"The Loyal Angel is fantastic! It's plausible, fun, and exciting from beginning to end!"
- Aryn the Libraryan: Christian Book Review
Before the Beginning… The Kingdom of Heaven is the only universe the angels have ever known. But when God embarks on a new creation, everything begins to change.
For one angel, this extraordinary event presents a rare opportunity. Malachi has always dreamed of joining the Morning Star Legion, the elite guard of heaven. He finally gets his chance on the first day of Creation.
But things are not what they seem.
Malachi is shocked to learn that some of these angels have strange ways, many of which confuse and disturb him. As he delves deeper into the culture of the legion, his suspicions grow with every new revelation. Worse yet, his brother angels appear oblivious to the dangerous effects of their indoctrination.
When the legion’s most dreadful secret is revealed, Malachi faces a perilous choice. Can he save his brothers from making a terrible mistake? Or will he be swept up along with them in the coming storm?
His decision will have eternal consequences, for himself, his fellow angels, and for the Lord’s newest creation, a pair of mortals named Adam and Eve.
Nathan Reads a Sample!
Nathan Crocker talks about his debut novel, The Loyal Angel, and reads a sample chapter to help you decide if this book is for you!
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Christian fiction reads!
“Scripturally-based, excellent character development, compelling storyline, super page-turner.”
“This book is a real page-turner! Even though I am familiar with the biblical stories, I found myself eagerly reading to see what happened next. I felt as if I was right there watching the scenes unfold. The author is a master of the art of storytelling.”
“This book offered insights that filled in some gaps that I’ve struggled to grasp. This is a work that surely pleases God.”
Love this book!
“I randomly stumbled across this book, and it was so well written I couldn't put it down!”
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A steamy fog rose above the crystal-clear water of the river, it’s bubbling currents cascading over rocks to create miniature whirlpools as it raced by on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. To the east, the rising sun peeked out over the nearby mountaintop, bathing the Roman city of Philippi in a warm summer's light.
A crowd had gathered by the river that morning, men and women with their children sitting on blankets and cloaks spread upon the rocky ground. They had come to hear the words of a wise teacher, a traveler from the east, but they had not expected the tense confrontation now unfolding before their eyes.
"These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!"
The Traveler, his brows furrowed, glanced at the young vagabond girl who shouted this statement, then back to his friend. His companion's face expressed an odd combination of annoyance and concern, and the Traveler understood why. The last thing they needed was a disturbance that would draw the attention of the local authorities.
Sitting atop a boulder, the Traveler gazed out over the multitude that had gathered to hear him speak and recognized the concern on their faces as well. Many of them were Jews, which meant they lived under a constant cloud of suspicion and ambivalence. Merely gathering together this way was likely to invite scrutiny. Still, the crowd was undeterred. These people represented the downtrodden of society, the poor, the destitute, the reviled. They had come that morning to receive a message of hope, and he was determined to deliver it.
The Traveler glowered at the young vagabond. She was perhaps twelve years old, frail and thin with dark hair and ghostly pale skin. Her face would have been pretty if it were not smudged with dirt and peppered with the scars of the pox. Dressed in old, dirty rags, she stood awkwardly, half bent to the side and teetered there, swaying left and right while she giggled and bit the nails of her hands.
It was not what the girl said that bothered the Traveler, for her statement was true. He and his companions were indeed servants of God. They had come to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and show the people of this city the way to salvation. The problem was the motive behind her words.
She had been following them for the last few days, incessantly repeating the same mocking phrase over and over, interrupting the Traveler when he tried to speak and making the people uneasy. Now, her eyes bulged wide as she cackled and repeated her tiresome declaration.
"These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!"
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, the Traveler squared his head and glared at the vagabond. The eyes that locked onto hers were icy gray against the weathered and sun-browned skin of his face. The balding crown of his head and the large hooked nose bespoke age and wisdom, while the taut wrinkles about the intense eyes bore witness to the potent vitality that fueled his relentless drive. This was a man who had traveled much and seen more, a man who had faced ridicule and threats, refusing to compromise his principles or his faith.
As the Traveler’s gaze bore down upon her, unflinching and unwavering, a tense silence fell over the crowd. The girl hesitated, and perhaps unnerved by the relentless intensity of those eyes, her determination buckled. She took a step back, sat down, and wrapped her arms around her knees. A pained expression swept over her face as she began rocking back and forth, a soft mewing sound issuing from her tightly closed lips.
Satisfied for the moment, the Traveler turned back to his audience and broke the silence by clearing his throat. He resituated himself on the rock, pulling the skirts of his faded brown robe up and away from the dusty ground. Then he addressed the assembly once more.
"Men and women of Philippi, my companions and I would like to thank you again for your warm welcome."
A few of the gathering still eyed the girl, perhaps wondering if she would again interrupt the lesson. For the moment though, she remained quiet, rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around her folded legs. Gradually, they returned their attention to the Traveler who smiled down at a middle-aged woman seated near the front.
"I would especially like to thank Lydia," he said, a smile growing on his weathered face, "who has opened her home to us while we preach the gospel in your city."
Lydia, a dye merchant who specialized in purple cloth, smiled sheepishly beneath her headscarf and gave a slight bow. She had attended this gathering the previous week and become one of the first in the city to accept salvation.
The Traveler turned from Lydia and gestured toward two men sitting off to the side. "I would also like to thank Brother Luke for introducing us to the community here."
Luke, a doctor and prominent man in Philippi, nodded in acknowledgment. The Traveler next indicated the man sitting beside Luke.
"Allow me to introduce Brother Timothy. He joined us in Lystra and accompanied us from there to Troas, where we received a vision from the Holy Spirit that we were needed here in Macedonia."
The small crowd murmured together at the mention of the Holy Spirit. Sensing the curiosity of the group, the Traveler explained how God had guided them on their journey from Judea in the East up to Antioch and across Asia Minor to Greece where they now preached to the people of Philippi.
"The Holy Spirit sent me a vision," he said, "of a man of Macedonia who pleaded with me to—"
"These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!"
The Traveler stopped mid-sentence, his mouth hanging open, and along with everyone else, looked over at the young girl who had stood back up and interrupted him yet again. He sighed, but then something behind the girl caught the Traveler's eye. He peered past her, further up the slope, to where a crowd of onlookers had gathered when the girl first began making a scene. These were people of the city, curious about the spectacle unfolding at the river.
A couple of men stepped out from the spectators and shuffled to either side of the girl. It was apparent that she knew these men, but she did not welcome them. She struggled as they took hold of her arms and hissed at them between clenched teeth, but despite her contortions, they succeeded in turning her back toward the city.
As the girl was led away, the Traveler turned back to his audience and said, "My apologies,” but then the girl broke one arm free of her escort. She spun around and yelled back at the top of her lungs, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation!" followed by an eruption of maniacal laughter.
With this outburst, the Traveler lost the last vestige of his patience. He slid down from atop the boulder and advanced upon the young girl. Straining against the man who still held her by one arm, she leaned out toward the Traveler and grinned mischievously through rotten teeth, mocking him with a hissing laugh. The Traveler stopped only inches from her, and looking her in the eye, spoke in a clear, booming, and authoritative voice.
"I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her."
The girl's triumphant grin melted, her expression morphing into shock and horror as her jaw dropped and disbelief spread across her stricken face. A thick fog of silent anticipation held the onlookers’ gazes as they waited with rapt attention.
Then she screamed.
The girl cried out in what seemed like pain and dropped to the ground, her back arching and her hands clawing at the air. Startled, the man holding her arm let go and stepped back as she writhed before him, convulsing in spasms. Then her head snapped up, and she screamed at the Traveler, a feral cat-like roar, all pain and outrage. The Traveler, unmoved, stood calmly over her and waited patiently for the fit to end.
And then it did. The girl’s shoulders slumped, and she dropped her head as though the weight of it was suddenly more than she could bear. The dirty, matted locks fell to cover her face as she reached out her palms to steady herself upon the dusty ground. Quietly, she began to sob.
Gasps and murmurs from the crowd drowned out the sounds of her cries, but they were evidenced by the heaving of her shoulders as her whole body trembled. The Traveler, who only moments ago had rebuked her harshly, now laid a gentle hand atop her head. At his touch, her sobbing faded to a whimper, and she sniffed in a rapid staccato of sharply inhaled breaths.
The girl peered up at him through tear glistened eyes and whispered, "Thank you."
The Traveler nodded. Then he stepped back as one of the two men who had earlier attempted to lead the girl away took her by both arms, yanking her up to face him. He was tall and well-muscled, but exceedingly ugly. Scars covered his broad face, and his flattened nose was crooked, no doubt the result of countless brawls. She stiffened as he gripped her with his meaty hands and pulled her close to his mangled face.
The Brute leaned in, his twisted nose almost touching hers, and peered into her eyes as though searching for something locked deep within. She stared back at him wide-eyed and trembling, and he must not have seen what he was looking for because he abruptly released the girl. She dropped to the ground, crumpling at his feet, and broke into a fresh bout of sobs. Turning from his small charge to the Traveler, he pointed an accusing finger, his face a twisted red mask of anger.
"You've taken away her power!"
The Traveler frowned at the incensed man. Then someone stepped up beside him, and Luke's voice whispered into his ear, "She was a fortune-teller. This man is her master."
The Traveler nodded, a knowing expression passing over his face. To the Brute, he said, "She was possessed of an evil spirit. I have freed her."
"You’ve ruined her!" he spat back. "She’s worthless to me now!"
The Traveler watched as three other savage-looking men stepped out of the crowd and glowered at him in turn. Their leader again jabbed a finger at the Traveler as he turned to address the onlookers.
"These men are Jews!" He spat the word with disgust and malice. "They spread their lies and mislead our citizens. Now they deprive us of our seer!"
The crowd murmured at that, clearly troubled by the idea. The Brute continued, "Who will tell us if the harvest will be good this year? Who will warn us of famine or plague?"
There were nods and sounds of agreement from the assembly as they grew more agitated by his accusations.
"No one asked these men to come here and press their foreign ways upon us. Hasn’t the Emperor of Rome said that Jews are troublemakers to be watched and rebuked?"
People shouted their agreement. A few called for them to be expelled from Philippi. Others said they should be beaten, and some even cried out for their deaths. Finding himself suddenly the leader of a mob, the Brute glared back at the Traveler and grinned maliciously.
"We’d be within our rights to hang them from this tree, here and now!”
There were calls of assent, and one of the Brute's men took a threatening step toward the Traveler. Alarmed, Luke stepped forward with his arms spread wide.
"Citizens of Philippi," he said in a calm voice, "do not allow yourselves to be carried away to violence. Are we not a law-abiding society?"
The more reasonable members of the mob gave their agreement to this statement while others shouted at Luke to mind himself and be quiet.
"Brothers and sisters," Luke said, "You all know me. I am asking you to leave these men in peace. They have done nothing to harm you."
The Brute shook his head. "That’s a lie! They’ve deprived us of the one person who can tell us the future." He paused before adding, "But as you said, we’re a people of laws. We have magistrates and courts, so let’s take these men to the authorities and let them pronounce judgment!"
At the Brute's order, his men stepped forward and seized the Traveler and his companions. Luke opened his mouth to object but was rudely brushed aside before he could say anything further. Turning, he addressed the one who took hold of Timothy.
"This man is a Greek, a citizen of Ionia."
The vigilante looked puzzled. "He's not a Jew?"
Luke kept both his gaze and tone firm as he said, "His father is Greek."
The man looked to his leader for guidance. The Brute had taken hold of the Traveler and seemed more concerned with securing his prize than dealing with this new complication.
Uninterested, he replied, "Leave that one if he's Greek, but these two go to the authorities."
With that, the ruffians started toward the city, leading the Traveler and his companion away while the mob followed close behind. The Traveler could only hope his friends would be wise enough to make themselves scarce.
Authorities and Magistrates
The Traveler stumbled. In the press of the mob, someone stepped on his heel, making him lose his footing. He nearly fell, but the Brute still held him tightly by the arm, and now he yanked up savagely. "Get up!"
The Traveler glanced around, trying to get his bearings. They were in the city center now. Stone buildings replaced the huts and cottages that dominated the outskirts, and he recognized the palaestra, the wrestling school, as they passed by. Now, the streets grew narrower, and the Traveler found himself jostled and thrust about by the mob as it flowed around buildings like the onrush of flooding water.
A sharp pain erupted in the Traveler's foot as his toes slammed against something hard and unyielding. He stumbled again, tripping over the lip of the unseen object. Then the soles of his sandals came down on ground that was much firmer than the dirt of the valley. Regaining his balance, the Traveler realized he now trod upon a stone roadway, the Via Egnatia.
The sounds of urban life enveloped them as they passed the public baths. Then the road widened, and the Traveler felt the pressure of the crowd release, the people ahead of him spilling out into the open area of the agora, the central marketplace.
The mob washed through this space, disturbing the normal activities of the shoppers and sellers and picking up curious onlookers as it went. People did not know why it formed or even where it was headed, but they joined just the same, not wanting to miss the rare excitement.
The mass slowed as it entered the forum, the city square, and the Traveler felt the pressure increase behind him as the trailing edge of the crowd caught up. People fanned out, edging closer to gain a better view of the anticipated spectacle.
The Brute still held tight to the Traveler's arm, and now he hauled him up a row of steps that led to a pillared stone structure at the summit of a hill overlooking the forum. As they topped the stairs and came to a stop in the courtyard, three men dressed in white togas exited the building. They were elderly but held themselves tall and rigid. These were proud men, accustomed to being respected and obeyed.
"What is the meaning of this disturbance?" one of them asked.
The Brute pushed the Traveler and his companion forward. Then he answered the magistrate. "These men, being Jews, trouble our city."
One of the magistrates, the eldest of the three, stepped forward to peer more closely at the two men. He looked back to the Traveler's antagonist, and knowing him, addressed him by name.
"Epaphroditus, are these the men who came to our city a week ago, the ones who have been staying in the house of Lydia?"
The irony of the Brute's name was not lost on the Traveler. In Greek, it meant lovely or charming. Epaphroditus was obviously neither of those things, although the Traveler doubted anyone would dare to point out the contradiction, at least to his face.
Epaphroditus replied, "Yes, Magistrate. They’ve been causing trouble since they arrived. They teach customs that aren’t lawful for us Romans."
The magistrate nodded. "We know. Many good citizens have informed us of their activities, and we have learned much about them.” Turning to the Traveler, he added, “You are called Saul of Tarsus, yes? And this is your companion, Silvanus?"
The Traveler stood up straight and looked the magistrate in the eye. "My name is Paul, and he is Silas."
The magistrate's face took on a bewildered expression, and Paul understood why. The magistrate was well informed, but he did not know everything about him. Indeed, he had once been known as Saul. He was a Pharisee, a scholar of Jewish law, and had once been one of the leaders of the Hebrew political elite. In fact, previously a zealous persecutor of Christians, he had been authorized to hunt down and arrest members of the budding Christian church.
Then one day, while traveling to Damascus, Saul had encountered a blinding light and heard the voice of Jesus Christ Himself, who asked him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" In that terrible moment, Saul realized his life had been dedicated to persecuting the followers of the true Messiah. He had been working against God.
Blinded, he was led into the city of Damascus where he spent three long days without his sight while he neither ate nor drank. Finally, a man named Ananias, who received a vision from the Lord, came to Saul and laid hands upon him. Saul’s sight returned, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, he became a fervent follower of Jesus and preached the gospel wherever he went. He took the name Paul, the Roman version of his Hebrew name, as an indicator of his changed nature.
The Brute, Epaphroditus, seemed irritated by the confusion over his prisoner’s name. Seeking to refocus the conversation, he said, “They are pressing their foreign ways upon us and used magic against my fortunetelling slave. We want them punished!”
The mob reacted to Epaphroditus’ outrage with a surge of agitation and began shouting over each other in a confused cacophony. The magistrate glanced about in concern. With relief, he spotted a detachment of Roman soldiers entering the Forum. They pushed their way through the crowd and up the stairs. When they reached the top of the steps, they positioned themselves between the crowd and the magistrates with their prisoners. Seeking to calm the rising tension, the elderly magistrate folded his arms over his toga and addressed the two men in the loud voice of a practiced statesman.
"The Roman Empire is very tolerant of different religions and the worshipping of various gods. We take no issue with you practicing your traditions with those of your faith. But the Roman Senate has decreed that no strange deities may be introduced to the Roman people whose teachings are contrary to the customs of the Empire. You are free to worship your gods, but your proselytizing must cease."
Paul assumed the magistrate must have considered this the wise and measured course, a fair compromise that would restore order to the city. But Paul was not one to compromise his principles or his faith, regardless of the danger.
Raising his gaze, he addressed the magistrate. "There is but one God in Heaven. I have been commissioned to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is what I shall do."
The magistrate stared in appalled confusion, his face reddening. This Jew dared to defy his authority, and in front of the people no less! In a flash of sudden anger, the magistrate grabbed Paul by his robe.
"Take these men!" he commanded the soldiers. "Let them be beaten with rods for their defiance. We will not countenance their kind here!"
The mob cheered with excitement and surged forward, intent on carrying out the magistrate's order themselves. In response, the Roman soldiers stepped forward and formed a line between the crowd and the magistrates, raising their rectangular shields to hold back the mob.
The magistrate shouted at the people to stand back and allow the soldiers to handle the situation, but his words fell on deaf ears. The soldiers leaned into their shields, holding back the crowd, but the weight of the mob forced them backward. Then someone threw a rock that hit one of the soldiers on his helmet. Cursing, the soldier drew his sword.
Paul pleaded with the magistrate, "Take us away now before there is bloodshed."
The magistrate's eyes moved to the Centurion, the grizzled commander of the Roman garrison, and nodded. The Centurion acknowledged the implied order with a curt nod of his own. He took Paul and Silas each by the arm but hesitated before leading them away. They all watched as the magistrate stepped toward the crowd, his hands held high.
"People of Philippi, listen to me!"
He might have been mute for all the good his shouting did amidst the roar of the crowd. The mob forced the soldiers further backward, and the man with the drawn sword raised it in a threatening gesture. The magistrate's eyes darted about in dread.
Then a sound like thunder echoed through the forum, catching the attention of the mob and causing many of them to pause in confusion. The sound came again, and Paul was amazed to see one of the magistrates pounding a staff on the flagstones of the courtyard. The booming sound in the echo chamber of the forum managed to distract the mob just long enough for the leading magistrate to address the crowd once more.
"People of Philippi, calm yourselves!" he shouted. "These men will be punished, but they will be punished according to the law!"
Some of the crowd, those that worked for Epaphroditus, began to push against the soldiers again, but the madness had gone out of the masses, and they received no further support. Paul sighed in relief to see the fever fade from the faces of the people. The magistrate turned and addressed the soldiers, loudly, for the benefit of the crowd.
"Soldiers of Rome, take these two men to the jail and administer their punishment. Set them in stocks and confine them securely while we confer to decide their fate."
With the spectacle at an end, people began to back away, the energy ebbing from the moment. One by one, the soldiers made their way over to where Paul and Silas stood. The magistrate threw the folds of his toga over his arm and hustled across the courtyard toward the council building with his colleagues in tow. As they disappeared through the open door and into the solace of the building's interior, the prisoners were led away to pay the price for their insolence and stubborn faith.
Sitting in the darkness of the cell, Paul groaned. He could still feel the sting of the rod as it snapped across his back. He had been determined not to cry out, but after the eleventh strike, the scream had been ripped from his throat against his will.
He did not know how many more blows he had suffered before he passed out. He did not remember being carried to the cell, nor having his feet set in the stocks. He had woken up to find himself surrounded by absolute darkness.
He did not know the size of the cell or if he shared it with unseen others. Nor did he know what had become of Silas. All he knew was the pain of the welts on his back and the deep black silence of the cell, broken only by the echoing sound of his own breathing and the occasional dripping of water somewhere in the distance.
Except, that... wait. There was something else. Paul held his breath and listened. The ragged, faint sound of breathing continued. What he had mistaken for the echoes of his own breathing was, in fact, the sound of another prisoner somewhere in the darkness. Paul focused on the sound; irregular, halting, labored. Whoever it was must be in far worse condition than he. He closed his eyes, ignoring the ridiculousness of doing so while in darkness, and mouthed a silent prayer for the poor soul who shared the cell.
He was still praying for the unknown prisoner when a searing white light erupted in the enclosed space. Paul threw his hands over his face and attempted to shut his eyes. Then he remembered they were already closed, which made the intensity of the light that much more alarming. Even with his eyes shut and his hands covering them, it was like staring into the face of the sun.
Then someone spoke. The voice was powerful, though not loud, with an odd musical quality that echoed strangely in the small space.
"My apologies," the voice said. "I sometimes forget how uncomfortable my aura can be for mortals."
The light assaulting Paul's vision faded until it settled into a warm, steady glow. Slowly, carefully, he opened his eyes and taking a deep breath, cautiously lowered his hands from his face, ready to bring them back up again if the light proved to be too much.
It was not. Paul squinted as his eyes adjusted to the now well-lit room. Then he gasped, his breath whisked away by what he saw. The entity standing before him appeared to be awash in brilliant white light, its outline blurry and indistinct. Faint variations indicated what might be a body with arms and legs, but whatever manner of clothing the being wore shined forth with the same powerful glow, washing out any perceptible detail.
Long, shimmering golden hair framed a beautiful and flawless face. So perfect were the features of that face, Paul could not decide whether they belonged to a male or female, if such distinction even applied to this apparition. And it had wings, like a pair of eagle's wings with soft white feathers, the outline visible behind the creature’s back.
Paul blinked rapidly as he realized there was only one explanation for what he beheld, only one possibility. With a halting voice, Paul said, “Are you an angel?”
It grinned knowingly at him and nodded softly. Paul was struck by how human its expressions were. He found it odd, but then, what did he know of angels? Still, the being’s mannerisms were surprising casual, an observation that made Paul more curious than afraid.
"Is that better, I hope?"
The voice of the angel took Paul by surprise, and he realized he had been staring at it stupidly. He shook his head to clear the fog from his mind, realizing as he did so that the angel was referring to the lessening of the light. Ignoring the pounding of his heart, he forced his mind to focus.
"Yes,” he said. "Thank you."
The angel's grin warmed to a broad smile. "I'm glad."
But as it said this, it looked past Paul, and its expression shifted to one of concern. Paul turned his head to follow the angel's gaze. A body lay on the stone floor a few paces away. Like Paul, the feet of the man sat immobile within stocks, but unlike Paul, he was not conscious. He lay on his side, one of his arms thrust out past his head, the other out of view. Angry red welts covered his bare back, and Paul could not help but wonder if that was how his own back appeared. The unconscious prisoner’s head faced the opposite direction, but Paul knew without a doubt who he was; Silas, his missionary companion, and friend.
He appeared close to death. Dried blood caked the back of Silas' head, the hair matted and crusted. His breathing was shallow, erratic, and a long pause between breaths caused the air in Paul's own throat to catch with apprehension. He looked back to the angel pleadingly.
“Can you help him?"
The angel's expression softened. Glancing up, it gazed at the ceiling for a moment. Then it closed its eyes, smiled, and nodded. Without a sound, the angel moved over to Silas. Paul could not tell if it took steps or just glided across the floor. Kneeling over Silas, it placed one hand on his battered back, and the glow from that hand grew white-hot. Paul turned half away as he squinted again. The glow faded, and as it did, Silas' breathing grew steadier and less labored. Withdrawing its hand, the angel stood and moved back to the near corner where Paul sat in his stocks.
"He will sleep while we talk," the angel said.
Paul looked around at the entire cell, now fully visible thanks to the angel’s light. The room was much larger than he had at first supposed, and he now saw that they were not alone. Five other prisoners lay scattered about the cell, each with their legs similarly shackled. There was no way to tell how long they had been imprisoned here. They all either lay flat or sat slumped over the stocks, and none appeared to be awake, for none reacted to the appearance of the angel.
Paul indicated the other prisoners. "What about them?"
"They will sleep as well," the angel said. "Do you mind if I sit?"
What a ridiculous question, Paul thought. Did angels sit? If they did, this one certainly did not need his permission to do so. Overcome by the absurdity of it, he laughed, which hurt.
"Please," Paul said with a grin of his own and held out a hand in mock courtesy.
He watched as the angel lowered itself to the ground, and again, he could perceive no mechanical action from the movement. The angel did not reach out a hand to steady itself. It simply lowered, hovering, to a sitting position. One corner of the angel's mouth curled up into a sly grin.
"You know, I told Tannin not to antagonize you," it said, chuckling. "He was actually quite shocked when you banished him. I don't think he expected that."
"The demon you exorcised from that girl. I warned him to leave you alone, but he just wouldn't listen."
"You were there?" Paul said, astonished. "You spoke to the demon?"
"Of course!" The angel made a clucking noise and chuckled again. "Poor Tannin, always taking on more than he can manage."
"You know this demon?"
"Oh, yes! I’ve known him since before the rebellion, before the Fall. Since then, I have contended against him regularly enough here on earth. I'm sorry to say he’s the reason you find yourself in this jail cell now."
"What do you mean?"
"After you cast him out of the young girl, he began whispering poison into the ear of that Brute, Epaphroditus. Tannin influenced him to rile up the mob and deliver you to the magistrates."
"I see," Paul whispered, and his eyes glazed over as he grappled with the implications of the angel's words. He found himself contemplating the possibilities of a world layered on top of this one, out of view and imperceptible. He had never considered the extent to which heavenly and demonic forces might contend with each other to influence the actions of humans, either for good or evil. As he pondered, the angel continued.
"Tannin has one of the slipperiest tongues in all Satan's horde. He is adept at sowing seeds of doubt, of whispering drops of poisonous suggestion into the ears of men." The angel's eyes narrowed. "Through his vile influence, he has caused many men and women to doubt the power of God's grace and turn away from Him." The angel waved a dismissive hand. "I wouldn't worry too much about Tannin though. While he is troublesome and capable of influencing the weak-minded, your faith is strong. And you have me to watch over you."
Paul stared in puzzlement at the angel. Its mannerisms and expressions were so casual, not at all what he would have expected from an angel. He assumed a member of the heavenly host would present a haughty, formal presence. Instead, this angel expressed an almost human personality. Perhaps perceiving his bewilderment, the angel grinned again.
"Paul, you look confused."
"Well," Paul said haltingly, "I have never met an angel before, but I would not have expected you to be so... normal."
The angel laughed. "It's interesting, isn't it, human imagination? You conjure up ideas of things beyond your perception and understanding. Then you’re dismayed and disappointed when they don’t turn out to be just as your feeble mind imagined.”
"I meant no disrespect," Paul said. The angel chuckled again.
"Oh, I took no offense. If anything, I’m amused and perhaps a little flattered. I’ve been on earth for thousands of your years now. I suppose in spending so much time with humans, I've grown comfortable with your mannerisms." The angel nodded with decision. "Yes, I think I shall take that as a compliment. Now, if you were to behold some of my brethren in Heaven, you would not be disappointed. They are some of the least interesting creatures you would ever meet; all pomp and ceremony. Take Gabriel for instance. No sense of humor whatsoever. Yes, most of my fellow hosts would be just as you imagined; reverent, solemn, and exceedingly dull!"
Paul smiled. He could not help but like this angel. Still, its presence confused him. "If I may ask, what is the purpose of revealing yourself to me? Do you bring a message?"
"No message, although I can tell you the Almighty is pleased with your work thus far. No, I am here to comfort you in your time of distress."
"I appreciate that, and thank you for what you did for Silas."
The angel considered that for a moment. "I don't think the Lord meant for Silas to die this night."
"You don’t think? You mean, you aren’t certain of God's will?"
"Well, of course, I know His will!" the angel said with a touch of indignation. "We angels are not omniscient if that's what you mean, but the Lord does speak to me. He did so just now and granted me permission to heal Silas. I also receive constant updates on proclamations made in Heaven, not that much new has happened, not until fifty years ago."
"Fifty years ago?"
"When the Father sent His Son to earth.”
“Ah,” Paul replied in understanding.
“Now, that was an exciting time! After thousands of years of conflict, we finally dealt a decisive blow against the enemy."
"Satan and his demons." The angel's eyes narrowed as he spoke. "For millennia they have gained ground in the struggle, but now the tide has turned. Victory is at hand!"
Paul tilted his head as his mind raced to process what the angel said. "Pardon me for saying so, for I am no soldier, but I’ve known a few. You remind me of them, and you speak as though you’re engaged in a war."
"Oh, we are!" the angel insisted. "We're combatants in the greatest struggle in the history of the world, indeed beyond this world. This war has raged since the Lord laid the foundations of the earth, and I have been at its center since the beginning."
Paul's forehead creased with contemplation. As with all Jews, he had been taught how Satan tempted man to sin, but he had never thought about it as an active conflict, a war between heavenly forces.
"So, you were there when Satan rebelled?"
"I was." The angel's countenance changed. The easy smile vanished to be replaced by a wistful expression. His eyes stared vacantly as though recalling past events. "I was there when Lucifer's pride led him to believe he could supplant the Almighty. I was there when he and his angels assaulted the Holy Seat and were cast down—"
"To earth," Paul said.
"Into the void," the angel corrected him, "although it took them little enough time to make their way here."
"So, it’s for revenge then," Paul probed, "that Satan leads man astray? He seeks to pull us down with him to damnation?"
"Partly. Lucifer could not defeat God, so he seeks to hurt Him the only way he can, by targeting those the Lord loves. But do not underestimate your role in this matter. Mankind is not merely collateral damage in some heavenly power struggle. No, Lucifer holds a special hatred for your kind. You see, humanity was the catalyst for the Conflict from the very beginning, and he blames you for his fall."
"What do you mean? Can you tell me about this war and how it started?"
The angel paused, perhaps considering whether he should reveal the information. After a long moment, he nodded with decision, and the face changed, taking on the most serious expression Paul had seen up to that point, a fierce visage that reminded him this was a being of immense power.
"I have been sent here to comfort you," the angel said in a formal tone, "so if it will bring you comfort, I will tell you about the war, but be warned. This information is unknown to humanity, at least in so much as the details are concerned. This, therefore, constitutes a revelation, and as such, there will be a price."
"What price?" Paul asked, with some trepidation.
"That's not for me to say, but there will be one. Also, you should not reveal what I am about to share with you to any other mortal person, either through speech or the written word. You recently wrote a letter to the churches in Galatia, and I assume you will continue to write to others as your ministry grows?"
"Yes,” Paul agreed, “if God allows me to leave this prison, certainly."
"In that case, I must insist that you do not disclose anything I share with you in those letters. In fact, it would be best for you not to reveal that I have appeared to you at all. Few mortals have received revelations of this kind, and none have heard the full story of the Conflict from one of the heavenly host. This will be a great burden for you to bear, and as I said, there will be a price."
The angel paused before asking, "So, Paul, do you wish me to tell you the story of this war and of humanity's place in it? Please be certain before you answer."
Paul hesitated only a moment before nodding. "I do. Please share your story with me."
"Oh, this is not my story." The angel grinned. "This is your story. As I said, humanity is not some mere proxy in the Conflict. You are the front line, and earth is the main theatre. The war started almost from the very beginning of this world, but to understand why it happened, we must go back a little further, to just before God created the heavens and the earth."