"Species Directory 1: Grim Angels
Created personally by the gods, a race of angels specialized in combat. When Asgard was on the verge of collapse due to the crisis of Ragnarok, in order to improve their combat ability, the gods distributed flesh and blood of their own bodies and furthermore imparted their own wisdom in the Grim Angels' creation. Because the gods fell to ruin after Ragnarok, no more should be able to be produced, but it's rumored that there are those who are perpetrating experiments to create manmade ones in secrecy.
Grim Angels are an irregular existence separate from ordinary angels. Their bodies are of the highest grade and potential, but on the other hand, because they are an incomplete form of life, their actual period of operation is very short, a trait particular to their race. Because of this, in ordinary times, they are kept in a deep sleep in the angels' mausoleum, and are awakened only in emergencies. However, it seems that there are many Grim Angels who, once placed in their sleep, are never allowed to awaken again."
–excerpted from Dept. Heaven World Guidance, translated by Feral Phoenix
until the rain stops
It was raining, water pouring from the skies in torrents highly unusual for the season. Cierra, Soala, and the fairies came together in the Magic Guild and performed a working to send the rain on, to no avail. Even with Fia's aid and Claude's research nothing seemed to have any effect on the storm, so Elendia decided simply to hunker down and bear it until the rain moved on of its own accord.
Ein was indoors, unconcerned about the weather. The hearth fire burned merrily and he was warm and dry; not even thunder could faze him, though he hoped Meute was safe at least. Then again, water was her element-she was probably just fine. If she had to retreat indoors, the pools in the Crystal Caves were good for that sort of thing and Ritz could keep her company. Right now there was little to do besides sit by the fire and nibble on the bread Fia and Lina had sent him. Coco's baking, as usual. It was delicious.
He had just taken his second bite when someone banged a staccato of no-nonsense knocks on his door. Instantly his guard went up-no one in Elendia ever called like that. It wasn't for lack of strength, but since time immemorial (or so Ein had quickly learned, living among Sprites) no Sprite would knock so hard on another's door. It evoked fear from when demons held dominion over the Sprites. No one would invoke it except during times of dire peril.
In fact, Ein was sure he'd only ever heard that sort of knock once, just before he'd woken somewhere... No. It was probably Serene, wanting not to have to spend too much time standing still when the terrain advantage of ambushing demons in the rain only lasted while they were still dumb enough to stand in it.
He picked up Einherjar (even in these times of peace his weapon was always nearby) and leaned it against the wall next to the door, then pulled the door open part-way. "Serene, what are you doing out in this-" The words died in his mouth.
"Have you forgotten me already, Ecthel Serafim?" Pale fingers brushed soaking blonde hair out of carmine eyes. His red priest's garb looked two shades darker when drenched. Water trickled down the Grim Angel's pallid features, and only recognition stopped Ein from seizing his weapon in fear. He looked like a drowned apparition, the fearful kind mentioned only briefly in old texts and couched carefully in metaphor, so as not to inadvertently summon them.
It didn't make seeing him any less painful, any less of a blow. "L-ledah?" Ein ventured, at last. "What are you... weren't you...?"
"If I might come in?" The question was far less of a question than a statement, but Ein nodded hastily and stood aside, letting his sopping erstwhile comrade enter his tree-root abode.
"Ledah, how are you here?"
The Grim Angel knelt on the floor close to the hearth, used towels folded up neatly next to him. The shirt Ein had lent him had no wing holes, so he'd done without and opted to wear just Ein's spare shorts. "Ein..."
"I'm glad you're here, but... this should be impossible. I saw you die. I watched you die," Ein choked.
"You lived," Ledah answered, tone neutral as always. "That is what matters." His expression shifted, more business-like. "There is something you must know, Ein."
Ein would have none of it. He closed the gap between them and clung to Ledah's frame, ignoring the clammy coldness of Ledah's skin. He fell asleep there, cheek pressed against Ledah's cold chest, Ledah's hand stroking his hair awkwardly as if he was not entirely sure what he was doing. It didn't occur to Ein to listen for a heartbeat.
When he woke in the morning, there was a blanket over him and a pillow under his head. The towels were damp and his spare clothing was folded next to the towels, but Ledah was gone. The rain had lightened to a drizzle, and within moments of his awakening stopped.
A week later Ein felt weakness spike through him as he knelt in front of Meute's spring, interrupting his conversation with the Undine. She stumbled through a question but he could not answer, the weakness fading into pain. He swam back into consciousness in time to feel feel himself tumble into the water and sink. The spring was not deep, but he could not stand, could not move, and he was going to try to breathe water any second now.
Vaguely he registered Meute's worried frown as she dragged him to the surface. "Ein?" she asked. "Ein?"
He lost consciousness.
He woke in his home, Lina, Fia, and Cierra hovering over him. Serene watched from the doorway, concern written in the thin line of her mouth. "Are you okay?" Fia asked, gently.
"What happened?" he mumbled.
Cierra pursed her lips. "We don't know. Claude is looking to see if there's anything in the library about Grim Angel physiology that might explain this, but there's... there's nothing we can tell that's wrong with you."
Serene grabbed her scythe and took off, without another word.
"Serene's been worried, Ein. Lina has been too!" Lina exclaimed. "Meute said one minute you were helping her practice speaking and the next minute you just froze and fell in, and didn't move, and didn't blink, and... just...!" The pig-tailed girl burst into tears. "Lina doesn't want you to die!"
"Hush, Lina! Ein's not going to die!" Fia interjected sharply. "Ein, will you wiggle your fingers for me?"
Ein almost laughed, but for the serious look on the priestess' face. "Yes Fia," he answered, obediently, and wiggled his fingers and toes. He identified how many fingers she was holding up and his knee jerked appropriately when she whacked it (lightly) with Cierra's staff, and when at last she was satisfied she let him get up and walk over to a pitcher and pour himself a cup of water. "How long was I asleep?" he asked, idly, raising the cup to his lips.
Cierra hesitated. "Two weeks," she said at last. Ein spit out the mouthful of water he'd just taken.
"Two weeks?" Fia quietly took the cup from him before he could drop it.
"Lina came to visit you every day," Lina murmured. "You were all pale and didn't breathe much. Lina held your hand once, but it was cold."
Cierra produced a quilt, its patches vibrant with the colors of Elendia and its residents. "It's going to rain tomorrow," she said. "This is from all of us-use it to stay warm. Your body seems to be fine but take care of yourself anyway, okay?"
Ein accepted the quilt, struggling to find something to say. I'm not dying, he wanted to say. Stop looking at me like I am, it's really uncomfortable. What came out of his mouth was, "Thanks, everyone. Thank Serene for me too?"
"We will," Fia promised.
The rain came again, bringing with it thunder and lightning and a series of hard knocks against Ein's door. Ein propped Einherjar up against the wall and answered wrapped in the girls' quilt.
Ledah's sodden figure looked no less frightening than it had the first time, but Ein moved out of the way and brought him towels and a spare change of clothes. He had cut open the back of the spare shirt this time, so that Ledah could fit his wings through.
"Ein," Ledah murmured.
"You're back again." Ein smiled weakly. "It should be impossible, but I'm glad you're here."
"There is something you must know, Ein," Ledah interjected.
"What is it?"
"What you said the first time I came here was correct. My presence is impossible. You saw me die."
"Ledah?" Ein's eyes widened.
"I'm dead, Ein," Ledah uttered, face utterly emotionless.
"Why am I here, then?" Carmine eyes locked with blue and Ein realized that they were glassy and clouded over. Dead. "You realized it, even if subconsciously the last time. You started to go for a weapon before you realized who I was."
"I could never-" Ein's mouth closed, lips pressing together in a tight line as he realized what he had tried to say.
Ledah ruffled his feathers a little bit. "You did, before." He blinked calmly and Ein looked away, unsettled at how doll-like Ledah's gaze had become. "You raised a weapon against me because it was necessary for you. You nearly did so again because you felt threatened, and that reaction was not wrong. I should not be here."
"... The rain," Ein breathed. "You come only when it rains."
Ledah shrugged a little, a careless gesture with nothing behind it but a mimicry of feeling. "I have something I still must do. There is something you must know."
"Are you going to stop coming when it rains if you tell me?"
"My business here will be done. I will probably return to rest, then."
"Then tell me later," Ein said, and didn't let Ledah open his mouth to protest. Quilt and all, he latched onto Ledah and fell asleep with his cheek pressed against Ledah's chest, listening for a heartbeat that wasn't there. Cold hands smoothed Ein's hair, a little less awkward than the time before.
Morning brought with it sun and Ledah's disappearance. Ein woke long enough to register that again he was sleeping on the floor, a pillow under his head and a blanket on top of his quilt, before falling back into slumber.
He was in the Magic Guild the next time the weakness struck. Claude managed to catch him just as Ein fell off the ladder. "Ein?" the dryad asked, frightened. "Ein, what's wrong? Stay with me, it's okay, it's okay, it'll be all right," Claude murmured, letting Ein squeeze the sap out of his hand as the pain struck stronger than the last time. "Dear gods... Soala! Cierra! Somebody get Fia too, Ein's...!"
Ein's grip loosened and he vaguely wondered at the look of despair on Claude's features. "It's okay... I'm not dying," he tried to get out, but all that came out was a garbled whisper. Am I dying? he wondered. If he was, then dying was a lot like going to sleep.
"Ein, you idiot, wake up!" Serene was yelling, but her face didn't look nearly as angry as it did anguished.
"Hi Serene," Ein mumbled.
"I can't leave you alone, can I?" Rose walked in, frowning. Ein's familiar had tied more pages into the quickly-growing tome of history she was writing, and it looked heavier than it had last.
"Maybe you'll have better luck beating some sense into him," Serene growled half-heartedly.
"Sorry." Ein tried to look contrite. Serene's scowl eased into a slight frown.
"Idiot. Who's going to help me mop up demons in Lacrima if you're not around?" the Arc muttered, without heat.
"Okay, what's going on, Ein?" Rose demanded. "You've collapsed like this twice now. Three weeks, Ein?"
"Three weeks?" Ein echoed, horrified. He'd been out that long? "Do you know what's wrong with me, Rose?"
"I don't know." Rose's cat ears twitched and her tail lashed. "I wish I knew. I wish I remembered!"
Remembered? "Wait, what do you mean by that?" Ein asked, carefully.
"There's something you're supposed to know, or at least I think there's something you're supposed to know," Rose began, brow furrowing. "I just can't remember what it is. Everything before we were separated at Heaven's Gate is fuzzy. I know I had to have been there when you woke up, but I don't remember anything!"
"Woke up?" Serene inquired. "Fia and Lina didn't recognize you when we met you in Nelde, and they were here when Ein woke up in Elendia. I don't understand."
"No, there's something else." Rose pinched the bridge of her nose. "Something... cold stone and crosses and... light. Something beyond Heaven's Gate."
"Cold stone and crosses?" Serene crossed her arms. "That sounds a little like Mireno."
"We were in a hurry," Ein murmured. "There was little time to take it in."
Rose's tail twitched. "It wasn't in Riviera anyway. I remember that much. Nowhere we visited in Riviera had the same kind of light, except Yggdrasil. But the tree isn't a place you bury anyone."
Serene uncrossed her arms. "I'll ask around, then, when I next leave for Lacrima." The Arc walked out the door, leaving Rose behind.
"Where's Fia and Cierra?" Ein asked, sitting up.
Rose shifted her book to her other hand. "They've gone looking for magical herbs. Something stronger to cure your ailment, they said. Claude hasn't found any hints as to what's wrong with you, though, and I don't remember anything. If Ledah..." She fell silent.
If Ledah were here, he might have known. The corner of Ein's mouth quivered, unsure whether to turn up or down. He was starting to think he knew what Ledah's rainy-day visits were about. Maybe it was a Grim Angel disease or something. Maybe Ledah knew a cure. "Rose," he asked, "when is it supposed to rain next?"
When the knocks came, Ein left his Diviner where it was and flung open the door. "Ledah," he asked, "Ledah, do you know what's wrong with me?"
Ledah said nothing until he was inside, said nothing until Ein ran for towels and dry clothes. Outside the raindrops drummed upon the roof and chimney cover, but inside Ein's home it was warm and dry. Warm and dry, and yet for all that Ledah sat close to the fire nothing would warm his cold, clammy flesh. "Yes," the blond answered.
"Am I sick? Is there something wrong with me?" Ein wanted to know. "Is there any cure...?"
Ledah shook his head. "Ein, you are not sick. There is nothing wrong with you. There is no cure."
"Then what's going on with me?" Ein demanded.
"I told you that there was something you had to know. Twice you did not wish to hear it."
Ein gathered the girls' quilt and put it around himself and Ledah. It was big enough for two Grim Angels. "Do I have time to put off hearing it?"
"I don't know."
Warily, Ein glanced at Ledah's face. His partner's expression was, as always, stony and unreadable. "What does that mean?"
"It is somewhat different for every Grim Angel. Only one thing is the same."
"What does that mean, Ledah?"
"We sleep so that we can wake to serve again. The longer we spend awake, the shorter our time is. Mine has already passed. Yours..." Ledah looked at him. "Yours, only your subconscious knows."
"Ledah, Rose said something about 'waking up.' Cold stone and crosses and light like Yggdrasil. What does that mean?"
"Mean?" Ledah closed his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice did not sound like his own. "We wake when the Magi call us, because Ragnarok is over. But we were made with too much of the gods' power and we are incomplete, for our making sundered us from something that is essential to us. We sleep in an angels' mausoleum, surrounded by the dead and other sleepers, until we are summoned by dire need."
"Yes, Ein?" Carmine irises met blue. Ein flinched.
"I don't... I don't understand."
"Sleep, Ein." Cold hands pulled Ein closer to Ledah's coldness, but already the cold was lulling Ein fast out of consciousness. "I will stay with you until the rain stops," Ledah murmured, soft against Ein's hair.
He dreamed of crawling out of a stone slot in the ground, clutching his Diviner; he dreamed of Rose shaking out her cat body after sleeping for as long as he had. Ledah descended on his black wings to land softly beside him - his sleeping place was gaping open, some distance away. Their places of rest would remain open until they were killed or they returned to sleep again-someone would close the stone over the slots regardless.
Other slots were scattered about the ground, interspersed between low shrubbery covered in small, five-petaled white flowers and large stone crosses far too big for any one Grim Angel to move. In places less tended, a cross would have fallen over several sleeping places. They passed a sleeping place where the cover was cracked and one bare skeletal foot was visible. The occupant was long dead. Rose shied away from the cracked cover, saying that there was a great sadness about it. Ledah ignored it, but Ein laid a handful of flowers over the cover.
A sharp cracking noise rang the air with the discord of riven bells. When it quieted, the sleeping place's occupant was dust. If the dead sleeper had possessed a Diviner, it had shattered.
Ein dreamed of falling until someone in magus robes caught him. "Poor thing," the person crooned, pitiless, "poor thing. A angel without wings. A Grim Angel who cannot fly. Sleep," and he was put into the ground, and the stone closed over his face, "sleep. Dream. And do not wake, for we should no longer have need of you; such flawed progeny of gods cannot be left to their own devices."
He dreamed of others with dark wings and robes like Ledah's, others with Diviners, all descending to their sleeping places and laying down with their weapons. Stone closed over their faces. Some cried out, some begged to be released, others were silent. A few wept quietly, their sobs ringing loud in the empty air. Soon they were all asleep.
He dreamed that Serene cried over him, cursed him for an idiot, shook him to try to wake him, and still nothing. Fia tried everything she knew, every blessing, every healing spell, every exorcism, and nothing. Cierra gave him tinctures of healing herbs and mixed medicines to wake him. Nothing. Lina brought the best applecots and banangos she could find every day. She cut slices from Coco's best loaves of bread and left the offerings on a plate near him, close enough that he could smell the bread and the aroma of good fruit. Nothing.
Rose shook her head and read him passages from her history. She mentioned Ledah's name and his, Malice's name (Serene left the room when Rose read about Malice, recalling her own painful memories about the deaths of her people) and the Elendians. She went back to the time of Ragnarok and spoke of the Grim Angels' creation.
Ein slept, and couldn't wake up.
It rained. Ledah knocked on the door, and Ein sat up to find the girls clustered around his bed, all asleep. "Coming," he murmured, but after having slept so long his legs were jelly. He made it to the door and opened it for Ledah, then hobbled off to get towels and spare clothes.
"Your body is weakening," Ledah murmured.
"I've been sleeping too long," Ein said, and handed Ledah the first towel.
"Have you felt any pain?" Ledah accepted the towel and dried his hair and the rest of himself.
"No," Ein answered, and handed Ledah the second towel. "Nothing hurts."
"Pain is the first thing to go. Our makers were merciful on that account." Ledah toweled off his wings and stripped out of his sodden clothing. Ein glanced back sharply at the girls to make sure they wouldn't wake, but no one stirred.
"What was it that you had to tell me?" Ein demanded, at last, handing Ledah first his spare shorts, then the shirt with the cut back.
"Grim Angels do not live long," Ledah uttered at last, pulling on the clothes. "We die in battle, or we die very slowly in our sealed sleep, but we are not made to live long at all. We are not immortal."
"'Such flawed progeny of gods cannot be left to their own devices,'" Ein repeated, in horror. He hobbled to the bed and picked up his quilt.
"Where did you hear that?"
Ledah smiled, the expression alien and stiff on his face. "Dreams are perhaps the only place we may truly live."
"Am I going to die, Ledah?" There. He had asked, finally.
"Is it going to hurt?"
"Will Rose ever forgive me?" Ein asked, starting to feel cold. He wrapped the quilt around himself and Ledah.
"I don't know," Ledah whispered.
"Are you going to be with me when I die?" Ein asked, eyes already drooping shut.
Ledah pulled him closer. Funny, Ein thought, Ledah's colder than he was before. But Ein felt cold anyway-it didn't make a real difference. It was a little more like the sleeping place, that was all. Cold and hard. He clumsily laced their fingers together and pressed his cheek against Ledah's cold chest.
"Yes, I will," Ledah murmured. He tucked a stray lock of brown hair behind Ein's ear with cold fingers. "Go to sleep, Ein."
Ein closed his eyes and slept.