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KnightDisciple

Faith Protects, Kevlar Helps (IC)

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Warehouse, Southside, Freedom City

Tuesday, July 15, Evening

Carson Keefe, currently going by his hero name "Gabriel" was having a day that was in no way good. Just the opposite, really; it was more than a bit of a bad day.

It had started off well enough, with the day itself going smoothly. His summer schedule was pretty loose, and he'd done most of what he needed to do for the season already. Made hero work easier. Even his earlier patrols had gone well; three muggings stopped without violence! Plus he had a chance to give a pep talk to a kid who he suspected had been contemplating a rather dire way of escaping bad circumstances; he'd left that talk feeling relieved, with the teenager looking refreshed and hopeful.

So clearly he'd have to end the day fighting a pack of demons.

"I'm getting sick and tired of fighting demons!"

He exclaimed this while blasting a fairly brutish example at point-blank range, sending it crashing limply into a nearby wall. His work wasn't done, as he had to fire off a sound burst that left the other five reeling.

That he'd originally stumbled on an even dozen in the "pack", all of them hiding in this abandoned warehouse and planning how to terrorize innocent lives was immaterial. No matter how many he'd taken down, there were still some left. Unfortunately, even his formidable powers weren't quite enough; he was visibly exhausted, and several moderate wounds were slowing him down more.

"Seriously, your ugly mugs keep popping up! You and yours, I swear! Why can't you just! Stay! In! HELL!"

The brute he'd just blasted had been trying to sneak up on him, but it took a blast center mass and fell down for good this time. Gabriel stood there, bloodstained and panting, giving the remaining 5 (2 "brutes" and 3 that looked like they'd be more at home working foul magics) a "come hither" gesture.

"Come on, boyos. We'll bring the house down yet!"

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As if on cue, the angel of Freedom burst through the skylight in a flare of holy light. "WRETCHED SINNERS!" he boomed as he pointed his flaming blade at the demonic circle and spread his wings wide, glory shining from his every pore. "THOU HAST DARED SET FOOT UPON THE SOIL OF MAN'S REALM! YOU WILL BE DISPATCHED TO YOUR DARK FATHER BY THE POWER OF CREATION ITSELF!" And then without further ado Freedom Angel joined Gabriel in slaying the demons, his sword cutting their flesh like sizzling bacon as he lay into them left and right: Heyzel was all mercy and compassion to the worst of men and the most annoying of gods, but for demons he was nothing but an engine of pure destruction.

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The demons cried out as one when Freedom Angel burst onto the scene. Their voices carried a mix of hatred and fear, in roughly equal measure. Almost immediately, the two "brutes" launched themselves at the servant of the Almighty, their claws whistling through the air. Their movements were fairly slow and clumsy, though. One of the demons manipulating hellfire turned his attention on Heyzel as well, building up a blast to try and burn away his beautiful white wings.

Meanwhile, the other two focused on Gabriel, one peppering him with small, quick bursts of fire, while the other faded partly from view, becoming a bright shimmer in the air that occasionally threw larger flames at the hero in white.

For his part, Gabriel couldn't spare much time to greet his angelic friend. He did manage a short sentence before he had to concentrate fully on the fight.

"Well, that's a handy answer to prayer if I ever saw one, buddy! Let's take these schlubs down!"

With that, he applied himself to the fray with renewed vigor. The warehouse rang and trembled with the sounds of his various attacks, as slowly the two holy men wore down their opponents.

Gabriel himself dueled mightily with the two infernalists, finally downing the first with a barrage of sonic strikes, then the other with a combination of his defense-weakening attack and an over-charged sonic blast. He stood there, panting, bleeding, but smiling.

"Heh. Thanks for the assist. Was getting a bit tight there, I have to admit. Not sure how these guys ended up-AAAGGGH!"

Out of nowhere, Gabriel was all but bathed in horrible fire and brimstone. It washed over his coat, his hood, nearly his whole body it seemed. He dropped to the floor, rolling around, trying to put out the fire and having little success. In a far corner, illuminated now by the hellfire glowing on his hands, yet another "spellcaster" demon stood, cackling. He turned to face Heyzel, pointing both hands at him.

"Now, servant of the pathetic one in Heaven, taste the fires of our Master!"

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Under normal circumstances, the angel of Freedom would have denounced the demon as a fool and coward. He would have told him that his master was a child rebelling against a loving parent; that their eternity of sin and corruption lacked even the grandeur of blasphemy and was instead nothing but a pointless tantrum. But with Gabriel injured, he didn't dally with words: instead he swooped downward like an eagle and plunged his flaming blade straight through the demon's black heart. With an eruption of lightless fire, the demon collapsed back to Hell in a sprinkle of ash, and Heyzel turned to his fallen friend. "Gabriel! Can you speak?"

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For his part, Gabriel had realized simply rolling on the ground was insufficient to deal with the likes of this hellfire. It was acting more like napalm, or even white phosphorus; he could feel it eating away at his coat, trying to get to his skin. With a wordless cry of rage and pain, he tore the heavy leather coat from his body and tossed it several feet away. His gloves and mask quickly followed, as well as his shirt. Thankfully, his pants and shoes were untouched. His skin had avoided direct contact with the cursed flames, but the parts of his face left exposed by his mask resembled a severe sunburn, and a good deal of his torso had blisters blooming, on top of the existing bruises, slashes, and smaller burns. He stood there, panting, as he watched the outfit he'd had so many adventures in turn to defiled ash. It was silly, but he thought he felt a tear slide across his face as he sank to his knees. His voice was hoarse as he spoke.

"Yeah. Ow. I can, but right now just about everything hurts. I need help, and it's gonna hurt like the dickens when I start flying. Which I'm going to have to do at top speed, what with the 'no mask' thing."

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"Come with me," said the angel without hesitation, scooping Gabriel up with uncommon grace. "I shall fly you to the church and heal your injuries there, away from anyone's sight." In the air, he beat his wings with speed, swooping high in the sky as they headed towards the Lantern Hill church that was his home. "If you are seen below, even recognized," he told Gabriel, handling him with care as he flew straight and true, "they will see you as simply a victim being rescued by an angel, nothing more!" While the angel didn't lie, there was nothing in his nature that precluded a deception in a good cause like this one. Once at the church, he headed straight to the open belltower and flew neatly through its narrow confines to the sanctuary inside. "This may be difficult," he warned Gabriel as he laid him on the altar. "Are you prepared?"

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Gabriel manages to not scream in pain when Heyzel picks him up, nodding weakly as his friend gives his reasoning. He fades into a state halfway between conscious and unconscious, barely responsive to anything until they land, and he stirs to greater awareness. Unfortunately, this only brings the pain to the forefront of his mind, and he hisses against the agony.

"Smart thinking, buddy. Ugh. Remind me to wear asbestos next time I fight those suckers. Because this is incredibly painful. I mean, we're nearly to the point of "incapable of rational thought" here."

He tried not to squirm as he was placed on the altar.

"Yeah, I'm good. Sooner is better than later; Ma'd kill me for bleeding on an altar, Methodist or no."

It was clear he was trying to use jokes to distract himself from his discomfort.

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Few men could command the sheer power of the divine, but then, Heyzel of Heaven was no man. He spoke no sorcerous incantations or prayed to any pagan god: instead he laid his hands on the injured man, his body glowing with pure white holy fire, and by the sheer power of faith he healed Gabriel of his injuries in a moment. Seconds later, he was stepping back to recover from the effort of channeling Heaven's power: it had been a while since he'd done that! "That should, I think, heal you of your wounds, my friend. Don't worry about the blood; they are very tolerant of my doings hereabouts." He offered Gabriel a strong hand to help him rise.

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Gabriel gasped in shock as the fire of creation and faith flowed over his body. As soon as it touched him, the pain vanished; as it washed over him and healed him he felt only warmth from head to toe. When it was done, he felt not only healed, but also refreshed. He blinked a few times as he took Heyzel's hand and sat up, then stood up. He gave a few experimental flexes of his arm and hops on his feet before smiling at his friend.

"Thank you a ton, Heyzel. I mean, I know Who we ultimately thank, but still. Glad to hear they don't mind the blood too much. Just, ah, don't tell my mom about this, alright? She gets worried, and getting blood on an altar won't help her blood pressure."

He gives a friendly smirk to the affable angel, before a look of sadness crosses his face.

"The part that really stinks is my coat, though. I've had a decent time getting replacement shirts and masks, but that coat was top-notch. Stayed clean no matter what, and gave that extra little bit of protection, you know? I'm gonna miss it, and I don't have the money to buy a replacement."

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The angel frowned at Gabriel's words, studying him intently. "You're right, it is lost," agreed Heyzel. "And there's no restoring it with any power on this Earth. Tell me, Gabriel, would you be willing to join me on a journey?" His wings flared behind him as he spoke, seeming to cast the world behind him into shadow as he gazed into the other man's soul. "There may be some peril involved. But if successful, you will return with body and soul garbed in armor against the darkness of the world. And the others," he added. "Particularly the one with whom you just battled."

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The angel frowned at Gabriel's words, studying him intently. "You're right, it is lost," agreed Heyzel. "And there's no restoring it with any power on this Earth. Tell me, Gabriel, would you be willing to join me on a journey?" His wings flared behind him as he spoke, seeming to cast the world behind him into shadow as he gazed into the other man's soul. "There may be some peril involved. But if successful, you will return with body and soul garbed in armor against the darkness of the world. And the others," he added. "Particularly the one with whom you just battled."

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For over a minute, Carson carefully ponders Heyzel's offer. On the one hand, he'd probably be able to get something vaguely similar in function to what he had before. On the other hand, his very soul resonated with the challenge laid out before him. Besides, getting something a bit heftier would come in handy in the long run! With a smile he nodded his head.

"Yes. I am willing."

He looks down at himself, and back up with a sheepish grin.

"Do I have time to change clothes, though?"

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"You must first go home and rest," said the angel paternally. "As must I. We have both had a difficult night and needs must go into our coming task at the peak of our respective powers. It will be a difficult journey to take a living man into the realms beyond, but the rewards will be satisfactory. For both of us." He adjusted his armor and added, "Bring food, water, and a holy text in which you believe." He put his hand on Gabriel's shoulder. "There is much to be found in the doors beyond this world, if a man of faith and conviction seeks to grasp them."

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Gabriel nodded slowly, a small smile creeping on his face.

"Sounds good to me. I could use some good sleep right now. Um, where do I need to be tomorrow?"

Once given that bit of information, Gab-no, Carson, will fly home at top speed, to slip in as quickly as possible. Thankfully he was not noticed. It was perhaps 40 minutes later, and he was fast asleep.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, lugging a backpack that had a couple day's worth of MREs, several bottles of water, and a sturdy Bible inside. He paused for a moment to look around his apartment, his left hand wandering up to fiddle with the crucifix hanging around his neck. A half-smile crossed his face.

"Hm. Good thing I had those sitting around; maybe next time I'll be able to use them to explore Sanctuary more, like I wanted."

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When Gabriel arrived at the church, he found things looking surprisingly sedate. The congregation wasn't there, as was usual during the week, but the whole area seemed quiet and hushed as if the very air of Lantern Hill sensed a profound spiritual moment in the offing. He found Heyzel waiting for him in the lobby, girded as if for war in his shining armor of Heavenly steel and blazing sword of truth already burning with the light of justice. "Good morning, my friend." The angel shook Gabriel's hand, then pulled him close for a embrace. "Are you prepared for the trials of today?" he asked Gabriel seriously. The holy items he carried were well enough, but without a prepared and pure soul, who knew what fate might befall him on the other side?

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Carson had flow fast and high on his way over; no need to risk things any more than absolutely necessary. He landed with a notable work to absorb the impact in his knees, but he recovered soon enough. He took a moment to look around, the strange hush falling on the heroic Irishman as well. His steps were quiet, almost reverent as he walked into the church. He smiled when he saw Heyzel, greeting the angel in turn.

"Good morning, Heyzel. Thank you again for this. Whatever "this" ends up being, I suppose."

At the angel's question, Carson stopped and thought. Finally, he gently set his bag down on the ground and held a hand up to his armored friend.

"Give me two minutes."

With that, the 20-something walked to the front of the church, moved to one side of the altar, and knelt. He bowed his head and fingered his rosary, his mind flowing quickly into a prayer, one for cleansing of his constant unworthiness, for protection, and for openness to what might be happening. After just over two minutes, he stood, more energized than ever, and strode over to his bag, picking it up.

"Yes. I'm ready now."

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As he approached the altar, Carson was conscious of a feeling of wings rushing towards him and felt a breath of air on his face. A few moments later, he found himself standing elsewhere. Church and city had both fallen away entirely, leaving the two men standing on a shining path of gold so pure their feet sunk slightly into the pliable metal. All around them was a beautiful wooded path like something from Carson's visits to rural Ireland in his childhood; the birds were singing and sheep were visible peeking out from the woods nearby. It was all lovely and pastoral, but his angelic companion seemed girded for war. "What you're seeing is not what Is, but what your mind is capable of understanding. This is a pathway to Heaven, as reflected in an ancient tale of your people. This is the house of the Interpreter. Inside here, we will find the metal to be crafted into your armor. Taking it will be difficult. Are you prepared?"

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Gabriel blinked at the rush, shaking his head a bit once they stopped. He spent a moment taking in his surroundings, repeatedly glancing down at the pathway and gently prodding it with his toe. At Heyzel's mention of why it looked the way it did, he gave him an intrigued look.

"So I'm seeing...what, Pilgrim's Progress Version 3, because otherwise my mortal brain would explode and leak out my ears?"

He shrugged.

"That, I can deal with."

He tried not to let himself relax too much; Heyzel was, if not completely tense, then at the least very alert. He squared his shoulders as he was told their first task.

"As ready as I think I can be. What do I need to know before we go in there? Anything I must, or must not, do?"

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"Much has changed since John Bunyan made his journey here. I can only guide you so far," said Heyzel almost apologetically. "If angels could guide men through these passageways, much...much would be different." He looked away for just a moment, then focused on the door. "Let's do this!" He raised a sandled foot and kicked open the door, powering into a house that looked like many old-fashioned farm cottages Carson had grown up with in Ireland. Inside he found no simple farmers, but rather a 19th-century kitchen covered completely in a thick, grimy layer of dust. As both men studied the scene, suddenly those layers of dust peeled themselves upward, forming into twin shapes of grimy humanity that lumbered towards Carson and Heyzel. "Law golems! I'll hold them off! Gabriel, you must find the prisoner in the back. He will have the stuff to make your armor. Do what your soul tells you is right!"

As the angel of Freedom engaged the grimy golems in fierce battle, Carson was attracted to the rear where he heard a faint sound of weeping. In the back of the house was a massive iron cage, large as the farmhouse itself, and inside was an old man in shabby rags and a dirty complexion. He wasn't anyone Carson knew, but he looked at him as he entered and declaimed sadly, "God hath denied me repentance: his Word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, himself hath shut me up in this Iron Cage; nor can all the men in the world let me out. O Eternity! Eternity! how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in Eternity!"

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Carson gave a slight smile to Heyzel as he was informed of the changes to the path, and of his limited ability to guide him.

"Whatever aid you can give, I will appreciate. If there is a limit to it, such is the way of things. We will do what we must. And there is little point to opining on how things might or could be different; let us face the here and the now in reality."

With that, he followed the angel into the surreal cottage-scape. He frowned at the mismatch of styles, and his eyes widened in shock at the grime itself coming to life. He nodded as Freedom Angel engaged the living collections of dirt in combat, and quickly moved to the back room. There, he stopped to consider the scene before him, his eyes widening a bit at the man's words. He seemed thoughtful before he walked up to the cage.

"He is willing that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. God is patient, sir. The truest block to our forgiveness is our unwillingness to ask for it. Have you asked him, sir? I do not claim to know the mind and heart of God. Ask, ask sincerely, and God can surprise use even in the depths of despair."

He walked to the door with a frown. He tested the lock, prodding it with his hand and his powers.

"I was told you would have something I need, sir. A metal. I do not wish to be a burden to you in your time of distress, but this thing is something I need. Not for my own sake, but to help me protect those who cannot protect themselves, against threats greater and more terrible than what mortal man might conceive."

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"Oh, I am but a pitiful sinner!" exclaimed the prisoner woefully. "Sealed away by my sins and neglect of the Word. I have only my rags and my cage," said the prisoner, looking away from Gabriel and weeping, the sounds of combat outside reaching both their ears as Freedom Angel fought the dust monsters. The lock didn't actually feel that tough to Gabriel; one good shout would probably blow the lock and get the door open, though actually destroying the metal itself would be considerably more complicated. "Alone and abandoned forever and ever, woe is me!"

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"You're a pitiful sinner, but so am I. So are we all. We are human, sir. All of us bear that stain, and all of us are separated by that infinite gulf from the Lord. But you know the Way. It doesn't matter how many years it's been. Just let go of your sin. He will take it."

As he spoke, Gabriel carefully channeled some muscle and sonic power into the lock to open it, and then hopefully open the door. While he could toss a fully shout at it, careful application of power seemed the way to go.

"Call out to Him, and He will answer! You need not be alone!"

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"Saints be praised! Almighty One, I call out to you!" And sure enough, at the old man's words as the cage fell away, a flaming chariot descended from the sky overhead, driven by two doughty angels who scooped up the man up without a word. From the ground Gabriel could see as they swooped up into the sky, the hosannas of thanks and praise bestowed by the former prisoner the last thing he heard until from behind him, "Valiant work, Gabriel." The angel had evidently won his battle with the golems, his sword glassy from the melted sand that had fused to the burning blade. "When Bunyan came and saw that man," said the angel reflectively as he looked up into the sky, "he left him to rot in his sin. But you made the right choice. No man should be left to suffer so close to salvation. Whatever his crimes. Come, let us gather up these bars," he added, bending low over the fallen debris. "These shall be your breastplate."

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Gabriel smiled as the man made the right choice and was carried off by a true flaming chariot. At Heyzel's words, he shrugged.

"I don't know about "valiant". He's the one that made the choice. I couldn't force him to do it. Everyone has to make the choice to take that step, or keep sitting in their own self pity. As for the bars...hm. Now if I just had a bag to stick them in..."

A half-smile on his face, he bent and started picking them up, moving them to one shoulder. He grunted as they got near the end of the task; there were quite a few bars, and while he was in decent shape, he'd never been the sort one might pick for "World's Strongest Man".

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Heyzel helped out by cutting the bars down to size, swinging his sword over and over again with perfect precision. "It is a metal the unrighteous cannot breach without abandoning their nature. The perfect armor for a righteous man." When they had about twenty pounds gathered, Heyzel nodded. "This will suffice. Let us go from this place to Vanity Fair, where we can find someone to forge it." He caught Gabriel's look at that and said gently, "A 17th century Baptist saw evil everywhere in the world, even in places with no sins worse than a wicked king. As I said, times have changed here. And so have the hearts of men. You will find no enemies there."

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