The beginnings of the dawn lit sky stung my eyes, causing them to burn and tears to form at the edges. I emerged from the war-torn earth and the darkness of the pit, scraped and bleeding, the pink and golden hues of the rising sun was a sure sign that I would live to fight another day. Although, the way my body and muscles groaned and ached with every movement made me wonder if I wanted to fight anymore. After nearly 2000 centuries of warfare, I was beginning to wonder if I wanted it anymore. Dirt and blood caked my skin and I could taste copper on my tongue. Another misconception of humans is that we don’t bleed or know physical pain. That, as angels, we only know love and gentleness, float on clouds with harps and sing songs all day. Ha. Every warrior knows the tribulations of warfare. Especially warrior angels who fight for the salvation of mankind, unlike humans who fight amongst themselves for no reason at all.
My life is about war. Not on a daily basis, but still enough to take up most of my time. When I am not fighting, my life is ordinary enough. I spend my time with Gabe and Eloa, watching over humans and guarding them against the Darkness of demons and Shadows alike. We talk and stand ever vigilant, ready to swoop in when needed to keep the scales of good and evil always on our side.
This last battle between us and the insurgents of Hell had been a long and bloody one; our numbers dead nearly equal to their own. Our side was victorious, the grace of God saw to that. But the wounds that had been received during the battle made me realize how nearly we had lost. This revelation shook me to my core. I could not imagine what would happen if we were ever to lose a battle against the Shadows and demons that we hunted.
In the beginning, when I first joined the fight as a newly formed warrior, I thought that my heart and soul would harden to the sight of my brothers and sister’s dead, the unthinkable happening as their essences permanently left their bodies to return to the void of the universe. When an angel dies, their soul returns to the outer reaches of the galaxy, to float in ignorance until God calls them forth again for some other purpose. However, my heart did not harden so it was always difficult to see my brethren dead on the ground.
Now, I took a deep breath as I surveyed the aftermath of the most recent battlefield.
Blood and bile soaked the ground and stained the clothing of those who had fought and fallen in the melee. The Angels of Light shall always conquer the Darkness; the Shadows cannot hide from the Light. At least, that is what Michael has always told us. After this battle, I was not so sure.
The weariness that stole into my body and soul was an unfamiliar feeling. Sometimes, the battles make it difficult to continue to have faith. Winning and losing, both sides having their gains and losses. After a few hundred centuries, it gets tiresome, the fighting, the war, the blood. I sometimes wonder if it will ever end.
I rose to my feet, shaking and tired. The leather of my well-worn armor stretched and scratched against my skin as I regained my full height, my wings slowly unfurling to shake the dust from the feathers. I quickly assessed my wounds and looked over my skin and wings to make sure I wasn’t hurt any more that what I felt. I was thankful that nothing was broken and softly my wings disappeared back into my skin to look like nothing more than tattoos down my back. I stretched and tried to gather where on Earth I was and who remained with me.
I could never tell where we angels might emerge from when we left the pit. If the demons and Shadows hadn’t retreated into Hell, we wouldn’t need to follow, desperate to finish them while we had them on the run. Unfortunately, it was hard to maintain combat on the surface of earth in the light of the sun. There were too many humans in overpopulated areas, crowding cities and towns. And, being underground for any amount of time can be disorientating, especially when we were in the midst of battle, wandering, chasing and fighting.
The fray began in France, just outside of Paris in a small suburb called Bougival. I was walking along the Seine pondering typical tourist behaviors when I heard the battle horn of Gabriel echo through the collective.
All angels are connected to the universe, knowledge flowing from one to another and as I heard the trumpet announce the upcoming battle, I quickly hurled myself into the sky to join my fellow soldiers. I saw the gathering in a train tunnel that connects the small town to Paris and in my gut, I knew that we would be entering into the Pit. The Shadows were crawling outside of the station, desperate to get the battle underway. I wished I’d kept watching the humans take their pictures and visiting the small shops.
Sighing heavily at the memory, I took in my surroundings now that we had come to what appeared to be an end to that particular fight. I looked across the horizon and saw a skyline of buildings and ancient archways. We seemed to have emerged in the Middle East, in the middle of some metropolis. Not near Paris. They really did drag us through Hell this time around.
It was still too dark to really get a sense of where we were, but it looked to be a park. There were some stucco and concrete buildings close by, craggily trees, and a cracked paved road not far in the distance that I could make out in the early darkness of the morning. I also saw a golden dome that seemed to glow even though there was no real light. Nearby, I could hear voices beginning to rise in prayer. The air was dry and hot, even though the sun had just begun to rise. Dust clung to the back of my throat as I looked over my body and my wounds in greater detail.
Although I would live, I had been deeply injured; several cuts run along my arms from where a sword blade came too close and one down my side; remnants of battle with a Shadow, with its disjointed arms and legs, it’s monstrous gaping mouth with jagged teeth, who wouldn’t die gracefully. I had hacked off most of its appendages, but it wouldn’t stay down until I thrust my sword through its neck, delivering the killing blow by severing its head from its body.
A Shadow doesn’t die easily. They are made up of what their names mean. Shadows. They take on a human-like form and become solid when they are just about to strike. It takes cunning and lightning fast reflexes to catch them before they strike. If they are able to be caught in that moment of solidity, then they can be taken down, but it has to be quick. If not, they can wound us with deadly claws and gnashing teeth before once again becoming a shadowy mist. Demons are a tad easier to kill as they are always solid. But with their whip-like tails and the horns on their heads, they have natural weapons that we do not possess. Add weapons and armor, and demons become one evil opponent. But at least they can’t hide.
The wounds that I had were painful, but I had received worse in the past, and I knew that I would heal once I was in the light of the sun. The warmth of God’s glory would rejuvenate me. Suddenly, movement near the mouth of Hell caught my eye. I scanned the area for friends and family.
Eloa crouched on the ground nearby, her eyes surveying her surroundings, wary of the Shadows that were beginning to descend into the oncoming morning. They clung to the buildings and trees that encircled us. The angel before me was a miracle. The son of God once shed a tear, and that tear had contained so much love and compassion that God swept the droplet from his son’s face and breathed life into it, thus creating Eloa.
Lucifer had once tried to seduce Eloa into Hell, using his beauty and lies to get her to betray all that she believed in, but she fought back, using the strength that is innate to all angels when defying Lucifer. God deemed her worthy of welding a fiery sword. Although her very existence came from a moment of loss and sadness, she has filled Heaven with her laughter and gentleness. I hated that she chose to join the Army of God, what with her sweet nature. She always seemed too delicate and gracious to be deemed a hardened warrior. As I watched her stumble, I moved more quickly towards her to see if she was unharmed. Again, a pang of regret for her loss of being just a gentle creature crept through me. She deserved better than this.
Eloa’s golden hair was dirty and matted with grime and gore, her fair skin ashen. I could tell by her slow movements that she had been seriously wounded. My heart began to beat with a fearful tremor. Luckily, when she stood to shake out her wings and dust off her lithe and willowy figure, I knew at once that it was nothing mortal. She, too, would heal in the light.
Our eyes met and relief flooded hers as she took visual inventory of my wounds. The love in her eyes gave me the confidence to continue to walk upright as I approached her to touch her flesh, to make sure with my own hands that she would survive from her wounds. Eloa’s face lifted into a small smile when she determined that I would live, after checking me with her fingertips, ensuring herself that I too would recover.
When I first came to Heaven as a newly created Angel of the Light, Eloa had been appointed as my mentor. She was the one to give me guidance and to help me begin to understand the depth of my new form. Over time, our friendship built into something that was splendid and wonderful. I first learned about physical love through being with Eloa, and how it felt to sleep with someone you love and have their arms around you. She was my first love and my best friend Once Gabe came into my life, Eloa and I decided that our love was one of friendship, and that our time in each other’s arms had come to an end.
“Good to see that you’ll survive,” Eloa chided softly, her breath a warm breeze against my skin. I shrugged my shoulders and assured her that my injuries were nothing that wouldn’t heal, given time.
“The pain is nothing worse than having to fight Max,” I said, hiding the grimace that usually came when I mentioned his name. I smiled at Eloa, trying to prove that his memory no longer caused me pain. The fact that he was the general of the army of Shadows that we chased into hell irked me. Although I had not seen him on this particular battlefield, I hated the idea that I was once again going against him. He didn’t show his face for this battle, the coward, so that we could finally finish what was once started so long ago. I was determined that the next time we met I would finally end him.
“True, Murmur certainly left scars that are still visible,” she said, causing my heart to stutter at the mention of his angelic name. I rolled my eyes to show my disgust and to try to play off the brief betrayal of my heart. I preferred to use Max. He wasn’t Murmur to me anymore.
Gabe takes good care of me.”
“As well he should. He has only watched over you since your creation. Even when we were together, he guarded over you,” Eloa smiled, her warmth radiating at the recollections of our time in each other’s arms. The turning up of her lips, however, did not hide the regret that still hid in her eyes.
“I know you aren’t jealous,” I grinned back, glad that she was still a part of my life and that I was able to tease her. My chest ached slightly at the memories of our time together, but we both knew we were not destined to be soul mates.
“Rebekah, there’s nothing to be jealous of. Love is a wonderful thing,” she said with a graceful smile upon her lips, “I know that our love was wonderful, but you were meant for Gabriel. Even Murmur knows that.” She looked around her to gauge our situation, reminding me of the battle that we had just emerged from and the city in which we stood.
“He may know it, but he certainly hasn’t accepted it.” I said.
She winced as she gave a slight chuckle. I touched her arm to steady her, but she regained her posture and stood straight once more. Her eyes told me that she was in pain, but like me, she was too much of a warrior to let on. Her gaze went to the sky, as she checked to see how far off the sunrise was.
“Yes, but Max doesn’t know when to give up. Whenever I see him on the battlefield, he still tries to take me,” I sighed heavily, at the thought of my former beloved and his fall from grace. I hate this stupid war sometimes. It must have appeared on my face as I, too, continued to scan the horizon because Eloa gently touched me on the shoulder. I continued to gaze ahead as she spoke, afraid that if I looked into her eyes, she would see the pain that still lingered within me.
“Don’t worry about him taking you. He will probably always want you. It is the curse of the fallen, to covet what they cannot have,” she said softly, her fingers caressing the nape of my neck. I finally met her eyes and I knew that she was remembering Lucifer and his attempt to take her into the Pit. I caressed her check to help ease her memories.
“Oh, I’m not worried. I would rather die than have him take me into Hell.” Just thinking about Max brought a new level of annoyance in me. Yeah, I would never go to hell with him.
Murmur had once been my lover, my life, what I thought was my soulmate before he had given in to his own ambition and desires. The temptations of “reigning in Hell” had been so great, and he cast down his sword of Light and began to fight for the other side. It was during the Crusades. We had been fighting the Shadows for decades, trying to end the needless war for land and glory between the humans. We were lost on the battlefield, alone, he and I, and seriously wounded, both of body and of spirit. He turned on me, his greed of wanting to be something more taking. He took his soul from the call of Heaven.
“We all must continue to fight.” Her gaze quickly left my face and she once again stared into the horizon over my shoulder, an attempt to hide the pain that must have been hidden there. “Look, some of our brothers and sisters are coming.”
She pointed over towards the gaping hole in the earth where more angels were starting to emerge and seeking the sun to heal. We moved slowly towards the gathering flock as they continued to climb their way out of the darkness. So many were torn and tattered, covered in the telltale signs of a grievous fight.
This had been a very bad battle, for both sides. They seemed to be getting worse, these engagements of war, as if they were building towards something bigger. What that was, I did not know, but I was too afraid to find out.
The first rays of daybreak had started to come over the building and a few others stepped into the sun from the hell mouth, basking in its warmth as they shook off the evil that still seemed to envelope us.
There were not many angels.
As the sun continued to rise, our wounds began to heal, slowly closing and vanishing as the rays touched our various tones of skin, causing us to glow in the early morning light. I looked around again to get a sense of where we were.
We were not as isolated as I had originally thought. We seemed to have come out of the pit close to a densely populated area with a vast city in the distance. There were buildings that seemed to climb on top of each other and we stood in what appeared to be a park. There were a few patches of land between what appeared to be some ancient monuments or tombs. Several trees and pathways surrounded us, and I could start to see that mosaics that graced a number of the buildings. A few humans wandered around, making their way to some temple or other, and cars began buzz along the roads that surrounded the park.
Great, I thought to myself, there are not many buildings to support the Shadows, should they try to follow us into the daylight. Luckily, there were also very few humans around to have to worry about if the Shadows actually did try to come. This, however, seemed odd. Where were all the people? Since we were in a city, there should have been more people than what we were seeing.
The battle had taken us from the middle of Europe, and we seemed to have resurfaced on the far outskirts of the Holy City, close to Mount Zion. I could see the Dome of Jerusalem in the distance. It seemed too much of a coincidence, but I had always been suspicious of such happenings, especially when there was a lack of humans in such a holy site. Nothing happened without a reason, especially when we were battling the Shadows of darkness. They always have a plan, especially when Max was their general. I searched the assembly of angels eagerly for my lover, my eyes scanning the crowd for his towering figure.
Gabriel stood in front of the gathering mass attempting to gain some semblance of order, his skin glowing in the light from sweat and simple radiance. The Archangel was always beautiful, even with all of the blood and filth that still clung to him after our battle. He was the Bringer of Justice, vengeance and death, on a throne next to God himself. After centuries of being friends and lovers, he was everything to me; easing the pain of a once broken heart. We knew our destinies lay together, partners throughout Eternity. But it had taken me several centuries to overcome the pain of Max’s betrayal. Gabriel was strong, well-muscled and splendid in all of his glory. He towered over the angels that were gathering around him, flocking to him as they sought instructions of what they should do next. He was their leader and they knew that he would guide them. Over the countless years he had changed his look so that he fit in with the most current times of the 21st century. Recently he had adopted the appearance of a rogue military commander, with a shorn head and a multitude of tattoos.
Dressed in military style fatigues, his golden radiance shone in the Light as it touched the muscled arms that were created especially for welding a sword. The sword, his sword of fire, was sheathed across his back. Two long daggers graced his hips. The Messenger had no need for guns. There wasn’t one in creation that could kill him, and his swords were the deadliest of them all. The inked designs that adorned his body were the symbols and prayers of religions new and long dead, a testament to the glory of his existence, the word of God, and Gabe’s own history over thousands of centuries of life. I shivered at the thought of having traced those intricate designs with my fingertips and tongue as his skin quivered under my touch. His strength and force portrayed the image that he was only a warrior, and did not show that he was also capable of great. His fingers once touched the lips of newborn children, silencing them from revealing the glories of the universe; his voice had caressed the ears of Mary as he whispered the secret of her divine pregnancy into her ears. My heart glowed with the knowledge that he had survived yet another battle, one of hundreds of thousands that he had fought throughout all of time.
He was my savior and my love.
I was grateful that he had surfaced from the pit, and relief flooded my heart. He was doing what he needed to do, being the leader that he was created to be. His eyes met mine with a brief nod and a relieved smile, the warmth of his love for me showed clearly on his face. I smiled at him and moved towards the crowd.
We continued to take inventory of the heavenly army emerging from the darkness, checking to see who had come out of the pit and, sadly, who had not. We all knew that we had to gather forces quickly and seek out others who may have been slow in exiting from beneath the earth. The Shadows would follow shortly, those who could stand in the day hiding and lurking in the shades of trees and buildings, though, luckily, both seemed to be in short supply in the park where we were standing. Being in the middle of a city makes it easier for them to hide, and plan for their revenge. They try to will come and pull those of us who survived back into the darkness. Back to face their Judgment according to the laws of Sammael. And, anywhere near Sammael was not a place where an angel wanted to be.
In the direction of the open Hell mouth, I could hear their screeching and bone-crunchingly jagged movements as the dark ones began to lurk and crawl from the depths of the pit to new shadows created by the rising sun. As the day grew, the Shadows would be able to stretch themselves to match the shade cast by buildings, trees, animals and flowers. The could hide from the light. They could grab us from their hiding places and force us into the underworld. We were never safe when we tread upon the Earth, not even during the day.
After the last of his orders were given, Gabriel strode quickly towards Eloa and I to ensure us that we were safe and could survive on our own. Once he reached us, he looked at Eloa and with a small nod of her head he turned his gaze towards mine. I caught a quick glimpse of genuine concern flicker through his eyes before they became hard and determined once again. He hated to see me injured and I knew that he was planning revenge upon the demons for forcing our hand in this battle. I reached up to gently stroke his strong chin and reassure him that I was more or less healed the sun. He pressed a soft kiss against my lips.
“Rebekah,” he breathed as he pulled back from me, his eyes scanning my body to assess any further damage. I smiled up at him.
“Gabriel,” I whispered, wrapping myself around him, pressing my head into his strong chest.
“You are all right,” relief flooded his voice, “I was sure that the Shadow you had been fighting had finished you,” he said softly as he gathered me into his arms, hugging me for the briefest of moments before letting me go again. He had to be on guard. He couldn’t spend as much time holding me as much as I knew that he wanted to. I understood from the desperate look in his eyes that he wanted to be home with me, and in my arms. I also longed to return to Heaven so that I could scan every inch of his well-toned body, but first we had to make sure that all of our army was out of Hell.
“You, of all the angels in Heaven, should know that I can take care of myself,” I replied, turning from him as we walked towards the other Archangels to plan our next course of action.
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t know that he is still looking for you,” Gabe said gruffly, the anger evident in his voice. The fact that his best friend had betrayed all of us was still something that forced him to be bitter.
“I have faced him before, and he did nothing.”
“He still wants you, Rebekah.”
“He can want me all he wants.”
“What if he takes you?”
“He can’t and he won’t. I belong to you,” I reassured him said as I reached out to gently touch his hand. His fingers grazed mine. Warmth pulsed through my veins. His strength seeped into me as it always seemed to do. I so wanted to go home and relish the feeling of safety that always comes with being in his arms. As it was, we drifted slightly apart as one of the Archangels approached; now is not the time to show weakness or too much affection. We were warriors of God and had to act as such.
Raphael, one of the great Archangels, came towards Gabe to see to his brother’s wounds. He was one of the gentlest of the Archangels, a healer and a teacher. His face was tender and kind, and his eyes always seems to be watching something far away, privy to some secret of the universe that only he could understand. Eloa once told me that Raphael listened to the movement of the stars and the first breaths of newborns. Personally, I liked how he listened to the secret of the universe idea better. He was dressed in a plain white linen robe, his feet were covered in ancient sandals, and his arms were mostly bare. He never really adopted modern clothing. Raphael always seemed to have stepped off of one of those prayer cards some religions have of angels and saints with his serene face and golden hair and archaic dress. I have often wondered if Raphael had sat for the Renaissance artist Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel.
“I’m fine,” said Gabe gruffly, as he waved off the healing angel’s ministrations. “Check the others for their wounds.”
“Yours are to be tended to first, Messenger,” Raphael said calmly as he continued his assessment of Gabe’s wounds, poking and prodding at the gashes that were taking too long to heal in the sun. “Michael has claimed it to be so.”
“Of course, Mike would,” Gabe sighed, using the nickname that only he would dare to use for the highest of all archangels. “I tell you, that angel needs to be out on the field before he can make such proclamations about who needs what. Instead, he continues to sit idly on his throne before God and watches from afar, with no blood or battle scars to touch him.” Gabe winced as Raphael used his words of prayer to close a gaping and sickly wound some demon had inflicted that was deep in his side with his words of prayer. My heart clenched at the sight of torn flesh and sinew and I looked away from the mending process. Gabe’s words were filled with a slight bitterness that seemed odd for an archangel. He was obviously upset by the outcome of this particular fight.
“He must remain with our Father,” Raphael gently reminded Gabe, his words soft and reassuring. “You know that. He has to continue to defend humankind as we fight against the darkness,” Raphael stated as he finished his examination and I heard Gabe sigh with impatience. Gabe rubbed his hand across his bare scalp and rolled his neck to release some of the tension that must have gathered there.
“I know, I know,” he said, his voice gruff.
“I understand,” Raphael smiled. He knew his brothers better than they seemed to know themselves. “You are not bitter towards Michael; you are angry with the war.” Gabe grunted and turned away. then turned his wizened eyes towards me. “Do you need healing, sweet Rebekah?” he asked gently.
“No, thank you, Raphael. The light has healed me,” I smiled shyly at the great angel, showing him the already fading wounds. His gentle nature always made me meek in his presence, so filled was I with a sense of awe and wonder. Even after millennia of knowing him, I still felt unworthy. He was too pristine to be so near the gore and horrors of war. Unlike Gabe or Michael. He reminded me of a creature named Yoda, a puppet in a movie I once happened to catch during a visit to the surface, who was also filled with an unsurpassed wisdom.
“We have to determine what to do next,” Gabe stated briskly, interrupting my thoughts. I shook my head and returned to the grim reality that surrounded us. More angels gathered round to discuss strategy. There were mumbles in the crowd about what our next actions should be; whether to return to Heaven or go after the demons in Hell.
Just as we were beginning to form a plan, a piercing roar came from the underground that shook the ground that we were standing on. The Shadows. They were coming and fast, ready for vengeance. Shouting in alarm, the Angels of Light fled into the sunshine, scattering in different directions and trying to remain out of the reach of the Shadows, and into safety.
Chaos began to unfold as the dark ones flooded out of Hell. Gabe grabbed my arm and shoved me in the brilliance of the sun. Eloa following us closely, ensuring that we made it to safety. She stood with her back against mine, a typical stance of defense. We walked around the area to ensure that none of the shade from the trees, huts and buildings came near us. I reached for my sword, knowing that my gun would be useless against the Shadows. Guns were for minions and lesser demons, anything that couldn’t stand up to lead and silver. The Shadows were darkness personified, and nothing could stop them but pure silver that had been blessed by Michael himself, dipped in holy water and etched with the words and prayers written by the Hand of God. All warrior angels carried these swords. However, Shadows and demons are quick and deceiving, always inventing new and horrible ways of bringing us down…even in the sunlight. They were the epitome of guerilla warfare hiding in unseen places, ready to attack. They were as terrible as Death herself, since that was what they were. Death and destruction, darkness and fear.
Eloa fell first, towards my left, her body collapsing and folding in upon itself. I saw her hit the ground out of the corner of my eye. As I turned my head to see what was happening, blood poured out from a small wound on her upper left arm. She lay limp and when I reached to touch her, her eyes glaze over in a what appeared to be some sort of drug induced stupor. I’d never seen this happen to an angel before. It was then that I knew we were in serious trouble– something was terribly wrong. They were using biological warfare. We had heard rumors, dark whispers of how the demons were testing various types of drugs on captured angels. Now, I had the evidence lying in my own arms. My best friend was brought down by some vile creation made in the dark. I pulled the miniscule dart from her skin, and looked at the empty vial, What could be strong enough to cause an Angel of the Light to fall so quickly.
I looked around frantically for Gabe, hoping he would help me transport Eloa back to the grace of Heaven, but he had long turned to run towards his own. I laid Eloa gently back towards the ground and made sure that she was out of the reach of the shadows. I turned to follow Gabriel, to protect the wounded and prevent my compatriots from being pulled back into Hell when I felt the sting hit me in my right shoulder. A warm sensation spread itself quickly through my arm and down into the tips of my fingers. I knew immediately that I had been struck. Pain coursed itself up into my shoulder and down the rest of my body and I knew that I would fall heavily to the ground if I didn’t quickly call the strength of God into me. Unfortunately, whatever I had been hit with worked faster than my prayers. The world blurred around the edges as the Shadow’s latest and greatest drug coursed its way through my veins. I sank to my knees, the dead weight of my body forcing me to crash into the dirt and grass.
It was, apparently, their most glorious weapon yet. They had obviously been taking note of the destructive human’s habits. They were always injecting themselves with one form of poison or another. Human drugs did very little, if anything, to the blood system of an Angel. But when combined in the right ratios, there were natural botanicals that could be used against us, even if their effects were only temporary.
I knew that I had to keep moving. I had to keep Eloa from falling into one of the shadows that were growing larger in the late morning sun. I drunkenly rose to my feet and staggered to where she lay crumpled on the ground. I roughly grabbed her by the arm and slowly. I dragged her into the dusty street that made its way to the Holy City, into the full sun. We could only pause for a time before we had to move again. The sun only stayed in one place for a moment before it stretched and lengthened the shadows of everything around us. I could see a score of angels fighting in the distance as I held onto Eloa. I kept hoping that they would come for us, but they appeared to be too busy with what was coming out of the Hell mouth.
The poison burned as it coursed its way through my body, and I could feel the world begin to slip away around me. I fought against the heaviness of my eyelids and I wrapped my arms around Eloa, praying silently for someone to notice us and help. I opened my mouth to call for Gabe, Michael, God Himself, anyone. But nothing came out. My throat closing tightly as the drug continued to work its way through my system. With Eloa falling from my grasp, I fell once more towards the dirt and dust, the far-off golden Dome of the Rock of Jerusalem was the last thing that I saw before I succumbed to unconsciousness.