The Wrong Enemy

By: Jane Lebak

One



Raguel waited at the back of the Judgment Hall to hear the verdict passed on the boy’s soul: Heaven. He nodded as he registered the word, but without rejoicing as he should have. Based on the expressions of the other witnesses, neither was anyone else. Half the angels in the room watched the boy as he leaped in delight and hugged the angel at his side, but the larger number studied the angel who stood at the back of the hall, Tabris.

Tabris had not reacted to the echoing verdict. Staring only at the chains binding his wrists and securing him to the floor, he stood like a horse at a hitching post. Only once did Raguel see him look up, struggling to get a glimpse of the boy before the other angels crowded into his line of sight, but then they’d taken him away, and Tabris said not a word.

Two Archangel guards flanked Tabris, one wearing a thousand-mile stare and the other struggling against grief. Everything about their posture read duty to Raguel, broadcast without words in their alert stance, the readiness of their weapons, their raised chins. Between them, Tabris seemed smaller, slumped, his two-toned wings touching the floor. With a shudder, Raguel realized at least one of the guards had probably been his friend.

They had no idea how to act. And rightly so. Angels didn’t usually take one of their own into custody.

In the wake of the boy’s removal, motion animated the hall. Some celestials left, but many more took seats on the benches in front of and to the right of the judgment throne. The intensity of the Father’s light heightened to a brilliance that made Raguel gasp, but Tabris brought up his wings as a shield.

God, have mercy. He looked again at Tabris, and the words cycled in his mind, a prayer tinged with dread when he considered what would happen next.

One of the Archangels glanced at the other, and Raguel felt them exchange an unspoken question.

He flashed to the trio, reappearing there the same instant he vanished from the previous spot. He had the highest rank of any present—one of the Seven Elite as well as the officer in charge of all guardian angels—and at his appearance, both Archangels saluted. Tabris recoiled and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

With a gesture, Raguel made the chains disappear. The Archangel with the thousand-mile-stare snapped to and looked at Raguel with relief, but the other guard protested.

Raguel said, “He can’t run anywhere. And unless God damns him, he’s still one of us. Don’t forget that.”

Tabris shivered. Even with the chains gone, he didn’t move.

Raguel reached out with his emotions to reassure Tabris, a communication process angels use more efficiently than words, but Tabris retreated from his soul’s projection.

Uneasy, Raguel advanced to the long table at the front of the room and leaned his muscular form on the edge to await the next phase of the trial. With raised wings, he inspected the broken angel. Then, sighing, Raguel turned toward God’s throne.

One of the angels sounded a Shofar, and the room came to attention. The pair of guards escorted Tabris to the fore.

For the last millennia, only humans had stood this kind of trial, the sorting of those who should enter Heaven from those who belonged in Hell. This time, the subject was Tabris, an angel, and until an hour ago, a guardian angel. Until an hour ago, just as sinless as the rest of them.

Without any presentation of evidence or arguments from either side, God presented to all the witnesses what Tabris had done, and what he deserved for the crime.

Raguel could feel the guards recoil, but Tabris remained still. His hands: he kept staring at his hands.

Swallowing against nausea, Raguel stepped toward Tabris. “Do you have a statement in your own defense?”

Tabris didn’t look up. “No.”

“Then I do.” Raguel turned to the throne of the Lord, his face bathed in the radiance that had dispelled chaos in the first moments of creation and acted as his beacon ever since. His heart trilled as he glimpsed infinity, but he focused himself. “I would beg you for mercy.” He ignored the tendrils of hope and outrage that swirled from the other angels. “Tabris panicked. I don’t think his crime was premeditated. If he’d thought about it at all, I’m sure he would have stopped.”

“The boy’s dead!” shouted a voice from across the room.

Raguel forced himself to look only at God rather than toward the voice. “Tabris’s intentions—”

“I said—” the voice continued, closer, “the boy is dead. Regardless of Tabris’s intentions, Sebastian died. Tabris short-circuited God’s plan in the worst way possible, a plan that—if you recall—one-third of the angels were thrown into Hell for failing to fulfill. And now you want—”

Raguel said to God, “One more angel in Hell won’t resurrect the child.”

The accuser took form immediately beside Raguel. “That would be justice.”

Raguel still wouldn’t turn. “Tabris is sorry. It was a rash action, not a rejection of You.”

The accuser said, “The boy is dead. That’s all the rejection possible.”

At that moment, the light of God took form at the head of the room as Jesus Christ. The angels bowed, but Tabris prostrated himself.

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