"Does this mean you and Split are not getting a divorce?" Pit asked with all the innocence in the world. He also remained sublimely unaffected by me choking on my own tongue and Hold bent over double from laughter.
"N-No, we're not… no one's getting a divorce." I manage. I try shooting Hold a 'knock it off' look, but her eyes are squeezed shut. Goddess, is she crying? I look back at Pit who still seems perfectly fine, if a bit confused about Hold's hysterics. "How about you go tell Split about…"
"About the guarding thing?"
"About the guarding thing, yes." Pit dutifully nods before marching over to Split. I hope she was out of ear shot for all this, as she stands at the edge of the cavern while we are more centrally located. I watch as Pit relays the message before marching back this way.
"She says she heard it, and that 'it's about time someone around here had a good idea.'" He says the last part in an oddly good imitation of Split's voice. But wait, if she heard that part, then does that mean- "She also says she wants a divorce."
"Son of a-"
"Lady, it stinks in here." I swore with my nose pinched. We had in fact gone into the tunnel. A tunnel which stunk to high Angel Land. A tunnel which progressively got darker as we went deeper. A tunnel that got smaller to the point of us crawling on our hands in knees. As if to remind me of this, my left wing got caught on the ceiling. I grit my teeth in pain while coming to an abrupt halt. This causes Hold to bump into me, and Pit to bump into her, and Split to bump into him.
"Seriously, again?" Hold whisper shouts. For whatever reason, we all silently agreed to be quiet in here. Maybe because it felt like the vibrations in the air would cause the whole thing to collapse. "Just tuck your wings in."
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit bigger than you." I hiss back while awkwardly bending an arm backwards (not the one still busy protecting my nostrils) to fix the errant feather. Problem resolved, and left wing sans one feather (ow), we continued our snail's pace.
It's so dark now that there is no difference between when my eyes are closed and when they are open. I can taste the heavy, dead air on my tongue, along with whatever that foul stench is. It also doesn't help that most angels (myself very much included) don't do well with enclosed spaces. Built for the open skies and what not. As such, it takes a fair amount of willpower to keep moving and not hyperventilate too much.
Finally, and sweet Lady Palutena do I mean finally, dim light started filtering into the tunnel. It wasn't long before I was scrambling out, taking a deep breath, seeing the surroundings, and promptly jumping back into the hole.
"Ow, Code, what the heck?" Hold yelped, clutching her head which I had inadvertently bashed.
"Sorry. You and Pit have to stay here, I need to see Split."
"How exactly? There isn't much room in here."
"With care." I non-answered. Hold rolled her eyes before dutifully making herself as flat as possible, with Pit following suit. This allowed Split to perform some impressive maneuvers, considering the cramped space. It didn't prevent her from firmly planting an elbow between Pit's wings, or crushing Hold's hand under her foot. But hey, such things couldn't be helped. Muffled protests aside, I moved out of the way for her to pass through before I blocked the entrance again.
"So what's the… big… oh goddess." Split gasped behind me.
"Hold, Pit, stay here and don't look out there. Unless you hear us screaming for help or something. Capiche?" My tone of voice and (more importantly) Split's reaction caused Hold to drop her challenging stare and abruptly turn to face Pit.
"Do you wanna play a game?"
"Okay, I spy with my little eye…" The children distracted, I left the relative safety of the burrow to face our horrible new setting.
It was a mass grave. Yet to call it a grave was a horrible disservice to the concept of graves. The room was large, with a short ceiling and earthen columns holding up the rocks above. Around the columns and otherwise littered across the floor like so much garbage were the bloody corpses of angels. They laid on top of each other in veritable piles, their ashen features drawn gaunt by the guttering torchlight. I noted with vague disinterest that Split was shakily going from body to body, checking for survivors. I decided to follow her lead.
As I moved from cadaver to cadaver, I started to put together a pattern. Each angel here had white wings, or green hair, or green eyes. There was an especially large number of angels who had more than one of these qualities. This pattern was hard to put together, considering most had their eyes closed, or gouged. A stomach churning amount also had their wings sheared off, the few sad feathers left at the exposed bone the only sign that they were more than human.
Pft. More than human. What does a few more centuries of living matter if you end up the same, maybe even worse off?
I was musing on this while halfheartedly checking the pulse of a cold arm when suddenly the hand attached to that arm latched onto me. I shrieked.
"I spy something brown!" Hold announced.
"Is it a rock?"
"Lucky guess." Hold muttered before letting loose a dramatic sigh. "I'm bored! Why don't we check out what that screaming was?" Pit nervously scratched the back of his head.
"Didn't Code say not to come unless either of them screamed for help?"
"Yeah, but where's your sense of adventure?"
"Well, the Angel's Code of Conduct says that-"
"Oh forget that stupid code! Why do you bother with that stuff anyway?" Pit hemmed and hawed for several moments.
"It's just… rules are good, you know?" His face flushed. "And Lady Palutena told me that it was important that I follow the Code so I can grow up to be a big strong handsome angel, and she's, like, never wrong!" Hold let out an unimpressed hmph.
"Whatever. It's your turn I guess."
"Wizard! I spy with my little eye…"
Suddenly, the previously-thought-dead hand latched onto me. I instantly shrieked and tried to pull my arm away from the freezing iron grip, to no avail. I then remembered that I was looking for survivors and that one of them literally grabbing me is a pretty good sign that they were alive. Unless the Underworld has zombies or something… nah.
"Split! I found one!" I unnecessarily called out. If she hadn't heard my embarrassing scream I would eat my laurels. Sure enough, she was already running my way. I turned back to the owner of the hand. "Hey, it's gonna be okay. I'm an angel. We're here to rescue you." Pale eyelids pulled back to reveal bloodshot golden eyes.
"Res… cue?" He breathed. I smiled encouragingly as Split knelt down beside me.
"Yes, you're safe now."
"Rescue?" His voice was stronger now, and full of… mockery?
"That's… what I said?" My brows were furrowed.
"RESCUE!" He barked in our faces, like it was some hilarious joke. To emphasize the point, he broke down in a fit of hysterics. At least his strength was back.
"Pray? Is that you?" Split asked. I squinted my eyes at the still shaking-with-mirth figure. By the Lady, it was Pray! He was hard to recognize with his blood caked hair and filthy clothes, yet I could recognize the voice now that I knew who to think of. I had just never heard him so bitter before. Nor seen him in such an… unkempt state.
"I used to be. Now I'm just… Prey!" He burst into some more laughter. It ended with a body shaking cough which brought up no small amount of blood.
"Pray, get a hold of yourself." Split rebuked as I worried over his internal bleeding. "What happened to you? What happened here?"
"Oh Split, ever to the point." Pray wiped away some of the blood from his mouth. Unfortunately, his hand was no less bloody, so he just smeared it across his chin. Either he didn't notice, or more likely, he didn't care. "What happened," Pray continued in a lackadaisical manner, "is that I," he pointed a bloody finger at himself, "prayed to the gods. And do you know what I heard?"
"A-" I started.
"Nothing!" He snapped. "Not an omen, not a voicemail, not even a picture on my toast. And believe me, I made a lot of toast." It was true, images on toast was a popular way for gods to send messages. It was likely to demean us angels, but we took what we got. "I was this close to toppling their stupid statues over when Clone-" he stopped for another bloody cough, "when Clone arrived with his merry band. Talked about that Story nonsense and how we had to leave."
"The Story isn't nonsense!" I defended. "Lady Palutena said-"
"Stuff Lady Palutena!" Pray retorted. Split and I gasped. Pray was (obviously) one of the most steadfast worshippers and devout servant of the gods. For him to say such things…
"You can't say things like that!" I was surprised that Split of all people was standing up for Lady Palutena.
"I sure as hell can, Split." He sneered her name like an insult. "Where was she when her 'precious angels' were being butchered, hm? Where was she-" another cough, "when her gaudy temple was being burned to the ground? I'll tell you where she was. Either she was hiding like a coward, she couldn't care less, or she's dead!" This outburst seemed to drain his reserves of strength, and he lied back down from the upright position his rant had forced him to. "Can't you see that we've been forsaken?" He whispered, seeming more pitiable than hatable. "Leave me now, save yourselves."
"You can come with us!" I said without thinking. This elicited a bitter chuckle from Pray, who then rolled partially on his side. This revealed that one white wing was gone completely, while the other was hanging on by a mess of weeping tissue. I would've thrown up if I had eaten anything in who knows how long. It was still a close thing.
"I'm already dead, Code." Pray intoned. He then seemed to consider something, still propped up on his side. "Say, could one of you do me a favor, and finish the job? Cut off the other wing. Set me free."
"I- What- No! That would kill you!" I stammered.
"That's sort of the idea."
"I'll do it." Split suddenly volunteered. I immediately rounded on her.
"Split! You can't just kill another angel like that!" She shot me a reproving look.
"So what? So he can slowly die here? It's called a mercy kill, Code."
"Forget your stupid code!" I recoiled as if struck. Noticing this, something softened in her eyes, but she continued nonetheless. "This is uncharted territory. We have to do what's right."
"By murdering our own kind?"
"If it comes to it." She held my gaze solidly until I looked away.
"Alright, just… just please make it quick."
"I need your sword." My head whipped back around to look at her.
"Your sword." She responded evenly. "If I shoot it it won't be quick or clean. I need to swing through it."
"Can't you just shoot him in the head?"
"It doesn't work like that and you know it. My light arrows can't harm him seriously. At least, not without a lot of arrows."
"But my sword-"
"Will be fine. Now hand it over." Split stuck out her hand expectantly. "Unless you want to do it?"
"No, no." I hastily pulled it out of its scabbard. "Here, just take it."
"Thank you. Now, do you want to look away?" I quickly did so. I heard Split's careful footwork, Pray's expectant breathing, then the sword cutting through air, a sickening chop, and the last gasp leaving Pray's body. I quickly prayed to Lady Palutena and Tanatos for his safe passage to (hopefully) a nicer part of the Underworld.
Something nudged me in the side. It was Split giving me back my sword, and judging by the new stains on her chiton, she had cleaned it. How nice of her.
"I'm… I'm going to get the kids. You just, uh, keep looking for survivors." I shakily grabbed my clean-yet-tainted sword, made an about face, and marched over to the darkened tunnel. Smooth, precise motions are calming, alright? As I approached the two hidden angels, I caught wind of their ongoing game.
"I spy something… brown!"
"Is it a rock?"
"Shoot, you got me."
"Hey, guys." I stared long and hard at my blade. Why was it unsheathed? Oh, right. I cut two strips from my chiton. "Put on these blindfolds."
"Are we getting a surprise?"
"Ooh! Is there a piñata?" Goddess, I loved them both to death, but now is not the time.
"Just…" I closed my eyes and brushed my hand through my hair, "please?" Pit put his on, but Hold was a bit more hesitant.
"What was that guy yelling about?" Oh, we are so not getting into this.
"What guy." I played dumb. Unfortunately, Pit's curiosity also peaked.
"The guy that was shouting something about Lady Palutena? Who is he anyway? Are we gonna meet him?"
"I… don't know what you're talking about. Let's just go, now?" Luckily, they both went along with it, blindfolds tightened. Sword back in scabbard (I'm not thinking about it I'm not thinking about it I'm not-), I led two blindfolded angels to the far end of the chamber where Split waited. She was alone. Seeing my questioning look, she solemnly shook her head. Looks like a mission failed. Now for the hard (and as of yet unplanned) part: Getting the hell out of Hell.