My head was throbbing when I came to. I groaned as I opened my eyes; my vision was foggy, and I couldn’t focus for a few seconds even after blinking. When my vision finally did return to normal, I ran a hand through my hair, sat up, and looked around to get a sense of my surroundings.
The room was clean and small. There was a plain dresser in one corner and a bookshelf beside it, the shelves lined with all sorts of books I didn’t care to examine. There was also a bathroom connected to the room via a plain door on the right. Yet while clean, the room didn’t seem to be used much. It had an air of emptiness, yet that didn’t matter so much to me.
After a more thorough search of the room, I spotted my clothes sitting on top of the dresser. I stared at them, my cheeks beginning to burn as I realised I’d been undressed before being laid to bed. That was a rather disturbing thought, one I shoved to the back of my mind.
Flicking the blankets off myself, I stood and walked over to my clothes, grateful for the fact that I was at least wearing a brassiere and underwear. I quickly grabbed the clothes and headed into the bathroom. Having no time for a shower, I quickly washed my face and brushed my hand through my hair to tidy it up. I then dressed and headed out of the bathroom and over to the door of the bedroom. Pushing it open, I winced as the sunlight burned my eyes, but I blinked and managed to focus on my companions, who seemed to have been waiting for me. They were speaking with my father, who seemed to have awoken well before me. Augral was gesturing anxiously, and the expression on his face alerted me to trouble as I walked over.
“Sai!” Tiff exclaimed, hugging me when she noticed my approach. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re awake!”
I returned the hug, a little shocked. “How long have I been out?” I asked, bewildered, once we had separated. “From your reaction to seeing me it’s like I’ve been asleep a while.”
“You have.” Augral turned to me. His armour shone in the light, wings fluttering in the very light breeze. “It’s been a full twenty four hours since you fainted.”
I blinked in surprise. A whole day? Shit. “When did you wake?”
“Three hours ago,” he replied, crossing his arms and frowning. “But I was awake enough to receive the bad news.”
A cold feeling settled in my heart. “Bad news?” I asked anxiously, furrowing my brows and putting a hand on my hip. “What happened?” I glanced at my companions, who all bore similar expressions to mine. “Do you all…?”
Nathan sighed sadly. “Yes, we know.” He looked at Augral. “May I?”
“Of course,” the Angel replied, voice quiet.
Nathan looked back at me. “Ryval massacred another Human township during your slumber.”
I felt like I’d been kicked in the guts. Hot, burning rage raised its ugly head in my heart as I stared at him in mortification. I clenched my fists, trying to stop my hands shaking with anger. I wrestled with my emotions, and forced my anger to remain in the depths of my heart. “How long ago did this massacre happen?” I asked, my voice as calm as I could manage.
Nathan looked away, biting his lip as he detected my fury. “An hour ago,” he said softly. I went rigid, and felt myself begin to despair as he whispered, “And there’s more. Angel sentries have been reporting that Archdemon Diablo sent Demon warriors to actively hunt down Ryval.”
“No!” My eyes widened in horror. “No, Diablo knows he shouldn’t, he knows that this is a bad decision…!” I looked at my father desperately. “Have any of you tried to contact him?!”
Augral’s wings fluttered. “Here’s the thing: we can’t. The Angel sentries can’t do anything. We had to wait for you to awaken so your group could deal with the issue in our place” He sighed disapprovingly. “Had we been able to do anything, action would have already been taken.”
I grimaced, knowing my father’s words to be true. Damn it. “Fine. We’ll go right now. We have to stop him before he breaks the treaty.” That could be utterly disastrous, for more than just Angels and Demons. “That, and we all need to speak with Diablo anyway. This will provide an opportunity to do so.” I brushed my fringe out of my eyes, frowning as I saw the others pale slightly. They all appeared to have realised that the ‘something’ I was referring to was the incident that had seen Aidan be murdered coldly right in front of us.
Augral nodded. If he knew, he said nothing. “Creator watch over you,” he murmured, watching and stepping back as Lydia pulled out the crystal teleportation sphere. As the rest of us went to her side, I looked back at him anxiously. Light began to enswathe us, and my heart pounded in my chest. Some terrible feeling had roused within me, and while it was not pertaining to my father, it was something to do with… the near future. I could feel it in the very depths of my being.
“The same to you,” I whispered as we were warped through the fabric of space, and I closed my eyes briefly. I opened them to find that we were standing in front of the small, cosy house that had come to be so familiar to me, as had the shattered gravestone belonging to Iris. Aidan deserves one here too, I thought sombrely, feeling a lump form in my throat and a tightening in my chest. I’ll fix Iris’ gravestone and make one for Aidan before we head to Hell.
My thoughts were broken when Tiff poked my shoulder. I blinked, looking up at her as she asked, “You okay?” A worried frown appeared on her face as she squeezed my shoulder. “You look like you’re about to burst into tears…”
“I’m…” What could I say? “I’m just… thinking.” I hugged myself sadly, returning my gaze to the shattered grave marker and the wilted iris laying amongst the broken stone. “We should repair that headstone… and make one for Aidan, too. He won’t be seen every day on Tutum, and… I don’t want him to be forgotten.”
“He will not be forgotten. Not ever.” Tiff exhaled softly, following my gaze. “We’re staying here for a short while, just to rest and refuel. You can fashion graves during that time, right?”
“Right.” I looked at her, mulling a thought around in my mind. “You better get something to eat. No offence, but Humans aren’t as durable as Nephilim or Halflings.” A small smile popped onto my face as I spoke.
She laughed. “I’ll take that as the truth, because honestly, I am fucking exhausted.” She grinned and removed her hand from my shoulder. “I’ll be inside if you need me.”
I nodded and watched as she departed. Once she was gone, I sighed heavily and returned my attention to the grave. Recalling some of the spells I’d been taught in my first few hundred years of life, I slowly reconstructed Iris’ headstone, and even revitalised the flower that we used to mark the grave. Next, I used the dirt beside Iris’ grave to construct a new headstone, transmuting it into rock by way of an ancient spell lost to most of my people. Once I was done and had suitably shaped it, I rested the marker beside Iris’, and inscribed upon it Aidan’s name and a few words of remembrance.
“Sweet,” I heard someone lugubriously say from behind me as I straightened. I blinked and turned around to see Soren standing there, hugging himself, eyes glittering with tears that were very close to being shed. He looked at me hesitantly, before returning his gaze to the graves and heaving a sigh. “It’s… hard to look upon these graves…”
“Of course it is,” I said carefully. “They’re the graves of people who lost their lives too soon, of people who died without living how they wanted. They’re the graves of friends.” I paused to reconsider my words. “No. They’re the graves of family.” I knelt down in front of the graves, touching Aidan’s with my fingertips, then Iris’. “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
Soren gave me a funny look. “I think the quote is—”
“No,” I interrupted. “The version so commonly known is but a mutilated version of the original. The original quote means that the bonds you choose to form will be stronger than the ones you genetically have.” I turned my head and looked back at him. “When they say ‘blood is thicker than water’ they are completely butchering the older proverb.”
The only reply I got to that was a stunned expression, and I rolled my eyes, deciding to ignore it. After standing and dusting my knees off, I went to walk into the safehouse, only for Soren to grab my arm and weakly say, “Sai…”
“Yes?” I looked up at him, not bothering to yank my arm out of his grip.
“What Oracle said, about us needing Lilith and Lucion’s help, and about us losing another of our friends…” He looked hesitant as he spoke. Who could blame him? “Who do you think will be the one to die…?”
I had been trying not to think of that ominous message the now-Archangel had given us, but now it was bought to the forefront of my mind. Oracle hadn’t been very forthcoming with any information, so I was a little apprehensive and scared. I didn’t want to have another of my friends die, yet it was inevitable…
“I don’t know.” I looked him dead in the eyes. “It could be me, you, Hailey, Tiff, Lydia, or Nathan. Any of us. And we have absolutely no way of knowing.”
Soren scoffed. “I highly doubt you’ll die.”
“Actually, you don’t know that.” I looked away, my thoughts racing. “Sure, I’m Ryval’s daughter, but she’s getting more infuriated with the fact I keep getting in her way.” I pulled my arm out of his grip and crossed them over my chest, looking back at him with the ugliest of grimaces. “She has every reason to kill me.”
This confused him. “I’m sure she wouldn’t try to kill her own daughter…”
“She’s already shown that she’s fully capable of it, and doesn’t care if she does,” I replied, slight irritation to my voice. “Even if it kind of defeats the purpose of what she’s trying to do.”
“Oh, right, she’s massacring the Human race because you were killed by the Angels, who watch over Humanity…” He bit his lip a bit. “She’s doing all this out of grief, the thirst for revenge… all because you died, once?”
I nodded in confirmation. “Yet haven’t you noticed that she’s getting more violent and erratic with her movements? She doesn’t care who she kills now. She just wants the Angels to feel the same pain she did. Her rational side, and her heart, have been irreparably shattered.” I looked up into the sky and watched the clouds float along. “I don’t even think she’ll care if she kills me now. I’ve already made it clear that I don’t think of her as my mother. Pretty sure she has no inhibitions about ending my life.”
Soren frowned as he mulled over my words. Eventually he bowed his head and sighed heavily. “You have a point,” he admitted sadly, frowning. “But…”
“There’re no ‘buts’ about it,” I interrupted. “I have my point, and you know it to be true.” I looked back at the gravestones. “We better get something to eat before we head to Hell.”
Soren nodded, before chuckling in amusement at some thought. After I gave him a strange look, he explained that he found it hilarious we all felt perfectly comfortable going to Hell day in and day out. After thinking about it for a few moments, I too had to admit it was kind of funny.
We headed inside, giggling about our little observation, and went to where the others were gathered. I stopped laughing when I noticed Tiff was on the phone, and grimaced worriedly as I heard her hissing in an alarmed tone. Tell me that’s not her parents, my internal voice whispered in panic. That would be very bad if it was.
I watched Tiff closely, anxiously, as she finally ended the call. She slowly put her phone screen-down on the table, then looked up at me. Her face said it all, answering the question that was written on my own.
“What did you tell them?” I asked, trying to make sure I didn’t sound worried.
I must have failed miserably, for Tiff winced. “I told them that I was okay, but couldn’t come home yet… They yelled at me.” She pulled a nervous grimace. “I don’t think I’m going to ever see the light of day again when I get home from this misadventure.”
“If,” I corrected sadly.
She tensed before sighing morosely, slumping. “Yeah, you’re right,” she replied morosely. “Y’know, because… Oracle’s prophecy…” She hugged herself and trembled a bit. “I don’t know who’s next to die…”
A sigh escaped me. “Yeah, I know. It could be any of us.” I sat down on the chair opposite her and draped my arm around her shoulders, wishing to comfort her however much I could. “I wish it wasn’t so, but Oracle’s prophecies seem quite solid. We have no reason to doubt that what she sees is the truth.” My expression soured. “I just wish she had told us – or at least implied – who is going to lose their life. I mean… I don’t really believe that the future is set in stone. If she had just told us, maybe we could prevent it from happening.”
“Or,” came Nathan’s voice from the kitchen nearby, “it would hurt more when we all realise that trying to save this person is a futile endeavour.” He walked out, holding two plates stacked high with pancakes. “So, for one of us, this is a final meal. It’s not much, but… hopefully it’s sufficient.”
I blinked before smiling sadly as he put the two plates on the table then ducked back into the kitchen to grab cutlery and plates for us to eat off. Preparing pancakes was a sweet gesture for whomever wasn’t going to return with us, and tears prickled at the corners of my eyes as he returned and set up the table.
The others all commented and thanked Nathan for his kindness once he was done. He gave a rueful smile before departing, saying he wasn’t hungry and was going to prepare to head to Hell. A dark thought nagged at the back of my mind as I watched his back disappear. Part of me wanted to get up and chase after him, but I didn’t move from my seat as the others took their pancakes and topped them with multiple toppings on offer. I only took one, and only put syrup on it, my appetite having suddenly deserted me. If anyone had noticed, they said nothing about it to me, instead talking amongst themselves.
A weight felt like it was now pressing on my shoulders, and I was silent as I moved my half-eaten pancake around on my plate.
Firstly, I had to tell Diablo that his Halfling son had been murdered by one of his own Demons. As rogue as Ryval was, she was still one of Diablo’s subjects.
Secondly, I had to deal with the fact that someone close was going to die, and that they would be replaced by someone I barely even knew.
And thirdly, I had to come to terms with the fact that all of this drama had been caused by my own mother.
Lydia’s voice distracted me from my thoughts. I looked up to see everyone staring at me Noticing they all looked troubled, I blurted, “Uh… yeah?”
Lydia leaned over and gently put her hand on my shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“I…” I hesitated, unsure what to say. “Yeah, fine,” I eventually muttered. “Just… not particularly hungry.” I looked down at my plate. I had only eaten a quarter of the pancake, and my stomach growled at me. I really didn’t feel like eating.
Lydia nodded in understanding. “Don’t force yourself to eat.” She leaned back into her chair and frowned, looking towards where Nathan had gone. “Wonder why Nathan isn’t eating…”
“Said he had to prepare for our journey into the fiery depths of Hell,” Tiff mumbled, her mouth full of pancakes and syrup. “Dunno why, really.”
Lydia sighed. “Well, regardless,” she said, resting her right forearm on the table and letting her left arm dangle, “we do need to leave soon. Finish your meals, and we’ll head out.” She stood and took her dishes into the kitchen quietly. The rest of us followed once we were done, taking our plates and cutlery to the kitchen before ambulating outside.
Nathan was standing near his car, pulling things out and putting other things in. He was quiet, but did look at us and nod as we approached. We returned the gesture, and I felt that sinking feeling from earlier once more. Yet I did not voice my concerns as Lydia chanted the spell to take us to Hell, and soon…
We found ourselves standing right in the middle of a squadron of Demon soldiers.