The Rules of Heaven.
Gabriel stared hard. "I know you don't appreciate our motives, Axel, but understand this. So long as every angel thought they would lose everything on earth, we knew most would choose to not break any rules. Imagine an angel, frolicking on earth, not understanding–"
"The truth would've been easier, idiots!" Axel yelled. "You used the Rules as punishment too! Remember that? Being thrown to earth was punishment. When you knew we'd get taken, if not killed! Did it not enter your brains that demons cannot enslave us if we do not choose it?"
Roxas felt Axel's arms tensing, shaking.
"Why do you think I'm the only one? HUH? Because I chose this! You threw me away! You threw my life away like it was garbage. And I chose demonhood. Why? Because I didn't want to die, assholes! I didn't deserve it. But you hoped I would, didn't you? You thought 'good riddance'. Bullshit to your rules. Every other fallen angel was killed. Either by demons or earth. We cannot survive down there and you knew it."
Roxas clenched Axel's arm, heart thumping. He felt Axel's rage, his torn emotions, even as he continued to say "we". Axel still remembered being an angel, felt at one with this kingdom. But that was all taken away. And for what? A pack of lies?
This was terrible.
Kairi felt completely dazed and out of sorts. She was flying! FLYING! Crazy. And this place ... it was so strange, so weird. Where was everyone? She hadn't seen anyone else apart from the crazy psychos. she panted heavily. No one had followed. Not owing to her superb new powers, of course. No, they were probably just strolling below, following her progress. That was scary too.
"Ugh," Riku groaned. Kairi was tired, trying to heave the great lug through the air, but it wasn't too far now. Over there ... by the ... "Crap." she hissed. Why did everything look the same up here? She had no flippin' clue where 'here' even was! Damnit. This guy...he was so heavy. And so hurt.
"We have to go," Riku gasped, pain flashing across his face. Wounds on his back had reopened and blood was sticking to Kairi's arm. She tried not to shake at the thought. She wheezed with the effort to stay in the air. He wasn't a lightweight. Nor was she very strong. They bobbed jarringly in the air, giving Kairi a mini heart attack at every dip.
"No, keep going," Riku breathed, trying to not hurt her. Damn, but this was painful. He hadn't figured out the flying bit into his escape plan. They weren't going to make it. Make it where? God, Riku didn't even know. All he could think was that he'd not get to see Sora before he fell. This wasn't what he wanted.
"Hey. Hey!" Kairi breathed, "stay awake. Don't ... don't pass out! I don't know what's going on."
Riku felt himself drift painfully. No, he had to stay conscious. He needed to find ... he needed.
He gasped. He flailed. "I heard it!" he yelped, surprising Kairi. She flopped in the air and they both dropped. When they hit the softness below, Kairi only gasped in happiness. They couldn't fall through whatever this was. Clouds? Concrete? Who knew!
"I heard it!" Riku scrambled to his feet and stared up frantically.
"What? What?" Kairi cried. Riku looked a little crazed, his eyes darting across the sky as though searching.
"No!" He bellowed. "Damnit! I heard it. I know I did!" He ran his hands through his hair, making his dirty silver locks even messier.
"What did you hear?" Kairi asked, worried.
"Someone called me. some one–"
"Got it!" Riku yelled. And before Kairi could ask, he'd snagged her hand, crushing it in his own. She heard the world thunder around her and light flashed and her eardrums felt like they were going to explode. Air whooshed around her, out of her. Where was this? What was happening. All she could sense was Riku's hand, his body. Nothing else, but her heart was beating to fast, it made her wonder if this truly was the part where she died. She couldn't breathe!
Lightning cracked around and they were in the air.
Kairi shrieked. They hadn't been in the air! What was going on? Her ears were ringing.
Riku was gasping. "Where! Where! Who called me?"
"There!" Kairi whispered, arms straining around the larger boy. It was weird to be hoisting someone like this. Just a few hours ago, she'd been puttering around in the city. Now ... well, she didn't want to think about it.
The two descended shakily, Kairi not exactly stable. She was amazed she'd even been able to stay aloft. There, below, was a strange sight in the whiteness. A purple blob. She'd followed the big scary guy here. He hadn't seen her. It was weird.
"Okay..." she said gently, lowering Riku to his feet, when he stumbled. She gripped his shoulders, trying not to focus on the blood and crust. He was hurting. A lot. "Here we go." She shakily stood up. There it was, a simple thing. A canopied bed, all deep purple, like a plum nestled in a sea of cream. It was a large bed, the simple canopy starting high up on a frame, and wisping down on the four corners.
"Sora?" Riku breathed. He moved forward. There was a small lump on the bed. "Sora!" Riku darted forward. He clambered onto the bed, the sheets slipping. "Sora!" he scrambled over the purpleness toward the small figure.
There! Wrapped in sheets and curled on his side, like a sleeping baby, was Sora. His face was pale, his eyes closed. He was clean, unlike Riku, but he wasn't well. Riku could see lines and cuts slashing cross his face, neck and shoulders. Still pink, still fresh. Like lashings from lightning. Or a very sharp blade. Riku's face hardened and he felt his heart constrict. "Sora..." he repeated softer. "What have they done to you?" He leaned over the prone body. Sora looked dead. For all it was worth, it still made Riku's stomach drop. What if he wasn't alive? Riku touched that pale, waxen face. Was he too late?
Riku's hands shook. "Sora, I'm so sorry," he whispered, leaning in to cover the smaller boy. "I didn't know. I couldn't protect you."
Kairi's eyes were wide, fearful. "Is ... is he all right?" her voice sounded broken.
Riku didn't answer, if he even heard her. Instead, he just pulled back the purple sheets, the layers of softness covering his friend. He winced. Sora's wings were slightly fried, but at least mostly intact. He had bubbling ripples arcing over his arms and legs; more burns. But they were healing. Thank God they were healing!
Riku had imagined the worst of everything. He'd imagined torn limbs, slit lips, a burnt mouth, ways in which Sora couldn't call for him, or cry for help. All Sora had to do was call him, just say his name. Riku felt his eyes burn, his pain intensifying. He leaned over Sora, his own body heat radiating over the prone body. What if Sora hadn't been able to call? Riku wouldn't have been able to come, to save him. What was the point of all of this, if he couldn't save his best friend?
Roxas felt himself shake from within. He was getting that uneasy feeling again. That feeling of confusion, information overload, and terror. Axel still had an arm around him, holding him safe, but from what? Gabriel promised that he was in no danger, that he was important. Well, of course. He was a seeker, wasn't he? Something he hadn't even heard of until yesterday. Yesterday. Wow. Everything was different now. His whole world was reshaping before his eyes. Whoever said ingnorance is bliss wasn't taking immortality into consideration.
Roxas steeled his face, hand gripping Axel's forearm, reassuring himself of the demon's presence. "Why did you punish Axel?"
"Huh?" even Axel was surprised by this. Considering everything Roxas knew now, it seemed strange to not have this vital piece of information. If Axel had been thrown from heaven, Roxas needed to know why. "Roxas..."
Roxas twisted, eyes locking with Axel. Once again, he marveled at the thick, dark eyelashes that outlined those vibrant green eyes. "I don't know if it's was a bad thing, Axel. I ... I know it might be, but I want to know. You were one of us." He wanted desperately to believe that Axel still was a part of his people, but somehow, that seemed wrong. It didn't justify his acceptance of Axel any more than if Axel was proven himself to be a damn saint. Axel was Axel.
Axel's gaze was soft, but shuttered. He looked more feline, with his wary facial expressions. "It was really long ago, you know." Long before you even existed.
"But you'll never forget." Roxas' face was firm.
Axel just stared back, again wondering where this blonde bombshell had come from. "Never," he murmured.
Roxas turned and glared at Gabriel. "Tell me why you threw away an angel like Axel. Tell me now."
Gabriel stood up and looked away, towards Michael.
"Eons, Roxas. It was very long ago."
"What, you don't remember? I think I'd remember something like that. How many angels have been thrown out? I think they taught us that ... in school. A handful, wasn't it? Over all these millennia, only a handful. Not easy to forget. Was Axel the last? Huh?"
Gabriel sighed, gaze meeting Roxas'. "No, he was not. There were two more after him, but many generations apart."
Roxas blinked. "And where are they now?"
"Dead," Axel hissed over Roxas' shoulder. "Have to be. An angel stripped of his wings? Dead."
"And yet here you sit," came Michael's sudden, angry voice. He appeared beside Uriel, face dark.
"You always were special, weren't you Axel?" Michael snapped. "Special enough to seek, special enough to die, special enough to bloody well survive."
"Are you debasing my efforts of self-preservation?" Axel snapped, "Cos let me tell you, Archangel. You ain't got no idea."
"Stop it," Uriel murmured. His voice, still and deep, made them pause. Roxas' uneasiness doubled. There was always something so strange about this Archangel. He was stoic, a little cynical, but mostly just beautiful. And obviously powerful. Controlled. No, in control. "Your bickering is annoying." He stared hard at Axel, then at Roxas. "I will answer your question, but first, do you really want to know, Roxas? Would it matter? Does Axel not already have some piece of you already? Would his history, his past change what you think of him today?"
Roxas blinked. "What?"
Uriel folded his arms, "If you are looking to exonerate Axel, it is too late. We have all lived beyond his actions and our own. Have we not, Axel?"
When Uriel turned his gaze on the demon, Axel's jaw tightened. Roxas thought he would argue, so he was surprised when Axel just turned his head away and stood, hand extending out to Roxas.
"Axel..." Roxas murmured, as he was hauled to his feet shakily. His wings stung and throbbed. He felt so worn out.
"He's right," Axel said, dusting Roxas off. "It doesn't matter in the end." He bent lower to cup Roxas' face in his hands, "If you want to know, I can still tell you."
Roxas looked into those green depths, trying to figure this all out. He felt too tired to even try to understand why Axel was agreeing with Uriel.
Roxas turned. Gabriel had spoken.
"What?" Roxas blurted.
Gabriel sighed. "Twenty-two angels have been cast from heaven. For varying reasons."
Twenty-two? That ... that wasn't very many then. "The Rules?" Roxas asked, staring up at Gabriel.
"Not always," Uriel murmured.
Roxas had a firm hold on Axel's arm, afraid of what the demon was going to do. Gabriel just stared back, face blank as could be. Uriel was staring at Roxas. Roxas shifted uncomfortably.
"You think that because you made up these rules and that they've protected YOUR asses for so long, that they're ok? That no one in heaven gets freedom of choice?" Axel spat out.
"That's not the point," Michael said harshly from beside Uriel. They were both so intimidating, Roxas would've feared them more if he hadn't gotten a promise of sanctuary. "We protect our people. We do not tempt them with the dangers of earth."
"But you punish. You throw some people away if they no longer suit your needs," Axel said this so bitterly that Roxas squeezed his elbow for reassurance.
"You were different Axel," Gabriel said calmly. "We never wanted to lose you."
"Lose me? Are you insane? I was stripped of my wings! You think somehow I fell off a fucking cloud?"
Roxas nodded. "You took his wings," he stared hard at Michael. "You're terrible."
The Archangel didn't even blink. "Punishment suits the crime, Roxas. You'll never understand."
Roxas breathed in. "I don't care what you think he did wrong, Axel isn't a bad person. He just isn't. Look at him! Of all the ones you threw to earth, he survived! Through hell and pain and anguish, Axel made it. What does that tell you about fate?" Roxas turned his angry eyes to Gabriel, the seer.
Gabriel sighed. "I cannot predict the future, Roxas. I only see change, and I only ever see it too late. But you. You, Riku, Axel and Sora, I cannot see. And that alone tells me that you will change things. I saw it centuries ago with Axel. And strangely, I knew it the minute Riku arrived. Do you know how that feels, Roxas? To have a new natural cherub appear, wide aqua eyes and small hands and a gaping destiny? To know almost immediately that his life was to be fraught with danger and change? Riku is the prime example of one who is blessed and cursed. It says something about the future of the world. We couldn't see our world change so much and we couldn't see our baby cherubs go on into a dangerous future."
"You talk about Riku," Roxas said gravely, "as though you've forgotten about Axel. Why? Why is it that Riku was afforded such graces, such privilege, when Axel was not?"
The Archangels stared at him. Roxas glanced at Axel. The redhead's face was hard, set. His long fingers curled around Roxas' shoulders. He was here.
"Axel was a mistake," Michael said.
Just the sound of that word, made Roxas snap his neck back to look into those dangerous eyes. "How can you–!" he barely got out before Michael cut him off.
"Axel has a gift." Michael spat, " Something we thought was unique." he said unique like it was a dirty word. "All he had to do was bring our people home. Guide them to heaven and ensure their safety. But even he couldn't stick to that. A failure is still a failure, no matter what his special talents."
"I did nothing wrong," Axel hissed. "And I've stuck by that."
Roxas realized that he had to know what was wrong here. If Axel had lost his wings, Roxas had just put it down to archaic forms of punishment not practised anymore. But the way Michael said it, it sounded pretty dire. "What happened?" Roxas turned to ask Axel.
"He started the decline. He was killing our people!" Michael snapped. "I could not allow it!"
Roxas ignored him. Axel just sighed. "I was supposed to bring the unnaturals home, right? Bring 'em to heaven, give them the tour, blah blah blah. But it wasn't that easy, you know? I still had to give a choice. They had every right to say no, right?"
Roxas nodded. Made sense.
"I mean, I wanted them home and all, an angel's an angel. But some of them, Roxas, some of them didn't want to come. Some of them wanted to stay back, stay behind." Axel looked genuinely sad then and it made Roxas' heart ache.
"Why?" he whispered.
"Different reasons," Axel ran his hand through his wild hair, then grimaced at the blood crusting on his fingers. He wiped his hand on his pants. "Sometimes, they just didn't want to leave their family. Some were scared. Some just wanted to watch over their kids and others just didn't want to accept that they were, well, dead."
Roxas blinked, "And you didn't force them."
"Big mistake, apparently," Axel growled, glaring at Michael. "considered treason, somehow."
"Your job was to bring our people home, Axel. You knew this. The fact you were hiding the lost ones from us? Allowing them to fester away as spirits on earth? Yes, treason. You were an angel of heaven, honour-bound to your kingdom and you chose to let angels die."
"They don't die, though." Roxas said. "They just kind of fade, right?"
"Yes, but they don't come home either. They don't populate our already dwindling numbers."
Roxas blinked. He glanced at Uriel, then Gabriel. Both were passive-faced. "That's dumb," Roxas said.
"What?" Michael growled.
"He called you a dumbass," Axel snapped.
Michael bristled and Axel stiffened, growling.
"Axel, you're not helping," Gabriel sighed. "Always so impetuous."
"No, it's dumb," Roxas said. "Axel's right. Angels have a choice, just like demons. You can choose to stay behind because you care or because of whatever. It's not his job to force–"
"Yes it is," Michael snapped. "It is his job. He was supposed to bring them back. We needed angels. Instead, he let them perish."
"And you tore my wings off for it. Have you even thought about that these last few centuries, huh?" Axel snapped back. "Have you looked at the damage!" Axel let go of Roxas and turned, showing his malformed back to the archangels. Gabriel breathed deeply and closed his eyes. Uriel just stared at the red misshapen lumps that used to be wings. Axel winced painfully as he retracted his bat-like wings. With them fully gone, the scars looked even worse.
Axel turned back to them. "It nearly killed me. But somehow, it didn't, asshole."
Michael just glared at him.
"So basically," Roxas said, "You punished Axel for being balanced, for allowing freedom of choice."
"For treason," Michael said.
"No." Roxas answered angrily, "Nothing as simple as that is worth such punishment. I refuse to believe it. You still haven't answered my question. Why Riku and not Axel?"
This had been niggling at Roxas all this time. Everyone knew Riku was the prized flight controller. The angel with the unique call. He was special, different. But so was Axel. Why the change in opinion?
The Archangels said nothing.
"I think I know," Roxas murmured, face hard. "You regret what you did, don't you? It must have been a terrible oversight, a loss to the kingdom, when you threw away your only seeker. With Axel gone, who would find the unnaturals? And such punishment? I haven't even heard of anyone alive today who's gone through that. It's such an ancient form of torture, it's disgusting. I bet you were ashamed."
Michael didn't look ashamed. Roxas was pretty sure that once the Archangel decided something was to be done, it could only be done right, and only done with good conscience. Uriel sighed.
"What happened to Axel was unfortunate. No, we don't practice such punishment anymore, but it was a very long time ago."
Gabriel nodded, "Very."
Roxas glared at them all. No excuses.
Gabriel's lips pursed and ... was he smiling? "Pardon me, but my, you certainly have come into angelhood well, Roxas."
Uriel sighed and rolled his eyes. "Really, now?"
Gabriel chuckled, "Yes all right, not appropriate timing. Just an an observation. Those eyes, Roxas. They speak to your power."
Roxas frowned deeper, "What do you mean? What's wrong with my eyes?"
Gabriel just tapped his chin with his index finger. "What colour do you think your eyes are, Roxas?"
The younger angel just blinked. "Blue. They've always been blue."
"And what is the significance of that?" Gabriel asked.
"Roxas," Gabriel steppedcloser, "What type of blue? What matches your eyes best?"
Roxas was beyond bewildered. "What? Who cares? I thought you were saying stuff about–"
"What colour blue, Roxas?" Gabriel pushed.
Roxas stopped, jaw clenched. "I don't know. Sky blue I guess. Same as–" He swallowed. Oh, he'd completely drifted, forgotten.
"Sora," Gabriel finished for him. "Correct. However, your eyes are no longer a pale cerulean, dear Roxas. No, something happened. Whatever it was has affected your physiology. Your eyes have now adopted a much richer, vibrant version of cobalt. Very uncommon colour, don't you think? Reminiscent of storms, lightning, twilight."
Roxas swallowed. Sora. He had to find Sora. Maybe Riku was able to ... Why was he still standing here babbling?
"Again, Roxas," Gabriel intoned, "The significance."
"I don't know!" Roxas bellowed sharply. "Who cares!"
"Only two other angels in history have ever had cobalt eyes, Roxas." Axel said quietly.
Roxas glared at Axel. Was he mad? Who the hell cared about eye colour? Who gave a flying flip? Gabriel had RED eyes, for crying out loud. Freaky. Better he poked his eyes out than listen to this garbage any longer.
But Axel stared back. His sharp gaze pinned Roxas. Was this serious? Then Roxas went over Gabriel's words. Something in his memory bank locked into place like an old rusty cog. The old teachings, the hours from cherub classes. History lessons. Wars. Battles. Demons. Heroes.
Roxas' head turned slowly as his brain figured out what was plainly obvious.
He stared, barely understanding, at both Uriel and Michael. Two of the last three remaining Archangels. Here since the dawn of time. Older than the earth. Stronger than them all. The strongest beings in heaven. Two of the most dangerous creatures to ever cross earth's borders. And they both stared back calmly, unaffected, with identical pairs of cobalt blue eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED.