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  • Writer's pictureC.A. Lightfoot

The Guardian- Chapter Nineteen

Summary: Dover attends Elise's funeral, coming face to face with the creature stalking her apartment.



Chapter Nineteen


The procession was time honored as any and required all Guardians and angelic beings to be present. Even Embry, whose mortality would have prohibited him from attending under typical circumstances, sat with sorrowful eyes beside Dover. He had known Elise during his childhood. Elise had introduced Embry to Dover so long ago.

Tradition dictated that the body of the slain Guardian be carried from the wake room toward the mausoleum following the path of the setting sun. The passing of a Guardian would forever be equated with the dying of light and so, there could only be one time of the day to lay one to rest. Six pall bearers were chosen from Guardians, leaving the principle angels to follow the casket. Only one angelic being would speak at the funeral, and it was universally acknowledged that angel would be Dover.

Nerves forced her hands to tremble and her heart to skip as she followed the casket bearing her friend. The engraved Celestian symbols written into the stone mocked her. The box held only the earthly remains of Elise Porter. Dover knew that. She felt, though, that sending the sarcophagus into the mausoleum was somehow abandoning the person she cherished the most.

Beside her, Hanael was stoic. He stared ahead as the Cherubim sang soft hymns to the glorious struggles of being a Guardian.

Losing the others hurt the community of Guardians. Of course it had. They were family in the strictest, strangest way. Each of them was an extension of the others. Elise, however, was a mentor, a guide, and a stalwart friend to all Guardians housed at the Arbor. Her death stunned them all.

The pall bearers gently laid Elise’s casket on the altar, a heavy slab of carved marble in pure, brilliant white. Holding the slab up were the carvings of six monks, chiseled from a massive block of dark granite. The robes were fluid, intricately designed so that a simple trick of shadow would make it seem as though they moved.

Their hooded heads remained bowed in eternal reverence, the stone sentinels of heaven’s gates, and the watchers of the Creator’s soldiers.

The mausoleum was nothing intricate or ostentatious. It stood at nearly twenty feet high, shining brilliantly when any light dared to grace the pristine surface. Unlike the ornate structures some built as palaces for their departed, the Arbor’s resting place stood in quiet, unadorned solemnity.

Smooth sides were only engraved sparingly with Celestian symbols, praises for Guardians and prayers to protect the living in their absence.

It seemed a proper place to bury the ‘glorious dead’. Elise would approve of the final resting place for the bones of her Guardianship, Dover knew that much about her friend.

Still, no matter how she might have loved it, seeing the altar and the mausoleum brought the reality into sharp relief. In a few moments, Elise would be interred. Dover would never see her face again. This was the last time she had to be with the person that meant so much to her over the last thirteen years.

How could she even say goodbye?

The pall bearers stepped back, joining the ranks of angelic beings that stood facing the west. Light was beginning to fade as dusk slid over the horizon. Resurrection happened at dawn, entombment could only be done at twilight.

Dover knew she would have to speak. It was universally acknowledged that the bond between herself and Elise was a special one. Elise had not only been her mentor and guide, but her dearest friend. It was her place to speak, to commemorate the dead.

Embry grasped her right hand, squeezing it tightly in an attempt to give her some strength. Dover appreciated the gesture, stepping forward silently to address the dozens of mourners come to bid goodbye to a Guardian they all loved so deeply.

Never a fan of public speaking, Dover discreetly wiped slick palms on her skirt to buy herself a few seconds. She took a deep breath, exhaling sharply before lifting her head. A lock of ebony fell into her eyes, so Dover jerked her head to the side to move it away.

Hanael’s small smile was in her eyeline when she looked back up. There shone compassion from his icy blue gaze, a look that Dover knew well. He wanted to give her strength.

Tell me. The words were almost a whisper in her mind. Speak to me.

With another breath, Dover found herself able to look over the mourners, finding the words she could tell them about her beloved friend. Dover raised her voice to be heard in every corner of the small clearing surrounding the mausoleum.

“Elise Porter was and will forever remain the best of us all.” Dover began. Her voice trembled, but she managed to keep herself from outright bawling. Looking over the assemblage, she tried to speak through the tightening of her throat. “She was, in the truest sense, the model that all Guardians should follow. I will miss her wisdom, her humor, and her strength for my remaining days.”

Dover paused, taking another moment to remember her friend.

“She lived a human life to the fullest, surviving war, and poverty, and marriage…even children. Her life was dedicated to being a good person, something that led her to become a Guardian.

“Elise stood as a Guardian for an astonishing twenty-two years, shattering the preconceptions that we all just clock out at the given date. She was a mentor, a warrior, and – most of all – my dear friend. I’ve known no one in two lifetimes as wonderful, as brave, as kind as Elise. I will miss her, every day, until we are reunited.”

It was all she could say, all she had the strength to get through. Dover turned to place her hand into the large pewter basin of holy water, cupping it so that the clear liquid filled her palm. With delicate care, Dover dripped the water over Elise’s casket, whispering a goodbye to her friend.

The grief was overwhelming. Dover swallowed thickly over the lump lodged in her throat as Embry stepped forward. He did not touch the holy water, nor the coffin that held their friend. It was improper for one not of angelic heritage to touch such holy object. Though that irritated Dover, she wasn’t in the frame of mind to start a debate at Elise’s funeral.

Embry bid his friend goodbye softly, dipping into a low bow at her coffin before he escorted Dover away. Hanael was behind them, his prayers said, his hand wet with the sacred water he splashed over the coffin in respect.

They returned to their place in the procession, with Dover clutching at Hanael’s arm. He held her hand against his bicep, as though he understood that she needed comfort in this one, impossible moment. Embry was close beside her, Dover could hear his sniffling as they watched the angelic creatures move in a long, somber line toward the coffin.

It was Raziel, however, that caught Dover’s attention. The dark-skinned angel appeared to be openly weeping as she stepped up to the glimmering coffin. She lifted a hand to pour water over the casket, whispering a goodbye to Elise. Dover’s animosity toward the other angel took another hit at the sight. Raziel had deeply loved Elise.

Principalities were followed by Guardians as they filed past the casket. Holy water was poured over the lid, prayers were said. They all said goodbye to one Guardian they might always miss.

Hanael’s hand grasped hers, keeping Dover grounded. There was comfort in the familiar feel of his fingers grasping hers, though she wished the grip were a little tighter.

The Cherubim were the last to pay their respects. By the time they reached the quiet choir of angels, Dover’s eyes were glazing over. The sorrow, the loss was too fresh to remember anyone’s words of comfort even if they were sincere.

Dover let her thoughts slip away, leaving her in a lovely blankness for several moments. She let herself zone out for several minutes until a stranger moved toward Elise’s casket. Dover felt her brow furrow when she saw the newcomer.

He was tall, the stranger hovering over Elise’s coffin, covered in deep blue robes woven of fine cloth. They draped almost shapelessly over his hulking frame, the cowl pulled over his head, low over his eyes. She noted that his feet were bare, the toes winking from beneath the hem of his robes. As he stepped up to the dais on which the casket rested, the stranger pushed back the cowl, revealing a handsome profile several shades darker than even Raziel. He placed both hands on the casket lid, a low murmuring telling Dover that he was praying.

When he finished with his prayers, he stepped down from the platform. Dover found her gaze was drawn to his impossibly perfect face. His eyes were dark, rimmed with long, black lashes. A noble brow slid down into a broad nose, capping off his perfection with a generous mouth. The line of his chin gave him an imperial sort of look, timeless and ethereal. Dover was quite sure she had never seen anything so singularly beautiful as the angelic creature before her.

As he moved away from Elise’s coffin, he made no motion to touch the holy water. Dover had the maddening thought that he appeared too divine for such trivial things.

Recognition slid up her spine, rolling over her shoulders as the being moved toward the assembled mourners. His gaze flicked over hers, but he made no movement toward her. That one look, however, made Dover somehow very sure that she knew the man from somewhere.

“Han?” She kept her voice low so she wouldn’t draw attention. The Cherubim were preparing the mausoleum to take Elise’s coffin.

He answered her whisper with a slight squeeze of her hand.

“Who is that? The man in the blue robes?”

Han did not turn his head, though she could feel the rigidity of his posture stiffen further. The tension startled her into turning to look at him properly.

“Han?”

He leaned slightly toward her, his hand continuing to squeeze hers. Dover had another foreboding chill run through her spine where it mingled with that awful sense of familiarity.

“That is Gabriel,” Hanael said softly. “One of the archangels stationed in heaven. I had wondered if he would come.”

“An archangel.” Dover couldn’t keep the incredulity from her

tone. Even among the angelic creatures, archangels were regulated to something of a myth. Dover did not know of a single time when she’d even been in the same earthly country as an archangel. Her brain caught up a moment later, homing in on the last thing Hanael had said.

“What? He knew Elise?”

“Oh, yes.” Hanael seemed surprised that she hadn’t known this. “Elise was handpicked by Gabriel, even before her death.”

Dover swallowed hard, turning her eyes back to the coffin. How had Elise never told her about something that amazing? Handpicked by an archangel… “I never knew.”

At this, Hanael smiled faintly. “Elise was never one to brag.”

Dover went back to watching the Cherubim prepare the mausoleum. In a moment, they would take Elise away forever. Dover wanted to concentrate on this, on this moment and that alone. The face of that archangel, however, haunted her.

She knew him.

How? How could she have met him before and not remembered it? Dover’s breath caught in her throat so hard she almost choked.

“Han. Can an archangel resist a Holy Command?”

This time, her lover’s voice was slightly more annoyed.

“Dover, archangels are second only to God.”

“So, that’s a yes.”

He did not bother to respond, but Dover did not mind. She was lost to her thoughts again, recalling the night she’d had that strange encounter with another angelic being.

Could it have been…?

Dover pushed her thoughts away for now, focusing her eyes on the casket as the mausoleum entrance was opened. Eight Cherubim lifted the coffin, carrying the remains of Dover’s friend so she might be laid to rest. It was the hardest thing she had endured during her years as a Guardian.

After only a few moments, the Cherubs returned, closing the mausoleum entrance behind them. Just like that, it was over. Elise was really gone.

Dover had no time to dwell. As the angelic creatures moved solemnly out of the clearing, the archangel in attendance moved toward Hanael and Dover. Hanael, to her surprise, did not pull his hand from hers.

“Brother.” Gabriel said. Words rolled from his tongue in a deep, soothing rumble.

“Brother.” Hanael inclined his head respectfully, still clinging to Dover’s hand. “Elise would be happy to know you came.”

Gabriel’s smile was slightly sarcastic, Dover thought, if sarcasm could even be reflected on a face so beautiful. “Do you think she does not know? I came for the others, not for her. Elise is in heaven, where she belongs.”

“Of course.” Hanael agreed.

It was then that Gabriel’s gaze fell to their joined hands. A dark brow lifted quickly, his eyes flicking back up to Hanael’s face. Dover had the maddening urge to shamefully drop his hand, to hide the truth of their relationship.

That, of course, was ridiculous.

“Carelessness has never suited you, Hanael.” Gabriel said, his tone almost scathing.

You cannot command me, Guardian.

Gabriel had already stepped away when Dover found her voice. Her thoughts were centered on the memory of that night, the angelic being that had so surprised her, rebuked her. She stood, rooted to the spot, as Gabriel moved away. Hanael squeezed her hand again, trying to get her out of whatever had stolen her thoughts away.

“It was him.” Dover gasped the words. “Han, it was him.”

“Who was who?” Hanael asked, his brow furrowed with concern. “Dover, love, you’re not making sense.”

Dover swallowed thickly. “The angel that resisted the Holy Command outside of my apartment. It was him. Gabriel.”

Hanael straightened his back, looking down at her as though he couldn’t decide whether he was more confused or angry over her accusation. Dover met his gaze dead on, she had the instincts of a police officer, of a Guardian and she trusted them. Even if Hanael did not believe her, Dover was certain.

“Dover.” Hanael’s voice was flat. “What possible reason would an archangel have for coming to you? Especially since the creature you reported attacked you?”

“I don’t know.” Dover’s voice was steadier than it felt. “I don’t know why, but I know it was him. That voice. I remember his voice.”

Hanael sighed, turning away from her toward the dying light. Dusk had fallen, leaving the marble of the mausoleum to glow faintly as the light faded. Dover wanted to reach for him, to return the contact between them.

For some reason, she knew he would rebuff any attempt at contact. That would hurt her already wounded heart more than she could bear.

“Han.”

“Dover. It’s not possible.”

Exhaling slowly, Dover nodded. “I’m going home. Do me a favor and stay at the Arbor tonight, ok?”

“Dover, wait.”

She turned on her heel, striding to the truck she’d parked on the drive. Hanael’s gaze bore into her back, but she never turned.

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