The heavenly fire which lifted Valjean from the earth hurled him backwards in a conflagration of white so blinding that he could see it through his eyelids. His shoulders collided with the wall, the impact fracturing an archaeological relic which had stood untouched for two thousand years. Falling to the flagstone, the demon struggled to rise, pushing himself up on hands and knees. His plate armor smoked, but it had shielded him from the worst of the celestial blast.
Getting to his feet, Valjean flared his wings out behind him in warning and redoubled his grip on his sword. His shoulders throbbed, but pain was something to which he was accustomed. It had comprised his every waking moment for the past three millennia.
Around him, Tel Megiddo was burning, centuries of accumulated fortresses and temples shaken from their burial in the desert by the catastrophic quaking of the land. His legs trembled, for in spite of his strength Valjean was no match for an angel. Yet his face was lined with resignation; today, his eternity of suffering would come to an end, one which had been written in stone at the genesis of the world. As comforts went, it was not exactly inspirational.
Before him, the Authority of the Second Tier stepped forward, resplendent in golden armor that blazed like the sun. It removed its helmet, shaking free its gleaming hair, and the impression of dazzling stars only grew stronger with the halo of purest light shining in glory around its head. Then the light dimmed, and Valjean perceived at last the face of the one whom God had fated to kill him.
The sword slipped in Valjean’s grasp.
The last time he had seen Javert, the angel had been holding him above the abyss, a million-mile Fall into the Lake of Burning Fire.
Raising his visor, Valjean knew at once that there could be no doubt. Javert was beautiful only in the most terrible of ways, the Almighty’s perfect machine of divine vengeance and retribution, and in his present cold fury the angel exuded a willpower which made one want to cower and obey. As the Authority advanced, Valjean slowly removed his helmet. Yes, he thought, even in his most calamitous of rages, the kind which reduced mortal and immortal alike to quavering, Javert had always been beautiful to him.
Javert raised his blade, pointing it at the center of Valjean’s chest. “Take up your weapon or perish, foul adversary,” he said in a voice like the rumble before an avalanche.
Valjean took a step back, longsword clattering to the pavement. “Do you not know me?” he asked. Such a thing did not seem possible, but then, what cause would Javert have to remember him?
The angel’s lip curled, but his eyes narrowed in consideration as he studied the demon standing before him. “Valjean,” he said after a moment. “You have changed. At last, your true nature shows itself.”
Valjean grimaced at the reminder that what grace he once possessed was brought to ruin, his form twisted and scarred with the torments of the Pit, but his voice was level as he replied, “What I am is what you and Hell have conspired to make me. I did not choose to be this.”
Javert’s sneer would have reduced an earthly being to a pillar of salt. “Of course you chose it. From the moment you sinned against your Creator, you chose this.”
“It was never a sin,” said Valjean quietly. “You would know that, were you not so blinded by duty.”
“Silence.” The ringing of the Authority’s voice brooked no argument. “You have diverted me from my purpose for long enough.”
Stepping forward, Javert approached until the naked tip of his star-metal sword lay against the hollow of Valjean’s throat. The very touch of the blade seared his skin, but Valjean did not flinch, even as Javert prepared to run him through.
Under his breath, the angel began to intone the banishment, “ Exorcizamus te, omni satanica potestas ...” and Valjean’s eyes fluttered closed against the pressure building in his temples. He wondered briefly what it would be like to cease to exist altogether, his immortal being rent apart by Javert’s words and weapon.
The blare of trumpets reached them in a brass crescendo. Raising his head, Javert looked about with sudden vexation.
“They are calling me,” he muttered. “The battalion is needed to fight the Dragon.” Granting Valjean a last contemptuous glance, Javert lowered his sword and said, “We will meet again.”
It was as much a threat as a promise.
Javert spread his wings, burnished bronze feathers glimmering in the desert sun, and leapt from the ground. Valjean’s dusty white hair blew out of his face as two beats of the angel’s wings buffeted him like a gale, and then Javert was ascending into the sky to rejoin the ethereal ranks. Valjean stared after him until long after Javert had vanished from sight.
Elsewhere, the sounds of Armageddon continued to rage, the distant roars of the Dragon as it clawed apart the sandy plains reaching him even there at the peak of the tell. Valjean alone stood still, a single figure frozen amid the ruins.
There had been times, he reflected, when he believed he would never see Javert again. Then there were others when he had dreamed of finally happening across the Authority in the course of his empyrean commission, that he might tear the angel apart limb from limb. Such thoughts inevitably left him feeling ashamed and half-convinced that Javert had done right to cast him out of Heaven after all. Mostly, Valjean avoided thinking of Javert wherever he could.
Now, the angel was all he could think about.
Pensively, Valjean stared out across the sun-baked valley, the moon a bloody disk on the horizon even in the middle of the afternoon. His chest ached, and not with the half-finished exorcism the Authority left lingering in the air. Valjean was mourning something that had never been, something that now at the end of times could not ever be. This was why he kept Javert far from his thoughts; his wasted hopes tasted of ash in his mouth.
Slowly, the demon began to walk like one entranced. He followed the ancient cobblestones from the temple where he stood, joining the road as it switchbacked its way down the artificial mountain. As he entered back into the fray, demons and angels alike did battle around him, but Valjean passed by them unseen. His head was lowered, and his mind was preoccupied.
For the first time in centuries, the past stretched before him like a deeply flowing river. Valjean followed it to its headwaters, images flickering around him like schools of fish.
Dizzied, the Fallen angel shut his eyes and leaned upon a pillar for support. It was almost overwhelming, the weight of the years upon his chest. And now as everything else was coming to a close, his head was filling up with memories he had thought long forgotten.
The ground shook once more with distant earthquakes, chips of stone showering down from the beams above, but Valjean did not move. Instead, the arcade disappeared around him as Valjean cast his mind back, back to the very Beginning of things.