s t a r l i g h t . . .

Night fell, his wings charred and blackened with the heat of a thousand suns, individual feathers peeling off, flaking and disintegrating, spinning into the chaoplasm. Behind him his robe unraveled, a darkness descending upon a sleeping world. His screams were swallowed by the roar of the rushing wind in his ears, his arms, flesh seared, flailing, clawing futilely at empty space. Above him, a maelstrom raged.

There were no stars to be seen. They were busy elsewhere. The fabric of the cosmos writhed in disruption, the battle to hold off the inevitable being waged on multiple planes of reality incomprehensible to the minds of most observers. Everything was falling apart, falling in on itself. The end was near. He knew it, because he had been there. He had seen forces collide, felt the flames explode in his face, surround his form. He had smelt the stench of brimstone gaining dominion at long, long last. His eyes had seen the glory.

Night fell, a fallen knight, a night of pain.

The Earth rushed up to greet him. Barely conscious of that fact, he tried to spread his now-useless wings, instinctively, to cushion the fall. For one brief second he felt the ground slam into his temple, his teeth rattling in his heard, the waves of force sweeping through his bones. Then the blackness of sleep covered him. The irony escaped him as he slipped into unconsciousness.

Time passed, then. Time wasted, time forever gone. It slipped through the isthmus of a universal hourglass, each tiny grain tumbling downward, into oblivion, lost from mortal or immortal sight. Time running out, for everything.

Two hours passed before his half-buried form moved from its position, dragging itself across wet soil and grass. His halo glowed dimly as broken bones knitted together, muscles reformed, substance and form regenerating itself with painful rapidity. Skin began to snake its away across burnt flesh, dark and shadowy, glistening with moisture and streaked with humus. He raised himself to his hands and knees, screaming inwardly in agony, and looked up to see the church in the distance.

There are few coincidences in the universe, and of those, the angels believe in none of them. The road beside him was empty, and the street-lamps were cold and dark. Walking unsteadily, he made his way to the only sanctuary he believed could possibly protect him, at least until his mission was accomplished.

His form could be intangible if he wished it, to ephemeral structures, and it drifted through the locked gates and the concrete walls. The effort still drained him, however. The shadow that was Night coalesced on the other side of the wall and collapsed in exhaustion in the pitch black chapel. He managed to crawl to the foot of the pulpit, and lay there, panting, his halo, tinged with the darkness that was his responsibility, casting the only light in the room.

When he woke for the second time, there was another person in the room, standing over him. He started, and the figure leaped backward, frightened. Night eyed the newcomer suspiciously.

To David, the spiritual well-being of all those who attended his church was his responsibility. He believed in God, in the blood of Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and the temptations of Sin and the Devil. At least technically. Like many of us, perhaps he even believed in the spirits that lay beyond the world, whose dances spun the cloth that comprised the universe. Now, he was face to face with a physical manifestation of those forces, of those beliefs.

He could do no more than his duty.

"I am sorry," Night replied, "I should have... I should have knocked."

If angels had a sense of irony, Night might have managed a smile. David drew his robe tighter around him, the torch he carried shining firmly on the creature in front of him. He knelt by the battered form, with a combination of puzzlement and profound fascination. His mind was forming questions faster than he could speak them. Night looked up at a far-distant point, as if quoting from memory and ancient, sacred litany.

"I am... the Herald of the Dark. The Keeper... of the Ebony Flame. Night is... my name, and my province. Sleep is my son... Death, my cousin."

"Oh dear God," David muttered. It was true, then. In a flash, through David's mind, paraded all the moments of disbelief, of skepticism, and these thoughts filled him with shame. He wanted to reach out, to pray, to ask God to heal the angel, but he did not know how. Perhaps he had never known, until now.

"I have come... to warn."

Night reached up and placed a hand on David's shoulder. The words were almost painful in their intensity, spoken in a voice whose tones transcended notions of music, or poetry.

"There is a war. Even as we speak it rages... on and on. The signs are arriving here, on this plane. Weather systems... disrupted. Snow, falling, even in tropical areas... nights growing colder. Famine... spreading. The Adversary moves fast, David... too fast for us to anticipate. He wants it all, and he wants it... now. No time... to gather... I have come to warn... to prepare..."

David looked on, understanding only half of what the angel was saying. Then, there was an explosion for fire and frost. The doors of the chapel burst open, splintering into matchwood, and a cold wind flooded into the room. David felt it bite into him, chilling him to the very core. A white mist began to form, as both angel and priest looked into the shadows beyond. Night began to moan, a cry of despair.

A man walked in, clad in the purest of snowy whiteness. His hair shone and his cheeks were fair and handsome. His tie was neatly knotted and his white gloved hands rested on a white ivory cane with a silver tip. His shoes, white leather, but his eyes were pits of emptiness and longing. The man smiled, his halo almost blinding in its intensity.

David knew who he was, instantly. After all, he, like all mankind, had met him before.

Lucifer, Star-Of-The-Morning, stepped forward, a swagger in his walk, hubris in his stride. His gloved finger traced a path along the aisles, and he examined the gathered dust with a cluck of disapproval.

"Too late," said the Angel of Light, "Far too late. Always too late. My legions overwhelm yours even now, the Father too preoccupied with holding the Omniverse from breaking apart under my assault, the Son so unsure of Himself, of what to do that He sends you, the most pathetic of Incarnations, for a completely futile mission. Now and forever, too late."

David rose to his feet, shouting, "Get out of here! This is a House of God!"

Lucifer laughed. It was a laugh that somehow caught within itself all the horror, pain and anguish of the word, all the evil and despair, all the fear and hate. The laugh echoed, shaking the very walls and foundation of the church. David's resolve faltered

"Oh dear me," Lucifer wiped the tears from his eyes, still shaking with mirth, "Quite amusing. I needed that, thank you."

"You cannot win... Fallen One," Night spat back from his prone position, "The prophecies declare it. You shall fight... and lose... languishing for eternity in the Sea of Fire, dying the Second..."

"Oh, do be quiet," Lucifer raised a hand, and Night fell silent, "For goodness' sake, you minor thrones are all alike. Saying the same things like a broken record, and in that abominable dialogue straight out of a medieval grimoire. Try thinking for once - you might learn something."

Lucifer knelt by Night, his face close to his ear, his voice barely a whisper, "But if it pleases you, I give you a secret, dear brother. The fault in prophecies is that ever since dear old Daddy saw fit to give His creation free will, they no longer applied. They shift, they change, subject to the whims of the bastard offspring called Man. Already I have moved the balance in my favour, like a knife stabbing in Michael's back, too quickly for even his hosts to react. No time for him. Perhaps, then, no time for a victory for the Almighty, eh?"

"Liar," David said, his voice shaking in rage.

"I suppose. That is, after all, my province," Lucifer smiled, getting up again.

"You shall fall, Adversary..." Night gasped, raising himself to his feet, trembling.

"Yes, yes, you said that already," Lucifer yawned, walking away. Then he stopped, and looked back over his shoulder, "But if I fall, why, this world falls with me. For if you place your trust in prophecies, my victory in this first battle has already been written. And as for the others, well, we shall see. In the coming orgy of death and madness I promise this world will feel the sweetness of flame and the solace of the dark. The righteous will die screaming alongside the sinful and the innocents unable to escape. This, I prophecize."

And Lucifer laughed once more.

Night groaned, holding his head, trying to block out the noise, and fell to his knees. The wings fluttered lifelessly even as David tried to catch him.

Lucifer walked out into the world that was his, and saw that it was good.

"And so - it begins."

A thousand years ago, a thousand light years away, a fourth magnitude star with a solar system that supported a population of seven billion lives suddenly collapsed upon itself, for no scientifically explicable reason. The resulting spray of X-rays from this new black hole, this dark star, was now hitting the Earth, and it was no coincidence that the highest concentration of starlight that was registered centered on the city where David lived.

Somewhere, an angel of light laughed.

Somewhere, an angel of darkness died.

Somewhere, a war waged.

Somewhere, a prophecy fulfilled itself.

Somewhere, a baby was born, crying, as jackals howled their approval.

It was going to be one hell of a night.

Merry Christmas.

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