The lamentation of fallen angels
The Keres came like an endless tide. Xyanthe and I were separated shortly after the battle began. I couldn’t pick out anyone I recognised from the swarm of Daimones, mortals, and Aletheia. They moved too fast for me to think, all I had to rely on was instinct. My mind was focussed on keeping the Keres back, killing one and moving onto the next. The rose-coloured light of Eosphoros’ star lit the field of battle, guiding me to my next target. I speared down a Keres bearing down on me from the air. As she fell, my spear caught in her chest. I was forced to the ground, tumbling back with her body on top of me. I pushed her limp body off and tried to pull my spear out. I ducked as a talon whistled through the air above me. I turned and another Keres tried to lunge for me again. She raised her talon again, before a spear erupted from her throat, spraying me in ichor.
“Are you ok?”
A woman asked, her light hair plastered to face with sweat and ichor. I nodded and managed to free my spear form the dead Keres. She nodded back and disappeared into the battle, lost in the screeches of the Keres and the shouts of mortals. Despite the battle, I marvelled at how the mortals had come to our aid. They knew the danger and were fighting as hard as they could against it. The determination on their faces and the ferocity in their eyes was the first time I had seen them with so much emotion. It gave me the drive to carry on. To run the gauntlet of Daimones and divine powers to defend them. I side-stepped another talon and speared a Keres through the chest. Rolling forward, I threw my spear into the back of another, which was towering over a man, who was shaking in fear. I pulled out my spear and held out my hand.
“You’re not alone, come with me.”
The man nodded and took my hand. Keres were approaching from behind him. I pulled the mortal toward me, out of their reach. I lifted my spear, ready to defend him from the coming hoard. Small orbs of light reduced them to ash as Eosphoros danced into view.
“You’re late. I almost had to take them down myself.”
“Should I be worried that you can make jokes in the middle of battle?”
He grinned. With the mortals behind me, my love with me, and the adrenaline in my viens, fear couldn’t touch me. I pulled him toward me and kissed him. Eosphoros took my hands as we broke apart.
“Can you take this man back to the shelters? He doesn’t have a weapon.”
Eosphoros buckled and howled in pain, his grip squeezing my fingers.
“Eosphoros? What’s wrong?”
I asked, trying to keep him upright. He howled in pain, the light of his star fading above us, and convulsed as if someone were whipping him.
He managed between spasms of pain.
“It’s alright. It’s alright.”
I held him. As the last of the light faded I could see the Keres closing in, they could smell out weakness. The swords of the Alethiea glinted in the corner of my eye as the last of the light died away. I knew they couldn’t hold back all of them, after what had happened I still didn’t trust them either. My hands ached with Eosphoros’ tight grip, I couldn’t fight like this. I didn’t know what had changed the tide. My elation evapourated as the darkness left me blind with Eosphoros’ screams filling my ears. The grip of talons pulled us apart. I kicked and screamed against them, I wasn’t going to let these monsters win. The hilt of a sword hit my head and lights dotted my vision. In my daze, the grip of the talons went limp and the Keres screech pierced my ears.
I said, my speech slurred. I felt someone pull me into their arms.
“No. It’s Xyanthe. What happened?”
I couldn’t see her face but I could hear the fear in her tone.
“Something happened, I don’t know but he was in pain. I can’t hear him. Where is he?”
I shook my head but my mind remained clouded.
“What do we do?”
Xyanthe clutched me tightly, the sound of gnashing teeth closing in.
“I…… I will hang on.”
I breathed. I found her hand in mine and squeezed it. No matter how hard I tried, my consciousness slipped away.
Xyanthe whispered. I had no choice but to give in to the darkness.
Cronus braced to keep his footing on the wet stone. Thunder roared overhead and the spray soaked him. The wind made it difficult to walk, despite the Aletheia using their wings to shield their master. Cronus had searched for too long to be deterred, the strongest storms wouldn’t keep him from his Queen. After months of hiding, he could sense her and she was close. He walked past Eurybia, curled up on the stones and screaming in pain.
“For all of your interference, there isn’t even a bow for your king? You’re fortunate I have more pressing matters to attend to.”
He said, looking down at her in distaste.
Eurybia gasped as her body convulsed in pain. Cronus left her where she was, he would make sure she was punished after Rhea was back where she belonged. He climbed the rocks to the cave mouth. The screams of Rhea’s labour got louder as Cronus approached, he wasn’t too late. As he pulled himself up onto the ridge, Iris ran from the cave and froze when she saw the king. He smiled as the Alethiea either side of him drew their swords. Iris wrapped her arms around herself against the wind.
“How nice of you to defend your queen, little bird.”
“I…. I….. I…..”
Iris stammered, her eyes wide with terror. Cronus sauntered closer, his eye’s gleaming with malice.
“Arke misses you, she doesn’t stop talking about you. Just let me pass and I might let you see her again.”
Cronus had to shout over the howling storm. Iris’ hold around herself tightened as she backed away. As he took another step towards her, Iris bolted past Cronus. He slipped on the wet stone as she pushed him aside and started her downward climb to the beach. By the time he was back on his knees, she was a shadow in the veil of rain and wind.
“Hunt her down! I don’t want anyone to escape the island.”
Cronus commanded, he would not tolerate any futher disrespect. The Alethiea bowed their heads and chased after Iris, their swords raised. Cronus stood and smoothed out his chiton, Iris’ transgressions could be dealt with later. He had more pressing matters to attend to.
When he entered the cave, Rhea was lying on the ground propped up against one of the logs. The large space was only lit with a small fire, crackling in the centre of the open space. The Queen was covered in blankets, but it was the swadled bundle in her arms that his gazed fixed on. Rhea sat in silence as the fire crackled between them. Her gaze didn’t give away any shock or fear but her knuckles were white, holding onto the bundle in her arms.
“I’ve missed you dearest.”
Cronus said. Rhea’s eyes narrowed at his charming smile.
“You’re not having him.”
“So, we have another son.”
“I have a son, Cronus.”
“Dearest I appreciate this must have been stressful but you have to think rationally.”
Cronus said in a light tone. He paced around the fire, that sizzled where rain dripped from his hair and chiton. Rhea leaned away as he approached, holding the bundle close.
“I told you. You would be alone in the end. Iris has abandoned you and I am all you have now. Hand him to me”
He stood over her but she was determined to keep her child. Her hand protectively huddled the baby’s head into her shoulder.
“Please Cronus. This has to end. Leave Zeus be…………”
Rhea’s plea was cut short as Cronus kicked one of the log benches across the cave. The log crashed and splintered against the cave wall.
“How many times Rhea? There is so long I can suffer this insolence!”
Cronus shouted, not noticing one of her hands tentatively drifting to the floor at her side.
“You can intimidate me all you like. I’m not giving him to you.”
Rhea said. Cronus ran his hands down his face and crouched on his haunches next to her.
“My love. Do you see what this does to me? I’m not trying to intimidate you. I want what is best for us.”
“All you have done is lie to me. I heard you and Moros, you never intended to let our children free.”
“If it wasn’t for your over-reaction I could have explained.”
Cronus placed a hand on her cheek. Rhea fought the urge to flinch away, so his attention was distracted from her free hand.
“I couldn’t let Daimones know that we had found a way around the prophecy. I had to keep them at bay. You remember what they made the world into? You see why you were so selfish?”
His gaze scanned her face looking for any sign of approval. Rhea gave him the slightest nod. She kept her eyes on him, conscious of not attracting attention to her hand. She had almost finished drawing the leaf symbol that would summon Themis. She just had to keep him talking and then they could get away. Cronus smiled, his thumb tenderly brushing her cheek.
“I knew you would. I can’t live without you, Rhea. I strive to be perfect, to not be pliable to the Daimones. But you make me give in to my weaknesses, my love. You make me feel things I shouldn’t, want things I shouldn’t. You must understand, you must.”
Rhea turned her head away. She froze when he took hold of her arm and held her free hand. Cronus held her hand gently, his eyes fixed on hers. Rhea hid her relief that he hadn’t noticed her call for help.
“I can see you’ve missed me too.”
“This isn’t right. You tried to kill me, our child.”
“I was desperate. Please, Rhea. We can still make this work. Once our family is together and safe, we can have everything.”
He whispered kissing her fingertips. This was too familiar for Rhea. She remembered when they were younger, a time when her husband had been caring and tender. A part of her, that begged for his love in her dreams, yearned to give in.
But under her other hand she felt the blankets that swaddled her child. She didn’t deserve this and her children hadn’t deserved what happened ot them either. She knew the horrific monster that lay below the façade. Rhea balled the hand Cronus held into a fist, untwining his fingers from hers.
“Leave us be Cronus. To the realm, I am still missing. You can rule and I will have my children.”
“No. no, I know we can’t live without each other. You will be with me”
His fingers had gone still, a tinge of his menace returned. Rhea steeled her gaze and pulled her hand away.
In a single word, Rhea had never felt so free. The ties binding her to him slipped away, she had faced this shade and wouldn’t be beaten back. Rhea wouldn’t beg for her life anymore, Cronus would not keep her from what she wanted. Rhea boldly tried to finish the symbol in the ground next to her. He frowned at the movement of her arm.
“What are you doing?”
Rhea skittishly moved her hand faster. Cronus leaned across Rhea and grabbed her wrist. He pulled her hand up and saw the incomplete leaf symbol beside her. He rubbed the lines of her salvation away.
“Who were you calling for?”
Cronus said through gritted teeth. Rhea pursed her lips and pulled her wrist free. His nostrils flared and his face twisted into a hateful scowl. She held her child to her chest with both arms. Her eyes were trained on the torque around his arm, which had begun to glow.
“Why is it never enough?!”
Cronus roared. He stood and kicked another log with such force it exploded into another shower of splinters against the cave wall. Rhea shrunk back at his aggressive outburst, protecting the bundle in her arms.
“First my father! And now you! At every turn I try to be perfect. I try to make something perfect. Anything I did was never good enough. I was always the smallest. I was always useless. When I became king, I vowed I would make what he sought. I would make something more perfect than he could. Not only would I achieve what he wanted, but I would surpass it and make it my own!”
Rhea didn’t balk at his rage, she was done caving in to his darkness.
“You think this is the way? Our children are alone in the dark realms. You used our brothers, our sisters, and you used me. Are such blights really what you want to build the realm on?”
“Those Daimones, and their emotions, are what blight this world! They make weakness and I do what I can to make a realm filled with those who are above their influence! Why don’t you understand?! Why am I the only one who appreciates that?!”
“Because you are the only one too weak to see anything else!”
Rhea shouted back. She now saw the full extent of Cronus’ madness. The man she knew, the husband she loved, had been consumed by it, leaving only this shell behind. Her resistance made him pause. His eyes became blank, the torque shining golden light.
“I can’t protect this realm if I don’t have you. If I can’t convince you, then fine. You are coming back with me today. I will have my queen by my side, whether you want it or not. I will not lose everything I have built.”
There was an unsettling calm to his voice as Cronus crouched back down. The lack of emotion in his tone sent a cold shiver down Rhea. He had been angry, or threatening, or apologetic but she had never seen him so detached. She tried to hold the bundle close but he held her arm fast. With his other hand he grabbed her hair and brought her head back. Rhea tried to resist but his grip was too strong. Golden light snaked its way around his throat. Cronus leaned forward and kissed the bundle. The contact from his lips rippled golden light around the blankets. Rhea closed her eyes as the weight in her arms faded away, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“You are going to learn that your choices have consequences.”
Cronus whispered into her ear as he let go. Before Rhea could reply, his arms were around her again. Rhea couldn’t resist as golden light enveloped the both of them. Taking her back to the life she had shed, back to a routine that ebbed her very soul.
Astraea desperately clung to the façade of her tower, she screamed as pain lashed across her back. Her grip slipped as she tried to focus on just holding on. She didn’t know what had changed. They had been fighting the Keres back; the exaltation of the star’s energy in her viens. Then the stars had gone quiet and darkness surrounded her. She couldn’t fly with the pain, it was as if she were being lashed. It had taken all of her strength as she fell from the sky to grip onto a nearby window. Astraea pressed herself against the stone, hoping that she would be invisible. In this state she couldn’t defend herself.
A black talon embedded itself in the masonry beside her, Astraea turned her head away from the stone and dust that was sent flying as the talon was wrested free. The fire of power in her veins had been replaced by the ice-cold chill of fear. Astraea closed her eyes, waiting for the next blow to come.
She expected to think of her family in these last moments, or what she had achieved in her life. But all she felt was regret, her efforts to fit into a life she thought she would be proud of were meaningless now.
Her grip was faltering, Astraea knew she wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer. Another spasm of pain loosened her fingertips from the window ledge. She closed her eyes, feeling weightless in the air.
“I’ve got you.”
Her father said through gritted teeth. Astraea felt the shower of ichor as he forced the Keres back. He took her hands and pushed them back onto the ledge. He put his own hands on top of hers, sandwiching Astraea between the tower and himself. Another spasm of pain shook the both of them, what had afflicted her had gotten to her father too. She only allowed herself a moment of relief. The violet lines on her father’s arms were fading to a pastel colour, dawn was approaching and her father would be powerless.
She turned on the ledge and put her arms around him. Over his shoulder she saw the Keres closing in. The darkness made them more ferocious. They knew they had the upper hand and were taking their time. She buried her fists into the fabric of his chiton as another lance of pain struck her. She felt Astraios tense with the pain too.
“I love you.”
She whispered, atleast she would not face the next world alone. The first Keres charged towards them.
Her father said as she closed her eyes. A high-pitched screech made her look up again. A long wooden spear protruded from the Keres’ chest, it’s talons batting at the weapon in shock. Another spear flew through it’s left wing and another met its mark in her face, sending the daimone spiralling to the ground. Astraea watched as more Keres were struck down with spears. She looked around for her saviour and saw in the windows of the tower were the mortals.
In the heat of battle, she hadn’t thought of them. She had assumed they had taken shelter in the recesses of the palace. More spears kept the tide of Keres back.
“Father, the mortals.”
He looked up at the windows in wonder.
“I see them…”
Astraios gritted his teeth as another wave of pain struck the two of them. They still couldn’t move, cornered against the tower. Astraea held her father and watched as the Keres were speared down. With a sinking feeling in her gut, she could see their focus had changed. Their black eyes trained on the windows above them, the hunger in them made her shiver. She could see that, to the Daimones, the mortals were a delicacy, not an enemy.
“Dad, we have to help them. We need to get them out.”
Astraios shook his head, the violet curves on his skin fading in the dawn light.
“We haven’t the power. I don’t know how much time I have left. We need to go while we can.”
Astraea was interrupted when a scream broke out from one of the windows. A Keres had broken through the wave of spears and reached the tower. The daimone scrabbled on the window ledge, the lintel too narrow for its wings to fit through. The Keres shuddered and went still. As the Keres fell from the window above, Astraea could see the wounds in its face and chest.
“We have to go.”
Astraois insisted. He wrapped his arms around her waist and leapt into the air. Astraea couldn’t take her eyes off the windows as he took her higher and higher, watching the faces of countless mortals passing her by. More Keres were grasping at the windows below them and, for the first time, Astraea questioned the priorities of the realm she had called home.