Saiph got her safely into her room and laid her gently on the bed. She was utterly exhausted for some reason. Her eyes were
caked with dry tears, and her nose was running. She rubbed at her eyes and wished she'd waited to cry until Saiph was clear
away from sight.
“Please. I'll be all right. Is there any way you can get in touch with Him? See if He'll-”
“No. We are ex-communicated, seen as Fallen by our brethren. Just in case.”
She frowned. Couldn't God see everything? Couldn't He see where all of this was heading? She couldn't believe that God was
bad, but she also couldn't forget Alya's words.
But wasn't this what Saiph had warned her about? That they could be convincing, that the enemy may try to use her. She may
be falling straight into Alya's trap.
But could anyone fake that desperate face?
She grabbed her head in her hands and tried to think. Alya's words drummed in her head. She'd asked to come up, to be given
a chance. Didn't the Bible say to forgive over and over? That forgiveness was divine? If that was true, then... no. Perhaps
Alys had just said that. Perhaps it wasn't the truth. Perhaps Alya was pure evil, just as Satan was, and she was trying
to manipulate humans just as Satan had. Though she didn't know much about the Bible-
“Did you not read the Old testament?”
She shivered. She didn't know much, it's true, but she did remember some things – Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood,
the curses and plagues. Hadn't God tested his chosen by telling them to do outrageous things – kill your son, or whatnot?
Yes, she reminded herself, but He'd stopped the man, saying he'd proven his loyalty.
Loyalty? Or love? She didn't know enough of the Bible to be sure. And for some reason, it seemed important to know the exact
She shook her head and looked up at Saiph. He was so beautiful, his eyes shining deep and dark as he worried over her. An
Angel. She smiled at him, a wobbly, tearful smile, and willed herself not to let her newest tears fall. Angel. Of course he's
an Angel. Why make anything easier for her? “But why?” she asked. “Why do you all have to suffer?”
His smile, when it came, warmed his face. “No. We do not suffer. We are helping our Lord and His people. We exist for
For some reason, that was even worse. “You mean... you don't even have a choice?”
He gave her a confused frown. “Choice?”
“You have to love Him? To serve Him? Is that all you are?”
Saiph seemed to waffle between irritation and amusement. “We are happy to serve Him.”
“Did you choose to be happy about serving Him?”
“I never questioned it.”
“Why not? Did you just blindly accept it?”
Saiph huffed and stood. “What did she say to you, Ara? To make you question us – to make you question God?”
She surged up in sudden anger. “Why do you think I'm so easily manipulated? I'm not... I stopped believing in God a
long time ago. I'm an atheist, Saiph! Don't you think I'd be just a little skeptical about the idea of God Almighty?
Instead, I want to know why you never thought to wonder just why you follow God and are willing to give up everything
for Him. Humans work their asses off all their lives to get into Heaven. And you give it up for Him-”
“He gave it to us, Ara. He created us. He created you. And yet you turn your back on Him?!”
“It's not about that! I haven't served Him-”
“You should! He has given everything for you!”
“Bullshit!” she snapped. “All I wanted was for my brother to live! He was only seven. Seven! And now he
rots in Hell, suffering the same torment that took him! And why?”
“You believe your brother suffers?” Saiph asked, aghast. He looked absolutely stunned. “You believe what
she said? That... that demon?”
“At least that demon had the common courtesy to-” But she remembered why they'd kept everything a secret,
and she felt ashamed. She turned away from him. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry.” She let out a shuddered breath. Let it
go. She had to let it go.
No, dammit. She needed answers.
She turned back to him, but he'd already turned away. “I think,” and Saiph's tone made it known that he was on
the edge, “that we need some time apart for a bit. I must speak with the others.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but already the door was banging closed behind him.
She looked at the door for a long time, disbelieving. Then she took a steadying breath and burst back into tears.
When she finally finished, she took inventory of her thoughts.
One: she loved Saiph, Angel and all. And she was hurting him, and that was hurting her. But still, she felt... lost. Out of
her depth. Hell, wasn't she? Angels. God. A battle between Satan's children and God's? Hell yes. She was out of her depth.
Two: she only had Alya's input. That produced bias, especially with her own biased opinions. She had to be careful.
Three: believing all this meant adjusting her entire life. She had decided to never again believe in the idea of an eternal
overseer. Yet all this, that which she couldn't refute, told her the opposite. Mystic armor. Battles with laser beams-
Age and years.
She stood and paced. So, there were Angels and Fallen fighting one another. Dammit, she needed to look at this objectively.
But she couldn't forget the look Saiph had given her.
“Dammit,” she murmured. She thought about Alya again and winced. Should she believe what that girl had said? That...
no, not girl. Woman? Demon? But she hadn't seemed demonic... because, of course, her parents had once been Angels. No, not
parents, she remembered. Grandparents. Because of the sins of her grandparents, she was cursed into eternity. Like her? Because
of Adam and Eve's decision? A decision brought on, Ara thought rudely, because God Himself had left them alone in a beautiful
garden with a forbidden fruit. If it hadn't been there to begin with...
A test? Or a trap?
No, she shouldn't make assumptions. Hadn't she told Saiph that she trusted him? This went against him, labeled him the enemy.
She didn't think of him in that way at all.
Dammit, she just didn't trust God.
Circular. This was all too circular. She needed answers, but Saiph wasn't talking and... and everyone else would now hate
her for taking away their chance to return to Heaven.
A coincidence? Or providence?
Just in case, Saiph had said. Just in case a human girl just randomly decided that she would take a walk in the woods and
just happen upon a battlefield?
It couldn't be a coincidence. She hardly ever walked in the forest, and never before had she felt an urge to go off the trail.
And she'd managed to get lost, and happen upon an impossible battle. Would things have been different if she'd just gone home,
or would He have found someone else?
She turned to the door and looked at it. What did the signs mean? Were there centaurs in the Bible? She didn't know. She didn't
know nearly enough about the subject. She needed to know. Everything. She needed to get a Bible. Right. That was possible.
And it wouldn't mean much, would it? Wasn't it written by humans?
Well, she thought wryly, when it came to the existence and word of God, there would always be bias.
All right then. She had to review what Alya had told her and break it down bit by bit. Bit by bit. Adam and Eve, the idea
of her children suffering in Hell, her idea of God being... unforgiving and strict in his beliefs. Maybe not evil, but hard
and cruel. Jesus, Ara remembered, had been named a good man. Man? Or God's son?
She wanted to rip her hair out by the roots.
She strode to the door, hesitated, and went out.
She was stealthy for the first time, wary and afraid of being caught. Everyone would be ready to rip her throat open. Especially
Feb. She couldn't think about what all Feb would want to do to her, let alone how she would be shunned by the others. Regulus
would be murderous. What about Deneb? Baham? Nash?
No. She couldn't think about it. And she couldn't be caught.
She was safe, the hall by the Pyxis quiet. But when she stepped out, Baham was there, as if waiting for her to accompany him
to the training room. She froze.
He stood up from his position against the wall and moved toward her. She took a hasty step back, then stopped herself. If
he wanted to hit her, it would be only fair.
His steps were as calm and steady as ever. He was the rock of the group, the anchor. If he broke, so would the rest. If he
hated her... so would the rest. Yet his steps were not fast, were not quickened. His eyes were as cool and... and calm...
as ever. And when he stood before her, looming over her in height, he smiled gently.
“Are you well?”
She just stared a him, not comprehending. Then she nodded jerkily and stammered, “what?”
“I heard you'd been captured by Alya's unknown ability. Did it leave any side effects?”
Baham's continuation still made no sense to her. “But... aren't you angry?”
Baham's smile quirked a bit. “I am not like the others, Ara,” he explained. “I understood God's words as
soon as He said them. I didn't understand how it would occur at first, but I did when I saw you. We were never meant to return,
Ara.” She hissed in shock. “Never. God never takes such precautions. He never needs them. He knows all. He knew,
before we'd even begun. That's why He chose us – because we can win.”
She only stared. “So... you still believe in Him?”
He was so sure, so confident. He, too, believed with everything he was. “Why?”
She could swear she could feel his faith emanating around him. “Because He is our savior. He created us. He created
you. He has looked after us for all time. Do you understand the need to be cruel? If a child continually does its worst, ignorance
cannot always be a good reason. If ignorance does not exist, if it is merely rebellion, then steps must be taken. Can you
“But... what if you yourself haven't done anything... well, not anything horrendous. What if you're suffering anyway,
just because of what others have done?”
“Like Adam and Eve, or like Lucifer and his followers?”
She hesitated. “Both,” she said finally.
“I see. Is that what she said to you?”
She hesitated again, then sighed. “Nevermind. It's an impossible situation, isn't it? No one wants to accept anything
on this issue.”
Anger surged in her, but she tamped it down. “I... maybe. I still can't quite believe He's real. God. I knew Jesus Christ
existed, but... I never thought of him as divine in any way.” She sighed. “Was he?”
She raked a hand through her hair, a habit of Saiph's that she'd somehow picked up. “I... I see.” She let that
sink in for a moment.
“This is quite a bit to take in, Ara. Maybe you should rest.”
“I can't. Not until I understand.”
Baham laid a hand on her shoulder. “I understand. If you have questions, you may ask me. And you may ask them.”
He nodded to the Pyxis, where Saiph and the others probably were. She couldn't hear anything, but that didn't mean much. “Or
you may ask Alya and Nihal.”
She looked at him in shock. “You'll... let me speak to them?”
“Saiph and Nash told us everything, Ara. Alya and Nihal meant you no harm, or else you would be dead.”
She nodded. “I know. Alphard wanted me dead, but Alya and Nihal weren't like that at all. I... I need to know more,
Baham. I don't know anything about God, or even about the Bible. The only way for me to learn now is to hear everyone's story,
everyone's beliefs. But right now... no one will want to speak with me.”
Baham didn't argue, and she felt her last hopes fall. “Ask,” he reminded her, and stood waiting.
She opened her mouth, then closed it. “I... Is God... good?”
“God is neither good or bad, Ara. He merely is. He does what must be done. He loves His children, His creations, but
He will do what He must for this world and the rest of His people who live on it. Like your brother.”
“Everything, Ara.” Reminding her that Saiph had spoken all – even that which had only been for his ears.
She backed away from him and turned her back on him. She thought of Nigel and closed her eyes. “Everything...”
Nigel had only been a child. A kid. Why would he need to die? What would the purpose be?
“We cannot understand His reasoning. We are not He. You, especially, could not understand. You see only Earth, and only
for a short time.”
“But he's in Hell now.” The same hell that took him away from her.
“Ara, Heaven is reserved for those who have done outrageous things. Those who could become Angels later.”
“That's impossible. Angels are Angels from the beginning.”
“The higher Angels. Seraphs and Cherubs. But not the lower classes.”
She thought it over. “Why couldn't my brother be an Angel?”
“He hadn't Saved anyone.”
Like it could be that simple. “But to some, he was everything.”
She turned on him. “Yes, to me! He was my little brother! Do you know what I did to save him? Everything I could! Because
if he died, I would never-” she stopped. “He may not have saved anyone, but he hadn't done anything wrong,
either. He was just a child! If nothing else, shouldn't children be allowed a place in Heaven? Don't children deserve peace?
What kind of monster tortures children?!”
Baham's eyes were contemplative, but not angry. “I understand your point. I can only believe that God has a reason for
“And what would that reason be? What would be acceptable for this? Does He want me to hate Him? To fight Him?”
“Perhaps He doesn't want you to love Him just for giving your brother peace.”
“So He'll let my brother suffer to prove a point to me? Fuck that!” She sliced the air with her hand. “That's
not acceptable. He can teach me however He wants, but hurting those I love – I'll never accept that.”
Footsteps sounded behind Baham, and both turned to see Regulus and Nash coming out of the Pyxis. They froze when they saw
Without thought, she turned and ran back to her room.
She sat on her bed and cradled her head in her hands. What the hell was wrong with her? She hadn't done anything wrong...
she'd just wanted to see for herself that Nash was okay. How was she to know that...?
She fought back the damnable tears and glared at the floor. Nevertheless, everything had changed. They weren't aliens. They
weren't vampires. They were...
And behind this battle was more than she could have ever foreseen. Not two alien races battling one another, but God and Satan
sending out their troops. By Go... well, it was unbelievable, in any case.
She pounded her pillow and snarled. What could she do? She couldn't undo the past, and she couldn't change what had occurred.
She couldn't take full blame, but it would be given to her. She would accept it, because she should have believed that Nash
was really okay. The worry would have been appeased eventually.
Great. Now she was blaming herself.
She jumped at the knock on her door and tensed. Who was it, and what would they want? Still, she had to answer the door. After
all, it wasn't really her room.
When she opened it, Nash was there, pulling Saiph with him. She almost slammed the door in his face.
“Hey, there, Ara. May we come in?”
Saiph growled something unintelligible to Ara, but Nash just laughed. She wordlessly stepped aside for them.
Nash tugged Saiph's obviously reluctant body inside and shoved it onto the bed. “Now.” He turned to Ara. “I
came to say I understand, and I brought Saiph here to apologize.”
He didn't look like he was in the mood to apologize. “Oh, it's fine,” she said breezily enough. “It's no
big deal. You guys live and breathe God, right? It's only normal that you'd dislike me for what I believe. It's not the first
time Christians have turned their backs on atheists.”
Nash winced. “Uh, yeah, about that-”
“No, it's normal,” she persisted. For some reason, the anger was rising up again. She wasn't able to shove it
back down in time. “Atheists are despised by Christians. We try to understand through logic and experience, and that
really irritates them. We need to follow blindly, don't we?” She glared at Saiph before she could tell herself to stop.
“We need to just do what we're told without question. That's a good way to live, right? You couldn't have regrets, because
you can shove everything on an invisible man who may or may not answer your prayers, who may or may not do as you beg, because
it all depends on His will. We might as well fall in line. If we don't, we're shunned and despised. Yes, I understand that.
You don't need to apologize for it.” Still too angry to be upset with what she'd just done, she turned away and started
combing her hair.
“Damn, Ara,” Nash said, and his awed tone stopped her, “that's the first time you've stood up to us. Pissed
She sighed and put the brush down. “I'm sorry,” she muttered. “Honestly, I do understand. It doesn't mean
I like it, but I understand. I used to be a Christian, after all. I was the same. I never accepted atheists. I thought they
She turned to Nash and smiled. “I'm so sorry I ruined everything for you all, just because I wouldn't trust that you
were safe. And after I'd said that I trusted Saiph... how hypocritical can I be, right?” She heard a strange noise from
one of them and hurriedly continued, “but it's all right. I... I have the answer.” A rash one, a stupid one. But
it was the last chance to make everything okay. She couldn't ask whether it would or not until it was over, and maybe not
even then, but she would do it, because she had no other choice. She wanted it right for them. Baham... didn't have to be
right all the time.
A rash choice. But it might work. And hopefully the pressing pain in her chest would leave.
“The answer?” Nash parroted in surprised confusion. “What answer?”
She shrugged. “I can't be everything, right? I can't be good, but I can't be all bad, either. I'll never get into Heaven,
so why worry about it? I'll live how I've always lived, except now I know an irrefutable truth. Which is, of course, why I'm
such a danger. Right?”
“You aren't...a danger, really,” Nash said.
That was a 'yes.' “So, I figure, the past is over, right? I can't go back, so why bother trying? I'll just do everything
“It means, Nash, that you don't need to worry. I've got it all figured out. I can work through it. I figure, as Angels,
you guys can work through it a thousand times better than I can. Just...” She hesitated. “Just take care of yourselves.
I'll take care of me.”
Need to understand? No. That was what had gotten everyone into this situation. It was what had messed up everything. She'd
said she would no longer do this. She'd sworn to not get in the way any more. She hated being the stupid, pathetic female.
Over and over again, she managed to get into that situation. Well, she would again. And again, and again. It seemed inevitable.
Why fight it? The idea of independence was scratched out as soon as the truth about God had emerged. She didn't rule anything
in her life. What would happen would happen, and she couldn't escape it. So she would walk straight toward it. With eyes wide
She thought of Baham and frowned. He would figure it out immediately. But she would have accomplished her goal before he did.
She'd made the mistake of merely walking out before. She would run. She wouldn't cry, she wouldn't look back. And she wouldn't
let Saiph get in her way. His duty to her still existed, the Angel protecting the human. But he wouldn't save her. Not this
She wouldn't let him.
She shooed them out with the promise of meeting them for dinner. One promise broken. Nash apologized for Saiph after the latter
had stomped off, but she'd waved it away. “Don't try to take blame,” she said with a smile. “I told you,
I'll take care of myself.”
She took nothing when she left.
Saiph glared at his juice and wished again that it was liquor. It wasn't acceptable for an Angel to drink that trash, but
it would make him forget, if only for a moment.
He couldn't forget her allegations against God, based only on the words of the enemy. After he'd told her not to believe them!
She'd said she'd trusted him, but she hadn't trusted him at all. If she had, they wouldn't be in this situation, she trying
to pull herself together and he trying to will alcohol into his drink.
He didn't look up when Baham's shadow stood over him. “Regulus and Feb are ready to kill,” Baham said.
“We won't be sent to Hell, but we will live here on Earth permanently. As humans, of course. Once this is over.”
“Nash is upset with you.”
He flinched a bit. “I know.”
“So is Deneb.”
“So am I.”
Here Saiph looked up. “What?” Baham never got upset with anyone.
“If you were a human, how would you feel to learn that you are fighting with Angels to defeat Fallen?”
Saiph shrugged. “Like I was in over my head.”
“Now imagine you're an atheist because your brother died horrifically. And imagine that the enemy isn't evil.”
Saiph's eyes snapped. “What?”
“You know it's true, Saiph. We are not fighting Lucifer, Belial, and Leviathan. We're fighting descendants.”
Saiph rushed to his feet. “It's the same thing.”
“Ham's children are not like Ham.”
Saiph hissed. “Ham was human.”
Saiph's hands clenched into fists. “It's not the same!”
“Saiph, your loyalty is a good thing, but it is unwarranted here. I follow God, same as you. But I do not do so blindly,
as you do. God sent us here with all intentions of leaving us here. It's a fact, not prejudice. You know it, same as I do.
God knew she wouldn't believe.”
Saiph banged his hand on the table. “It doesn't matter.” He chuckled darkly. “She'll take care of it.”
“What did you say? You're leaving her to fend for herself in all of this? She's in over her head, just as you said.
Her world has shifted, and you're just sitting in here glaring at your drink?”
“She said it herself: she'll take care of herself.” And he glared at his drink.
Baham sucked in a sharp breath, but just then a warmth centered on his forehead. He touched it. A message? Even though they
were supposedly ex-communicated?
Probably about this disaster, Saiph thought with a grimace. He gently touched his forehead and saw Baham do the same.
She has left.
“He didn't see it coming,” Baham whispered. “How could He not? He knows all. He saw this fight occur. He
knew what she would do. She would want information. She would fight to get it, even if it meant going behind our backs and
speaking to Alya and Nihal. He said so, and I knew it for truth. When did she decide this?”
Saiph felt like he'd been punched to the gut. He couldn't breathe.
Nash spun into the room. “Saiph! Saiph, did you get the message?! She's – Saiph! Saiph, snap out of it!”
Nothing had changed, he realized with fear. Despite her being an atheist, despite her being human, despite her believing God
to be evil, he still loved her. Panic was seizing up his muscles.
“I can't lose her,” he choked out.
“Then let's move!” Nash shouted. “Put on your armor. We have to go after her!”
Baham already had his armor on. “I will get Deneb and join you. Go.”
Saiph pulled on his armor with fear chugging in his heart. She's left again. Again. Why?
“But it's all right. I... I have the answer.”
Saiph closed his eyes. “'Listen to the voice of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.' Please, please look
after her.” He touched his sword. “And let us get there in time.”
“Amen,” Nash whispered, followed immediately by Baham as he left. Nash and Saiph headed out side by side.
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