The whole ship was frantic, with angels scurrying in every direction. Belial left us quickly with Mephistel on his heels in order to organize the evacuation. He told us that he would meet us in the docking bay, but to leave without him if he didn’t make it in time. Though the rest of us secretly agreed that leaving without him wasn’t an option, we nodded quickly and let him go his way. They were his men, and his responsibility. We understood.
We hurried along the corridors as quickly as we could, though we were making slower time with Kai Fallon burdened by Keith’s corpse. I wanted to help him, and I knew that Marc did as well, but we were both exhausted, if for different reasons. Thankfully before either one of us tried to help, Lumial stepped into action and helped the older prince maneuver Keith’s body into a position that made it easier to carry. After that, we started to move a lot faster.
No one tried to stop us, despite recognizing us. They were far more interested in survival than in our conflict at the moment. Once I thought about it, I realized that they most likely had seen or heard the events that transpired in the throne room. It had been broadcast to the entire fleet, and there was no reason to believe that it hadn’t been shown to the entire ship as well. It had been planned as Lucifel’s big moment, after all.
When we arrived at the docking bay, smaller ships were leaving left and right, but I was pleased to see that the ship we had arrived on was still waiting for us. As quick as we could we climbed aboard and started preparing for launch.
Some of us were more eager than others, but I was still caught off guard as Lumial said, “Alright! Time to get this ship in action!”
“Sure,” I replied quickly, but then stated firmly, “but we aren’t leaving until Alan and Belial are back.”
“Of course not,” Lumial said sincerely, but then added, “unless we have to.” The edge on his voice was clear. He was going to leave them to die if it meant saving the rest of us. The angel had already thought through the entire scenario, and was ready to make the tough choice. I had to admit to myself that it was a very real possibility that our friends wouldn’t make it in time.
“You’re just going to abandon them?” Marc asked testily, and then with his voice barely concealing his anger at the thought he said firmly, “I’m not willing to make that choice.”
“We’ll wait until the last possible moment, but then we’ll have to go,” I replied, surprising everyone else that I had suddenly switched to Lumial’s point of view, “Lumial is right; we have to, or this entire mission was for nothing. He has to escape to lead his people, or they will simply continue fighting the same war.”
“I think that the demons would agree with that assessment,” Kai’Fallon offered, even though Marc was shaking his head helplessly at the prospect of leaving anyone behind, “I personally wouldn’t want any other outcome than to see Lumial at the head of Heaven. Anything is better than Michael, Gabriel, or god forbid, Raphael.”
The mention of the younger angel seemed to bring some of the fire back to Marc’s fight. “Speaking of Raphael, while we’re waiting you can explain how you were freed,” he suggested, though his tone said that it was more of a demand than a request. He then proceeded to take a shot at Belial, “I wouldn’t have thought that Belial would have had the courage to free you on his own. He would have to choose between brothers, and in that case for him it would have meant that mother knew best. I’m very surprised that he didn’t bring you back ready to mount your head for mommy dearest.”
Though the other two were a bit taken back by Marc’s comments, I was already reading his thoughts to find out exactly how he felt. I knew that he was acting out of anger, and nothing more. His frustration with Lumial determining that we might have to leave the others was causing him to act out. He didn’t really feel that way about Belial, or at least those were not his only feelings on the angel, but for the moment he was the easiest target to serve as an outlet for his frustration.
“Raphael was torturing me when Belial arrived,” Lumial explained with no emotion on his face or in his voice, “They got into an argument about treatment of prisoners, and it got quite heated. That’s when Alan showed up and bashed Raphael over the head while he was still cloaked. That’s when he ran off again to free you and your brother.”
“As for Belial, you can speak of him that way if you wish, Marc,” Lumial went on coolly, but then he sighed as he said, “But every action he ever took was built on good intentions, and those intentions were just misguided. You know the old axiom; the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Belial is that phrase brought to life. He honestly thought he was doing the right thing when he followed our mother.”
“Is that meant to be an excuse?” Marc replied incredulously. I almost smacked him to tell him to knock it off, but Lumial seemed to be handling it quite well. I took a moment to read his thoughts as well, and what I found surprised me. He agreed with every assessment that Marc had made, but he had also had many more years to consider them. He had forgiven his brother, despite his flaws, and he was prepared to support him as they tried to fix the problems among their people.
A sentiment that he made clear as he answered, “No, but I need you to understand the mindset of the future leader of Heaven. It will require both of us to put an end to things up here. I can’t do it alone. I’ve been dead for too long. You need to understand that he is not a bad man, he’s just a good man who hasn’t known which way to go.”
Marc shook his head helplessly as he replied, “Hope you don’t mind that he’ll have to go a long way to earn my trust,”
“I’ll do everything I can to prove myself to you, Dae’Marca, but for now we have to go,” Belial said as he boarded the ship. His eyes told me that he was sincere, even though I couldn’t read his thoughts, “We can talk politics later, but the ship is going to blow any second now, and we need to be as far away from it as possible when it does.”
“We can’t leave yet,” I insisted firmly, forgetting my earlier conviction to leave if we had to, “Alan’s not here!”
“I met him in the halls,” Belial explained quickly, “he told me to leave him because he was headed to the engine room. He said he had another way out.”
“And you believed him?” I asked fearfully, my worry and anxiety quickly rising, “He’s been looking for a way to sacrifice himself for the good of the team since this entire thing began! We can’t leave! We have to go find him!”
“I’m with Damien,” Marc added instantly, and then jumped to his feet to move toward the exit, “there’s no way I’m going to abandon him here.”
“You’re going to have to,” Belial replied as he drew his sword and stood in Marc’s way. There wasn’t a trace of any emotion except stubbornness etched into his features, and I knew that he wasn’t going to budge, “I’m not going to let you both die too. I’m telling you that he said he had another way out. He’ll make it, I’m sure of it.”
“I’m sorry guys, but I’m going to have to stand with my brother on this one,” Lumial said as he moved to stand beside his brother. When Marc didn’t back down he went on impatiently, “You’re not going back in there. Case closed. I believe what he says, and if I’ve learned anything about that young one, it’s that he always has a plan. Either way, we can’t wait any longer. Either we leave now or we all die, and we are not going to take the latter option. Shem, take us out, now!”
The doors closed almost instantly, and with the thrusters suddenly engaging those of us that were still standing were thrown from our feet, causing us to cling to something as we adjusted to the movement. A second later we were leaving the ship behind.
I was horrified as the ship pulled out of the dock. We were abandoning Alan to his death in order to save ourselves. It was something I would have never dreamed of doing, but Belial and Lumial had forced our hand. But that didn’t make any difference to my emotions. All I felt was anguish and shame as I watched out the window, seeing smaller ships leave and hoping that somehow Alan had made it onto one of them.
It was then that Hell began to fall apart, first in a series of bright flashes that signaled chemical explosions ripping the ship to pieces from the inside out. I cringed as the destruction continued, knowing that Alan was certainly going with it. I felt the touch of a hand on my shoulder and instinctively pulled away from it, but then looked up into Marc’s eyes as he watched me with concern.
“I’m sure he made it out on one of the other ships,” he said without conviction. He knew the truth as well as I did. If he was still in the engine room at the time that we left, there wasn’t a chance that he could have made it out on time. He was fast, but not that fast.
We turned back to the others and saw similar expressions on their faces, even Kai’Fallon, who had almost no connection to Alan, seemed grim, as if he was feeding off of the rest of us. Belial looked worst of all though, for his anguish was built as much from guilt as it was from the loss of a friend.
Lumial turned to his brother and in an attempt to offer comfort he said, “You were right in your decision, Belial. Sometimes the needs of others outweigh the needs of the one. He wanted it to be this way.”
“That doesn’t make it any easier, brother,” Belial replied with moist eyes. I had believed him willing to sacrifice Alan to save his own skin, but now I knew that wasn’t the case. He had legitimately cared for Alan, but had been forced to make a choice. I realized then that the courage Marc had accused Belial of lacking was in all actuality quite strong. He had always had the ability to make the hard decisions, he had simply chosen poorly in the past.
“Why is everyone so unhappy?” A young voice said from the corner of the room, “We just won!”
Alan decloaked and everyone stared at him, dumbfounded. He removed the headpiece of his cloaking suit, proving that the face matched the voice, but still most of us stared. A second later he was bombarded by attention as Marc, Lumial, Belial, and I all crowded him in a gigantic hug.
Extremely happy that he hadn’t died in the explosions but still blown away that he was with us, I finally managed to ask, “How… how did you get here?”
With a look of triumph he pointed to the belt around his waist. A belt that none of us had recognized originally, but now that we were seeing it in new light, I knew that I had seen it somewhere.
It dawned on me that I had seen it in Lumial’s workshop, but before I could say Lumial beat me to it. “Hey! I thought I told you not to touch that!”
“I’ve never been that good at following orders,” Alan explained with a shrug, though the smile never left his face as he apologized, “Sorry to disappoint you. Would you like me to go back to the ship and not use it?”
“Yeah, teleport back there and save us the trouble of dealing with a risk taker like you,” I replied with my own grin, “We’ll worry a lot less!”
“Don’t even joke about it!” Marc insisted, but he couldn’t wipe the smile off of his own face either as he asked excitedly, “So, that means we really did win, doesn’t it?”
“Mostly. Keith is still out of commission,” I answered sadly, and this time the smile did slip. I turned hopeful eyes toward Lumial and asked, “but you’ll be able to bring him back, won’t you, Lumial?”
“I will do everything in my power, once we get back to the Abel,” Lumial replied carefully, and his face told me his thoughts before he added, “but I have to admit that it doesn’t look good. He took a lot of hits, and there is a lot of damage to repair.”
“You owe it to him. You know that, right?” I said with as much conviction as I could put into my voice, “You’re the great grandfather he never knew existed.”
“You’re right…” Lumial replied, and his eyes grew distant for a moment, as if he were considering something in his past. But then he answered me with an equal level of seriousness, “but I still can’t make any promises, aside from that I’ll do my absolute best.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” I said grimly, though there was a slight smile returning to my face as I added, “Lancelot.”
“Wait, you and Keith are related?” Alan asked, though the shared looks from the others around the room told me that he was not the only one interested in the question.
Still, I wasn’t about to give out secrets that Keith should have the opportunity to explain when he got a chance, and I was certain that he’d be able to. Instead I ended the conversation with a smile and explained, “All in good time, Alan. There are still a few stories to tell.”
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