Chapter 15

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“Okay, that’s gotta be one of my least favorite deaths.” I opened my eyes. I was in a hospital bed, which is a pretty ideal place to wake up after resurrecting. Takes a lot of energy, both magical and chemical.
“Alex!” Lilly rushed over to my bed. “You’re alive!”
“Yeah. Glad to be a phoenix, so I–” Oh. wait. The plan. Right. “I mean, ah… God has saved me. He has taken pity on my unworthy soul and brought me back to the land of the living to worship Him. I have been born again into the arms of Christ and… um…”
Lilly laughed.
“Hey, don’t laugh. This is serious. I… um…” I sighed. “Ah, screw it. I already told you I was a phoenix, so you know this isn’t a miracle.”
“Even if I didn’t know, I still wouldn’t have believed you.”
“Ah, man. What did I do wrong?”
“You started by acting like it was no big deal.”
“Oh. Right. Whoops.”
“Why do you want people to think you’ve been born again?”
“So I can get through this bullshit training. The tester told me I couldn’t pass unless I’m planning on ‘fulfilling my divine destiny’. So I need to pretend to be the perfect little angel that they want me to be.”
“She didn’t say anything like that to me.”
I sighed. “You’re just unsure. I imagine a lot of angels are when they first get here. But after enough time, after learning prayers and spells, growing their power, and hearing again and again that they’re destined to use those powers to serve their creator, they start to believe it. To see it as an honor.” I smiled weakly. “But the Academy knows that technique won’t work on me.”
“Why not?”
“Because…” I took a deep breath. Here goes. “Because I’m a Pagan.”
“…” Blank look. “Come again?”
“I’m a Pagan.”
“Are you serious?”
I nodded weakly. Gulped. Maybe this was a bad idea. I thought she’d be okay with it, but… I mean, she may not buy into everything the Angelic Church says, but she still believes firmly in her god and the Bible, and the Bible says all that stuff about “one God”, and that all others are false, and really the devil in disguise and what if she really believes that? And thinks I’m evil and–
“Hey, stop it.” She put her hand on my shoulder.
I looked up. “What?”
“Worrying. Your mind is practically screaming ‘OhMyGodSheThinksImAFreakNow’.”
“It’s okay, Alex.” She smiled. “I don’t think any worse of you for it.”
“You don’t?” I took a sigh of relief. “You’re okay with it?”
“Well– I mean, I guess I can’t really say that it’s not wrong, but… look, I don’t know. The Bible says it’s a sin, but… it doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“Thanks. Too bad that seems to be the minority opinion amongst angels.” I sighed. “The examiner told me I would never be able to get through this stupid training unless I converted. Not sure how the hell the angelic government gets away with this shit. Freedom of religion is supposed to apply to all species.”
“I know.” She shook her head. “There’s got to be a better way to run all this. Without so much hatred.”
“Love thy neighbor…” I sighed. “Seems like all the good messages get buried underneath everything else.”
“They really won’t certify you unless you convert?”
“That’s what the examiner said. Maybe she isn’t representative of the rest, but… I don’t want to take that chance.”
“So you’re going to convert?”
“No way. Never. I’m going to fake it. Pretend that I’ve ‘seen the light’. Make up some BS about seeing what it was like in Hell.”
“So… you mean you didn’t–”
“Go to Hell? Of course not!”
“Sorry, I just– I mean, you wouldn’t have gone to Heaven, if you’re…”
“Those are not the only two options.”
“Okay, so… where did you go?”
“Eh. Did a little sightseeing–beautiful mountains in the Otherworld–and checked in on my friends back home.”
“That’s it?”
“What did you expect? I was only dead for three days. Not nearly enough time for official judgment. Takes years to get a court date set. The system’s backed up tremendously–too many mortals dying, not enough spirits certified to pass down judgment. Not to mention all the bureaucratic red tape.”
“There’s no need for a trial. God just needs to send you where you’re going and…”
I sighed. “Haven’t you ever been to the Otherworld? Your god isn’t running it. Nobody is. Some organizations formed to attempt to maintain order, but there’s no central authority.”
“What are you talking about? Of course I’ve been there. Everyone who uses magic goes there. That’s where we meet God. It’s the link between our world and Heaven. God created it so we could talk to Him.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard that theory.” I hesitated. “I’ve also heard stories about con men, dressing up as your god and exploiting the souls of the recently-deceased.” I sighed. “If the real one is there somewhere, how can you possibly hope to tell him apart from the fakes?”

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