Prequel to some events in Broken Smile. Heavily inspired by elyvorg's Foregone Conclusion. Also fundamentally related to a Fate/Zero ED. Both can be found in the first line of my profile.
From the moment she woke up from her sleep, she knew something was wrong. She opened her eyes nervously. There was a dim light coming in from the entrance of the cave, but it wasn't enough for her to see much. At least it woke her up a bit more, and that was all it took for her to remember. Instead of just the jarring, freezing floor, she should have been able to feel the soft warm down of her mother. But in its place she found nothing.
"Mum?" She cried. What could have happened? Why would her mother disappear in the middle of the night? "Muuum! Sachiel!"
"Arael, go back to sleep," she heard her brother's sleepy voice from behind her.
Arael turned around. He was on the ground, just like she had been, but there was no indication that he was bothered by the lack of warmth like her. Were Swablu supposed to be like this?
"How can you even sleep like that? Plus, our mum just disappeared and-"
"She's done this before. I'm used to it. And she's my mum."
Even though he mumbled it in a tired tone, Arael felt like something had hit her. "Sandalphon," she uttered his name slowly. "Mum said… please don't…"
"Yeah okay okay okay. Just go back to sleep and forget I ever said anything."
She stared at his sleeping figure for a moment before she focused her attention back on her mother's whereabouts. "But can't you at least tell me what she's doing?" Arael asked worriedly.
"I don't know either! Ask her when she gets back! Go to sleep!"
Arael stood still noiselessly for a while. Sandalphon didn't usually shout. Maybe he was just really tired. Whatever the reason, he was the original, while she was the extra; so she tried her best to comply with his demands.
But to simply stay there in the silence and darkness? Arael thought it would be too much to bear until her mother came back. She started to edge towards the entrance of the cavern slowly, if only to get a view of outside. Their mother had warned them that it would be unsafe – but she reasoned it would be fine to just take a look. It wasn't as if she was going to fly out.
The tunnel curved slightly ahead of her and finally she was bathed in the faint moonlight. The mountains in the distance were covered with snow, with the dark starry night sky behind it, like millions of eyes watching these mountains from above. Closer to her were the tip of some trees, one of which was their home during the remainder of the year. She knew that they grew beside a now-frozen lake, as she had seen in autumn, though she couldn't see it from this angle.
Why was the sky so blue? The clouds drifted slowly across it, towards an unknown destination. The place was so peaceful, as if it was unaware of the sorrow of this tiny little bird. Sorrow? She wasn't sure that was the right word. It wasn't like it was her fault, or she could have done anything about it. But that didn't stop her from thinking about them…
Arael blinked hard a few times. She really wanted to go out and fly for a bit now, despite the danger and the cold; the view from inside was so restricting. But it seemed like it dawn was close, since the sky was quite pale, so she waited for her mum to come back.
She was sure it didn't take that long, but it still felt like ages when her mother swooped into view from above.
"Arael? You're awake?" her mother said, somewhat surprised, as she landed on the edge of the cave with her wings still softly flapping.
"I woke up a while ago. You weren't here so I was cold…"
"Oh. It wasn't too bad, was it?" she said in a soothing voice and focusing her attention immediately on Arael. Then her Mum walked over to her, and she gladly snuggled into the warm body.
"Not really. I was just wondering where you were so I couldn't fall asleep."
"Oh… I was just getting some fresh air, since I woke up early. Did Sandalphon wake up?" she asked, glancing at the sleeping Swablu lying next to them.
Arael shook her head.
"Okay. I guess you just woke up a bit early, then. Do you still want to sleep?"
She tried closing her eyes for a second, but the drifting feeling of sleep had already left her. So she shook her head again.
"Well, I'll get him up now," the Altaria said as she walked over to her son.
Arael flew lightly off of her mother. She zoned out slightly, with the impatient drowsy voice of Sandalphon sounding in her ears. Would he remember what he said? She hoped not… It would be best if everything just carried on as normal. It would help her get used to it.
When lifting her head up again she could see an annoyed Sandalphon walking towards her.
"Why do you have to get up so early? Now I can't sleep anymore and it's all your fault." He glared at her.
"Now, now, I would have woken both of you up, anyway. So don't blame it on her," Arael heard her mother chide her brother, which made her tense slightly. Her mother always seemed to treat her more nicely than she did Sandalphon. Which, she thought, did make her feel more welcome, but every time it happened it would remind her…
She stood there staring at her mother until Sandalphon started talking again. "Hey. Mum's leading us outside to the tree. Stop standing their gazing into thin air." Then he walked towards the exit of the cave where their mother was waiting.
You don't know how I feel…
"Sandalphon and Arael are up first today? Wow, this is a something that should be filed as one of those fancy tales!" Israfel's loud voice greeted them as she landed on the branch across from them.
"You think I care about that? I'd rather get my sleep… Plus, it was just Arael waking up early and getting scared because Mum was missing." He turned to his side, where Arael was standing on the same branch. "Seriously though. Mum's an Altaria. She knows what she's doing. You're just worrying for nothing."
"Yeah, they're adults. What're you worrying about?" Israfel asked as she glanced at Arael.
"Nothing, really…" Arael responded lightly, and Israfel's attention quickly went back to the noisy Sandalphon.
Normally, Arael talked more than this. But even after waking up properly, Sandalphon still saw her worry as ridiculous. Israfel might not have known, but Arael was sure he knew; their mother must have given him at least some explanation about her. However, she also knew (or at least, hoped) that Sandalphon didn't mean to do it on purpose. So if she just stayed quiet, maybe they'd start talking about something else.
"…But don't you get kind of bored?" Israfel was saying to Sandalphon. "I mean, you're the only male here. My parents told me that male Swablu are expected to start battling earlier."
"Why would I go and peck others to get pecked in return?" Sandalphon responded incredulously. "I've tried to do it with Bardiel and his friends once. And the only thing I've learnt from it is that it hurts. Singing and flying around are way better than fighting."
"Well, no objections there." Israfel sighed. "Maybe you should go ask them why they're so hyperactive. They'd give you a straighter answer than they'd ever give me. Or maybe Arael should try. She's so quiet that even those guys would be nice to her."
"I'm just not feeling very well today," Arael responded (although she had to admit her voice did sound quiet after hearing just the other two for a while). "It was kind of cold in the night."
"Huh. You should be feeling better by now, since the sun's already out of the mountains!" Sandalphon gestured towards the east with his wing.
Arael looked over, expecting their conversation to continue, but quickly realized they were both expecting her talk. "Well, I guess so. Uh, do you guys know where the rest of them are?" she said quickly, finding a way to remove herself from the centre of attention.
"Maybe they're sleeping in," Sandalphon said loudly and glanced pointedly at Arael.
Arael glared back. "Maybe they're listening to stories. Or eating berries. Or learning something from their… parents," she said in a harsh voice, and Sandalphon shrunk back a bit.
If Israfel noticed anything about Arael's hostility, she didn't show it. "Well, wanna go find them?"
"Sure," Sandalphon responded. With a few light beats of his wings, he flew off into the distance, with Israfel tailing behind. Arael hesitated for a bit, looking at the snowy, mountainous terrain dotted with a few trees here and there; but she realized she was going to fall behind and took flight quickly.
"Wait! Who're we finding first?" Arael heard Israfel shout ahead to Sandalphon.
"Iruel! Her cave's at the top!" He yelled back.
Arael liked Iruel. She was calmer than the others, just like Arael was. Being with her made her feel less out-of-place. So she flapped her wings faster, swerving downwards back towards the lakeside cliff where most of them lived during the winter.
"Umm, which one is her cave again?" Sandalphon asked after stopping but still beating his wings to hover in midair.
"This one." Arael dived ahead and slowed herself down as she approached the end of the cave and landed softly.
Israfel landed shortly after, and then Sandalphon, who started complaining immediately. "It's always so cold when you fly in winter!"
Israfel walked forward. "My mum said it's better as Altaria because you have more feathers. Anyway." She breathed heavily, as if to clear her voice. "Hello! It's Israfel. Is Iruel here?"
There was a response from inside, but it wasn't very clear. After a few seconds, Iruel's lithe figure appeared in the hallway.
"Hi, guys. What is it?" she asked in a soft voice, which Arael thought was kind of like her own.
"We were just wondering where you were," Sandalphon answered.
"Oh." She looked down. "Mum told me not to go out. Because… the Salamence got her brother yesterday."
Sandalphon gasped. Arael murmered a condolence that Iruel probably didn't hear over the gasp. Israfel, however, was confused. "What do you mean the Salamence 'got' him?"
"Wait," Sandalphon interrupted before Iruel could answer. "You don't know about them?"
"About who? The Salamence? Well, they're these bunch of dragons that live over-"
"No no no! About them killing Altaria," Sandalphon said emphatically.
There was a bit of silence, until Israfel spoke again. "…What?"
Iruel spoke again. "For some reason or another, the Salamence have been killing some of the Altaria. At first it was just mauled bodies being discovered randomly, but… one of the adults eventually witnessed one and managed to escape. I think he was called Tabris."
Arael shuddered at the mention of the name and despite her annoyance at Sandalphon beforehand she shuffled closer to him.
"Wait… why don't I know this?" Israfel looked around at everyone.
"I only knew about it today," Iruel confessed. "Mum gave me a talk this morning."
"I…" Sandalphon was about to speak, but looked at Arael, and seemed to change his mind about something. "Our mum told me a while ago. She just… did. I'm pretty sure Shamshel and Leliel and others know too."
So he did know about her. Arael shuffled a bit closer to him; it made her feel safer.
"There's not really a reason to tell us. None of the Swablu have been killed yet, and it wouldn't be good to make me worried. Plus, we don't wander far from here anyway. All the adults are watching."
Another bit of silence followed. Arael thought it was weird that Iruel talked this much.
"But shouldn't you be somewhat worried?" Israfel asked Iruel.
"We'll be fine. Are you guys gonna find the others or stay here? Because I can't go."
"…Well, we don't always have to go to the tree, so let's just stay here," said Sandalphon.
"Okay," responded Israfel. "But I need to ask my mum about the Salamence… thing." She looked back at Sandalphon. "Seriously, though, I can't see your mum just saying it. How did she even bring it up?"
Sandalphon eyed Arael again, and Arael suddenly felt responsible. It wasn't his duty to hide. And she had to face it someday, instead of avoiding it and keeping it hidden from all the others. So she stepped forward, away from him, and responded to Israfel's question.
"Sachiel brought the news to him with me. She had to explain to Sandalphon why there was suddenly an extra Swablu asleep beside him when he woke up." Her voice sounded calm. She hoped it would stay like this.
Israfel's eyes widened. "So you… your parents…"
"Yes. My parents were targeted because my dad was there at a scene. ...Sachiel took me in after they were killed."