Alarms shrilled, sending splitting pain through her head as she ducked and dodged through the ranks of running soldiers. Everything was in chaos; she was knocked this way and that by streams of angry or panicked angels. She didn’t know what was going on, and everything was so horribly loud.
A heavy hand on her shoulder hauled her out of the worst of the mad traffic, and she nearly sagged with relief to see that it was Marietta who’d rescued her. The archangel’s expression was deadly serious, her eyes narrowed and pensive.
“There’s been a level-one security breach at the end of Heaven’s Gate,” Marietta explained.
#367’s knees buckled; she spread her wings quickly to keep herself from sliding limply to the ground.
- - -
He was the last thing so many angels saw, and even over the monitors, he was the most frightening thing the heavens had ever witnessed. They could have understood a demon, or some mad mortal. But this creature had once been one of their own. They had birthed this monstrosity.
The figure was impossibly slight, impossibly frail, impossibly tiny. Barely over five feet tall, if that. It was a wraith clothed in a tatter of dusty, blood-splotched white, bare feet grayish-brown with dirt, skin so white it couldn’t have seen the light of day in decades. Its dirty-blond hair hung long and ragged, trailing to the ground behind it. Scars sometimes crossed what skin they could see; thick ones circled both wrists. Its eyes—were probably the most frightening thing about it. It didn’t have eyes, just sickly twisted scar tissue that spread raw pink from one side of its face to the other. Its mouth was grimly set. Beneath its left hand there was an ancient spellbook, its pages fluttering madly to brush fingers bent like claws. In its right hand was a sword longer than it was tall, ornate and battered, soaked in blood.
Another group of Servants rushed it. Lightning flashed out before them, tearing through their bodies and leaving only wisps of black ash.
The specter advanced, grim, inexorable. And Asgard trembled.
- - -
“This is where it ends,” the archangel said.
Nessiah decided absently that she cut a brave picture, pointing the head of her staff at him, scowling incredibly as if defying her fearful pallor.
“You do realize,” he remarked—his voice rasped out the words, the vocal cords of this form aching from centuries of disuse—in a flat tone, “that I was the one who designed those pathetic security systems of yours? I can tear your shields asunder with a flick of my finger, and you’ll be defenseless. Do you want that, or are you going to get out of my way?”
The archangel scowled more ferociously still. “You’re threatening the gods and the heavens,” she said, and her voice was trembling—fear or rage, it didn’t matter to him. “As such, it’s my duty to strike you down. Turn back, or face my judgment.”
“They all say that,” Nessiah told her. “It doesn’t change anything, though.”
She put up an interesting struggle, at least.
- - -
“Ma… Marietta. P-please. Wake up. You have to wake up.”
But no matter how hard #367 shook her, Marietta wouldn’t open her eyes. Even as the riot of battle clamored around them, she didn’t give up; she stayed by the archangel’s side, pleading and pleading.
“She’s not sleeping. She’s dead.”
The voice was so close, so cold, that it nearly made her heart stop. #367 looked up to find him looking down at her. Her chest clutched; she couldn’t speak. Her hands tightened on Marietta’s arm. Her mouth worked, but no sound would come out.
The fallen angel raised his head and looked around as if with great disinterest. “Is this all?”
He sounded disappointed.
#367 was shaking all over. I’m going to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be in a world without Marietta. I don’t want to be in a world where things like this happen. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I’m going to die.
A thin wind blew, making her draw her wings closer to her body. He didn’t react. The rags he wore shifted, and his long hair flew out behind him like a parody of wings.
“This is ridiculous, and it ends here.”
She jumped a little once again at the sound of the familiar voice, and felt mingled relief and dread slide through her muscles as she turned to see her master standing behind her, a mildly displeased expression on his face. He held his crystal staff even at his side; his deep blue robes billowed in the same wind.
“So you’re here,” the intruder said just as mildly. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”
There was a long silence. #367 was confused. Why didn’t one of them act? Always before, this creature that had once been an angel had attacked anything powerful almost on sight.
“I always wondered what I would feel when I saw you again,” the fallen angel remarked. “If I would be afraid, or happy. If I’d break down and cry, lose my will to fight. I’ve heard of that happening—seen it happen once or twice, actually. If I’d lose myself in rage and just want to fling myself at you, throwing everything I have.” He tilted his head to the side, and smiled, pale lips twisting humorlessly. “I don’t feel anything like that. I’m somewhat surprised by that. I hardly feel anything at all. All I know is that I’m going to kill you now. I want to kill you very much.”
“You’re insane,” her master told him with dry disgust.
This provoked a laugh, of all things. “If I am, who’s to blame for it? I certainly didn’t pull the fibers of my mind further than they could be stretched without snapping. I’ve never forgotten, not for a second. I’ve never forgotten or forgiven what you did to me. You already had everything, but it wasn’t enough for you, was it? So you had to remove me, so the path would be open for you to have more. You made me what I am. Hector.”
“Blaming me isn’t going to change anything.” Her master turned to her. “Eliminate this filth.”
#367 flinched. He couldn’t be serious—even Marietta had fallen before this creature! She wouldn’t last half a minute…
“How shall I kill you, I wonder?” the fallen angel went on. “Quickly, perhaps, so you don’t have too much opportunity to resist? Or slowly, so that you can feel at least a little of the pain and horror I went through when you tortured me? The second sounds much more poetic, in my opinion. Perhaps I should incapacitate you first, and do to you exactly what you did to me? I’m sure that charming chamber of yours is still around, but if it isn’t, I’m willing to bet we’ll find something to suffice, yes?”
“Eliminate this filth, I said,” her master repeated, and she shrank down, trembling.
“You don’t have to listen to him anymore. You shouldn’t, in fact. He hasn’t been able to stop himself over all these years, has he?” The smile fell from the fallen angel’s face, and there was something like compassion in his voice. “How long has it been, girl? How soon did it happen after you entered his service? Just how many times has he come into your room at night? And of course you couldn’t tell anyone. Worse would happen if you did. It’s not like anyone would believe you, anyway. He started with me, and has escalated since. You don’t have to say anything. I know.”
#367’s breath caught. Her eyes went huge, and her body clenched. How could he know these things—how could he say these things?
“Just what are you playing at, interfering with my servant?” Her master was irritated. Bad things happened when he was irritated. She cringed at the tone of his voice.
“I’m putting our nightmares to rest,” the fallen angel said grandly, gesturing with his left hand. He seemed to like that, and did it again, laughing now. “Yes, that’s what I’m doing here. I’m slaying the monster under the bed. We’ll probably have to forgo the replication of the torture, though. I don’t think I could manage it, Hector; you’re the universe’s worst turn-off.”
“How amusing. Do you really think you’re capable of such a thing?”
The fallen angel’s expression twisted into a smirk, and he gripped the hilt of his sword in both hands. “You’d be surprised at what I’m capable of now.”
- - -
Nessiah sat heavily towards the edge of the battlefield, stretching his legs out in front of him and slouching forward carelessly. The Revelation lay open beside him, and he maintained a loose hold on the Gran Centurio.
He felt… tired. Drained, actually. And rather hollow. He wasn’t sure why. Hadn’t he been waiting for this, been planning this for so many long and painful years? He should feel something now that he’d had his revenge. But all he felt was empty.
The girl Hector had tried ordering around was still making thin sobbing noises. Nessiah ignored her. He supposed it had to be rather scarring for her to see someone she knew literally ripped apart before her eyes. He’d had to deal with the trauma of having his mind and body violated before he’d seen any violent deaths, so he’d been pretty desensitized.
He didn’t feel completely empty—he was a bit disappointed that Hector hadn’t begged until the end. But even that was fleeting, a minor annoyance.
“You… you… what do you plan on doing?” There was an obvious to me missing from the end of that sentence. Nessiah didn’t comment on it, or even look back towards the girl as he answered.
“To you, nothing. You’re just another victim in this corrupt system. From here, I suppose… once I have some rest, I’ll keep going. There can’t be many soldiers left to get through before I hit the upper ranks, can there? After that, the gods and I have issues to settle. There’s nothing left but to keep moving on until I die.”
“But—what are you trying to achieve?” This little whimper was closer, and stronger.
“It’s nothing so grandiose. This system, that allows things like these to happen to people like the two of us—I hate it. It has to be destroyed, and that’s all I care about. After I’ve taken down the gods, I’m certainly not assuming their place. And everyone I ever cared for in the human world is dead now. So when it’s over… I’ll kill myself, probably.” He stated it simply, and without emotion.
“I’m very old, very tired, and have had more than enough of living this kind of life.” With an effort, Nessiah stood and stretched. “…I would have thought they’d have sent another wave by now.”
The girl was still kneeling by the corpse of her dead friend. Her eyes were wide and her cheeks tearstained, and she blinked and shook her head when he turned to her.
“Another wave—? You’ve already… you’ve already finished everything we have.”
“Have I?” Nessiah had to laugh. “Well, I suppose… it’s time to move on again soon. The gods are certainly going to be very busy reaping this field today.”
He kept laughing. He was a little bit afraid of what he would do if he stopped.