As though the cast wasn’t large enough, we get back to the angels – or rather, a different set of angels, not that we can tell properly given none of them are named initially and their descriptions are vague and generic.
These angels, as opposed to the other angels we’ve had in the past,
“appeared as two ordinary men, one trim and blond, the other built like a tank, both dressed in what looked like matching tan fatigues.”
(Apparently, the opposite of blond is bodybuilder. Who knew?)
“Golden belts had become like dark leather, their scabbards were a dull copper.”
Yes, that’s right: apparently, in order to fit in with modern society and not cause alarm, their scabbards – presumably filled with sword – become copper. Because that won’t stand out at all.
We’re given their names: Triskal and Guilo. Guilo is upset that Triskal stayed his hand, as he was about to smite the “demon of complacency and despair” that attached to our Marshall last chapter. Now, despair was obvious – he was feeling particularly insecure and hopeless about his inability to change his own behavior. But complacency? The man has serious issues with anger management and victim-blaming; why complacency as his major sin? Complacency goes with despair certainly – “I can’t fix anything, so why bother” – but that means the entire bit of irrational anger was all his own doing, with absolutely no infernal aid. Marshall is an abusive man without the demonic intervention; all the demon was doing was encouraging him to stop trying to be less abusive. And this is meant to be our hero?
Triskal, in pure emo-teen fashion, tells Guilo that he “doesn’t understand” due to his recently having arrived. Guilo asks for clarification; Triskal insists that they have orders from “Tal” not to fight the demons. This shocks and perplexes Guilo – why would he be ordered here to not fight demons?
The angel meeting is held in the church, and we’re introduced to the rest of our Heavenly Host:
Nathan, the towering Arabian who fought fiercely and spoke little…
Armoth, the big African whose war cry and fierce countenance had often been enough to send the enemy fleeing before he even assailed them…
Chimon, the meek European with the golden hair, who bore on his forearms the marks of a fading demon’s last blows before Chimon banished him forever into the abyss…
Tal, the Captain of the host
By your powers combined, I am HE WHO IS CALLED I AM! Our cast of ethnically diverse stereotypes (and what race are Tal, Guilo, or Triskal? Nobody knows. Who is taller, the “Towering Arabian” or the “Big African”?Nobody knows. By big, does that mean Armoth is obese, or just muscular? Nobody knows. Description is not this man’s strong suit) has gathered to receive orders from the captain, along with a number of others given no name or description – we’re told that “Twenty-three of the very best, the most gallant, the most undefeatable…. gathered now as though under seige”.
Let us pause a moment to consider this. Twenty-three angels have gathered, including the most badass angels Guilo, called “the Strength of Many”, has ever encountered. Just the name “Tal” is enough to send shivers down his spine. This town only has twelve thousand people in it – how many demons could there possibly be? And yet their plan is inaction, cowering in a church, feeling outnumbered. This serves as our introduction to our big bad, “Rafar, Prince of Babylon”.
Guilo has personally fought Rafar before, with Tal at his side. The battle lasted twenty-three days; he was defeated “on the eve of Babylon’s fall”. Guilo’s sword is still “gashed and discolored” from the battle – apparently he couldn’t have bothered to sharpen or clean his blade in the intervening centuries – and it was presumably a terrifying battle. So it stands to reason Guilo and Tal would be a little worried about this guy. But there’s twenty-one more angels to back them up. If they stormed him right now, what could possibly go wrong?
“And we are not to fight, we are not to resist?” [...]
“Not yet. We’re too few, and there’s very little prayer cover.”
After recovering from my bout of “WTF”, I read the sentence aloud to my finacee. Twenty minutes later, he finally stopped laughing hysterically.
“Cover” has a number of common uses in this type of sentence. The one I’m sure it was meant to evoke was the military usage, as this is a war council. That could either be a verb:
Cover (v) (military) To protect using an aimed firearm and the threat of firing; or to protect using continuous, heaving fire at or in the direction of the enemy so as to force the enemy to remain in cover; or to threaten using an aimed firearm.
Or a noun:
Cover (n) (military) A solid object, including terrain, that provides protection from enemy fire.
Either human prayers are like bullets, protecting the angels from having to fight at all by shielding them (shouldn’t it be the other way around? Angels protecting humans?), or they’re solid objects that can be used as shields to block attacks from the demons. Either way, apparently our prayers protect the angels who are protecting us.
Of course, it could be “prayer cover” as in “cloud cover”, a continuous blanket of prayers over the town that…. does something. Makes it rain holy blessings down on the city? It could be “prayer cover” as in the music sense, in which a song is “covered” by the “Prayer version” – try singing the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of “Imagine”. Maybe the atrocious singing scares off all but the most dedicated demons. It could be a “cover charge”- “It costs 15 prayers per head to get into this battle, so we can only bring 2 warriors tonight”. It could be a “cover story” – “We can’t be seen doing battle, but if there’s enough prayers, we could pass for guardian angels. Three of you go mow lawns so we look more innocent”. It could be… huh, apparently in animal husbandry “cover” means “copulate with”. I’m not touching that one.
Tal, it seems, has a master plan. It goes as follows:
1. Chimon brings Hank into town and gets him voted in as pastor.
2. Hank prays for the town. He is the only one doing so.
3. Something called a “Remnant” exists.
4. Angels move into the church and talk in hushed voices about not attacking.
5. God moves Hogan into position to be the Big Damn Hero.
6. Six angels keep guard over Hank to protect him from the demons. Wait, my mistake. They’re not to “let his life be touched”, but otherwise “prevent nothing” so he can undergo this test himself.
7. Six angels watch Hogan to see how he responds to situations.
Seriously, that’s the plan. Stand around watching the humans fight demons on their own. Because otherwise they might tip their hand that they’re here to, you know. Fight demons.
The real question is, why is any of this a problem in the least? These are Angels. Christian Angels. It’s not like they’re backed by an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity figure… oh wait, those ARE the three pillars of the Christian God. Why are we watching Tal quiver in his boots? Where is Yaweh? Why isn’t he lifting a blessed finger to help out? If he doesn’t give two shits about sinful atheists in the middle of Everywhere, USA, then why send angels at all? If he does care, why send angels when he can just wipe out the demons himself? Why play at “spiritual warfare”?
The usual answer I hear to the Problem of Evil is “Free will”. God doesn’t want to interfere with our free will, so he lets us make our own mistakes. And yet, there are physical demons clinging to people’s legs forcing them to sin. That’s interfering with free will right there. If free will is so important, surely he’d protect our ability to act unhindered by keeping demons from interfering with said free will? And yet, apparently, he’s a lazy pacifist – he uses “free will” as an excuse not to act, but refuses to act to protect said free will.
Maybe God is dead after all.