Disclaimer: As any good fan-girl should, I would love to stake a claim to Michael, but he remains the property of the wonderful Vaun Wilmott. As usual, I'm just borrowing him and will eventually give him back in halfway decent shape. Actually, it was Vaun that hurt him this time, so I'm in the clear. I'm just picking up where the creative genius left off and filling in the gaps. ;-) Michael is being returned good as new...much better than when I found him, funny enough.
AN: The idea of Gabriel kicking Michael's behind was too great a temptation to pass up. Since Vaun decided to have Michael give us a bare bones retelling, I felt the need to investigate the story a little further.
Thanks to my readers for your comments and reviews. Feedback is food for the fan fic writer, so please keep the tasty tidbits coming.
Hope you enjoy.
The hot desert wind swirled around the still dark shape that marred the white landscape, dusting it with a powder of drifting sand.
With a low moan, Michael slowly sloughed off the black nothingness of unconsciousness as he struggled to open his eyes. Even the smallest of movements brought excruciating pain to rack his body, but the archangel forced himself to roll onto his back so he could see the sky. He needed some point of reference. He needed to remember what had happened to him. Where was he, and why?
A constant throbbing at the base of his skull helped to begin to unravel his confusion.
"Uri," he groaned, while reaching back to gently rub the tender swelling. He had expected his sister to side with Gabriel and stand against him, but he never thought she would find it in her heart to injure him. He remembered her holding back while he and his brother raged, contented to continually serve as a mediator in their constant bickering. But then, as Michael charged past her towards their brother with with murderous intent, she struck him with the hilt of her sword — knocking him out cold.
A small voice in his pain-filled head marveled that he still lived. His heart told him that his siblings could no more kill him than he could them, but Gabriel had drawn his line in the sand and seemed resolved to hold it, regardless of the consequences. He had grown weary of his twin's bloodthirsty occupation. The Herald was determined that Michael's reign of terror would end here and now. They clashed with a force that made the ground at their feet quake as they drew blood on both sides. Each determined to punish the other. Each determined to finally put an end to this centuries old dispute, but neither gaining any real ground until Uriel's fateful blow.
In reality, the archangel felt certain that his cracked skull had saved his life. While he had held his own, he knew that eventually he would have fallen to his brother's blade. Michael was the warrior of their family. He led Father's heavenly army, but throughout every victory, Gabriel had always been there, fighting at his side. They learned sword play by sparring against one another. They knew each others weaknesses, as well as their strengths. He might as well have been fighting against himself when it came to skill, but Uriel's presence tipped the scales in their brother's favor. With her at his back, Gabriel was unbeatable.
Michael tried to sit up, but a wave of nausea returned him to the flat of his back. The shocking pain was too great for even the stoic archangel to bear. The world around him spun while his body succumb to an uncharacteristic weakness. Never in his long existence had he felt anything like this. It almost felt as if...
The archangel's thoughts were cut short as well as confirmed when a sudden fit of coughing bubbled forth bright red blood from a punctured lung. Spitting the vital fluid onto the ground, the warrior suddenly became fully aware of his precarious state. A black pool of blood surrounded him as it slowly sank into the sand to mingle with the blood of his victims. He had seen a fraction of this amount of blood loss extinguish the light of life from behind human eyes, so he knew his time must surely be near. This was one battle he would not be walking away from. With the poisoning effect of his brother's steel burning through his body, it was clear that Father's Wrath had fallen for the last time. He was bleeding to death. The idea sent a chill through him. While he always acknowledged the possibility of death, he never imagined that it would come at the hands of his beloved siblings — a thought that made the experience all the worse.
It was a peculiar feeling — dying. As long as he didn't move, the pain was tolerable, but the groggy weakness was a foreign experience which Michael couldn't tolerate. He had never allowed himself to be weak, and he refused to suffer that final humiliation. Azrael would not find him sprawled on the ground like some worn out harlot. No. He was a warrior — Father's General. If he was to face Death, it would be on his own terms and with honor.
Fueled by a sense of righteous outrage, he forced himself up onto his knees, through the crippling pain and the haze that threatened to plunge him back into darkness. His body trembled from exertion while the taste of blood and bile filled his mouth. Once upright, he closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before rolling his shoulders to release his dark expansive wings.
With a strangled cry, the archangel pitched forward onto the loose crystalline earth. His right wing draped limply across his body while its mate remained trapped in it's confines. The terrible pain caused Micheal to retch as he drowned in the the waves of nausea crashing over his battered frame.
Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he regained what self control he could. Drawing slow measured breaths, he cautiously tried his left wing again with nearly the same disastrous results. The grinding of rough bone spoke of a multitude of fractures and at least two severe breaks. Gabriel's kick had been more powerful than Michael had given him credit for.
Dispiritedly, the warrior angel stowed his healthy wing and rolled onto his aching back, dreams of the preservation of his pride depleted.
His final words to his siblings played on a loop through his mind.
I'm just insuring the natural order of things, and what's more natural than death?
Michael's own mocking tone cut through him now that he was forced to let nature have her way with him. This shouldn't have even been possible. The Champion of Heaven, Father's Wrath, struck down. Executed for doing nothing more than following His orders. Punished for nothing worse than upholding the Law.
Another spasm rocked his body. The angel's chest constricted before he turned his head to expel more of his rich blood onto the golden sun bleached sand. Breathing hard, he felt exhaustion taking hold, so he closed his eyes and eased himself back into that comforting darkness of his altered state of consciousness.
Hours passed before Michael discovered himself resurfacing into the physical plane, but the nightmare of pain and death still lingered. Suddenly he became aware of a looming presence just outside of his field of vision. By now the sun had done its work and his parched throat added a new pain to his collection. He found it nearly impossible to speak, but after several attempts he heard his voice faintly rattle a single name.
There came no reply.
Ignoring the throbbing ache, he swallowed hard and cleared his throat to help fortify his voice.
"Come to claim your prize, sister?"
A robed figure parted from the landscape and floated closer until the fallen warrior was squinting up into gentle eyes of violet blue.
"No, Michael. Azrael informs me that it is not your time. Her presence here is not needed."
Michael's eyes narrowed further as his brow creased in confusion. "Zadkiel?" he whispered before his breath was broken by a prolonged hoarse cough.
The hood of the robe slipped back to revel a radiant face surrounded by a thick mane of long flaxen hair, nearly the photo-negative of their darker featured, death dealing sister.
The merciful angel's eyes always sparkled with the promise of hope, but as he peered down at Michael they seemed a bit duller. The violet gaze now overflowed with pity — an emotion that sent a surge of anger coursing through the fallen warrior.
"Don't," he croaked. "Don't look at me like that."
Father's favorite son. The melodious voice rang out in the archangel's head while a cool comforting hand brushed the bloody, sweat saturated hair out of his eyes. "Always so quick to obey any command to destroy."
"Father's commands..." Michael's voice faltered before a forced cough loosened the words wedged in his throat. "Are indisputable."
Zadkiel's eyes darkened as he turned away from his fallen brother with a barely audible sigh. He gazed off across the sea of shifting sand that had already begun to bury the victims of Michael's murderous rampage, then spoke with clarity and compassion.
"There is a lesson to be learned from all of this waste. Here is where you have failed, Michael."
"If Gabriel hadn't..."
Zadkiel turned back to his grievously injured sibling and shook his head.
"You failed Him well before Gabriel and Uriel intervened. Father was trying to teach you, but you were too blinded by your blood-lust to hear Him."
Crouching beside Michael, the Archangel of Mercy sighed inwardly as he laid a hand on his brother's shoulder, but the injured soldier flinched away from his tender touch.
"Mik-ha-el, answer one question, but answer from your heart. Do you believe that not a single one of these souls was redeemable? Was the child Gabriel spared so corrupted by sin that the ultimate punishment was justified?"
"They worshiped falsely."
"The sin of a lost soul, not a corrupt one." Zadkiel allowed his gaze to float over the countless sand swept mounds that littered the the otherwise flat field. "I would wager that the number of irredeemable, sin blacked hearts among the dead here are very few."
When he returned his focus to Michael's scraped, blood-splattered face, he found the warrior's eyes glazed with pain but still shining bright with arrogant confidence.
"Michael, by what right...?"
A deluge of adrenalin roared through the broken body, granting the archangel a last surge of defiant strength. With teeth clenched, he sat up, bringing himself within inches of Zadkiel's face — glaring coldly into those soothing pools of violet light.
"I. Am. HIS. Wrath. Father's divine will is what gives me every right to punish the wicked."
"Father's will, first and foremost, is that we should protect and guide them." This time when the angel's hand lighted upon Michael's shoulder, he gently forced him back down on the ground to conserve his brother's remaining energy. When he spoke again, his tone was soft and pacifying. "When lambs stray, the shepherd does not slaughter them. He guides them back home. He knows that they must first be shown the correct paths if they are to follow them. They are unlikely to find their way on their on, Michael. They must be led with patience and understanding. Mistakes will still occur, but each mistake is another opportunity to further their education. "
Zadkiel settled down on the ground beside Michael.
"Some of Father's flock have strayed. Some are mistakenly following the wrong shepherd, but what have you accomplished by killing them? How does that somehow put them back on the path that will lead them to Father."
"The survivors will learn to fear Father's wrath. They will be unwilling to stray. The dead make fine examples for the living."
"You haven't left any survivors. To whom are you setting these examples? Did you do this for us, Michael? If so, then there was no need. We already know our way."
The pale angel's voice took on a sharp edge even though his tone remained calm and low.
"You set out on this campaign in Father's name, but you swiftly became drunk on blood and your own power over the lives you were meant to defend. The pride that you've judged and executed others for having, now finds a home in your heart. Are you strong enough to bear its weight upon your shoulders, brother, or will you buckle and fall as the Son of the Dawn did?"
The bright eyes darkened and hardened as he added, "What punishment have you earned from your prideful state, and by whose hand should it be administered?"
Michael snorted as he faintly flourished a hand to indicate his broken, bloodstained body.
"Obviously, that task has already fallen to my brother."
Zadkiel shook his head.
"Gabriel did nothing more than prevent your error from compounding further. Your punishment has yet to be decided, and may still be avoided if you can allow your heart to led you towards the path Father has sent you to find."
"I know my path," he bitterly declared. "And in case it slipped your notice, I'm dying, Zadkiel. I don't know why I'm being punished, but I believe you're wrong to think that it hasn't already begun. Father has made his decision, and soon I will cease to be." Michael's eyes suddenly cleared as he quickly added, "Unless you help me."
"My help is no longer what you need. I have assisted you to the length that I was allowed. The rest of this journey is up to you."
"Then I am doomed. I tried to be a good son. I followed every order that Father set down. I completed every task without complaint." Thick tears formed in his eyes until they broke free, leaving damp salty tracks over his sun reddened cheeks. "I don't understand what I've done to displease Him. I don't understand why He's abandoned me."
Michael turned his head away from his fellow angel while nearly silent sobs shook his shoulders.
"I imagine these humans shared similar final thoughts before they fell to your blade."
Zadkiel stood and extended his wings, creating a mantel of shade to shelter his wounded companion from the scorching noon day sun.
"Rest, Michael. All is not lost. I feel your redemption close at hand."
In the shadowy reprieve, the warrior archangel did sleep, but he was denied rest by dreams of bloody destruction. He found himself revisited by images of the faces of those whose lives he had cut short — phantoms sent to torture his mind far worse than the pain tortured his body.
Michael tossed weakly in his sleep and groaned while a sheen of sweat coated his skin, further depleting his already dangerously low fluid levels.
There was no reason for these humans to haunt his feverish brain. They had wronged Father — their Creator. They had broken His Laws. They deserved to perish for their crimes. His blade had been nothing more or less than the instrument of divine justice, sent to strike down the wicked. The dead had only themselves to blame.
Michael's brow knitted in a frown as he shrank away from some apparition visible only to him.
"Not my fault. Divine Decree," he muttered, but the mewling infant in her mother's arms didn't care. She had died just the same. Died, before she had even been given a chance to live — before she had been given a chance to sin against her maker.
His unconscious mind rallied against the judgment in the child's eyes. He recalled feeling a pang of guilt at the time, but reasoning had silenced it immediately. He found comfort in labeling the innocent's death as a killing of mercy. With her parents dead, and her village empty, she would have perished regardless. Thirst. Starvation. Exposure. Predation. One or all of those things would have eventually claimed her life, but at least his blade had spared her that suffering. It was, in the end, a kinder death that she met at his hands.
His agitated mind reverberated with the cries of the innocents he had so wrongfully laid to waste.
No, not wrongful. His actions were never wrong. Father had asked him to do this. He wanted it, and His desires are beyond contestation. Father had commanded their destruction, just as He had commanded Michael and his brethen to kneel before the first man. The same as He had demanded vows from his angels, declaring that they would serve as teachers, guardians, and guides to His glorious new creation.
Michael had been the first to kneel at Adam's feet.
Michael had been the first to give his solemn oath of protection.
The faces of the children he had destroyed, cut down before they could enjoy the first golden rays of dawning life, suddenly dominated his vision.
How could he have so readily forsaken his oath? When had Heaven's Champion fallen so low?
Those whom he had so carelessly slaughtered deserved retribution. Surely Father would grant them that final request. The pain of his death was nothing in comparison to the pain he had inflicted on the whole of humanity. His atrocities damned his soul.
With unyielding certainty, Michael knew he would be cast down to share Lucifer's eternal pit, and won't the Morning Star be pleased? He would be welcomed with open arms. No torture could undo the harm he had inflicted upon the world, but the Prince of Hell would undoubtedly put forth his best efforts in assisting Michael towards his endless quest to make amends.
A convulsive cough liberated another gout of blood from the archangel's wheezing chest. Blood and foamy spittle trickled from the corner of his mouth to merge with the consistent tear tracks that cut through the powdery dust coating Michael's exposed skin. With every labored breath, sharp pain crippled him further until he prayed for the release of death.
When a shadow fell across his face he was certain that his sister had finally taken pity on him, but his request to Azrael remained unanswered.
Instead of the expected death blow, the warrior felt a cool dampness wipe the dust from his eyes before vanishing. The loss of comfort was met with a rattling moan, but the sensation returned quickly as it cleaned the blood from his lips.
Even if he was mentally prepared to embrace his death and the terrors awaiting him in the afterlife, his body had other plans. His cracked, flaking lips latched onto the rag like a babe at its mother's breast. The corded muscles of his neck stood out as he put the last of his strength into suckling any moisture he could from the swatch of fabric.
Gibberish assaulted his ears. In some dark recess of his dehydrated and heat addled brain he registered the sound as spoken language, but he didn't understand it. He knew the unique dialects and cadences of every tribe that had ever existed, but he couldn't make sense of the short, repeated utterance.
The rag popped free from his lips earning a grunt of complaint along with a dull, faint whine. The voice spoke again. The same simple, but irritatingly undecipherable word. Michael still didn't understand, nor did he have the strength to communicate his failing. Frustration grew in the man as the voice now barked the word like an order.
He let his head fall away from the source of the sound, but a hand slapped his cheek then forcing his face towards the sky. He knew the direction because the bright sunlight shone through his closed eyelids. In his mind, he could see the clear blue sky with billowing white clouds gathering on the horizon. Birds gliding peacefully along the updrafts, enjoying a freedom he would never know again. If only he could join them one last time.
He pictured himself flapping lazily along the leading edge of the cloud bank. Gliding silently with the breeze in his face. He wondered idly if the moisture within the billowy soft mounds could slack his raging thirst. How easy would it be to just drift through them...
The cloud's fluffy coating burst as he drew near, dripping large drops of sparkling dew over his shriveled lips. Michael laughed as his tongue flicked out to catch the pure falling rain.
The angel sputtered and choked as his body tried to recall the mechanics of swallowing while it inhaled the cool soothing water as quickly as possible.
The boy pulled the wine skin away when he noticed the injured man's expression change. The stranger's brow knitted as he began to swallow hard. The youth had seen it before. When the body's need was at its greatest it can only accept small amounts of food or water. In his rush to help, he had made the man sicker. The young shepherd had just enough time to help Michael roll onto his side before the water's flow reversed. The life sustaining liquid returned to the dry earth in a great cleansing flood before the archangel collapsed back into delirium and darkness.
Michael had no sense of the passing of time, but the healing progress of his wounds spoke of days spent lost among the phantoms of his mind. He's strength was returning too slowly for his liking, but it was returning just the same thanks to an unlikely intervention.
When he first opened his eyes, he was surprised to find his view of the sky blocked by a low pitched shelter of stretched goat hide. More surprisingly was the determined young face looming over him — coating his wounds with a thick, healing salve.
The archangel's breath hitched while his heart rate rapidly increased to the speed of a bolting desert hare. What was this? His flawless memory easily recalled the youth's countenance. It had continued to haunt him in the darkness along with all of the other children he had wronged. The child's father had fallen to his blade and, had it not been for Gabriel's impressive timing, the boy would have followed his father in death.
Michael silently watched in awe as the child carefully cleansed and tended to the injuries of the creature who had murdered his family and destroyed his life. Why would he do such a thing? It wasn't sensible. By right, the boy should have left him to die under the searing sun — a fitting punishment for his actions. The shepherd should want him dead, and yet here he was, diligently working to save the life of his enemy.
When the lad removed the poultice covering a deep slash along Michael's thigh, the archangel grunted with pain. This response alarmed the child, causing him to glance quickly at the injured man's face, meeting those eyes for the first time since he had cowered to his flashing sword.
Michael tried to speak in the hopes of alleviating the boy's fear, but his words came out as an nonsensical croak. His body was too weak. The effect alone sapped what little energy he had managed to reclaim. Closing his eyes in annoyance, he swallowed to clear his throat, but before he could speak again a small, thin hand touched his forearm. When the archangel opened his eyes, the child shook his head. He knew the man needed to conserve his strength, and Michael would quickly learn that the boy didn't require any reassurance from him.
"Bkr'yt. Too soon." The youth shook his head again. "Dmykwt'. Dmykwt'. You sleep to heal."
The warrior angel felt as if he had already slept too long, but he was too weak to argue. With a faint smile, he nodded to show his understanding before closing his eyes and settling back to allow the youth complete his work.
Some time later, Michael awoke to the aroma of cooking. The boy perched near his shoulder with a steaming bowl in hand.
"Soup." The lad spoke in a hushed tone as he leveled a spoonful of broth at the angel's lips.
Michael instinctively drew back with caution, a scowl on his face.
"It's good," the youth encouraged. "Mama's recipe. She would make it whenever I took ill. It helps."
A wave of some previously un-experienced emotion crashed over the archangel, tying his stomach in knots. He found that he couldn't even bear the thought of food, but the insistent child eventually won out. Thin warm nourishment filled the pit that he had tried to ignore and coated his damaged throat. Michael's unlikely caretaker patiently continued to feed him, faltering only when the man choked — his shocked body attempting to refuse the life sustaining meal.
As the child continued to coax food into him, Michael could do no more than accept and stare in wonder. A youth, an orphan, with barely enough provisions to keep himself alive, was willing to share and potentially suffer for a stranger. Perplexity shone in the warrior's eyes before he turned his head from the source of his confusion.
The word wasn't even a whisper, but the shepherd seem instinctively to know what the husky rattle meant and quietly slipped out of the tent, leaving the angel alone in the darkness with his thoughts.
Michael closed his eyes to welcome the company of healing sleep, but his troubled mind kept it at bay. How could he, The Sword of Heaven, suddenly find himself beholden to a human? The archangel gritted his teeth as he rolled onto his side.
The only kindness this boy should have offered was a swift death by his own sword. Instead he was being kept like some stray goat added to the herd. It was disgraceful. The situation angered him, but it made him feel something else as well, a sensation that made him even more uncomfortable. For the first time in his existence, the archangel found himself disturbed by a feeling of true, unremitting remorse.
Had Gabriel and Uri had been right? Had he taken his orders too far?
Swallowing hard, he replayed scenes of destruction in his mind.
He had never been one to show mercy. He slaughtered the miserable humans who had strayed from the path Father laid out for them. Village after village had fallen before his righteous wrath. His heart held no compassion for the sinner. That was a task better left to Zadkiel, not him. He showed no clemency when he landed in the middle of the child's settlement, blades at the ready, already cleaving limbs from humans unfortunate enough to be standing too near. They had been too stunned to even run, not that they would have found an escape from Father's judgment. All had been destined to die. He gave no quarter to women or children. No staying of his hand had been granted to the elderly or pious. All had fallen to sate his lust for blood and mayhem. He was a hardened soldier. Regret was a luxury he couldn't afford, and yet it painfully troubled him now.
How could he continue his work with this new weight on his heart? Why was this happening to him?
Releasing a heavy sigh, the archangel closed his eyes and prayed for guidance as he drifted off to the soothing sounds of the shepherd boy singing.
After several more days of the youth's careful ministrations, Michael felt his power surging through him once again. His wounds had closed, and the weakness that had held him prisoner was gone.
Now that he was physically able to leave the tent, the angel decided to accompany the child as he tended his goats. Silently shadowing the procession, he studied the youth closely for some sign of iniquity in his character, but found none. The boy's heart was pure; his soul untainted.
Michael's breath caught as a pain pierced his chest. Glancing up into the cloudless sky, he allowed his mind to wander while the gravity of what he had nearly done fully took hold.
He would have killed this innocent child, and in the process, himself.
His sight shifted to the still visible but fading scar etched along his thigh by his brother's sword. How the lad's salve had countered the poisoning effects of the empyrean steel, he couldn't say. Apparently it was a miracle.
The archangel's bright blue eyes suddenly snapped towards the sky.
"No, not a miracle. A lesson," he muttered. "Is this what you wanted me to learn? You sent Zadkiel, but I couldn't hear his message." Michael gave his head a faint shake as he lowered it in a bow. "Wouldn't hear it."
The sound of bawling caused him to glance up in time to see the shepherd boy quickly and carefully freeing the trapped hoof of a small kid while the animal's mother circled anxiously. When the hoof popped free from the rocky snare, the child looked up and met the angel's eyes. Smiling softly, he waved before turning away to catch up with his fleeing flock.
"I hear you, Father, but I still don't understand."
Parting from the youth, Michael walked to the edge of a rocky outcropping and unfurled his wings to the warmth of the sun. His muscles were still a bit too weak for extended flight, but the shattered bones had completely mended. Stretching his ebony feathered appendages to their fullest, the archangel experimentally flapped them in slow, steady strokes. Each pulse of muscle movement made him feel more alive. Closing his eyes, he turned his face towards the sun and flapped harder, raising eddies of dust all around him.
Hearty musical laughter erupted from the angelic soldier and echoed off of the distant cliffs. He was alive! Despite his siblings' best efforts, he had cheated Azrael and gained a new lease on this life, but what he was meant to do with this second chance remained to be seen.
The bright tinkling of bells caught his attention. The shepherd had finished gathering his stock and was herding them towards camp. Soon he would round the bend and see Michael in all of his fierce glory. The thought caused the archangel to clench his teeth. Quickly, but reluctantly, Michael retracted his great wings and waited patiently for the lad's arrival.
With the bleating beasts herded by, the angel fell in step with his young healer, but his mind was elsewhere. He thought about the boy's potential and found himself bothered with regret that he could have deprived the world of the youth's promising future. The child had much so much to give . He could see that now. It saddened him to think of the boy's life so carelessly snuffed out without reason. His musings were cut short when a small hand slipped into his.
The soldier's brow creased as he glanced down at the youth, confusion scrawled across his features. He expected the child to keep a comfortable distance. Instead the youth bravely met the angel's serious eyes with a sad smile. Michael's heart clenched at the knowing look expressed in those large dark eyes. The child had realized that this would be their last night together. It was time for him to move on and leave the boy behind — a boy without a friend in the world.
The warrior angel returned the smile with a half grin of his own, before giving the shepherd's hand a squeeze of reassurance. There wasn't much that he could offer the boy, but he would watch over him and keep him from harm. Call it penitence for the pain he had caused, but Michael would find a way to see to it that the child survived and lived a decent life.
Stretched out beside the fire, beneath the stars, Michael continued to silently contemplate his little human savior. The child couldn't have known a decade of life, but his mannerisms were those of one who was self-aware and who knew his place in the world. The soldier decided that this was a quality of necessity rather than design. The youth had nothing left apart from his goats. He had been forced to grow up in an instant if he had wanted to survive. The indomitable spirit that Father had bestowed upon man was a curiously remarkable thing.
The fire reflected in his clear blue eyes while he gazed at the shepherd boy with an expression of burning wonderment.
Feeling the angel's eyes transfixed on him, the child glanced up from his evening task — the fashioning of a sling. Cocking his head to the side, the child invited Michael's question.
"Do you recognize me?" the archangel inquired in the child's native tongue.
The boy paused for a moment before nodding.
"Did you know me when you found me?"
There was no hesitation this time as the boy nodded again.
Michael's eyes burned with fascination and confusion. Shifting his gaze to his swords, sheathed in their scabbards and hanging by his belt over a low tree branch, he breathed a quiet sigh.
So the youth knew him. He knew what he was capable of, and yet showed no fear. How was that even possible? How could he know that Michael wouldn't kill him where he sat now that he was fit and healthy?
Looking back at the boy, the soldier swallowed hard, clearing the wood smoke and dust from his throat, before softly asking the question that had been plaguing him since he first woke in the tent.
"Why did you save my life?"
The child's brow creased as he studied the archangel with bewilderment.
"Because it was the right thing to do," he simply replied before dismissively returning to is leather crafting.
Michael watched him intently for a period of time, but the lad never looked up again.
When morning came, the angel was gone.
It was with a heavy heart that the young shepherd tended to his flock. The silent, intimidating man had been poor company, but at least he had been someone to sit and share a meal with. He had given the boy the impression that he wasn't the last being alive in all the world. With his departure, that emptiness had returned.
Heaving a soft sigh, the youth prodded his goats towards a meager water hole, and that's when he saw it. The sun's bountiful rays caused something to glitter not far from where he stood. Quickly, the child scrambled to investigate then gasped at the sight. There, upon the shifting sand, lay the mighty angel's blood stained swords, broken and discarded.
Gingerly, he reached out a hand to touch the hilt, but suddenly froze as a shadow fell over him. The swoosh of wings followed by a thud alerted him to the fact that he wasn't really alone. Yanking his hand back, he turned and came face to face with the formidable archangel. Even after having spent time caring for the man, seeing him standing there, imposing, with wings outstretched, caused the youth to shiver.
Michael tipped his head to the side to glance beyond the child to the remnants of his shattered blades.
"I found them this way," the shepherd offered before the angel shifted his focus.
"I know. I left them for you to find."
The child remained silent as he warily watched the angel.
"Pick it up." Michael's soft voice carried the threat of distant thunder, making the boy even more uneasy.
"It's alright, child," he reassured. "Take up the sword."
Visibly shaking, the youth grasped the hilt of the nearest blade and lifted it from it's sandy bed. Immediately the shimmering metal began to vibrate and hum. The sweetest music the boy had ever heard rang out from the angel's sword as he held it aloft and smiled. The shepherd was overcome with a sense of peace while the beautiful hymn filled the air. He was vaguely aware of the same resonance emanating from shards left behind on the ground, but his focus was transfixed on the glorious shining blade that turned warm in his hand.
The celestial music continued, but the child noticed a change in the weapon. First to the broken bits on the ground, and then to the sword in his hand. As the vibrations grew stronger, the hardened steel began to disintegrate into a fine, silky silvery powder. The child held onto the heavy hilt as long as he could, but the metallic dust leaked through his fingers and was swiftly lost to the wind as the music slowly faded.
Rubbing the traces of powder lingering on his fingers, the shepherd looked up at the angel and was graced by a warm smile.
"It is transformed," Michael corrected as he tipped his head towards the ground at the youth's feet. "That is for you."
The boy followed the angel's gaze and noticed a small metal disc inscribed with odd markings. Picking it up, he noted that it retained a warmth which gave him a sense of peace and protection.
"That is my sigil, which I give as a talisman to you — a token of my gratitude. Keep it safe and pass it along your family line. Know that you and your kin will always be under my protection. Know that you do not walk alone. While you may never see me, I will always watch over you."
With that parting promise, the archangel sprang into the air and, within seconds, soared beyond the clouds — leaving behind the mortal child who had rescued him from himself and taught him the lesson of mercy.