“You want to propose an alliance with Hell?” Raphael was more than incredulous, he seemed furious at the idea. It was the reaction we were expecting, and we had already discussed how to handle it.
I had spent our few hours of rest doing little more than staring up at the ceiling in my quarters. Even though sifting through the memories was exhausting in its own way, it had taken no physical toll on me. Instead I was restless and anxious, and I considered taking a walk around the ship to clear my head, but decided that my time could be put to better use. I sorted through the memories of my son, Raphael, and tried to piece together how this conversation was likely to go. I hadn’t been disappointed yet.
“As a ploy, and nothing more,” I replied quickly and soothingly. I knew his temper, and I wanted to prevent a violent outburst if possible. “Think about it, she may see right through it, but if she buys it for even a second, we could get within range to end her once and for all.”
It was the best plan we had come up with, convincing Raphael to offer an alliance to Lucifel to show solidarity. The hope would be that she would take the bait and we’d get on the ship; able to strike before she even knew what was happening.
“You make an interesting argument, father, but that doesn’t mean it’s infallible,” he replied with a conceited smile. He seemed rather confident about his position, and I knew he would be a hard sell, especially after the next point he made. “What will our people think? What will they think when we offer up the forces of heaven to that traitorous bitch?”
“That’s why we do it in secret,” Lumial interjected smoothly. As he had done so since we arrived, he was acting as my perfect wingman in our negotiations. “We don’t tell anyone, except on a strict need to know basis. We can move the ship into docking without letting anyone know, can’t we? Only the computer should need to know our actions.”
I searched Raphael’s mind with my telekinesis to see if he was buying it, but the reading I received in return was confusing. I was getting two different emotional readings, as if there were two people inside of his head. Not sure what to make of it, I made a note to ask Keith about it the next time we had a chance. That meant that I had to rely on reading his emotions the mundane way, even if I was a lot less confident in that ability.
His expression certainly didn’t give any credence to him being convinced, and his words were still less than confident in the plan. “That’s true, but asking for an official meeting would require us to be on the bridge if it’s going to carry any weight,” he said with a knowing smirk, “We would have to tell the officers at least, and it would trickle down through the ranks very quickly. They can’t be trusted to keep their mouths shut.”
Lumial shook his head, continuing to be as smooth as he ever had been. He was a natural diplomat, and I added another note to compliment him on his skills later. “I don’t think we need to ask for an official meeting. I think you can ask for an alliance all on your own,” he smiled mischievously as he added in explanation, “A son asking for his long lost mother… play to her sympathies, brother”
“That’s asking a lot from me, Lumial,” Raphael replied with a hard glare that showed that he wasn’t thrilled at all about the plan. “You’re asking me to pretend that I want to reunite what’s left of the family, when for years I’ve wanted nothing more than to gouge her eyes out. I’m willing to consider giving Belial another chance, but even acting like I’d be willing to give her the same opportunity is something I’m not sure I can do.”
We knew it would be hard to convince him, but I was starting to get worried. I found that the same was true of both Keith and Lumial as I read their thoughts, and it made me worry even more. The possibilities of scrapping the plan and having to come up with a different way of getting to Marc started running through my head, and I knew that I was losing control of the situation.
But then, amidst all my worries and anxieties, I found a center I hadn’t expected. The thoughts and memories of Michael gave me the understanding I was searching for, and I latched onto it with everything I could. I had found the argument I was looking for.
“Even if it means shutting down Hell forever?” I asked confidently. The almost greedy look in his eyes told me that I had hit my mark. My memories told me that the very concept of Hell had never sat well with Raphael. His zealousness prevented him from accepting that there could be two different parties of angels. All had to be one, and those that went contrary to the status quo had to be destroyed at all costs. Hell was something he hated even more than he hated his mother, and that was the leverage we needed to get him to act.
“That is a compelling argument,” he answered, mulling it over for a moment before continuing, “Maybe, in that case I could. But only if it were a guarantee, and who’s to say that this plan will work?”
Continuing with my renewed confidence, I didn’t hesitate at all as I responded. “Am I wrong often enough that you would doubt me on this?”
His eyes told me that I had again hit the nail on the head. Loyalty was important to him, and had been the only thing that Michael had ever been able to use to keep him in line. Loyalty to the religion and to his commander, were two of the guideposts in Raphael’s warped mind.
But then my confidence began to waver as he surprised me with an affirmative answer to my question. “You were wrong about taking only a small squadron of cloaked soldiers against the army of Hell and the demon savages,” he replied smugly, “and if I remember correctly, that’s what got us into this mess in the first place.”
It took me a moment to gather my thoughts, and I tried to get back into Michael’s mindset. This was something that he had dealt with, but was unfamiliar territory for me. I mean, I had rarely been in leadership positions over my life, which meant that I had little experience with insubordination. Even though it wasn’t expected from Raphael due to his normal loyalty, Michael had a wealth of experience in dealing with those who didn’t like taking orders.
Deciding that proving my own superiority might prove the best tactic I replied with equal smugness, “Ah, but did it not draw Hell out of hiding?” Lumial started nodding along sagely, catching on to my strategy almost immediately, “Did I not come back, only to offer up this plan to you? Are we not sitting on the perfect opportunity to strike at them while they no longer expect it?”
“Are you implying that you planned this entire thing?” Raphael asked incredulously, as I prepared to answer with another retort, Keith gave him the best glare he could which seemed to take the smugness right out of the angel.
“Why would I have sacrificed myself otherwise?” I returned with my own incredulous stare, feeding off of Keith’s momentum, “We didn’t want to tell you until we could have this meeting away from other soldiers. You had to trust that we were who we said we were first. I formulated this plan with Lumial when we first heard of Merlin’s son being found. Lumial contacted me, the first time I had seen him since his ‘death’, and we arranged the encounter. We’ve been baiting Hell the whole time.”
Silence overtook the room as he digested the information. He looked between all three of us, though considerably less time with Keith, who had maintained his glare. I took it as another opportunity to read his thoughts, though again I was met with a confusing tangle of emotions I couldn’t quite figure out, though I did note with satisfaction the one emotion I had been hoping for. Amazement.
With a quiet voice that almost seemed reverent, he finally replied, “A masterful ploy. Phenomenal, really. And you really think this will work?” Shaking his head helplessly he went on, “Well, I suppose it’s gotten this far. Why not? I’ll jump in on this plan as well. I think I can pretend that I want to reconcile with that demon-loving harlot, if it means ending Hell for good.”
“Then it’s settled,” I said with finality, and then continued to lay out the rest of the plan, “You will lead a small group of us to Hell, which will include everyone in this room except Lumial. He will remain in command of whatever ship we take instead of joining us in council with the Devil. Whereas you will be important as the bait, Gabriel and I must be present to take advantage of the opening and strike, but Lumial is not a warrior, and his presence is the most likely to have her go ballistic.”
He accepted my orders without any more arrogance, and it seemed as if loyal Raphael was back in his proper place as he replied, “Reasonable. Alright then, tell me exactly what you want me to say, and I’ll do it. You’ve been planning this a lot longer than I have, so you must have some idea.”
With a smile meant to show him my pride in his decision I explained, “I’ll give you some pointers, but you’re going to have to be prepared to improvise. She might throw something at you that we aren’t expecting.”
“Of course,” He replied casually, “When dealing with devils you can never trust it to be easy.”
We discussed the basics of the conversation, and then he excused himself to see about contacting her. That left the rest of us in the council room to fester in our anxiety. None of us spoke for some time, instead focusing inwardly to the matter at hand. I was tempted at times to investigate the thoughts of my fellows, but I resisted. I didn’t want to intrude on their private thoughts as we prepared for what could easily be our last mission.
So instead I thought about Marc. He had been my entire motivation for coming, and I was hit with the sudden realization that he might not ever know that we came. We might die before I ever had a chance to hold him in my arms again and tell him that I loved him. With the realization came a growing determination to succeed and I settled into a thought pattern of grim resolve.
What surprised me most about that resolve was how strongly it was backed by the influence of Michael’s memories. I was of one mind on the issue. This whole ordeal had to end, one way or another.
“He’s taking an awfully long time at this,” Lumial spoke suddenly, drawing everyone from their stupors, “I wonder if it’s going okay.”
“I’m sure it’s just Lucifel throwing curveballs at him,” I replied with more certainty than I felt, “The plan seems to be going just fine. I doubt there’s much to worry about.”
“How are his thoughts reading?” Lumial asked, and I could only shake my head as I shrugged. He had been a confusing read for me the entire time, and I didn’t have an answer for him.
Lucky for me, though, Keith was better prepared. “Particularly erratic today,” He answered easily, though he was certainly bothered by the news he was sharing, “Something is different from how he was yesterday. I don’t know, but his mind is very complicated to read.” With a thoughtful look, he went on to explain, “I wonder if he suffers from schizophrenia. That’s the only thing I’ve experienced like what I’m getting now. It’s almost as if his thoughts disagree with each other. One, which agrees with what he has been saying, is what stands out prominently in his head, but there’s another side which I can’t quite read.”
Before anyone else could respond, we heard the sound of footsteps quickly approaching the door to the chamber. “Ah, I think that’s him,” I interrupted quickly, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Raphael entered a second later; his wry grin telling us that it had went well. “Alright, she’s agreed to meet with me,” he announced, and the relief I saw in Lumial and Keith’s faces mirrored my own, “Let’s get to my old ship. It’s been in the docking bay for some time, and I think it’s the perfect one to take for a meeting with family.”
“Have you chosen an honor guard?” I asked, knowing that we would probably be much better off if we had a few more soldiers under our command. While Keith and I might be able to handle some of the enemy with our powers, some firepower on our side would go a long way to assuring our victory.
“Well, you and Gabriel, of course,” he replied almost condescendingly, “plus several cloaked officers. I would rather that we had the element of surprise on our hands.”
Despite his arrogance making my mouth twitch in response, I had heard what I wanted to hear, and so I bowed and replied simply, “I concede to your wisdom, son. Let’s be off then.”
“I don’t trust him,” Keith said suddenly in my mind, “Something extremely fishy is going on here.”
“What choice do we have?” I replied, confident enough to move forward, “If he gives us no other option, we fight. Otherwise, we continue the best that we can.”
The last thing I received from Keith as we adjourned the meeting to head to the docking bay, was what felt like a helpless shake of his head. I couldn’t help but join him. The sinking feeling in my gut told me that Keith was right. We were headed for disaster, but what choice did we have?
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