tired.”
“I’ve been having some trouble sleeping the last couple days.”
“That isn’t good. You need to be resting. And eating well. You should be taking care of yourself,” said Angelica, shaking her head.
“I’ve done a pretty damn good job of taking care of myself, for the past millennium, thank you very much,” snapped Rona.
The two stood in silence. Cars zoomed by on the highway, off in the distance. A frog chirped nearby. The pitter-patter of the rain kept a steady rhythm.
“Why are you here?” asked Rona, turning to face Angelica, and folding her arms over her chest. “Since I haven’t seen you in nearly a thousand years—not once—I take it this isn’t a social call.”
Angelica bit her lip.
“Well?” said Rona. She pointed to the sky. “Did He send you?”
“Not exactly,” said Angelica.
“Then who? What’s going on? Spit it out!”
“We need to talk, Angerona.”
“Stop calling me that! It’s Rona, just plain old Rona.”
“I’m sorry,” said Angelica, a pained expression on her face. “I know you haven’t seen me, but I have checked in on you from time to time. It isn’t as often as I would like, but I haven’t forgotten about you. I know you must be angry and feel so alone. I would never abandon you, Angerona. I would never…”
Angelica buried her face in her hands and began to sob.
A lump formed in Rona’s throat. She fought back tears of her own. “It isn’t your fault, Angelica. None of it is your fault. I’m just pissed off at the world. I’m sorry. It really is good to see you. It’s just…I don’t know…I wasn’t expecting this.” She ran her hands through her hair in frustration.
Angelica nodded. She wiped her eyes and smiled at Rona. Rona smiled back and leaned against the statue.
“I know it’s sudden. But it is important.”
“Did you really check in on me?”
A small smile forced its way onto Rona’s face. “So what brings you here, now?”
“Brace yourself for the things I’m about to tell you.”
“We need your help,” said Angelica.
“Heaven. Heaven needs you,” said Angelica gravely.
Rona stared at Angelica. Then burst into laughter. The laughter became so hysterical that she lost her balance and almost fell out into the rain. She laughed until tears started to form. Angelica stood in silence.
“This is serious.”
Rona continued to laugh. She gathered herself just enough to speak between laughs.
“Heaven—Up There?” She pointed towards the sky. “Needs me? God himself—is asking about me?” She continued to laugh until it became difficult to breathe. “Get outta’ here! You almost had me. Who put you up to this?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Angelica, quizzically.
“Oh come on, Angelica, you aren’t cruel enough to come up with a joke like this. Whose idea was this?”
“This is no joke, and no laughing matter, I assure you.”
“I thought you were just going to warn me that there’s some impending doom, or something, and just tell me to be careful. Not all of this ‘we need you’ crap,” said Rona, between laughs.
“It goes deeper than that. Just, please calm yourself and hear me out. Please,” plead Angelica.
“Okay, okay. Whew! This oughtta’ be good,” said Rona, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Chaos has–” began Angelica.
Angelica shot her a look.
“Sorry. It’s all out now,” said Rona. She beckoned Angelica to continue.
“We are at war. As we speak, demon hordes are gathering. This is no mere posturing; this is an all-out invasion force. We’ve dispatched our forces to meet theirs but we’re being driven back. We’ve been able to hold them in the Nether realm, just outside of Heaven, but I fear it’s only a matter of time before they cross over into Heaven. I don’t believe that they are looking for small gains. I think that they plan to take Empyria.”
“The city of God?” said Rona, her attention growing. “That’s bold even for Lucifer. There’s no way they can succeed.”
Angelica gave Rona a grave look. “They’re driving us back. I don’t know how much longer we can hold them off. Their numbers are many and their power extraordinary. I fear the worst is yet to come.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is no minor skirmish. It looks like the beginning of a Celestial War just like The Inferno.”
“Huh,” said Rona arching an eyebrow. Fighting between Heaven and Hell was nothing new. In fact, there were choirs of angels in Heaven that were tasked with doing just that. Most of the time no one on Earth ever knew about it. But a war of this magnitude would definitely throw off Earth’s equilibrium and cause all sorts of problems. Freak storms, natural disasters, energy imbalances, changes in the natural order could all persist. This was what Ward had meant when he said up was down and left was right. The Earth’s energies were so out of whack that even the oracles were having trouble understanding. If this war spilled over onto Earth just like The Inferno had, it could be the end of Earth…again.
“As of yet, there’s been no sign of Lucifer or any of his generals on the battlefield. It’s possible they’re still holding back. Waiting for something, perhaps.”
“I still don’t get it. Why doesn’t God and the Archs just eliminate the threat? I mean, without Lucifer or any of his generals leading the attack, the rest of Satan’s hordes won’t have the nerve to stand against them,” said Rona.
Angelica didn’t respond. The look in her eyes was desolate. She swallowed hard and Rona could see a tear forming in her friend’s eye. “Our Father is missing,” she said staidly as she sucked back tears.
Rona stood horrified. It felt like she’d been stabbed. Confusion added to the horror as she shook her head, not wanting to believe what she was hearing. She tried to keep her voice from shaking. “What do you mean?”
“Our God, He…He’s missing. Gone. I know it doesn’t seem possible…but it’s…” Angelica began weeping.
Rona had felt apart from God for a long time, but this solidified the fact that she was alone. This was worse than she ever could have imagined.
Angelica wiped her eyes and gave Rona an apologetic smile. Rona attempted to smile back.
“I know it doesn’t make any sense, but He just disappeared. Without a trace. The Archs are doing all they can just to keep the Earth from falling apart. Everyone’s got their hands full. This is the greatest crisis we’ve ever faced. This is our darkest hour.” said Angelica, breathing deeply.
“You don’t think something has happened to him do you? I mean who could kidnap God?”
“That’s just it; it’s impossible. Not even Lucifer himself could best Our Lord in a fair contest,” said Angelica, as if she had been telling herself that for a long time.
“Lucifer doesn’t exactly play fair, ya’ know.”
“Yes, I know. Anyway, no cause for alarm. I’m sure God is just testing us. He must have a reason to go off on His own, although I don’t know why He would choose such a turbulent time to conduct such a trial.” Angelica breathed loudly and said, almost to herself, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“I think I need to sit down,” said Rona. She walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. Angelica followed suit. “This is insane,” she said, shaking her head. Angelica nodded in agreement. “Okay, I understand. Heaven is in a bad way. But why contact me? There’s nothing I can do about a war on the Celestial Plane. Where do I fit in all of this?”
“Well,” said Angelica, her voice perking up. “There has been another development. Demons from Hell have found a way to break the laws of The Aegis and manifest bodies, here on Earth. They’re mission: find and terminate the life of a human.”
“Wait, wait, wait. Where does a human fit into all of this?”
“We’re not sure. All we know is that Hell is after him. And for that reason alone, they mustn’t be allowed to have him. As you know, the Aegis forbids celestial beings from fighting a battle on Earth. Therefore we are asking you to take up the mantle of Guardian once again and protect the boy from harm,” said Angelica.
“So that’s it? You want me to babysit some kid that you’re not even sure is important?”
“Oh, we’re sure he’s important. We just aren’t clear on how or why, at least not yet,”
“Why should I help? Heaven hasn’t exactly done much for me in the last millennia.”
“Ah! If you can successfully defend the human and protect him from harm then you can have your Divinity restored. You’ll be able to rejoin the Choirs of Angels again. You can come home,” said Angelica, her face lighting up.
Rona’s jaw dropped and she sat in shock.
“Impossible. My banishment is forever…” Rona’s thoughts drifted off and memories flood her mind.
“We can make it so!” said Angelica, her voice saving Rona from drowning in a sea of her own memories. “These are turbulent times and if you will help us in our time of need, then I’m sure God will forgive your past transgression. He’s all about redemption.”
“For the humans. Not for us. How do you know any of this, anyway? God is missing. It isn’t exactly like you could run it by him and see what he thinks.”
“I’m sure of it,” said Angelica confidently. “I have ways of knowing that it can and shall be done upon completion of your mission. That is a promise. And I cannot lie, so you know it’s true.”
“Wow,” said Rona, rising to her feet.
“Indeed,” said Angelica. “We need you. Will you help us?”
“No,” said Rona. “I’m sorry.”
She turned and walked away.