It was not entirely uncommon to awaken to screaming in Angel Land. Most every night there was some party or event where a few outspoken angels would let everyone else in a five island radius know how much fun they were having. I, bleary eyed with sleep and thoroughly considering reminding said angels of the Code and the importance of rest, reflected gloomily on the entirely too carefree lifestyle most angels enjoyed. In such a state I didn't realize that these were not cries of excitement or surprise; instead, they were of fear, pain, and grief. I didn't realize, at least, until I rolled over to look out the window.
Fire coated near every building and island that my lowered position allowed me to see. Nearly jumping out of bed with speed I hadn't mustered in years, the devastation became all the more apparent. I stood, staring out the window, jaw slack in sheer disbelief, as my entire world was ripped to shreds. So disconnected was I in that moment, that it simply appeared to be a painting. An imaginary scene, created by some of our more edgy contemporaries, yet oddly gut wrenching. Then the screams really penetrated my thick skull, and the roaring of the flames became all too real and close and dangerous and then I was scrambling for my sword and jumping out the window so quickly I nearly forgot to fly and then I was in the painting.
As the Angels Code of Conduct dictates, first is to identify the dangers. I duly noted lots of fire in my head. An accident? Unlikely. Most angels may be morons but they're not stupid. In fact, all but a scant few have a deathly fear of fire (doesn't mix well with wings and loose fitting clothing) and those that don't make up a highly competent fire fighting force. I was now hovering in place near (but not too near, those flames look scary) one of the infernos. Deciding that nothing could be done for it and maybe identifying all that screaming would be a good idea, I was abruptly full-body tackled out of the sky.
Skidding across the ground with an undignified squeak lodged in my throat, I immediately tried to disentangle myself from this unknown projectile that was still clinging to me. Then it spoke in a hushed voice. "Get down and stay down." It all but hissed. Finally gaining some leverage, I broke free and settled into what I hoped was an intimidating stance; feathers ruffled and wings fanned out.
"Quit the theatrics Code, it's me, Slick." The voice carried the same thinly-veiled hostility as before, but at a more reasonable volume. By the light of the billowing flames, I could make out the features of one pissed looking angel, dressed darkly and sporting inky black wings on his back. It was indeed Slick, and I could tell that he was still living up to his name. Edgelord that he was.
"What in the world is going on here?" I demanded in an apparently all too loud voice, judging by Slick's wince and frantic head swivels.
"Do you want to get us both killed?" He seethed, not answering my question in the least.
"Do you want to quit speaking in code and spit out why in all the gods half of Angel Land is on fire!?" That earned me a sharp glare which would have had me worried of just how many equally sharp knives I could make out adorning his chiton, if not for the fact that I had enough adrenaline in me right now to kill an elephant. A small elephant. Maybe. You get the idea. Instead of flinging one of said knives at my face, he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"We're under attack." I was starting to wish he had thrown the knife at me.
"What?" Managed to fall out of my stupid mouth. Judging by the look on his face, Slick also didn't hold my response in high regard, but soldiered on regardless.
"It's the Underworld. Sent, is sending, hundreds of monsters..." his mouth twisted like he ate something rotten, "...they're burning everything down and… killing every angel they find." The rotten look deepened into as if the chef responsible came out and spat in his face.
What in blazes am I supposed to say to that? My conscious, and more importantly the Code, would say that we ought to meet up with however many angels we can find and force these invaders back. On the other hand, I personally wanted to flee to the Overworld and hide until this all blows over and Lady Palutena-
"Where's Lady Palutena?" Of course! She would know what to do in all Her wisdom. She would, like, wave Her arm and all the monsters would die, and then, She would put out all of the fires, and then, She would-
"I don't actually know. Actually, I hadn't thought of her until now…" While Slick looked into the middle distance, I internally seethed at how anyone (let alone any angel!) could not think of Lady Palutena in a time like this (conveniently forgetting that I myself hadn't considered Her until now).
I was about to say as much before a massive thing blazed overhead, bringing down a section of burning building as well as reminding the both of us that this catastrophe was currently happening and what in Lady Palutena's name were we doing standing around!?
In a startling display of determination, I marched forward and grabbed Slick's shoulder. "Where are the others." I said in a calmer voice than I felt. Slick likely would've laughed in my face regardless in any other circumstance. But this wasn't any other circumstance. Instead, he gave a stiff nod and started running down the street.
I was tempted to question why we weren't flying, even as I followed doggedly behind him. Then I remembered him tackling me out of the sky and the massive Underworld monster that flew over us and realized that any angel just flying around would be easy pickings. Running still sucked, though. What was even more sucky was that Slick, ever true to his name, was rather hard to follow even when he was trying to lead you somewhere. His dark hues frequently blended into the looming shadows and billows of smoke that still guttered from every other window.
As this was happening, I noticed with at first a feeling of relief then immediate panic that there were less angels screaming. Either we were winning, or… I started running faster.
Slick and I were making our way down an alley when we heard it. Well, Slick heard it. He came to a sudden halt and I barely avoided our second collision of the night. My mouth opened to ask just what he thought he was doing before I too heard the deep grumbling. My hand immediately went to my sword (which had luckily stayed with me through a mid air collision and several minutes of mad running despite being grabbed and fastened in record time) as we slowly neared the end of the alley and the apex of the noise. I eyed Slick palming a knife in each hand and wished to Lady Palutena that he knew how to use them. Technically, in the Code, all angels must carry a weapon (hard to defend Lady Palutena and humanity without one). However, through a rather embarrassing oversight, you don't have to be proficient with whatever weapon you chose. I myself only had rudimentary knowledge of swordsmanship and more angels than I cared to acknowledge claimed their musical instruments could be used as weapons (even more claimed their fists were 'deadly weapons' and that joke didn't get much funnier after the twentieth angel claimed it so. Angels are a lot of things but original is not one). I felt a disgusting sense of satisfaction that they are all learning their lesson the hard way. That frankly disturbing train of thought ended when we finally came out onto the street and saw the source of the noise.
Luckily, it's back was turned to us. That's about where our luck ended. The… thing was hunched over in the middle of the street, it's oily back slimy with… I don't even want to know what. And the rancid stench of it! I gagged, but refrained from letting it out right then and there as that would have attracted it's attention. I settled for vomiting in my mouth a little. I turned to Slick, ready to pantomime us running away, but I noticed his gaze wasn't on me. It was on the scattering of light blue feathers surrounding the creature. My eyes watered. From sadness, anger, smoke, the smell, or the desperate need to empty my stomach right there on the street. Maybe all of the above. Sweet Goddess this abomination was eating an angel right in front of me! To top it, only a handful of angels had that color of feathers. And only one such angel lived around this area.
"Sky…" I barely breathed. Slick seemed to have heard regardless and gave another jagged nod. His expression was now as if the chef from before had kicked a small dog on his way back to the kitchen. My hand went back to my sword followed by an impetus step forward, but Slick's hand, still clutching a knife, shot out and stopped me.
He muttered something under his breath, followed by: "Guard, Fight, and Dash were mustering strength in the agora up there." He motioned away from the monster with his head. "If they're… not there, go to Palutena's (Lady! I internally scolded) Temple. You'll figure something out. You've always been a thinker." That last remark put something of a smirk on his face.
"You don't have to do this Slick…" I started, but he was still staring at the bloody feathers.
"I do." He stated solemnly, like it was a simple fact of life. "For Sky. For all of us."
"For Sky." I echoed. I was just backing away, and he was just about to lunge, when something else occurred to me. An expression akin to a wry smile half formed on my face. "Thanks, uh, for the exposition."
Now he actually turned away from the feathers to look at me, the same lie plastered on his face. "Yeah, I guess that was my purpose, wasn't it?" He turned back to his target. "Not what I imagined, but I can think of worse ways of going."
I knew I could stretch that conversation out longer, and part of me wanted to. Partly to spare him from his fate for a few minutes more, partly because I desperately did not want to be alone just yet. In the end though, I started running towards this island's agora, imagining that all of the roars and shouts behind me were ones of triumph, and that I would be seeing Slick again.
It suddenly struck me how empty everything was. No one in the streets, no one in the sky, not even lights in the windows (out of control flames do not count). Even the omnipresent screaming seemed to be just around the corner yet twenty islands away at the same time. Pushing these thoughts out of mind, I finally reached the agora.
There was no one there. Well, there were several someones there, but they were all finished sometime ago. The structures of the agora itself were flattened, whether by the angels to create more breathing space or by random destruction. Among the toppled columns and crushed stalls, there were a fair amount of monsters lying in unrecognizable heaps. It brought me some satisfaction to see that we made them hurt for it. Yet the price we paid… didn't feel worth it. Even the best trained of us (i.e. those who have some idea of how combat works) couldn't stem an invasion force on their own. Though in far fewer quantities than the creatures, no small amount of angels also littered this last stand. Guard, Fight, and Dash all laid twisted in separate areas, outfits in tatters and surrounded in more blood than I thought possible.
Yet it would seem their rallying call didn't go without heed; Glide rested on top of Law, either by chance or in a futile gesture of protection. Splat lived up to her unfortunate name, but her twin Split was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps for the best. Chase, Hit, Swing, Wind, Guide… the names just kept jumping to my mind. Belatedly, I felt the moisture on my face. Bringing my hand up from it's unconscious white-knuckle grip on my sword, I wiped the tears away. Then promptly puked. This triggered more sobbing and prayers and maybe a few curses but I was in no state of mind to discriminate. I was tired and I was dirty and I was scared and I was achingly alone for the first time in centuries. The worst part was, no matter how hard I screwed my eyes shut and whimpered prayers, I could still smell the tangy iron of blood. Still hear the flames and relentless screams. Still feel the inherently holy ground of Angel Land being tainted by the blood of innocents under my palms (it only now occurred to me that I had fallen to my hands and knees sometime between the vomiting and the crying).
There aren't that many angels (especially now, the dark part of me whispered), and new ones are brought in slowly over the course of years. As a result, we all knew each other. Sure, some were just acquaintances you might only wave at, but we all knew each other's names. That closeness, that near familial connection had never seemed like a bad thing. Until now. Until I couldn't look at Hit's slack face without remembering when he used to brag about some new record he set. Until I couldn't help but remember Wind's elation when she first learned to fly. Until we were slaughtered in the night like animals. Until, until, until.
The agora was located at the edge of this island. That made said edge a fantastic spot to dry heave lest I continue desecrating the mass grave behind me. As I was trying to convince my stomach that no there is nothing more to give, my eyes focused on the clouds beneath me. Or rather, what was beneath those clouds. I licked my foul tasting lips. I could just jump down to the Overworld. Angle myself and tuck my wings in, and I would fall faster than any prowling monster could see or hope to catch. But then what? Say I make it, which is already doubtful, what would I do down there? I had a few favors I could call in among the heroes and royalty, but what could they possibly do against the Underworld and whichever god undoubtedly sponsored such a heinous act? By the Lady, they might already be under attack, and we were simply one of the first targets!
Then I remembered the devastation behind me, and reaffirmed my next objective. I had to find and protect Lady Palutena. Hopefully (and by the gods is tonight not a hopeful night) Her personal guard, or at least the captain, is still in fighting condition. In that case, I could just be auxiliary backup, or an adviser. Being the last line of defense, however, did not appeal to me. I had to do what I must nevertheless. At least, that's what I told myself.
Goals and self respect restored, I swiveled my head around to try to locate the temple island. Ordinarily, I (or any angel for that matter) would simply fly up to get my bearings. However, my survival instinct, and a distant roaring, eliminated that option. Next best bet was to island hop and follow my vague recollection of where everything is in relation to one another. The fact that the individual islands could and would sometimes move around did not help my chances.
The island across this gap was floating higher than my own. Since gaining elevation could only help my ability to find places, it was an easy call to make. What wasn't easy, however, was working up the nerve to do it.
"Come on, Code, it's an easy little jump. Barely a hop, even. No sweat." I blatantly spoke to myself. This wasn't something I was in the habit of doing, but I wasn't always isolated and surrounded by the mangled corpses of my friends. So, first time for everything I suppose. Getting back on track, the issue was that I was totally psyching myself out with images of some creature reaching up and pulling me down as soon as I was airborne. This was ridiculous of course, as if some monster was waiting patiently in this exact spot waiting for me to do the thing I only just decided to do. Trouble is, I've refrained from doing less risky things on account of even less founded fears. Things like swimming after eating, or impromptu battlefield surgery.
Finally coming to the conclusion that standing in one spot made me more of a target than making a short flight, I steeled my nerve and leaped into the air. One flap. This was a bad idea. Two flaps. Would've been better to wait for rescue. Three flaps. I'm going to die- then I landed safely. Not a doubt in my mind. Flawless idea, from conception to execution that was.
Hitting the ground running, I quickly took stock of any landmarks. Hard to do when everything is and has been burning, but I managed. I spotted a once lovely, now crumbly, cafe. The name of this specific one alluded me (something about space money?) but I recognized the sign and outdoor seating area. Remembered the time Chase and I would- no. Stop. Get a hold of yourself. I ruthlessly crushed the memory. I could not afford any more crying or breakdowns. The sooner I get to Lady Palutena the sooner this whole nightmare will end and we can… move on. Sure. That's a comforting lie.
As it turns out, this particular island was directly adjacent to Lady Palutena's Temple, so lucky guess? The coincidence of it wriggled around in my head, but I tried to focus. Let's not look this gift horse in the mouth just yet (my mind flashed to the angels who gave the humans that idea, and wished them well). It should just be down this street… or maybe down that street? Street signs weren't very useful when the streets were rarely used and when most of the population was illiterate.
Therefore, I just took the risk and flew up. Well, no, I don't exactly fly up. I mostly jump and scrabble my way up one of the less burning and not very collapsed buildings. Doing so makes me think of myself more like a bug than an angel, but sacrificing a little dignity (even though I was painfully aware no one was around to see) was worth not getting finished. Which is to say dying. In case that wasn't clear.
Perched up as high as I dared with my wings curled around me to simulate protection, I scanned the horizon for the distinctive architecture of Lady Palutena's Temple. Spotting it filled me with equal parts hope and dread. Dread because of the vast array of Underworld creations swarming around it. Hope because I could just make out several angels swooping in and around the chaos. It was too far away to identify individual names, but on most of them I could see the uniform of Lady Palutena's Guard. The joy of seeing a substantial amount of living angels, putting up a good fight no less, made me want to cheer. I might've done, if the flying beast from before hadn't soared over my head en route to the fight.
Getting a better view of the monster didn't make me feel any better about it. The best way I could hope to describe it was that it was shark-like, but without any fins. Just propelling itself through the air (somehow), with an entirely too big mouth, hunting for some flying snacks. I prayed to the Lady for the Guard's success before hopping off to make my way into the Temple.
It would seem that Underworld creatures were as stupid as they looked, because the "underground" entrances to the Temple were completely clear. It may not help our case that there were also no angels protecting it, but shh. Using the distant sound of fighting and clear visuals to soothe my conscious, I made the short flight across the gap without much fanfare.
The underside of the Temple had always scared me as a kid, and I would be lying if I said I didn't find it creepy now too. It was entirely too dark, in contrast to the brightness that seemed to exude from every surface of the Temple proper. Also, the dirt walls (and floor in some places) seemed strange considering the polished marble not more than a few corner turns away. And it's not like the Temple, or even this space, was new. Lady knows it's much older than I am, and I've seen entire islands renovated in my years. I was so enthralled in the speculative complications involved with securing building permits to what is essentially Lady Palutena's basement, that I collided (quite painfully) with someone else wandering in this area. The flash of green hair told me all I needed to know.
"L-Lady Palutena!" I gasped, countless apologies flashing through my head.
"Close." The distinctly-more-masculine-than-I-remembered voice of Lady Palutena replied. Looking up from my instinctive bow, I was rewarded by the sight of green eyes glimmering with amusement and how could this not be Lady Palutena. That was about when I realized that a flash of green hair absolutely did not tell me all I needed to know. It was the aptly named Clone, who, created with green eyes and hair with white wings, was heralded as Lady Palutena's son, despite numerous claims to the contrary by those in question.
"I-I'm so sorry, I just, I was thinking about Her, and I only saw your hair, and we are in Her basement so I just assumed…" Throughout my babbling, Clone had helped me up from the kneeling position I don't remember taking.
"Uh huh, yeah. Guess you could say I get it all the time." He flashed me a winning smile, before bringing a loose fist up to rest on his heart. The smile vanished. "I suppose that means you haven't seen her then?"
"Wait wait, you don't know where She is?!" The muffled fighting and Clone's reproachful look reminded me to use my inside voice. "Sorry. I just- how could you lose track of Her in Her own temple?" That came out more accusing than I intended. Clone seemed to take it that way.
"Contrary to popular belief, I don't actually sleep in a crib by her bed. So, when this-" He waved his arms around, as if to encompass the whole night and all of its horrible happenings. "-started, I had to run here as quickly as I could, just like everyone else. I've been looking all around for her since, but clearly no luck yet." Goddess, I finally found another (living) angel and I've already managed to piss him off.
"Sorry, uh, again. I didn't mean it like that. It's just been a… long night, and if I don't see Her within the hour I might just break down." That last part was only partially a joke. Luckily, it seemed to do the trick.
"I know, I know. It's been rough for everyone and tensions are a little high right now." His knuckles were massaging his chest. "Come on, I doubt she's down here. Let's go over the top levels again. I needed a new set of eyes anyway." And so we went.
It was with a sigh of relief that I found myself in the austere corridors of the temple proper. Clone's side long glance told me he noticed, but thankfully refrained from commenting. Seeing how striking up some conversation wouldn't hurt the search, and how I talk when I'm nervous, I posed the question of 'How goes the battle?', much to the detriment of our somewhat good mood.
"Not well I'm afraid." Clone reported while looking in a closet. "Captain Hole is alive and kicking," he continued "but the same can't be said for much of the Guard." I let out an entirely inappropriate snort at the dignified captain's name. Although, looking at Clone's serious face, maybe (more) apologies were in order.
"I was laughing at… uh… the good spanking Captain Hole is going to give… the Underworld." Of all the words I could've chosen. The cursed laugh was lodged somewhere in my throat while my cheeks quivered like an excited chipmunk. I steadfastly held eye contact with Clone's blank face through rapidly tearing eyes. Why am I so immature? But then Clone nearly bent double with laughter, and my own burst out of my mouth (and my nose a little. Gross).
"Oh Goddess I needed that." Clone managed to get out, clutching his belly. "We're not cut out to be serious for so long, huh?" I could only nod in agreement. To laugh so hard at an incredibly stupid joke… we must really be at the end of our collective rope. I went back to checking under the rug for Lady Palutena. Where could She have run off to? As if to answer my unspoken question, Clone sobered up.
"Code, between you and me, I think I have a good guess as to where Palutena is." I stared at him, partially because what is with all these angels not using Her proper title, and also because I had been checking behind paintings and under tables for, like, ten minutes, when he had a 'good guess'?
"Well," I crossed my arms "let's hear it." But, because people can't seem to be bothered to spit things out tonight, he motioned for me to follow while starting down the hall. Making an exasperated noise, I nonetheless followed him.
The rooms and hall shifted from a hodgepodge of whatever Lady Palutena's small army of interior designers could think of to fill space, into much more uniformed and function orientated choices. Much less 'angel's first painting', at least. And no, mine doesn't count because it is clearly superior to the watercolor someone dared put it next to. Outrageous.
Besides the lack of 'art', I also noticed that we were headed towards the divination room, and of course She would be there. Did Clone seriously not check the one room She actually uses on a semi-regular basis? I was hoping to mock him about it, because I'm sometimes a jerk like that, but then the doors to said room came into view.
The doors themselves were nothing too spectacular I suppose, but laid over them was some sort of layer of bright and dark splotches warring with each other. It was mesmerizing, and I made to touch it, but Clone intercepted my arm en route.
"Watch." He warned, as he picked up some knickknack off a table (likely gifted to the Lady by some angel I noted). Clone proceeded to toss it at the door, where it promptly atomized in a bright flash. We both flinched away when this happened, Clone from the light and me from the thought of what nearly happened. I wonder if my whole arm would have gone or myself entirely… oh, and that angel is going to be so heartbroken when they found out what happened to their gift. If. If they find out. War of annihilation and all that. Could be dead already.
Wow. I got desensitized quickly. I hope this is shock, and not a permanent character trait. To distract myself from this startling development, I focused on Clone. Who had apparently been talking this whole time. Yikes.
"...which is why I hoped I would find her not in there, because, for reasons I've already said, that would be disastrous." He finished. Crap baskets. That sounded really important.
"Uh huh, of course." I raced to find a good way to put this. "Would you, ah, perhaps care to-" My overly worded sentence was cut off by Sun skidding to a stop before us.
"Good, you're here." She panted, addressing Clone. "Hole says we're pulling back to the entrance hall. You-" she finally seemed to notice me "-both should get ready. We've been taking a beating" a pause for air "and could do with extra hands." And taken a beating they have, if Sun was anything to go off of. Her blond hair, usually neatly tied away, was frazzled and constantly falling in her frantic eyes. A quick hand swipe or puff of air would set it right, for a minute or so. She had a nasty looking cut on her left arm and her orange wings were twitching with pent up energy. She was also clearly out of breath. Clone latched onto this last problem.
"You're no good to us dead Sun." He remarked, clapping a hand on her (uninjured) arm. "Take a breather for a bit. We'll manage in the meanwhile." He assured with all the confidence in the world, followed by a flash of his brilliantly white teeth. Sun seemed to sag with relief at the reprieve, and with a worried glance at the shielded door, stumbled her way into a side room to lie down for a while. Clone carefully watched her go, before turning to me, smile gone and hope crushing worry in his eyes. The words he said next compounded this: