“How many dead?”
“A couple dozen or so, General.”
General Adriel looked up from the war map. “A couple dozen or so?”
The corporal shifted nervously. Young, wingless, golden mantle, herald class. “Yes, General.”
“I didn’t think we were talking about eggs, Corporal.”
“And we weren’t talking about loaves of bread, no?”
“No, Gen — “
“We were talking about people.”
“General, I think…” The corporal started flipping through a notebook, “I think the exact number w — “
“We were talking about normal, working, loving, dreaming, everyday angels torn apart by fleshwright demons while on their way to their jobs, their music lessons, or to the market to buy some caramels.”
“I’m so sorr — “
“Do you see these?” Adriel pointed to a bouquet of black celestial roses on their desk.
“What do you think?”
“They, they’re very nice, Gener — “
“They’re beautiful, Corporal. I grew them myself, you know. A tradition. My predecessors here have grown black roses in that garden since before there were mantles, Corporal. How many roses are in this vase, Corporal?”
“Please, Gener — “
“See, I would say a dozen or so. Because they are roses. Not people. Not fellow citizens, friends and kin of yours, who were savagely and needlessly — ”
A knock at the door. Captain Jenrael. A little older, wingless, blue mantle, counselor class.
“Sorry to interrupt, General, but I have the report you asked for.”
“Come in, Captain. You’re dismissed, Corporal.”
“General? The exact number was — “
“I said leave.”
Adriel took the report, flipped through the velum for a moment or two. Diagrams, equations, all the history the blues could dig up on the Apocalypse Vault. When it was built, how it was built, what could be done with it if the demons claimed it before they did. Most of this information Adriel had seen before numerous times, although it was pathetically clear the counselors were trying to convince them otherwise, padding the report with granular detail and apocrypha.
One thing new, however. The reason for this meeting. The reason Adriel was reading about astral wakes instead of planning the next counterstrike on Hell. The Vault’s location.
Adriel went over to the planar atlas on their desk, “That’s one of ours?”
“Yes, General. Materia has been friendly for a few centuries now. We provide services, and control most of the pantheon there.”
“Inspiration, counsel, and protection, primarily.” Didn’t consult their notebook, didn’t even touch it. Knew the answers. Intelligent. Prepared.
“And this information came from one of ours stationed there?”
“Yes, General. Captain Chael had just—”
General Adriel held up a hand, took a step closer. “Did you say Chael?”
“Yes, General. Born under Dolsis. Raised crest-side. Child of Colonel Velri — “
“I know who they are,” said Adriel. Young. No wings. No mantle. No appreciation. No respect for the legacy their parent, Colonel Veriel, had worked so hard for. No respect for the friends and allies Veriel had earned for them through service and unflinching loyalty. No respect for the laws of their kingdom, the rich culture and traditions of their people, the wealth and prosperity and freedom given to them free of charge by a thousand years of blood and sacrifice and —
“You fought with Colonel Velriel in the Purgatory Campaign, General, if I remember correctly,” offered the counselor, who likely always remembered things correctly.
“Yes. I did,” said General Adriel, “And The Offering. And The Breach of East Orchard. Velriel was my sergeant when we were still wearing red, and then we were both offered the black mantle together, for our work in The Bleak.” And, thought Adriel, I was there when they died. When that bonedevil ambushed them. When the soul left Velriel’s body and returned to The Well, where it swam with the dead until it was ready to come back. To come back as Chael, a selfish child undeserving of all they were given. All they were offered.
Adriel looked up. Captain Jenrael was standing quietly.
“So are you telling me that Captain Chael found the vault?”
“Yes, General. It sounds that way. Captain Chael had been wearing green, serving mandatory guardian duty to a Materian there for the last fifteen years.”
“So they came back to us with this information? Trying to buy their way out of their sentence early?”
“No, General. Their position ended recently.”
“So what are they wearing now?”
“Well, likely nothing, general. They’ve gone rogue.”
Adriel scoffed. Of course.
“The information was gathered by one of our agents in Materia’s pantheon. Cardinal Major Sammael, undercover as Blethet, Demon Goddess of Cunning and cruelty. Apparently, one of their worshippers witnessed Captain Chael being uh, interrogated in a kobold burrow.”
“Kobolds…” General Adriel scanned a page in the planar atlas’s companion glossary, “Oh, I see. So Captain Chael is dead, I take it?”
“That’s not certain. Captain Chael managed to escape the interrogation shortly after revealing the existence of the Vault.”
“I’m not surprised,” said the General, flipping through the glossary. “How?”
Jenrael paused. “Well, General, apparently they donned the black mantle.”
Adriel stopped. Looked up. “What?”
“They say,” said the counselor carefully, “that Captain Chael passed through their restraints, then through the interrogation table, then out of the chamber completely. They haven’t been seen since.”
“Is that possible?”
“It does seem unlikely, but some accounts of angels briefly and independently changing mantles do exist. Our unique biology may include latent systems that could be triggered by the right — ”
“Could they be right about the vault? Could it be in Materia?”
“We have found no evidence disallowing the possibility but — “
“And is it true what this says?” Adriel handed the report back to Jenrael, “Can it be used to control the barrier?”
“Theoretically — “
“Activate our agents. Assemble a strike team. Baeler, Desta. Get Keriel to pick some reds from their unit. A dozen or so should do. Notify the court. Just our own. You can tell the palace we are simply investigating a threat. Tie it to yesterday’s attack if you need to.” They walked over to their desk, stopping again at the roses. “That should open the treasury.”
For the first time since they walked in, Captain Jenrael was taking notes, already drafting timelines, requisitions, and communiqués.
“Captain Chael has been through a lot, and seems to have come to their senses,” said General Adriel, smelling the bouquet.
“Let’s bring them home.”
Mikey here. Thanks again for reading. Feel free to leave me a comment or share this with a friend. Also check out some of my other writing here. Love ya.