Sandalphon caught up with the blue-haired girl in time, and grasping her fingers tightly, he threw the girl downwards, with all his might.
"Never let go of her hand."
Lyria, speechless, could only watch helplessly as Sandalphon got absorbed into the dimensional rift, scattering into particles of ether.
Djeeta looked upwards and she caught the sight of the freefalling Lyria. She immediately scrambled to the dock, yelling at Rackam. "That's Lyria! Let's get her!" On her cue, the Grandcypher's helmsman sped forward with all of the ship's strength and Katalina extended her arms, preparing to catch the falling Lyria. Djeeta narrowed her eyebrows, trying to get a clearer view on what's above and her heart skipped more than a beat when she realized something was amiss.
Sandalphon was nowhere to be found.
The captain's heart was suddenly filled with fear and hopelessness. Did Sandalphon get sucked into the dimensional rift that was opened to seal Lucillus and sucked Belial who was willing to get sucked into the rift as well? If that was indeed the case, and if Lucillus isn't dead (which she was sure of), she could only imagine the horror of the future the Supreme Primarch had to face: to possibly fight the Astral researcher and his loyal fallen angel to the bitterest of ends. Djeeta frantically scanned the blueness of the sky’s expanse, and still the Supreme Primarch, with his striking brown clothes and dark hair, was nowhere to be found.
Her heart sank as she saw Lyria getting closer and there was no sign of Sandalphon.
Her heart sank even deeper as Katalina caught Lyria safely, and the two hugged each other -- relieved to see each other safe. Djeeta, still looking at the skies, did not realize Vyrn was flying around her head in a circle and Lyria was tugging at her sleeve.
Sandalphon groaned as his consciousness came back to him, and the first thing he realized was that he was in another space.
As his vision grew clearer, he recognized the scenery -- a scenery he dreamed of during his long sleep inside the cradle. The red-eyed primarch sighed in resignation, "Ah...Another dream..."
"This is no dream."
The voice jolted his mind and Sandalphon immediately got back on his feet -- he recognized this voice, and no matter how he put it, it didn't make sense. He shouldn't have been able to hear that voice.
The owner was dead, after all.
Sandalphon looked around and his gaze immediately met with Lucifer's gaze -- gentle and calm; like how his gaze used to be when he was still alive. Sandalphon did not believe his eyes. What nonsense is this? And yet, his mouth spoke of his name still.
His predecessor smiled and gestured at the white porcelain coffee cup he had prepared on the garden table. "Have some coffee. It's been a long time since I could serve you one." Lucifer sat down, and Sandalphon awkwardly followed suit -- he still didn't believe what had transpired seconds ago. He thought that Lucifer was dead for good, and that he would never be able to see him again. And yet here he was, in front of him, still the same as the last time Sandalphon saw him. Sandalphon then gazed at the cup in front of him, the black liquid inside the cup was indeed coffee.
Lucifer, his smile not leaving his face, broke the silence between them. "Perhaps I'm presuming too much, assuming you still enjoy it." Sandalphon was snapped out of his trance and immediately reached to his cup. "Ah, I...Yes, I do. Thank you..." the dark-haired man brought the cup close to his mouth and slowly sipped the coffee, enjoying the rich flavor of freshly brewed coffee -- the coffee beans were not roasted long enough to remove their natural, slightly acidic flavor but he could taste complex layers of taste brought by roasting the beans until the first crack, and while Sandalphon preferred his coffee darker, he had no problem enjoying this one as well. He sighed, and Lucifer chuckled at his sigh.
"This is the first and last stop for every soul. A place where those burdened with sentience may rest. Right now, it would seem your soul has gotten lost, and come here independent of your body."
Sandalphon stopped, put his cup on the saucer and looked at Lucifer. "Does that mean I'm dead?"
"I don't believe so," Lucifer answered, "But I do not know enough about this place to say for certain." The white-haired young man looked around, "Even the space in which we now find ourselves may simply be an illusion spun from my own memories. Or yours."
"This is no illusion," Sandalphon assured, and Lucifer raised an eyebrow. "How do you know?"
"I can tell," Sandalphon replied, his tone certain. "My mind feels clearer...I know you are Lucifer."
"Do you," a small smile graced Lucifer's lips, as he then inhaled. "Then you must be Sandalphon. Did my message reach you?"
Sandalphon nodded and almost naturally gave his report. "Yes. Lucilius's legacy, his research to bring about the end of the world, has been destroyed. I believe the four primarchs are in the process of ceding their roles to nature." Lucifer smiled, and let out a sigh of relief. "I see. I knew I could put my faith in you." He looked straight at Sandalphon, and continued. "Thank you. And forgive me for placing such a heavy burden on your shoulders."
Sandalphon said nothing, averting his gaze away. When he looked at Lucifer again, his regrets were written all over his face, like a stain of black ink on a white paper.
"I'm the one who should apologize, Lucifer. For the rebellion, and the cataclysms. I sowed those seeds myself." Sandalphon clenched his fists, "And still I blamed you, and saw only my own pain. I set the stage for the tragedy that unfolded in Canaan." His voice trailed away, "Mere words could never encompass my regret..."
Lucifer shook his head, "You have no need to apologize to me. I was the one who overlooked your feelings of inferiority --"
"No. I have to acknowledge my sins for what they are," Sandalphon interjected, rather bitterly. "I must, if I am to atone in any meaningful way."
"Sandalphon..." Lucifer closed his eyes, "Very well. But you must remember one thing, for my sake."
"Even should the world deny you forgiveness, even should people throughout time look upon you with hatred, you are and always shall be my solace."
Sandalphon looked at his predecessor, lost for words. Those were Lucifer's feelings, something he failed to catch on for the last two thousand years. Something he failed to realize because he was too focused on his own pain, lamenting his own destiny as a spare that was given no purpose for living, thinking that he could never stand on equal ground with the Supreme Primarch. Thinking that Lucifer looked down upon him just like everyone else did.
He was silent for a few moments until he regained his composure and forced a smile on his lips. "Thank you. I will carry those words close to my heart." Lucifer opened his eyes and smiled again. "I'm depending on you, Supreme Primarch."
"Understood! And you will always be my guiding light."
Lucifer realized something. The Sandalphon in front of him was no longer bitter and resentful -- he was completely different from the last time they interacted with each other. Even two millennia couldn't make Sandalphon grow as fast as mere months that had transpired, mere months spent with mortals on the Sky Realm was more than enough to transform the purposeless and bitter Sandalphon into someone who was with purpose and had let go of his bitterness. The white-haired angel chuckled upon his realization; he was right to have believed in Sandalphon and the potential of the Sky Realm.
"Ah, your cup is running low. Would you like another?"
Sandalphon's eyes immediately lit up, "Ah...yes! Allow me! I think my technique has improved--"
His sentence was cut short by an echoing voice.
Boarding the Nightcypher, Djeeta, Lyria and Vyrn attempted to catch up with the freefalling Sandalphon who suddenly winked into existence, as if the rift bounced him out. Boarding the Nightcypher was, of course, the captain's idea because she knew the Grandcypher wouldn't have enough power and wasn't fast enough to catch up with Sandalphon, who was falling at an alarmingly fast rate. The only question was how to keep the Nightcypher balanced and not losing momentum as Djeeta attempted to reach Sandalphon, struggling to position the ship directly under him.
"Heeey! Sandalphon! Open your eyes!" Vyrn screamed, hoping to nudge his consciousness awake.
Lyria put her hands on her mouth, and yelled, "Please! Please wake up, Sandalphon!"
Djeeta said nothing, but she repeated again the prayer she had been repeating for this entire time in her heart -- when she saw Sandalphon winked into existence, as she scrambled forward and tried to get to the Nightcypher ready as fast as Sierokarte could prepare her, as she climbed hastily into the Nightcypher and took off with Lyria and Vyrn in tow.
Sandalphon, please, wake up! Come back to us!
Sandalphon was surprised to hear the echoing voice of Lyria and Vyrn. Averting his gaze and preparing his heart for the inevitable, Sandalphon then slowly spoke, "Ah...Actually...I think I should be going..." Lucifer, sensing the inevitable as well, then nodded. "I see...Very well. I believe you know how to return to them. All you need is to spread your wings and follow your heart."
"Yes..." Sandalphon replied, once again, but this time he couldn't stop emotions from seeping into his words. After all, this might be his last chance to see Lucifer and he wanted to say everything -- he wanted to say what he was feeling. "But, you know...Once I had kept my promise...Once I had fulfilled the task you imparted to me...I hadn't decided what I should do next."
Sandalphon clenched his fists harder than before, attempting to calm the raging storm inside his chest. "Or to be more truthful...I wanted to come to join you..." He wanted to spend more time with Lucifer, getting to know him as he is, as they now stand on equal ground. He was no longer the spare, and Lucifer was no longer beyond him. But his role demanded him to be responsible, and that he couldn't simply do what he wanted to do.
And besides, he had someone to return to. And that someone, clad in a white and pink dress with a sword slung around her waist, was definitely waiting for him to return.
"But now...I think...I might want to stay with my friends in the Sky Realm."
Lucifer nodded approvingly. "Good. I'll be rooting for you."
Sandalphon laughed heartily, "You already knew how I felt, didn't you? That's why you called me your solace -- to cheer me on."
Lucifer raised an eyebrow, "Oh dear. So you knew that I knew."
A refreshing smile spread across Sandalphon's face. "And now you know that I know that you knew what I knew. What nonsense." Sandalphon said that not with malice or contempt, but with a subtle hint of playfulness. Lucifer chuckled at their banter, even though their banter was mostly pointless and replied, "But that is how I really feel."
"And the offer of another cup? Were you not tempting me to stay longer?"
Seeing how Sandalphon had seen through all of his facades, Lucifer knew it was no use hiding how he felt any longer and gave up at another attempt to mask his true feelings. "The heart is a bundle of contradictions." Sandalphon chuckled at Lucifer's lame attempt to hide his feelings and replied, "What are you saying?" But soon, the dark-haired primarch realized the weight of those words, and he realized that he must be going. And he thought he was prepared.
"Well then...I'm going out for a bit."
Sandalphon stood up, with Lucifer following suit. "All right. I'll be waiting."
The moment Lucifer said that; the gravity of the moment immediately hit Sandalphon so hard he almost lost his balance. The difference when he was the one waiting and now was so obvious it wrenched his heart. When he was the one waiting on that shaded garden inside the research laboratory, Lucifer, without fail, would always come back. But this time, if what Lucifer said is true, then the time they would meet again is when Sandalphon is finished for good in the mortal realm. And that would be a very long time. The power he inherited from Lucifer made him even tougher and resilient than before, plus it was already difficult to kill a primal beast, let alone an archangel. It would take another Lucilius to bring him down. And with the Singularity on his side, he had nothing to fear. Of course, that was rather a stretch, but it was how he was really feeling.
This time, Sandalphon didn't even know if he would be back.
Clenching his fists so hard they turned white inside his black gloves, Sandalphon bit his lips, torn between the desire of staying and the desire to return to those who had been calling for him. He had to admit he wanted to stall the time, stop it, even, but alas, Time stopped for no one, even if the one wishing for it to stop was the Supreme Primarch with mismatched twelve wings.
"Ah...er...It's the reverse, isn't it? It used to be me staying behind in the research lab's garden."
Sandalphon punched himself internally at that lame attempt to strike another conversation.
"Now you're the supreme primarch, and I'll be the one to await your return."
The supreme primarch. Sandalphon realized it was Lucifer's acknowledgment, one he had been searching and yearning for his entire life. He realized that now Lucifer saw him as his equal -- or rather, Lucifer had always seen him as his equal, and yet he was too consumed with his self-pity and inferiority to realize that.
"You might find yourself growing restless...I recommend cultivating the coffee trees." Knowing that Sandalphon spoke from experience, Lucifer nodded and answered, "I'll give that a try."
The finality of the moment once again threw Sandalphon off balance, he -almost- couldn't quell the storm raging within his heart. But he had made his decision, and he had to go through with it. Even if it meant he would have to endure harsh suffering and loneliness, to see and to forgive the ugly hearts of the people, to thwart the plot of ending the world again and again. To protect the Sky Realm, one Lucifer cherished and believed in.
But because Lucifer believed in the potential of the mortal realm, Sandalphon would believe in it, too.
And all of the potential mortals could contain was realized in one person: the Singularity, the captain of Grandcypher, a girl with a small frame who houses a great strength, a stark contrast to her delicate fingers and her slender build.
Silence fell upon the garden. Sandalphon once again inhaled -- he had to go.
"I'm going out for a bit..."
"I'll be waiting."
Emotions swelled his chest like a raging tempest smashing wooden vessels. Sandalphon took a sharp breath, mustered his strength to display the best smile he had, and once again bid Lucifer farewell.
"I'm going out for a bit!"
His response the same, his smile did not leave his lips. "I'll be waiting."
Sandalphon bit his lips, turned on his heels and did not look back. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, and spreading his wings, he flew off into the distance.
Closing in at Sandalphon, who was still unconscious as he fell weightlessly through the sky, Djeeta managed to perilously position the Nightcypher just below his body. "There he is!" Vyrn squeaked. Djeeta unfastened her seatbelts and looked at Lyria. "Can you do this?"
"I -- I can!" Djeeta nodded, then handed the controls to Lyria. "Be careful, Djeeta!" Lyria worriedly yelled above the howling winds as Djeeta rose from her seat and heaved herself upward, struggling to find the balance between the delicate surface of the Nightcypher and the scarce footing she had on the seat of Nightcypher. The moment Sandalphon came closer into view, Djeeta seized one chance she had -- his arm was extended, his hand close to hers and without hesitation, she grasped his hand; tightly, strongly, no intention of letting go.
The moment she grasped his hand, however, Djeeta lost her footing. Lyria and Vyrn, quick in their movement, seized her left arm, letting go of the controls. Grasping his fingers tighter, Djeeta then yelled above the engine's roar,
"Wake up, Sandalphon!"
Lucifer stared into the distance, even though he could no longer see Sandalphon's back.
"I'll be waiting...You used to say that to me almost every day. I think now...I might just understand how you felt in that shaded garden, all those years."
He finally understood the sadness and the restlessness that was cultivated inside Sandalphon's heart for years, for centuries, even. He thought that he understood Sandalphon better than anybody else -- after all, he created Sandalphon with his own hands. But he was wrong; he did not understand him at all. He could finally understand how Sandalphon felt all those long years now; when he was the one being left behind.
A plume of white feather drifted away, being carried by the winds, and along with it his voice.
"Till we meet again, Sandalphon."
Sandalphon felt that he came to, and the first thing he realized was the space he was in. "Is this...the Sky Realm?"
Vyrn was the first to notice. "Hey! Sandalphon came to!"
Lyria then yelled above the howling wind and the engine's roar, "Sandalphon! You have to hold on tighter!" Feeling the warm sensation of someone's hand grasping tightly onto his, Sandalphon realized what was going on.
The hand which once shoved Djeeta into the yawning void is now clasped tightly in hers.
"Djeeta! Why would you come after me at a time like this!" The moment in which he held her hand and then shoved her into the void flashed at the back of his mind, and for a split second he prepared himself should the blonde girl exacted her revenge. He deserved it. "Why..."
But his red eyes met with Djeeta's honey ones, and her eyes said more than what words could say.
"Why?" Djeeta replied, her eyes shone with glassy layers of tears, "Of course because you belong with us, Sandalphon!"
His eyes grew wide at her words and he was no less than amused seeing how serious she was. "I belong?" Sandalphon laughed, "I can't believe you..." Djeeta pulled him down and after the two got inside the Nightcypher's dock safely, Vyrn then signaled the Grandcypher to come and get them.
Lyria was beaming. "Right! Let's all go home!"
The Supreme Primarch smiled. "Yes...Let's go home!"
"That day...why? Why did you come after me?"
Sandalphon and Djeeta were sitting inside Sandalphon's coffee shop, enjoying a cup of coffee after a long day at work. Sandalphon had settled down with the crew and opened his own coffee shop, with the crew helping occasionally whenever they have spare time. This day, Djeeta helped him behind the coffee bar as he blended and served various cups of coffee: lattes, macchiatos, espressos, flat whites, even some very weird requests like long espresso with a shot of wine or flat white with cream rather than milk. Sandalphon had in his cup two shots of espresso and Djeeta had in her cup cafe au lait -- or lattes.
Djeeta sipped her drink and looked at Sandalphon, a gentle smile on her face. "Why? Of course, because you belong with us. Why don't you just let go of that?"
Sandalphon looked through the window, gazing at the sky, his expression forlorn. He still remembered clearly when he threw her into the yawning void, when the girl in blue and the red dragon summoned their hidden powers to save one girl -- from that day until now, he still carried that guilt of endangering her life so, he still regretted his short-sightness and his reckless action. But the captain seemed to have rather easily let it go. Even though she was in great peril at that time.
Why didn't she take her revenge on him?
Why did she think that he belongs with them?
He would be lying if he said he could easily brush away the scornful stares he received when he paced along the Grandcypher's long aisles from certain people who did not forget that he had once put Djeeta through such great peril. He was aware he deserved it. And yet the captain in front of him had easily forgiven him.
"Don't you intend on getting your revenge?"
"What for? For throwing me down the cliff that one time?" Djeeta replied, her delicate fingers curling around her cup. "What good would it do? You are the Supreme Primarch, and letting you die would render our hard work useless. Besides, what can I gain from it?" She sipped her coffee, as she then continued. "I would only get temporary satisfaction from it. And then, what comes after it?"
Sandalphon was rendered speechless. Djeeta placed her cup on the saucer and she reached for his hand, grasping his slim fingers within hers.
"Sandalphon, you have to remember that what comes after revenge could only be revenge. It's like an unending nightmare from which you have no escape. I don't want to be part of it."
A smile graced her lips, "Besides, you have shown us that you have repented. Why would I want to exact revenge on someone who had repented?"
Sandalphon gritted his teeth. The captain, despite her youth, could read through him like a book and he despised that fact.
"No more of this revenge business anymore, okay? You are needed by everyone. You are now the protector of this realm. Just as I've put this behind me, you have to let go, Sandalphon." The warmth of her hand was seeping into his hand, and Sandalphon could only stare at her clear honey eyes. "Sure, some might find it hard to let go..." Djeeta averted her gaze away, "but then again, it takes time. Don't worry about it." She then looked at him again, this time with a gentle smile.
"You know, you might throw me off the cliff that one time, but now I'm sure you'll be there to catch me when I fall."
A pink tint ran across his cheeks as he awkwardly pushed her hands away and averted his gaze. "Do -- don't be so sure, Singularity."
Djeeta let out a hearty laugh, "We'll see about that!"
She ran out to the docks, and Sandalphon, wary of what she might pull off, scurried behind her. "Do -- don't do anything stupid, Singularity!" When he got to the docks, however, he caught sight of Djeeta just about to jump off the Grandcypher. She looked at him, waved at him and fell down the Grandcypher. Sandalphon groaned hard and calling his powers, he materialized his wings and attempted to catch up with her. Lyria had just arrived at the docks when she heard the commotion between the captain and the primarch and was more than surprised when she saw Sandalphon jumped off the Grandcypher, attempting to catch up with Djeeta.
Sandalphon descended at full speed, berating himself for falling to her tricks. He saw her flaring pink dress and he sped up, catching her by the waist. When their eyes met, Sandalphon saw no hint of fear or doubt in her eyes -- he groaned hard and Djeeta beamed. "See?"
"Don't make me do this again, Djeeta." Sandalphon then tightened his arms around her waist and neck, intent on returning to Grandcypher. "Hold on tight." Djeeta slung her arms around his neck, the warmth of her body caught Sandalphon off-guard.
The Supreme Primarch danced through the sky, his mismatched three pairs of wings left a colorful trail of giant feathers behind them as he ascended with the captain in his arms. Djeeta giggled, "Flying like this feels so much fun!" Sandalphon's sigh was drowned by gusts of winds, but he found himself smiling anyway. Maybe what she said was right. He wouldn't let her fall. Not under his watch. But this was way too reckless.
Then again, Sandalphon was sure he would spend a long time in the mortal realm. Might as well get used to their -- no, a certain someone's recklessness.