"ENOUGH."

Malthael parried Lilly's leading blow, skillfully twisting and swinging his left shotel so that Breithiúnas was thrown forcefully aside and down with a loud ring of metal sliding against metal, embedding the fiery blade into the floor. Hisao's follow-up was dismissed just as dexterously, Malthael turning slightly to the side so that Hisao missed his wild punch: he then lightly tapped Hisao on the back with his elbow as his assailant passed him, sending Hisao to the ground with a look of total surprise on his face.

Despite the two of them being wide-open to attack, Malthael responded to the situation by calmly gathering his shotels to his chest again and stepping away from them. He turned and spoke, his cold and penetrating voice piercing one's being like a chilling winter wind. "IT IS NOT MY INTENTION TO KILL EITHER OF YOU. I NEED YOU BOTH ALIVE FOR WHAT IS TO COME."

Hisao coughed as he picked himself up. "Oh yeah? How do we know you aren't just saying that because you can't finish us?"

Malthael's hood turned towards Hisao. In answer his left wing curled towards Hisao, its bone-like trails once more taking the shape of a hand, its long, whispy fingers reaching towards him. Lilly gasped, realising what was happening: she launched a vicious stab at Malthael's chest aiming for a chink in his armour, but again the Archangel turned aside her blade with impeccable timing and precision, not even looking at her.

Ghostly lines sublimed from Hisao's skin as though his body was smoking without heat or fire. He felt the very breath being stolen from him, a numb coldness taking hold of his extremities, slowly moving inwards towards his heart, the implacable onmarch of death-

And then, Malthael stopped. It was difficult for Hisao to tell for certain as he dropped to his hands and knees, coughing and gasping for air, but it seemed as though Malthael had released him, not due to his own will, but because he had encountered something he had not expected.

"YOUR BRAVADO IS AS EMPTY AS YOUR SOUL." Malthael perfunctorily holstered his shotels at his waist and turned to Lilly. It seemed as though hostilities had ceased, for now. "LILLY SATOU, JUSTICE-IN-TRAINING: NO DOUBT WHEN THIS IS DONE YOU WILL INFORM YOUR MASTERS OF MY PRESENCE."

Lilly glowered at him. "I will."

"GOOD. I HAVE LONG AWAITED THE CHANCE TO REPAY THEM THEIR MANY KINDNESSES. AS FOR YOU..." Malthael turned back to Hisao, the empty hood staring at him fixedly. "I DO NOT JOKE. MARK WHAT I SAID: I WILL CHASE YOU, I WILL HAUNT YOU, I WILL HOUND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH TO MAKE SURE THAT THE WORST DOES NOT HAPPEN. IF I MUST RESURRECT YOU A THOUSAND TIMES, EVERY BONE IN YOUR BODY BROKEN, EVERY MUSCLE TORN, EVERY NERVE SCREAMING FOR THE SWEET RELEASE OF DEATH – SO BE IT. YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO DIE UNTIL YOUR PURPOSE IS FULFILLED."

Malthael took a few steps away, turning his back on them. He looked over his shoulder as though adding a last thought. "LEARN TO FIGHT BETTER THAN YOU DID JUST NOW. YOU SPENT MORE TIME ON YOUR BACK THAN YOU WILL IN YOUR GRAVE." And with that joke that was not a joke, Malthael leapt into the air and sped off, leaving a ghostly trail behind him. The building they'd just half-destroyed rebuilt itself, all the bricks flying back into place, the dust reforming into cement which pasted itself in place and then redried instantly, splintered and dented furniture reassuming its original shape in a bizarre display of real-life reversed footage.

Hisao looked across at Lilly whose sword had returned to being a cane, her wings also no longer in evidence. "Well... it was nice of him to reconstruct the building, at least."

Lilly frowned reprovingly at Hisao. "That was me."

"Being the Angel of Justice gives you super contracting powers?"

Lilly raised her cane and, with great pomp and ceremony, brought it down gently on Hisao's head, almost as though she was knighting him. "No. It was simply a bit of magic to repair the building to its intended state."

"Then would you mind dropping by my room later? I'd appreciate it if you could work some of your magic there too." Hisao paused, realising what he'd just said.

Lilly coughed demurely into a hand, smiling and faintly blushing.

"Please forget I said that."

"As you wish. Come: let us withdraw to the tea room and discuss what happened here."

"All right, just, uh... let me get changed first. How are you still so clean after a fight like that?"

"Angelic power, I suppose...?"


"Is it safe to assume that the real Nurse isn't coming back?" asked Hisao, once they each had a gently steaming cup of Assam in front of them.

"Yes," said Lilly, laying down her cup so softly that it barely chinked against the saucer. "I would guess that Malthael took his soul and then used it to assume his appearance and manner. He has total access to the Nurse's memories: he can create an absolutely flawless disguise."

"He certainly had me fooled, although that doesn't seem to take much," commented Hisao, a touch sourly. "So we're going to have to just let that ghostly son of a bitch watch us from a distance, planning whatever he's planning?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Lilly sighed. "He has demonstrated that we cannot defeat him, even with our combined power. As he anticipated, I will send word to the High Heavens that he is here. They may send help, or then again they may not. They don't have the best track record of reacting to threats in the human world."

This was where things got tricky. Hisao knew the history, of course, having spent his time in the Burning Hells, but he wasn't sure whether he could reveal that fact to Lilly.

"So, uh... aren't you curious to know how I was able to fight him?"

Lilly remained quiet for quite some time. When she spoke, she opened her eyes and looked directly at Hisao: for a moment he swore that she could see, the shock sending a shiver down his spine. "I knew from the moment I first saw you – before we met – that you are a champion of the Lord of Terror." Although she hadn't spoken his actual name there was still a tremble of power in her words: it seemed as though the sun itself darkened, but the moment soon passed. "When I look upon the world with my new eyes, I can see the truth of anything I look at – at least, so I thought." Lilly looked troubled. "When I tried to peek into your soul, I... couldn't. I don't know why."

Hisao frowned in recollection. "Malthael said that my soul was empty."

"Yes, but that can't possibly be true. An empty soul wouldn't be able to function: the body it resides in would be indistinguishable from a lifeless husk. It seemed more to me as though your soul was... clouded. I know the difference between not being able to see and there simply being nothing to see and this was neither of those. I just couldn't make heads or tails of your true nature."

"Knowing this, you choose to confide in me?"

Again, Lilly paused to consider. Her answer was measured and deliberate. "The war between Heaven and Hell has been waged ever since the beginning of creation, long before humans even existed. However, even though angels and demons are supposed to be absolute opposites, it was the union of an angel and a demon that created this world."

"And which eventually led to the demoness being trapped in the Void and the angel being tortured in Hell for all eternity," Hisao pointed out.

Lilly nodded. "This is true. It may be that I will also pay for my mistakes. However, I cannot bring myself to believe that anyone is purely evil, or for that matter purely good: the potential for both lies within each of us and it is our choice which path we walk." Lilly smiled sadly. "I have to believe that even the damned can be redeemed. I wouldn't be able to go on, otherwise."

Lilly extended an arm, placing her hand on the table between them. Hisao recognised the gesture and did the same, placing his on hers. Gratefully, Lilly took hold of Hisao's hand.

"It matters not to me who you were or where you came from, only what you do in this moment; how you choose to define yourself in the future."

Lilly intertwined her fingers with Hisao's.

"I've placed my faith in you, Hisao. Many people believe in angels. Only a blessed few have an angel believe in them."