Chapter 1: Part 1
Darkhelmetj – This takes place about a month after Diablo: Amor Aeternus finishes, but isn’t part of the timeline. It’s a very fluffy AU of an AU.
MissGems - Fluffy Angels doesn't have a super concrete storyline, but this would be similar to 'canon' events smack in the middle of it. Either way, Inarius makes extremely questionable decisions he may or may not remember.
The fluff is back. It is thicker and spread across the house. It's early morning. Someone is here. Distant snuffling can be heard. Perhaps a bear? Several books and dishes have been disturbed. Strange, the intruder makes no footsteps. Around a corner, sickly yellow wings glow like embers, not half as bright as they once were. The angel is big, much bigger than he was remembered. Too big to be in a house, for sure.
"I don't think I'll ever understand why mortals prefer such small dwellings."
“Safety.” A narrow, curved blade slid soundlessly under the angel’s chin, with enough force to cause discomfort, but not enough to draw Lightblood. “Predominately.”
The noises had awoken him from a restless sleep. They were far too disorganized to be Tyrael, even after one of his wildest nights at the tavern. When a waft of fur had drifted by the open threshold of his door, he had known something was about the home.
Which was how Malthael ended up standing behind the unnaturally large angel, a blade in each hand, and nothing else on his person. It was not his preference to fight unclothed, but then, he hardly had expected an intruder in his own domicile.
“Who are you?” he whispered softly, though there was something about the creature’s voice that was hauntingly familiar. “Why are you here?”
“If that’s the case, they should use sturdier materials.” The angel tossed his head, scattering more of the fluff. He took a step back towards to mortal, completely unphased by his sickles.
“Oh put those away.” The angel twisted and, through some manner completely ignoring physics and possibly utilizing the arcane, turned till he was facing the man. Glittering, barely-seen eyes peered curiously out from the yawning blackness of the angel’s face. “If I wanted to kill you I’d’ve just set the place aflame while you slept.”
“You know who I am, dear angel of Wisdom.” He sing-songed. A single, massive claw rose to gently prod the sickle aside. “As for the why…well I’ve run out of options.” Though his frame was warped, and he seemed to have removed much of his armor, there was no mistaking the crest and white mane of Inarius. He leaned forward till he was practically snout-to-face with the mortal. Imposing, but not aggressive. Far more casual and comfortable in the small house than he had any right to be.
He squinted, taking the mortal in. “Shorter than I thought you’d be. Worse hair too. I guess you have bedhead though…” Of course Malthael was naked. To him, that was more normal than if the man had shown up in a nightie. At least he seemed to possess some fluff of his own.
“Are we keeping this in the hallway, or should we sit down?” Inarius snuffled again, standing up mostly straight.
“Inarius?” Malthael nearly dropped the shotels, though millennia of combat experience kept them in his palms. The metal stuck to his skin as a cold sweat overtook him.
He had to be dreaming. It was the only explanation of how the Archangel was nearly tapping noses with him, because Inarius was locked up in the Realm of Hatred. Or at least, he would have been, until–
–“Spear! And you. Call the Light. It will answer.”–
The memory stole his breath, each word renewing the ache in arms where the frost had ripped his skin. It was good the angel showed no indication of wanting to harm him, because Malthael harbored no illusion of being able to properly defend himself at that moment.
He shakily gestured for Inarius to follow. “Sit. Preferably.”
More fur drifted about his feet as he led them to the great room. He dimly remembered the odd letters he had received months prior, from another version of himself caught in a strange predicament. They had spoken of the past, and corruption, and certain critical differences between their worlds.
Not the Inarius he knew, then. Which made far more sense than anything else that night.
“I did not expect an angel,” he admitted, dropping the blades by the hearth so he could collapse on a chair and wrap a quilt about himself. The fire had gone out hours earlier and a pervasive chill filled the air.
It felt like Death.
–“Fools! You concede everything by doing this!”–
He left the sentence unfinished. It did not matter. Inarius clearly did not know what had happened. If he did, Malthael doubted he would be so casually walking about a mortal residence. Even weeks after the battle, Tristram’s residents were still on edge, and prone to jump at anything that glittered like a Luminarei.
It was why he had lunged from his bed and grabbed his weapons without conscious thought.
He knew rationally they were safe.
But the piece of his soul that had touched the darkness far too often did not believe it. It pounded alongside his heart, and it was hard to tell if the cold in his fingertips was from the anxiety or because the dead were drifting particularly close to him.
“You were always concerned with appearance.” Small talk. Idiotic. But it was better than talking about the rest. And Inarius had given him an opening, at least.
He glanced around, seeing that the pervasive fur had already spread through the room, as though buoyed by its own air currents. “I assume shedding is aesthetically pleasing to you. Or, perhaps you have run out of grooming options?”
Inarius simply stared after the mortal for a moment, puzzling over the reaction. Sure, he wasn’t exactly a common encounter per se, but this was not what he expected from Malthael. They had never been particularly close, and time had only bittered their relationship. Likely this worlds version of him was still wasting away…
Nevertheless, he knew the look of a mortal in distress, and everything about the little mortal angel screamed distress. Perhaps he would not find the advice he was looking for here after all.
“Cozy.” He commented dryly looking around the great room. And it would have been, had someone not been radiating gloom and doom. “It’s fascinating to me how different…and how alike our worlds are. And the people that live in them.” Inarius snickered. He eyeballed the furniture, before raising a hand to cast his transformation spell. His true form was simply too cumbersome.
Inarius’ human guise was as it ever was, small, blonde, with an unearthly beauty to it that clearly marked him as not of this world. He was shorter than Malthael now…though just as naked.
As he settled himself into one of the chairs, the angel waved a hand and a few logs rolled themselves into the fireplace before lighting. The room instantly began to warm, and both were able to get a better look at one another. He raised one delicate brow at Malthael’s state.
“My my, something must be bothering you to resort to small talk. But nothing is scarcely better to concern ourselves with!” As if to prove a point, he gestured at the blanket Malthael was thoroughly wrapped in. “I digress, I did not come here to poke holes in your mental state.” The last was said almost apologetically. “And the fluff. It will dissipate eventually. Merely a side effect of leaving a cooler biome.”
He stared at the man, seemingly trying to figure something out. He hadn’t seen any true angels about…how strange. How different from the Tristram he knew. He could smell and sense nothing but mortals…
“Out of sheer curiosity and perhaps a little smugness,” Inarius raised a finger dramatically, before gesturing at Malthael again. “Why human? The Malthael I know will barely come within a hundred yards of a mortal that isn’t our favorite Aspect of Justice.”
“My mind is fine,” Malthael sputtered, knowing full well he looked ridiculous wrapped in the quilt, and likely anything but ‘fine’. Inarius had never been his preferred conversation partner, even before the snafu with the Worldstone. That he was indulging him at all likely told the angel far more than Malthael intended to reveal.
Still, he nodded in quiet appreciation at Inarius’ lighting of the hearth. The fire was nearly as disquieting as the cold, but at least it eased the persistent pains plaguing him. It also meant Inarius suspected a great deal, if he was attempting to make him feel better. The angel was shrewd, and overwrought, but he had always been skilled at reading others’ emotions.
He wondered what exactly Inarius saw in him now. Feigned contemplation? Exhaustion and despair? Resignation?
Relief at seeing a familiar face?
Speak, he thought, as he gathered his composure the best he could. Distract me. Give me a purpose on this night. Ask your questions. Whatever you wish.
As if reading his mind, Inarius obliged. It was not entirely an innocent topic, given everything that had occurred in the Heavens. But it was enough for Malthael to focus on to try and regain control of his emotions.
“It was accidental.” Which was true. “I…followed the Sound, after…”
Not a safe topic.
He gritted his teeth.
Not here. Not here. Not. Here.
“…after my mistakes,” he eventually continued, though he kept his hands hidden under the blanket, to keep their shaking from Inarius. “I sought wisdom, which, ironically, was to be found here. In mortality.”
Oh, he had found Wisdom. And Death. Again.
–“My work? Let me show you my work.”–
The Reaper never truly left him. It whispered shallowly beneath the surface of his mind: the desire to cull what was wrong in the world. He had killed for the Light once, to protect his kin. And then he had killed the Light itself, because it had become the very darkness they struggled against in the Eternal Conflict.
–“This is terrible work. But you and I…we are practiced in such arts. Are we not?”–
He had to believe he was more than a murderer. That Wisdom did not always lead to Death. That eventually, he could hang up his blades for good and focus on the more esoteric truths of eternity. And of the better parts of life he had found in mortality.
“I answered your question. Now, answer mine. Tell me of these options you have run short of.”
“But of course, there is lots to be found here, isn’t there? Sanctuary is the culmination of all Our efforts.” He tilted his head, and scratched lightly at his jaw. More fluff appeared, drifting seemingly out of nowhere. “They are quite impressive, aren’t they?” Inarius looked around slowly, and thought they were in an enclosed room, it was clear he knew where the nearest mortals were.
Inarius took a moment to take in how old mortality had made Malthael. Sure, all angels were ancient, but one would never know based on looks alone. This man looked exhausted. It wasn’t hard to guess what had happened - his Malthael’s tale was almost as hapless as his own. Yet… Inarius got the sense that something else had happened.
Oh well. Not really his business, unless to mortal made it his.
“My options… Well, I should rephrase. I’ve run out of nonviolent options.” Inarius hesitated, considering the state Malthael was in. “It’s not exactly a…comfortable topic.”
The angel shifted restlessly. While he did not read minds exactly, he could pick up sensations and the general emotional state of most beings. Inarius could feel bits of the inner turmoil, and as fascinating as it was, it was also highly unpleasant. Maybe he should come back later…But if he knew Malthael, be he an angel, a mortal, or a monstrous reaper hellbent on tearing him limb from limb… he knew he was direct, and didn’t like to wait for his answers if they could be provided.
“As different as our worlds are, there are several key similarities. In particular, I’ve got a smart-ass of my own living in the dirt with us.” Literally, on some occasions. Malthael could be infuriating, and it was all too easy to simply tackle him into the mud if he was being particularly ornery.
Inarius grimaced as he came around to what he was really here for. “He hasn’t been willing to change himself. It’s… I… I dragged his sorry butt out of Pandemonium, because I wanted to give him a chance. But he’s not taking it and…” The angel folded his arms and glared into the fireplace. It snapped a little hotter for a moment, but only a moment.
“I know he can be happy and grow on Sanctuary. You’re proof enough of that.” Inarius gestured in frustration at the mortal. He was grumbling more to himself now, as though he’d forgotten for the moment they were having a conversation. “I just don’t know how to make him see that.”
He finally looked up to meet Malthael’s gaze. “I don’t know how to help him, and the rest are losing patience. I just…I hoped you might be able to either point me in the right direction.” Inarius looked down again, hands forming angry fists. The fluff surrounding them had started to glow, ever so slightly. “Or tell me if it’s a lost cause.”
In truth, Malthael had always been the one angel he trusted to make decisions. Always such a clear mind, he always knew what to do.
Now that, he could try and help with. Inarius had a tangible problem with potential solutions, which was far more than Malthael’d had to tackle over the last few weeks.
No amount of reading or research had given him a place to begin to even start to understand the Archshards, or what they had done to Sanctuary. And until his injuries healed, he was confined to Tristram. Without anything to do.
“If he is even remotely like me, he will be stubborn. He will believe he is correct, in whatever belief he is holding to. He may have to experience otherwise directly, and determine for himself that he is wrong.”
Something Inarius had said lingered, though. Some hidden insinuation that hadn’t been spoken aloud, but heavily implied.
“You said he will not change. That he cannot see happiness. What are you attempting to change about him? His perspective of mortals?” He paused, and absently clenched his hands. “Or himself?”
He knew that particularly miserable feeling, and the unhappiness that came with being trapped in his own decisions. Of feeling caged to a situation, without any viable exit presenting itself. It was how he felt now, listening to Inarius and watching the fire crackle in the darkest part of the night. It was a deep, unavoidable exhaustion of the spirit, one that made it difficult to rise from bed each morning.
“He is…stuck.” He tapped a finger to his temple. “Here. In the past. Or perhaps what he imagines of the future. He is held to where he is because he cannot move forward. I do not know what experiences I share with him, but–”
He inhaled loudly through clenched teeth. “I know the feeling you describe. That the capacity for happiness exists does nothing to change how he feels. How I feel.” Even explaining it felt ridiculous. “I…am lucky. You are correct. I have grown and learned here. I have found good things. Things I did not have before. But at this particular moment, thinking about them is painful. Because they do not counter what I have lost.”
His kin. His former home. Every single piece of his past was gone. The only place he could go was forward. He knew that, logically. It made no difference. His mind was intent on circling in a loop, stuck on the fall of the Arch, the death of his entire kind, and the very specific role he had played in all of it.
Nothing he did, or Farah, or Lyndon, or anyone could shake him from that. But perhaps he could help someone else, in the meantime.
“Where is he?” He gathered the quilt about him as he stood. “Take me to him. Let me speak to him. Directly.”
He was not supposed to leave Tristram, true. But from what he had garnered, Inarius and his somewhat fluffier kin were also from Tristram. Which meant he was not breaking his promise whatsoever.
Chapter 2: Part 2
Inarius had listened with rapt attention. Malthael’s pain had been all to obvious to him, but he had no idea where to begin with it. Soothing was not his strong suit, and there was the matter that the older angel had a tendency to try and maul him. “Both, really. And…” The angel hesitated, glancing guiltily off to the side. “And myself. I know he’s still upset about the Worldstone. Never mind I wasn’t even the one who blew it up.”
“What he lost… I guess no one ever taught him how to deal with loss. It’s abundant on Sanctuary. In Heaven nothing stays truly lost. Nothing is truly grieved.” There was pain there, and for a moment Inarius sounded so very tired. The mortal angel’s request had him balking however.
“You want to hop dimensions?” He stared, stricken. Watching the mortal stiffly gather up his quilt, he couldn’t help but doubt that he would be okay coming into his world. The angels and beasts of his Sanctuary were so aggressive, and Malthael was so small.
“That’s a bad idea.” Inarius stood up, and circled after the mortal. “It’s winter there, and jumping can be extremely draining, and…” He hesitated, the illusion of mortality rippling. A clear indicator of his nervousness. “I can’t promise your safety.”
Inarius looked around the home, taking in how well lived in it was. It was obvious this Malthael wasn’t alone. He had people here. People who would miss him, who probably loved him. He had no interest in delivering a mangled corpse back to those people.
“Malthael is…if he sees you like this-” Inarius stepped so that the man could see him gesturing. “He’s more likely to gut you first and ask questions later. Or try and claw me again. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to protect you if he decides to attack.”
The angel sucked in a nervous breath and ran his fingers through his hair. More fluff flittered down to the floor. It was strange, but this mortal’s safety mattered quite a bit to him. Maybe he was just the realization of a lifelong dream - that there could be peace, that the people of Sanctuary and the Heavens could work together. Could live together, and prosper.
“I just- I need you to be sure. Maybe tell your people what you’re doing. Maybe tell that lady of yours - her scent is all over, and you’re clearly not the only one living in here.”
“I am well aware of the nature of realm hopping.” Malthael slowly raised an eyebrow, before gathering his weapons from the floor. “Or how do you think I left the Heavens all those times? Regardless, I do believe I can help. Wait here. I will return in a bit.”
He left Inarius to stare at his back as he trudged out of the greatroom. Already, his mind was turning over ideas to counteract the obvious dangers inherent in the venture. Realm walking was draining, but Inarius would shoulder most of that burden. And it was obvious the angel was more concerned about his world’s inhabitants harming Malthael than the journey itself.
Still, he had said he would help. And he was loathe to break a promise, even one made casually.
His armor was where he had left it after the battle. Cleaned, thankfully, but still discarded in a careless pile in the corner of his study. He’d had no reason to don it since. Now, he needed it for protection – and for the carefully crafted visual it provided.
Because if Inarius could take on a human form, then the same would not be unexpected from him. It didn’t matter if he was unsettled underneath the armor. He had always hidden his feelings behind a cowl, and he had always risen to whatever was required of him when needed.
The calm after battle had simply provided him the unwanted luxury of time alone with his emotions. He was all too willing to set that aside and reclaim an aura of self-confidence, if only for a few hours. And after all he had seen in his world, going face to face with a more feral version of the Reaper was not the most terrifying thing he could imagine.
The Reaper was a familiar threat. One he knew how to disarm.
He snapped his weapons back into their sheaths, then returned to Inarius. Each footfall he took in the greaves echoed quietly about the home and within his soul. Methodical steps, ones he could follow.
“As for the others…” He paused and turned slightly, allowing Inarius a chance to see him properly garbed and standing with far more confidence than he’d had before. “They are accustomed to me leaving. However, given the circumstances, I can leave them a message.”
Inarius’ earlier words returned to him:
“Maybe tell that lady of yours - her scent is all over, and you’re clearly not the only one living in here.”
Malthael wanted to sarcastically retort that Inarius couldn’t tell the difference between a woman and Tyrael, before he remembered Aya spent a great deal of time in their home as well. Still, given Inarius could smell the mortals, which was not something Malthael remembered him being able to do in the past, he wondered if the angel had indeed managed to pinpoint Farah’s exact essence. On him.
“Also, she is hardly my lady.” A faint flush rose to his face as he tugged his cowl into place. “She is no one’s possession, and simply tolerates my behaviour more than others.”
“This is a little more intense than realm hopping.” Inarius grumbled, but let the man go. He turned his attention to his own form, and felt his mortal form dissipate. Familiar, broken skin and dented metal replaced his smooth human body. His wings unfurled, shaking and shuddering as they went.
Inarius stretched and shook himself, scattering yet more of his fluff about. He looked around, thoroughly satisfied with how thoroughly fluffed the room had gotten.
The Fluff had spread…
The angel patiently waited for his new friend to return, absently preening a wing. He looked up admiringly at the armor Malthael now bore. The man could almost pass for an angel - though there was one small problem. “Can you get any bigger?” The question was seemingly casual and innocent. If Inarius could ever be considered such things, that is.
If not, the man was in for a lot of looking up.
He simply shrugged to himself, and smiled at the man’s attempts to cover his feelings. “Only one you’re lying to is yourself there Malthael. Do yourself a favor, don’t bother hiding it. It’s worth it to feel such things openly.” The angel did not bother to elaborate, but began to focus, reaching out to find his world again. A glow built around his armor, and the moment he located his home, he and the mortal were seemingly sucked into the glow, only to vanish from existence…
They appeared with a flash, and a small shock-wave. Snow was blown back, but quickly settled. Inarius let out a noise of strain, wings raised in an attempt to keep himself steady. He cracked an eye open, checking to make sure he hadn’t lost the mortal angel along the way. Fortunately, the mini-reaper stood beside him, looking intact. Inarius snorted a breath of relief.
After a moment, he tilted his head back and let out a low, crooning hoot. A few distant replies sounded out, and Inarius nodded to himself. All was well in his absence. Izual was irritated, but what else was new.
“Come. We must stop at the forge - you smell like mortals. Malthael will know immediately if you show up smelling like that.” Inarius casually strolled off, snow melting around him as he went. He could already feel his mane thickening against the chill. He hoped the mortal wouldn’t be too cold here.
“What are you going to say?” The angel lowly asked, tilting his head. Distantly, the beating of wings could be heard. Around them, the forest swayed and the wind moaned serenely. They weren’t exactly within Tristram, but rather on the outskirts. Inarius and his angels inhabited several kilometers of forest, though they would likely need to expand soon. Angels were spacious creatures.
Malthael’s retort to Inarius was cut short by reality cuffing him about the head. It was a rougher transition than he remembered, though he had no intention of letting Inarius learn that. He stifled a hiss and managed to remain upright, swaying precariously from the hit to his equilibrium and the sudden appearance of snow beneath his boots. He sank into the drift to his knees, the cold already seeping into his limbs.
Hells. Inarius hadn’t minced words about the weather. They also were not in Tristram proper.
He sighed, and after taking a moment to collect himself, reached out to the dust-like soul essence that constantly drifted about. The mist covered him in a faint sheen, protecting him from the external world’s chill with the more manageable frost of Death.
It did nothing to stop the goosebumps that rose on him as Inarius crowed to the wind. The returned calls only confirmed to him that things were very different here, at least in terms of the Angiris.
“Ah. Then this sense of smell is also consistent among your kin?” He carefully stepped where Inarius tread, making use of the melted patches to allow him to keep pace. Around them, the forest whispered, the wind mostly disguising what Malthael thought were the echoes of wings.
He tightened his hands about his blade-hilts, the gesture being the only overt sign he gave of his unease. Lingering wisps of the arcane tinted the air, different from what he remembered of his kind’s magic. It felt angelic, but also untamed.
“I will say little. To start. I will offer to listen. If he needs to speak, he can speak to someone who understands.”
Inarius twisted his head around to observe the odd mist that now swirled around the mortal. He jolted, as for a moment, it wasn’t Malthael, but another tall, death-like figure trailing after him… The angel shook himself, and the image vanished from his mind. They had a job to do here, no time for these mental images.
“Nice frost.” He commented. “You really can’t get any bigger? This might cause some confusion among the rest.” Inarius reached out with his aura, heating the air around him ever so slightly. He knew the man must have been cold.
Inarius did not dally, following along the invisible path to the heart of their territory. “All angels have a decent sense of smell. Better than a humans. It does vary however - Tyrael’s was particularly strong, whereas Itherael’s nose wasn’t good for much.”
A low rumble left the angel’s chest, echoing across the woods. He reached out, feeling for the others - most were holed up in various cuddle piles, taking advantage of one-another’s fluff and warmth. Enough were in the barn-turned-forge for what he had in mind.
Hephasto’s little sanctum was equally as popular as it was avoided. The Smith was ornery, and did not particularly enjoy having to step over the others while moving about his forge. But it was also very warm.
“I’m not sure he’ll have much to say, little mortal. Everything that comes out of his mouth, what little there is, has been highly derogatory. Then again, I am not him, and you are not I.” The duo arrived at their destination, the low thud of Hephasto’s hammer ringing out, smoke billowing up into the crisp air. Inarius let out a sigh of relief at the feel of his kin’s magical energies. Angels were social creatures, and lived best in groups. Inarius in particular did not want to be alone. Even his short trip away had left him feeling uncomfortably starved for the company of the others.
The Smith didn’t bother to look up from his work when they pushed in, rather pointing to where several other angels of varying size were clustered in a heap. They sleepily looked up, and he sent a mental message to just go with what he planned. The urge to dive in was tempting, but that’s not what Inarius was here to do.
“You’re going to hate this~” The angel sing-songed, before reaching back to scoop Malthael up. He took a second to give the man a sunny look, before dropping him into the pile. Fluff was scattered everywhere…
“My size cannot be that much of an issue,” Malthael muttered, though Inarius seemed genuine enough with his concern. “And no, I cannot. I am not a wizard.”
He didn’t fully understand the angel’s fixation with his height until they entered the barn. There, a hulking smithy-angel towered over a smoking forge. His hammer was nearly the size of Malthael’s entire body, and he swung it effortlessly.
Malthael’s eyes widened.
Feral and huge, he thought sarcastically. Marvelous.
He was also fairly certain the smith was Hephasto, who he had not seen in centuries, since he had been lost to the Hells. This realm’s Malthael had mentioned there being other angels in his letters, and he thought he remembered the smith being named. But that had hardly prepared him for the extent of the spectacle.
Nor for Inarius picking him up and tossing him into a writhing pile of fur with nearly no warning. He shouted, before he began to sink into the mass. It was soft, and exceedingly warm, and it all smelled of animal sweat and a strange, pervasive sweetness that made him think of the latest batch of pastries Farah had brought back from the bakery.
Baking did not invade his personal space without asking.
Baking did not snicker, or try and grab him while he was attempting to escape.
Baking did not argue with him when he protested, and did not try and convince him that a bit of socialization would be good for him.
“INSTANT!” A waft of fluff drifted into his mouth as he yelled, transforming his voice from a dark rasp into a pathetic choke.
It was the same fur Inarius had left around the house. Angels. He was stuck in a pile of angels who seemingly had no idea who he was, how tiny he was compared to them, and how much he wanted to throw himself back out in the snow in place of being smothered by their flesh.
Inarius was exactly right: he did not like it in the slightest.
Inarius did not bother to hide his mirth as he watched the man slowly sink into the cuddle pile. If his Malthael’s reaction’s to spontaneous cuddles were anything to go by, this Malthael would not be having a good time. There were maybe seven angels enjoying each other’s company, and they did not seem to mind the addition to the pile however unwilling.
In the end, it was not Inarius who saved the man, but Izual, who had stormed in after them at some point. He hissed at Inarius, who merely growled good-naturedly in return. The more-demonic angel reached down into the pile to retrieve the mortal, hauling him up by the collar of his clothing.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing.” It was not a question so much as a flat representation of how much Izual disapproved of whatever was happening.
The angels who had been cuddling huffed at him, before they began to rearrange, one or two of them vacating the forge. It was getting a little crowded, and Hephasto had begun sending them death-glares. Not that he would ever harm any of them, but the interruptions were not appreciated.
“Fixing problems.” Inarius easily returned. He giggled at the amount of fluff that had covered the mortal. No doubt the man would not trust him again, but it had been more than worth it to see the look on his face.
Izual huffed, and set the mortal down, eyeballing him suspiciously. Recognition crossed his features, and he began to call on his magic, before a hoot from Inarius stilled him. The others in the room had begun to circle around, curious now about the weird new angel. Whispers and chatters permeated the barn, and a few of them delicately reached out to poke at the mist surrounding the mortal.
Malthael hung stiffly as the corrupted-looking angel stared at him. He returned the stare, somewhat appreciative for having being pulled from the pile, but also not amused at being thrown around by his cloak. Even with his senses disorientated, he still recognized the lingeringly familiar form of Izual.
Were they all Fallen, here?
“What exactly do you think you’re doing.”
As soon as he was released to the floor, he tugged at the top of his breastplate, attempting to relieve some of the pressure that had been applied to his throat. Unintentional, he assumed, but clearly the angels were not used to handling smaller creatures. And ignorance did not mean they were not dangerous.
“Inarius,” he growled, turning to glare at the angel, before realizing the others had gathered about him, some with looks of cautious recognition, others with more overt curiosity.
The more reserved expressions set him ill at ease; a tingling chill ran through his fingers and into the blade hilts. He forced himself to breathe and keep his composure. Weeks of treating the Angiris as his enemies had trained him to react suspiciously to any angel behaving aggressively. It was a deeply embedded response, one he could not seem to turn off.
“I specifically asked you take me to him.” He flinched and drew away as several of the angels waved claws through the fog. They seemed curious, but he wanted to keep them at arm’s length – for his safety, and for theirs.
The mist dropped with a gentle patter to the ground as he released the souls back into the void. “This is now complicated.” And he assumed the chances of him getting back to his home without anyone noticing his absence were now minimal.
At least he’d taken the time to leave the note. Though, perhaps it should have said more than: Back later. –M
“We have crossed dimensions in order for you to get into an argument with a bigger, nastier, angrier version of yourself.” Inarius exclaimed. “I don’t know where you got the idea that this wouldn’t be complicated, but you should stop getting your ideas from there.”
The angels were all shuffling about and flicking there wings. There was an almost palpable air of confusion as they found themselves unable to resonate and touch minds with this new strange angel. If he even was an angel… then again, many of them were lacking certain things normal angels would have. It made sense that eventually they’d find someone they wouldn’t be able to Hear. It was odd how familiar his voice was though, particularly to one angel.
“You sound like our master.” The voice was quiet and subdued. The throng turned and gently shuffled aside to allow the speaker to come forward. A reaper, far smaller than any of the others, cautiously approached.
“Sermin.” Inarius’s voice was warm and gentle, a sharp contrast the the snarky tone he favored Malthael with. “He’s here to help us. With Malthael.” The reaper trilled, and shyly dipped his head.
“What.” Izual’s tone was flat. “Can we speak outside? The three of us.” His tone brokered no argument, and Inarius merely shrugged leading the way. From the moment the doors shut behind them, the group of angels began murmuring among themselves…before returning to their pile.
“You have a problem, Izual?” Inarius’s tone was playful, but with a bit of an edge. The two had often argued about the subject of Malthael, and Inarius hadn’t exactly told the other angel what he was doing.
Inarius didn’t bother standing around, but began trudging towards the (heavily renovated - more like torn down and rebuilt big enough for multiple angels) house. Izual stormed after him, their mortal companion all but forgotten.
“As a matter of fact-” The fallen angel roughly grabbed Inarius by the shoulder, spinning him around, “I do.”
“Well can you wait? We’re a little busy here and I think someone is impatient... oh and Mal?” A glowing, shit-eating grin filled with thick, sharp teeth split the blackness of the angel’s face. “I never agreed to take you to him.”
Chapter 3: Part 3
Malthael stared, entranced, at the small Reaper. He’d never expected to see any of his kin again. Particularly in something resembling their original form. Before he could respond, however, Inarius was near-hopping out the door, Izual stalking after him.
“You have a problem, Izual?”
“As a matter of fact - I do.”
When the angels decided to walk at their natural speed, they were hard to keep up with. Malthael frowned and jogged after them, attempting to hop between their footprints in the snow to at least alleviate some of his difficulty with the terrain. Not that they seemed to be going far.
“Well can you wait? We’re a little busy here and I think someone is impatient.. oh an Mal? I never agreed to take you to him.”
He skidded to a stop, snow flying up from underneath his greaves. Izual still had a hand on Inarius, and the latter was smirking as though he were a wolf who’d just found a fresh meal. That the angels could smirk, and apparently had teeth, was something Malthael wanted to forget as quickly as possible.
At least, that was before Inarius’ words sank in.
He should have known better. Inarius had never been honest. He knew that, more perhaps than any of the other Archangels had. He always had a hidden agenda, and though theirs seemed to line up superficially, there was clearly something else going on that he wasn’t telling Malthael.
He hissed, and slid a blade from its sheath. While the two angels were distracted posturing at each other, he leaped, snaked the shotel around one of Inarius’ gauntlets, and used the momentum of his jump to tackle him into the snow. Then he drew the other weapon and held its misting tip to the angel’s throat.
“Try again,” he growled. “Because you are correct: you are trying my patience.”
And Light knew, he was entirely out of it.
“Either you take me to him, and allow me to complete this fool errand, or you return me to my realm. I have no time for your pointless games. And I have far more important people who could use my presence, if you do not.”
This Inarius had clearly forgotten what it felt like to lose things. Everywhere around them, Malthael saw examples of how their world had grown. Of how they had forged a place for themselves in Sanctuary. Even the little he knew of the situation told him this was not a loss, but a recovery.
Inarius also had no idea what Malthael had lost, whatsoever. He was simply being Inarius.
He meant no offense. He does not know.
The blade wavered. He allowed the rage to pass, then eventually withdrew the weapon and sheathed them both.
“That was uncalled for,” he said quietly. “From us both. I am…sorry for my part. You should know that I…” He hesitated, as memories of the battle against his brother surged again. “It is no matter. It is my burden, not yours. And I would still like to help.”
A noise somewhere between a yelp and a cackle left the angel as he was toppled. Inarius’s amusement died however when he found Malthael’s shotels at his throat. He bared his teeth once more in defiance, a low rumbling growl sounding from his chest. If the little mortal thought Inarius was bad…then perhaps meeting with his Malthael was a worse idea than he’d thought.
“I think you’ll find my games have been entirely-” Inarius’s retort was cut off by a warning snarl from above, and his expression twisted into irritated horror for a moment, before Malthael found two massive arms curled protectively over his back.
There was a shriek of metal-on-metal, before a loud, angry roar in some ancient angelic tongue sounded out. Izual hissed, a chilling aura spilling out from his wings.
The two angels were damn loud as they argued in their native tongue. Inarius twisted, one arm still wrapped protectively around the mortal, but managed to get to a defensive crouch. His wings were burning much hotter than they had before, and his armor bristled.
Eventually, clearly enraged and a little hurt, Izual spread his wings and stormed off in a huff. Inarius let out an aggravated snort, and briskly stood, releasing Malthael.
“Perhaps your help is more trouble than its worth. Perhaps I trusted you not to do something bullheaded like that in front of the rest.” Inarius turned and continued towards the house, heedless of Malthael’s apology. He stopped at the porch however, wings flicking and shuddering. A deep, weary sigh left him and he turned back to the mortal, arms crossed, and his body language was far more closed off than it had been before.
“He’s on death-row, for lack of a better turn.” Inarius gestured at the house, which did radiate a sense of dark and dread. “It’s been years. I’ve been trying to make progress, but I haven’t been able to work with him. The others… Malthael is a danger not just to mortals, to Sanctuary, but to what we have here.” The angel began to pace, aggravation clear in each step. “We’ve fought tooth and nail for this. Each and every angel here has already lost so damn much. And this is our chance. Our last chance. So.”
Inarius came to a halt, staring down at the mortal, wings held imposingly aloft. ”If Malthael cannot be helped, he will be culled. And you have just shown one of the most mistrustful angels here that even if he is helped, something so small and harmless as getting involved in a cuddle pile can turn him to violence. Should I have warned you? Apparently. I apologize for making you think I was trying to harm you, or whatever it is that went through that skull of yours.”
Inarius sighed again, digging a hand into his mane. It came around to cover his eyed for a moment, and his armor finally settled, and his wings drew in close, their glare much less.
“Perhaps this really was a foolish venture. I shouldn’t have brought you here, but you gave me hope, dammit.”
Malthael kept utterly still within Inarius’ grasp, as the two angels screamed at each other. The air had rippled from the impact of Izual’s weapon, and he knew how close he had come to being struck.
He remained on his knees when Inarius released him, after Izual had eventually given up and left them alone.
Say something, he thought, as Inarius turned to speak to him:
“Perhaps your help is more trouble than its worth. Perhaps I trusted you not to dosomething bullheaded like that in front of the rest.”
He didn’t want to die. It wasn’t that. But he was careless. He’d stopped thinking things through, because for some reason, he saw this break in routine as an escape from self-control. Who was he, to come to Inarius’ world, and impose his anger and his sorrow on them?
“He’s on death-row, for lack of a better turn.”
And there was the result of his idiocy. He only half-listened as the angel explained exactly how they all understood loss. And how Malthael had just demonstrated why they feared the version of him that was loitering about this world.
Things broke, and he fell apart. Repeatedly. Thousands of years, and seven years of mortality, and he still hadn’t learned.
If he was going to help, as Inarius said, then he had to trust him. The small things Inarius had hid from him were nothing like what Malthael was keeping inside.
“I apologize for making you think I was trying to harm you, or whatever it is that went through that skull of yours. Perhaps this really was a foolish venture. I shouldn’t have brought you here, but you gave me hope, dammit.”
“It is a fool’s venture,” Malthael replied, softly. “But not because of you.”
He had to get the words out, no matter what it cost him. He sank his head into his palms, the dirt on his gauntlets rubbing onto his cheeks and his eyes.
“We lost.” The winter breeze carried his voice away into the snow-laden forest. “The Conflict. The sickness that struck me took Imperius. He murdered mortals, then our kin. By the time we stopped him, the Hells had already moved. They corrupted the Arch. And we destroyed it, to keep the Prime Evil from using it. To keep Sanctuary safe.”
The words were like fire in his throat. Each one forced from him, until the brutal reality of his world were laid out. The reality he had chosen for them.
“Perhaps we are flawed, irreparably. He and I. I…overreacted. But I did not lie when I said I wished to help.”
There was no time for him to be weak. He had committed to helping Inarius, and he could not renege on that. Nor could he doom his shade to death because he had made a stupid mistake.
“I could not help my kin. I think, however, I can help yours.” The snow crunched as he stood; the wind caught his cloak and snapped it about. “And if I cannot help him, then I will help you. With what you will need to do if I fail.”
Inarius brought himself up short as the mortal spoke. He tipped his head, listening to the tragedy of this Malthael’s world.
“Heaven destroyed huh? It’s funny, a lot of angels always seemed to think that was something I would want. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
The angel looked around, before gesturing at the surrounding landscape. “Everything I did - Sanctuary, this place, the theft of the stone - it was in the hopes that no matter what the outcome of the conflict, some piece of us would live on. That there would be a sliver of life, even if all else came tumbling down.” He approached the mortal, before coming down on one knee in order to better see his face. “The conflict needed to end. But I never thought it might come at the cost of all we held dear.”
“Maybe we are doomed. Maybe Fate has no other option in whatever paths we tread. And maybe so long as we keep trying, keep fighting…well, maybe we’ll be alright.” Inarius did not elaborate further, and his wings had settled into a position of quiet discomfort. The thought of what had happened to the other Heaven did not sit well with him. Perhaps he would be poking his brother to go take a visit…
But that was a thought for another time. If he remembered, that is.
“…You might have told me this from the beginning. I simply assumed you didn’t want me around because I’m…well, me. I did not realize it was due to recent conflict with other angels.” The angel shot a look over his shoulder, and looked back at the mortal, indecision coloring his resonance.
“This was already a bad idea, but it’s a worse idea now. Malthael is…he’s terrifying by our standards. And you’ve been exposed to the company we keep.” The words were a little flat, a little sarcastic. Inarius did not want another fight on his hands. If this mortal was jumpy around regular angels, then meeting with their resident reaper was not going to be pretty. Yet…he had a feeling there was no dissuading the mortal now. Inarius resolved to try and step carefully.
“Come then little mortal. And ah. Be ready to look up.” Inarius stood, and trudged back to the door, before pushing it open. “Death awaits…”
“If I have learned anything being mortal, it is this: prophecy or not, we create our own fates. And I believe your Angiris are not bound by the same laws of rigidity that my kin were.”
Malthael’s thoughts returned to the battle again, but not to the sorrow and the bloodshed. “A friend told me something wise, once. He said we aim to survive so we may have the chance to do more than fight. And if you do not survive, then at least someone else may have the chance to do so.”
He held Inarius’ concealed gaze for a long moment, before glancing at the towering home behind him. “Before, I did not understand why you created Sanctuary. I do, now. You created echoes of our kind that will carry on long after our resonance fades. You made something separate from the Conflict. Something free.
“You learned the lesson quicker than I did. You adapted. Perhaps your Heavens will not pay the same price.” He sighed. “And you are correct. I should have told you sooner. I did not want you to bear the burden, because it is not a kind story. But it is also my story.”
He nodded in resigned acknowledgement as Inarius pointed out his overreaction to the angels. “Granted. I have less composure than I assumed, and a great deal less than I would prefer. Still…” He took a long breath, palmed the hilts, then carefully drew the mist about him into the faint shape of skeletal wings.
“I may be mortal, but he and I are born of the same essence. I still believe he will be receptive to me.”
Overconfidence, perhaps. But not of the aggressive kind he had unleashed before. He was the Aspect of Wisdom and Death in name only, and he needed to make his shadow believe he was more than that. He needed to believe that.
“Come then little mortal,” Inarius said. “And ah. Be ready to look up.” The moment the angel opened the door, a rush of frigid air left the home, colder even than the snow around them. “Death awaits…”
“…And Death obliges,” Malthael muttered, stepping into the darkened pitch, before slowly looking to the rafters.
“That was our hope.” Inarius murmured as he pushed into the dank building. “We just wanted to be free. In the end, I supposed we got our wish. Now, if only someone would come down from his tower, and join the rest of us in reality.”
The angel let out a loud chirrup, calling and trilling out into the shadows. They had tried to keep the house at least somewhat cheerful, but its constant inhabitant had eventually won that battle. Mostly by way of chasing the others out. Even now, Inarius braced himself, expecting the Reaper to descend upon them with all the violence he could muster.
They waited in silence. Then, a quiet, shuffling-swishing sound, and the air abruptly grew even colder. Inarius restlessly fluttered his wings, stubbornly pushing at the chill of death with his aura.
Slowly, ever so carefully, a long, sinewy hand reached out of the shadows to a low beam. It was followed by a faintly glowing wing, then another pale limb. Shards of Ice and tufts of ragged fur drifted to the ground.
Wings slowly lit brighter, and the shape became more easily distinguished.
The Archangel of Death bore less armor than he had during his attack on Sanctuary. At first, he appeared to still wear his cowl, but as he descended it became clear it was the fluff adorning all the angels here. It was thin and ragged, however, where the rest had been robust and healthy. A low, angry clicking filled the air - the angel’s teeth scraping together.
Malthael descended some before finally halted, still partially concealed, several meters above the two. He hissed, low and angry.
Inarius shook himself, and looked down at his mortal companion. The mist was convincing, but was it convincing enough? It would be so easy for this to go wrong. Silence gripped them all as oth angels waited for whatever the mortal had to say.
They’d spoken of change, in the letters. Change of life, and of form. But this wasn’t change Malthael saw descending towards them. It was a broken being. The remnants of madness, far greater and physically scarring than anything he had managed to rend on himself or his kin.
Inarius hadn’t lied. The angels were unsettling on this world, even to him. But this shade of himself – it was terrifying. It was as if someone had taken all the dark, insidious thoughts in his mind and given them physical form. It reeked of death, and it glowed with the flickering remnants of shattered souls.
He didn’t need to ask what the Fallen angel was feeling. He knew, by looking at him.
He knew also that if he made a single misstep, his life was likely forfeit. Even waiting to act could be the wrong move. He cursed silently, wishing he had Tyrael beside him, or Lyndon, or any number of individuals who understood situations like this better than he did.
The only thing he knew was himself, including how he reacted when his soul was in pain. He’d threatened Inarius, and snapped at him, because he’d lied about something inconsequential.
Slowly, so as not to startle the monstrosity hanging above him, he unclasped the sheaths from his hips and dropped the weapons to the ground. Then he held his hands up, shivering slightly as the shroud-wings fell from his back, returning to mist and then nothingness as they hit the frozen floor.
“No lies,” he whispered. “Only truth. You asked me for advice, once. I am not sure if I have any more to give. But I came to listen. If you wish.”
The Angel of Death simply stared down at them for a moment, watching his mortal counterpart’s actions. He did not speak, but a ripple flowed up his wings at the sight of the shotels. Even from his spot in the rafters, he recognized their unmistakable craft. But this tiny being who had bore them… who seemed to know him…
Malthael tensed up for only a moment, before dropping down. Massive claws the length of a man’s torso raked inched from the mortal’s nose. The angel landed with a thud on all fours, wings held aloft, before settling back on his haunches. a few wisps of mane drifted down after him. Inarius let out a low whine in the back of his throat, shuffling about in a fit of nerves.
The fallen angel stared for a moment, face blank, before slowly looking down to prod the weapons. Heaven’s craft…yet…different. A low snarl built in the back of his throat as he took in the wingless being before him. The armor was a small replication of what Malthael had once been, and he felt a quiet stir of rage at having his likeness stolen. How dare this tiny being…this…
Malthael snuffled at the air, wings slowly spreading out, and the air beginning to chill even further.
This…was a mortal…
“You claim you know me…you bear my weapons and a mockery of my likeness…” The angel shifted in order to stand tall. He was even bigger up close. “Just who is it, who thinks I would speak to them? What mortal have you fooled Inarius?” The two angels bristled at one another, Inarius taking a step forward and forcing his wings into a neutral state.
Malthael had not struck - yet. It was a testament to how curious he must have been. Rare was it that he paused to speak at all, instead preferring to act on impulse these days. Inarius had thought that perhaps the other angel had been hiding from himself as much as the others.
If he did not have to think, he did not have to feel.
He hoped the mortal knew that he’d gotten more out of the angel in a few minutes than Inarius had in the past few months.
“I’ve fooled no one. He wanted to see you.”
Malthael barely suppressed a flinch as the angel landed before him; scattered remnants of fur drifted downward and landed everywhere, including across his cowl. Death radiated from the claws as they passed by his face. The aura was unfathomably stronger than the one he could still maintain as a mortal, though he managed to resist the frost that tried to form across his skin.
He kept still even as the angel poked at the blades. A feral growl echoed from it, far more characteristic of the demons of Hell than any angel Malthael knew. He wasn’t sure if it was another difference between their realms, or a sign of how badly this version of him had Fallen. Inarius certainly had made strange noises, but nothing like this.
When the Angel of Death finally did speak, it was with a building-shaking rasp that rattled the ice on the ground and sent needles of apprehension through Malthael. He hadn’t been sure at first about dropping his weapons, but he knew, as the angel towered over him at its full height, that he had no chance of fighting it in its current form.
This battle, if it were to take place, had to be between their minds, and with words alone.
“The mockery is unintended. These are my weapons, and my armor, as assuredly as they are yours. And I believed you would speak to me because you wrote me before, requesting advice about your ‘infinitely annoying brethren’.”
He glanced at Inarius, who was posturing near-comically against the far larger angel. “I…understand your frustrations better, now.” He smiled slightly. “The Inarius I knew did many idiotic things, but he never dared throw me in a pile of wayward angels.”
He knew what he had to do next.
“Inarius, would you leave us?”
Some things could only be said in private.
Chapter 4: Part 4
Inarius stared at the mortal, then tipped his head back and laughed, loud and bawdy. “Not bloody well likely friend.” He considered the two however, looking between the two aspects. Would they be fine? Could the mortal dodge, if he needed to?
Could this actually work?
Inarius hesitated. He wanted this to work so damn much. “…I’ll be in the rafters. I don’t trust either of you.”
Before either could protest, the angel lifted his wings and hoisted himself into the air. He scuttled along a few of the beams, before settling, wings raised, frame tense. Without Inarius so close, it was far darker between the two aspects of Wisdom.
Malthael snarled again, wings flaring ever-so-slightly. “…I was not aware of your…status.” He picked around the mortal, circling in a predatory manner. “You would…exist…in such a way?” The incredulity was clear in his voice. And the disgust.
The massive angel leaned down again until he was teeth-to-face with the mortal. His eyes could just barely be seen up close, pale and sickly blue.
“Irritating does not begin to describe him.” The angel’s neck twisted inhumanly to peer up towards where Inarius was perched. Inarius, for his part, offered a raised middle finger. Malthael hissed in reply.
“Why did you come. You must know I don’t care for mortals. I don’t care about Sanctuary. Whatever Inarius has told you, he is most certainly mistaken.”
Malthael rolled his eyes as Inarius took flight, though his irritation was short-lived. He immediately found himself staring into a darkened maw.
“I did not come to convince you to care about any of that. I came because…” That was the truth, but he had to pick his next words carefully. The disgust radiating off the angel was palpable, as was the overpowering chill of Death. His flesh goose-bumped underneath his armor.
“When you wrote me, you were frustrated. You also seemed …despondent. That feeling…” He brought his palms together absently, the metal of the gauntlets ringing in the near silence. “That is a miserable feeling,” he said quietly. “Inarius sought me out to help you, this is true. But I asked to come to you.”
His voice wavered, not from the presence of the angel, but from the experiences he was dredging to try and make his point. “I do not know exactly what you have lost. But I have lost a great deal. And though I have found concessions that make this life worthwhile, it does not make that loss ache less. I have…forgotten that, myself. Recently.”
He sighed. “Perhaps I wanted to help you because I was unsure how to help myself. But I remember when these feelings did not define my existence. Our existence. I remember intrigue, and the thrill of learning. And curiosity.”
He flexed his fingers, seeing as if for the first time the intricacies of his mortal form, though it was no longer a stranger to him after so many years. “You asked how I exist as I do? Because it allows me to live. And because I survive, that thirst for wisdom survives as well. It is worth preservation. As are we.”
The Reaper was silent, seemingly listening intently. But when the human finished, he merely snorted, a huff of mist chilling the air around him. “If you wanted to come, you are a fool.”
“And so is he.” The words, and accompanying snarly were directed into the rafters towards Inarius. “Your mistake is thinking I want any of your help. That this life is worth living.”
The angel’s wings flicked in agitation, and he began pacing on all fours, looking like a caged animal. In truth, Malthael had abandoned his quest for Wisdom around the time the Sound had first called to him. His quest for Death had all but consumed him, and only grown worse when he’d taken up the mantle of Angel of Death. Perhaps it was fear that held him back. Perhaps he was simply tired.
“What I have lost? What haven’t I lost?” He hissed, more to himself than to anyone else in the room.
Above, Inarius had slowly been slinking downward, wings flicking with concern.
“In the end, all paths led to Death. So too should mine.” The reaper’s claws scraped and tore at the floorboards. He seemed lost in thought, until he suddenly stopped, frame tensed.
His gaze darted back to the mortal, up to Inarius, out to the windows.
“You do not know this! You do not know me! None of you do!” The Reaper reared back, wings spreading in a threatening display. He focussed on the mortal, the one who wanted to come here well he was here, and he was a target. The mist of death pooled around him, causing ice to form on the floors and wall. A hiss built into a feral shriek, and Malthael leapt forward, claws extended.
The angel’s words hit Malthael like ice, cutting deep and through the remaining shreds of hope he’d maintained for helping the creature.
Creature. That word, even, slipped into his consciousness unintended: the being before him was as feral as he had been in those worst few weeks in Westmarch. He’d been trying to approach him as he would any rational being, but there was nothing to left to appeal to.
“We cannot know you if you do not let us–”
The angel cut him short as it tensed, then launched from the fog that had almost instantaneously flooded the room. Malthael swore and instinctively dove to the floor, flinching as the angel’s massive claws passed a hand-span to his side. He rolled to his feet, the ice skittering under his greaves, and quickly gathered his sheaths and blades as the angel slide across the frost.
He clenched his teeth, debating only a moment about drawing the shotels. He kept them sheathed, and instead sprinted for the door, hoping with every remaining ounce of his composure that the ice hadn’t coated over the hinges. It wasn’t, and it crashed open easily as he smashed his shoulder into it.
He didn’t stop running into he saw the forge glowing in the distance. The brisk air seared his throat, and he eventually collapsed against the side of the barn, gasping for breath, the weapons falling from his hands to sink into the snow beside him.
He’d left Inarius on his own, after he’d promised to help.
“Quiet,” he rasped, roughly pressing a gloved palm to his face.
And they also survived.
Of all days for the quiet voice in his mind to strike at him, now was not the time. He knew damn well he had failed to do everything he’d set out to do. He hadn’t helped Inarius with anything at all. He hadn’t made himself feel as though he’d done something right in the entirety of his existence.
And he certainly hadn’t helped the angel, who was probably either stalking after him, or ripping Inarius to shreds. In all likelihood, he’d made things worse.
But he couldn’t have stayed. He’d never dreamed the reaper would be as large as he was. And even as emotionally unsettled as he was, he was smart enough to realize fighting him outright would lead to nothing but his very mortal death.
He didn’t want to die. He wanted a great many things to vanish, and the world to return to being as simple as it had been a year earlier, before Imperius had razed Sanctuary, and before the Arch had fallen. But nothing could change that, or the way it twisted his gut when he thought about it for the briefest moment.
Nothing but time.
He wasn’t any different from the angel he’d just run from. They were both avoiding the truth, to their own detriment. He’d almost lost everything dear to him, including his life, because he’d refused to admit the truth. And he’d been so cocky as to think he didn’t need to even tell anyone where he was going.
The words…they hurt. Because they were accurate, and the whispering voice was his own; the biggest truth he’d been running from was that he could never seem to help himself. In any version.
The only way he’d grown at all and had regained a semblance of wisdom was because others had taken mercy on him and helped him. The other angel, well, he did have Inarius. But he had to want the help.
Snow had begun to fall since he’d arrived back at the barn. The wind nearly ripped the cowl from his face, and cut briskly through the small openings in his armor. He shivered, having lost the desire to draw on Death the moment he’d fled the home. The portal had been Inarius’ doing though, and he’d have to wait for him before he could return home.
Assuming Inarius survived.
“Shut up,” he rasped again.
Yes, it was. But it didn’t mean he had to freeze to death. One mistake was enough. He numbly stumbled to his feet and towards the barn doors. The forge heat was overwhelming, but he welcomed it in place of the chill.
The angels hadn’t moved far. He considered their pile wearily. The smell was the same as before, and a small cloud of fur somehow became airborne the moment he leaned against them.
But be damned if he was sitting outside alone. He tugged his cloak about him, turned, and tried to find a position comfortable enough to allow him to sleep and forget his idiocy.
It would have been nice to say time slowed down, that Inarius considered his possibilities and chose what he deemed correct. This was a fat lie. The moment the reaper lunged, Inarius dove.
Malthael’s shriek was deafening as Inarius smashed into him, claws digging at his spine. They skidded across the ice, Inarius cursing and Malthael snarling wordless rage. He had enough time to notice the mortal - blessedly - fleeing for his life, before they collided with the doorway.
Long, heinously sharp claws reached for him, even as wood began to splinter and split. Inarius was in Malthael’s blind spot, between his wings, but only for now. His hissed, and dug his claws deeper into the cold metal. Malthael had gotten to his feet, and simply slammed himself against the wall. Again, and again when he did not dislodge the angel clinging to his back.
“Wait- stop-!” Inarius did not get a chance to finish before the reaper threw himself forward once more. With a resounding -crUNCH - the wall gave way.
Inarius squawked as he was thrown, flopping into the snow and twisting frantically to his feet. He could not see the mortal anywhere, for which he was privately relieved. He did see Malthael’s teeth, all 178 of them, snapping much-to-close-for-comfort before his nose. He yelped, and swiped at the reaper’s maw, not bothering to sheath his claws.
Malthael reared back as Inarius finally got to his feet, and the two came together like a desperate pair of wolves. Inarius’s best hope was unbalancing and knocking Malthael out. He knew if he were fighting the angel of wisdom he’d have easily been taken down by now. Malthael was sloppy though. His blows were barely aimed, and Inarius wondered if he was maybe venting his rage and frustration, and Inarius simply had the dubious honor of playing punching bag.
His musings were cut short when claws raked his face, and he wailed as blood spilt into the snow. A second blow tore his arm open, before the reaper bit into his leg. They tumbled backwards, a tangle of wings and limbs and blood.
“Damn- Bastard!” Inarius grappled madly with the reaper, and finally managed to find leverage to flip them over. He tore himself from Malthael’s grip, angelic blood gushing over the reaper’s face. Malthael hissed, maw open for a second go-
Inarius backhanded him.
“You stupid, stupid bastard!” Inarius all but screamed in the reaper’s face. Fresh hot tears welled in his eyes, and they stung the rips in his cheek.
“We only want to help! He came to help you! But the others are right! You’re nothing but a screaming, bloody monster. You are not Malthael. There is nothing even close to Malthael! Nothing but an animal.” The angel drew his wings in tight, somewhat aware of how open to attack he was right now. He couldn’t fight down the despair that had filled him however.
He was tired. So very, very tired.
A claw wrapped around his waist, and oh, things were moving in slow motion now, Inarius just didn’t have the energy to fight back when Malthael tossed him aside-
The Reaper readied himself, mouth open, wings spread, and Inarius knew he was dead, his soul would give Malthael the energy he needed to restart his quest for blood - and a hammer cracked into Malthael’s skull from behind, dropping the fallen angel instantly. Hephasto snorted, shaking his head.
No one had much minded when the little mortal added himself to the pile. Hephasto had looked up, noted his presence, but the absence of Inarius, picked up his hammer, and left to go clean up their mess.
Idiots, all of them. Idiots with ideas and ideals.
Sermin, the angel of Wisdom from before, had squirmed to the top of the pile. He’d sensed the other Malthael, and while it was not exactly his leader, this human had tried to help them. The smaller angel clambered down next to him. He gently wiped some hair from the mortal’s face, and settled down beside him, a tiny, clicking purr leaving his chest.
Around them, the rest of the pile began to accommodate…
Malthael was distantly aware of things unfolding around him, though his exhaustion filtered his reaction to a muted acknowledgement and nothing more. Doors creaking and then slamming. Faint shrieks interspersed by the howl of the wind as the now-blizzard picked up.
The forge crackled; an overwhelming heat wafted over him, enough it counteracted the chill he’d acquired. Too warm, perhaps. He drifted in and out, sweat beading across his brow. On the cusp of unconsciousness, he felt a hand on his face, then a body pressed against him, much smaller than the other angels.
Perhaps Inarius had come and taken him home after all. That would be ideal.
Farah, is that you?
If it wasn’t, he didn’t care at that point. It was a good enough illusion for what he needed. As best he could in his armor, he let the tension release from his muscles, until the pile seemed to curve around him, blocking most of the rest of the world.
Sleep, when it finally came, was mercifully dreamless.
Chapter 5: Part 5
They’d made a mess. Of the house, of his life, of his plans, and of his face. This, Inarius was more than well aware. Thus, when Izual showed back up with his brother, he’d simply growled half-heartedly at them, and limped off to the barn…
…or he would have, had his leg not given out from under him. Thankfully, his companions had the sense to save the scolding for when he wasn’t leaking like a ruptured wine-barrel, and were quick to assist.
He did end up in the barn. Inarius was just mercifully unconscious for this ordeal. For now, he simply rested, wounds healing with a little assistance from their resident angels of hope.
As for Malthael, he’d been thoroughly restrained, and left back in the house while Hephasto worked to board it up. There was a tension in the air around their little sanctuary now. As if they were all holding their breath, waiting.
The pile had awoken.
The pile had not dared to move, as per the low hisses and snarls coming from the angel of Wisdom who had taken a liking to the mortal. They did sniff warily, uncertain of his origins, or purpose for being here.
He seemed to be a mortal, but had the armor (and weapons that Sermin had fetched and dragged into the barn with them) of an angel. While they could not feel his resonance, the way he had spoken and carried himself was that of one of their arches.
Inarius had trusted him, and so they did too.
This did not halt the curious murmurings, nor the continuous spread of fluff. Angels tended to spread themselves when they were confused or nervous. And this mortal was very unnerving…
Even worse was the appearance of Inarius, beaten and bloody. Izual had quietly reassured them, but also asked that they keep an eye on the fallen angel. And so, they watched, and waited.
Consciousness returned rudely to Malthael in the form of a pounding head and an aching shoulder. The pile, though soft, wasn’t exactly a bed, and his armor wasn’t conducive to a comfortable sleep, particularly when he’d already bashed through a door the day prior.
At least, he assumed it was the day prior. He wearily cracked an eye open; he thought he saw sunlight drifting in through the barn’s high windows, but it was hard to tell, what with the continuous glow from the forge.
Something rustled. Several things. He cracked the other eye, groaning as he sat up. A mottled line-up of hooded faces stared back at him, at least those that could stretch enough to see him from where they lay within the pile. They hadn’t moved far from where he remembered them being when he’d fallen there.
Then, he saw Inarius huddled by the forge. The angel’s injuries were grievous, though he seemed alive. Malthael sucked in a loud breath, eventually exhaling it in a lengthy hiss. Relief and frustration muddled in him. Inarius had survived, which meant he wasn’t stuck in this world. But the beating the angel had taken from the Reaper was horrendous.
His shoulders slumped. It really had been a mistake coming there. Inarius had fought on his behalf, likely to help him escape. And Malthael’d only succeeded in reaffirming all the angels’ worst suspicions: that the Malthael holed up in the home was far beyond civil dialogue, and likely not worth saving.
As if reading his mood, the being that had curled up against him shifted, then withdrew. Sleep had at least brought him some clarity, and he was curious to see who the angel was, as it was clearly not Farah.
A very short angel considered him – the one who had suggested he sounded like his ‘master’. It waited, though as it did, several tufts of fur drifted down from its mane to the ground. Even the floor seemed more covered in the fuzz than it had been earlier. Did the angels shed as animals did: when they were nervous or upset?
The hilarity of the whole situation was too much. It had to have looked as strange from their perspective as from his. Here he was, a mortal version of their most feared inhabitant, wearing his armor and wielding his weapons, yet curling up with them as any human would to seek some semblance of comfort.
He absently titled his head, half in greeting, half in resigned acknowledgement that he had no idea what to say, and chuckled quietly.
Excited whispering broke out the moment the strange human had started to move. Wing’s wiggled, and manes fluffed. Sermin grew particularly excited when he tilted his head.
“It is you, isn’t it? You are Malthael… or at least a Malthael…”
The angels began squirming, lightly fussing to get a good look at the mortal. It was hard for them to match the Malthael they knew with this tiny human.
“He’s barely got any fluff… how do mortals stay warm?”
“Is he really from another dimension?”
“You know Inarius, always up to his tricks.”
The group abruptly took on a subdued air, glancing at where their leader lay in a heap. The instinct to pile on and keep him safe was powerful, but they knew better than to climb on top of an injured angel.
“If you don’t mind me asking…” Sermin began shyly, “What happened to you two?” His wings flickered uncertainly, as if unsure if he was aloud to ask that question.
Now that the mortal was awake, the pile had began to extract themselves, stretching their legs and wings. For every movement, more fluff was kicked up, floating in moats across the floor.
An angel of Hope had cautiously picked their way over to Inarius, inspecting the injuries. They let out a happy, if alarmed hoot when the larger angel grumbled, wings resettling themselves.
Inarius was awake…somewhat.
Everything hurt. While this wasn’t exactly anything new for the angel, it didn’t make it any more pleasant a feeling to wake up to. He let out a muffled moan, and tried to curl into a tighter ball.
Vaguely, Inarius was aware of the others in the room, but he just didn’t have the energy to get up and do anything about it.
The soothing resonance of an angel of Hope pushed against his, easing the pain somewhat. Tension bled out of his form, and Inarius let out a sigh of relief. He thought he heard the others talking about Malthael, and he supposed he should probably get up soon…maybe when he was a little less tired.
It was bittersweet, being surrounded by so many angels, after having lost the Angiris in his own realm. Still, the thrill of the discovery had finally settled into Malthael from the day prior, and a low-simmering curiosity won against his mind’s attempts to retreat back into darkness.
For all he knew, his realm was the only one where the Heavens lost the Eternal Conflict. The angels seemed numerous enough here. And while these were not his kin in form, they were still his kin in function.
While they fussed about him, he gradually spun, taking them all in, marveling at the variety of forms, as well as the vast manes that apparently took the place of hoods or helms on many of them. Though, it was sometimes hard to tell the angels from each other, given how they were intertwined in the pile.
Eventually, the smaller angel said, “It is you, isn’t it? You are Malthael… or at least a Malthael…”
He nodded, trying all the while to place the angel in his Aspect. He didn’t recognize them from his realm, but their garb was familiar enough. Which meant their real master was…
Again, before his mood could falter, the angels began bombarding him with questions.
“He’s barely got any fluff… how do mortals stay warm?”
“Clothing,” he replied, gesturing to his gear, and raising the corner of his cloak between pinched fingers. His ripped cloak. He frowned at the substantial tear that had gone unnoticed until then.
Death had been close, indeed.
“I am also not that small,” he continued, ducking instinctively as one tried to paw at his hair; at some point his cowl had fallen askew while he had slept. “The Angiris are not nearly so large in my realm. And I was hardly the shortest of my kind.” The shortest of the Archangels, yes, but he did not feel like admitting it.
Their attention faltered as they all turned as one to stare at Inarius.
“If you don’t mind me asking…” the smaller angel asked quietly, “What happened to you two?”
The question lingered in the air as Malthael fell silent. The reminder of his actions from the day prior was enough to crack his composure and return a fragment of melancholy to his soul. He didn’t want to make the situation worse for his shade, but neither did he want to lie.
“I attempted to give myself advice,” he said, sardonically. “Which, as per usual, went poorly.” A loud rumble from his stomach interrupted him; he sighed. It was hardly the appropriate time for a meal. Then, softly: “Inarius allowed me to flee. The power I retain is insignificant compared to your master’s. I thought foolishly I could oppose him if necessary, but…” He extended his arms, as if to gesture at his mortal form, and smiled sadly. “As you said: short.”
“You need a new clothing.” Remarked one of the larger angels. “Or perhaps, a sturdier clothing.” They leaned forward to inspect the torn cloak, wings tucking up as he recognized just where such a tear might have come from.
“Are you sure you’re not small? You look small to me.”
“Are all your angels squishy like you?” Someone managed to get a poke to the man’s arm. “So strange!”
Sermin hummed to himself, before glancing out a window. The side of the house could just barely be seen in the distance. While he certainly missed his old master, even he couldn’t deny how monstrous the Archangel had become. It was part of the reason he’d fled the flight of Wisdom in the first place. While he hadn’t quite been able to avoid the corruption of Death, he had not participated in the scouring of Sanctuary.
Even he had long since given up hope for the angel. This mortal had rekindled it, however briefly.
Everyone went silent at the rumble from the mortal’s stomach, zeroing in on the noise. They stared, as though expecting some tiny, chest-bursting creature to emerge. When Malthael continued talking like nothing had happening, they gradually relaxed. Though several sent suspicious glances at his stomach.
“Ha, knew it! Short!” The angel gave a yelp as they were promptly elbowed in the ribs. A brief scuffle broke out, with the two wrestling and snarling at one another, before they were cut short by an irritated hoot.
“Would you lot be kind enough to shut the hell up?” Came the rough voice of Inarius. He twisted to send a glare over his shoulder, wings flicking irritably.
“Sermin you know where Tyrael is? Take Mal to him. He’s hungry, not infected with chest-bursters.” With that, the angel flopped back down, and raised his wings to at least partially cover his head.
“…I’ll get him home later…”
Answering their questions properly may have been a bad idea, because the angels became positively chatty as soon as Malthael replied. He stifled an eye-roll as they gathered around him, utterly ignoring his personal space and choosing instead to prod at him as though he were a specimen on display.
They still hadn’t put things together enough to figure out he was mortal. Or, at least some hadn’t. He was unsure how to broach the matter, until Inarius growled from the corner, his rest disturbed by the clamoring pile.
“Would you lot be kind enough to shut the hell up? Sermin you know where Tyrael is? Take Mal to him. He’s hungry, not infected with chest bursters…I’ll get him home later…” Inarius seemed all right after all; the fight certainly hadn’t dampened his attitude.
Malthael chuckled again and gave the other angels a minuscule but wry smile. “Squishy and hungry, as it were, tend to go along with mortality.” He leaned on the last word, ensuring they understood he was the exception to the rule. “Unfortunately. It can be inconvenient. Sermin, was it? Perhaps you can show me to my brother. Or, your master’s brother.” He sighed. “This is needlessly confusing. Take me to Tyrael.”
Not that he was excited about encountering the other mortal, here. Tyrael was often uptight about Malthael’s more questionable decisions back in his home realm. He couldn’t imagine how irritated the man was with the particularly aggressive Reaper stalking about the angel’s territory.
And I am about to make his life even more complicated. My apologies in advance, brother.
Excited trilling and cooing broke out, and the angels slowly began to shift. Several vacated the forge, off to do whatever they did, and the rest simply moved to pile loosely around Inarius. Inarius, for his part, just grumbled, and squirmed until he was comfortable.
“Squishy hungry mortals.” Someone muttered. “How strange.” They were promptly silenced when a wing tendril slapped them where their mouth would be.
Sermin squeaked when he was addressed, and stood. He was a few heads taller than Malthael, though still quite small by angelic standards. He gestured at the door, and began to make his way out.
Though he was an angel of Wisdom, he still bore the classic aura of warmth and light that all his kin did. As it was thankfully not blizzarding currently, the walk back towards Tristram was rather pleasant.
“You are not an angel.” Though it was a statement, there was an underlying question of how, “Or at least, not anymore. Did you remove your wings? Like Tyrael did?”
The angel tilted his head, occasionally trilling into the forest. There were always at least a few replies.
“You don’t seem like…well, you don’t seem like you were a Reaper. Yet you bear the mark of Death. What… what’s the difference? Why are you so normal and he’s…well. Aside from the obvious.” Sermin gestured with his arms, indicating the height of Malthael’s counterpart.
Smoke from the town appeared in the distance, the familiar yet different Town of Tristram rising into view. The buildings they currently inhabited were not so far from the town. Though the territory stretched for miles away from Tristram’s borders.
In truth, the town had been much safer since the angels moved in. Nothing save the occasional foolish cultists came near, and those that did were quickly and easily dealt with.
The angels did try and leave the town be best that they could, but sometimes there was just no avoiding entrance. Like now. The guards were puzzled, certainly, but well aware of why the local angels would be looking to come in. It was nice to have them come to the door for a change - most simply flew over, startling not a few of the inhabitants.
Tristram was quiet, and sleepy. It seemed most everyone had holed up for the winter.
Tyrael’s house was easily spotted for the gaggle of adventurers having a discussion outside. Nephalem, perhaps? In the middle of the crowd was Tyrael himself, standing tall and regal, El’Druin pointed tip down into the snow. Sermin chirped, and the mortal angel instantly looked up. He politely excused himself, and moved to meet the duo.
“Izual told me of the smaller Malthael Inarius dragged back with him. I suppose I didn’t entirely believe him.”
Malthael followed Sermin from the barn, easily keeping pace with the smaller angel. The blizzard had passed overnight, and the hardened shell of the snow crunched under his greaves as they made their way through the forest. The morning sun filtered through the branches onto his face; it was a welcome change from the darkness he had faced the previous day, and a spark of warmth against his still weary soul.
He glanced briefly at the angel when he spoke, before returning his attention to the uneven terrain. “Literally remove them? No. Symbolically? Yes.” He trailed off, expecting his mind to crimp at Serim’s more pointed questions. But instead of the usual retreat into painful memory, he found only a numb contentedness, as though the entire world had reduced itself to be more palatable.
That was not good. With the retreat from emotion came a familiar blunt objectivity that allowed him to recognize his behaviour for what it was: a withdrawal into himself, of both negative and positive feelings. It was the cold functionality of survival, and a state he had not experienced since he had first regained his memories in the forest outside Salvos and convinced himself to live.
It was no wonder he’d taken solace in the novelty of the angels. Discovery was a base comfort for him, a holdover from his immortal existence and the endless years he had spent staring in Chalad’ar, thirsty for knowledge. It was also the safest place for him to be, for himself and those around him.
But, mortals did not function properly in emotional binaries. Their best existence was found in the spectrum in between a dearth of feeling and the relentless waves of too much. That he was jumping between the two ends without conscious decision meant he was worse off than he thought.
His shade was not the only one who needed outside assistance. But, that was a problem for a later time, when he was back home and in the company of those he trusted.
He stopped aside a towering pine and dragged his fingers along the tree’s bark. Pieces broke away, releasing the familiar scent of sap and fir. He rested his forehead against his gauntlet, closing his eyes and allowing smell to ground him back into the waking world.
“I was a Reaper,” he finally replied, after several silent minutes. “The same as your master. I was slain. I…could have returned to the Arch.” He believed, at least. His memories of those convoluted moments after his death were dreamlike at best, and fragmented at worst. “But I chose not to. I wanted to find the wisdom I had lost. It was there, in the Sound. I followed it. And I Fell.”
His fingers tightened against the bark, the pointed fingertips of his gauntlets leaving narrow gouges in the wood.
“In time, I discovered I was correct: that there is Wisdom to be found in mortals, and in Death. But not in the way I believed before. I was foolish then, and alone. As he is now.”
Feel something, he begged himself. Anything.
Yet, the entire conversation caused his soul to resonate as much as a rock, even while his mind was transfixed, obsessed even, with explaining the entire story properly.
Best they kept moving. At least he could keep himself busy.
“Come,” he muttered, nodding towards the smoke rising in the distance.
This Tristram was smaller than the one he knew, and understandably quieter due to the lack of extra Nephalem around. At least Tyrael’s home was in the same location. His brother was busy as always, though he seemed eager enough to escape from the crowd gathered about him to come and speak to the pair.
“Izual told me of the smaller Malthael Inarius dragged back with him. I suppose I didn’t entirely believe him.”
Hearing Tyrael’s voice raised Malthael’s spirits somewhat, and he managed to force a smile back on his face in greeting.
“Understandable. Though, we both know Inarius’ flights of fancy often lead to legitimately fanciful situations.” He raised an eyebrow to the sky, heavily implying Sanctuary was one of them.
Beyond that, he wasn’t sure what to say. This Tyrael had a history completely unlike the man he knew, at least in terms of their relationship with each other. He was well aware of how strange it would be if Malthael behaved as though they were friends, particularly given his other-self’s recent behaviour.
“I apologize for intruding. It was not my best idea to come here, though at the time it seemed wise enough. I am sure you are tired of dealing with Wisdom’s idiocy. In any form.”
On cue, his stomach rumbled again. He shrugged at Tyrael as if to say: But there is also the matter of this.
Sermin paused, staring at the mortal angel for a long moment. He knew something was wrong, but wasn’t quite sure what. Emotions, angelic, mortal, or otherwise, had never been his strong suit. That was much more to Inarius or Tyrael’s skill-set. Perhaps the other fallen angel could help, in more ways than one.
“You lost them symbolically? How um. How does that work?” He wondered more to the world as a whole than to Malthael himself. The angel’s head was tilted, curiosity obvious in his body language. He tried to imagine what the human was really talking about, but found he just didn’t have the experience for it.
After a brief silence, the angel spoke up once more. “Our leader used to always encourage the pursuit of knowledge. No matter the source. He would say there was something to be gained from everything, even that which we did not want to face or accept.” Sermin reached up to grip his upper arms, wings pulling in tight. “That was what made me believe something was wrong when the others turned to Death. It just…it seemed so opposed to what he’d always taught us. I wish he could see such things now.”
Sermin fell silent in the presence of Tyrael, and excused himself when the mortal angels began to speak. He clambered up to the roof of the house, before perching near a chimney. The angel crouched like an immense gargoyle, simply contemplating all he’d learned today.
Tyrael casually looked around, an appreciative expression on his face; it was as though he was observing the world again for the first time, and rediscovering all the wonderful things he’d found before.
“Inarius has a creative streak, that is for certain.” There was a mix of fondness and exasperation in his voice. He looked back to Malthael, taking in his agreeable posture and expression with a raised brow of his own. How different from the Malthael he knew…even in the High Heavens, they had not been particularly close. Now they were practically sworn enemies.
It was…nice. Having someone so close to his former leader regard him with friendliness. Quite nice, if also quite strange. He couldn’t help but wonder what could have possibly lead to the other angel’s fall, but figured it was not really his place to ask.
Tyrael gestured towards the door, inviting the other mortal in.
“I did not know of my brother’s errand. I would not have advised it…though something tells me you would have ended up here anyway.”
The interior was cozy, with a few other mortals about. There was a sense of calm, as though the events of the past day hadn’t even occurred. Tristram lay untouched from the cold claws of Death.
“I can only assume he did not feed you. Do you have a preference?” Tyrael was doing his best to be friendly. So far, this mortal Malthael had shown no ill will…and if he had heard right through the grape vine, he had come to try and help. Tyrael couldn’t help but wonder how the man could possibly help with the Reaper.
“No, he did not. And no preference. Sustenance is sustenance on the road. Though–”Malthael hesitated, caught between wanting to be honest and not wanting to confuse Tyrael even more. The honesty won. “If you have any baking, that would be…most agreeable.”
He leaned his blades against the wall near the door, then took a seat in a comfortable looking armchair. It was the same chair from the home he knew, he realized, though twenty-some years newer, and still with all of its stuffing in place.
Malthael watched as Tyrael bustled about the home, the man’s surprised reaction to his greeting remaining in his mind. His brother was no dullard, and he must have suspected there was history between them he did not know. But he also seemed slightly on edge, and Malthael caught him returning the stares several times, when he thought Malthael wasn’t looking.
“This is strange for you,” he said. Small talk was not his forte, but the conversation was needed. “I understand. I am likely not what you expected.”
His extended stay in the forge had left much of his clothing drenched in sweat. He had ignored it during the walk, but here, in the comfort of a more reasonable fireplace, he had a chance to remedy it. While he spoke, he began to unclasp and remove his outer armor, beginning with the gauntlets.
“A great deal has happened in my realm that you are not aware of. And a great many years have passed since I fell to the Nephalem. I may not be able to answer all of your questions, but if you have them, ask. I have intruded here in an attempt to help, and I would at least have you understand why.”
He sighed in relief as he eventually pulled the breastplate off and discarded it on the floor. Haedrig had done an impeccable job crafting the gear, but he still vastly preferred his day-clothes to the heavier armor.
That finished, he leaned back and silently waited for Tyrael to reply.
“Baking? Well perhaps…” Tyrael’s brow furrowed, and he disappeared into the kitchen area to bustle about rather noisily. Seemed that no matter the timeline he was destined to clang about. He hummed to himself, considering the other man’s words.
“Things on Sanctuary are usually strange. It seems you’ve already had n extended stay at Hephasto’s…” Tyrael smiled wryly, returning with a basket of assorted fresh rolls, dried meats and cheeses. “It doesn’t get much more bizarre than that.”
After handing off the basket, he seated himself, and simply watched the mortal angel strip off his clothing. He knew from personal experience that angel-piles were not the most ideal place for non-angels. If one did not get squished, they would certainly wake up over-heated.
That said, Tyrael had found there was no place he’d rather be after a hard battle than hunkered down with his kin. And from what he’d seen, this man had been in a hard battle indeed.
“You are different, to be sure. But, I suppose you are much like Malthael once was.” Sadness blossomed on the former angel’s face, as he considered both the angel he knew and the being in front of him. “It gladdens me that in at least one world he- you- well, that you managed to regain yourself. Heaven has been rickety without Malthael, to say the least. And his return…well, it only stirred up more issues.”
Tyrael went quiet, simply observing the other mortal angel for a moment. It was a novel experience, having another angel who had taken on mortality as he had. Certainly, angels of all kinds now lived upon Sanctuary, but none, not even his brother, had truly experienced being human.
And this man looked like he’d endured the most tiring aspects of mortality. For all there was strength to him, Tyrael couldn’t help but think there was a frailness to him as well. Perhaps it was simply the events of his world. Perhaps age. Or maybe he was just that hungry.
“I suppose I am curious why you agreed to whatever Inarius asked of you. Their relationship in this world is not positive, to say the least.” Caution, sadness, and pain were evident in Tyrael’s expression. “For all my brother’s attempts, Malthael only resists. Why didn’t you?”
“Not so much regained as reforged,” Malthael quipped, settling into the chair properly and taking the meal basket onto his lap. Any inclination he had to eat slowly vanished as soon as the food touched his tongue. Granted, he had skipped dinner the day prior because he had been absorbed in reading.
The more he thought on it, he seemed to have also skipped lunch that day as well. Accidentally, of course. But personal care had not been high on his list of considerations.
“Lesser and greater than I once was,” he continued, echoing the words Auriel had said to him after she had also Fallen. “Mortality is a trade. I assume you have found the same: our physical beings are less, but our capacity for connection and emotion expands. As for Inarius–”
He took a moment to swallow his mouthful, before giving Tyrael his full attention. “I did not do this for him. I did it for myself. In all senses of the statement. I am unsure if you are aware, but the Malthael from your realm wrote to me previously, asking for advice. He seemed troubled. When Inarius came seeking additional help, and I realized the situation had worsened, I thought that I could assist.”
His cloak, which had been nearly sheared in half, lay discarded as proof of his failure. He saw Tyrael’s gaze dart to it briefly, as though he were thinking the same thing.
“It was a selfish reason,” he said, quieter. “I hoped to fix some version of myself. I thought I could help him escape his pain. He does want to escape. But I cannot convince him that escape lies anywhere but in death.”
He absently shoved a handful of cheese into his mouth, not particularly caring how ridiculous he looked. “And I needed a respite. From…everything. Which is how I came to stare down the Angel of Death as my chosen vacation. Not my finest idea, certainly.” He murmured, “Hells take me if Farah finds out the details.”
Chapter 6: Part 6
A smile warmed Tyrael’s face as he considered himself and the mortal angle before him. “It is an experience, to be sure. I would be curious to know how much our experiences differ.” He gestured out the window in the vague direction of the barn. “You may think all us angel as primitive and well, feral, as those you’ve met, and to an extent we are, but these angels are more… Well. Fleshy.”
Tyrael nodded, satisfied with Malthael’s answer. It made far more sense for Malthael to do something out of a strange self-preservation than for the sake of his brother. “Perhaps, something can be done for him…but after what he’s done to you and Inarius yesterday, his options are looking grim.” There was sadness in him, but also a stalwart readiness to do what he had to, what he believed was necessary. If he had to, he would see to the end of Death.
Surprise colored his face when he considered the next point of information. “I did not know of such letters… I had wondered how Inarius had found you in the first place, but therein lays the answer. How Malthael knew of you is still a mystery, however.”
How indeed. It was something Tyrael doubted he’d be able to get out of the former-Archangel. Perhaps he would look into it himself later on. But for now he had a guest to care for.
He looked over the torn armor as the mortal-Malthael continued to eat. Seemed he’d come quite close to a violent end. He would have to have a talk with Inarius about that.
“If you wish, we can aide in repairing whatever armor you need. Light knows Headrig and the rest are itching for something to do during all this downtime.”
A brow raised as he watched the man practically inhale some cheese, and the other joined it as he listened to the man’s next words.
“Respite? For as peaceful as we are here, there is no respite to be found in the reaper’s claws. And Farah? Who is Farah? I’ve not known this name.”
“Others cannot help you if you cannot help yourself,” Malthael muttered. “Though, I still believe his reaching out to me constitutes that. Why things worsened since then I do not know. However, having seen the differences between the Angiris I knew, and your kin, perhaps…”
He tented his fingers and pondered the idea. It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment, after Tyrael had spelled out things more fully. “Flesh. I have found since becoming mortal that I do not tolerate the darkness well, particularly during Tristram’s winter months.” He gestured at the snow out the window. “I learned quite early that it behooves me to venture to warmer climates during that time. The relief on my mind is palpable.”
He reached for another morsel, only to discover the basket was empty save a few crumbs. “I am a hypocrite. I judge your brother – myself – for his stubbornness, yet, here I sit, having been prescribed a long rest in Tristram that I am not adhering to whatsoever. And I did not even find myself someplace with sun. Only claws, as you say.” He snorted.
Though, his sarcastic bemusement was short-lived at Tyrael’s last query. He had thought he’d kept the comment about Farah quiet enough to avoid notice; Tyrael’s hearing was obviously as good here as it was back home.
“You would not know her. How many years has it been since Westmarch? Not enough, I assume. She would be in Caldeum, at the Great Library, toiling away in boredom.”
In this world, yes; back home, she had probably awakened for the day and gone to the library – assuming time passed between the realms as he thought it did. She may not have even realized he had left, depending when Tyrael returned and found his note.
It was hardly the first time he had left town. But it was the first since that had happened, and the weight of battle and loss took away the levity he usually experienced while on the road.
He hadn’t been ready to leave, neither physically nor emotionally. Archfall had taken its toll on him, and the sudden burning desire he had to return to Tristram and to her told him he had assumed too much about his stability, and about what he really needed. It cut through the numbness like a knife.
“Ah.” He ran his fingers across his lips, feeling far more exposed than he would like at that moment. “But I suppose that is not what you are really asking. Is it.”
Oh, out with it.
“Farah is a friend.”
That was not what he meant to say at all.
“A good friend.”
This is not difficult, but you are clearly an idiot.
“She tolerates me.”
The remaining words tied his tongue, and he ended up shrugging in mortification at Tyrael, as if to say: Please deduce the rest.
“Sun?” Tyrael tipped his head, before turning to look out a window at the snowy landscape. He had noticed that mortals in particular had a tenancy to become more ornery during winter months. The mortal angel hadn’t given much thought as to why…perhaps they, like angels, needed a light source to draw upon.
“That will be something to keep in mind. He has a tendency to hunker in dark places, I never thought he might want more light.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Tyrael realized how ridiculous they were. Whatever else he might be, Malthael was an angel. He needed light, whether he wanted to or not.
He smiled, wry and apologetic. “We have claws in spades here.” as if to demonstrate, he raised his hand, revealing previously-unnoticed, very feline like claws. Seemed he had kept some of his feral traits into mortality. “Did you want more?” Tyrael did not give him a chance to reply already standing and hurrying off, this time returning with a serving for himself as well.
“This is the eight winter following Westmarch. Although much of that time was spent rebuilding and… getting reacquainted.” Tyrael snickered a bit, thinking of the surprise of running into his brother and his former lieutenant for the first time. It had been a sock, to say the least.
He stared though, puzzled, at Malthael’s description of the woman.
“Friends do not just tolerate each other, let alone close friends.” Tyrael took in the awkward posture, and the odd mortification in his face. He had to push away thoughts of how interesting it was seeing Malthael emote so openly, to try and deduce what he was actually saying.
“This woman, whom you do not want to know the more…” He glanced at the armor pile, “Exciting parts of your trip.” The former angel’s face showed he was coming around to his conclusion, and the stirrings of raw excitement and joy at the implications. “She is more than a friend isn’t she?”
A full on grin broke across the fallen angel’s face, and he leaned forward eagerly.
Malthael decided then that he really needed to be more objective about Farah. All of his attempts to downplay their relationship due to his own hesitation ended up making it appear to be a Very Big Deal, which had the opposite effect on others he wished it to have. He doubted Tyrael would be half as amused as he was if he had simply looked at him and nonchalantly declared his love for the woman.
Even that thought, though, dried his throat. He had never overtly declared anything like that in his extremely lengthy life. Malthael, the Aspect of Wisdom and Death, did not openly declare his fondness for knowledge, or mysteries, or the confounding secrets of the eternal universe. At least not in those terms.
Complicating matters was that he and Farah had never actually discussed the current status of their relationship. He did love her, certainly. And he was fairly sure she loved him, even after everything that had happened with the Arch, and his somewhat dubious decision to reacquaint himself with Death. Beyond that, he knew nothing.
Do not overthink things. You and her have already sorted that much.
In place of a proper reply, he shrugged again and fetched a bun from the additional food basket Tyrael had brought out. Talking about Farah meant trying to distill several years of a relationship down into several minutes. Not to mention this Tyrael was not the brother he was familiar with, and he expected the man’s shock about the entire situation to be degrees beyond what his Tyrael’s had been.
“Though, tolerance is an important part of it,” he mumbled, around the bun. “Particularly when I partake in ‘exciting trips’. She knows what that entails, but I would rather not worry her needlessly. She has plenty of things to worry about withfull reason.”
Sample: his usual, dangerous adventures when he wasn’t actively seeking out a duel with a Reaper.
You still have not said it.
That was it. He only had to keep his voice casual, and smooth down all the uncooperative expressions from his face, and then hopefully Tyrael would let the matter drop. This was not a monumental thing. It was a very normal, mortal thing. Hardly surprising.
“She is…more than a friend. Yes.”
Tyrael’s face practically lit up with delight. “That is wonderful!” He looked as if he wanted to sweep Malthael off the chair into a massive hug - his hands were even poised. He caught himself however, and sheepishly folded his hands together.
“Have you been together long? She must be impressive to be able to tolerate you.” The former archangel squinted, as if trying to picture a mortal woman his brother would like. He idly nibbled on some meats while he contemplated.
“Although, I suppose I should really be asking, she cares for you back? You clearly care for and about her… but love is not always so cut and dry.” There was a gentle sadness in his gaze. Tyrael was well aware of how relationships did not always pan out.
The armor pile once again snagged his attention, and he winced slightly. “You must miss her company. Whatever relationship you share, it must be something special.” He glanced at the window again. It was nearing midday, judging by the amount of light there was.
Inarius was a fast healer, and very stubborn about not resting. He did not like to be down for longer than absolutely necessary. It was something neither Tyrael nor Izual had been able to stop in him, and Tyrael was beginning to believe it was yet another side effect of his imprisonment.
But it did mean that Malthael would likely be going home sooner rather than later. He would have sent him off himself, except Tyrael did not know which world he’d come from, and did not posses the ability to bypass dimensional barriers. Few of the angels on Sanctuary did. For now, the mortal was stuck with them.
Malthael tried to sink into his chair, embarrassment turning to abject mortification as Tyrael gestured as though he wanted to embrace him. Not that this Tyrael knew he did not appreciate being touched, but given what he had seen of the Reaper, he wondered if his brother had lost his mind in his excitement, and simply forgotten that hugging any Malthael, anywhere was a terrible idea.
“Not long,” he admitted, relieved when Tyrael eventually relented and went back to snacking. “We conversed a great deal through letters, at first.” He snorted as his own joke was turned back at him. “And she is impressive. One would have to be to manage Tristram’s library. There is no shortage of arcane texts.”
He raised a curious eyebrow. “I would not have claimed so, if she did not. It would be disrespectful. Granted, mortals oft try and complicate these matters. Love, I think, issimple. Life, on the other hand, is not.”
Tyrael’s forlorn expression made him curious, however, if there was something else behind his brother’s words. “You speak from experience, when you ask this. Yes? And, yes. I do miss her company. Particularly after all that has occurred…”
He trailed off, absently massaging the scar on his thigh where Kurael had wounded him; it had mostly healed but still ached often, as did his arms where the ice had cut them.
The stench of the battlefield assaulted him without warning. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to force his thoughts away from that towards her.
Her arms wrapped tightly around him, after he had found her near the pond, waiting for his return. Her lilting voice, whispering his name as he drifted off next to a bonfire during the Wake, wondering if he wanted to find a quieter place to rest. Her hands gently re-dressing his wounds, silently watching him and needing no words to convey the relief she felt that he was alive.
“She is…precious to me,” he whispered, and though he looked towards Tyrael, his mind was in a different Tristram, very far away indeed.
Tyrael considered this, long and hard, hand to his chin. He looked pensive, as though he were thinking up some big important questions to ask. Finally, he looked up again, still all hopeful and excited.
“What color is her hair? Is it dark?”
He seemed utterly charmed by the thought of whoever this impressive librarian woman was, his sadness momentarily forgotten. Anyone who could handle any Malthael truly had to have a spine of steal and the patience of a saint.
“I am glad you have found someone to love, Malthael.” Tyrael was genuine when he spoke. “It is such a precious thing, and to live ones life without it… well, I am sure you are aware of the difference it can make.”
His face began to fall, however, as he observed the other man beginning to unfocus. He knew dissociation when he saw it, thanks to dealing with his brother. Inarius often lapsed into memories, and there weren’t many ways to easily and calmly break him from them.
Then again, when Inarius began to drift, it was usually into old and painful times that had him gasping and clawing at whatever the nearest surface was. Malthael appeared okay for now, and Tyrael wasn’t totally sure how he wanted something like this to be handled… It wasn’t like he knew the man.
He did know a Malthael though, and he knew from personal experience what the angel preferred doing above all else; reading, compiling, shedding on his favorite chair, meditating…and bathing.
The mortal had to have been feeling gross after spending a night in an angel-pile.
“Malthael?” Tyrael spoke up, steady and clear. “I think that is enough conversation for now. Thank you for telling me of your…Farah.” He couldn’t very well send the man home without Inarius’ assistance, so they would simply have to pass the time.
“Would you care to look through any of our books while you are here? Or perhaps make use of the bath?”
Reality snapped back as the room’s quiet ambiance returned. Malthael exhaled a shuddering breath, fingers clenching tightly against his leg, and managed a nod.
“That…might be wise.”
He refused to meet Tyrael’s gaze, but even from the corner of his eye, he saw concern on the man’s face. Oddly, his brother was reacting more calmly than Malthael remembered. Back home, it had taken Tyrael years to wipe the naked horror from his face whenever the darker facets of Malthael’s past tried to take hold of him.
Which made him think it wasn’t the Reaper that Tyrael knew this action from, but someone else. Inarius, perhaps? No amount of analytics would keep the shadows from rising in him, though. He needed a better way to ground himself than by debating Tyrael’s differences between realms.
“A bath would be ideal. It may help. And I smell like…your kin.”
Not that time alone with his mind eased his troubles; often, it made them worse. But something about the calm waters took him back to the Pools, and to a time when he had utter control over the High Heavens.
He carefully stood and made his way to where he assumed the bath was. Then, before he cracked the door, he added: “Dark. Like the side of a mountain, after the sun has set behind it.”
Concern and the urge to find out what was really wrong bloomed up in Tyrael, but he tried to squash it down. It was not his place to pry, and light knew he had more than enough problems on his plate. But it had been nice talking to the man about something more positive and lighthearted.
Truly he was glad that in at least one world Malthael had managed to find happiness.
“Help yourself to whatever’s in there.” Tyrael chirped. “Ahh, fair warning though, some of it belongs to Inarius.” And who even knew what he’d done to it.
With that, Tyrael busied himself looking over the armor and cloak the other man had discarded. He had to say he was impressed by the craftsmanship. It was very close to angelic - he recognized Haedrig’s handiwork, although this looked like some of his finest.
“Something else isn’t he?” Tyrael let out a yelp and spun about to find his brother behind him. Inarius raised a delicate brow, wearing his human guise. He simply grinned at the peeved look Tyrael gave him.
“He’s certainly not the Malthael we know.” Tyrael offered with a glance towards the bathroom door. Inarius snickered lightly, before all but collapsing on the couch. Abandoning the armor, Tyrael plonked down next to him before turning to him with a critical eye.
“What?” Inarius put on his best innocent look. He squawked when Tyrael cuffed him upside the head. The two began scuffling, cursing and pawing at one another in the classic sibling way.
“When you take him back,” Tyrael began after they had finally collapsed into a heap. “Do not involve him in any more of your schemes.”
“I wasn’t scheming-”
“Inarius.” The older sibling’s tone brokered no argument. Inarius’ mouth shut with a click of teeth. He glanced away sulkily.
“We can both tell there’s something else he’s going through. We don’t need to add onto his problems.” Though his words were stern, Tyrael’s tone was gentle. He knew his sibling had meant no harm - he just didn’t always consider such things.
After a moment, the mortal pulled himself out of the pile and stood, hand on his hips.
“Now, transform back, so I can make sure you’re properly healed.” And that started a whole new scuffle.
The bath, at least, was familiar. After he ensured the water was clean enough, Malthael lit the arcane flames under the tub and sifted through the various bottles and flasks while it heated. Everything was strongly perfumed: likely Inarius’ doing. He didn’t particularly care. The bath would be hot, he would no longer smell like angelic fluff, and he might even manage to calm down.
The desire to scrub away any remaining traces of the previous day overpowered his lethargy. He snatched a flask labelled for hair from the shelf, leaned over the still luke-warm water, and dunked his head.
Hells be damned, he loathed washing his hair. It plastered to his face when wet, tangled too easily, and took a ridiculous amount of time to properly cleanse. However, he hated it far less than the thought of cutting it short, as Tyrael oft suggested. It was one of the more irritating aspects of mortality that he tolerated out of stubborn refusal to concede defeat.
Eventually, once the temperature was correct, he peeled his remaining clothing off, and sank into the water to his nose. Bubbles from the soap charted winding paths across the water’s surface; some crept onto his face, and he ‘pffftd’ a few away from his mouth with rapidly dissipating irritation.
It was …. nice. One of the oils he had dumped in was scented with various calming flowers. There was nothing urgent for him to deal with. Nothing troubling. Nothing dying.
“I said no death,” he muttered, cutting the thought off before it could overtake his impending relaxation. It lingered just out of his mental reach, but at least it stayed where it wouldn’t bother him terribly.
Then, when he was ready, he let his mind drift back to the Pools, to a glittering, star-filled sky overlaid with the Lightstream.
Though baths could not fix everything, Malthael at least felt physically refreshed by the time he crawled out. He’d intended to put his underclothes back on, but now that he was clean and the angel stench had been removed, the idea was no longer palatable. He fixed a towel about his waist and decided Tyrael could find him some temporary clothes until he made it back home to change.
Back in the great room, he found Tyrael and Inarius near-wrestling with each other on the floor. Inarius barely fit in the home in his angelic form, and there was fur everywhere from their scuffling. Tyrael seemed to be trying to check the angel’s injuries, though Malthael had no idea how putting Inarius in a pseudo-choke hold would help with that.
He paused in the threshold, folded his arms across his bare chest, and cocked his head to the side. Then, he cleared his throat abruptly.
Inarius only half-protested his sibling’s ministrations. In truth, there was no way Tyrael could hope to best him in a feat of strength when they were like this. He just liked the attention too much to really push his brother off. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t toss him around some though, and hoot and snuffle loudly in ‘protest’.
More the wiser of his sibling’s contradictory ways, Tyrael simply ignored him and continued right on with what he was doing. He would definitely be bullying his brother into bed-rest once they got Malthael all sorted out (or at least getting Izual to do it for him). But he was healed enough for now.
Now he was simply running his fingers through the silky strands of Inarius’s mane, tugging out snarls and old filaments of hair. Inarius lazily stretched his wings, and made a content huff.
Both siblings looked up comically when Malthael cleared his throat.
They stared. Tyrael clenched his jaw. Inarius grinned.
The next words out of Inarius were some of the most encouraging: “Uh-oh.” He then proceeded to flip himself over, dumping Tyrael off his chest with a squawk of protest from his older brother. He leaned closer, reaching out with one massive paw to gently prod the man in the chest.
“Look at you!” Inarius crowed happily. “You were holding out on me Mal.” The angel puzzled over the towel the man wore, before deciding not to steal it. It was a little cold to be running around without pants.
Tyrael had picked himself up off the ground and was dusting himself off with a huff. He cuffed his brother upside the head, before turning a critical eye to the guest. Should he…say something?
“Look Tyrael! Fluff! A mortal angel with fluff!” Inarius was gesturing widely at the man, grinning cheekily at Tyrael, who heaved a long-suffering sigh.
“We’ve been over this Inarius…”
“That’s well and good following your fall, but its been years. Years! And you still look like a naked mole-rat!” Inarius yelped when his brother punched him in the arm. Revenge was a necessary however, and he quickly began to retaliate.
Even while scuffling, Tyrael was looking Malthael over with a critical eye. “Which soaps did you use Malthael?” He was…very sure the man’s hair had been shorter and less…wild when he went into the bathroom.
“The one that was labelled for hair,” he said, arching an eyebrow as the two slapped at each other. Inarius thankfully had turned his attention back at Tyrael and had stopped patting at Malthael’s chest. “Yes, I have….fluff.” He lingered on the word as if it contained some unspoken power; given the world he had stumbled upon, he was not entirely sure it didn’t. “And yes, Tyrael does not. The same is true in my realm. You likely fight a lost cause, Inarius.”
It was really none of his business. But to a small degree, he agreed with Inarius; he did not understand how Tyrael could tolerate having no hair. And the man never wore a cowl. He had nothing to hide behind. Tyrael would likely argue that he had nothing to hide, but Malthael knew better.
“Regardless: if you are able, I would prefer to borrow some clothes to go home. My previous ones currently smell like…” He trailed off and rolled his eyes at Inarius. “I can pack my armor and drop it off at Haedrig when I return.”
Hopefully, the blacksmith could fix it before Farah or Tyrael noticed the damage to it.
“I am also glad to see you are awake,” he admitted. “And healthy. I regret I could not help, and I hope I have not made things worse.” He shrugged awkwardly at Tyrael. “Though at least we have come out of this without any permanent disfigurements.”
Physically, at least. The entire experience had given him a lot to think about, both for himself and the Reaper he was leaving behind. Seeing a version of himself act out so violently had provided an unexpected mirror into his own behaviour, and he vowed he would not let the realization go to waste.
“If you are able, and willing, I would like to return to my Tristram.”
The siblings shared a look, some silent conversation passing between them. Tyrael pursed his hips and looked away first, with Inarius snickering as he began to push himself to his feet. Their gazes grew intense, however, and they turned as one to stare at Malthael’s hair. Golden eyes, almost identical.
The moment passed, with Inarius grinning and patting his brother on the head. “Lost cause, perhaps, but one I will fight nonetheless.” The angel tossed his mane cheekily, even as Tyrael huffed crossly at him.
“I’m sure I have something you can borrow.” Tyrael offered. He shoved his brother’s hand off of him, and disappeared somewhere in the house. Inarius shuffled in place, wings flicking and twitching.
“Good to see you in working order as well.” Inarius folded his arms, though not in an aggressive manner. He really was relieved the man hadn’t come to any physical harm - mental demons could be sorted out. Physical injuries had to be explained.
“…I’ve certainly had much worse things than Malthael try and maim me. He’s not even close to the top of my list of ‘worse things I’ve fought.’” Though his tone was cheerful enough, anyone looking closely could sense the strain in Inarius’s words. He did not lie - Malthael was simply another name on the long list of beings that had tried to do him harm. He was, however, someone that Inarius had once considered a friend. Facing his potential death…was not something the angel knew how to deal with.
“More than likely we’ll have to have Imperius deal with him. Technically…it is a council matter… and I would not want to put the Nephalem back in that situation. I-” Inarius faltered, wings folding tight to his body. He looked away from the mortal. When he spoke, his voice was soft. “I don’t think I could do it.”
A short, tense silence later and Tyrael came back eyeballing multiple articles of clothing.
“I brought multiples, whatever fits you best you are welcome to…” The former angel trailer off as he sensed the change in mood of the room, and he looked between the two, unsure what had happened.
“Dress your self, Malthael, and I’ll have you home. Unfortunately, I can’t just send you on your way - my magic is finicky, I must accompany you to be sure you end up in the right place.” Amusement colored the angel, and his wings fluffed back out some. “Wouldn’t want you landing on the moon now would we.”
“Certainly not. The moon would be far less interesting than this has been.”
Malthael smirked and accepted the pile of clothing from Tyrael, his thoughts still fixated on Inarius’ candid revelation. It was easy to quip back at the angel, because it meant he did not have to address the unspoken truth they both now understood.
We thought we could do the deed if necessary. Neither of us could, it seems. I do not possess the power, and you do not possess the vicious objectivity required.
He also did not want to see the Reaper in Imperius’ hands. His opinion of the Archangel was clouded by the terrible things Imperius had done in his world, but even outside that, Imperius had never been one to follow cold logic. All his actions were driven by an internal fire, including his upholding of Heavenly justice alongside Tyrael.
“Tyrael. I assume you are the Aspect of Wisdom. However, it seems the Heavens are in need of Justice. Perhaps…”
Did the Reaper deserve mercy as Malthael himself had been granted? After everything he had done in Westmarch, and after he had so forcefully fought against the intervention of his kin?
He did not know. But he was Wisdom, not Justice. He was no judge. That was up to his brother.
“Perhaps consider what I said earlier,” he continued. “About the sun. And then, mete your judgement accordingly.” He tipped his head slightly in respect, then turned. “Excuse me. I will change, and then we can be off.”
Tyrael nodded thoughtfully, and waved his sibling’s questioning look away. It was something to consider…especially since they were all out of ideas. How to pull it off, though, was a question Tyrael did not have an answer for. Perhaps Inarius could come up with something, or maybe Auriel, the next time she visited.
It was a start.
The two gathered Malthael’s armor into a pack that Tyrael bore while they waited for the other man’s return. Or rather, Tyrael gathered, Inarius stole various items of armor before returning them after a brief scuffle.
The two looked Malthael up and down once more when he returned, taking in the baggy clothes that didn’t-quite-fit…and the fluff that the man apparently still hadn’t noticed.
“Hold still you two, this is going to be rougher than usual.” Inarius intoned before reaching out to rest a hand on bother their shoulders. He didn’t bother to transform - the spell would simply fail with how much energy it took to jump like this. Especially carrying two people. It had been a small while since he’d had to exert himself like this, and Inarius was not looking forward to recovering from all this. Oh well.
It took a moment of focusing on the mortal, and reaching out, out to his world, that they’d really only been gone for the morning from. Inarius cooed lightly once he was sure he had it.
A brief explosion of light- and they were gone.
The library was calm, peaceful in the afternoon. There were few, if no patrons about, most having retreated in search of lunch.
Convenient, for Inarius was about to utterly shatter that peace.
They landed with an immense feeling of whump. Papers scattered, fluff seemed to materialize everywhere with their appearance. Thankfully, nothing was destroyed, and everyone’s limbs were still on their bodies. Tyrael let out a gasp and stumbled back to catch himself on a nearby chair. Inarius’s jumps were jarring at the best of times, but this time he hadn’t been able to spare energy towards making the ride smooth in the least.
Inarius, for his part, fell down on one knee, wings shuddering and they tucked in close. He had the piece of mind to let go of Malthael before accidentally squishing him too much.
A beat passed during which he simply tried to catch his breath. A squeak caught his attention though, and the angel tipped his massive head up to look for the source - only for his gaze to land on the older woman seated behind the desk. Wide brown eyes met tired gold.
Inarius grinned at her, cheeky and amused. “Sorry ‘bout the unannounced entrance. You must be the librarian?”
Chapter 7: Part 7
Inarius’ warning conveyed only a fraction of how bumpy the jump would be. Malthael felt as though his head had been turned inside out and his eyes replaced with blinding braziers. It was worse than the first time, and though it lasted only moments, it was enough to leave him gasping for breath.
The floor rushing up to smack him in the chest did not help matters.
He hissed and crawled painfully onto an elbow. “Inarius!” The least the angel could have done was lowered him before he unceremoniously let go. His head already felt as though he’d muddled it about in a tavern until the early hours; landing gracefully had not been an option.
As the ringing in his ears subsided, he noticed something strange. The floor was a different type of wood. Concerning. Perhaps Inarius had taken them to a different realm by mistake? He wouldn’t put it past the angel.
Then, he realized with widening eyes: it was not Tyrael’s home.
It was the library.
And there, on perfect cue, was a familiar yelp of surprise.
He stumbled to his feet in time to see Inarius smirk at Farah. The librarian was doing an admirable job of keeping her composure, though he knew her well enough to recognize the small flickers of concern that ran across her face.
Inarius was damn lucky his introduction had been so casual, or Malthael suspected one of several arcanists in the room would have combusted the angel on the spot. As it was, they eyed up the towering angel with overt suspicion, their hands raised into spell-casting poses, clearly unsure how and why there was an angel there at all, let alone in the middle of the library.
Farah was about to reply to Inarius when she looked Malthael’s way, the shock on her face immediately giving way to annoyed incredulity when she realized he was involved. She spread both hands wide, palms up, and gestured at the hair on her desk.
The fluff, as Inarius seemed to call it, was everywhere. Tufts of it stuck out from between books and shelves. A giant ball had settled near the brazier and was slowly being singed by the arcane flame. It floated across the floor, bumping into Malthael’s feet, before eventually lodging itself under table legs.
“Malthael,” she said evenly, completely ignoring the giant angel kneeling in front of her in favour of querying the person she clearly suspected as being responsible. She looked as though she wanted to say more, but instead decided to raise an eyebrow, in imitation of his own habitual gesture.
He glared at Inarius, then the other Tyrael, who hadn’t seemingly moved from where he had fallen onto a chair. In fact, there were two Tyraels in the library. The one he knew had been knocked into the wall, and was gradually righting himself while rubbing his head and cursing emphatically.
Tyrael too looked at Inarius only momentarily, before eventually joining Farah in staring at Malthael, one hand on Eldruin’s hilt, the other pointing at his claw-bearing counterpart. The two men’s expressions were nearly identical, though.
“This was not my intent,” Malthael managed, trying to avoid looking at Farah as much as possible, because the more he did, the more his cheeks warmed. “And not my doing.”
“What were you trying to do?” she asked.
By her confusion, he knew she hadn’t read his note. She didn’t even seem to know he had been away. In fact, if the daylight filtering in the windows was any indication, it was around midday. At least Inarius had done that part correctly, and he hadn’t come home to find them all worried about him.
“Return home?” He returned the brow raise, though with less enthusiasm than he would have usually mustered. His head still pounded, and there was no easy way to justify having manifested an angel in the library.
“I think,” The Aspect of Justice interjected, shaking his head, “you have some explaining to do, brother.” As if finally noticing Inarius properly, he took a hesitant step back. “Brother-s? Also. Why am I sitting on a chair? What in the Hells is this?” He stuck out his tongue and gingerly pulled a long, shimmering hair off it. “And what happened toyour hair?”
“Mine? It is clean. I washed it.” He knew, though, by Tyrael’s reaction, that was not what his brother meant at all. Unsettled, he grabbed an empty, steel fruit bowl from one of the library tables, and held it up as a makeshift mirror.
That was why Tyrael had asked what soap he had used.
He looked to Farah for a semblance of sympathy, only to find her covering her mouth, her shoulders shaking with poorly concealed amusement. Dejected, he tossed the bowl to the floor and sank onto the nearest chair, keenly aware of how his hair now fell across the back at a length it had absolutely no business being.
He closed his eyes, and in exasperation, muttered: “Inarius. Your fault. You explain.”
A huffy laugh left Inarius as he turned his grin towards Malthael. “You used the bottle labeled ‘for hair health’ didn’t you? Growing hair is healthy.” He gestured sluggishly at the man’s head. “I suppose…the effects would be different…on a mortal.”
Inarius made a low, distressed noise and practically collapsed onto all fours. His wings flared, stirring the fluff up into small whorls of action. One tip brushed against a brazier, nearly tipping the thing over. Tyrael had finally pulled himself to his feet and quickly moved to his brother’s side. The pack containing Malthael’s armor was set down with a telltale ‘thunk’.
“M’okay Tyrael…you must handle introductions though.” Inarius sagged tiredly against his sibling, his wings finally settling themselves into a gentle undulation. He eyed the other occupants of the room curiously. While even he could admit a large angel such as himself appearing would make anyone rush for their weapon, these mortals seemed awfully jumpy. He puzzled over this for a moment, before returning his attention to the others in the room.
The library was much more vibrant than Tyrael or Inarius remembered it. Theirs had not seen much life in recent years, not since Cain and Leah had passed. But this library seemed…cozy, like a safe spot from the world.
And they were both reasonably sure it had to do with the woman who’d regarded Malthael first with a coolly raised brow, then with stifled giggles at his expense.
The brothers grinned; they knew who this was.
“Introductions mm? Well, I am Tyrael. Former Archangel of Justice, current Aspect of Wisdom. This is Inarius. Former advisor to the council, current maker of all trouble…” Tyrael snickered when his brother paffed him with a wing tip. He straightened himself up fully, the jump having had the least effect on him.
Awkwardly, Tyrael reached up to scratch at him chin. “We were simply returning Malthael where he belongs…” Conveniently, he left the reason Malthael was in their possession in the first place absent. “We will be leaving, as soon as Inarius can manage.”
Inarius merely hummed in agreement from where he’d started lightly dozing next to Tyrael. He had slumped into a more comfortable position half on his side, half propped up on one arm. Really the only thing keeping him awake was curiosity for the people in this world - particularly the soft little librarian. Inarius was no fool, and could easily read between the lines of the relationship between the former reaper and this soft little human.
She helped him. And he cared about her like no one else. What did she have that they were missing?
What was the true connection?
Malthael grunted and stifled the long string of expletives he wanted to level at Inarius when he saw the angel fall, exhausted, to the floor. “Hair is healthy in moderation,” he muttered, absently running a hand through said strands before becoming unnerved by just how lengthy it had become since he had bathed.
“It is certainly…healthier looking than I remember,” Farah snickered from behind her hand. “And, ah, I mostly assumed you were Tyrael.” She glanced to the more familiar Aspect of Justice, who perched himself on the corner of her desk, his expression still wary. “There’s a slight resemblance.”
Malthael couldn’t help but snort. He really had missed her and the incorrigibly nonchalant ease with which she approached everything. He was sure that she felt differently on the inside, but it was comforting to be around someone whose default reaction was not to scream or throw him into angel piles.
Given what he had just surprised her with, he knew he would need to make it up to her.
“I appreciate you returning my pi’ra, but that doesn’t really tell me why you needed to in the first place.”
“Or why Inarius is here,” Tyrael added, leaning heavily on the angel’s name, as though he was both unconvinced by his presence and suspicious of it. “Regardless of your last location, given all that transpired in the High Heavens, I assumed you were…as the rest were. Clearly not. Or, perhaps, you are not from here.”
The arcanists, who had been silent until then, took that as the opportunity to leave; they scurried from the library, their robes flapping about their legs as they shuffled through the door.
“Yes.” Malthael pointed in the general direction of the angel. The longer he lay against the chair, the more he wanted to find a bed and sink into the mattress for a proper sleep. That, and fetch one of his blades to fix his accursed hair. “The last one. Fluff. And all.”
Tyrael probably thought he had gone mad. Again. But the pervasive hair about the library was hopefully case enough for his claim.
“Then, you are guests here.” Farah looked to Tyrael, as if emphasizing the point. “Until you can return home. Please, uhm…well, I suppose you’ve already made yourselves comfortable. I’ll go find some tea. Not that it will help if you need to sleep, but I often find it helps calm me, or at least, gives me something to do, and–”
“Verily,” Malthael interrupted quietly, knowing the librarian was about to become lost in worry if he did not. “If you would. Bring yourself a cup.”
Her expression softened, and the smile he had been thinking of finally crept out. “Ah, you think I need calming, Malthael?”
“An angel fell into your library. I assume yes.” He sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Also, I am…sorry. For startling you.”
“And I am sorry for laughing at your hair. Though, it is very…lush.” She ducked her head with a knowing grin, and fled to the back room.
He waited until he was sure she was out of earshot, then he said, “Tyrael, there is…more to this. I do not want to worry her. But, perhaps…” He cocked his head at the other Tyrael, who was now watching the entire exchange with poorly concealed fascination. “You two could speak. I am out of ideas for helping.”
“For what its worth,” Inarius grunted out, “I think your mane looks lovely now.” It was unclear just how sincere he was being. On the one hand, angels of his realm really did value longer, lusher manes…on the other, he was well aware of how much Malthael hated losing control of his. Fortunately, he was interrupted by Farah and the other Tyrael.
“I’m here because I brought myself here, my dear not-brother.” Inarius quipped, earning himself an elbow to the side. He nearly toppled his brother in response, leaning over just enough to shove Tyrael almost of his feet.
The two stopped their imminent scuffle in favor of watching Malthael interact with Farah. It was…truly quite precious, and fascinating how the man’s behavior softened. Tyrael didn’t bother to hide his smile.
They both stiffened at Malthael’s words after the woman’s departure. How much were they supposed to let on here? There was also the matter that both Malthael and this other Tyrael had alluded to several times - some cataclysm that they had not experienced in their world. Was it something they to would have to worry about? Tyrael turned to inspect…well, himself once more, noting the subtle differences in their form and demeanor.
He licked his lips, glanced at his brother (who merely stared back, oh-so-helpfully) once more, before he offered, “I’m not sure how much you wish to know. Our world is quite different from yours.” The man looked around the library appreciatively, noting how the buildings he could see out the window were not reinforced the way his Tristram, and there were no angels occasionally circling overhead. “It is far more hostile, even when its inhabitants mean no harm…”
Tyrael had been caught in more than enough piles to know how easily squished humans were. And of course, there was the matter that Malthael had meant as much harm as he could possibly manage.
“I’m afraid Malthael ran afoul of the worst our world had to offer.”
Inarius let out a rumbling sigh, and finally roll-flopped onto his back. More fluff joined the rest on the floor. He twisted his head comically to look when Farah re-entered, however. The two shared a moment of simultaneous awkwardness when she offered him a cup. He attempted balancing it on one massive paw, nearly dropping the cup in the process.
Finally, he let out a snorting giggle. “Here, set it down on the ground…my thanks.” The angel twisted to slowly push himself up to his feet, swaying for a moment before his wings steadied himself.
Maintaining a human form was something he’d once been able to do for years on end, no matter the circumstances. Battle, peace, flight, it had become second-nature to him. It…bothered him that it could be such a struggle these days.
Nonetheless, he raised a hand, and a moment later his shape twisted and folded down into something more human.
Inarius scooped the cut back up, and moved to lean properly on his brother. Tyrael, for his part, gave him a warning look - don’t exert yourself - but it went ignored.
Both siblings stood awkwardly looking between the woman and the other Tyrael for a moment, before simultaneously looking to Malthael for further indication of what to do here.
What Malthael had intended was for either Inarius or the other Tyrael to explain what had gone on with the Reaper. He’d hoped the Tyrael he knew could offer an outside perspective and advice. But, it seemed that was not going to happen. He hadn’t explained himself well, and the other two seemed hesitant to mention it.
Perhaps he had done all he could. He needed to let it go and focus on fixing himself.
Thankfully, Farah gave him an excellent opportunity to do just that when she returned with the tea. His lips twitched as the librarian earnestly passed Inarius a cup of tea, only to realize it was rather small for his palm. Whether she admitted it or not, she had obviously grown accustomed to the goings on in Tristram, because she was more concerned with being a good host than with one of her guests being a hairy, oversized angel–
–Who was now a human-sized, elaborate looking mortal. Inarius: always the showman. Tyrael seemingly thought the same, as the annoyed look he shot the angel said he was not impressed with the display.
He took a sip of the tea, near-instantly relaxing as the familiar scent wafted over him. It smelled like home.
“Stay as you need,” he replied, when Inarius and his brother glanced inquisitively at him. “Until you are able to leave. I…appreciate you returning me home safely.” A long tuft of hair chose that moment to free itself and drift across his face; he tried to blow it out of the way, but he only succeeded in spreading the strands further. “This must go, though.” He gave Inarius a hooded look. “You could have warned me.”
“I can help you later if you’d like,” Farah said, settling back in her chair with her own cup of tea. “You’ll have trouble reaching that part of your back.” A poorly contained grin crept back onto her face. “Unless you wish to try wearing it up?” She turned, emphasizing the braid cascading down her neck.
“I know mine is not as long, but I’m sure Aya would have a few suggestions for styles.”
Malthael couldn’t decide if he wanted to banter back or just sink out of existence into the chair. He had missed her, including the wry way she occasionally teased him. But he was also utterly exhausted and didn’t have the proper mind for coming up with a good reply.
The same exhaustion was driving the growing hate he had for the mane Inarius had cursed him with. He was home, he was drinking tea, and he wanted to fix the remaining thing that was out of place.
The lethargy won. He slid his legs further down the seat until he could rest his head fully against the chair back.
“We can consult her later,” he muttered, hoping it conveyed both his amusement and need for rest. “Tyrael, can you ensure they receive any help they require?” He waved absently towards Inarius.
He had learned a valuable lesson in his time in their realm: that even after Westmarch and the Archfall, he valued his health too little. He’d seen a terrible reflection of where that could go if left unchecked. And though he was not about to sprout claws, he recognized the pain his mirror had been in. Felt it now, achingly, beneath the fatigue.
“I need a bath,” he declared. “Proper one. Not later. Now.”
“It would be a good chance to fix your hair.” Farah’s cheeks darkened. “If you’re okay with it, that is. I don’t want to intrude. And, uh…” She looked awkwardly to the ceiling, the flush spreading.
Oh. He’d briefly considered how he felt about the idea, and had determined he did not care if she was in the room with him while he bathed. He’d assumed she wouldn’t care either. Clearly, she did.
“Towel?” he offered. “I could wear one.”
She squeaked, then clapped a hand to her mouth, her expression mortified. “It’s fine,” she mumbled between her fingers. “It’s fine.”
Now you have embarrassed her. Idiot.
The chair legs scraped loudly as he stood. “I will not waste your time, then. I am sure you have many duties to attend to.”
She squeaked again.
Malthael decided he would just stop talking, and gestured silently towards the door.
Tyrael raised an eyebrow as his brother and the librarian managed to extricate themselves from the library with a few conversational mishaps. He knew their relationship, simple as it seemed, had not been Malthael’s focus the last few weeks. It appeared they had a few things to talk about, in private.
“Ah.” He shifted on the desk, realizing he was now alone with Inarius and his double until the former recovered. Usually, conversation was one of Tyrael’s fortes, but he found the talent escaping him when forced to do so with himself.
“I, ah, noticed.” He held up a hand and wiggled his fingers, showing carefully trimmed nails that in no way resembled claws. “Is that…common, among mortals?”
Both siblings were silent as they watched the exchange with open fascination. It was rather nice seeing the mortal Malthael relax for once. Granted…his interactions with Farah were amusingly stunted at times. But there was clear trust there.
Inarius snorted at Malthael’s comment. “Yes, I, who was not even in the room, could have warned you not to use the one bottle that causes hair-growth.” He let out a snicker, Tyrael shooting him a warning look as he recognized early signs of mischief.
Just as both Farah and Malthael had excused themselves, Inarius hollered out “Maybe she’s not the only one you’d like to take a bath with-!” And was promptly tackled to the floor by a now-cursing Tyrael. Tea splattered both angels, although the cup was saved by way of falling onto a nearby furball.
The other Tyrael’s question bough them both out of their squabble, and as one they looked up to stare blankly at the mortal. They looked at the man’s fingers, back to the other Tyraels (which were curled into Inarius’s shirt) and between the two a few times.
Inarius grinned, Tyrael sighed.
“I ah,” He began, picking himself off the floor, “Had simply assumed that, like angels and demons, humans would be clawed as well.” As if to demonstrate, he flexed thick fingers, claws fully extending.
“He was wrong.” Inarius quipped as he stood, teacup once again in hand. “Although most if not all the Nephalem were sporting claws of some sort.”
“As are all angels. Speaking of our claws.” Tyrael turned and dragged the bag containing Malthael’s armor forward. “Your Malthael’s armor was damaged in an encounter with our own. Ours is…significantly…worse-off, than yours.”
“He’s a bloody animal.” Inarius growled bitterly. He hunched up slightly, arms wrapping tight around himself, and refused to make eye-contact with anyone. Honestly, he almost wished he could just stay here, where there were no big monsters with huge claws and sharp teeth trying to rip you apart. Only these gentle humans in their calm libraries.
It was…disheartening, how little going back home appealed to him.
Tyrael pursed his lips a moment, before patting his sibling’s shoulder awkwardly. He then regarded the other Tyrael once more.
“Your Malthael sought to help us combat the issue of our own. I believe it has…not left a great impression on him.” The mortal looked around, out the windows, around the library. “Whatever calamity has happened here, I think we may have dug up some wounds for him. In addition to the obvious offenses.” He waved one clawed hand around his head, indicating the thick mane of hair that they’d accidentally gifted Malthael with.
“We’re not staying long.” Inarius piped up once more. “Another hour maybe. You probably won’t ever see us again.” The last was muttered with a dirty look at Tyrael, who simply frowned in response. Inarius really should have known better than to go sticking his nose in other dimensions.
“…It’s been…enlightening.” Inarius murmured, gesturing at the world as a whole. He then fell silent once more, and curled up into a nearby chair. His brother plonked down beside him, and together they waited.
Inarius ended up requesting that they move somewhere more secluded, but open. He would not be able to maintain human while making the jump, and the shock-wave was not suited for a library.
At the outskirts of Tristram, he offered the other Tyrael a jaunty salute, before grabbing his true brother. And like that, the two were gone, off to decide the Fate of Death.
Chapter 8: Bonus: Fluffy Sketchbook
Additional fluffy sketches from the RP