"I am not deathless. I am trusted," the Angel huffed, flapping around the city in agitation. She didn't have anywhere else to be, and try as she might, she still couldn't find a way to leave the city. She stopped by the hospital to ask if she could help with healing, but was turned away. She didn't wish to return to the castle just yet.
Deathless and not trusted and the only Angel. Anger bubbled in the pit of her stomach.
She had never wondered about other Angels before, but with magic users under suspicion, her mind wandered. It wasn't as if she had anything else to do but think. Everyone knew about Angels. But she was the only one she knew of, and the only one anyone had ever met. She'd heard no stories of them dying out, but in her younger days, she had scoured the clouds and the lands for signs of others. Wherever they were now, they weren't in the sky any longer.
"I'll... I'll just ask the princess about it. She knows about the land of Ooo," she decided and was secretly glad for a valid reason to finally return to the castle. The royal city was repairing itself already, but then again, there had been so little structural damage. The bubbles overhead had already lessened the gray haze considerably, too. It was already looking brighter and cheerier.
As she swooped past a stand selling crystal jewelry, she heard a faint cry. The Angel halted in the air and swiveled around, searching out the sound. It was weak and pitiful, like a kitten, or—a child. Her search took her down several dirty, dark alleyways. But finally, she found the source: a small child. She couldn't tell if it was human or candy or mutated, or even male or female. It was simply small, clothed in what appeared to be a soiled blanket, and had orange-tinted tears running down its cheeks.
It reached up for her with a sniffle, and she couldn't help but reel back at the melted stump of an arm on its left. At once, it noticed her reaction and drew back into itself with a painful cry. "O-Oh my, you poor dear..." She reached out for it, eyes scanning over the child with a sterner gaze. Bloody scrape along one cheek, missing an arm, unhealthy, thin—and then it coughed. Possibly diseased as well. The Angel knelt down, not caring if she stained her dress, and took the child into her lap to check its injuries with her magic.
They were extensive. It had definitely been caught in that blast, but had somehow escaped any and all medical help. It was highly likely that it had been malnourished before as well. Its ribcage was twisted and constricted its organs inside, and its missing arm was on the path to serious infection.
It was dying.
The Angel gasped when she realized it. Its injuries were grave, but she had been hopeful. When she noticed the blackness, though, she knew it was too late. She had seen it in other cases from all over Ooo in victims of various magical blasts. The child snuggled into her chest with soft crying sounds, though it had calmed significantly. It probably wasn't even aware of its fate.
"...Hey, it's okay," she murmured and stroked its stringy hair. "I'll take care of you." She wasn't going to leave it there to literally rot and die, miserable and alone. Cradling it in her arms and pressing her lips to its forehead, she vowed that she'd do everything she could to save it. Just because she was locked into the city, just because there were accusations and distrust, it didn't mean that she couldn't continue to help others.
The war. The Lich. The magic that was still being siphoned out of the city. Princess Candy was rapidly getting a headache, and no amount of chewing bubblegum was going to save her from it. "...Caramel, how has Candy Cane been doing?"
"Ah, well, as fine as always. She just misses you, princess," he said with a fidget.
"Her health—she's been okay, right? No side effects of being out yesterday?"
"You've had the doctor check her twice now. Don't you worry none, princess. Princess Candy Cane is just dandy," Caramel soothed. It did little to assuage her fears, but for the moment... It was better hearing it from someone else. Most of the population had stabilized since the Gumball Guardians were doing their job. The amount of humans left in the royal city was alarmingly low, however. Over half of them had been mutated either partially or fully into other sorts of creatures, and another small fraction had since succumbed to the sickness that came with it. It hadn't been a pleasant surprise to find out that the death had only been delayed.
It was still not as terrible as it could have been, and she was well aware of that fact. But it didn't change that her citizens were dying now.
"How have you been adjusting?" she asked, turning to him with a weary expression. Another blob of red hair fell onto the floor near her foot.
"M-me? Well, I've been finer, truth be told. Not used to all this stickiness all 'round," Caramel said sheepishly, looking anywhere but at her. "But just fine, princess!"
"...I meant about Chocolate."
"I know." She waited him out, and after a lengthy pause, he mumbled, "I'm still getting used to that part. But I know he woulda wanted me to go on, so I am. Simple as that."
"I miss him." Candy looked back out the window at the late afternoon sky. The air was steadily getting clearer. "Peppermint Butler has not returned yet?"
"Not yet, princess."
"Nor Lady Mint or Tartly?"
"No, not yet."
No news was supposedly good news, but it just made the sticky hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. It had been too long. Did she send out a search party? But they were magic users; they could flicker across the map as they pleased. Surely, if they were done, they would have returned... Which meant it all the more worrisome. It hadn't been that complicated of a mission.
She wasn't sure how long the Peppermint Butler would be, either. She didn't know anything about death or his lands, or what his relationship with the candy person was. He'd sounded nervous. Hopefully she would get her citizens back with plentiful information and nothing would go awry.
And hopefully she'd stop losing her hair. Another lock dribbled down the front of her top. Candy frowned, thinking about the troubles all over Ooo. The rainicorns and dogs were still fighting in the crystal dimension, which was both a blessing and a curse. It kept them busy and away from her, but there was valuable energy and allies lost without them. The enemy had begun using crystals from the Chamber of the Crystal Eye as energy, which meant she'd either have to find a new source or fight for control of the area. It was well within her lands, but it wouldn't be a clean or easy victory.
Yes, there was the headache she'd been dreading. With a groan, she pressed her fingers against her temples. "Caramel, I..." That was more than a passing dizzy spell. The world twisted and rocked around her, and suddenly, she was falling away from the window sill and the ground was rushing up to meet her.
"The princess has collapsed!"
"What?" The Angel froze, horrified at the news. The child still slept in her arms. She had arrived back at the castle to plead for more room to spare for it as well as medical treatment, since she couldn't do much more than superficial things. But she had arrived in one of the topmost windows to find the palace in an uproar, worried about the unconscious Candy and crying Candy Cane.
The swan bustled past with another nervous honk. A lady with taffy hair ran past in the opposite direction, arms full of red-stained blankets. The Angel stared after her.
Then, the child in her arms stirred. She jumped and flapped about for a moment, looking up and down the hall. A room, some place to put it where it can be safe. A bed, or a crib, or some place warm and comfortable. She flew down to a lower floor, to one of Candy Cane's extra rooms. Surely it wouldn't be missed for the night, until the commotion settled down and she could explain her situation.
She set the child in the slightly dusty bed; no amount of wiping or brushing could completely get it off. She had to wonder when the last time it had been used for anything was. The castle had so much space, and yet children like this were dying and left alone in the streets... The Angel tucked it in and kissed it on the forehead. It blearily opened its eyes with an incoherent mumble.
"Sleep, my child. I'll be back for you," she whispered and cast another sleep spell. She floated over and retrieved an old stuffed toy and set it gently beside it, though it was almost as large as the child was. It latched onto it with a sleepy sigh. "I'll be back soon. I promise."
She heard the cries long before she found them. "Mother! Mother please, wake up!"
"Candy Cane, please! She'll be alright, you just have to—ow!"
The Angel peeked shyly into the throne room. The royal doctor and several nurses, along with the younger princess and several of the staff, were all circled around what she assumed was Candy. All she could see was a foot peeking out. She flapped higher to better see, and was not the only one to do so; the swan from earlier and a pair of bats in chef uniforms fluttered above them as well.
Caramel finally detached Candy Cane from her mother and led her gently away. At once, only after getting a glimpse of Candy, the Angel swooped down to help calm her. "What's going on?"
"Mother collapsed!" Candy Cane declared with a great sniff.
"She's fine, you hear? The doctor only said her sugar levels were low."
"Do you know when the last time she had candy was?" As the Angel took the crying girl into her arms, one of the nurses came over and drew Caramel aside.
"Well, I'm not sure about that."
"Candy Cane, when was the last time you ate with your mother?" the Angel asked quietly.
"Today... At lunch," she mumbled into her sleeve.
"What did you have to eat?"
"Ham and green things."
"No sugar?" the nurse asked sharply. Candy Cane shook her head. "...Didn't anyone explain to the princess that candy people need to regularly eat sugar?"
"She says she hasn't been craving it any more. Used to crave it like crazy when she was stressed before, but now, all I've seen is her chewin' on bubblegum," Caramel volunteered. "...Come to think of it, I haven't had any desire for eating anything sweet anymore, either."
"But you've been ingesting sugar regularly, right?"
"I've been having after dinner mints here and there when the kitchen staff ain't looking..."
"Yes, Nurse Cream. I'll issue a note to the hospital staff to advice the newly mutated to new diet restrictions. I can't believe we hadn't advised them ear—Princess!" Everyone gasped and took a step back to give her space as the princess finally sat up. Candy rubbed her head, but didn't seem too worse for wear. The Angel let out a relieved breath. "Princess Candy, when was the last time you had any sugar?"
"I haven't been wanting any lately..." she mumbled and ran her wrist across her eyes.
"Candy people don't have cravings for sweetness!" the doctor scolded. "No more than regular humans have cravings for regular food. But you're over sixty-six percent candy person, princess, and I must insist that you change your diet to accommodate this."
"I can't believe no one thought to warn all of the new candy people about this sort of thing," the nurse whispered self-consciously.
"That's okay," Candy Cane whispered back, making him jump. "Most people are born one thing or another, and don't change like this. Mother's alright now, right?"
"Y-Yes," he replied. "Just so long as she eats more candy, she'll be back on her feet in no time."
"I'll make sure she eats lots," the little girl said solemnly. She suddenly looked up at the Angel, nearly hitting her chin. "Angel, come on! Let's go cook something sugary for mother. A cake!"
"I don't know how to make a cake..."
"I do," Caramel said kindly. "I'll help you make a cake for the princess, and all the medical folk can get her sorted out. Boy, I sure do feel lucky that I've been taking those mints now..."
"You should eat some too!" Candy Cane said at once. She jumped out of the Angel's arms and began marching towards the kitchen, swinging her arms as she went. Caramel waved the nurse off and followed behind her with a cheery smile. The Angel floated after them at a slower pace. She was glad this had been nothing but a scare, she really was. She couldn't imagine the Candy Kingdom functioning without a reigning princess. She was glad Candy Cane seemed to be eating regularly again, but as a normal human, she'd have a different diet from her mother from then on. She sincerely hoped the staff realized that in their rush to make sure Candy was alright.
She found the pair in the kitchen along with several wide-eyed kitchen staff, unsure of how to take their quest to bake a cake. The Angel smiled at them, but they didn't seem too keen on her appearance, either. "...What kind of cake are we making?" she asked and floated over to them.
"One with pink frosting!" Candy Cane said excitedly, standing on a stool to reach the higher cabinets. She hadn't noticed it before, but it looked as if Caramel had shrunk some since his transformation into a candy person. The Angel wasn't sure if he was a partial one or a full one now, either.
"How about a chocolate one with pink frosting?" she suggested.
"Yes!" Candy Cane said with a gasp. "Yes, that one! Mother used to really like chocolate."
The Angel mostly stood back and watched, aside from fetching ingredients; after the tasteless soup, Candy Cane didn't seem to trust her around cooking. She didn't particularly mind and instead made sure to keep an eye on them both. The last thing anyone needed was the little girl or head of staff to get hurt in an accident. Her thoughts soon strayed towards the child she had found, however. What was she going to do with it?
The cake turned out alright, at best. It was a little burnt on the bottom and a little crooked and more than a little messy with the frosting on top, but it was cute, in a way. It was most certainly a labor of love. The young princess was proud of it, and even prouder when she got to carry it out into the throne room—just to find that her mother wasn't there anymore.
"Oh, princess—your mother retired to her room for the evening. Doctor's orders," the swan said gently, eyes on the cake. "Did you make that...?"
"C-Come on, princess! You can still bring it to your mother!" Caramel joined in.
"Yes! She could eat it in bed!" the Angel agreed. Candy Cane stared down at the cake in her hands. "...She could eat it for breakfast?"
"She probably wouldn't even like it," she mumbled sourly.
"Nonsense!" the swan honked and flapped his wings. "Princess Candy adores you, and she would love that cake!"
"But she's not even here..."
"She's just in her room. I'll fly you there," the Angel suggested, holding out her arms to her.
Candy Cane maintained her frown. "What if she doesn't like it... She doesn't like candy anymore. She didn't even realize she could have gotten sick or something. What if she just keeps turning into candy? Will she die like the others?" Caramel jumped guiltily, and the Angel couldn't help but mirror his obvious thoughts; how had she found out about the rash of deaths across the city? She had been kept safely inside the castle, away from it. Candy Cane stomped her foot and shoved the cake into Caramel's arms, and he very narrowly avoided dropping it. "I'm going to talk to her about this. She can't keep just disregarding her health because she's busy!"
The Angel and Caramel exchanged a look. It was either incredibly mature or incredibly childish of her, and neither were quite sure which.
"But princess, your cake..." he tried weakly, holding it back out to her.
"I don't want her to eat it. I'll make her a better one tomorrow. It will be the best cake ever, and it will make sure she never collapses like that again. The most sugar ever!" she declared and stomped off. The three left in her wake could only stare after her.
"A young maiden's heart... I'll never understand their rapid changes," the swan said with a shake of his head. "You two know the princesses far better than I... But all of the castle staff are worried. If something like this were to happen again..."
"I'll make sure Candy gets her candy from now on," Caramel vowed with a salute. "And I'll keep myself in tip-top condition to do so. Angel, you keep an eye on Candy Cane."
"Me?" she asked blankly.
"You're good with kids. She likes you, and you don't have to follow Princess Candy around all day."
She thought of the child upstairs once more. "I... suppose I could stay for awhile. I'll have to speak to Princess Candy myself about the matter."
"Let them have their alone time for now," the swan advised and bustled off once more.
"I have a favor to request of you."
She took him upstairs to show him the child—her child. He seemed horrified at first, though by its appearance or how she simply let another child into the castle without anyone's knowledge, she wasn't sure. "But—Angel, how d'you know that wasn't someone's kid?"
"There was no one around. It had just been left there, crying," she said primly, sitting herself on the edge of the bed. She smoothed back its green hair from its forehead. "Caramel, I know enough about magic to know a healthy body from an unhealthy one. This child hasn't eaten properly for days, well before the bomb went off. Just look at it... The poor thing."
"Exactly, look at it, Angel! You can't just be bringin' strays into here all the time. Princess Candy's hair is already falling out from all this!"
"This isn't the first time I've done this."
"But this is the first time you've wanted to keep one. Just look—you don't know a thing about the tyke. No name or family or history, and it's hurt beyond your healin' capabilities, you said so yourself." She hadn't told him that the child was dying. He was a practical man, and she valued his opinion, but her heart wasn't going to be swayed. With all of the lives lost all around Ooo and the Candy Kingdom especially, if she could save just one of the worse ones, she'd have hope for the rest. Who knew? Maybe she could come up with some sort of breakthrough.
"Caramel, please. You said so yourself—I am good with children. Princess Candy Cane is safe here, and so would this one. I can keep an eye on both of them without much trouble. Since I can't leave the city, I want to be able to do some good here."
"You can't leave the city?" he asked, clearly confused.
She sighed and avoided his gaze. She hadn't known that he was unaware of the situation. "I... No magic users can leave the city at this time. Royal orders."
He nodded at once, sympathetic to her plight. "Ah, that's terrible now... I'll see if I can't talk to the princess about this too."
"Concentrate on the child. If I'm here, I won't mind if I can keep it and help it. Help me sway her favor, just this once. This child is one of her citizens as well, no matter how sad of a state it's in."
"...Alright, Angel," he said with a heavy sigh. "It's getting late. I'll go alert some of the staff that the child is here, and tomorrow morning, we can tidy up a bit. Where have you been staying?"
"I'll stay with the child. We could share this room."
"There's plenty of room in the castle, you don't have to—"
"That's why I'd like to stay here! There's room here, and it's safe here, and that's why the children should be here!" she cried.
"I'll... let you stay with the child, then," he said meekly and shrank back. "It's getting late enough, and with all the excitement lately, Candy Cane should be put to bed soon. You can speak to Princess Candy then."
"Ah. Yes, I will..." She still had to win over the princess, but the Angel was confident. She was already confined to the city where her home lay elsewhere. If she could stay with the child and in sight of Candy Cane, then it would be better. Caramel left her, and she looked down at the little thing in the large bed. Its breathing was even, at least. Gathering up her magic, she ghosted her fingertips over its sleeping form once more. Little mends here and there, fixing what she could. The internal damage and the arm couldn't be fixed. She doubted even a great wizard like Licorice could have fixed that. Perhaps science could find some sort of cure, but until then, she'd trust in the power she had access to, however limited.
She kissed it goodnight once more. It murmured in its sleep. She really would have to find out if it was a little girl or boy, and soon, and a name if she could. It didn't appear to be able to speak properly, though she wasn't sure if that was due to its age or some other problem.
The Angel closed the door quietly behind her and floated down the hallway, thinking. She was worried about the princesses. Candy Cane seemed upset about her mother's change, and Candy herself wasn't dealing well with any of the war as of late. At least they were aware of the diet change now. It surely wouldn't be too difficult of a matter to ask to keep one small child in such a large palace, but even if it was... She would stay elsewhere. The shield would have to lift to magic users eventually. Perhaps she could stay another night or two with the Flower Witch.
"Where are you going?" She jumped high enough in the air to hit her head on the ceiling. She recognized the voice, but she didn't process it until her eyes landed on him, staring up at her with a blankly surprised expression.