The peaceful village of Angel Falls is a masterpiece of predictability. As soon as the sun's rays split the horizon and spill out over the little town, the children similarly flood the roads and gardens to either begin their Sunday lessons or play their favorite outdoor games; leaving the women to go diligently about their business. The young men and ladies not yet put to work will spend their time chatting, while hiding bashful smiles and reddened cheeks as they put off their chores about town. Finally, the men will start their long day of labor tending to the animals - just as we Celestrians tend to the humans.

The ways of the people are as simple as their means, and plain living meant little deviation from their near ceaseless routine. It makes easy but unexciting work for some Celestrians when a flock are as reliable as these; their unspoken but understood rules and strong sense of community keeping them ticking ever onward like some organic clockwork. An ecosystem all their own.

The world outside Angel Falls, however, does not share this idyllic nature. The lands beyond are wild, teeming with monsters, providing a constant threat to the vulnerable settlement of humans. Their meager arms and picket walls are little more than decoration, there to comfort the people rather than defend. Instead, the task to make sure they keep their safety for years to come will soon fall upon my shoulders. My very first flock.

I took a long look at the hamlet laid out beneath me and willed my feathered wings to slow to a steady pace as not to betray my nervous excitement. I nearly molted right then and there in surprise as my master suddenly spoke.

"You have come far, Altairis." Master Aquila admitted as we floated high above Angel Falls, overseeing the townsfolk's daily events; each one unfolding as inevitably as the next. "I must confess to having had my doubts when I was told you were to become Guardian of the village in my stead. But its inhabitants' continued peace and safety is proof of your devotion" He said, turning to face me.

He didn't need to confess anything, his doubts in me were always quite clear. "Of course, Master Aquila. I would not so easily wreck what harmony you have wrought here. I am afraid you have trained me far too well for that."

Master Aquila chuffed. "When Apus major bade me, 'Aquila, take Altairis as your apprentice', I never imagined I would see you bloom so. You are worthy of your upcoming title indeed, Altairis, Guardian of Angel Falls."

A smile parted my lips at his words, those that I had never heard him utter before. Worthy, he had said. I always believed myself to be an exceptionally dedicated student, taking great pains to know, without a doubt, that I never acted in a way to warrant his disappointment in me. But hearing my master actually acknowledge the progress I'd worked so hard to achieve? I felt something wonderfully warm creep into the center of my chest. I was overjoyed.

Before I had time to speak my thanks however, Master Aquila suddenly shifted his watchful stare and an angry, guttural sound escaped his throat. I followed his steely gaze past the town gate far right of us to see travelers approaching the town. I knew them the moment I laid eyes on them; a lovely young girl with hair of amethyst and her doting grandfather slowly shuffling their way down the simple dirt road towards Angel Falls.

"Erinn. . ." I whispered to myself. It was the first of the few mortal names I had bothered to learn, inconvenient as they were for a being who was forbidden from communicating with humans.

It only took a moment for me to see what had alarmed Master Aquila. A group of monsters had wandered close to the town's gate and it didn't take them long to realize Erinn and her grandfather were easy prey for even a small group as theirs. Concealing themselves behind a large boulder not far from the road, the monsters prepared to strike at the hapless villagers the moment they came close.

I felt my body tense and my heart thunder in my chest at the thought of battle, but I knew it couldn't be averted. To protect through whatever means necessary was my job now, and I take my job seriously. There would be no more avoiding this.

"These wicked creatures must not be allowed to ambush innocent members of your flock, Altairis." Master Aquila said, his voice containing a sudden heat that I had come to realize over time was reserved for these mortals he'd grown to admire. "Come, Guardian of Angel Falls, it is time to fulfill our duty as Celestrians!"

I said nothing. With but a single flap of our wings, we found ourselves closing in on the miscreant beasts in no time at all. Regardless, it felt like I had an eternity to dwell on my panicked thoughts.

No matter how intense my weapons training had been, it was all done within the safe walls of our home, the Observatory. I knew these monsters, I had studied each one of them with a fierce curiosity, but now was the first time I ever had reason to engage them. All of the confidence I had earned through my research fled the moment I drew my blade against living flesh, and for the first time I felt uncertain of myself.

But Master Aquila was beside me, his gaze as sharp and unforgiving as an executioners blade; the weight of it pressing me ever forward. I was a good student and I couldn't bear to lose his hard-won approval, so I clenched my jaw and flew.

The monsters barely had a chance to register our arrival before they retaliated. Unlike humans or Celestrians, they were creatures of pure instinct and energy, when their lives were at stake, those impulses served them well.

Usually.

Master Aquila and I deftly dodged their attacks, taking to the air easily to avoid the spear head of a cruelcumber and the rush of its two slime partners. Diving with an unfair amount of grace for a man as broad as he, Master Aquila cut a slime completely through, mid bound, without so much as a creased brow or drop of sweat glistening from his bald scalp.

Dragging my awed stare away from my teacher, I set my sights back on the prowling cruelcumber. Using my wings, I propelled myself away from another one of its attacks and lashed out in kind, creating a deep cut down its side. My strength alone wasn't enough to finish it in one stroke however, and I inwardly cursed myself for preferring studying to swordplay all my life.

Master Aquila dispatched the remaining slime with an effortless downward swing of his sword, his tanned muscles barely twitching in effort. All that remained now was for me to finish this quick, violent dance.

A flurry of emotions began to stir up inside my heart as I realized the enormity of this moment. This was my chance to truly prove I deserved my new title, to earn a place within my society to be proud of; I needed only pick a course of action. Should I flee backward and allow my master the killing blow as a sign of my respect? Should I show off all I've learned during our training, needlessly drawing the battle out? Or. . .?

As the monster raised its spear against me once more, I made up my mind, took my chance and rushed the beast. Propelling myself forward with as much force my small, white wings would allow me, I rammed my swords edge through the monsters center; its hilt nearly resting against the monsters chest. Blood ran down my blade for the first time. In it I could see my green eyes grow wide, my pale skin and cascade of unruly pink curls ghastly reflected in the dull, dark crimson. I had killed.

Just before the stone tip of its weapon met my neck, the cruelcumber disappeared in a puff of purple smoke - blood, spear and all - Its energy being released back into the ether to coalesce into another being at another time.

Just then I met my masters eyes, and was unsure what I saw there.

"See, Grandpa! There's Angel Falls up ahead." A springy female voice chirped.

Erinn bounded past us not a second before our battle had concluded, blissfully unaware of the former danger.

A soft, trembling voice spoke after her, "I honestly believed I'd never set my tired old eyes on the place again. But here we are at last. Home." Erinn's grandfather wheezed, shambling behind her, desperately trying to keep up and catch his breath at the same time.

"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, Grandpa!" Erinn said, hands at her hips. "The village Guardian will have been watching over us all the way. Nothing bad could ever happen to us." She spoke with such certainty it made me wince. Bowing her head, she then offered up her gratitude, "Benevolent Altairis, thank you for protecting us on our journey."

As Erinn gently took her grandfathers arm and led him to the town gates, a shimmering cerulean flame born of her gratefulness was left in her wake.

I knew Erinn's unshakable faith should have had me swelling with pride, yet it troubled me greatly instead. There was no way to convey it to mortals, but my duty was to the people in Angel Falls, not of it. Once they left, I would no longer have the resources to watch over them. Though we Celestrians enjoy many gifts, omniscience is reserved for the Almighty alone.

I felt a familiar sense of frustration as I thought of how convenient it would be to interact with the people we were oath-bound to protect, the humans that put so much stock into our very existence. But the holy edict left for us by the Almighty forbade us to reveal ourselves, so I constantly found myself biting my tongue and quieting my countless questions. It was almost painful to deny my inquisitive nature, but I was instructed to regard it as just another trial I must face in our goal to serve Him; that thought brought only a small relief to my distress, but it would have to be enough.

"Behold, Altairis. Benevolessence." Master Aquila spoke softly as he walked up behind me, his voice full of wonder.

Taking a deep breath, I set my thoughts aside and beckoned the flame towards me as I had seen my master do countless times before. As I felt its gentle warmth between my palms, I cradled it dearly against my chest until it solidified into the precious jewel we so needed. Just beneath its smooth, glassy surface I could feel a riot of emotions. A soft kindness, a deep love; Joy, happiness and thankfulness concentrated into a mass of positive energy that threatened to unmake my very being. Those feelings the mortals generated for us surged through the stone and sparked against my skin. This was our most precious resource. Holding the Benevolessence for the first time, I finally understood why.

Master Aquila gazed thoughtfully at the gem in my hands. "The crystallization of the mortals' gratitude towards we who watch over them. As Celestrians, our cardinal duty is the offering up of this sacred substance unto mighty Yggdrasil, the Great World Tree." He said, gently reminding me that the jewel was not mine to keep.

A weak agreement was all I could manage in reply. The intensity of the sentiments inside the crystal made my own feel subdued in comparison. Suddenly, I feared letting it go; knowing that in its absence, I would feel helplessly empty. It was like a sudden burst of color in my world of gray; a world I didn't know I was living in until now.

Laying a strong, rough hand on my shoulder, Master Aquila broke me free of my reverie. "Come, Altairis. Let us return to the Observatory, that you may make your offering."

Without another word we lifted into the air and began our journey back home. I clutched the Benevolessence close to my heart as we soared through the veil between the Protectorate and the Observatory, hoping to soak its magic into my skin.