Knowing through knowledge, and knowing through experience, are two very different things.
Defeat was … not terrible, in itself.
She mulled over that idea a couple centuries alone before it made sense. Mortals were the ones that finally put it into perspective for her. They were beings of limited energy, usually expressed through food or time, so defeat usually meant they ‘ended’.
That made it very bad for them.
For her? Immortal, beyond time itself? It could mean more, but also less.
By herself, she could move a piece of a puzzle around at will. Victory or defeat didn’t mean anything except certain inevitabilities. That wouldn’t be anything noteworthy, but when mortals became a concern, the entire situation changed beyond recognition.
Mortal defeat meant the tiny sparks of their souls would be gone forever.
Her fingers tapped at the thought.
And that is what you fail to understand, Luka, she mused, the image of that insufferable boy’s heroic smile still in her mind. The darkness will consume everything.
Even her most trusted servants failed to realize that. That a mortal, human boy thought he could save the world is one humorously temporal thing, but her angels? Two of her three great seraphs, those who could fathom a sliver of her power?
It didn’t make any sense why they would turn against her.
Ilias, the Goddess of Light, sighed and opened her eyes. The same sight of a dreary, clouded sky and rocky ruin greeted her once again. Some small, silly part of her wondered if she opened and closed her eyes enough the palace might come back. It wouldn’t, but she wondered.
“Lucifina … Micaela,” she muttered, the faces of the seraphs as fresh in her mind as they always were. Bright eyed, eager, bubbling with innocent life—then the spark was gone, only hatred left in its place.
“Why would you ever want this?” she asked the empty, stale air, sweeping a hand in a grand gesture no one saw. “Our Heavens in ruin, all because you think I’m too heavy-handed about monsters?”
They never gave her answers, only questions. Even when Micaela returned to help Luka, she only hurt her again with that stolen sword of hers. The blow stung, but not as much as seeing how much conviction the former seraph had in swinging the blade.
Her tapping fingers gradually slowed, one by one, until the entirety of her hand laid on the armrest, trembling. Ilias’ regal features twisted into an ugly scowl, her lip shuddering from how tightly her jaw clenched. Clicking her heels together and drawing herself upright and proper, the Goddess rose from her thrown-together throne of rubble.
“It is easy, isn’t it, Micaela?” Ilias asked, every word crisp and pristine. “Running away with Lucifina just because you won’t do what’s needed?”
The pure white-gold wings upon the goddess’ back unfurled in a singular, mighty thump. She strode forward as the throne behind her crumbled into dust, a flight of stairs greeting her. Small plumes of dust arose as she descended, the marble cracking under her soft steps.
“Protect the weak and stop the darkness. That is all I have ever commanded!”
The dirt and grime stuck to her feet as she stepped on the ground floor.
“What about that is so wrong to you? When did the lives of those mindless abominations become as important as the humans’?!”
The same question, the only one she wanted the answer to. Ilias screamed at the empty, stale air, swinging her arm and wing in a wide arc. The very world shuddered before her, twisting in and tear away as her sheer contempt overwhelmed it.
“What is worth saving about them? Why stand there and watch as they hurt my humans again and again?”
The worst of it all was how everything went exactly how she knew it would. Once her plan failed, once she couldn’t harness the all power of darkness away from her nemesis, there was only one possible outcome. The moment Luka’s final attack connected and her grip on reality faded, humanity was damned.
She wouldn’t recover enough power in time to stop the Ancestor Seal imprisoning Alipheese from being broken. Heaven’s reconstruction alone would take nearly a hundred years, and the seal could be broken in as little as five. If she planned it just right, there might be enough interference to buy time until Heaven was ready again.
If she planned it just right, none of this would have happened to begin with.
Standing there in the middle of what used to be her throne room, Ilias stared out at nothing, her wings sagging to the ground. She frowned, trying to piece together anything that might save the situation, but nothing came to mind. It seemed her only options were desperate, suicidal ones that would hurt more of her angels, the very ones looking up to her.
If she had more time, Ilias would indulge in the terrible frustration facing her. It would have been so much better than the dreadful, sinking of her heart; the hopelessness as she watched her loved ones disappear forever.
This should have been simple, Ilias thought from beside herself. Lucifina and Micaela … I planned for them. I fixed everything and still, nothing worked. I fixed it, I did, so why … why do they all still have to die?
She hated that question.
A crackling in the air ripped Ilias from introspection, her watered eyes looking up to the clouded sky. Lightning arced through the clouds, but not in any wild, natural way. They ran through intricate circles, the faint glow of eldritch writings appearing.
It took her a moment to recognize what was coming.
She is back so soon?
Thunder roared as the lightning gathered to a single point, turbulent power coalescing in a violent dance. Then, as fast as it formed, it froze, sucking inward in a mighty breath before crashing down with a world shaking quake. Ilias barely had a moment to brace herself before a geyser of dirt exploded into the air, blasting her head-to-toe in utter filth. The Goddess stood, utterly stunned as the dramatic entrance subsided, her elfish ears prickling at the silence.
“Oh Goddess, my Goddess, Your servant has returned!”
You don’t say.
Ilias lifted fingers to her eyes and swiped the dirt away. Amidst the dreary gloom of her palace stood one most at odds with it. Taller even than her, with long, flowing locks of slate and a voluptuous form any mortal would fall in love with at first sight.
“Ah-ah, Your Grace!” the angel stuttered, her cool blue eyes meeting Ilias’ sharp, sky clear ones.
“Report, Seraph Eden,” Ilias commanded as she wiped her mouth clean.
The distraught angel straightened in an instant, her incredibly large bosom jiggling under the indecent toga she wore. Despite the lustful allure about her, one would be hard pressed to ignore the cold steel of a general in her aura.
“Yes, of course. I have finished not only surveying the Heavens, but of our pressing affairs in the mortal world.”
You are too weak to be going there. Ilias considered saying it, but instead waved with her hand to go on.
“It is largely as … You foretold, Your Grace. The least damaged areas were the far flung residential districts. Everything else is in varying states of disaster, with the soul processing plants among the worst offenders.”
“That would mean significant quantities of human souls are in limbo.”
“Ordinarily, yes. For, reasons, the influx of human souls is at an all-time low despite our inability to process them.”
Eden may as well have slapped her, though Ilias knew it would have happened nonetheless. A pain stabbed at her heart, adding more burning salt to the wound.
“Ah …” A look passed through the seraph’s face, as if she wanted to say something, but thought better of it. Ilias’ cross glare prompted her onward. “The outer perimeter has been secured, and the Gate to Heaven is repaired. The guard is not wholly prepared, but there is enough to stop any possible incursions.”
Except Luka’s, right, Eden?
Neither of them pointed out that little fact.
“Very well. And what of the mortal world?”
“That went smoother than expected,” Eden admitted, the six beige wings from her back shrugging. “I visited each of the inhibitor towers and dismantled them, though, I was not alone. Tamamo watched as I destroyed the towers.”
Ilias blinked at the strange turn of events. “Those towers are the only way monsters can resist Heaven. Why would she let them go?”
“I do not know. The Dark God’s lieutenant kept her distance. She saw me at every tower, but nothing happened.”
Angels, existing on a higher plane of reality, were immune to mortals–human and monster alike. The towers brought them down to the same plane, rendering them vulnerable. Ilias knew of such devices sporadically throughout the Great Monster Wars, but they were always highly treasured and protected.
Damnable fox, what is her plan?
“With Heaven’s Gate beyond mortal reach,” Eden continued, “I made certain no other ways could be found into Heaven. That summarizes most of my report, Your Grace.”
Ilias’ ears flicked at something in Eden’s tone. Professional, yet, fearful? Worried? The emotion was muddied, but being there at all was the problem. Her wandering eyes narrowed onto Eden’s stoic expression, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Of all things, however, it was Eden’s ear wings being so unnaturally stiff that betrayed her.
The seraph’s lip twitched, her pupils constricting a nanoscopic degree. “There was an incident, I am taking care of it.”
“Did I stutter?”
Ilias stared at her general, watching the angel’s nervousness wrack her refined posture to pieces. Small gestures, ones anyone else would easily miss, but Eden could never hide completely to her: twitching of the fingers and ear wings, a slight cowing of the shoulders, even Eden’s very aura pulling inward. It was one of the more endearing traits the seraph had.
“There was a matter of desertion amongst the army.”
A frigid cold splash across Ilias’ frayed nerves, shocking her worse than ice ever felt. “What?”
“I am seeing to their proper punishments and handling the morale shock the others are experiencing. It is entirely under control and I will have a report by tomorrow about “
Ilias glared, silencing Eden’s rapid-fire commentary in an instant. She drew herself upward, her wings flexing to their full length. The seraph cowed backwards, sinking into herself as far as she could while still standing upright.
“How many?” the Goddess of Light demanded in no uncertain terms. Eden rose at the unspoken command, fluffing herself up with grim determination.
“S-sixty two percent, most of it belonging to the ninth order angels.”
Although she heard the words, Ilias simply stared blankly, the mere concept stuck in the quiet of her mind. One, or two, or three angels; a handful, even, she could understand. That made sense. They had free will, and many angels meant some would go their own way.
Not half of an entire order, not the one the most populated out of all nine orders.
“My G-goddess? Are You alright?”
She heard the alarm in Eden’s voice clearly, an odd fact that made her smile. At least, she tried to smile, but her mouth wasn’t working. Ilias tried frowning, but nothing happened there. She stood there, the words ‘deserters’ and ‘over half her army’ tumbling in her head. Half way into the words ‘traitors’ and ‘Lucifina’, Ilias’ head snapped toward Eden with unnatural quickness.
“Is Micaela responsible?” she demanded with all the anger she could muster. “Did she seduce the angels with her vile ways?”
“No, none of them know she visited Heaven, Your Grace.”
The easiest answer Ilias had crumpled into dust before her eyes. Her hand rose to her face to delicately rub her forehead as the ramifications of everything came crashing down. How? How did they all decide on this? Why leave?
“Thus far, I have kept some word quiet about them, but–“
What is it about the monsters they desire so much?
“—it is not fully under control yet. I believe –“
To live with the mortals is admirable, in its own ignorant way. To fight against the encroaching darkness is laudable. To abandon both? What is the point of that?
“—that we can fully reacquire most, if not all of the renegade angels.”
Ilias’ hand inched downward until her gaze pierced through Eden, the seraph wilting under such attention. “No.”
“Your Grace?” The wings of Eden’s ears fluttered.
I do not understand. Not then, not now. But, I must. I have to know why.
“I … there is no point, Eden.”
“No … point?”
Am I supposed to be relieved or disgusted at letting them go?
“Strip my light from them, but leave the heretics on the mortal world.”
I hate this feeling. It is worse than being helpless.
“Your Will shall always be done, my Goddess …”
Ilias chuckled at the obvious hang up, giving Eden an expectant look.
“But, why?” the seraph intoned in a neutral, docile voice. Ilias wasn’t certain if such pacifism was out of fear or the sheer, frozen shock Eden was swallowed by. “Why now?”
The Goddess of Light stared at her general, her mud covered wings slumping down. She gave an empty smile, her gaze dragging up to the clouded sky. They stood there in silence, the weight of terrible uncertainty caught in Ilias’ throat.
“A change is needed.”
Eden’s brows furrowed, her lips twitching with thought. The seraph’s arms folded underneath her impressive bosom, a habit of hers that always strained her flimsy toga to its utter limit. For the first time in as many centuries, Ilias saw her in deep concentration.
A fact that, by itself, was disconcerting.
“I cannot agree,” Eden said solemnly and shrugged her shoulders. “But, it is Your Will, it will be done.”
Ilias stood there with a blank stare.
“I overturn a commandment centuries old and with no small amount of blood attached to it … and you merely disagree?”
“The heretics should be drawn in equal measure to the slander against Your name, Your Grace,” Eden replied solemnly, brushing a lock of hair over her shoulder. “I do not see why they should not be.”
“Nor can I.”
“There is something I can’t see here, my dearest general. My trust in your sisters was misplaced, but what of the Ninth Order? Is my trust misplaced in so many angels?” Ilias waved a hand to the ruined landscape stretching beyond. “Our work until now nearly closed the war forever, and when it fails … they leave. Is it lack of faith? What of the others?”
In the brief quiet that stretched between them, the Goddess started pacing. She aimlessly walked back and forth, her eyes never settling on one thing or another, her wings scraping along the ground.
“I can make stars from two nuclei or tear a hole in reality, but ask me to see what they see and it’s an enigma. Even you to me, Eden!” Ilias’ hand shot out, her furious finger jolting the seraph.
“I hide nothing from you, my Goddess!” Eden defended, a hand over her heart in honest pledge. Ilias tore out from her pacing to thrust the same pointing finger into Eden’s face.
“Tell me, then, my seraph, why do you stand there, smiling as if nothing is wrong when my very words undo your life’s work?”
Ilias stared into Eden’s cool blue eyes, charming even as the seraph’s skin writhed with anxiety. She had to know, if nothing else, why Eden of all people could perform such an insane act.
“You follow every order without question. You defend my name from slights before they reach my ears. You stand against your very sisters who denounced me and cast them from the Heavens.” The more she went, the further Ilias leaned into Eden, pushing the seraph back. Old, forgotten questions boiled to the surface, swelling the uncertainty staining her own heart.
“Why do you–“
Eden stepped forward, Ilias’ arm folding into her voluminous chest. In a few short steps, the seraph wrapped her arms around the goddess, her beige wings swallowing the two of them into a fluffy ball. Yet, the true height of her audacity came in her kiss, planted on Ilias’ divine lips with a searing passion.
More than mere sensate pleasure touched Ilias at that moment, an emotion of such intensity her primordial mind fizzled and blanked. Eden’s arms held her snuggly, keeping the Goddess upright as the seraph’s lips parted from hers.
“For You,” Eden breathed out, desperate and needy all at once. “Everything is for You. My sisters did as they pleased, following along, but they never saw in You what I did.”
“And what is that?”
Eden’s sparkling eyes clouded in thought, leaving Ilias teetering on the edge. “Do You remember before the wars? When all of us were together?”
“I remember once, not long after we all met You for the first time. We were in the fields having our first party. Part way through, everyone around You went elsewhere and You had this look in Your eyes …”
Pieces of old history dredged up from the recesses of Ilias’ memory, an inkling of familiarity to Eden’s heartfelt words.
“I never wanted You to have the same pain I always felt in my heart,” Eden finished quietly, her lips quivering a little. She looked away swiftly, one pointed finger dabbling at the corners of her shimmering eyes. “And this all sounds so silly when I put it to words,” she mumbled under her breath, her ear wings fluttering.
Ilias chuckled, calming her own bewildered face. “Are you my general? The fearless seraph, blushing like a maiden?”
“I-I am not!” Eden sputtered, her light blush deepening into a blooming red.
Cupping the taller woman’s cheek, she brushed her thumb over imaginary dirt off of Eden’s wondrously soft skin. “Oh, you are not my blushing general? How strange.”
“No, I am–wait, ah, Your Grace!”
Ilias grinned at Eden’s flustered squeal. An easy opening to exploit, but she herself couldn’t put to words the tightness in her own chest. She knew well of what Eden said, but she never imagined being so easily read. Sliding her hand down to the seraph’s chin, she grasped lightly, brushing a thumb over her full lips.
“All this time, Eden?”
Two small words and Ilias herself felt all the smaller for hearing them.
“Speaking of,” the seraph continued, perking up. “I have a gift for You, My Goddess.”
“A gift?” Ilias echoed, all too willing to seize on the change of direction. “What is it?”
“Well, it is hard for me to say, really.”
“But, if Her Grace would accompany me, it is quite easy to bestow!” Eden puffed up, her wings easing up around the two of them. She flung a loose lock of hair back over her shoulder. “I could not really move it here.”
“Quite, it is … very big. A very big thing, that is.”
Ilias squinted at Eden’s mischievous attitude. “A statue?”
“A new throne?”
“No … but that is being worked on.”
“My, and here I thought you didn’t keep secrets from me, Eden,” Ilias remarked with a scornful tone, leaning back with a haughty hand over her mouth.
“Ah, but it is only just over the way, My Goddess.”
“You are trying to have me leave here, aren’t you?”
“Is it working?”
Ilias barked a laugh, her elfish ears wiggling. “Yes, my seraph, it is working. Where shall we go?”
A streak of surprise flitted through Eden’s eyes, gone as fast as it came. “Oh, uh, this way, Your Grace.”
The air—reality itself, truly—thrummed around them, heavenly power seeping into it. Ilias stood in Eden’s arms, content to let the seraph handle the dreary matter of transporting them across dimensions. She could do it in an instant, but, she did enjoy how much effort Eden put into making her journeys comfortable.
Just like she always did.
In a blink of attoseconds, reality disappeared and the two of them warped across space-time to a place far, far away.