Axiom 5: Learn as much as possible.
“Eremiel, huh?” I asked, as we ambled back to our home base, the angel plodding along in between us.
He nodded as he walked along. Even though I didn’t see any wounds or marks on his wings from when we’d dropped the cables on him, he didn’t seem motivated to fly above us. I wondered if it was bad manners to ask, but eventually my curiosity overcame my reticence and I asked him.
The angel just shrugged. “I don’t particularly feel like flying,” he replied, and I decided to leave it at that.
After another few minutes, however, I decided to break the silence again. “So, what’s your job around here?” I asked.
“My assignment is to patrol the realm of Purgatory, keeping a faithful and unceasing watch,” he replied, sounding a bit like he was reading off of a script.
“Watch for what?”
For a moment, Eremiel looked slightly less confident. “Well, threats to Purgatory.”
The angel didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know, or didn’t want to say. “Demons?” I asked after a minute.
“Yes!” He latched onto the suggestion gratefully. “Demonic invaders, or devils, would be something bad. I’d report such an observation to my superiors immediately.”
“Demons and devils are different?” Alice asked this question, from Eremiel’s other side.
“Oh, yes. Devils are fallen angels. Demons, however, are denizens originally of Hell, and come in all sorts of abominable forms.”
I glanced over at Eremiel’s sword. “And you’ve fought them before, then? Done some smiting on them here, driving them out of Purgatory?”
“Er… “ Was it just me, or did the angel look a bit ashamed? “Not from here, per se.”
“But in general, that’s what you do, right? Demon smiting?”
Eremiel didn’t respond, and I stopped walking for a moment to turn and look up at him. Now, I wasn’t an expert on reading the faces of angels, but if I assigned a human emotion to his face, I would have said that the angel was profoundly embarrassed, and a bit annoyed. He looked back at me, raising an eyebrow as if daring me to push the issue.
I didn’t dare to cross him, but on his other side, Alice apparently didn’t have any such reticence. “Have you ever seen a demon, Eremiel?”
“Of course I have!” he snapped. But then he muttered something else under his breath that I didn’t catch.
“What was that second part?” Alice wheedled.
Eremiel glared hotly at both of us. “In training!” he yelled. “Very well, I haven’t actually faced a demon in battle before – but I went through all of the Heavenly training! I earned the right to bear a flaming sword, and they don’t just hand these things out to anyone!”
At the sight of the angel’s angry expression, I took a little step back from him; on the opposite side of the angel, Alice did the same. “Okay, okay, we believe you,” I soothed, hoping that he wouldn’t do anything hasty.
After an instant, however, the angel’s anger cooled and ebbed away. “I’m sorry, mortals. I harbored ill thoughts about my mission before you made your appearance, and I suspect that all of this is punishment for thinking out of line.”
“Yeah, but weren’t you saying that something wasn’t right about us being here?” Alice asked, as we fell into a walk again.
“Well, it seems normal to find some humans here. You are those who are in Purgatory, after all.” Eremiel seemed to make this judgment of us far too casually, I felt.
“But why? Who judged us?” Alice didn’t want to let the issue go.
The angel shrugged. “Someone, I assume. After all, you’re here, and you wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t where you were meant to be. It’s the Divine Plan, after all.” Something in the way he spoke those words made the capital letters snap into place.
“Well, I don’t think that I belong in Purgatory,” Alice grimaced.
“Oh? Did you believe that you’d go to Hell?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then you worshipped Heaven, and you believed that you’d receive salvation?”
Alice opened her mouth, but didn’t say anything for a moment. “I, uh, I don’t really know,” she finally admitted. She looked over at me, as if hoping that I’d rescue her from her verbal corner.
“I honestly never really thought about it,” I piped up.
“Well, there you go.” Eremiel spread his hands wide, putting on a smug little smile that I didn’t especially like. “And thus, you two are both in Purgatory. Now that this is all sorted out, perhaps you could simply release me from my oath, and I can resume my patrols-”
“Not a chance,” Alice warned, and Eremiel groaned.
We plodded along the path until the Starbucks came into view. “There,” I said, pointing it out. “That’s our home base.”
“Wonderful.” Eremiel didn’t sound especially impressed. “I tire of this conversation, mortals. I shall meet you at your hovel.” And before I could complain about his choice of words, the angel flapped his wings and soared aloft, hitting us both with a powerful backdraft as he winged off towards the Starbucks.
Alice and I both watched him go, identical expressions of distaste at Eremiel’s attitude on our faces. “What an ass,” Alice muttered, echoing my own thoughts.
“He did say that something was wrong, though,” I considered as we started walking after him. “He said something about us all hearing the Apocalypse Proclamation, or whatever it was, and I don’t remember hearing anything like that.”
“Me neither. And he did promise to try and help us get out of here.” Alice lowered her head and walked with a bit more determination. “And I’m not letting him out of his oath to us until he’s gotten us out of here.”
“But where, though?” I asked. “Heaven? Hell?”
“I mean, probably not Hell. But Heaven doesn’t sound that appealing, either,” Alice answered, shaking her head. “Sitting around on clouds, playing a harp? Not my thing.”
I looked over at her, seeing the determined expression on her face. A look like that could stare down a hurricane, I thought to myself with a surge of admiration for her. “But I’m definitely not staying around here,” she declared, and picked up her pace as she climbed up towards the Starbucks.
I nodded and silently chased after her.