Lore of the Angels Ch. 11byAlecrire©
Once again, thank you to my editor Jason Moore for his help with this chapter. I've certainly learnt much from his guidance and advice. For my readers, thank you so much for all the comments and emails. I can't tell you how much it means to me! Enjoy this next installment!
Zilarrezko remained in place; wings still in their natural grey condition. He made no attempt to block Marcus's advances –effortless jabs urging him to retaliate.
"Archangel..." he pleaded. "You're leaving yourself wide open."
"You're not giving me your best shot Marcus."
Marcus hesitated for a fraction of a second but then he moved; aiming his primary feather blades at his Cardinal's chest.
The tips were barely an inch from the Archangel when Marcus felt an excruciating burning sensation on his wing.
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
Marcus turned at the sound of Anthony's voice –the voice of reason. Instead of fear, his face showed pure relief at the sight of his senior Ordinal. Anthony however was looking murderous. His hands –flaming hot –gripped around Marcus's neck; the heat melting the Metal armor.
Then he flung him aside.
"Zilarrezko?" The concern in his voice went beyond just the loyalty of an Ordinal to his Cardinal.
"I'm fine Anthony... don't attack Marcus anymore. He's simply doing what I asked him."
The embers in his eyes dimmed slightly as he turned to Marcus. "Get Julia now."
Anthony's eyes were no longer orbs of fire but Marcus could still feel the intensity of his stare burning through his armor. He left the room without protest.
"Now tell me what's going on."
Zilarrezko raised an eyebrow questioningly. The Ordinal hardly raised his voice and yet he was being uncharacteristically demanding. It wasn't like Anthony to lose control over his temper like this; every inch of him flaring an intense crimson.
"I'm sorry that you're angry at me..." he placated, using a tone that he hadn't used since he was a child. "Marcus and I found an inverted feather embedded in our wing arch..."
Zilarrezko recapitulated the scene with Gaia and Marcus. Despite the calm explanation, every sentenced seemed to fuel Anthony's anger even more for the crimson was turning propane-torch blue –a temperature so hot that Zilarrezko felt like a roast over a bonfire.
The sudden feminine shriek extinguished the flame immediately.
"Move away from him!" Anthony stepped back until Julia was satisfied with his distance from Zilarrezko. "Marcus, stay here and wait for us to get back."
With her hand clamped over his wrist, she ushered him out. If the contact had burnt her palm, she made no show of it –or she was too angry to notice.
Away from the prying eyes and ears of the Metal Angels, Julia crossed her arms around her chest and looked at Anthony questioningly.
"I've had a long day Julia... I haven't had sleep or rest and I've flown across the Atlantic twice in twenty four hours."
"It doesn't excuse you from almost frying your Cardinal."
"He was being irrational!"
"And you weren't?"
Anthony looked like he was about to argue with her but the unleashing of that much firepower had depleted his energies. "He wants to give his wings to Gaia in exchange for her Earth Angels from the three main continents."
Julia kept quiet as she thought it through. "And Marcus agreed to become Archangel?"
"He tried to fight Zilarrezko."
Julia gave a resigned smile as she looked up into the tired eyes of the Fire Ordinal. "They're both much younger than us... so you should keep your temper in check." It was a gentle reminder but her words soothed the anger within him. "Come, we should probably have that meeting now that we've both calmed down."
The moment they stepped into the office, Julia noticed the colorful addition to their meeting.
"Vlinder." Her words were a bare whisper. The fact that Anthony had brought along Noor's Light Ordinal meant that the situation was getting serious.
That was why Zilarrezko was at full attention; wings coated once more in its usual platinum. The defeated look in his eyes were gone; replaced with serious focus on Anthony and Vlinder.
The iridescent-winged Ordinal managed a smile at his former cadre –the unspoken not lost on Anthony.
"As I was telling the Cardinal, we've already mobilized our land-based air wing and air-defense artillery. Archangel Noor has sanctioned the use of our naval resources and I'm here to see how I can assist," said Vlinder, passing the Archangel a folder with the general composition of their fleet.
Anthony nodded; his voice crisp as he concurred, "We will need to deploy our fleet to Cape Verde in order for Ehren's air squadron to embark aboard our aircraft carriers. He's providing us with a dozen fighter jets to complement our naval air force." Turning to Julia, his tone softened a notch, "How many squadrons are ready to be mobilized?"
"Our carrier air wing has not been touched from the last war so we have four squadrons of strike fighters including the surveillance and aerial refueling squadron. They're all capable of air-to-air and air-to-surface combat."
"What's our undersea attack force's position?" asked the Archangel.
Anthony passed a folder to Zilarrezko. "At the moment, Archangel Noor has limited intel on the number of enemy submarines. But with Yuki's current strike group, I am estimating at least fifty nuclear-powered fast attack submarines. We have as many submarines; fifteen of which are equipped with nuclear-guided missiles."
Zilarrezko nodded his approval and turned to Vlinder, "Keep your naval task force to protect the mainland. Noor is generous enough to let us engage so close to her territory."
"I will relay the message, Cardinal. We do not know for sure if she plans to attack our lands but we are prepared. Even without an air strike, her surface combatants are equipped to attack at a distance."
"Then it's best we take out all of her fire power. We must remember that the sea is her playground and we are playing a game according to her rules."
"Julia, can you take Vlinder out to the main naval base? Start loading all the necessary supplies and let me know the earliest possible time for embarkation." The Archangel was addressing her but his eyes were focused on Anthony.
Julia was confused. She wasn't supposed to be in charge of the maritime task force and her knowledge of the naval warfare was limited.
"I'll relieve you in a few hours Julia... just familiarize Vlinder with the chain of command," said Anthony.
When the Light Angels left, Anthony crossed his arms over his chest and sent the two Metal Angels in front of him, an owlish glare from beneath a heavy, low-hanging brow.
The atmosphere in the room changed dramatically. It was akin to being called to the principal's office for misbehavior.
"I am going ahead with my decision." There was defiance in every syllable.
Anthony's expression remained unchanged.
"The Earth Angel uprising would cause a momentary panic for her."
A grunt of disapproval.
Marcus was getting nervous. He knew he had to say something to dissipate the tension between them. "Cardinal... isn't there any other way?"
The reply was a stare of pure molten iron –liquid heat like that of erupting lava.
Between his Archangel's menace and the rising temperature of the room, Marcus felt excruciatingly stifled in his armor. It was like a nuclear stalemate...
Until Anthony blinked –a sign of concession not defeat.
"Talk to Aria first."
"She's going to say no.
"She deserves to know."
The Archangel narrowed his eyes stubbornly. "Marcus, leave us." His hesitation earned him another heated glare. "Now."
Zilarrezko waited until his Ordinal had left the office before speaking. "You do not speak to me like that. I am your Cardinal."
"Right this moment, you are not my Cardinal and I am not your Ordinal. I am the Angel who raised you and you will not make any life changing decision without consulting me!"
"I am not a child anymore Anthony. You do not have rights to decide how I should live my life... or the remainder of it."
The two Angels stared at each other; fists clenched tight ready to throw a punch.
"I am not Marcus, Zilarrezko... and I will not hesitate to land a blow."
Zilarrezko was fuming. He'd never expected this from Anthony!
Thin scalpels criss-crossing aimed to shatter Anthony's wings but the Fire Ordinal was expecting that. The solid lines of his feathers blurred into flames melting the outer surfaces of Zilarrezko's blades even as it desperately sliced through the blaze.
Giving a loud roar, the Archangel turned; his wings spinning like a wood cutter as he aimed for flesh this time.
If Anthony hadn't been quicker, he would have been sliced in half –as was the fate of the mahogany desk.
"I am giving my wings to Gaia and there is nothing you can do to stop me." Zilarrezko wasn't pulling back his attacks; his mind focused solely on landing a blow.
But the older Angel understood the source of that rage –wrongfully directed at him –nonetheless he allowed it to fester; using himself as a worthy opponent to channel the fury.
He evaded most attacks; landing some of his own but with careful, calculated embers that meant only to singe and not liquefy. In contrast, Zilarrezko did not hold back. The already melted edges of his wing blades were slapped mercilessly onto Anthony –the searing liquid forming a solid cast over skin –but the Ordinal didn't wince even once.
Instead, he enclosed himself within a fire whirl, with the intention of stopping Zilarrezko's onslaught. The firestorm was already splintering the glass windows and melting the grill frames supporting the doors. It would be suicidal for Zilarrezko to even try and enter the furnace.
But he did.
Anthony doused the flames a second too late –Zilarrezko was dripping in molten Metal even as his hand clamped around Anthony's throat. He only needed to squeeze and the Angel's wind passages would have ruptured.
But he didn't.
Anthony refused to let Marcus tend to him despite the multiple Metal wounds he sustained. He might be immortal but he could still bleed and Zilarrezko had every intention of paring him up. Anthony had cuts that were almost close to his bone.
Not particularly attractive.
Especially not in the company of Light Angels.
"Oh my god... Anthony!" Julia left her position at one of the control panels and rushed over to help him through the door. It had been excruciatingly painful to fly down to their naval base but he'd forced himself to ignore the pain.
"I'm here and I'm fine," he said stiffly, waving away the Angels and Valkyries who tried to offer him help. He must have looked really torn up if his subordinates still dared to come close despite his chilling stare.
However, Julia wasn't a subordinate and the harsh warning had no effect on her. Instead, she was barking orders at paramedics and Metal Angels for assistance. She had seen the wounds and knew that majority of them needed stitching.
"No arguments," she warned as she forced him into a conference room of the command centre.
Anthony didn't make a single sound even as the Metal Angels did their best to take away Zilarrezko's damage. They were gentle but Anthony felt like they were prying melted Metal off with a crowbar. He didn't even want to look at the exposed flesh. It was hard enough trying not to shout and curse in agony.
Then there were the paramedics –stitching him up without anesthesia, as per his request, and dabbing this and that all over his body until Julia was satisfied.
"I look like King Tut."
"You're better looking." She moved forward and turned his face sideways to study the slowly healing wounds. "Well, give or take a few thousand years..."
Anthony chose to ignore her joke. "What is the estimated time of disembarkation?"
She was still examining his wounds when she replied, "Supplies are being loaded as we speak and the commanders have been briefed regarding the joint mission with Ehren's squadron at Cape Verde. We hope to set off by twenty hundred hours if possible, subject to the Archangel's approval."
"Can you command this fleet Julia?"
His question startled her. "I thought you came here to relieve me?"
"Yes I did. But there's going to be a change of power soon and Marcus is too inexperienced to hold the mainland on his own."
"The Cardinal's going with his decision?"
"Yes... after he tells Aria."
"She's going to say no, obviously."
"That'd buy us more time. The longer Zilarrezko stays as Archangel, the more stable our command system will be. Right now, there are only three Ordinals in service and if Marcus is forced into..."
"Wait... did you say three? What happened to Lucian?"
"His loyalties are to another Cardinal now..."
Julia groaned. "I don't know whom I should be angrier with –the Archangel for letting Lucian go at such a critical time or Lucian for choosing this moment to change his allegiance."
"That doesn't matter Julia. You haven't answered my question."
The Light Ordinal crossed her arms and gave him an annoyed look. "You know I hate enclosed spaces. I'd feel trapped and claustrophobic..." When he remained silent, she let out a sigh. "Fine, yes I can command the fleet."
"I think you'd be a better choice to work with Noor's Ordinals. You have a certain... charm that Light Angels are attracted to."
She quirked an eyebrow. Was that sarcasm she heard?
"You owe me one for this."
Anthony blinked back in surprise. Ordinals were not allowed to keep score when it came to their duties.
"When this is all over, I want you to take me out."
Anthony went completely still; brows furrowed in confusion. "I don't think I could do that..." He shook his head and stammered, "I mean... have you thought this through?"
"Of course I have! Are you saying that kiss meant nothing? You don't just kiss a woman and then go all business only with her!"
Now Anthony was really baffled. "That doesn't warrant a death wish!"
Julia frowned at his ridiculous reply and then she began to laugh. She should have expected this from him. "Seriously Anthony... when was the last time you went on a date?"
"Right. A very long time."
He gave her a rebellious look. "It wasn't that long ago!"
"During the Exposition Universelle?" he gave her a meek smile. Surely 1889 wasn't that far back was it?
Julia didn't stop laughing. "Forget the twenty-first century; have you even gone out on a date in the twentieth century?"
He growled at her.
"I rest my case. Have a good rest," she planted a kiss on his cheek and left the conference room.
Zilarrezko practically ran to the shower; the cold water pouring over his blackened wings with soothing relief. Damn that Anthony! Did he have to singe him to such chafing points?
It would take at least a day to recast the Metal blades on his wings –which meant that he'd have to stay in his vulnerable feathered form for the next few hours. Zilarrezko didn't like that one bit.
Especially not when he intended to persuade –okay, intimidate –Aria into letting him attain mortality for her. She should understand what a big sacrifice it was... and not argue with him about it.
Since he had a feeling she wouldn't be returning to his chambers willingly tonight; he'd have to find her. That meant putting on decent clothing since he was sure she'd be with the children. It wasn't usual for him to have young children crawling all over him and skin contact was still something he wasn't used to –not in the affectionate kind of way the children, especially Leiha, had for him.
But they would provide the distraction he needed to get Aria to agree to his plans.
He tried looking for her but only found the children in the small library he had on the ninety-eighth floor. Lucian must have brought them there. However neither the Light Angel nor Aria was anywhere in sight.
That was the first question on his mind, except that the twins had spotted him. Abandoning her book, Leiha came running; followed by the wary, but curious Troy.
"Hello!" she chimed, looking up at him. "Why aren't your feathers shiny today?"
"Oh, I had an accident..." he stopped. Just how do you explain these things to kids?
"You mean like a car crash?" she was on tip toe, trying to examine his wings. "You don't look so good. I watch them on TV all the time and they go Boom! And everything explodes and there's blood and then you've got to call the ambulance. Did you call an ambulance?"
"Err... it's not that type of accident Leiha," he replied, stepping away slightly. He had no doubt that she'd launch herself at him and his burns would sting even more. "Where's Aria?"
The cheery face turned sour. "She says to tell you that she's not talking to you like ever!"
"Uh huh," she nodded and turned to Troy who moved his head in agreement. "You'd better pray she don't send you to your room."
From far the other two siblings giggled. Angelo got up from his cross legged position and walked towards the Archangel. Picking up his sister, he angled his head towards an empty sofa. "She's over there," he whispered. "And trust me; you do not want to get sent to your room by my sister when she's angry."
"I'll take that under advisement."
Zilarrezko walked over to the empty sofa and sat on the one next to it. He was about to say something when he noticed the children watching him expectantly.
"I know why you're angry..." he said, ignoring the quartet. They were probably curious to know what he wanted to say to their sister. "But I have something important I need to talk to you about..." It wasn't surprising that she remained silent so he continued, "We shouldn't talk here in front of the children."
The children were still watching him so he kept quiet, waiting for Aria to cast her Illusion aside or say something. Zilarrezko was not one to have much patience but he was trying his best when it came to her.
So they sat in silence for a whole minute until the library door opened. Lucian's laughter was the first thing he heard before the lavender Angel walked in –
With his Cardinal right behind him; a smile on her face.
Zilarrezko squinted his eyes at the children who were overcome with laughter; holding their stomachs from the force of their giggles.
"What is so funny... oh!" The smile vanished and was immediately replaced by a suspicious look. "Can I help you with something?"
He didn't like that tone in her voice at all. Forgetting that Lucian was no longer under his service, he turned to the Light Angel. "Stay here!" Then he moved forward, intending to grab Aria's wrist when Lucian spread his wings out to shield her.
Zilarrezko didn't bother to waste words.
"It's okay Lucian," said Aria, coming into view. She had felt the first pin pricks of tension and knew she had to intervene. Her hand smoothed over Lucian's wing tips as a gentle warning. "Just keep an eye on the children. I'll be back."
The lavender wings snapped shut.
"No shouting until we're outside," she warned sotto voce as they exited the library.
Their strained truce didn't last long.
They barely made it out of the elevator on his private floor when he lifted and threw her over his shoulder. The sudden contact was like sandpaper over his burnt skin.
But he had to endure it as he deliberately avoided entering via his office –ground zero at the moment –and took a longer route to get to his room. Trying not to wince, he settled her gently on the bed.
Aria immediately scrambled to a sitting position; arms crossed over her chest and chin tilted up in an arrogant stance. Zilarrezko knew then that he was way too deep into her if he still thought she looked adorable and sexy when angry.