· · · · · · ·
Just an angel without heaven, Rokuna had told Zaha not too long ago. Turns out, angels without heaven was a job position in itself. Though he had heard the Four Elemental Angels referred to as rulers, he had always thought this was just a sign of respect, much like Sophiel was considered a princess while the actual power lay with the Sanhedrin. There were many, many things that Zaha had always thought without really thinking them over. Those things tended to have an appendix.
Right the next day, the (no longer Four) Elemental Angels called a meeting to discuss their new dynamics and what this meant for their realms.
He left Orthros and the cub above, and with Ruth Zaha passed the entrance of the subterranean castle in Liba Sanctuary, descended through wide crystal passages, spotted servants from the corner of his eyes and saw just how much grandeur was hidden here. It was almost as if she had an actual royal court. Ruth couldn't resist and vanished, doubtlessly to explore in depth.
The castle was grown entirely from ruby and other red and orange gems. Transparent pillars supported a roof so far up that Raanan could move around here even in his second form. Basins with white, holy fire were drifting in each hall and provided the light that reflected in all directions through the gemstone. It was dark in here, yet never unclear because the light carried so far. These basins were located on floating rock ... from the cloud islands?
As he looked around sharper, he realized there were some traits of water too in the form of small canals aside of each hall or chamber. The floor of certain rooms he passed was entirely blanked.
Any way to dismiss this all as extravagance on behalf of the Shining Flame Angel was crushed when he arrived in the hall he was told to go. It was a nigh duplicate of the Elysian Sanhedrin.
Ruth popped up again. "Hey Zaha, this place is awesome! I can hardly believe she's got this whole court down here! There's even a spy network — not as good as me, mind you — and living charts and golems and green wind pendulums and telescopes and —"
"Ruth, I get the picture."
"You do? Cause this whole place looks like — oooh, thrones!"
The hall was perhaps miles wide and at its center stood six pillars in crystal colored to match the elements. The thrones at their roots faced inward, forming a circle. As he approached, he could see Tzadkiel and Harudha stand at their center, dwarfed by the thrones alone, if not the pillars already.
Each pillar had a soft glow coming from within that originated in these thrones and they bore symbols and carvings that reflected the elements. Fire and water, opposite of each other, had subtly differing waves : one representing flames, the other flowing water. The earth and sky thrones had symbols in clutters, one for clouds and their winds, the other for earth and its cracks.
Only the light and dark thrones had no resembling symbols. The twists of darkness didn't match the straight rays of light. Even the thrones themselves were different, the dark one spikey and bony, the holy one with smooth edges similar to Elysian buildings. Who ever had designed this hall blatantly subscribed to the war interpretation of Lendir and Dervis's balance.
So much for being a guardian angel by blowing crap.
To Zaha, it felt like he'd just been made aware that what he had been avoiding had been on his shoulders all along and that it had a tail. He landed with the two angels, who stopped talking when they saw him.
"Tzadkiel, Harudha, what is this all supposed to mean?" he snapped, making broad gestures at the thrones.
Tzadkiel scratched behind his head and grinned uncomfortably.
"Well, uhm, this is our court room."
Zaha covered his eyes with a hand and fought to remain calm.
"Dammit, nobody told me I was going to be an actual overlord!"
"Yeah, looks like you were angsting about the wrong thing the entire time," Ruth said with a gleeful tone. "Seriously, you don't need to worry about betraying anyone in a weak moment, you'll have plenty of new and much easier ways to let people down!"
"I know," Zaha groaned. He dropped his hand.
"Don't worry, Zaha, you can't possibly be as disastrous as your predecessor. Just take it easy, don't start any wars and it'll be fine," Tzadkiel said with sickening cheer. Zaha repressed an impulse to whack him, or at least shout at him.
"Huh? Asmodeus was a failure but not a disaster. You mean you guys acknowledged Sonneillon or some other?" Ruth asked.
"Sonneillon was our previous Darkness Angel, but it was not us who appointed him and we didn't really—," Harudha said.
"Never mind that! Why didn't you tell me what exactly it means to be an Elemental Angel?"
"Didn't Shiru call you to help the Mon Colle Knights exactly because we couldn't do anything out of those political responsibilities?" Harudha asked, looking at him skeptically.
"That wasn't an excuse? I'll be damned if I ever let political nonsense stop me from saving anyone!"
Tzadkiel sighed, but Harudha smiled lightly. "Well, I do believe we have already proved our policies are subject to change, Zaha. Do not worry, we are not likely to ask you to stand by idly when there is not a very good reason."
As if he'd listen if they ever asked him that. Zaha was about to tell them so when he noticed the atmosphere alter.
If there was one magical resonance that Zaha always recognized, it was Shiru. The ruby colors around them shifted to golden and a touch of green. She entered not long after in the company of Yabbashael and Lazai and appeared just as surprised as Zaha had been.
"You really want us to take these roles already?" she asked when the six joined company.
Wait, what, they hadn't already taken them? Or was accepting the Terror Dragon not mark enough? Pandæmonium acknowledged him too ... just what was this about, did being an Elemental Angel mean something different for everyone? Zaha gritted his teeth and reminded himself to not jump to conclusions again.
"Yes, for as far as certain duties are concerned," Lazai said. "The four of us will train you to the best of our ability."
"I know this looks bad, throne hall and all, but I assure you we're not going to be using this place often. Most of them time, we're playing the part of the hidden overseers, no judging or law making required. We'll leave that to the individual kingdoms, all we do is keep wars from breaking out. It's just that before you can settle down and take things easy with energy streams and animal management, you need to strike up relationships with every tribe of your element," Tzadkiel said with a grin.
Zaha swallowed a swearword.
Shiru held up a hand and said, "With all due respect and placing aside that I have no true backing from Elysium, you just decided to not tell me and Zaha about this before deciding on this?"
"Look, do we really need to state the obvious again? We didn't put you in these roles, it was fate."
"I'm speaking expecting us to play a defined political role. Elysium considers Sophiel the Lendir Elemental Angel and they have made no offer to help either Zaha or me transform. It is clear what their stance is."
"That's why we're not going to tell them that Zaha is taking up the political side of the job or that you are being trained at all."
Shiru closed her eyes for a moment and Zaha badly wanted to know what exactly she was thinking. She seemed to have a better grasp of what went on, at least. She opened her eyes again and calmly said, "Alright, where do we start?"
This was Lazai's cue to launch into a long, long chain of complicated duties, all delivered in such a monotone that Zaha thought she herself was bored with it. He preferred to learn by practice (this was personally directed code for needing time to sort his thoughts out, though he was getting better at catching his mind giving excuses to himself).
Barely a few minutes in, Zaha walked off to his throne, ignored Yabbashael urging that he pay attention.
Like with the rest, there was a stairs leading up to the throne, presumably if anyone wanted to speak in private with any of the rulers. The seating area was on a wide platform atop and looked stony enough. On either side of it were empty basins, where the other thrones hear flames, fog, greenery and streaming water.
Zaha looked at the opposing throne, which was the brightest of the lot, but like his, it did not source any elemental activity. The area between the thrones sported the telltale Six Gates seal and the thrones of light and dark were located of the tips that aligned with the two outer circles. It was like they were given special attention as opposites.
Yeah, well, that was not acceptable.
He drew his sword, flew across the stairs and drove the blade into the rock, carefully calculated to cause just the right explosion. Black fire burst the throne and the chair part was propelled straight up. Sheating his sword, Zaha dove under it and braced his back against it. He smirked when he realized that yes, he could carry this much into the air. That smirk vanished quickly when he nearly lopsided.
While he had the power to keep several tons worth of rock in the air, keeping the cargo in balance was another thing altogether. He couldn't fly entirely horizontal if he wanted to use his arms to keep the thing steady, and the brittle lower side leaned unsteady on his back and armored wings.
Wobbliness was not natural to Zaha, so he had little experience in the way of dealing with this state. He swung around more to any of the other thrones than the one he was trying to reach.
"Zaha, is there a problem?" Lazai asked.
"Yes! This thing is on the wrong side of the circle."
"Put back that throne, you can't do this!" Tzadkiel yelled.
"Yes, I can," he said matter-of-factly as he wobbled another few meters towards the other throne, before having to stop again lest he lose balance.
"Any time now," Yabbashael said.
"This is not acceptable, Zaha! You have to learn to control yourself," Lazai said, still sounding dry.
"Shut up! Weren't you waxing about how great it was we got along not too long ago? Guess what, I'm going to not get along with you making a fuss about a tiny seating problem. If I'm going to sit on any thrones, then I'm sitting aside of Shiru. End of discussion!"
"Zaha, just a tiny thing, but that throne's back was part of a supporting pillar," Yabbashael said as she teleported away.
The ceiling came down right after with a thunderous crash.
Zaha threw the the throne off of his back and shot towards Shiru, but before he reached her both of them were teleported clear of the collapsing pillar.
As they flashed back into solid form, he saw the entire Dervis pillar had crumbled and taken along part of the two that flanked it, the Gringul and Ariaolo pillars.
"Well, that's just wonderful, Zaha," Tzadkiel grumbled.
"Oh don't fret, my dear, I can fix this easily," Yabbashael said as she dusted herself off, then started to glow softly and raised her hands towards the rubble.
"Well, I suppose we were ready for a redecoration. The circular shape meant half of us won't see the face of who ever we were judging," Lazai said.
"Yabbashael, this plan I'd prefer to be actually worked out before you begin," Harudha added quickly.
"Aww, but I already have a great idea!" the girl said, lowering her arms and energy a little. Harudha raised an eyebrow and sternly looked down at her.
"Alright." Yabbashael kept to smoothing out the rubble so there were seven relatively usable seats in the pile of rubble. Two were close together, and Ruth was mightily amused with the tiny throne aside of those. He was the first to sit down. The other four angels followed suit.
Shiru looked puzzled for a moment when she realized they were really going to have their first formal meeting in this state od disrepair, then smiled and took her seat. Zaha sat down last. Now he looked over the mess, the broken floor and damaged pillars, he regretted. As usual.
"Have you ever wondered what happened to all the previous elemental angels, our Shining Flame Angel aside?" Harudha said when all were comfortable.
Zaha had heard some tales but had never cared much. He cast a glance at Ruth, who eagerly said, "Ooh, info dump? Bring it on, let's see how it matches with the Beggar Chain's library!"
"Omniel was the first elemental angel of Lendir, Asmodeus the first of Dervis. Under their rule, the saint and demon realms grew apart, but the war didn't truly start until the second ruler of Dervis, Sonneillon, took the position. After him and Omniel, there haven't been any Lendir and Dervis angels for millenniums."
"We got that so far in our libraries," Ruth said. "Not much though on what happened to Omniel and Sonneillon. Some say Reda was involved in Sonneillon's demise, is that true?"
Lazai nodded, yet said, "No."
"Sonneillon is defeated but not dead. He was sealed some time after Omniel's defeat. I worked together with Asmodeus and a team of skilled casters. Reda, still was an angel back then, was part of this team."
"He's not dead ... well, damn. That's some news right there. So, Reda's not an Elemental Angel? I know he wasn't one of you, but ..."
"No. He was only the political leader in so far as that he possessed the heart of the demon realm. He didn't exactly care for keeping the peace or improving the energy flow. That's one thing that really sets apart what we do from conventional government. We don't govern a state of people, we govern a state of nature and this just happens to sometimes entail kingdoms and tribes.
We let our subjects have their own rules as they seem fit, but we step in when things get out of hand and threaten the energetic balance. We stay as neutral as possible. They can't rebel, because there is nothing to rebel against. No universal laws that conflict with tribal customs, no flawed justice."
"With no court or written laws, how do you suppress anything at all?" Ruth asked.
"We can make things transform by will, for one thing. Large armies? We just shrink down the key forces to the size of a mouse. There's a number of creatures immune to that ability, so we also have instant sleep spells, matchless teleportation, certain healing or drainage powers and so on. It doesn't matter how strong or numerous political dissent is, we can just cancel it out before any confrontation happens. Most of the time, we use this to force a war between tribes to end. Since we have no courts ourselves, rather we stand for the elements themselves, we have no kingdom anyone from within the element can effectively attack. Yes, we have ultimate control, but in return we have no glory or riches.
What Omniel and Sonneillon did was step beyond those boundaries. A lot of those powers are moot when it comes to the demon realm, and an equal number would not get in the way of the holy realm. Omniel got ideas of holy superiority, while Sonneillon believed things needed to be stirred up — violently — to keep balance in the world. That was Sonneillon's way of saying he wanted to be entertained. Omniel claimed virtue, but he wanted the glory."
Shiru sighed. "In other words, we are not only inexperienced, we're walking in the steps of a very poor legacy. Would it be too much to hope the Mon Colle Knights will effect another miracle?"
"The thing with miracles is that they are exceptional because they are rare. Perhaps they will, or perhaps they'll grow old and die while we still struggle to bring peace," Lazai said.
"Let's not get depressive, please," Tzadkiel said. "So far, you two only have to deal with the tribes. I'm sure you'll find that being big and intimidating is going to get you far with the demons, we'll see about Shiru and the holy tribes."
Zaha felt Shiru's arm hook through his, he wasn't sure whether she sought support of offered it. Whatever it was, the gesture stopped him from snapping, and he took a moment to think over what he said next.
"You really have no clue what you're talking about, do you?" Zaha said. "Just because I'm not good at politics doesn't mean I can't recognize how something works. The demon realm's government isn't half as primitive as you seem to think and it's not something I should be messing with."
"Yeah, you four can just keep order by hopping across your realm and dealing with tribes that never meet. It's not gonna work in the demon realm, place is too tightly knit," Ruth added. "On top of that, demon isn't just an element, but a species that spans across five elements, yet they all come to the demon realm cause they've got no home in yours. That makes for a big, complex network to keep everyone from killing themselves over food and land."
An uneasy silence fell.
"I suppose we should work on integrating those demons a little more into our realms," Lazai said eventually.
"That's a start," Zaha said, forced since he didn't see a way to improve things.
"Moving some of the holy tribes into heaven would be preferable as well," Harudha said.
"Heaven has no earth, it's not exactly a welcoming location." Shiru looked up, though there was only the dark ceiling. "They can't live there."
"I'd say, Shiru, leave Elysium aside for now and worry about the other tribes. I shall see whether I can reach support from the angels of Imlé," Tzadkiel said. "I'll also see whether I can arrange some lands for Marduk and his people. Say, is Pazuzu still under that seal with Bahamut?"
"Yeah, he is," Ruth said.
"We'll work on that too. Zaha?"
"Fine, I'll talk to the demon tribes ... but ... is there any way I can do this without looking like the next evil overlord in Elysium's eyes?"
"Yes, you and Shiru could get married. That would really be good promotion for our holy demon peace efforts!" Yabbashael said happily.
He felt Shiru tense up, and he quite agreed, so he snapped, "We're getting married on our own therms, not yours."
Yabbashael's smile vanished and she blinked. "I just thought you would like to marry as soon as possible. Why not?"
Tzadkiel opened his mouth, but Harudha put her hand before it. "Not right away, and we won't force you. Anytime within the next year will do. Now let us digress and start with our first lesson."
"And what would that be?"
Yabbashael clapped her hands once. "Why, the first and foremost asset of any elemental angel, off course! Dragons! Elemental dragons help channel the energies of the realm, attend to the seasons and other shifting natural phenomena, and they're our military if we ever need one. If you're lucky like me, great architects too. You'll love what me and my dragons will do to this place!"
Lazai stood up. "Zaha, where is your dragon?"
"Up with Orthros," Zaha said. He whistled and almost at once Orthros came running into the halls. On his back was the Terror Dragon cub, clutching to the fur with newly grown tentacles. Zaha flew to them, petting Orthros on the heads before lifting the cub.
"Your lesson one is about controlling your dragon well enough to make it —"
"— her perform specific spells on command."
"We could try the Black Hole first, perhaps?" Shiru suggested. "Rokuna said there might still be a monster stuck in there. How about we take a look?"
"Excellent idea!" said Tzadkiel as he jumped up. Zaha feared that Tzadkiel would turn out to be one of those childishly overenthusiastic people once he got to know him beyond "that big guy who hovers behind the fire angel".
"What kind of a monster are we looking for?" Harudha asked.
Shiru took to explaining. "Some sort of spirit named Narrator. The Mon Colle Knights say they sometimes heard him talk to them while in our world. I asked one of their friends about it, Beginner. She confirmed its existence and that he could even physically manifest. She didn't know of any True Name though and insisted he's just off somewhere behind the Fourth Wall, whatever that may be."
"Maybe the Fourth Wall is some barrier she is sensitive to, and she's noticing the spirit stuck inside the Black Hole?"
"Quite possible. The girl is well meaning but not all that aware of the world around her," Shiru said. "Zaha, do you think a True Name is needed to summon it?"
"According to her memories, Reda could, but whatever spell he used was silent and through his mask. I can't replicate it and she can't perform it herself." Now he mentioned memories, she recalled something specific. Someone had enchanted her to make sure that even if she wanted to liberate anyone, she could not effect it without command. There were an awful lot of spells in place to keep her a serviceable tool. Zaha decided to eventually fix that.
"Why don't you open it anyway?" Lazai said.
Zaha nodded. "Move out of the way, lest you're sucked in."
The other angels moved to the edge of the hall, while Zaha set down the cub before him.
"Black Hole!" he shouted. The spell moved the dark energy and he felt his power synchronize with the dragon.
Making an odd bubbly sound, the cub stretched her neck up. A tiny a tiny black hole whirled open above her head, barely half a meter wide.
The six angels and the one imp were back in range at once, easily able to resist the pathetic pull of the hole.
Tzadkiel scratched the back of his head yet again. "It's ... something."
Zaha cursed below his breath and the cub noticed his displeasure, but only managed to expand it till about a meter wide.
"That's all she can do? Oh dear, with those wings of his I believe we'll need to do some wrenching to get him through," Yabbashael muttered.
Harudha smiled and said, "I think lesson one will take all day, but it should be fairly simple. Here's your task, have her keep open the Black Hole for as long as it takes you the explore the inside of it."
"Hold it, what? The inside of it?"
"It's not infinite, I think, you can have a look around. We'll just tie something around you in case you get lost."
"I don't even know whether I can see inside, if there's anything to see, or what I'm looking for!"
"Unless Ruth here knows more than we do, this is our best shot to find that missing monster," Yabbashael said.
Zaha looked at Ruth, but the imp just shrugged and shook his head. "Got rope though."
Ruth produced said rope from his pocket dimension and started tying it around Zaha's arm. Tzadkiel took the other end.
Just wonderful. The start of his reign of (benevolent) darkness would start with diving into a tiny hole, tied to a rope.
· · · · · · ·