A Tome for Urzael
Few things could make Imperius, the Archangel of Valor, and the greatest warrior in all of creation, flinch. No demon had ever managed it, surely. And no angel, either, except for his oldest brother, who insisted on sneaking up behind him without warning. That Imperius had reduced his reaction to a flinch was mostly due to Malthael calmly catching Solarion whenever Imperius cleaved it at him reactionarily.
"Is this problem actionable?" Imperius continued polishing the spear, then sniggered when Malthael slowly folded his arms and stared at him from a marginally tilted angle. "Or has some wayward strand of reality pulled free of itself to drift in Pandemonium?"
"Then I would have engaged the Host."
"More trophies for us, then."
"As you wish. They are not what I choose to surround myself with."
Outside the Halls of Valour, the clanging of spears against swords echoed about the Silver City. Joyous shouts of comradery harmonized with the subtle rustle of angel wings. And the Archangel of Wisdom's overtly dour mood was like a spattering of rain on it all.
"Tell me, then." Imperius lowered the weapon and gave his brother the attention he deserved, even when he was behaving strangely. "Since you have visited me from your lofty perch and seen fit to grace me with your presence: what is this problem?"
Completely ignoring the jab, the Archangel replied: "I require a new lieutenant."
Oh, of course. That would be the reason Malthael had appeared in the City proper. Because he had finally damned himself into needing their help. "And what is wrong with Erius? Has some rogue demon sneaked into the Pools and slain her?"
"She has offered her services to Lady Auriel, to assist the Garden with its various arboreal requirements."
Imperius couldn't help himself. He crowed, the laughter punctuated by occasional pings as his armor shook.
"Your mirth offends my hearing," Malthael said dryly.
"Your ability to frighten away entirely competent assistants offends my habits as a leader and as your brother."
"Her competency lies elsewhere."
"Did you tell her that? Or did she come to the conclusion on her own?"
"I am objective. Not cruel."
"Oh, verily. And I am sure she saw it that way too."
"I would hope so. All from Wisdom have a thorough understanding of causality."
Sometimes, Imperius couldn't tell if his brother were joking, or if his sarcasm ran so deep it became humorous on its own accord. Not that it mattered terribly. It was still going to be Imperius' issue to fix. Unfortunately. "I also believe I know how this ends. But, come. Let us speak to Tyrael, and perhaps we can sort out this dilemma that eludes Wisdom himself."
"I was unaware there was a shortage of Wisdom angels," Tyrael said, as the three marched through the Silver City. The footfalls of the larger angels rang on the marble, while the only notable sound emanating from Malthael was a soft ping whenever his boots connected with the floor.
"They were not interested." Malthael glanced his way briefly before returning to stare directly ahead.
"Can you not assign one the duty? Or what is the quandary?"
"They were not interested."
Imperius had been chuckling periodically since they had found Tyrael in the Courts of Justice. His laughter only grew as the conversation continued. It was hardly a help.
"This appears to be an issue of order," Tyrael observed. "Brother, I have never known you incapable of making an assessment and dispensing tasks, tardy as you may be sometimes. I assume you have consulted the Chalice for proper replacements?"
"They were not interested."
"As you have said three times. Then, enlighten me. What would you have us do to help you manage your domain?"
"You are correct when you said this is an issue of order. I require someone who can follow instructions. One of your soldiers."
"Shocking," Imperius interjected, clearly unsurprised. "I would never have guessed such a thing was possible from your kin."
Tyrael swiftly swung a greave into his brother's shin, ignoring his protest. "What does such meddling include?"
"Replacing my materials. Scheduling meetings at times I specifically stated were off-limits." The Archangel's usually melodious voice tapered off and became raspy. "She refiled every book under a different system claiming it would be more efficient."
"Hardly. I spent hours locating a single text."
Tyrael felt Imperius' amused gaze on him; the Archangel was doing a poor job of stopping his wings vibrating with mirth. When it came to fettering out the Greater Truths, Malthael was the undisputed master. But he was often less than proficient at understanding matters of personal engagement.
"You could have discussed it with her," Tyrael finally replied. "Perhaps Auriel could have helped you mediate."
"She had instructions. She chose not to follow them. I require a new lieutenant."
It appeared they were not escaping the issue. When his brother decided he knew a fact, it was hard to shake him from it. "Understood. Well, I am sure one of us can concede a soldier."
The Halls of Valour were deafeningly loud compared to the tranquility of the Pools. Still, Malthael tolerated occasional visits to Imperius' domain, generally to ensure the Host was properly prepared for the Eternal Conflict and not simply helping adorn his brother's quarters with trophies. He was not particularly pleased to have to select a new lieutenant from their ranks, either. But he had grown tired of arguing with his kin over his habits. Some truths were malleable. Others were not up for debate.
They were not to disrupt him while he studied the Chalice.
They were not to replace his writing materials with new ones, regardless of how worn they became.
And they were certainly not to touch his books, unless he explicitly requested they be shelved. And then, the books were to be shelved where they had been removed. Not in a new location. Not in an entirely different space.
Merely thinking about having to re-establish his workspace made Malthael's wings twitch. His time was precious. Eternity was complex and always changing. And he had done all he could to ensure his work proceeded as efficiently as possible. Imperius and Tyrael understood this to a degree, but for them, a mistake in protocol usually only led to the loss of a soldier or two.
When Wisdom erred, it cost them battalions. Battles. Perhaps the Eternal Conflict.
He appreciated the immense mental fortitude of those of his Aspect, as well as the insights they offered into angelic matters. But it was not their place to question him. That was the domain of the other Archangels.
"Perhaps if you said something to them, it would help?" Tyrael's voice shook Malthael from his reverie.
He looked about and found the Valor angels had stopped their training and were currently studying him with varying degrees of unease. He clearly had not visited the city enough in recent memory if they were unsure how to approach him. He was an enigma, he knew, but he hardly thought he was threatening. At least to them.
"Continue," he offered, then again, louder, when they continued fidgeting. Eventually, they returned to their sparring, though he caught occasional glances his direction.
"Won't you tell them why you are here?"
"No. I cannot assess them objectively if they understand my purpose."
"You are our leader," Imperius interrupted with a hiss. "The one who guides my hand from afar. You have chosen to visit them on this day and they wish to show you their splendour. At least grant them that."
"I wish to see their intelligence. I care not how they gleam. A rock would be preferable to an empty helmet."
Imperius' wings flared imposingly, though Malthael held his ground even as the flames towered above him.
"Finished?" He snapped a heel down and turned before Imperius could reply.
Picking from the troops was potentially a terrible idea. It hadn't taken long for Malthael to be reminded why he preferred Valor be kept at a distance. Ideas required action, yes. But they could cause a ruckus in their own halls. He needed someone who was efficient, duty bound, and content to simmer quietly. Light help him, he was not entirely sure that angel existed.
You would prefer to find yourself. Except, yourself is intolerable in external form, and marginally resistant to menial tasks. Understandable. The threads of eternity do not tolerate weakness. Wisdom's Light runs cold and strong as ice.
He had considered asking Itherael, except the ranks of Fate were as few as his own, and their kin were predominately busied with transcribing prophecy. They were efficient and soft-spoken as was his preference, but they were also not his to acquire.
Which left three other options. Auriel always brought warmth wherever she went, as did her kin, but he preferred to seek her out as necessary, rather than have Hope follow him incessantly. And Justice, though trained to obey, was also prone to pride; he had witnessed enough arguments between Tyrael and Imperius to know that the ones Tyrael started were often due to pedantic differences in execution rather than any meaningful reason.
Valor, then, was his only option. Unless the Arch decided to be merciful and produce him a second-in-command as he required. Which was doubtful. He snorted.
"Did you hear that?"
"He laughed. Archangel Malthael laughed."
"Malthael? Is that who that is? He isn't even wearing armor. I thought he would be more imposing."
"If you'd fought with him, you would know he is imposing. Especially when he laughs like that."
"Do you think it's something we did?"
"Don't stare at him, you fool! He could rend us with his empty hands if he wanted."
"Curious," Malthael muttered, clasping said hands behind his back. His reputation in battle persisted, even if knowledge of his habits did not. Perhaps Imperius spoke more openly about him than he realized. He did not recognize all the angels in the Halls that day, which meant he had not yet fought alongside some of them.
Their unfamiliarity with him was his own failing. He had never missed a Lightsong; truthfully, they were one of the few events the angels partook in that he enjoyed. The pure resonance of the Arch was a wonder to behold, and its song felt like a piece of his essence wrought into the air. It was the only time he joined the chorus and sang. But beyond the act of their birth, he saw little of those who were not his Aspect. He avoided their bustle and preferred the calmness of the Pools, and the company of those whose concerns were philosophical.
Those were not the actions of a leader, he knew. At least not one who remembered to demonstrate his care for his kin. Next time Auriel appears with the newly Lighted, do not avoid her. They are worth your time. And your attention.
They did have his attention now. While he paced the Halls, he considered each of them intently; the timbre of their voices, the assertiveness of their actions. Most reminded him of Imperius, and those who did not seemed misplaced in Valor; he assumed they had declared their Aspect improperly, and would likely be shifted to something less reliant on battle. Still, even from them he did not find what he was looking for. He did not want a pacifist.
He wanted patience. Reliability. Dedication.
Tempered steel, already cooled from the forge. Strong.
It was the towering angel's lack of motion that caught his attention. Amidst a swirling maelstrom of sparring and hubbub, a single soldier stood, his arms piled high with weapons. He collected them as they were tossed aside, then returned to his post, silently standing ready for any who needed a blade. It was unusual to see a Valor angel remain still for so long. Particularly one so large, and clearly formed for combat.
Malthael stopped pacing and stared. Focused as the angel was on his task, he did not return the gesture.
"Brother?" Tyrael said, finally noticing Malthael's curiosity.
In reply, Malthael fetched a spear from a nearby weapon shelf, and in a single, swift motion, threw it at the angel.
The chamber echoed with shouts of alarm, including from Imperius, who raised a gauntlet in surprise.
The other angel did not shout. He gave no reaction at all, other than to snap his wrist upward and catch the spear before it impacted the wall behind him. Then he calmly added the weapon to his pile. "You can try, of course," the blade-keeper intoned. "But the strength of my duty will guide my hand. Lord Imperius bid me do this, and I will uphold my pledge."
A shiver of legitimate enthusiasm ran through Malthael. The unexpected had happened: he had found exactly what he was looking for. "You." He pointed at the angel, then turned away and stalked towards the door. "He will suffice."
The chattering in the room grew louder, led by Imperius, whose wings flared in dismay. "Urzael? Brother, I can think of many who would do you better service than-"
"—the one I have chosen? No."
"The flame of Valor burns weakly in him. You would be disappointed."
Malthael knew Imperius' concern was more that his Aspect would disappoint than Urzael himself. The Archangel was loud, and prone to blathering, but he was firm in his mission to protect the Heavens. That included the other Archangels, including Malthael, whether he required it or not.
It was also not his brother's duty to control his decisions. Particularly when it came to his own kin. Of which Urzael was now a part, whether Imperius agreed to it or not.
Malthael paused at the doorway and glanced over his shoulder. "Will his absence hinder your war efforts?"
Imperius fell silent for a long, blessed moment. "I suppose not."
"Good. Then he will suffice."
He ignored the hissing flames emanating from the Halls of Valor, then called, "Pools. Within the hour."
"Return here this instant! We are not finished discussing this!"
They were, of course. Imperius only argued to that degree when he knew he had lost. Malthael shrugged, continued walking, and silently relished in the knowledge that he was correct.
The tranquil refrains of the Maidens of Wisdom drifted between the stone columns of the Pools, drawing contented sighs from the various angels who had visited for contemplation. The song was slow, and had been called ponderous by those from more active Aspects. But it also encouraged introspection, crafted as it was from countless layers of harmony and counter-harmony. Within the melody, one voice would rise in growing discord, before it faded away to be reabsorbed by the hum.
Thus, were the Pools themselves: basins of the purest light that glittered in the shadowy outskirts of the Heavens, where the glow of the Arch was distant, and the line between Light and Dark was blurred.
Malthael watched the procession of the Maidens with content detachment atop one of the pillars in his domain. Above him, the wispy ends of the Lightstream swayed against the firmament. When it faded, the pinprick glimmer of stars became visible momentarily, before the shimmer intensified and resumed its dance. The Sages floated within it, their wings billowing and absorbing facets of truth as they travelled.
Endless motion, even in the calmest of realms. He drank it in, holding his wings steady against the brush of the air, feeling each light beam that spun through existence. It was a pale reflection of the eternity he knew from Chalad'ar, but as important a piece of it as any other. All a part of his existence, and of the Eternal Conflict.
"You make yourself hard to find brother, even on the best of days." Imperius' voice struck the solitude like a hammer. "Do not forget the favor I am granting you."
"Consider it reciprocated in the future." He drew his wings close at the sound of greaves connecting with the rough-hewn granite.
"Feh, you think I enjoy giving up my soldiers? This is unusual, even for you. Angels who move Aspects do so in name alone. He is one of mine, and you will respect him."
"Perhaps. And, verily."
He turned and considered the two angels towering behind him. Imperius' wings radiated brilliantly, the flames out of place in the muted light of the Pools. By contrast, Urzael's were subdued, concentrated points of Light. Malthael had no doubt they would cut through the hardest rock, if tested.
"I have never heard of an Archangel choosing an Aspect for a subordinate," Imperius continued, gesturing at Malthael, then out to the sprawling Pools beneath them. "Brother, do you remember when your existence began as clearly as I do mine? I remember stepping from the Arch, and the moment its Light fell on me, I knew I had been called to defend it. By deed, by voice, by example. This is the way of the Angiris. It is what separates us from demons. This order we uphold."
All the while, Urzael remained silent. His attention was not on Imperius, or even Malthael, but on instead the wavering Lightstream. Enraptured. As Malthael had been moments ago.
"Let Urzael and I speak," Malthael said, eventually. "Let him make his choice."
"I would appreciate if you granted him that much respect. And maybe he will prove you wrong."
Or perhaps not. The choice was already made. Malthael saw as much in the way Urzael's wings wavered in anticipation, and in the quick glances he made to the Lightstream, even as he tried to wrench his attention away to consider the two Archangels who were debating his fate.
"Would you prefer I consult Itherael instead?"
"Not for this. They have more important matters to scry." Imperius paused, then dipped his head in a gesture of deference. "You are our leader, brother, in this Eternal Conflict. You have never led us astray. And though I find your wishes strange, I suspect they will make more sense in the days to come."
"Then, return to your troops and your work. Leave me to mine."
"I hope Urzael will teach you some pleasantries." Imperius chuckled.
"You are right. I shouldn't raise my expectations too high." He briefly looked about the Pools, before launching into the sky. "Try not to wear this one out too fast, brother."
I will try, Malthael thought, as the Archangel of Valor flared and vanished. And, although he had dodged the topic, he had consulted the Chalice. It had pointed him towards his brothers' domains. The precise destination of his search had remained occluded. Still, it had been direction enough.
I may discern parts of the future as Itherael does. But some elements of it are ours to uncover as we reach them.
"Come." He gestured for Urzael to follow. There is something I must show you.
Urzael was keenly aware he was being watched as he followed Archangel Malthael through the Pools. He was also accustomed to this, and did not particularly care. The Wisdom angels were subtler in their gawking but did it no less than their Valor counterparts. At least this time, he assumed their curiosity had to do with why he was there, rather than who he was.
If Malthael noticed their stares, he did not acknowledge them. Nor did he react to anything at all for the entire duration of their slow journey to the furthest reaches of the Pools. His steps were methodical, but relentless. He did not stop to check if Urzael was following him. And only twice did he leave the ground, apparently preferring to traverse the terrain while connected to it.
It was very different from what Urzael knew from the Halls of Valor. There, the angels delighted in soaring about the quarters and spires, their wings blazing with the intensity and steel of the Heavens. They were as glorious in rest as they were in combat, and anyone who saw them would be left in awe of their prowess.
For the same reason, had Urzael not known he was following was Malthael, he would have assumed him to be a scribe or courier at best. Nothing about his garb suggested the responsibility of his station, or his frightening strategic competency that was the stuff of legends amongst the other Aspects. But then, Urzael was quickly learning the Aspect of Wisdom was different from Valor, and the Archangel of Wisdom himself was far different from Imperius in ways that were unexpectedly comforting.
He oft wondered what his kin could accomplish if they directed their energy towards results instead of show. As he trailed the Archangel up a final dusty incline of stairs towards a small spire, he saw glimpses of an answer to his question. The exterior of Malthael's private quarters were as understated as his physical form.
Urzael paused at the threshold, his wings stirring as he marvelled at the chaotic clutter inside the domicile. Every wall was covered in shelves, and each shelf was stacked to breaking with various books, scrolls, and crystal fragments. There were piles of tomes scattered about the floor, and the single desk in the room was near-buried in parchment and discarded quills. The workspace was positioned aside an asymmetric opening in the wall, which overlooked the entirety of the Pools. In the distance, the Crystal Arch flickered from behind a line of billowing ivory clouds.
The only sound was the occasional hum of the wind. Otherwise, silence.
Malthael turned and glanced at Urzael over his shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was almost a whisper. "What do you see?"
A mess, Urzael thought, though he managed to keep the reply to himself. It was more than that. This was not the haphazardly discarded weapons of a Valor battalion. Each book had its place. Every scroll was part of something greater than itself. He knew others would look about the room and see uncontrolled disorder. But he saw otherwise.
"I see purpose," Urzael said, finally finding the right words. "And planning. Contained within stillness."
The Archangel held his gaze for a moment, then spun and gestured for Urzael to come inside. "Yes."
"I am no scholar." Still, he lowered his head in acknowledgement, and joined Malthael in the room proper. The moment he came within reach of the Archangel, a pile of books was shoved into his arms.
"You need not be a scholar. What I require is someone who understands the meaning behind it. The purpose." He lingered on the last word, glancing again at Urzael, before sweeping by him and gathering more paperwork. "You did not partake in training with the others. Why?"
"Their practice proceeded far better if someone took care of the logistics. The Aspect of Valor is proud to uphold order, but it does not always follow those same principles."
"A truth my brother would never admit. But still a truth." Malthael laughed, the noise catching Urzael by surprise. It was a far warmer sound than the one he had heard in the Halls of Valor and tinged with an oddly personable hint of understanding.
"I am no Lord. I am a servant of Wisdom."
"Then what should I call you?"
"My name. Or Archangel, if you must." Malthael added to the pile Urzael carried, then without pause, continued fetching all the misplaced work scattered about the room. "You are correct. There is purpose here, as I determine and require. You are not to question my organization. You are to help me maintain it as it currently exists."
"Is that why you require a new lieutenant? Lord Imperius did not tell me why you requested my help specifically."
Apparently satisfied with what he had fetched, the Archangel folded his arms and tipped his head, silently considering Urzael and the stack of literature that now reached from his waist to his chin. "My kin seek wisdom as I do. And they enjoy imposing it on others, myself included. In the proper context, this is ideal. However, when it disrupts my ability to work, it becomes a hindrance."
"Because they do not respect the hierarchy," Urzael interjected, before he could stop himself. "It exists for a purpose. The strongest among us lead the weakest. And the weakest trust the strong with their life."
"Yes. Because their competency has been proven. Do you know why I chose you?"
He had ideas, certainly, all related to the topics they had been discussing. But Urzael did not have the foresight to peer into the Archangel's mind directly. He could not say for certain. "No."
"Because you are not a mindless drone as the minions of Hell are, or, indeed, some of our own Host. You uphold order because it produces results."
Hearing those thoughts spoken by another gave Urzael pause and made his wings flare eagerly. It was his entire existence distilled down into a simple statement. He had spent ages fighting against the urge, assuming it was unbecoming for one of Valor to care so much about the war beyond the skirmish. His essence craved battle, but the battle he wanted was against disorder itself, not specific demons.
"Chaos runs contrary to our nature," Malthael said, interrupting Urzael's thoughts. "But it is through my perception of chaos that I find ways to counter it. If you join me in this venture, you do so knowing you will never touch the web of eternity that I ponder. You will likely see little of me. But if you trust in my work, then I will trust in yours. I will teach you to bring order where I require it, and in doing so, you will enable Wisdom to fulfill its role in the Eternal Conflict."
It was the single most important task anyone had ever asked of Urzael. He had assumed his existence would consist of gathering weapons for the Host, while those more inclined to violence slew their foes in Pandemonium.
He lowered his head, then knelt in front of the Archangel with his armful of books, in the position he had been taught signified immense respect for a superior. "Lord Imperius truly knows little about me, if he knew the nature of your request and believed I would not be interested."
"We do not kneel here. Wisdom manifests in various ways, but equally between all who seek it." Malthael reached a hand to him, then pulled him upright. The Archangel's grip was strong, the only outward indication of the immense power Urzael knew he carried within him. "Do you seek it, Urzael?"
"Yes. With a single request. You ask that I do not call you Lord, or kneel, to show my respect. And perhaps this is enough for your kin. But Valor honours those who do its work. As you enable Lord Imperius and the Host to battle the Burning Hells, I would ask you allow me to give you a title that reflects your markedly different prowess."
The Archangel remained silent a moment, then sighed. "Continue."
"I would call you Master, for that is indicative of the depths of your wisdom, and the mastery you hold over eternity."
"Overwrought," Malthael said, a touch sardonically. "However. If that is your only request, then I will acquiesce." He turned to stare out the opening to the Pools, his wings gradually spreading and lifting in an overt display of relief. "You offer your services to an Aspect that is not your own. I will concede in respect of yours."
The tomes felt lighter in Urzael's arms the more the day's events sank in. He had finally found purpose, even if it was not where he expected to find it. Underneath this overt relief he felt a wave of gratitude towards the Archangel who had discerned with a mere spear throw the very heart of Urzael's soul. And who had, upon such a brief realization, deemed to give him the chance he had always wanted, without hesitation.
"Thank you, Master."
"Do not thank me yet." Malthael swept by him again with a brisk disregard for pleasantries that Urzael was beginning to find endearing, then spread his arms wide and gestured at the compendium of knowledge scattered about the room. "You have much to learn, and a great many items to sort. We begin now."