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Zuriel's Fate (Celestial Justice 2)

Zuriel's Fate (Celestial Justice 2)
Release Date: 24 April 2013

What if you're a senior guardian angel on your way to a promotion and discover you don't want to do your job the way your superiors tell you to do it?

Zuriel has been a guardian angel for over a millennium. He's good at following orders and wants a promotion. But is it worth foregoing any kind of emotional attachment to the humans he is in charge of? What's the point of his job when he isn't allowed to connect with those he protects?

Luke is a bad boy who runs his deceased father's motorcycle dealership and repair shop. It gives him the freedom to run his life as he pleases, but he misses having a partner to love and share his life with.

When Zuriel is assigned to guide Luke's soul into the next life, he refuses. Will they be able to escape punishment or will the celestial justice system catch up with them and banish Zuriel into the void?


NOTE: This book has been previously released in May 2011. No changes have been made to the story, it is identical to the previous version.

Pages: 81
Words: 24,300
Heat Index:Heat Index
Cover Artist: Allison Cassatta
Book Type: EBook

Chapter One

The perpetual noise of gunfire in the background was as nerve racking to Zuriel as this insane assignment was turning out to be. Yes, he understood that soldiers needed guardian angels just like everyone else, maybe more. And yes, he knew on an intellectual level that, as a Senior Guardian, he was expected not only to deal with the more difficult assignments, but also with those requiring him to guide a soul to the next life. He had observed but never dealt with them as a junior guardian. If he wanted a promotion to the next level this millennium, he had no choice but to master this and, above all, get a grip on his reactions. Thinking too much or questioning orders was not a trait his bosses liked.

But-really? Why were the powers that be expending all this energy and angel power protecting human soldiers from the ravages of war instead of working with the diplomats to stop the cruelty altogether?
Zuriel had never been closer to rebellion against his orders than at this moment. Knowing that he was expected to let his charge die gnawed at his heart, his conscience, and just plain went against his ingrained sense of justice. He knew death was a necessary part of life. Souls needed to move on, and he was normally good about following orders, but to let death take one so young just didn't seem right.

Shaun was a new soldier on his first tour to Iraq, an idealist who wanted to fight for what he believed was right. Barely out of basic training, he was totally unprepared for the realities of an invasion that was controversial even among humans.

Shaun moved forward with the rest of the US Third Infantry Division making its way north to bypass Baghdad as quickly as possible on their way to securing Najaf and Karbala. They had finally made it to Talil Airfield, a point of strategic importance if the invading forces hoped to gain control of the capital city. The Iraqi soldiers, however, were not giving up easily. They returned fire, fighting ferociously to defend their homes against the foreign invaders.

It was an intense battle, the US First Marine Division lending support on their way to the eastern parts of the city from where they'd attempt to seize and subdue the city. Shaun was overwhelmed by the noise, the stench of burning buildings, and the shock of comrades being shot all around him. He maintained a brave front as he kept moving, seeking cover behind buildings and overturned vehicles whenever possible. Little did he know that he was not going to survive.

Zuriel moved with him, invisible to the humans, his face set in grim lines of determination. Pure force of habit kept him with his charge, because-what was the point? He sighed as he took note of the sniper who was going to end Shaun's life. Making ready to accompany the young man's soul into the next world, the saddest duty any guardian angel ever had to face, he made sure that his energy enveloped Shaun when the bullets that ended the young soldier's life hit.

Minimizing Shaun's physical pain was not strictly according to procedure, but at that moment, Zuriel could have cared less. He had been an exemplary guardian angel for over a millennium and figured he might be given some slack if the random selection process used by Internal Affairs picked this case for closer examination.

Nobody was there to help him through the soul-deep anguish of feeling a soul ripped from its living body. The jagged pain sliced right through his soul, like it always did. He mentally gasped and focused on Shaun so he would not drown in the despair of losing a life he had been entrusted with.

He gently caught the young man's soul when it emerged from the convulsing body, shock pervading every fiber of Shaun's being.

"What?" Shaun's energies swirled in confusion, retaining their human outline for now but turning dark with the mental pain and shock at being ripped so suddenly from their physical body.

The thought was barely audible, but Zuriel was well attuned to Shaun's mental signature. Nineteen years of looking out for the man had formed a certain bond. One that was about to be brutally ripped apart now.

"You are okay now." Zuriel let his energies take a more human shape so Shaun could perceive him better. "You will be fine."

The white beacon light to the next world, as humans called it, appeared above them and Shaun looked up, his energies still following the dictates of his now-dead body. It always took a while for the souls to adapt to their new existence.

"I'm dead, aren't I?" Sean's voice sounded bleak, his energy turning darker.

"Your physical existence has ended." Zuriel let healing energies flow toward the wounded soul. "But your life as a sentient being of the higher planes is only just beginning."

"Why now?" Shaun's desperation was clear even through the turbulence of his confusion. "There was so much I still wanted to do."

"I know." Zuriel shrugged. It was what most of them said, even the ones who had been given several decades to live. "It is not within my responsibility to understand. I was sent here to guide you to the next level."

"Okay." Shaun made the mental equivalent of a sigh. "I guess you're just the messenger, right?"

Zuriel nodded. Suddenly, the truth of that statement hit him hard. He'd always accepted his assignments and done his job to the best of his ability. The senselessness of Shaun's death, serving no particular purpose and after an even shorter time on Earth than most were granted, was particularly poignant. For the first time in his existence Zuriel really started to wonder what the point of it all was. But there was no time for philosophical deliberations. He would deal with the fallout during the debriefing.

"This is it, huh?" Shaun had calmed down a little, probably realizing that there was nothing he could do anyway.

"Yes." Zuriel pointed him toward the light that had descended until a tunnel-like opening was right next to Shaun.

"Thank you." Shaun turned his attention toward the tunnel and vanished inside without looking back.

Zuriel's pain intensified for a moment then diminished until it was gone. He sighed, wondering how it was possible that most humans, once faced with the inevitable, seemed to adjust rather well. One of the secrets of the universe he would probably never understand.

He gave himself another few moments, tuning out the noise and mayhem around him. He remembered Shaun's life, quietly celebrating the triumphs and grieving that it was now over. When he was ready, he turned inward for the transition back to Heaven. It was time to face the administrative music.

* * * *

"That was one of the most useless meetings I have ever had the displeasure of attending." Zuriel shook his head as he remembered the session with his boss, Guardian Manager Boriel, earlier in the celestial day.

He had been through his fair share of debriefings, but for some reason he never noticed that they did not address anything beyond the bare facts. Thinking about it now, with the injustice of Shaun's early death fresh in his mind, he frowned. The facts were easy enough to ascertain, what with celestial record keeping being pretty much infallible. What was missing was a way to deal with the issues that arose in some cases.

The truth of the matter was that he had never had any real problems before. Doing his job based on rules and procedures had always been enough. Decisions made on the basis of an accepted practice had always made sense. But with an emotional problem like the one he was having, making him question the ethics behind the rules, he had no idea where to go.

Surely, others had experienced this before him? Was he the only one in eternity to notice that something was not right about management's priorities? Focusing on the formalities, like all humans having a guardian angel, and ticking all the boxes in terms of making sure their destinies were fulfilled should have been just the basics. Had they not been given the ability to think, to move beyond that, into looking at what was behind the rules? What was wrong with following the spirit of the law rather than each letter?

Something about Shaun's case got to him. He had not wanted to discuss it in more detail because his boss was clearly not interested in any of the emotional side effects he seemed to be experiencing. Nor was he willing to enter a debate about the sense or nonsense of sending a nineteen-year old soldier to his death because his superiors could not find a way of negotiating for what they wanted. Not willing to risk his career by speaking up, he had shut up instead.

"Do you mean to say that none of those meetings have ever been truly useful?" Hael grinned briefly before turning serious again. "Sorry, that was not what was meant to come out. It is just that I have never been in favor of having a meeting without dealing with the emotional fallout that the death of one of our charges can cause."

"I know what you mean, now. I do not understand why I never saw it before, but after losing Shaun everything suddenly looks different. Am I just getting old?" Zuriel looked at his old friend, hoping the other angel had a solution.

"I do not think that it has anything to do with your age. Things like this, the preference of how we approach things, does not usually change as we get older and gain more experience. It is part of our basic character structure. Which means that your sudden about-turn surprises me a lot. You were never the type to question the rules." Hael hovered next to him as they waited their turn to recharge their energies.

The Celestial Center for Energy Management was always very busy, so they would be here for a while. Hundreds of angels were trying to get to the source as quickly as possible so they could return to their duties. The variation in body appearances was amazing. The center was one of the few places where the different divisions mixed, and since the angels in each division took on an appearance similar to the species their division was responsible for, there was a wide range of shapes. Everything from the more human-like bodies in Zuriel's division to eight-limbed tentacled bodies and every form in between was represented.

"I am not sure that I am questioning the rules, not really. After all, they have worked for many millennia. But I am beginning to wonder whether I am really cut out for a more senior position within the guardian angel hierarchy." Zuriel sighed. "Not that I know what else to do. Maybe I need counseling. It did help my friend Araton get an assignment better suited to his strengths."

"You do know that you need to be very careful about voicing the need for counseling?" Hael shuddered visibly. "That alone can be a career limiting move."

Zuriel nodded. He really wanted to know what had become of Araton, which job he was doing now, and whether it made him happier than being a guardian angel. Araton's peculiar need for touch had always struck Zuriel as very strange. He chuckled. Some would call his emerging need for an emotional connection just as unusual.

As for Araton, there was nothing else he could do, since he had been sworn to secrecy. The files were not accessible to angels of his rank, and he knew better than to start asking questions. Zuriel did worry that he hadn't heard from his lively friend again, but he would need to figure out how to get the information he wanted without drawing attention to himself. Anyway, his busy schedule had not allowed him any time to follow up, so far. As a Senior Guardian he was in charge of anywhere between six and ten humans at the same time.

It was another thing he was really beginning to dislike. His ability to bend time may have ensured that his protective abilities were available in several places at once in those few cases where it proved necessary. The lack of emotional focus was his real problem, since his heart and soul were as linear as any human's. Without the ability to emotionally focus on more than one of his charges at the same time, there was no way he could really connect with any of them. And yet, that connection was one of the things he appreciated most about his job. Or, rather, what he had appreciated when he was a Junior Guardian with only one assignment at a time.

Was he turning into a revolutionary?

"Maybe one of your next assignments will be better." Hael moved slightly closer to their goal as another group of recharged angels left the big area.

"Maybe." Zuriel did not think that would solve his problem, though.

But what else was an angel to do?

* * * *

"Thank you for coming to see me so quickly." Guardian Manager Boriel barely looked up from the stacks of paperwork on his overcrowded desk as he pointed toward the empty chair in front of it.

"No problem." Zuriel took the offered seat and waited for his boss to proceed.

Finally the overworked older angel looked up and raked his disheveled hair with a slightly shaking hand.

"As you may have guessed, the current state of affairs on Earth is rather desperate. The human penchant for creating havoc is beginning to seriously tax our resources. We need far more guardian angels than we currently have available. We are finding ourselves at an impasse. The budget cuts are making recruiting among existing angels from other divisions inefficient, even impossible. And as you know, the creation of new angels takes time." Boriel lowered the papers he'd been staring at and looked straight at Zuriel. "There is only one short term solution."

"There is?" Zuriel suspected what that might be, but he was not going to make it easier for his boss. At the very least, he was going to make him say it.

"Do not try to pretend that you have not figured it out." Boriel frowned. "We need to make better use of the existing forces, of which you are a key member."

He knew it.

"As of now, every Senior Guardian is being assigned an extra two charges. Waiting periods between assignments have been cut down to one day rather than the usual month. It is the only way for us to have any hope of getting through the workload." Boriel sat back and crossed his arms in front of his chest, clearly waiting for some sort of protest.

Zuriel did not to offer any. He had tried to make his thoughts known once and they had completely ignored his ideas. He was not going to make the same mistake again. If the situation was really as bad as Boriel said, there was no point in fighting. Zuriel could not let innocent humans suffer because he was suddenly having trouble with the rules that he had followed for centuries. He needed to find a different solution for his predicament.

"Well?" Boriel leaned forward as if to try and coax some sort of resistance from Zuriel's lips.

"I assume I can pick up the new files from the administration office as usual?" He wanted to scream that this was wrong, but there was no point, so he held his peace for now.

"No comments?" Boriel slumped back in his seat, looking defeated.

"None." Zuriel was ready to get up and find out what his next assignments were going to be.

"Okay." Boriel returned his attention to the paperwork as he waved a hand toward the door. "You know where to go."

Is there a less caring boss in the whole of the universe?

Zuriel got up, left the office and made his way toward the administration area. The more he thought about it, the more it became obvious to him that something needed to change. He could not do this for the rest of his existence, however many millennia that might be. According to some sources, it could be a very, very long time.

Once he arrived at the section for new assignments he didn't have to wait very long. The angels working here were some of the most efficient in all of Heaven. They needed to be, considering how much the smooth running of Heavenly affairs depended on them. He was handed two files and told to take the rest of the day to study them. Mentioning the fact that it was his rest period would only have raised eyebrows, so he shut up, made his way back to his personal rest area, and started to read the files.

The first was a simple case of a new baby being born, so there was not a lot of information in the file. He made note of the date and place of birth, less than a week from now in human linear time, and turned his attention to the second file.

This one was unusually thick. It looked like a reassignment, and that was exactly what it turned out to be once he opened the dark green folder. Had he needed to breathe, his breath would have stopped once his gaze fell onto the picture of the man whom he was going to be in charge of after tomorrow.

A ruggedly beautiful face looked up at him, with eyes bluer than a summer sky and a face framed by sleek dark hair that fell to the man's shoulders. The smile was crooked, as if he was thinking about something wickedly amusing. Once Zuriel was able to tear his gaze away from the fascinating planes and angles of the man's face, he groaned. The rest of the man was just as amazing. According to the file, he was six feet four, but even without knowing how overpowering he would be in person, his muscular appearance with the broad shoulders and flat stomach made it clear that he was a force to be reckoned with.

Dressed in jeans and a leather jacket that had seen better days, the man exuded confidence, maybe even arrogance. He looked like he would jump off the page any moment.

Zuriel could only stare. He had never felt attracted to someone as strongly as this, and that was based on nothing more than the man's picture. Meeting him in person might have more devastating consequences than total speechlessness. The weird thing was that it seemed to go beyond the soul-to-soul level Zuriel was used to between angels.

No, this attraction was almost a physical need, the way his friend Araton had described what he felt when he looked at some beings.

Zuriel blinked.

This could not be happening, could it? His situation was suddenly even more desperate than before. Not only did he feel the need to form an emotional bond with his charges, apparently now he had developed a capability for physical feelings despite the lack of a physical body. As similar as an angel's body was to the species he was working with, it was definitely not supposed to behave like it was corporeal.

What in Heaven's name was he going to do now?

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