The Rules of Heaven
The Kingdom of Heaven isn't called a Kingdom for nothing. Though not many have ever seen the King, the population of Heaven is spread out much like a kingdom. If you think of every reach of air on earth as traversable by the inhabitants, then you are correct in thinking this kingdom is great.
The biological or "dead" members of the population are millions upon millions. Far too many to count. And to some, far to meaningless to consider. It is not the humans and animals that are playing in the mind of one being. No, he is thinking of one much like himself. A being so perfect, so powerfully inspiring, it's sometimes made him wonder if the seven sins are up and doing business in this fair kingdom too.
"Roxas!" the blonde cherub-like head turned to the sound. A brunette, his wild hair flapping in the air, his wings sprung wide, was running across the white knoll toward him.
"Sora," Roxas said quietly, sitting up. The cloud he was sinking into was much like a beanbag. He could have easily been swallowed had he not been woken from his daydreams.
The brown-haired angel came to an abrupt halt, sinking a little in the clouds.
"You shouldn't be running, Sora," Roxas murmured, standing and dusting the cumulus off his white outfit. The Angels were known for simplistic wear. Roxas' tunic was belted at the hips, the scraps of white fabric flowing a few inches above his knees. Like everyone else in heaven, he was barefoot.
"Well, you know how ... difficult it is. You can't blame me." Sora pouted, his hair still waving in the invisible breeze. Roxas had always wondered where the breeze came from. Strange, really, if you thought about it. Obviously science wasn't anyone's concern up here, but since Roxas had been reading up on it, he'd begun to wonder if maybe science made more sense than no sense at all. Taking in his friend's problem, Roxas thought once more about this 'science'. Sora, with his immense (and shiny new) wingspan would be an ideal candidate for the flight squad. Sure, he'd only recently come into his wings, waking up one morning with back problems, only to discover feathery protuberances weren't exactly a medical emergency. It took eons for wings to appear. Sometimes they never did. Sora should feel lucky. Unfortunately, the poor cherub was uncoordinated enough without two great limbs extending out his back. His flying lessons were for the best, really. The whole orchestra-crashing incident was painful to recall.
"I'm sure you'll get it if you practice more," Roxas said, smiling. He extended his own wings behind him, stretching every muscle. He preened a couple wayward feathers before folding the white sails back into place. Roxas was a very neat, pernicious angel. Sora just rolled his eyes.
"Well, whatever. Michael wants you."
Roxas' head snapped up, eyes wide, "Michael? Me? Now? Why didn't you say so first!" Roxas moved past his friend, patting his messy hair. Michael would not appreciate his wayward locks in this state.
Sora sighed and followed, "No need to panic! He just called ... to say ... he loves you!"
Roxas' face blossomed red and he glared at Sora. "Stop being an idiot."
Sora laughed loudly, "Oh! You're face! Hilarious!"
Roxas growled, his heart beating faster. Stupid Sora and his fascination with Earth music. Forbidden in many circles, but not, apparently around Roxas.
"Oh come, on, I was joking!" Sora jogged to catch up, his wings flapping behind him. "Sheesh. He's not mad, Roxas. He just wanted to talk to you."
Roxas' face was still pink. "About what?" Michael wanted to see him? Strange, but pleasing.
Sora shrugged. "Dunno. Didn't say."
Roxas eyed his friend, "You shouldn't speak of him that way. You'll get in-"
Sora chuckled, "Oh come on. He doesn't MIND." Roxas wanted to argue, but couldn't. Sure, Michael was head archangel, all-mighty and all-wonderful, but he was still overly fond of Sora. It kind of irked Roxas, but what could he do. Michael was Michael. Destroyer of Worlds, Lover of Peace, yadda yadda bla bla. Roxas adored him. Damn him.
As the two cherubs climbed the polished stairs up the Panorama, a few other cherubs galloped by. Roxas noted how cheerful and carefree they were. Lucky kids. With Sora and Roxas now all winged-up, their time as cherubs was coming to and end. Pretty soon, they'd be fully-fledged angels. What the benefit of that was, baffled them both.
"Guh," Sora gasped as they made their way across the Panorama's plateau, the wide, open expanse of polished marble stretching for miles. "Stupid stairs."
Roxas rolled his eyes, "You could have flown. Or better yet, how about being an angel that DOESN'T get winded? I mean, who ever heard of an unfit angel? You're broken, man."
Sora just waved him away. "Yeah, yeah. So sue me."
And as if by illusion, the silhouettes appeared before them, becoming cleared and bigger as they approached. Rumour had it that Uriel had set up a smokescreen. It was probably a misuse of Divine Intervention. Parlour tricks for the kids. Roxas felt his heart thump slowly. The Archangels.
They sat together, on self-made seats of cloud. The decor was lacking, but what can you do? Roxas gulped as the older angels looked up.
Michael smiled, his blue eyes twinkling, making Roxas' stomach lurch. The Archangel was beatiful (not that he needed telling). His dark brown hair fell in his eyes, his muscled physique showed off his battle-empowered mentality and the lone scar jagging between his eyes was the one reminder of how powerful he was. Michael the Archangel.
He winked at Sora, who nodded shyly. Roxas felt his own tongue get stuck in his mouth. "Michael. Uriel. Gabriel." He bowed to each of them.
Uriel smiled slowly, his own blue eyes heavy-lidded. "Roxas. Sora." He rarely spoke. It was an honour to be named this way. Roxas nodded again, noting how that smile drifted off the blonde angels's features, to be replaced with solemnity. Here was another angel known for having the magical 'air in his hair' syndrome. Roxas really had to double-check the Heaven-wiki on the basis that science held no sway in Heaven.
"My, don't you two look like twins?" came Gabriel's deep voice. The dark-haired angel was lounging in his seat, legs crossed. His gaze was most disturbing to the cherubs. Gabriel was known for being the messenger, be that of good or bad. He saw things the others didn't. Some thought he was too gifted, too prone to saying things unwanted. But then that was Gabriel.
"They do, don't they?" Michael agreed, looking the two over. "Now that Sora has sprouted, they seem most alike."
Roxas looked at Sora, who looked back. It was uncommon for angels to resemble one another. Very strange. An angel is unique, born to its own talents, his or her nature determining his or her destiny. Every angel has a destiny, even if that destiny is to fall off a cloud and never return. Destiny was a bit fickle like that.
"We jest, of course," Michael murmured, sitting with his elbows on his knees. Roxas noted the strange gladiator sandals that were strapped to the Archangel's legs. Roxas gulped. He must never forget whom he was talking to.
"You called for me?" Roxas said, his voice clear. He stood straight, hoping he didn't appear weak.
Michael stared at him before answering. "Yes. I believe," his eyes flicked to meet Gabriel's for a split-second, "that your turn has come for a mission."
Roxas' eyes widened. "A mission?" he whispered.
"Whoa!" Sora cried, "You mean a real one? Down under?" Roxas wanted to shove his friend off a cloud.
Michael chuckled, "Yes." His eyes hardened as he looked at Roxas. "If you are willing." Roxas felt like this wasn't a question.
"Of course," he said. Of course I'm ready to go down under! Who wouldn't be? Only the elite were allowed to visit earth. Only they got to see what it was really like in the tainted vision.
Michael smiled, "Good. I thought you might be. I also thought you'd be perfect for it. We've been debating over this for years. I think now is the time for investigation."
Roxas was bewildered. His idol thought he was good for something? Oh happy day! His heart rate sped up. Angels are known for having unbelievably big hearts, so Roxas hoped the pounding wasn't audible to the others. Gabriel smiled. Uriel chuckled and looked over at Michael.
"I believe he may be a tad excited," the blonde Archangel said. Roxas blushed beet red. Damn.
Sora's eyes flicked to Roxas. "Language," Sora hissed softly. Roxas blinked. What?
"But really," Michael continued, "This is a very important issue. I'm sure you," he nodded to Roxas, "have noticed our numbers."
"I bet you have stats piled up under a pillow," Gabriel chuckled.
Sora was confused, "What? I don't get it. What about our numbers? What numbers?"
"The angel count," Michael said quietly, his eyes not leaving Roxas. "You've noticed, haven't you Roxas?"
Sora looked to his friend. Roxas nodded. "What's the angel count?" Sora queried.
"The number of angels in heaven at any given moment," Roxas said softly, his brain buzzing.
Sora blinked and looked back at the older angels, "what about it?"
The three Archangels were silent.
"It's dwindling," Roxas said, voice clear. "The angel count is getting smaller."
Sora blinked, "So? We get random angels born every so often. Kind of random isn't it? I mean, appearances aren't forecast, are they?"
"No," Roxas said, "but the numbers coming from earth are close to nothing. The random birthings are becoming less frequent. Even more random."
Sora looked confused.
"What he means," Gabriel said, "Is that true angels, that is, archangels and cherubs are no longer appearing. You and those beneath you are the last of a generation. We have seen no progression in our natural numbers."
Sora looked between them all. "You ... noticed this?" he asked Roxas.
The blonde shrugged. "Couldn't help it. There are hardly any cherubs left. Once we're angels, that's two less."
"Two less of a generation," Gabriel added.
"Two more to destiny," said Uriel gravely. This was disconcerting.
"So we need you, Roxas," Michael said, eyes darkest blue, "To find out what is happening. I know you have a fondness for earth words and earth knowledge." Roxas felt the colour drain from his face. Michael smiled, "Do not fear me, cherub. You are not in trouble. This, shall we say, is a necessary transgression."
"I'm sorry," Roxas bowed, keeping his head down. "I won't ever-"
"No no," Uriel said, "enough. You have a mission. Let's stop wasting everyone's time."
Time. Something Roxas was fascinated with. An earthly conundrum where time controlled change. A strange phenomenon, not guided by fate or random superfluousness. He would get to see it. Down Under.
"Right," Michael nodded, "Your mission, Roxas, is to go Down Under and find out what is wrong in our numbers. We cannot dwindle so fast and have no explanation for it. Find an unnatural angel. Find out what you can of them and follow them back to Heaven. Anything you see or do must be reported back to Riku. He will inform us of serious changes to the mission. That is all."
Roxas and Sora knew the conversation was over. They both bowed and turned on their heels.
"Oh," Michael added as they swiftly left, "be careful, Roxas. I would hate to lose you."
Roxas gulped and sped on. This was serious business.
"So you get to go down?" Sora crowed, almost lifting off, his wings fluttering wildly. Roxas stomped across the smooth open space of the air field in Heaven. It was quiet today, the training field empty. The flight squads must have trained earlier and the cherub newbies were probably recovering from their lesson the day before. Of course by Heaven's rules, a day was merely a stretch of time between phases. Because time itself did not work prperly here, the occupants of heaven had alternative means of keeping track. Existing, as in being, doing, moving was a component of time. Naturally. But the effects of time were nonexistent. There were no sunsets, or progressions of physicality. Angels changed, morphed and sprouted randomly, sometimes in more than one way, in response to stimuli. Except for Archangels. They lived by a different set of rules.
"It's no big deal, Sora," Roxas said, trying to cover his nerves. Angels weren't supposed to be nervous! Maybe this was the challenge to cement his cherubic nature in the past and give his angelic future a hope. Roxas had been worried that he'd remain a cherub forever.
"It so is and you know it!" Sora crowed. "I wish I was going down." His face turned to a mou of concern, "you'll be fine, right?"
Roxas sighed heavily, "Yes, of course! Really Sora, what are you on? You know I'll be fine. Do I look human to you?"
"Sometimes," came a voice from above, followed by a chuckle.
Roxas groaned. A fluttering of wings and another angel landed nearby, his immense wingspan bristling in landing. His feathers were so white, it felt like the sun was emanating from them. He wore the training uniform of a squad leader: white tunic, blue belt. His silver hair fluttered in layers, making his aqua eyes seem greener.
"Riku!" Sora cried, tripping on a wing and smacking his face into the ground. He was back up in a second, eyes wide with awe. Roxas didn't get it. Why, in the presence of three of the Archangels, was Sora a dithering idiot, and yet when around Riku, he became the most avid fanboy in the history of the word 'fandom'? Roxas didn't get it!
"You're not funny," Roxas grumbled, taking the human comment as an insult.
"I most certainly am," Riku grinned. "I'm hilarious."
"Your face is," Roxas muttered to himself.
"Are you here to help?" Sora bounced around Riku. "Are you here to help Roxas?"
Riku nodded, smiling. "As always."
Sometimes Roxas wondered why Riku was Flight Controller. Honestly, giving so much power to one angel seemed like a mistake to Roxas. Yeah, so he had the authority to allow or disallow exiting of Heaven, but why him? Sure, Riku was one, if not the best of the squadron, but that didn't make him God. Hah, Heaven humour.
The two cherubs followed the silver-haired angel to the edge of the air field. Roxas gulped. This place always freaked him out. Flight training had been hell, being so close to the precipice. Really, this was one of a bazillion drop points for angels. This one was just apparently the coolest, because there was no cloud cover to block the view. Straight up and down freefall. Woo...
They paused near the edge as Riku turned, blocking the way.
"Right. So seeing as this is your first time down, Michael made me insure you've got everything right. You report back to me." Riku was also one of the few angels gifted with the power of voice. If called, he could appear at will, knowing exactly who, where and when someone beckoned. It was a bit awkward in the beginning, what with his random sprouting, power gain and every other person in heaven falling for him. Sometimes the power backfired when someone just mentioned Riku in conversation. Having your crush appear out of nowhere as you bathed was a tad embarrasing for some. For others, more of a blessing. Sora would sometimes mess around and call Riku for no apparent reason, just to aggravate the angel. Thankfully, Riku could now control his appearances. Very handy.
"I know all the rules, Riku," Roxas huffed. His hands shook a little. Okay, going down to earth was a big deal. He'd always wanted to go down, not ever thinking he be allowed, since he had no plans to join the squadron any time soon.
"I'm sure you do," Riku snorted. He eyed Roxas, "read 'em."
No one got to willingly leave Heaven without Riku's permission. Falling off by mistake, however, was not his problem.
Roxas sighed and recited what he knew he'd have to recite. The Rules.
"Hereafter follow the rules of Heaven. They apply to all unnatural, natural and cherubic angels. No exceptions are allowed.
Rule number one: An angel may not leave Heaven without the express consent of an Archangel.
Number two: Angels are forbidden to ever speak to, communicate with or come into contact with humans. Unnatural angels are to be monitored before communication can be made. Once the Flight Controller has deemed is reasonable to do so.
Number three: It is forbidden to touch, even for a moment, God's green Earth. To do so is tantamount to disaster.
Number three: Angels are forbidden to don the language, textiles or machinations of humans.
Number four: Should an angel fall into evil, he or she will be cast from heaven, never to return."
Roxas breathed a sigh, as the silence settled. Riku nodded. "Good."
"You know, sometimes those rules don't make sense," Sora said, tilting his head.
"Sora!" both Roxas and Riku cried.
The brunette just shrugged, "Hey, I'm just saying! They just don't. I mean, what about Michael! He's doesn't-"
"Don't talk about him like that!" Roxas hissed.
"I'm not being rude!" Sora said, "I'm just curious. Why does he get-"
"Because," Riku said firmly, taking Sora's shoulders and staring into his eyes, "Michael has seen and done things no other angel ever has or ever will. He wears the marks of his trouble."
"He wears SHOES," Sora bit back, brows furrowed. Riku was quiet. As was Roxas. "No one in heaven wears shoes, but he does. Why?" Sora stared down at his own bare feet.
Riku stood up and fluffed his wings. He didn't answer.
Roxas sighed and opened his own wings. He stretched them wide, billowing feathers. "Sora, you shouldn't be-"
The brunette just folded his arms and humphed. Riku looked at him sideways.
"Sora," Roxas said, not believing he was saying this, "Michael wears shoes because he can. He's the only one who does. Why do you think so?"
Sora blinked, "I dunno. Strange fashion sense." It wasn't funny. Human garb was more sin than sunshine.
"No," Roxas turned and arced his back. He was prepping for flight.
Riku came up beside Sora while Roxas stretched and tested his wings. "Sora," he said quietly, looking down at the cherub. "Michael wears shoes because he has walked earth."
Sora's eyes were wide. "but ... but that's forbidden. No angel has ever touched the green of earth! It's disaster!"
Riku tilted his head, "But Michael has. And does. And always returns."
That was all he had to say. Sora was quiet.
Roxas pretended he was focused on his flight check. His nerves were coming back in waves. The green of earth, the beauty of the world. It was possible! He was going to see earth! A dream come true!
Maybe he would earn his angel colours. Maybe this day was HIS day!
TO BE CONTINUED
A/N: It is SO good to be back in the writing chair! Hope you enjoyed this first chapter. More to come indeed! :D
Previews on my LJ account at nejineeDOT livejournalDOTcom