It was then, sheathing the sword of ice, feeling its weight--the swords, at least, had more substance that the creature they were meant to cleave--as a counter to the blade of flame whose hilt perched above my right shoulder, that I felt complete for the first time. Nothing that had been offered me, by angel or daemon, had given me the feeling that sheathing that second blade--committing myself to the path I had been so long in choosing--had finally done. The subconscious click of things at last falling into their proper places, the mantle of Crusader that slipped from my shoulders with startling ease, the sudden absence of guilt and doubt that left me lighter, less burdened, than I had been in long centuries. Feri-el's voice, bell-like even in its aggrievement, lingered in my mind; its words of shock and dismay as I'd drawn the blue-veined blade of ice and held it out in a so-familiar stance: "El-Ishamael, what hast thou done?"
Not el-Ishamael, no longer, I mused to myself. Neither el-Ishamael nor al-Ishamael, now. Perhaps the angel had been right; its skill with its sword suggested experience, and experience suggested a knowledge of Mikael's true intentions. Perhaps it was impossible to serve two masters. But I served only one, in truth: the blade, the war between Heaven and Hell. I served the twin blades on my back alone, freed of all ties that had bound me, even as A'al had promised in offering me the blade of ice. Freed as well, however, of the stigma and the curse of serving Lukifer. The war between the two immortal realms had taken on a life of its own, chosen a champion to serve its purpose, and named him Ishamael.
Time changed, slowly, speeding back up until once again I moved at the same pace as the rest of the world. Time flowed, passed, allowing me to rejoin the mortal world, no longer clad in the armour of a soldier, my swords invisible to their eyes. I felt the familiar twisting inside me, the desire to cling to that slowed, stretched time of angels and daemons, the world within and around the mortal realms. There, I could lose myself forever in the infinite beauty of a raindrop crawling from cloud to ground, take the time to savour the flow of sap from branch to leaf, appreciate the infinite echoes of a single heartbeat. It was the time of love and hate, borne by the angels, their wings the only substantial part of them, and usurped by the daemons; a time I was slowly learning to claim for my own.