The Wrong Enemy, страница 1
THE WRONG ENEMY
Boston, MA USA
Copyright © 2012, Jane Lebak.
Print ISBN: 978-1-942133-01-8
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014951256
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. So there.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Art 2012 by Charlotte Volnek
Table Of Contents
Author’s note and acknowledgments
Sample Of An Arrow In Flight
The Wrong Enemy
By Jane Lebak
No one knows why Tabris, a guardian angel, killed the child he vowed to protect. The boy Sebastian got into Heaven, but the angels don't understand why Tabris isn't in Hell. Instead God's given him a second chance.
Another assignment. Another guardianship.
Although he struggles to help this new child, a ten-year-old girl named Elizabeth, Tabris can't escape what he did with Sebastian. Elizabeth's co-guardian doesn't trust him at all, which makes sense because even Tabris doesn't trust himself. Everywhere he goes, the angels all know what he's done, and the only angel who seems to want him is a friend from long ago, now a demon.
Shame and guilt follow Tabris like a shadow, but it's only the memory of the dead boy, and even though Sebastian still needs him, Tabris cannot face him. After what he's done, there's no way he can make it right. But his bright spirit is growing darker, and the other angels have realized that if Tabris can't accept the mercy he's been given, then he's going to fall forever
(Note: The first version of this book was released in 1994 as “The Guardian” through Thomas Nelson Publishers, under the name Jane Hamilton. The Wrong Enemy is a complete rewrite, but the story is the same.)
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 t
Jesus advanced to the accuser, who looked him dead in the eye.
Jesus said, “Your point is understandable.”
Raguel turned for the first time to look at the accuser, who wore an icy glare and had every feather on every wing standing out, typical for a demon.
“Understandable?” said the demon. “Everything here is perfectly understandable. Angels have only one written law, am I correct? And that law is shown to every single guardian angel before beginning his assignment, am I still correct? Including Tabris? No one forgot to show it to him because they were too busy polishing their harps and reciting your cute scripted praises?”
Jesus waited him out. Raguel had less patience; his sword had manifested at his side, and his palms itched.
Jesus glanced at Raguel, acknowledgment in his eyes.
The demon cocked his head and folded his arms. “And would I still be correct if I were to recall that the law says, explicitly, Do not kill your charge?”
Jesus said, “You have a thorough grasp of the facts.”
The demon said, “Shocking that you even need such a written law. But your playthings want so badly to brainwash their toy monkeys and get them here, so it makes sense. Polish them to a high shine and then kill them. Ta-dah, instant sainthood.”
Jesus said, “Again, you have a good grasp on the guardians’ desire to get their charges into Heaven.”
“The only thing I can’t grasp is this,” the accuser said, his voice flat. “If I’m in Hell for far less a crime than he committed, I fail to see why he should receive the mercy you denied the rest of us.”
Jesus said, “Tabris still loves me.”
“You have to admit,” the demon said, stepping closer and lowering his voice, “that his demonstration of that love falls short of ideal.”
Jesus turned to Raguel, who forced himself to look away from the demon. “Why are you pleading for Tabris? He hasn’t pleaded for himself.”
Raguel folded his arms over his chest, but Jesus touched his shoulder, and Raguel looked up. “My Lord, he’s in shock. I’m convinced he had no intention of doing what he did, and given the chance, he’d change it. He’s condemning himself. I think you want better than that for one of your own.”
Looking at Tabris, Jesus said, “How much do you believe in him?”
“I wouldn’t challenge your judgment,” Raguel said.
“But you want that judgment to be favorable?”
Oh, God, Raguel thought, thank you for an opening here. He ignored the demon’s outraged huff. “Please have mercy on him.”
He looked again at Tabris, still prostrated, still not projecting any of his emotions. Raguel wondered if maybe he’d stopped himself from reacting to his own Creator debating whether to discard him.
“He does still love you.” Raguel’s voice turned urgent. “For that alone, you might be able to show him mercy.”
Jesus stepped toward Tabris, who pulled his wings tighter over his head, a brown and green shield of feathers. Raguel noted both the brightness and softness in his Lord’s eyes as he studied the prostrated angel, the contemplation that stretched into a question-mark, and for a moment Raguel feared it was God lingering over a last look. Tabris himself had gone motionless, and Raguel fought panic as Tabris’s fear filled the room.
As if voicing Tabris’s own thoughts, the demon said, “There isn’t a choice. He deserves to burn.”
Jesus kept his gaze on Tabris. “Raguel, answer me, how much do you believe in him?”
“Then I release him into your custody. Do with him as you wish.”
The demon let off a flare of rage. The rest of the angels in the room reacted with simultaneous surprise and relief, tainted by confusion and anger.
Raguel bowed. “My Lord.”
“Tabris?” Jesus’s voice sharpened, but Tabris still didn’t raise his head. “You’re on probation. One more act of disobedience means damnation. You are clear on that.”
Tabris projected his emotions so all could hear him: understanding, and thanks.
Jesus looked Raguel in the eyes. “Accompany him to his next assignment.”
Jesus vanished even as Raguel felt himself filled with that assignment’s details.
The demon pushed past Raguel to Tabris. “They’ve only delayed it. You’re still mine.”
Raguel put his hand on his sword, and the demon vanished.
Tabris raised his head, then got to his feet, his eyes wide but otherwise expressionless. The other angels watched as he looked at the spot the demon had stood, then to the last place he’d seen the boy.
Raguel touched his hand. “Come with me.” And they departed.
Tabris still trembled with fear, with hopelessness, with desperation. He followed Raguel by doing automatically what would confuse any creature with a body, going somewhere without a destination. Angels traveled by thinking about where they wanted to be, and they arrived without passing through the intermediate space, whether the thought was “corner of 83rd and Park” or “wherever he’s taking me” or even “wherever Gabriel is right now.” This time Tabris’s intention had been the second, so he felt surprised when he found himself surrounded by the paperish scent of Raguel’s study, a familiar room in one of Heaven’s “many mansions.” Familiar because he’d gotten his previous assignment here. Being brought back at the end felt like a mockery of closure, the breaking of that long-ago promise.
Raguel had Tabris sit. “Take a few minutes to get yourself together. I’m going to leave you here, and I think it would help if you prayed.”
“Please—” Tabris’s voice sounded uncertain even to himself. “I’d rather you didn’t.”
Raguel hesitated, and Tabris waited for the inevitable recoil, but instead Raguel settled on the couch beside him. Tabris inclined his body away but found himself searching out Raguel’s eyes. What he wanted wasn’t there, of course. He couldn’t find what wouldn’t be found.
Raguel said, “I wasn’t going to lock you up here. I wanted to go ahead of you to your next assignment.”
“To warn everyone? That way they can resign before they have to work with a—”
Tabris’s voice refused to complete the sentence, but the final word rang in his head like an echo in an underground cave.
Sebastian had gotten into Heaven. Hold onto that thought. Because that was good, the only good to come from this whole disaster. It wasn’t Sebastian’s fault that Tabris had taken his life. Tabris, however, was guilty of murder, and murder cried out for nothing less than damnation, sharp and swift. If only to keep the other guardians faithful, Tabris had seen no other way things could unfold.
He’d felt the other angels’ agitation about God sparing him, and really, Tabris himself wasn’t sure how he felt. Even here, sitting on Raguel’s couch and feeling like a homesteader after the tornado has blown past, he knew he was by no means out of danger.
“I—” He quelled the instinctual projection and forced himself to translate into words. “I wanted to say thank you. For pleading for me. I…”
He couldn’t continue. He wanted to push the words, but they wouldn’t come. I didn’t deserve that. Deserve. Didn’t deserve anything.
Raguel reached for Tabris’s hand, and the reassurance flowed from him, unrestrained emotions from an unsullied heart: Raguel would have done it for anyone.
“You did it for me.” Tabris’s voice deserted him again. He strangled down his feelings until he could figure out how to keep speaking.
Raguel said, “I won’t be gone long. But I want to go ahead of you.”
“I know what’s going to happen.” The inner darkness surged, and Tabris stared again at his hands. “Wherever you stick me for this next assignment—if it’s a small city, a corporation, an apple tree out in the middle of the Great Plains—no one’s going to want me there.”
Raguel said, “I’m going to interc
Tabris looked up. “A star? I could handle that. Make it about a thousand light years from anything else.” His voice dropped. “And make sure there aren’t any black holes near by. Just in case.”
Raguel squeezed his hand. “You’re being hard on yourself, and it’s not all about you. Stay here and get your equilibrium. I’ll be a few minutes.”
“The reality couldn’t possibly exceed imagination.” Tabris’s eyes narrowed. “What am I assigned to?”
“Not what,” Raguel said. “Who.”
“What?” Tabris leaped from the couch, his wings flaring as he backed across the room, eyes round as full moons. “I hope you mean an animal!”
Raguel shook his head.
“No!” Tabris exclaimed. “Absolutely not! I—you can’t! The one-person rule!”
Raguel stood. “It’s been suspended so you can guard a second human being. And you won’t be the primary caregiver. It’s a secondary guardianship.”
“You can’t refuse.” Raguel’s voice turned insistent. “You cannot refuse. You’re under obedience to take it.”
Tabris covered his face with his hands. His thoughts ricocheted like atoms in a nuclear reactor, and every attempt to get them under control only sped them up. Another person? A human being? Someone else whose life he could screw up—could end? Why would God do that—unless God wanted him in Hell all along and wanted to prove it wouldn’t have helped to be merciful. No one would plead for Tabris again. No one.
Eventually he whispered, “What about the other guardian?”
“He’ll have no choice. He’s under the same directive you are.”
Directive. Oh, God, please, no. He’d had a directive! The word Sebastian was strong enough to break through every barrier Tabris had thrown up against it, and he knew when it hit Raguel like an arrow in the heart. Sebastian. Little one. Brown-eyed, clever, assertive, curious, responsible, generous, impulsive—and his. His charge. Not his charge anymore.