(Author's Notes: Happy belated Odaiba Day! I'm pretty excited for Ghost Game and that 02 movie that was announced last week. Here's Chapter 66 as promised! I finally finished the big chapter that's been slowing me down, so I hope that I can knock out the next few at a reasonable pace. Here's hoping. Anyways, enjoy and let me know what you think!)
Chapter 66: Schism
The sound of hooves clapping against the ground echoed throughout the chamber. The thick, keratinous walls of the hooves impacted the dense, crystalline floor, causing sharp, resonant clashes that reverberated off of the smooth walls of the corridor.
Sleipmon walked away from the base of a set of long, descending stairs. It was a dark stairway, lit at only far-apart points along the wall by small, ensconced crystals that glowed arcanely in the darkness. Stepping off of the stairs, he then walked down a long, expansive corridor that was more akin to a large, refined, cave tunnel.
The walls were tall and largely natural, having only been carved slightly along the vaulted, cavern ceiling. The surfaces of the walls and ceiling were smooth and flat, yet they displayed unrefined, faceted ridges, similar to that of crystals. They were glossy, translucent, and cold to the touch, as if they were coated with a layer of ice like how the upper entrance of the cavern was. However, the crystalline mineral that made up the walls was not only icy, but it contained an ever-shifting, auroral glow like the prismatic lights of the northern sky. The soft, shifting colours provided a comforting glow that lit the way deeper into the ruins.
Sleipmon looked around at the beautiful walls and ceiling, their vibrant yet mellow colours reflecting in his violet eyes and tinting his red digizoid armour. Despite the frigid temperature, the vast hall greeted him warmly. He scanned the walls, his gaze scrolling across the archaic Digimoji that glowed beneath the icy, crystal layer. He turned his attention forward and continued walking down the arched tunnel, which was both wide and tall enough for Digimon far bigger than him to traverse down it freely.
His hooves clopped against the flat, glossy floor as he searched the inner reaches of the ruins. In contrast to its later bushy and voluminous style, Sleipmon's indigo mane was cut short and tied back into a shoulder-length ponytail. The armour he wore was pristine, without any faded markings or scuffs that might indicate a long history of battle. In addition, his eyes were youthful, and he carried a look of reticence and uncertainty.
As he neared the end of the tunnel, he began to pass by rooms that had been built into the sides of the cavern wall. The doors weren't doors in the traditional sense, but yawning passages that were far larger than he was. The further he went, the more the central passage began to look less like a cave and more like an underground temple. The rounded walls expanded to become more angular and symmetrical, and buttressing the subterranean ceiling were grand columns and arches.
The stuffy, cave smell was familiar to him. The air was cold and dry, but Sleipmon didn't mind. He had a broad, furry body that kept him well-insulated, and, being a local of Ocean's Cove, he was acclimatized to the frigid, polar temperatures of the area.
Close to the end of the chamber was a door on the right-hand side. Within the room, Sleipmon could see a light on, as well as the sound of rummaging. Knowing that that was likely where he could find him, the younger Sleipmon made his way over.
Sleipmon stopped outside of the room and looked inside. Like all parts of the underground temple, the room was tall and wide enough in order to accommodate the size of the Digimon who was currently inside.
A big, pink-furred angel who took on the form of a rabbit was kneeling in front of a large chest. When standing at full size, the angel would be quite tall, about six meters approximately. Though they were both quite large Digimon, Sleipmon was just under eye level with him as he was kneeling.
Sleipmon stopped inside the threshold and saw the celestial Digimon placing some meagre personal possessions – mostly books – inside the chest.
The angel's long, wing-like ears twitched alertly upon hearing Sleipmon's hooves approaching the room. He raised his head from his things and looked over his shoulder. He cast his soft, black eyes upon Sleipmon and a small, wistful smile formed on his face.
"Sleipmon… I was hoping you would come," the angel spoke, his voice deep, yet serene.
Sleipmon gazed at Cherubimon, his friend and mentor, and watched as the angel placed a scroll inside the secure trunk that was filled with his possessions. As Sleipmon watched, a sad smile of acceptance appeared on his snout.
"Cherubimon… I guess you're really going, then," Sleipmon said, holding back the slight, uneasy sigh that lingered in his throat.
"I'm afraid so," Cherubimon delicately confirmed. He stood up from the chest and turned around to face Sleipmon fully, looking down at the large Digimon who was only a couple meters shorter than him. "The next few weeks will be very busy for us, so I cannot afford to tarry. Now that the wheels of the Exodus are in motion, I'm afraid it won't wait much longer."
Sleipmon smiled a little. "Even for one of the Exodus' founders?" he wondered.
Cherubimon's soft smile broadened knowingly. "Even for me..."
Sleipmon looked down a little, trying to hide his disappointment. "Okay… When will you leave?"
"I'll be leaving for Ocean Cove today," Cherubimon explained, reaching behind him and placing a few more scrolls inside the chest. "The Exodus itself begins in three weeks' time. Both Sky Colony: Lambent and Empyrea are air-worthy and construction is fully complete. The main issue is that we have to situate the colonies on the jet stream while the air currents are calm. The forecast for doing so is quite rigid, I'm afraid."
"I understand…" Sleipmon replied, habitually moving his hand up and fidgeting with the belt buckles that were wrapped around his bicep. "The Exodus, huh? I can't believe it's really happening… When you first told me about it, it seemed like an impossible dream."
"A dream amongst the clouds…" Cherubimon agreed meditatively. "But I suppose it's true when they say that, where there is a will, there is a way. Even the furthest cloud is not out of reach."
"It's… a big decision, Cherubimon…" Sleipmon uncertainly spoke up, looking up at the lapin archangel with a bit of worry in his eyes. "Essentially removing yourselves from the Digital World to live in the clouds… Are you sure?"
Cherubimon smiled sadly. "I would love to remain on the Digital World… However, things aren't so simple," he explained. "There is no place for us here… The Two Faiths don't accept our beliefs. They do not accept us… They do not appreciate us challenging their widely held beliefs. Those of the Golden Way view the Religion of Light with doubt and suspicion, while many of the Yggdrasil faith view us as, at best, confused or, at worst, as blasphemous."
Sleipmon frowned. "I don't think that," he assured him. "…I admit, I was confused and frustrated when you told me how you changed. However, we had that long chat, and… I now accept that this is what you all believe in, even if it's different from what I believe. If I can change my mind to accept the Religion of Light, I'm sure that everybody else can too. They just need time to tolerate it."
"Unfortunately, Sleipmon, time is not a luxury that is afforded to us… This is something that we have thought long and hard about. Ophanimon, Seraphimon, and I have come to the conclusion that the Exodus is the best path for God's followers. I believe that it will save the most lives," Cherubimon explained.
Sleipmon's fingers pinched the leathery edge of the belt and he tapped his hoof against the floor. "Will it, though? Setting up your own organized theocracy? Doing something so flagrant might upset the balance and provoke—…"
As he spoke, Sleipmon looked up at his mentor and saw, despite the angel's smile, the melancholy in his soft, black eyes. Immediately, Sleipmon realised how hard this was for Cherubimon, and he wasn't making it any easier for him. A pang of guilt flared inside of him.
"I'm sorry, Cherubimon," Sleipmon apologised, bowing his head slightly. "I told myself that I wouldn't convince you not to go or make you feel bad for doing so. Yet, here I am, doing just that…"
Cherubimon's features softened understandingly and he moved forward to place his large hands comfortingly on the sides of Sleipmon's arms. "It's alright, Sleipmon. I understand," he gently assured him. "I know it must seem extreme to you, but this isn't a decision that I – or any of my friends – have taken lightly."
Sleipmon released a knowledgeable sigh and nodded. "I know… We've both already said everything that needs to be said."
"Are you certain…?" Cherubimon asked him. "If there are any feelings that you would like to make known, now would be the time to do so."
The horse guardian's fingers traced along the back of his neck, furtively rubbing underneath the base of his purple hair. "I don't know if I have anything left to say… I don't want to rake over our differences when you're about to leave. Only that… I'll miss you. I'll miss having you around to talk to – about books, the world - everything, really."
The angel smiled at his apprentice warmly. "I will miss our chats as well…"
Sleipmon nodded slowly, looking rather pensive. Despite the ease of their words, a wince of uncertainty formed on Sleipmon's face. "…And, also…" he tentatively added.
Cherubimon watched thoughtfully as Sleipmon turned his snout away, almost as if looking ashamed. The angel felt as though he was finally coming to the crux of what was bothering his apprentice. Still, he decided to tread carefully and allow Sleipmon to come out with it at his own pace. "Mhm?" he hummed with ease.
"…What if I'm not up to the responsibility?" Sleipmon asked, looking back up at Cherubimon with some of his vulnerability permeating through. "It's different when you're here. You're so strong and wise. If I'm on my own… What if I'm not strong enough to defend it?"
"You are strong enough, Sleipmon, in both body and spirit," Cherubimon promised him. "I know how hard you train."
"Yes, but training isn't the same as fighting in actual combat. This isn't the same as when I was travelling the world and resolving conflicts," Sleipmon reasoned. "We have only had a single attack in the past year, and that wasn't exactly a challenging opponent. I cannot exactly claim to have a lot of real combat experience… What happens if an entire army or a Digimon who is stronger than me attacks the Arcane Ruins?"
"You should have more faith in yourself, Sleipmon," Cherubimon advised him with a warm, reassuring smile. "I have seen your strength. More than that, I have seen your determination. You can overcome any obstacle…"
"Thank you, Cherubimon, but I still don't know…"
"I think that you do, Sleipmon… You are stronger than you give yourself credit for," the angel sagely assured him. "Why do you doubt yourself?"
Sleipmon's eyes tightened. "It's just… With you leaving, I feel an obligation to protect these ruins. I know you no longer believe that the Arcane Ruins hold the precious programming data that contains the secrets of the Digital World, but… I still want to do whatever I can to protect them. I'm positive that these ruins are a sacred site for Yggdrasil. I can feel its power here whenever I walk these halls. I need to protect them, whatever the cost."
"I see… Though to clarify, just because I now believe that the Kernel is the core location of God and the Digital World's very creation, it does not mean that I still do not value the importance of the Arcane Ruins," Cherubimon softly explained with an emphatic movement of his hand.
Upon seeing Sleipmon's confused expression, he offered Sleipmon his usual affectionate smile, hoping to make him understand. "Sleipmon, it is now my duty to protect the Kernel. I may believe that Yggdrasil is actually an entity known as God, but I still believe that these Arcane Ruins contain valuable data that is imperative to the safety of both of our faiths. That's why I am entrusting this important responsibility to you. You are one of the Digimon who I trust the most; I know you will keep it safe."
"That means a lot…" Sleipmon replied with a small smile on his snout. He placed his black hand on the crystal wall, which glowed aurorally beneath his palm. "I guess I'll just have to keep in mind everything that you taught me over the decades."
"Good. I suppose you will be finding your own apprentice to keep company with soon enough," Cherubimon noted with a note of comedy to his deep voice. "What about that friend of yours. Vikemon, was it?"
"Vikemon?" Sleipmon asked with a chuckle. "Well… we'll see. I wonder if he could stay in one place for that long. Maybe CrysPaledramon is better suited…"
Cherubimon chuckled as well. "Well, whoever you choose, my heart feels at ease knowing that the Arcane Ruins are in safe hands…"
As soon as he finished speaking, Cherubimon turned and placed a few more books inside his chest. After topping it off with a few garments, he carefully closed the lid and sealed the chest securely.
Sleipmon watched, his smile fading, as Cherubimon took the two handles and lifted the heavy box with ease. The sight of the angel sealing his possessions away in the receptacle for transport carried with it a sense of finality that he hadn't appreciated until now.
Cherubimon turned around, the chest in hand, and made to walk out of the side-chamber. "Would you mind helping me, if you would be so kind?"
"Oh, of course…" Sleipmon replied, snapping out of his thoughts. He moved out of the room to make space for Cherubimon, and helped him keep the box steady.
The pair made their way up the crystalline hall, back towards cavernous section of the ruins. They headed up the rainbow path until they reached the long set of stairs that seemed to climb endlessly into the dimly prismatic darkness. They climbed the steps until they reached the very top, which was designed like a stone arch inscribed with archaic symbols. At that altitude, the heat of the earth faded and the crystal became frigid layers of rock and ice.
The stairs opened up into a huge, underground cavern that was bisected horizontally by a deep, abyssal chasm which a semi-frozen, underground river emptied into. The chasm was only passable by an iridescent, rainbow bridge that was highlighted by a funnel of light pouring in from a small hole in the icy ceiling.
"I am going to miss the beauty of this place," Cherubimon said, more to himself than to Sleipmon, as he gazed out at the magical sight one last time.
Sleipmon frowned a little, but he didn't say anything. He merely kept hold out the other handle of the chest and began walking towards the rainbow bridge, alongside Cherubimon. Although the rainbow was translucent and didn't seem as though it would hold the pair's tremendous weight, they were able to walk across it as if they were as light as a feather.
Upon crossing the bridge, they walked across the clearing until they reached the entrance of a tunnel on the far side of the chamber. This tunnel led further up for another half a kilometer until the diffused rays of external light could be seen. The entrance was blocked by thick layers of glacial ice that required the abilities of a strong, ice-wielding Digimon in order to have any chance of parting it.
When Sleipmon and Cherubimon reached the fifteen meter-thick wall of ice, Sleipmon stepped forwards and took his Niflheimr shield from side of the cavern wall. His eyes flashed blue and the shield radiated with icy power, manipulating the ice before him and causing it to part before them.
As soon as the glacial pathway opened up to them, they proceeded up it until they reached the wintery landscape of the Cathode Tundra. Their eyes squinted as they adjusted to the intense brightness of the snow after being in such a lowlight setting.
"Thank you for your assistance," Cherubimon told his friend and apprentice, walking over to a sleigh that had been prepared and placing his trunk on top of it.
Sleipmon watched wistfully as Cherubimon placed the chest down on the sleigh, which already contained a few other items that had been placed there earlier. The equine guardian looked up at the large rabbit.
"So, this really is goodbye…" Sleipmon spoke, though not without traces of sadness in his voice.
"Yes… I'm afraid it is," Cherubimon solemnly confirmed. "Although… I prefer to think of it as a 'fare thee well'. After all, you and I will certainly see each other again."
Sleipmon tentatively stepped forwards, looking a little bit guilty. "As much as I want you to stay… I don't want to be selfish." He looked up at his mentor supportively, giving him an encouraging smile. "So, instead… I'd like to bid you safe travels."
"Thank you, Sleipmon… That means everything to me," Cherubimon warmly replied. The large, pink Digimon turned around and walked over to his apprentice. When he did, he leaned down and gave Sleipmon the biggest, warmest hug that he could, despite their cold surroundings. "I wish you the very best of luck, as well. Not that you will need it."
"Cherubimon…" Sleipmon murmured sadly, reaching up and returning the affectionate embrace. "I'll miss you."
"I will miss you dearly as well," Cherubimon replied. "Though, I promise to write."
Sleipmon smiled back at him and gently pulled away. "I'll write as well. I'd love to know what the Sky Colonies are like."
Cherubimon released the centaur Digimon from his warm grasp as well and looked down at him with a smile. "I'm glad…"
Sleipmon took a step back and looked a little bit awkward as a meaningful silence grew between them. He wasn't entirely sure what else to say, except…
"Well… I suppose this is goodbye," Sleipmon said with a sad smile. "Or… fare-thee-well."
Cherubimon's soft, caring smile broadened a little and he reached down to enclose Sleipmon's hand inside of his large palm. "Fare-thee-well, Sleipmon…" he tenderly said. "And… know that, no matter what happens or however much we disagree…"
The angel slowly released the equine knight's hand from his own and stepped backwards, behind the sleigh.
"…you and I will always be friends."
Sleipmon smiled gently and nodded, stepping towards him to fasten himself up to the sleigh in order to transport his friend to his destination. As he did so, he inwardly held Cherubimon to that promise, and crystallized that hope in his heart.
"…I'm glad…" Sleipmon whispered, moments before taking off. His hooves dashing along the air and his wings casting along the air currents, the two ascended and disappeared into the gently snowing sky…
The clouds drifted lazily through the troposphere. They glided through the dark sky at a smooth and comfortable amble.
Hidden among this cluster of cloud data were the Sky Colonies. The primary colony, Lambent, drifted at the front of the cluster, with its smaller, sister colonies being towed behind it. They moved at a steady, methodical pace over the northern reaches of Eniac.
The vast panorama of twinkling stars stretched out before them. Thousands of stars dotted the dark skyscape like crystals scattered across a black canvas. It was a beautiful vista, and so far from the noise and pull of the Digital World below. One Digimon counted himself fortunate enough to view it from such a rare and wonderful vantage point.
Cherubimon stood on a marble balcony that was raised up on the edge of a circular platform, which was connected to the First Sphere by a rising staircase. The towering archangel rested his large arms on the white, marble balustrade that guarded the edges of the balcony. From this view, he gazed out across the nebulous expanse. The soft, pearly clouds provided an ephemeral floor below, while the moonlit sky, shimmering with stars and data packets, provided a seemingly endless ceiling. The contrast of the white and black horizon was both beautiful and haunting.
The ambient sound of trickling could be heard coming from behind him. The platform he was standing on what located just below the edge of the First Sphere, the highest section of Sky Colony: Lambent. The streams that irrigated the Celestial Gardens all funneled there, pouring off the side of the First Sphere in a waterfall, down into a reservoir in this auxiliary platform. Most of the water was then purified and continued pouring down onto the Second Sphere and, finally, the Third Sphere.
However, on that small, scenic platform, a portion of the water was redirected into a series of streams, fonts, and tranquil pools. The numerous fountains trickled gently, and the ornate ponds were so pure and still that the constellations of the night sky could be counted within their reflections.
This place was known as the Astral Pools, and it was a place for contemplation and spiritual meditation.
Cherubimon slowly stood upright and turned around. He walked down the steps and onto a path that led along a pure, white pool. The moonlight cast a glossy sheen across the smooth surface, causing it to shimmer serenely. The water seemed to have a gentle, ethereal glow beneath the surface.
Cherubimon stopped and peered into the aqueous basin. Gazing back at him were his soft, wistful eyes that appeared deep in thought. His tall body was perfectly reflected before him, painted against the backdrop of the starry night. His silhouette was darkened by the huge, nearly-full moon that seemed to loom directly behind him. As the moon towered overhead, it served as a backlight, causing the edges of his pink fur to shimmer radiantly as he stared into his shadowy reflection.
A soft, meditative sigh escaped his nostrils as the highest ranking cherub pondered to himself. Pinched between his large fingers was a letter that he had received a week ago. It was addressed to him personally, written by his friend and former apprentice, Sleipmon. In the letter, Sleipmon had told him what had gone on in New Terminal. He also gently asked Cherubimon about what sort of cooperation they might be able to expect from the Heavenly Choir.
It had been over a month since Cherubimon had met with the Royal Knights. He had been meaning to respond to the letter, but he was unable to. It wasn't just a matter of being too busy with preparations, meetings, and providing leadership to the angels. The fact of the matter was that he had gone behind Seraphimon and Ophanimon's backs when he had met with the Royal Knights. He knew that Seraphimon wouldn't have agreed, so he acted on his own accord. He made that pledge of cooperation with the Royal Knights without consulting the other two members of the triumvirate, so he was unable to give Sleipmon a guarantee.
Cherubimon felt guilty, not just for making Sleipmon a promise he wasn't sure he could uphold, but for not consulting his friends. He had been meaning to confess to them during one of their meetings, in the hope that he could mitigate their upset and sway them to his way of thinking. However, he hadn't been able to find the right moment to broach the subject. In fact, he had skipped the last couple war meetings, partially because he didn't want to lie.
Quietly, he admitted to himself that he was probably stalling. He knew how Seraphimon would react: with rebuke. It felt as though Seraphimon was becoming angrier and colder with every passing day. Cherubimon knew that he was under a lot of pressure, but he also noted that Seraphimon was acting like how he had been in the aftermath of the original rebellion and the dropping of the colony... It was a wrath that Cherubimon came to be uncomfortable with. He was coming to resent Seraphimon's stubbornness, and he felt that they were butting heads increasingly often.
What frustrated him just as much was that Ophanimon seemed like she had no intention of reprimanding Seraphimon. While she tended to play the middle in their arguments, it felt as though she would either explicitly take Seraphimon's side or that she would tacitly do so by staying silent whenever Seraphimon mentioned a more extreme idea. Why was it that she was enabling Seraphimon when he felt he was the one who was being reasonable and level-headed? Did she want another war? Did she not realise the ramifications of her actions? Or was it simply that she was more inclined to agree with Seraphimon?
Cherubimon sighed and took a deep breath. He felt his emotions rising again. More and more frequently, he felt himself becoming frustrated recently. He expected better of himself. After all, he was one of the Three Great Angels. He was supposed to be calm of heart and spiritually centered.
He opened his eyes and gazed into the clear reflection beneath him. He could see the creases of anger around his eyes. Cherubimon realised that he was no better. He was just as stubborn in his own beliefs as Seraphimon, and he was sure that he was being touchy and inflexible too. Perhaps he was part of the problem too… He supposed they were all under a great amount of pressure at the moment, and they were each dealing with it in imperfect ways.
In the calming environment of the Astral Pools, Cherubimon took this much-needed moment of serenity to gain some perspective. He thought back to his conversation with Sleipmon, and remembered the advice that the Royal Knight gave him.
"Perhaps you should speak with them about how you feel. They are your friends, so they will surely listen."
"What's important is that we can talk about our differences, and try to understand each other… rather than digging our feet in."
"Yes, you are right, Sleipmon…" Cherubimon murmured under his breath, placing his hand on the rim of the pond. "I have to talk to them, honestly but calmly. I have to make them understand the reasons for my opinions, but I also must make an effort to understand them too. That is the only way we can function and unite in this crisis… After all, we are supposed to be the Three Aspects of God's will. We must be above this."
Cherubimon was about to turn away from the pool, but he suddenly stopped in his tracks. His sensitive, rabbit-like ears perked up alertly. He heard a gentle whoosh of air, prompting him to pivot. He turned, just in time to see a figure touching down gracefully on the platform, noticing their presence even before their metal shoe touched the stone.
A female archangel, clad in ornate armour, landed carefully on the orderly, stone path that lay between two of the Astral Pools. Her teal armour shimmered radiantly underneath the moonlight. Upon landing, she stood up straight, holding herself with natural, inner strength and effortless majesty. She turned her head towards Cherubimon, her long, blond hair and golden wings glimmering like rays of dawn light.
Cherubimon's heart grew warm upon seeing Ophanimon, and he couldn't help but feel a smile forming on his unsettled face. Seeing her appear was like a ray of light breaching through the storm clouds. For all of his previous uncertainty about the intentions of his friends, he couldn't help but discover a certain calming in his troubled heart as soon as she was near him.
"I hope I'm not interrupting," she tentatively greeted, only upon seeing that she wasn't interrupting his meditation. Cherubimon looked down at the much smaller-yet-equal angel. As she approached from up the tranquil path, he could see her calm-but-warm smile on her otherwise covered face.
"Ophanimon," he greeted with a restrained smile of his own. He immediately moved aside, placing the backs of his legs against the fountain in order to make room for her, ever-conscious of his larger, beast-like body. "No, not at all… What are you doing here…?"
"I needed to take a walk to clear my head. Then I noticed you over here as I was passing through the gardens," Ophanimon replied, stepping up beside him and placing her hand on the rim of the fountain. "And yourself? What are you doing out here? It isn't often that you are out at this late hour…"
Cherubimon smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "Much the same as you… I am attempting to come to terms with the turbulent thoughts that keep spinning around in my head," he answered honestly, relaxing a little as he looked up at the lunar sky.
"I see…" Ophanimon replied, leaning back against the fountain in the same manner as Cherubimon.
Cherubimon glanced back down at her, watching as her armour shimmer radiantly, basked underneath the pearly moonlight.
She looked up at him and met his gaze, even with her eyes hidden behind her helmet. "Is that why you missed our last two Councils?" she asked him, her voice both calm yet direct.
The words caused him pause. "I… Yes," Cherubimon replied. He quietly wondered if Ophanimon was cross with him for doing so.
Ophanimon offered him a small, understanding smile. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Cherubimon paused and reflected for a moment on whether he should come clean to her like he wanted to. He felt it would be easier talking to just Ophanimon about his troubles, and he was sorely tempted… However, he didn't want to leave Seraphimon out, even if it might be harder that way. "Mm… I think it would be best saved for our Council tomorrow," he answered, shaking his head.
"Very well… Do you promise to attend then?" Ophanimon asked him.
"Of course…" Cherubimon smiled a little guiltily. "I'm sorry that I have been a bit… aloof lately. I should not be neglecting our meetings."
"I think I understand," the armoured ophan responded. She glanced down at the sacred water beside them, staring into the tranquil, mirror-like reflection. A gentle sigh escaped her lips.
"…It's the war, isn't it?" she guessed, looking back up at him.
Unable to hide the faint grimace that formed on his expressive face, Cherubimon nodded gently.
"I know you hate it…" Ophanimon spoke, her words soft with empathy. "I know you regret everything about the Rebellion. Speaking honestly, I do as well…"
Wincing, Cherubimon nodded again and glanced back down at her. "…We've… already lost so much. So many of our brothers and sisters have perished in the fighting. Now, with the war starting up again… I fear we will lose many more."
"I understand," she agreed. "That was what I was thinking about before I came here. The burden of responsibility for defending our God and our way of life is a heavy one, especially when we know that the toll of doing so is paid with blood." Ophanimon looked down, her finger hovering just over the pool's water, not daring to break the clear reflection. "I wish that it didn't have to come to this…"
"I know! I feel the same way as you do," Cherubimon animatedly agreed, feeling bolstered upon hearing Ophanimon's sympathetic views. "I only wish that Seraphimon could see our point of view… It feels as though he has become fixated on destroying the Demon Lords. I just worry that he will make the same mistakes as in the aftermath of the Rebellion…"
"While Seraphimon is strong-willed and strict, we both know that he isn't cruel by nature… He is the Archangel of Justice, just as you are the Archangel of Wisdom," Ophanimon reasoned with him. "Perhaps we all made mistakes at that time. I think that Seraphimon is just trying to do his best for all of us under difficult circumstances, and he is convinced that this is the right way to do that."
Cherubimon sighed a little and nodded. "I know he is…" he admitted. "Perhaps I am being too obstinate. However, the crux of the matter is that I disagree with him. I don't like arguing with him; he is very dear to me… but I cannot keep quiet when I feel as though he is treading down the wrong path."
"I see…" Ophanimon replied with a thoughtful sigh. "I do understand, Cherubimon… It is difficult to know which is the right path for the Heavenly Choir during this turbulent time. We each have our own connection to God and our own perspectives and priorities. It is no surprise that we each have differing opinions on what is best. However, that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing… Not if we listen to each other."
Cherubimon closed his eyes for a few moments, reflecting on her words. The Archangel of Wisdom then smiled softly down at Ophanimon. "Yes, I suppose you're right…" he conceded. "You are very wise, Ophanimon."
"It is my job to be… Still, that is humbling to hear, coming from you, Cherubimon," she answered, smiling up at him. "Just remember that Seraphimon is still your dear friend…"
Cherubimon nodded gently. He carefully squeezed the stone rim of the aqueous pool.
Suddenly, his ears twitched and he felt something warm on top of his hand. Surprised, he looked down at Ophanimon, and saw that she had placed her hand on top of Cherubimon's much larger one, and he felt her smooth fingers rubbing the back of his furry hand reassuringly.
"As am I," Ophanimon promised, looking up him with a comforting and friendly smile.
Cherubimon felt a sudden flush of warmth in his cheeks and his ears relaxed against his back. He breathed a contented, meditative sigh and looked back down at her with a shy but grateful smile.
"Thank you, Ophanimon…" he answered in a serene voice as he gazed at her helmet-clad face. "Knowing you are around makes my troubled heart feel at ease…"
Ophanimon smiled a little wider at him and nodded, slowly removing her hand from on top of his. "It pleases me to hear that I can be of a little help," she responded.
Cherubimon gazed down at her. He felt a slight tug inside of him, a gentle warmth, and a stirring in his heart. It was a pleasant feeling that often returned to him whenever he and his friend could have a peaceful talk like this. For a few moments, Cherubimon felt his worries fade away.
Before he could get too enraptured in the moment, Ophanimon stood up from beside the astral pool and turned away slightly. "It really is rather late, Cherubimon. We should both be going, shouldn't we?" the armoured archangel suggested. "We need our rest for tomorrow."
Cherubimon smiled sheepishly, knowing that she was right. "Yes, I suppose you are correct. I have been lost in introspection for a little too long," he agreed.
Ophanimon nodded. "I shall bid you goodnight then… Will you definitely attend the Council tomorrow morning?" she wondered.
The pink archangel nodded agreeably. "Yes, I suppose I ought to… I have been neglecting you both for too long. After all, I have something that I need to tell you both," he warmly explained.
"Very well, Cherubimon. We will see you then," Ophanimon answered, turning her winged back to him. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Ophanimon," Cherubimon replied.
He watched as the Archangel of Mercy stepped off of the ground and began ascending from the Astral Pools, back towards the Celestial Gardens. Cherubimon's gaze followed Ophanimon as she glided gracefully on the breeze. The moonlight glinted off her armoured back as she disappeared over the edge of the First Sphere.
Although his heart felt quite a bit more at peace now, there was still a faint apprehension lingering in the recesses of his mind. He knew that he would have to confess his deceit to them tomorrow. Even so, he hoped that they were in a place now where they could understand each other…
Cherubimon smiled up at the moon and the starry sky. He supposed that he should make his way back to the Palace of the First Sphere for some rest. He could decide how to tell his dear friends tomorrow.
He began walking down the path and heading back towards the First Sphere. As he made his way towards the rising stairs, his shadow followed him across the mirror surface of the nearby pool.
With Cherubimon's new found resolve, he made his way to the palace, and his shadowy silhouette that lingered in the reflection disappeared from sight.
The dawn light shone across the Sky Colonies.
Sky Colony: Lambent took on a radiant glow as the sunlight cast across the three-tiered city. The white, glossy streets and the gold and cyan embellishments of the buildings sparkled beautifully. Large, puffy clouds drifted parallel alongside the cloud data of the Sky Colonies. Looking at its surface, the Heavenly Choir was still the idyllic city on the clouds that it always was.
However… on closer inspection, one might notice that things weren't as rosy as they seemed. The Powers practiced daily combat drills and manoeuvres. Martial law had been imposed, and only those classes granted special dispensation by the Dominions were exempt from military service.
On the Second Sphere, in the dockyard next to the Hall of Valiance, the construction of more Sky Fortresses were underway. Two of the mobile armament platforms were half-completed, while another three were completed and moored. While the Sky Colonies appeared calm and sunny, there was disquiet and urgency lurking below its exterior. Though it had seen very little fighting thus far, it was undeniably a society at war.
The bright Sky Colonies continued drifting onwards to the north of Eniac. Lingering ahead, in the far distance, were darkened clouds. Far off yet, the Sky Colonies roamed towards the darkening sky. On their current course, they were fated to meet the coming storm.
Meanwhile, Cherubimon walked up a set of wide, gradual steps that led to the magnificent portico that overlooked the entrance of the Supernal Sanctum. The administrative core of the Three Great Angels, the Supernal Sanctum was a large, circular building of white and gold, made to reflect the purity, light, and authority of the three.
Cherubimon walked up to the portico, passing by the spacious, classically-styled columns that represented the stability and order of the sanctum. He stepped up to the tall, rectangular doors which stood large enough to accommodate his sizeable body. Rather than wait for the pair of HolyAngemon sentries to open the doors for him, the large rabbit pushed the doors open on his own and stepped into marble entrance hall.
The entrance hall was modestly-sized, containing only a clerical desk and a few seats. A pair of corridors branched out from the sides, which curved around into a ring shape that circled the inner perimeter of the Sanctum. Cherubimon, however, looked across the foyer to the large pair of doors that led to the central sanctum itself.
"This is it," Cherubimon thought, taking a slow, meditative breath. "I have to tell them. They are my friends, after all…"
Without any further hesitation, Cherubimon crossed the floor of the entrance hall and approached the equally large set of double doors leading into the council chamber. He softly placed his hand on the handle and pushed the doors open.
As the threshold opened up before him, he was forced to squint as light washed over his face. Sunlight poured in from the oculus that breached the center of the ceiling. The light washed over the white, marble tiles, giving the ornamented panels a glossy sheen. The tall pillars holding up the arching ceiling of the expansive chamber also shimmered radiantly.
As Cherubimon readjusted to the light, he gazed ahead of him at the large, hexagonal table in the center of the chamber. The clear, prismatic surface diffused the light flooding in from above, giving the six-sided table an otherworldly, rainbow lustre.
Cherubimon focused his gaze through the brightness and set his eyes on the center of the room. He could see Seraphimon and Ophanimon sitting at their seats on the other ends of the table. He could see their silhouettes, and they appeared to be talking to each other. They hadn't noticed him yet.
As his vision returned, he could see them clearly. He was about to open his mouth to announce his presence, but he suddenly stopped upon setting his gaze on the multihued surface of the table.
He saw Ophanimon's hand resting on top of Seraphimon's, holding it gently. The two angels were leaning towards one another, seeming to be discussing something quite closely. They spoke just low enough that Cherubimon was unable to hear them, and their close proximity made whatever they were talking about appear quite delicate. Unable to see their expressions, he didn't notice the faintly concerned expression on Ophanimon's lips.
Confused, Cherubimon surprised eyes morphed into a puzzled frown. He couldn't help but feel an instinctive stinging in his heart. He felt uneasy, like he had just walked in on something that he wasn't supposed to have seen…
Feeling out-of-place and a little hurt, Cherubimon quietly clasped his hands behind his back and lingered in the doorway. He began to wonder what had been going on in the meetings that he had missed – and behind his back more generally…
However, Cherubimon attempted to push these negative feelings aside. He was a mature adult and a disciplined paragon of virtue; he reminded himself he didn't have any right to feel affronted. He tried his best not to let himself automatically assume the worst of his friends. After all, he had come here for a reason: and that was to make peace.
Cherubimon unclasped his hands and gently knocked on the door beside him. "…Pardon me," he awkwardly announced himself. "I am not interrupting, am I?"
Seraphimon and Ophanimon looked over at him and lightly withdrew their hands. The two sat back in their seats, sitting up straight and folding their hands on the surface of the table.
"Oh, Cherubimon…" Ophanimon spoke, off guard only for a moment before offering him a pleased smile. "No, not at all. Please, come in…"
Seraphimon turned his helmet-covered visage towards Cherubimon, watching as the large cherubim Digimon closed the doors and began making his way over. Although his face appeared blank, his stiff posture revealed an aura of discipline and judgment.
"I see you have decided to grace us with your presence this time, Cherubimon…" Seraphimon pointedly greeted.
Cherubimon's ear twitched, but he responded with a calm, wry smile. He made his way over, trying to set aside the faint ache that he still felt from before. "Indeed, I have," he gently responded. He approached his large seat on the side of the table closest to the door. "I am sure that you have missed my refractory presence greatly, dear Seraphimon."
Seraphimon stared at the large angel stonily, his lack of an emotive response further emphasized by his obstructive mask. "Does this seem like a time for comedy, brother? When you have been twice absent from council in the middle of a major crisis…" he sternly reproached him.
Cherubimon's half-smile faded in response to Seraphimon's hostility, and he eyed the seraph of blue and silver armour with some uncertainty. He supposed such a response wasn't entirely unexpected, but he had been hoping that Seraphimon would be in a more receptive mood.
"Seraphimon…" Ophanimon lightly dissuaded him with a pointed look. "Cherubimon is here now. That is what is important."
"I apologise for my absences," Cherubimon spoke, his soft, deep voice resonating in the chamber. He sat down in his large seat and placed his hands on the surface of the table. "There have been quandaries on my mind and things that I have had to see to… I should not have neglected my duties."
"I understand. I realise that you have been quite busy…" Seraphimon answered, seeming diplomatic, although something about his intonation seemed pointed.
"Thank you," Cherubimon responded as he settled into his seat. He smiled and looked around the table at the two humanoid angels. "Now… Is there anything important that I have missed?"
"Well…" Ophanimon responded, sounding a little tentative as she looked up at him. "Yes, I believe there is."
"But first," Seraphimon interjected, keeping his gaze fixed upon Cherubimon. "Would you care to tell us what you have been so busy with? What has been so important to keep you from our meetings?"
Cherubimon felt his stomach churn with uneasiness. He wasn't quite sure why Seraphimon was taking an aggressive tone with him. Was he that angry over his missed councils?
The guilt that he felt about lying to his friends compounded his unease. Still, Cherubimon maintained a calm and thoughtful exterior. He supposed this was a good of a time as any to lay the preamble for his confession.
"Well… One of the things I have been doing was working with the Dominions to recall our missions and monks across the Digital World," Cherubimon explained. "It would be best if they return to the Sky Colonies for their own safety. They would make for easy targets for the Demon Lords."
"Yes, that makes sense…" Ophanimon agreed.
Seraphimon continued staring at Cherubimon with silent intensity. It was as if his featureless face was staring into Cherubimon's soul, trying to dig at something beneath the surface. "And…? Is there anything else?" Seraphimon pressed, leaning forwards on the table just slightly.
Cherubimon's horned forehead dipped and his brows furrowed into a confused frown. He eyed Seraphimon suspiciously, wondering what exactly it was that the seraph was digging at. "What, precisely, do you mean, Seraphimon…?" he inquired, getting the nagging feeling that Seraphimon didn't trust him.
At Cherubimon's lack of a response, Seraphimon sighed. "I see…" he answered, his posture softening and his head bowing slightly with disappointment.
After a moment on deep thought, Seraphimon sat up straight. His bearing became hard and rigid. He removed his hands from the surface of the table and returned them to his sides. The invisible aura around him sharpened and became inapproachable.
"Very well, then. Have it your way," Seraphimon sternly said, causing Cherubimon to arch a brow. "In that case, allow me to inform you on what we have had to do in your absence."
"'What you had to do'?" Cherubimon questioned in echo. He stared back at Seraphimon with a gingerly tilt of the head. He started to feel a sinking feeling forming in the depths of his belly.
"Yes…" Seraphimon responded, not responding to Ophanimon's imploring gaze. He remained staring straight into Cherubimon's puzzled eyes. "As you chose not to attend our council on the matters of war, we have been forced to make some decisions without you."
Cherubimon reacted with shock. His gaze turned from Seraphimon, over to Ophanimon, looking for confirmation. There was a flash of guilt across green-armoured archangel's face, but she didn't shy away from his gaze. She looked up at him and returned it steadily.
"…What decisions?" Cherubimon questioned suspiciously. Although he did his best to remain calm, there was a subtle deepening and sharpness to his voice. He tried to keep on top of the negative emotions that were bubbling in his chest, at least until he learned more.
Seraphimon watched as Cherubimon bridged his fingers and rested his chin on top of his arched hands. The seraph took a slow, steely breath.
"Two weeks ago, Celestial Commander SlashAngemon brought to our attention the fact that a portion of the Demon Lords were consolidating their power in the Gloaming Fields. It seems that they were making up for their setback in New Terminal by conquering the Exiles in the region, absorbing their land and armies, and amassing more power," Seraphimon explained gravely.
He continued. "Realising that Demon was about to capture a strategically important stronghold, SlashAngemon urgently requested permission to engage Demon and his Legion. Ophanimon and I were in Council at the time that the request was received, and you were nowhere to be found. We discussed the issue between us and chose to grant SlashAngemon permission to attack."
At this brazen admission, Cherubimon felt his emotions taken over. His brows furrowed and his eyes creased. His sceptical but calm expression morphed into one of pain and anger.
"What?!" Cherubimon demanded with outrage. He unclasped his hands and pushed his palms down on the clear surface of the table, pushing himself to a stand. "You had no right to make that decision without me!"
Seraphimon lowered his gaze. "You were not around," he answered with matter-of-fact coolness. "You were off making your own plans, Cherubimon. If you wanted your voice to be heard, you should have been there."
"We didn't intentionally exclude you, Cherubimon," Ophanimon insisted, her voice more empathetic than Seraphimon's. "The Empyreal Host was prepared and waiting for our word. We needed to make a decision right then and there."
"Intentionally or not, you still chose to act without my knowledge," Cherubimon protested ardently. As he quickly processed the information presented to him, he suddenly realised something. "Wait a moment, the Empyreal Host was already prepared? I had not realised they were even mobilised!"
"They took Sky Fortress: Zephyrinus on a patrol through the Gloaming Fields. It was a simple test flight. That's all," Seraphimon responded dismissively.
"Yet, they just happened to come across a major battle. That is awfully convenient, Seraphimon," Cherubimon argued. "Or did you mobilise our special forces behind my back as well?"
"I assure you, Cherubimon, we did nothing of the sort," Ophanimon urged him, her voice firm yet sincere.
"Even so…" Cherubimon winced as he stared down at the prismatic surface of the table, between his tensed hands. "What was the result…?"
"The skirmish was inconclusive…" Seraphimon explained. "SlashAngemon estimates that they deleted about a dozen of the demons."
"How many we killed doesn't concern me," Cherubimon sharply replied, grimacing up at Seraphimon. "How many did we lose?"
"…Five," Ophanimon solemnly answered.
"Were five of our brothers and sisters worth an inconclusive result…?" Cherubimon debated, tempering his emotions with slow, methodical words. "I would have argued against sending them into combat." The cherub scowled with clenched teeth. "Or was that the reason why you didn't summon for me? You wished to wait until my back was turned because you knew that I would not approve."
Seraphimon clenched his fists. "Look at your own faults before you self-righteously accuse us, Cherubimon," he sharply rebuked him. "You accuse us of knowingly going behind your back? Yet, you acted on your own without our knowledge as well. What you speak is hypocrisy."
Cherubimon, unable to help but feel defensive at the accusation, frowned fierily and dug his heels in. "What are you talking about, Seraphimon? I have a right to know what these veiled accusations are alluding to," his deep voice boomed.
Suddenly, Seraphimon pulled something out from underneath the table and placed it on the shimmering surface between them.
It was an opened scroll.
"One of our messengers received this yesterday," Seraphimon explained with a voice of frigid discipline. "It is from the Royal Knights. Specifically, it is from your former student: Sleipmon."
Cherubimon's eyes widened with shock. "That is…" He frowned bitterly. "You had no right intercepting my personal correspondence!"
"It was addressed to the Three Great Angels, not to you personally," Seraphimon explained. "It bore the seal of the Royal Knights. It was official correspondence… He seemed to think that all three of us knew about it. Yet, why was it a surprise to me when it landed on my desk this morning?"
Cherubimon grimaced and his anger quickly became tempered with guilt and frustration. "I… I was going to tell you both today," he weakly insisted. "I was about to tell you."
"You had weeks to tell us, Cherubimon," Seraphimon angrily reminded him.
Ophanimon frowned and looked between the pair, growing a little annoyed that she wasn't aware of what they were talking about. "Tell us what? If you would be so kind as to let me in on this little argument…" she spoke up, looking first at Seraphimon.
Seraphimon sighed and turned to the green-armoured archangel. "It seems that Cherubimon visited the Royal Knights and established a diplomatic agreement to share information and intelligence between us – without our knowledge or consent."
For a moment, Ophanimon went quiet. She slowly turned to look up at the large angel. "Cherubimon… Is this true?" she asked him.
Wincing, Cherubimon looked back at her. "Ophanimon, I…" He sighed and bowed his head. "Yes… I'm sorry…"
Ophanimon frowned and reached across the table, taking the scroll and bringing it towards her. She unfurled the paper and quickly looked it over. As she read Sleipmon's words, her cheek muscles tensed slightly underneath her helmet.
"I have to say, Cherubimon… I am surprised and a little hurt by your actions," she calmly informed him.
Cherubimon closed his eyes and took a meditative breath to try to quell the bubbling guilt before looking back down at his two friends. "I am sorry that I acted unilaterally," he told them. "But I thought it was for the best. Sleipmon is a dear friend of mine; they can help us."
"We do not need the help of the Royal Knights. This war is not theirs to wage," Seraphimon emphatically explained. "I am grateful to them for their help in the Heavenly War, but we cannot rely on them to rescue us again. We must be the ones to end this civil war."
"You would refuse an ally and support that we desperately need?" Cherubimon defended adamantly. "Now is not the time to be concerned with our pride."
"I agree with him, Seraphimon," Ophanimon spoke, glancing up from the scroll to look over at the majestic archangel. "While I disapprove of the way he went about it, I cannot dispute that we are in a position where we cannot turn down allies as powerful as the Royal Knights."
"He promised them sensitive information that could jeopardize our safety," Seraphimon argued. "Keep reading, Ophanimon. You may change your mind…"
"Hrm…" Ophanimon murmured as she continued reading. As she reached the bottom third of the scroll, she suddenly stopped, her mouth opening just slightly. "…What?" she whispered incredulously.
Cherubimon's fleeting satisfaction turned into confusion. "…What is it?" he asked. "May I at least read the letter if I am being accused of something?"
"The letter informs us of some surprising developments that the Royal Knights have discovered," Seraphimon explained to him. "The most surprising of which is that the Royal Knights claim that Leviamon has defected to their side – and that they have taken up his offer..."
At this admission, Cherubimon nearly balked. "…What?" he demanded, struggling to take in the shocking news. "Leviamon is working with the Royal Knights…?"
"Do you still believe that the Royal Knights can be trusted?" Seraphimon asked him. "If they can so easily accept a monster who was instrumental in dropping Empyrea?"
Cherubimon grimaced and opened his mouth to try to protest. "I… They wouldn't have taken such a decision lightly. They are moral Digimon… They must truly believe that Leviamon has valuable information, otherwise they would have attacked him on the spot."
"Then, are they naïve enough to believe the lies that roll off of the reptile's forked tongue?" Seraphimon suspiciously followed up.
"Sleipmon claims that Leviamon's information lines up with their own intelligence…" Ophanimon answered with a pensive frown. "They also claim that Leviamon has told them the Demon Lords' next movements. They say that the main army is moving south towards the city of Shroud." Suddenly, she frowned and looked up at Cherubimon with a worried expression.
"…What is it, Ophanimon?" Cherubimon wondered, the sinking feeling in his chest deepening.
"…Sleipmon says that another force is headed north. According to Leviamon, their target is the Arcane Ruins," she uneasily informed him.
The revelation caused Cherubimon's eyes to widen with horror. "…What?" he demanded. "They are planning to attack the Arcane Ruins?"
"The ruins that you used to protect," Seraphimon reminded him. "Do you still think that the Demon Lords can be reasoned with? Do you think that there is any option other than war?"
"I…" Cherubimon hesitated for a moment. Anger and frustration aggregated inside of him. He balled his large hands up on top of the prismatic council table. However, he hardened his resolve and stared back at Seraphimon stubbornly. "Yes, I do."
"You cannot be serious!" Seraphimon thundered with frustration. "Are you naïve, brother, or are you truly that sympathetic to the Demon Lords' cause?"
"The Heavenly War was partially our fault, Seraphimon," Cherubimon asserted. "You are so quick to pass judgment without recognising your own inflexibility."
"My inflexibility?" the seraph scoffed. "What of your own? You continue to bury your head in the sand and refuse to recognise that peace is impossible between us. The Demon Lords seek our complete destruction!"
"Your problem is that you see only enemies, brother!" Cherubimon argued ardently. "We haven't even attempted to speak with them and see if there is a peaceful solution! Or are you that committed to sacrificing more of our brothers and sisters?"
"The reason being is that it would be a waste of time. You are being ridiculous. This is a war, Cherubimon," Seraphimon fired back, some of his own passion breaking past his disciplined exterior. "It pains me as well, but sacrifices are an unfortunate but inevitable part of war."
"It's a war because we choose for it to be a war!" Cherubimon contended, his brows furrowing deeply. "Is it because you see them as heretics who must be exterminated?"
"My personal feelings do not factor into it, unlike yourself," Seraphimon coldly argued. "I am merely explaining the facts… Lucemon, Demon, Bagramon… they will stop at nothing short of the destruction of everything that we cherish. Why do you refuse to understand that, Cherubimon?"
"Seraphimon," Ophanimon mediated. "I am sure that Cherubimon is coming from a good place."
Cherubimon looked at Ophanimon appreciatively. "It is because of all we have lost during the Heavenly War that I am reluctant to throw us into another war."
"It is precisely because of the Heavenly War that we should all know how much we stand to lose," Seraphimon countered. "For the Demon Lords, this is a continuation of that war. Cherubimon, you are being guided by your emotions. Your guilt is clouding your mind. As the Three Great Angels, it is our duty to see clearly." The armoured seraph sighed and gazed up at Cherubimon. "It pains me to say this, but from your actions lately, I wonder if you lack the discipline necessary to maintain order and unity."
"I feel that you are the one not seeing clearly, Seraphimon," Cherubimon argued, his eyes narrowing gradually. "You are blinded by your hatred for the Demon Lords."
"Both of you, that is enough," Ophanimon chastised them. "Casting aspersions about each other is not helping anything."
She looked between her two fellow archangels with concern. The tension between them was palpable and electric. Cherubimon's expression was expressive and passionate, and he looked barely able to restrain his emotions. This contrasted with the stern Seraphimon, whose face was a masked by a cool, featureless wall of metal. She knew the two friends have had disagreements before, but, this time, things seemed different.
"I am blinded by nothing," Seraphimon emphatically answered, staring hard at the large, pink angel. "All I am concerned with is the protection of our society. In order to protect what we cherish – in order to protect our holy God, the Being of Goodness – we must fight. Words will never stop the zealous and evil ambitions of Lucemon."
"Yet words were powerful enough to ignite the rebellion to begin with. If words were so weak, then why did we have to use our swords to stop the heretics from speaking out?" Cherubimon pointedly contended. "Why must we resort to swords again, when you will not even try to see if we can dissuade them?"
"I cannot believe that one as wise as you can be this naïve, Cherubimon," Seraphimon answered. "We are already at war. The Demon Lords are already well into their campaign. We have heard rumours of their atrocities…" The Archangel of Justice looked at Ophanimon emphatically before turning his rigid gaze back towards Cherubimon. "No, it is decided…"
"The Demon Lords must be destroyed."
Cherubimon scowled in protest, his hand beginning to tighten. "You act with such inflexible and unyielding authority, yet you refuse to even posit whether you might be wrong!" he protested ardently. "We at least have to try! Maybe not with Lucemon or Demon, but with one of the more reasonable Demon Lords, like Barbamon, Lilithmon, or Bagramon. If Leviamon can change his mind, then why can't they? Maybe they can be reasoned with, or maybe we can convince enough of them to defect so that the rebellion crumbles. At the very least, we could consider imprisoning them instead of their outright destruction."
"You are grasping at clouds, Cherubimon," Seraphimon answered with a cool shake of his head. "Your combination of guilt, naivety, and discord is bordering on dissension. Before putting your own emotions before anything else, remember that we serve God. Before all else, it is the sworn and solemn duty of the Three Great Angels to obey God and uphold virtue. It is because they succumbed to their selfish and short-sighted vices that the Demon Lords fell to begin with, remember. Do not risk following them into vice."
"You talk to me about vice, Seraphimon?" Cherubimon debated heatedly, leaning forward on the table as he espoused. "All you care about is getting revenge on the Demon Lords because they dared to rise up against God! You speak of duty and justice and virtue, yet they cloak your true feelings, don't they? You merely wish to exterminate them because they are enemies. You are driven by Wrath just as much as Demon is!"
At this accusation, Seraphimon's calm façade fractured slightly and he rose to his feet. He placed his hands on the clear prismatic surface of the table and bore an expressionless glare across at Cherubimon.
"Then what are you driven by, brother…?" Seraphimon inquired. His inference was cold and cutting.
"Stop it, both of you," Ophanimon interrupted, her voice swiftly perforating the tense air between them. "This is unproductive. Neither of you are helping the situation. What we need to do is decide what our next move will be."
"Well, I have already made my position clear," Cherubimon responded, sitting back down despite the frown he wore on his face. "I want to at least attempt to offer the Demon Lords a peaceful resolution."
Seraphimon calmly sat back down in his seat as well. "And I believe that that is out of the question. Any peaceful emissary that we send to them will meet a slow and excruciating death, like many of their prisoners of war have before," he flatly stated.
"Then what alternative do you propose, Seraphimon?" Ophanimon asked him.
"If the Royal Knights' intelligence is to be believed and Leviamon is, in fact, telling them the truth…" Seraphimon began, pausing pensively as he formulated a decision.
"We must attack the Demon Lords at the Arcane Ruins," the Archangel of Justice declared.
"What? You cannot be serious, Seraphimon!" Cherubimon protested.
Seraphimon eyed him aloofly. "I'm surprised at you, Cherubimon. You would abandon the ruins that you have protected for so long? I thought you claimed that they may still be important," he challenged the Archangel of Wisdom.
Cherubimon grimaced. "They are important. I wouldn't abandon them," he clarified. "But that doesn't mean we have to launch a full scale attack."
"If you are hoping you can convince the Demon Lords to spare them, you are gravely misguided," Seraphimon argued.
"You would rather send the Powers to be slaughtered by the Demon Lords?" Cherubimon accused him. "They are too powerful. They won't stand a chance on their own!"
"They are soldiers, and they have been training for this," Seraphimon answered firmly. "We cannot hide from them forever. If we wait too long, they will be impossible to defeat. If we strike now, while they are fractured… we have a chance."
"A 'chance' by sending the Powers in on their own?" the cherubim answered with his usual riposte.
"We shall participate as well, if need be," Seraphimon dauntlessly confirmed. "We are more than enough to match the Demon Lords in terms of raw power."
"This idea is too reckless," Cherubimon said with a bitter wince. "Too many will die! What sort of victory is worth all of that blood? Ophanimon agrees with me!"
"How much blood will be spilled if we don't face the Demon Lords, Cherubimon?" Seraphimon argued vehemently. "And you are incorrect, I have spoken with Ophanimon and she agrees with me."
"I think you will find that she agrees with me, brother," Cherubimon insisted, narrowing his eyes defensively.
"And you are incorrect, brother," Seraphimon retorted.
"Enough!" Ophanimon shouted, her frustrated, resonant voice immediately causing her two fellow angels to go silent.
Although Ophanimon managed to retain her calm and composed exterior, on closer inspection, they could see that she was visibly annoyed. Her hand was placed flat on the table and her fingers were tensed, and on her face was a stern yet sarcastic frown.
"'She' can speak for herself," Ophanimon sharply reminded them, with what they could only guess was an eye roll behind her helmet. She looked between the two angels with a sharp, admonishing stare. "I will have you know that I am not a weight to be used on the balance that is your increasingly insufferable egos. I have my own mind and my own ideas, and you will not use me as a weapon in your argument. Is that clear?"
"…I'm sorry, Ophanimon," Cherubimon sheepishly responded, looking down with a wince.
"As am I…" Seraphimon awkwardly agreed. "My apologies…"
Ophanimon sighed. "…With that being said…" she began. She looked across the table at Cherubimon, her sharpened features softening. "In this instance… I have to agree with Seraphimon."
The words hit him like a steel wall. Cherubimon was caught off guard, having been convinced that he and Ophanimon felt the same way. After the initial confusion, he could feel the cut burrow deep into his heart. Pained, he sat back in his chair, suddenly feeling like the wind had been taken out of his sails.
"But… I don't understand, Ophanimon," he softly spoke, looking over at her. "Last night you told me that you hated this war as much as I do…"
"I did. And I truly meant it when I said that I hate war…" Ophanimon gently explained. "However, I also realise that Seraphimon is right. War with the Demon Lords is the only real option moving forwards."
Cherubimon's ears drooped and a disappointed grimace formed on his rabbit-like face. "You cannot have meant what you said very much, then… I thought our talk meant something, Ophanimon," he rebuked her, spurred by the stinging that he felt. "Apparently not."
At this accusation, Ophanimon's lips curved down tightly. "Do not try to guilt me, Cherubimon," she firmly reprimanded him. "I am making the decision that I believe is best. Our friendships do not come into the matters of council."
"So you say…" Cherubimon muttered bitterly. He thought back to the sight of Ophanimon's hand on top of Seraphimon's. That same feeling of hurt was replicated and exacerbated now.
Now, it seemed to him that Ophanimon was taking Seraphimon's side against him. He felt as if he had fooled himself into believing she might still support him after their talk the previous night. Now he was feeling as though his previous fears and concerns were founded: that Seraphimon and Ophanimon were growing closer and that he was being pushed out.
"I'm sorry if that is not what you want to hear, Cherubimon," the Archangel of Mercy explained. "We have tried to get through to the Demon Lords once before, but nothing we said changed them from their fallen path. I highly doubt that their stewing in purgatory for all those years has made them change their minds about God or any of us. If anything, it likely deepened their hatred and resolve. I believe that your views, while well-intentioned, are misguided…"
Cherubimon's black eyes winced tighter at her words. He glanced over at Seraphimon. While too humble to be smug, the seraph's calm and quiet demeanour radiated with silent victory.
To him, Ophanimon's response confirmed his suspicions. Cherubimon felt like a third wheel. More and more, he started to feel as though his opinion didn't count for anything. He was constantly at odds with Seraphimon, and now he thought that Ophanimon would only ever side with Seraphimon.
"Be reasonable, Cherubimon," Seraphimon told him. "Ophanimon agrees with me. Let us move past this disagreement so that we may begin planning our course of action."
These words twanged Cherubimon's already strained nerves. Fuming, but disciplined enough to keep control of his emotions, his hurt and anger was filtered into passive-aggressiveness.
"Well, then," Cherubimon indignantly replied, placing his hands on the table and rising to his feet. "Perhaps it would be best if I excuse myself and leave you two to plan on your own. I would hate to get in the way."
"Cherubimon, please, that isn't necessary," Ophanimon assured him.
"Do not be juvenile, Cherubimon," Seraphimon reprimanded. "What do you think running away will solve?"
"More than you think, Seraphimon; I leave all the fighting to you," Cherubimon smoothly answered with a barbed riposte. He stepped out of his chair and looked down at the two great angels, attempting to mask the anger and pain that he felt. "I can tell that my presence here is both superfluous and unwanted. Neither of you want to hear what I have to say anyways."
"That isn't true, Cherubimon," Ophanimon promised him, staring up at him emphatically. "We value your opinion."
"You value it when it aligns with both of yours, perhaps. And when it doesn't, then that is simply too bad for me," Cherubimon sarcastically accused them. "It has been this way for some time now."
"Cherubimon, that is ridiculous. All of us are equals here," Ophanimon protested, sounding surprised by his temperamental words.
"Yes, Ophanimon is right," Seraphimon agreed despite his previous antagonism. "Not one of the Three Great Angels is worth any more or less than the others. That is why we have these councils."
Cherubimon let out an airy scoff. "Perhaps we are equal on an individual basis. However, the arithmetic of two-to-one is very much unequal," he plainly stated. "Ever since the Demon Lords escaped, the two of you have been in lockstep against me. You have dictated to me time after time. If the two of you are always of the same mind, then where does that leave me?"
"If you only agreed with us and desisted being so stubborn—" Seraphimon tried to explain.
"Oh, I see," Cherubimon spoke with disdain. "If only I acquiesced, then I wouldn't be outvoted! Is that equality to you, Seraphimon? If so, is it any wonder why Lucemon rebelled against us?!"
"Now you are speaking out of turn, Cherubimon…" Seraphimon angrily warned him, his voice like soft thunder.
"Seraphimon," Ophanimon spoke dissuadingly before looking back up at the large cherubim. "Cherubimon, we truly don't think that way."
"You say one thing and yet do another, Ophanimon," Cherubimon bitterly responded, turning his face away from her. "I wish I could believe you."
"If that's the way you feel, then perhaps you should leave," Seraphimon admonished him. "You clearly need some air to regain your perspective…"
Cherubimon half-grimaced before steeling himself. He turned his head and locked eyes with Seraphimon for a final time.
"Then that is what I shall do," he informed them.
Without wasting another word, Cherubimon turned away from his two friends and began walking away from the central table.
"Cherubimon…" Ophanimon gently spoke, watching him leave with regret in her eyes. She considered asking him to stay, but, at that point, after they had argued so much already, she began to feel maybe it would be best to let him go. She hoped that maybe they could all get some perspective after the heated debate that they had.
Looking ahead with a mixture of frustration and anger, Cherubimon stormed out of the council chamber and closed the doors behind him.
Now that he was out in the lobby, he suddenly felt very alone. The pain in his heart intensified and he began to feel guilty for acting so emotionally and immaturely. Still, the hurt he felt was very raw, and he still felt angry at the other two.
Cherubimon lingered in the doorway and looked over his shoulder, wondering if he should bashfully walk back in there to apologise.
As he hesitated, he noticed that one of the doors he had swung closed was still open a crack. Cherubimon glanced back inside the chamber and saw Seraphimon and Ophanimon staring at each other. His curiosity and paranoia getting the better of him, he decided to eavesdrop in order to see how they reacted to his departure.
Cherubimon's rabbit ears perked up and he quietly pressed his face against the door. The first thing that he heard was Ophanimon's sigh.
"That was a disaster…" she spoke, looking at Seraphimon. "How are we supposed to proceed now?"
Seraphimon folded his arms irritably. "Well, if he won't participate, we will need to move forwards regardless," he answered. "We cannot stall our preparations just because Cherubimon is being difficult."
Cherubimon's eyes narrowed sourly as he listened in. The anger that he was trying to temper suddenly began to bubble inside of him again.
"How do we do that?" Ophanimon challenged him. "If he won't vote unanimously with us, how can we launch an attack?"
Cherubimon's fists tightened, his body becoming tenser. He listened intently for Seraphimon's answer, with the heavy weight of doubt and fear plunging inside of him.
There was a long, deliberative pause. The longer it went on, the more telling and unbearable it became for him.
"…Perhaps we should overrule him after all," Seraphimon suggested.
Upon hearing these words, Cherubimon saw red. He felt his mind go numb and it felt as though a knife had been stabbed straight into his heart. The hurt he felt became all-consuming as the words of betrayal sunk in. His anger returned in force and snuffed out the feelings of uncertainty that he had about his decision.
Still, he lingered, hoping that Ophanimon might say something in his defence.
Ophanimon mulled over the suggestion for a few moments before sighing guiltily. "I don't see any other course of action right now…" she regretfully conceded.
That was it. Cherubimon couldn't bear to hear anymore. He turned away with a pained and furious grimace. Without waiting a grievous second longer, he stormed out of the Supernal Sanctum and left the two archangels behind him.
With barely contained rage, Cherubimon marched out into the cloudy exterior of the First Sphere. Once out in the bright, grey light, the Archangel of Wisdom began making his way towards the Astral Pools. He needed to think…
It was in that moment that he realised what a curse it was to be blessed with rabbit ears.
Meanwhile, back inside the Supernal Sanctum, Ophanimon sighed as she continued to think over the implications of what they were proposing. She was quiet for several moments, the deliberation weighing heavy on her mind.
"…What am I saying?" the emerald-armoured angel spoke, looking over at her male counterpart. "We can't do that to him… I know he is being unreasonable, but that would divide us even more."
"Ophanimon, we cannot be bound by his emotions," Seraphimon urged her. "We must act. The Powers are looking to us for leadership. We need to prepare our offensive against the Demon Lords. If we stay at this impasse forever, we will just be waiting for our doom."
"I know that, but we're trampling over his feelings," Ophanimon responded. "We would only be proving his insecurities right."
Seraphimon leaned forwards and placed his face in his hands, rubbing his mask tiredly. "…I know not… Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we are taking liberties with him… but you know how stubborn he can be."
"I know how stubborn you can be too," Ophanimon insisted, shooting him chastising look. "You are both as bad as each other…" She leaned on the table and raised her hand to rub her chin. "…Maybe I should go after him and see if he is alright. I can try and talk him around…"
"Perhaps… But he is too emotional right now. Give him time to center himself," Seraphimon advised her.
Ophanimon sighed and nodded. "I suppose that would be wise…" she agreed. "And you should apologise to him as well…"
Seraphimon looked down at his lap, feeling a bit guilty. "Perhaps I should…" he conceded sheepishly. "Maybe I was unreasonable…"
The two humanoid angels both looked towards the entrance of the council room, as if expecting that Cherubimon might walk back through the door at any second.
When he didn't, they both slackened and turned back towards the scrolls that were on the crystalline table.
"I just hope we can mend things with him before it's too late," Ophanimon spoke.
After a reflective pause, Seraphimon nodded slightly. "…Yes. As do I…" he agreed meditatively.
"Curse them. How could they do that to me?" Cherubimon thought to himself, glaring into his reflection in one of the astral pools.
Despite the serene nature of the surrounding atmosphere, it did nothing to quell the frustration in his heart. The calmly flowing water was lost on his ears. He was so wrapped up in the negative feelings swelling within him that he could only hear the blood coursing through his veins.
Cherubimon scowled with pain as he looked out across the clouds. "Well… if they choose to isolate me and act without my permission, then why can I not do the same?" he decided.
Cherubimon's fists tightened, and he stared northwards, towards the dark and thunderous clouds that lingered far ahead of them.
"I have no need to wait for their permission. If they can act on God's behalf unilaterally, then so can I. I am one of His chosen archangels as well. I have not received any sign that my beliefs are wrong…" the Archangel of Wisdom reasoned.
Cherubimon stepped forwards, gazing into the distance with resolve. As he watched the darkened clouds rolling over each other, an idea began to form in his mind.
"Just watch, my friends…" he whispered, his expression hardened with determination. He took a step towards the edge of the auxiliary platform, and gazed over the edge, down at the veiled Digital World below…
"I shall end this war myself."