Anna kicked off her shoes and ran through the soft grass on the edge of the training ground. It was hard to imagine that they would shortly be facing a troop of angels here to fight with real weapons. She wanted to get a feel of the field before the engagement. The soft grass led to longer wheat grass, gently waving in the light of the setting sun.
No, nothing looked familiar from her dreams. She knew her dreams were subjective. The school had taught her that they often simply illustrated how things stood in the Higher Realm, although occasionally they foreshadowed something from the future. She had dreamt of school and classes and lectures for four years before being chosen to attend Universe University, where angels and other higher beings taught humans how to interact in the Higher Realm, also called the Kingdom Realm.
If only I can master Edge’s ability, she thought as she looked around. If she could be more than one place at a time, then she could go examine places to see if they aligned with her dreams, while still sitting in class.
Anna was one of twelve freshman students whose Professor was the Archangel Michael. He was a big, gruff, no-nonsense being, but surprisingly tolerant of the grad students’ complete ignorance about almost everything the school taught.
Looking out over the field, Anna thought about the things she had learned in school so far. She shook her head at the realization of how far she was out of her comfort zone, how inexperienced she felt. She had not even realized that her dreams came from the Higher Realm.
As a child, she had been told that her frequently accurate dreams came from her subconscious, even though she often commented on things that she had no way to know.
For instance, she remembered one day when she was six years old, running into the house and telling her mother about a daydream she had at school. She was not even finished speaking before her Mom started shouting about an argument that she had had that day with her best friend about that very subject.
Anna remembered those arguments well. Her Mom and her friend were on different sides of the aisle politically and they loved nothing more than to get together, play Scrabble, and bicker. It was exciting, deafening, and a little frightening. However, it had taught Anna to be impartial and see both sides to a disagreement, which the big archangel had told her was important.
Anna felt a warm breeze that lifted her hair and softened the air. She turned around, disappointed. If only she could have caught a glimpse on the field, previously seen in a dream, then, she might have had an idea about how to approach the coming combat. She leaned down to pick up her loafers. Just then the wind kicked up, knocking her class notebook out of her hands. Anna made a grab for it with one hand, while slipping her loafers on with the other. As she walked slowly to the dormitory, she felt no more prepared for the fight the next day than she had when she arrived. Okay, she thought. I will just have to wing it.
Groans filled the room. A halberd? The large archangel flexed his wings as he stood at the whiteboard, drawing something that looked like a large spike with an axe and a spearhead at the end. His large wings opened slightly, then settled behind his broad shoulders.
“This is what you are going to use to ward of the blows of the mace,” Professor Michael said. “A mace can be lethal. It is a battering weapon by which your opponent tries to bludgeon you unconscious, or at the very least, simply unable to respond. Some never rise again after being downed by a mace.”
Edge remembered that one major advantage that the halberd had over a mace was that it had a further reach. They also were effective for a band defending together. The class needed every advantage they could get. Tomorrow was going to be a huge day. In the all-out skirmish, the students would discover if they could battle together, warding off a united attack from the angels Michael had rallied to give the class some real-time, down and dirty, combat experience.
Edge wrenched his mind back just in time to hear Professor Michael saying, “Believe me. The last thing you want is to be caught alone with an angry, vicious team targeting you, or facing someone in a solitary battle who has more power than you have ever encountered. Yet, you still could win.”
“Here is where you need to remember your training about thoughts. Each strike of the mace is like a negative thought slamming you, accusing you, and it is geared to bring you down. You will be blasted with personal accusation. In a mace attack, every weakness and fear you have will be exploited with a straightforward hard blow, from whatever angle you leave them room.”
“While fighting, you often cannot discern the accusation. You must be faster than thought, faster than your own realization, willing to bear all in order to win all.”
Edge jumped out of his chair, waving his arm wildly.
“Can I use my ability to be more than one place on the fighting field?” Edge asked. “Could I attack from the back and from the front at the same time?”
Michael shook his head.
“The ability doesn’t work that way, Edge. You can be on two fields at the same time, but only one place per field. Say that a teammate, or the Lord Union, or any friendly Kingdom being calls you, and you go to join their fight. Then, you will be fully there, plus you will be at the place that you were already fully engaged. So, you can be in two or more places at once, but you can only engage from one angle in each fight. Good question though, Edge.”
Edge glanced around at his classmates as he squeezed back behind his desk. What had they gotten themselves into? The school was intense, the teachers intimidating by sheer size and personal power. Angels! Gods! Stars! It was the gods who had chosen the twelve students from Earth, deeming them to be receptive to activity in the Kingdom Realm. First, they had been carefully examined to establish that each had a willingness to embrace a higher purpose than their own everyday life.
Every face was glued on the professor as he continued his lecture.
“So, countering an opponent with a mace: you strike them hard exactly where they are vulnerable. Are they accusing you of something that is in their own nature? What if they have stumbled onto something negative about you, or took aim at a festering wound you carry around in your being? It doesn’t matter. You fight for the truth, and there is no half-seen, half-realized accusation against you that matters more than unity at large. The kingdom is not made up of one but is one.”
“Take the truth and shove it down their throat, personal-style. Launch the experience of unity towards them with massive blows, swings, and thrusts of your halberd. There is no room to be tentative on a battlefield. Be united in agreement, insistent in harmony, knowing that the Lord Union has borne this battle since eons past. Do not let them separate you from your pack.”
Michael’s eyes searched ours. “Do you understand?” he said.
And suddenly, Edge did. This was not about him, or any one individual, no matter what was claimed by the attackers. This was the opposite of self. The Superbeing called Union, the archangel Michael, and all the gods and higher powers on their side fought with them. Their weapons and abilities were only tools to gain the victory against anyone who opposed the unity of the entire Higher Realm.
“Wow!” Edge thought. “I was born for this.”
“Twelve on twelve,” said the Archangel Michael. “Remember your training. A blow to the head is more efficient than a glancing side-blow.”
Nervously, the students advanced, halberds clutched tightly in both hands. Not quite a phalanx, they stood further apart, without shields, a fledgling halberdier group. The angels stood casually, some swinging their maces, as the group approached. The angels looked lethal. Every one of them was taller than the largest student.
However, the decisive factor in a fight is the mindset, Laila knew. The class was just about to learn how they stacked up in close combat. “What the hell?” she thought, eyes alert, hoping to dance her way out of a blow from the deadly mace. “Eye contact,” she remembered. “Counter their movements before they make them.”
There was a pause as the trainees reached the defending point. Chris and Barbara stood first against the coming charge. Extremely athletic, they were a natural choice in weapon’s training to top the fledgling group of halberdiers. Anna, Edge, and Freddy were close beside Laila, with Iris, Kai, and the others covering from the rearguard.
Chris released a forward thrust, which plunged through the neck of the first angel in the assault. Barbara, in a complicated maneuver, leapt forward to draw the swing of the mace towards her chest, then leaned backwards to avoid the blow while simultaneously chopping sideways at the big angel’s knees. He went down on one knee, desperately trying to gain control of the trajectory of his mace. Blood spurted from the deep gash in his thigh.
Instantly, the rival sides were entwined. Michael’s encouraging shouts could be heard in the background, “Never look away!”
Leaping sideways, inside the limited space of the group, Laila tried to strike a blow at the neck of her opponent. She felt the slam of his mace in her ribs. She staggered, but Barb’s axe head split the challenger open in the back. Laila turned to see how Anna was faring. She looked fierce and determined. The chain from Anna’s opponent’s mace had wrapped around her halberd, and she was struggling to pull it free. Quickly, Laila chopped the neck of the red-haired angel, and he went down.
Cries and groans emanated from the field. The engagement was almost over. Angel warriors were already retreating, some being helped off the field by others. As an initial training fight, it had been enlightening. Angels recovered from wounds a lot quicker than humans, Laila knew. She wondered how long it would take for her to be able to breathe freely, since she felt like her ribs were smashed by the strike of the mace. About half the grads had received body blows. A dark bruise was spreading on Helm’s cheek.
“Alright,” the big Archangel called out. “Head back to the classroom. We will meet them again in one week. Next time they will be on horseback.”
Freddy sat on the edge of his seat. Power emanated from her. Hera. Goddess and Commander-in-Chief of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Hera’s face was intent. Freddy avoided her scorching gaze as he strove to take in what she was saying. She was talking about Gaia, a being who dwells within the earth, who had helpers called the Fae, who assist in maintaining order in nature. Hera didn’t want the new inhabitants of the Higher Realm to intermingle with the Fae. She said that times are getting tougher and big changes are at hand, so she did not want the Fae to be lost to the mooning and dreaming they fall into when they become enamored of one human or another. It distracts them from their purpose, Hera said. They are supposed to leave humans alone, so we should be sure that we kept our distance. Freddy thought it would be a brave man indeed who went against Hera’s orders.
Hera was the guest lecturer for the day. According to the syllabus the title of the lecture was “Expansion.” Freddy couldn’t imagine what she was going to say. He glanced over at Helm, who sat beside his. His face was as slack-jawed and staring as Freddy’s.
This was one impressive woman! Tall, sexy as hell, and immensely menacing. She looked beautiful and lethal, and Freddy was not sure which quality he feared more.
“Right!” Hera said decisively. She wrote on the board in big loopy letters: EXPANSION. She started sketching. It was hard to follow what she was drawing at first, but eventually something like a map emerged. Freddy thought it looked more like a broad section of space than anything else. He didn’t recognize the location or any of the constellations. Hera tapped on one star, which rose off the whiteboard. As the graphic enlarged, six or seven planets appeared in orbit around the star. Hera tapped again, indicating one planet out of the group, which enlarged in turn. It was blue and green.
“This is Zeus’ destination,” she said.
The classroom was dead silent, curiosity and bewilderment almost palpable.
“He is the first in line to claim new territory. This is his planet (tap) and this is his sun (tap) and together they will raise the first generation of humans off world. He has long awaited this day.”
Freddy gasped. Zeus was leaving?
Hera went on. “This will be heavily opposed. We never really welcomed humans on Mount Olympus, and human will be even less welcomed in the outer reaches of the Kingdom, except by those who have joined Union’s ranks.”
Chris almost timidly raised their hand.
“Is this why you are in charge on Mt. Olympus?”
Hera’s face froze. Glaring at Michael, she stalked from the room. No one spoke, and then Chris turned towards Michael, entreaty on their face.
“Was it something I said?”
Michael said, “Hera is not one to waste time.”
“Alright. That’s enough for today. On Monday, Pegasus and Leo Minor will stop by and analyze the interaction between constellations and why they arrange themselves as they do. We will look at expansion again after the lecture. REST over the weekend! You will need it to sustain their presence without collapsing.”
Freddy nodded at Helm and Anna as the students left the room, too stunned to say anything. So, this was Universe University? He thought of Earth, far below the school. Have we been asleep? he wondered. Angels, gods, stars, beasts, and other powerful beings; some on our side and some not. All were active in the Higher Realm to the very edge of the universe.
Freddy’s pace quickened and he passed lingering students, his face once again wearing a characteristic grin. He broke into a trot, bookbag on back. Unconsciously, he echoed Edge’s thoughts. What in the holy hell have I gotten myself into?
END OF CHAPTER ONE