“Guardians and Angels three and eight report to the Pit for immediate deployment into the Ether. This is not a drill.” Billy stood so fast he knocked over the chair he’d been sitting in, eyes wide.
“You are needed mon amie,” Hugh du Paynes said, cutting his eyes briefly at Planche before settling his gaze on Billy and calmly folding his hands on the table. “For a paladin of the Knights Templar, when duty calls there is but one course of action.”
“I said I don’t want to be this paladin-thing of yours,” he said, repeating himself from a few moments ago. “I don’t want to lead some army into Hell to fight the Devil.”
“William, you have seen these things, know what they are, and are now without excuse. For you, there is no longer any question. If Satan is real, then so must God be real also and God has put a calling on your life.” Hugh rose as he spoke and moved around the table to stand beside Billy. Planche remained seated, merely nodding in agreement with what was said.
“I have to go,” Billy said as his heart thundered in his chest. He didn’t wait for Hugh’s response. He just turned and ran out of the barracks lounge area heading to the Pit.
His feet moved of their own accord down the now familiar path while his mind raced through all that Hugh de Paynes and Planche had told him, as well as what he had seen. He loved going into the ether where anything was possible so long as you manipulated the energy right and believed you could make it so, but the things in there scared him. Those short grey stone-skinned guys with their axes shooting fire and the little grey lizard-insect things crawling all over everyone were everywhere he went. He involuntarily shied away from several people as his mind realized he wasn’t in the ether right now and couldn’t tell if any of them had one of those crawling things on them or not.
Then there was the trip to the nursing home searching for Robert Dante and getting sucked inside him. The twisted mansion that had been the ether’s construct of the man’s mind still haunted him. Not so much for the battle with the stone-skinned guy called Rabdos. That had been simple, easy after he figured out how to make the shield appear. No, the deformed building bothered him because deep down he knew that represented the person somehow, and Dante seemed so normal on the outside.
The familiar doorway into the Pit came into view and his mind ceased the distraction to focus on the task at hand. Billy pushed through the door into the room beyond and instinctively turned toward his area. He saw Julie Payne already lying motionless on her couch with the soldier that served as her protection standing rock-still by her side. Daedalus was the man’s call sign instead of being an Angel with a number, probably because they were the first pair to ever go into the ether. He tried to once again recall what his name was, but he couldn’t remember. Motion drew his attention to his area as First Sergeant Wilcox waved him over, already standing at the head of the couch in full battle gear as though the walls might sprout enemies at any moment. His technician held the wire-encrusted metal helmet they called the Shroud and straightened a bit as she made eye contact with Billy. He scanned the room to see if Angela and Corporal Williams had arrived yet. She was already wiggling her back trying to get into a comfortable position on her couch as her technician initiated the boot up sequence.
“So, what’s the big…” Billy stopped dead in his tracks as he saw motion from Brandt’s couch. Two technicians stepped away and there was Brandt lying in place as the technician moved to strap on the shroud. Brandt shifted his head and Billy clearly saw the man’s furrowed brow, clenched jaw, and hunched neck. A loud groan escaped Brandt’s lips as he tried to choke back the sound when the other technician moved his legs.
Billy quickly moved to his couch, jumping on top and lying back as his technician moved to place the shroud over his head. Billy raised his hand to stop her and turned to the First Sergeant, whispering in a low voice, “I thought Brandt was paralyzed from the neck down. Doesn’t that mean he can’t feel any pain in his legs?”
“I don’t know kid. That’s what we thought too,” Wilcox responded as he laid a hand on Billy’s arm to let the technician do her work. “He woke up about thirty minutes ago screaming about how he was on fire and it burned. They’ve given him as high a dose of morphine as he can have and it barely touched the pain he said. The Skipper wants all hands inside most riki tik.”
The intercom crackled to life on queue and Billy looked up to the second story window overlooking the Pit from Heaven to see Colonel Peters holding the microphone.
“Guardian Three and Icarus are already inside the training room in the ether. Get in there and I’ll update you on our status,” Colonel Peters said. Billy gave him a thumbs up as the tech strapped the shroud into place, obscuring his vision with the total blackness that was the inside of the helmet when powered down.
As soon as the shroud closed over his vision Billy began forming the image of the antique door handle on the training room door. The smooth, downward curve of the handle with the ornate carvings and the old-style key hole formed quickly in his mind. The technician announced power up and the black turned grey around the edges then slowly faded into the view of a white door with that very same door handle mounted on it. Billy took hold of the handle and depressed the latch with his thumb, pushing as soon as he heard the audible click. The door swung effortlessly into the room beyond and Billy crossed the threshold, fully entering the ether.
Angela’s avatar stood waiting, a near exact replica of her appearance in the world but clothed in a brilliant white robe with a glowing nimbus of soft white light standing off her skin by about a quarter of an inch. Her dark hair flowed around her shoulders as though a soft breeze played with the errant strands. A well-built, muscular man who’d been identified as Angela’s angel named Mihr, with rod-straight blonde hair cut just over the ears, stood next to her. His pristine white sleeveless robe was belted at the waist with a simple knotted rope and he stared at Billy
As Billy came through the door, a young girl of about 17 seemed to step out of his body on an angle into the room as well. Her curly blonde, shoulder-length hair seemed to move in the same breeze that caught Angela’s hair. Billy felt his heart pound as the young girl he’d come to know as his angel named Theliel came into view.
Julie Payne’s avatar was a winged man whose body rippled with chiseled musculature. He had a large set of wings folded behind his back that shifted as he turned with each change in body position. The short, curly blonde hair made Billy think of the pictures of marble statues he’d always seen in his school history books when they reached the chapter covering ancient Rome.
He quickly envisioned the image of himself clothed with the red and white tabard, helmet, sword, and shield he’d seen on Hugh and Planche. His vision became mostly obscured as the helmet appeared. He looked down and his tabard was different from Hugh and Planche’s, almost completely white with a smaller cross centered squarely on his chest, and he had no sword or even a belt around his waist. Instead a simple knotted rope rode just above his hips.
Where’s Brandt? Billy asked quickly as though the other two would know his avatar wasn’t what he’d intended it to be. Before anyone could respond Colonel Peters’ voice echoed in the room.
Guardian Two woke up about thirty minutes ago and is in extreme agony. The doc hit him with the highest dose of meds she can but nothing is working. Guardian Three seems to have some sort of healing ability in the ether so we’re going to try that if Guardian Two can focus through the pain to get inside, Colonel Peters said over the communications network.
I can do it, Archangel. I can do it, Brandt’s voice said, biting out each word with a hiss of breath and what sounded like spit.
I know you can soldier. Just get in there, Colonel Peters said softly. Guardian Three just be ready to do whatever it is you do as soon as he gets in there.
Roger that Archangel. I’ll be ready, Angela responded. Angela bent her legs as though a chair was beneath her and sat in midair. She closed her eyes, laced her fingers together and inclined her head bringing her lips to touch her knuckles.
Oh, Christ, Julie Payne exclaimed as she watched Angela settle in.
Exactly, Angela said softly without looking up. Julie waved a dismissive hand in Angela’s direction and floated to the far corner of the room putting as much distance between herself and Angela as the confines of the training room would allow.
The moments stretched into minutes. Julie’s avatar continued floating around the room as though pacing. The two angels remained motionless, regarding the three of them with that quizzical look they seemed to have that made Billy think they were slightly amused at what they were observing. He finally worked up enough courage to talk to Theliel when the door to the room opened, Brandt stepped in, and collapsed to his knees letting out a moan of pain as he fell. Fire seemed to be covering his entire left side from shoulder to ankle and across his chest, covering precisely the portions of his body that were burned in the real world. However, these flames crackled and danced just off the skin as though they were some sort of nimbus trapped within an inch of the skin by an unseen force.
God it burns! Brandt screamed as he dropped. Instantly Angela streaked from her kneeling position to Brandt’s side. A bright white glow surrounded her hands that made streaks across Billy’s vision as she dashed over to Brandt’s side. The moment she reached Brandt she touched his damaged left side and the soft glow extended from her hands to engulf the flames. Wherever the light touched, the fire hissed and went out. Instantly, Brandt let out a sigh of relief that bordered on a scream of joy and slumped to the floor, exhausted. Angela moved her hands up and down the left side of his body until all the flames were extinguished, but she didn’t stop there. Once the flames were out, the light shifted from a soft glow to an intense, white light. Everywhere that the white light touched, the burns seemed to dry up and blow away, disintegrating in an unseen wind leaving healthy skin behind.
That is the greatest feeling in the entire world, Brandt said through a sigh of relief, lying motionless on the floor of the training room with his eyes still closed.
Archangel, this is Medic One in the Pit. I don’t know how to explain it but I’m watching Guardian One’s burns vanish as though they never existed, a voice said over the net.
Acknowledged Medic One. I know how it’s happening, I just don’t know why, Archangel said. Guardian Three, get Guardian One up to speed on what he’s missed so we can get back to work.
Roger that, Archangel, Angela said as the light subsided from her hands and Brandt propped his avatar up on an elbow.
Thank you. You’re going to have to show me how you did that, Brandt said with honest admiration in his voice. What did I miss?
Angela began to recap all that had happened since the fight that had left Brandt unconscious. She recapped the tanker explosion, Robert Dante’s escape and flight, the arrival of the Templars Hugh du Payne and Planche, the nursing home incident and subsequent fight inside Robert Dante’s heart, and the revelation from the Templars that Billy was something called a Paladin. That last bit caused Julie to laugh out loud and Brandt to shift his gaze to look at Billy with wide eyes. He wanted to run from the room and all the attention, but the soft smile Theliel gave him when he looked at her gave him strength enough to stand firm for what he knew came next.
Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 107 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation of Book 1, Guardians of the Herald: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY. The compilation of Book 2 Guardians of the Herald: The Templars’ Return for the kindle will be coming very soon so join the Cadre on Facebook and get all the latest news.
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