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Nearer Than You Think (IC)

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Date: December 24th, 2009

St. Stephen's Church had been completely rebuilt after the incident before Halloween, the antique graveyard repaired by Dr. Metropolis and a legion of grad students from Freedom City's universities. That made this year's Christmas Eve service especially joyous and happy for the parishoners of Freedom City's oldest continually-active house of worship. There were all the usual trimmings of the holiday; candles for the worshipers, holly and mistletoe on the walls in a tasteful complement to beautiful old stained-glass windows bearing symbols of the Old and New Testaments. Today was a particularly special day for the Claremont students who had made their way out to the church: as part of a joint inter-faith celebration of the holidays, Father Henry Guimont, the priest attached to the chapel at school, was going to talk to the congregants about Christmas in the Catholic tradition alongside an Armenian Orthodox priest, a Lutheran minister, and Baptist preacher each talking about their own faiths.

Guimont was a popular man on campus, even for those who didn't attend his chapel regularly, and he'd made sure to pass out invitations to students he liked who'd be in the area for the holidays. The big Christmas dinner ahead of time didn't exactly hurt, nor did the promise of coffee and hot chocolate afterwards.

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Attending the Christmas service was a common occurence for both the Albright and Harris families but this year, Alex was actually excited about it. She had chattered Mike's ear off on their way over, well, his mental ear equivalent. She was very enthusiastic about the compare-contrast metric of the different individuals talking and apparently had done some research into the matter. Of course, Alex had been on a theological bent since November. Be prepared might have been the boy scouts motto but Alex was content to borrow it.

She stomped through the snow with childlike glee, heavily bundled in a blindingly bright green snow parka that was trimmed with crimson red in the cuffs and hood. For once, her snow boots matched, but her tights were a vibrant lemon yellow. She had one gloved hand tucked into Mike's as they made their way into the church and briefly sidetracked her theological theories for a brief history of the church as they made their way to their pew. "...And that's what happened during the Invasion here."

Alex finally paused for air.

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Mike happily strolled alongside his girlfriend listening as best he could as she expounded on the intracacies of the various theological topics that had occupied so much of her recent time. Wandering the streets in a T-shirt and jeans did draw him some strange looks but after the events of holloween he had outgrown his coats and hadn't really had time to get a new one. He was fairly certain that would be under the tree this year anyway.

"So even here was shifted over?" He asked as she paused, "I'd think if anywhere would be sfe it would be a place like this."

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Alex shrugged at him, her slender shoulders rustling under the parka as she shifted. She scooted in next to him on the pew and tucked her shoulder under his arm companionabally, "Well, first since none of it happened in the first place, of course it didn't get sucked into hell. But in the future we were in, it did. It gets convoluted like that. But the sanctity of any place can be corrupted, especially once the people fall. If you think about it, the faith comes from people in the first place. This is just a place where a lot of pure and not-so-pure hearts worshiped. Without that, its just a pretty building."

Alex waved her gloved hands at the inside of the church before tugging off the gloves, "Before the building was built, it was just empty land. Now, some cultures believe the land itself is sacred but if you ask me, its sacred because they believe. Does that make sense or have I strayed way out there again?"

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"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." Hebrews 10:39 (King James Version)

Darian has been to many churches before. It s all about learning to him. Many religions had many beliefs. What made this church special? Could it be that it's Christmas Eve? Maybe. Could it be that there was free food? Maybe. No, the real reason Darian is here is that he is looking for repentance. Repentance for one thing. His soul is missing. A few months earlier he gave it to a demon named Belphegor. Not having a soul not only impeded on his work (Judeo-Christian entities, magics and the like would not work for or with him), but it also impeded his life. It was like the demon who he gave it to was playing some cruel, twisted deal. And who could blame him? It was his to play with. No, Darian just wants it to be over with. What more holy day than Christmas Eve (besides Easter, and he doesn't want to wait that long) to ask for an intercessor? Darian picks a pew,not to close to the front.First row is for church staff. second row is for people that need the church staff. He doesn't want anything to go wrong. Going through the motions is the easy part, but gotting/recieving is another thing entirely different.

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The service began with a brightly-robed choir bursting into glorious song, raising their voices to Heaven as they sang Adestes Fidelis in the original Latin, then smoothly shifting to the English that was the native language of the congregation. The choir was very good here, the joy in faith and music they felt ringing from the high vaulted ceiling. Afterwards, Reverend Dickinson, the round-faced Methodist minister who usually presided over services, led the congregation in a short prayer before the Christmas pageant began! The short service, mostly put on by older folks with a few small children as the 'angels', was very much like most others, with the highlight being a really very cute baby Jesus who was just old enough to cheerfully burble at just the right moment.

After that, Reverend Dickinson introduced the various speakers they had for the evening, Father Guimont going first. He was a good speaker, as always, his clear tenor voice reaching the whole congregation as he told them of the importance of the birth of Christ in the Catholic tradition. "Let us remember always," he finished, "that we need not doubt miracles today. We live in a world full of them. What matters is how we embrace those miracles, here on this most miraculous of days." The other speakers were compelling in their own way, but any Claremont student would agree that their pastor was the best. After the various talks came more singing, this time for the whole congregation! Joy to the World!

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Just before the service began Mike led Alex into a pew and seated himself next to a fellow student, Derrick? Darren? He couldn't rememebr exactly so settled on a polite nod and wished him "Merry Christmas." as he sat.

He sat quietly through the sermons and agreed that Father Guimont did well given recent events in the city better than he likely realized. As the rest of the congregation stood to sing Mike joined in adding his low and mostly on key basso voice to the mix with a cheerfull grin.

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This was still Alex's favorite part. Although all of the sermons had been interesting, Alex privately thought that if you were going to worship any god, it was best to do it in joyful song. She bounced to her feet, her snowboots squeaking on the floor. She tucked her chilled fingertips into Mike's warm hand and added her cheer piping soprano to the congregation's hymn.

'I'm glad we came.' It was more emotions than words that she transmitted at him, but the sentiment was quite clear along with an even more wordless burst of love. Not just love for him but a warm 'love of fellow man' sort of feeling.

Unsurprisingly, this was Alex's favorite holiday.

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"Merry Christmas" Darian says taking a seat next to him. Michael Harris, Darian has never met him personally, but he has heard about him from Alexandra. She is also here. "Merry Christmas to you too," he says to her. His tone seems faux hopeful, but his heart is in it. The service is alright, it's like any other Christmas Eve service. Darian's hopes sink, though maybe he can talk to a pastor or something...

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Finally the service came to its climax, a powerful performance of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing! The choir and congregation were all on their feet, singing with joy and enthusiasm, when something unusual happened. The teenage heroes, perhaps a bit less intent than the crowd on the song, were the first to notice a glowing, shimmering light just inside the roof of the church, like a candle's glow scaled up to be as large as a man. Gradually, the light silently faded to reveal the figure of a man, or rather an angel. With great white fluffy wings, shining metallic armor, and the symbols of the Christian faith emblazoned on his vaguely Romanesque outfit, the dark-haired man looked very much like many of the images of warrior angels about the church. He looked down at the crowd with a beneficent expression on his face and was soon singing along, his voice ringing along as part of the chorus as the song came to an end.

High above the crowd, Heyzel smiled as he swooped down neatly, landing next to a startled Reverend Dickenson at the pulpit. "Pardon me, sister," he said with a warm smile, his voice ringing out to the edge of church. "I didn't mean to interrupt." Raising his voice a little, he said "I would speak with the congregation at the end of the service, but I would never dream of interrupting the worship of the Creator. Pray, continue." With a few flaps of his wings, which were far too small to support his body, Heyzel rose up and made a neat landing at the back of the church, sitting respectfully in one of the free seats for the overflow crowd. There was a momentary pause before, rolling with it, Dickenson had the lights dimmed for the candlelight portion of the service. The crowd was very quiet, and it took them a moment or two to find the words for Silent Night.

Inside Heyzel was a bit concerned by that, but shook it off hopefully. Surely the arrival of an angel in church on Christmas wasn't so surprising to the faithful, not in a city like this. Besides, he'd just been carried away by the sheer power of the music. He was just honored to be there, especially when someone handed him a hymnal. He politely declined, though; after all, he knew the words by heart.

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Mike tensed slightly as the 'angel' appeard, after the interdimensional hijinks of late he was a bit on edge but whether angel or mutant playing a prank he seemed peaceful enough. He silently inquired of Alex, 'IS THAT WHAT I THINK IT IS?' and kept himself ready just in case but soon found his voice once more and joined into the song.

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Alex touched a fingertip to Mike's lips gently, although he hadn't spoken aloud. Her hazel eyes were bemused and twinkling over her pink cheeks, We were just talking about a demon invasion and one peaceful angel you have more of a mental upset over?

The chiding was gentle and playful. Resolutely, Alex turned back to finish her hymns undisturbed, It doesn't matter what he really is, does it? He's quite peaceful. His aura is radiant. Content. Even concerned. Finish the song, Mike. This is one of my favorites.

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"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid." Luke 2:9

This can't be happening! An angel? A real angel? Darian's hopes pick up. The probabilities of the are uncountable. Well, countable, but about as probable as a virgin giving birth the the creator of a worldwide religion. Though this could be a sign. Darian quickly weighs his options. What to do in this situation? He has to get to it. He has to tell it his conundrum. If not now, never. This is a once in a lifetime thing. Though what if he is here on his own mission from God? Too late. While the chorus sings Silent night, Darian makes his way to the far side of the pews and to the back where the angel rests. When he gets there he stands in awe for a few seconds. "I..."

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The burning candle flame before him helped steady the young angel's nerves, reminding him of the purpose of his visit to Earth. His keen eyes scanned the crowd, picking out those who looked out of the ordinary. A place of wonders indeed. I haven't even spoken yet, and I feel sure in my mission. This place had been struck hard by the invasion of the Adversary, but the resolution had left it cleansed of the taint of the Others. Or had it? His eyes narrowed, just a bit, as he picked over a few in the crowd. There was nothing in his heart but pity for them. Now.

When the young man with the brush of the infernal approached him, Heyzel was pleased, but he didn't want to interrupt the worshipers around him. He rose from his seat and smoothly laid a finger across the boy's lips, gesturing to the crowd around them with a smile on his face. At the end of the song, he leaned very close and whispered in a voice like a harp's deepest notes, "You shall have what you seek."

When the sermon came to an end, the game Reverend Dickinson invited "our very special visitor" to the front, a look of deep concern on her face as she made way for Heyzel. Conscious of her nervousness, Heyzel spread his wings, the candles in the crowd glinting off his divine armor. "Good evening, everyone. Thank you for letting me be part of your community this evening." He smiled at them. "My name is Heyzel. I am an angel of freedom, come among you as Ambassador of the Realm of Heaven. I have come to live among you as a man, to show the virtues of justice and mercy to the world."

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Mike shrugged and began singing in earnest Alex was right afterall. Even if he wasn't the genuine article if his intentions were pure what did it really matter?

When the angel spoke Mike was glad that he seemed more new testament than old. The vengfull god thign was really ht last thing they needed at this point. Showing the world what ti meant to live a just life on the otherhand was somethign he could get behind.

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Alex tilted her head curiously at the angel, her hazel eyes were bright and fearless in her pale face. She snuck her hand back into his, her lips pursed in almost pensive thought. The Judeo-Christian pantheon had as great a tendancy for one-true-way-ism as much as they did for forgiveness and compassion. She merely hoped this angel fell more towards the forgiveness and compassion end of the spectrum. She wasn't sure if he was making a speech or looking for a dialog, it was kind of difficult to tell from the way he spoke.

So, Alex settled on the sort of thing that always worked in class. She tightened her fingers around Mike's hand and raised the other one tenatively in a little wave.

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Alex gave Mike's fingers a quick squeeze before she stood up. Slight and delicately built, she had wide hazel eyes that gave her an air of startled wonder but it was easy to see the clear intelligence in her solemn too-old eyes. Although the clothing was eyeblindingly bright, the soft corona of energy around her was a bit more noticable than even a watermelon themed parka.

""Excuse me," Alex said politely, her young voice high and clear in the church. "We were wondering about your stance on those of other faiths. I don't mean any insult, but its something very important to my friends and I. Are you more of a, 'They will know us by our actions' sort of angel or a 'Let those that would turn their face from God, let every hand be turned against them' sort of angel?"

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Heyzel's eyebrows furrowed for a moment as he found the right answer. It was difficult to summon up these concepts into words, but fortunately he'd been trained by the best. "There is but one faith, sister, and that faith is in righteousness, justice, and mercy. Those who follow that path and who pledge themselves to the Creator can expect to pass into the glories of Heaven. As for those who do not...well, I cannot tell you how to go to Valhalla, or Heliopolis, or Nirvana," he admitted. "I can only show the path to the Almighty himself. Neither," he added, with a significant look at Psyche, Phalanx, and especially Quark, "need I tell you the path to the Adversary. His agents are well-known to some of you." He looked at the crowd again. "This, among a few others, is a city of miracles. I am here to show you that the miracles of this world need not overshadow what follows. The justice of Heaven is infinite, and the rewards that follow just."

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"And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." 1 John 3:3

Darian's hopes grow as the angel speaks. He knows that the angel will get to him in due time. He thinks about asking a question, but the joy is too much. His thoughts are on how this will happen, when it will be, how it will happen and what will happen. Many many scenarios play out through his mind in the blink of an eye. All of them with him and his new angel friend victorious. For the first time in a few months, he is utterly content.

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"...par for the course. Yeah, everything is going great. I'll be home soon. Love you too, Mom." Standing outside the main doors, Fulcrum looked across the old graveyard as she pocketed the phone. Despite the chill, her civilian outfit was rather light, a black coat and puffy hat the only concession to the elements.

Services like these always delighted her. The old church radiated an understated elegance. Seeing everyone enjoying themselves was a tremendous stress reliever. The music in particular brought her back year-after-year, and this year the choir was really on a roll. Plus the inter-faith sermons were intriguing. Lets be honest here, the free food had been a big draw too. She was a practical woman first.

Mulling over the speakers' words, Fulcrum took one last look over the graveyard and headed back inside. Sounded like "Silent Night" had just finished, but the speaker's voice wasn't recognizable. She came to a screeching halt just inside the main entrance. Heyzel had just finished introducing himself. Mouthing the words Ambassador of Heaven?, she slipped into her spot at the back and slid down in the pew. Proportions aside, the posture blended her seamlessly into the congregation.

She listened intently, contemplation, skepticism and inquisitiveness playing across her features.

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Alex listened to the angel's explanation with her head cocked to one side and her bright eyes pinned on the winged guest to the congregation.

"Thank you," Alex said politely, "I didn't mean to interrupt but you can understand, I'm sure, all the questions that everyone is bound to have. It is only polite, I think, to ask if there is anything I can answer for you. I'm Alexandra Albright, by the way, and this is Mike."

She gestured to the large boy next to her.

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"I am Hey-Zel," said the angel with a warm, beneficent smile. Everything was going well so far; the worshipers were interested in him and what he had to say, there was a boy here with the taint of the infernal eager to have his soul cleansed...perhaps all his worries about his mission had been overblown! There were a few more questions from the congregation, mostly about matters of theology, which Heyzel answered to the best of his ability. The Logos had spoken the multiverse into being uncounted eons ago, the Creator of All Things did not actually care what gender, name, or divisions were imposed on him, nor for that matter did the Adversary. It was nature, not name or ritual, that carried a soul into eternity.

He caught sight of the giant girl in the rear and gave her the same friendly smile all others had gotten, and took a moment's pause to invite up the boy from below who had tried to catch his attention. He greeted Quark with an outstretched hand when the boy joined him by the podium. "My friend, I understand there's something you'd like to tell me," he said with understanding.

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Darian takes the angel's hand. He didn't know it was possible to feel fear and joy at the same time. Fear for the retribution of what this celestial being would do when he reveals his dark tale. In front of a crowd of people! On Christmas Eve no less! Joy in the fact that however it ended, this ordeal of being soulless would be over. He would try not to beat around the bush. "I..." Darian's voice cracks with a tinge of someone on the verge of tears, "I have no soul. I sold it to a demon." He breathes deeply and tries to hold back the weepy voice even though he's already pouring tears, "I need your help to get it back."

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The congregation gasped, some of them shifting in their seats at this odd display. This was not how any of them had expected to spend their Christmas Eve! The angel looked down at the sad-faced boy, feeling grief right along with him. The poor boy. He doesn't know. Heyzel laid a hand gently on Quark's shoulder, looking down into his colorful eyes. "My son," he said gently, "you have a soul. No demon, no monster, can take it from you."

He took a step back and raised his hands in the air, and when he did a sword shimmered into being there. The blade was long and polished, gleaming bright, and in a moment flames burst out across the metal, burning with the purity of Truth itself. "Do you reject the Adversary of the Universe?" he asked Quark, his voice a boom, "and embrace the justice, mercy, and freedom of Creation?"

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