There was a pleasant hum to the air, the sound of a Celestial Steel blade swinging back and forth as it guarded one of the greatest of the Celestial Sphere’s treasures. The high-pitched singing of the sword was punctured every now and again by the crackling of the divine fire that ran along its length.

At the beginning of this Great Conflict, the sword had been placed there to guard the garden from intrusion. As Uriel looked upon it, he could only think that the weapon would remain there until they—until Heaven—had won.

Uriel stood at the centre of the garden. All its vast paradisiacal splendour paled in comparison to what stood at its heart. Two trees as ancient as the Great Conflict rose from the earth. One stood behind Uriel. It was split in twain where it had been struck by a thunderbolt.

The tree’s bark was charred black by the fire that Uriel remembered had wreathed its leaves and boughs for forty years. Down along the centre of the tree, where the wound of God’s scorned wrath yet remained, smoke rose from still-burning embers and sap bubbled out in repulsive yellow-black pustules.

Beside the broken tree stood another, this one in front of Uriel. It was perhaps the most grand and beautiful tree of all creation. Its branches were full, laden with fruit and foliage. It stretched its arms to the heavens, towering over all the garden, leaves lush and verdant.

From the roots of the tree rushed the Celestial headwaters of the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Ganges, and the Nile. Among its leaves meandered the four winds from the four corners of the earth. The tree loomed over paradise and the human metropoleis far beneath it, a taunting reminder of what the human race could have had if it hadn’t been so easy to tempt—and if it had had a less cruel creator.

Uriel was deep in contemplation, eyes fixed to the swirl of the Tree of Life’s bark. His hands were clasped behind his back. His six wings were flung outward, glowing with a reddish golden radiance—his Blaze of Glory.

Around Uriel’s brow revolved a crown of living fire, and in front of his face danced a small number of fruits from the Tree of Life. They were small things, barely larger than cherries. They were golden in colour, though seemed to take on many other hues as they caught the light.

The fruits seemed to glimmer merrily as they hopped and skipped through the air for Uriel’s amusement. The Tree itself had so many that it shimmered pale gold in the perpetual light of the Garden. Uriel plucked one of the fruits from the air and ate it, relishing the bitter-sweet juice that flooded his mouth. “Eat once of the Tree of Life and you shall know Life Eternal.”

Uriel let a small smile tug at the corners of his lips. Pity he was already immortal. “Brother,” said a voice from behind the Seraph. A voice both male and female, man and boy, woman and girl, elder and child, called out to him. “Uriel,” it said. Uriel, Seraph of Fire, Judgment incarnate, Wrath of God, turned and faced the highest of their number. “It is good to see you, myself, for once.”

Uriel’s smile widened. “And you as well, Metatron,” he said. Today seemed to be one of the days that Metatron was not wrapped in the Divine Light of the Father, though the Seraph’s wings were wrapped about him. Only Metatron’s face was visible. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” Uriel asked, a pleasant timbre to his voice.

So briefly that not even Uriel’s warrior instincts allowed him to see, Metatron lifted one wing off of his body and caught a fruit from the Tree of Life. Uriel watched as Metatron raised the fruit to his lips, slender fingers popping the small bitter-sweet treat into his mouth. Metatron chewed, and when he was done, let go a relieved sigh.

“Do you remember when we were but angels?” said Metatron, eyes blue as the sky piercing Uriel’s, which were red as fire. “We were so close.”

“We were,” said Uriel, brow creased at the strange question.

“Do you ever stop to wonder why we were raised to become Seraphim?” said Metatron. “Everything has changed since then.” Metatron’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You slew so many in the name of God, and yet you never had time to see me for more than a few minutes.”

Uriel shook his head. “The Lord was within you. You were never there to speak to.”

The corners of Metatron’s lips curled up in a small, tight smile. “Ah, yes,” he said, “I suppose there was that. Did you know that the mind could wander the Celestial Sphere, brother?” said Metatron. “Oh, the conversations I have had with Azrael…”

Uriel frowned. “Why are you here, Metatron?” he said.

“Is it truly so terrible that I wish to see my brother off before he leaves to carry out God’s Will?” said Metatron. His six wings slowly unfurled, feathers rippling. Uriel raised an eyebrow. He had not seen Metatron bare since becoming the Voice of God. Naked as the day they had both stepped out from the Celestial Heart, Uriel could see that the years had done nothing to degrade Metatron’s meticulously, perfectly sculpted body.

Metatron’s musculature was well-defined, ridges and crevices all pleasing to the eye. And yet, setting sight upon his brother’s bare form, Uriel could not help but wish he could vomit. “What happened to you, brother?” said Uriel, eyes watery from the nausea that had gripped him—the revulsion that had settled into the pit of his stomach.

Uriel raised his eyes briefly to the Tree of Knowledge behind Metatron, unable to ignore the symmetry of the moment. Wisps of steam curled off of Metatron’s skin, as though he were hot enough to evaporate water. There were patches of hideous red here, and blotches of charred black there. Blisters so full with pus and water that they almost looked ready to burst pockmarked Metatron’s flesh.

To Uriel, Metatron almost looked like a mortal that had been thrown head-first into the Phlegethon.

Metatron smiled, the expression thin and humourless. “The Light of Divinity is not easy to contain, dear brother,” he said. He took a step forward, fingers flying to the side of Uriel’s face. “I came to see you because of the quest you are about to partake in,” said Metatron. His wings flexed behind him, feathers shimmering like finely-spun silver. “It is perilous.”

The Fire of Judgment scoffed. He gently slapped Metatron’s hand away, a sneer on his face. “Perilous?” said Uriel, turning to face the Tree of Life. “What threat could some petty Druid possibly pose to Judgment himself?”

The halo of golden-red light that hung about Uriel grew brighter. It ignited, flames crackling with an intensity that made Metatron take a step back. “What mere mortal would not fall to his knees in front of the glory of Wrath?” Metatron shielded his eyes as Uriel’s Celestial radiance became almost blinding to behold.

“Brother,” Metatron whispered, before Uriel could take on the Light of Judgment. “It would be wise for you to not be so arrogant,” he said. The light died down, and Metatron felt a hand whip across his face. He collapsed to one side, wings crumpling under his weight.

Uriel looked down at Metatron, his face unmoving and impassive. “If you were not my brother and the Vessel for His Voice, I would strike you harder,” said Uriel. The fire that bordered his wings and wreathed his being coalesced in his hand to form Ignis, his Celestial sword, the weapon with which God’s Wrath rained upon the world below.

Metatron could feel the crackling anger of the weapon’s fire from where he lay in the lush greenery of Eden. He could see the warping of the very fabric of the world by its unbound ire. It was a weapon begotten of the Light of Judgment. The Light of Wisdom rightly feared it.

Metatron picked himself up from the ground, the wings he’d fallen on hanging limply by his side. He warily took a step back from Uriel and laughed. It was a bitter and ugly sound. “Would that you could harm me, brother,” he said, wiping liquid light from the corner of his mouth. “No mere mortal indeed—”

Uriel jumped as Metatron’s eyes suddenly began to glow a fierce blue. “N-no!” Metatron gasped. “B-brother,” he said, the light dying. “J-ja-AAGH!” The light returned, even brighter than before.

Metatron clutched his stomach, clinging on to his body for just a moment longer. “H-he is no—” With an animalistic howl, Metatron’s head flew backward, back arching as his entire form was lifted from the ground. The Divine Light blazed into existence around Metatron’s body, immediately annihilating all life around the Seraph’s feet.

Uriel closed his wings to protect himself from the caustic light. As soon as Metatron’s wings had closed to contain Yahweh’s divinity, Uriel fell to his knees. He bowed, forehead touching the earth in front of Metatron’s feet. “Adonai!” he exclaimed.

I will see to his punishment,” said a disembodied voice, gravelly and discordant.

“Yes, my Lord,” said Uriel, quivering in fear.

Destroy that Athame, or I will see to it that you regret ever failing me, Uriel,” snarled the Voice that ripped through Metatron. Every syllable, every sound, made every thread of Uriel’s being tremble. It almost sounded like Metatron’s vocal folds were being torn apart by the sheer viciousness of the Voice.

“Yes, my Lord,” said Uriel, still prostrate.

Good.” With a loud crack like thunder, Metatron’s body disappeared in a swirl of radiance. His mind, though, remained with Uriel.

“Azrael says that that druid is no mere mortal…” said Metatron, sadly. Uriel looked up at the smouldering remains of the Tree of Knowledge, either unable to hear or unwilling to listen. Metatron hung his head as fire consumed Uriel and he was left alone in the Garden.

Next Chapter: The Long Con