Sun flittered through the bountiful clouds, the serene light casting a sweet glow about the kingdom.
The gentlest breeze blew, filling the air with the scent of vanilla and incense.
The angels were filled with happiness, pious but frolicking, humble but happy, modest but jesting.
Cherubs and archangels ran among the messengers, darting in and out of the buildings of marble, donning crosses and laughing among the animals who roamed freely.
It was Heaven, in all its perfection.
Nathaniel was oblivious to the glory of the day.
Why should he notice? Every day was the same, ad infinitum.
His brothers nodded as he passed, and Nathaniel kept a smile plastered on his face, bobbing his head like a trained monkey, inwardly gritting his teeth.
This never gets tiresome for them, he thought, swiftly moving through the gold-paved streets, his pristine white robes swirling about his feet effortlessly in the perfect breeze. They are a brainwashed bunch of sheep who know only one shepherd. And that shepherd may as well be in a coma or drunk for all he knows about the goings on around here.
“Good morrow, Nathaniel,” Bria sang, dancing around him in her teasing fashion, scarves whirling over her head as she winked at him with crystalline eyes. “I hear you are on a mission from God this morning!”
Nathaniel swallowed his displeasure and lowered his grey eyes stoically, clasping his hands before him as if to praise her words.
“I haven’t confirmed word, but yes, I am meeting with Michael.”
“I had a vision in the night,” Bria chirped. “You are going to deliver the kingdom of heaven from evil, protect us and go forth to become an archangel.”
Under normal circumstances, Nathaniel would be hard pressed to resist the urge to snap her annoying, fluttering wings and bid her good day, but that morning, her prophecy stirred something in the depths of his chest.
It was a rare occurrence for Bria to call upon him with a sight.
“Go on,” he demurred, eyeing her carefully. “Tell me of this vision.”
Bria laughed, a sound the others agreed was lyrical but made Nathaniel cringe inwardly. The sound reminds me of fingernails on a blackboard, he thought but he quickly shoved the bitterness from his mind. He wanted to hear her words for once.
She was a prophet angel after all, and no matter how he felt about her, she knew more than most.
“You will learn all you must from Michael,” she assured him, whirling to leave, casting him a coy look as she did. When she winked, fury exploded inside him, stirring his loins.
Lust is a sin, lust is a sin. He chanted to himself. It seemed that lately, whenever his anger was stimulated, lust came with it. He needed an outlet. Badly. Bria licked her lips suggestively and spread her wings to soar away, her laughter taunting him in her wake.
Perhaps that was the issue; he had always wanted to take Bria savagely and without mercy, but if anyone was to learn about his innermost thoughts…
But he needn’t be concerned that anyone here would be able to discern his innermost thoughts, Nathaniel knew that now. But there had been a time when he had been fraught with worry that his darkest secrets would be exposed.
As it turned out, Heaven worked more on an honor system than any true monitoring.
They don’t know a damned thing up here, for all their infinite wisdom, he thought, scowling inwardly. But still, he forced himself not to react…just in case. He was sometimes worried that if he gave himself just a little free license to act on his violent urges, the two-centuries old boiling mass within him would erupt and he would have a heyday the likes of which the residents of Heaven had never seen. No, it was better to hold on to his urges with an iron fist.
It was not a risk he was willing to take, not when he had already come so close to ruining everything for himself all those years ago.
“Nathaniel, Michael awaits!” Josiel appeared at his side, a slight scowl on his face as he watched the younger angel.
“I am journeying to him,” Nathaniel sighed, trying to keep the annoyance from his voice.
Josiel was his counsellor, and if possible, even more irritating than Bria.
Of course he is; he is at my side constantly, like a wet nurse. At least Bria keeps her distance most of the time. And she is much easier on the eyes, he thought with a smirk. Oh, what I could do with her with five minutes of alone time…
“You appear to be staring after the angel Bria,” Josiel growled, startling him from his reverie.
Nathaniel did not respond, knowing whatever denials he offered would be dismissed.
Because this bloody bastard is always correct. How am I to survive in eternity with this man as my wife?
Instead, he turned and moved away to save himself from answering.
“Nathaniel, one moment!” Josiel called, hurrying after him, but Nathaniel did not slow his gait, eager to be rid of his tedious tail.
“What is it, Josiel? As you have mentioned, I have an appointment with Michael.”
“You must wait a moment,” Josiel gasped, as he reached Nathaniel’s side.
The younger, ruggedly good-looking angel swallowed a groan and paused to face his advisor with cold, grey eyes.
“What is it, Josiel? I do not wish to keep Michael waiting.”
Josiel nodded and lowered his gaze.
“I know what it is Michael will ask of you…, and I fear you may not like it.”
Nathaniel became statue still but spoke not a word, waiting.
“You are free to refuse but I believe you are the best angel for the task,” Josiel continued, staring nervously at his hands as if the answer lay in his palms.
“What is it, Josiel?” Nathaniel asked tightly, but there was a foreign feeling growing in the pit of his stomach.
The feeling was fear.
“Now, before you refuse, Nathaniel, you must know that Michael and God would never put you to a task of which they did not believe you could conquer. You have proven your strength and loyalty to Him and our kingdom through the most devastating choice all those years ago.”
Nathaniel exhaled haltingly, and he knew he was right to feel terror.
“It is Cassiel, is it not?”
Josiel cleared his throat.
“He has been permitted to leave the underworld to perform Lucifer’s bidding.”
“For what purpose?” Nathaniel demanded. “Why is he on Earth?”
“We are not clear, but he has been seen in the Americas. He must be stopped.”
The last sentence was unnecessary. Nathaniel did not need to be told that Cassiel was a danger to everything he had worked for.
“Will you do it?” Josiel pressed. “Will you send him back to Hell where he belongs?”
The angel stared at the old one with piercing gray eyes, his mind awhirl.
“I cannot,” he whispered.
“You must,” Josiel agreed. “It can only be you. Who knows him better than his own brother?”
“Stepbrother,” Nathaniel corrected shortly.
They must never mistake us for more than stepbrothers. I would never have done what I did if Cassiel was my blooded brother, he tried to tell himself, over and over, attempting to appease the guilt that sometimes plagued him.
“Still, you must agree that you are our best hope for peace. He is a menace to both the earthly world and ours.”
Nathaniel stared at the glittering bricks of gold beneath his bare feet, closing his eyes.
Why did you have to return, Cass? Why did you not stay cast out and in Hell where I sent you? He wondered mournfully.
Nathaniel could think of only one reason why his brother had returned from the underworld.
He was seeking revenge.
“Nathaniel – “
“I will do it,” Nathaniel interrupted, his strong jawline raised defiantly toward the old soul, his full lips pursing into a fine line.
Josiel’s face exploded into an expression of great relief.
“Michael will reward you greatly for your trial,” he assured him, but Nathaniel was not so certain.
Reward will be the last thing Michael is thinking of if he should ever learn the truth of Cassiel’s banishment from Heaven.
Nathaniel knew that Cassiel had to be stopped.
“You are a brave soul, Nathaniel,” Josiel continued, linking his arm through Nathaniel’s to escort him toward Michael’s glass palace. “I understand how this must conflict you, but you are a righteous being, and we are all proud of you.”
Do not be so certain of that, old man, Nathaniel thought grimly as they approached the gates of the palace.
“You are doing the godly thing,” Josiel assured him.
I will do the godly thing, he agreed. I will cast my brother back to Hell where he should have stayed.