1 On Arya

On the third winter day of Eden twenty years ago, an angel was born.

No, not the angels of Nobelrian Lore, those that swoop down with wings of goose feathers and bearing swords of meteor metal, but rather a new kind of angel—one that surpassed absurdity even by heaven's standards. Rather than being born out of the Aether's stardust and essence, this newly born angel was born from the coitus of two perfectly human parents.

This angel, with a beautiful Priestess mother and a brilliant engineer father, somehow survived through the waters of a mortal womb and came out in a shining yellow light that eternally blinded the three midwives who stared so dumbfoundedly at the unusual child. The story of Destruction and Creation narrated a belief into the people of the Noble Realm, and there it stated not to look directly at an angel lest it allowed you to.

Unfortunately, the three midwives forgot all about that superstition once they were graced by the intense beauty of the shining baby angel. The baby allowed no one but its own parents to witness its glory, and so it was only proper that the midwives be punished by planting orbs of fire inside their pupils.

As if oblivious to the horrid suffering of the midwives, Gloria, the mother, exclaimed with joy at the sight of her daughter bundled at her lap. With no comment to give about her daughter's six eyes void of any color but black, Gloria thought she was the most beautiful child she has ever seen.

"She looks like me," Gloria cried as she stroked the unnaturally white cheeks of her baby, blatantly uncaring for the painful cries of the midwives on the floor. Smoke seethed from the cracks of their fingers that clutched at their eyes.

Caspian, the nervous wreck of a father, barged into the room when he heard all the agonizing screams. He had been waiting outside, wondering why three women were screaming in unison when it was only his wife giving birth. Surely, no one else should be in pain except Gloria, and the concern made him enter the forbidden room.

He eyed the midwives on the floor, all nearly unconscious from the fire in their eyes, before he lifted his gaze to the portrait-like view of Gloria cradling her baby—their baby. Instantly, Caspian forgot about the midwives and choked in a sob at the first look at her daughter. Never mind the wings of light growing on her back, feet, and head—His baby girl was here!

He ran in joy to take part in the cooing of his wife, and the couple shared laughter at the magical—also scary—child. The celebration lasted for around a minute before a powerful light came whooshing through the ceiling. That light was… music. For that moment, Gloria and Caspian could actually see music, hundreds of hauntingly beautiful voices singing in chorus in celebration for the birth of a child.

The light was every color in the world, every sensation of happiness in the universe. It basked around the family of three, drowning Gloria and Caspian in a majestic high. An aria came to life in the song, and though it was sung in a language unknown to the couple, the two understood it quite well.

First, it sang about glory. Then, it sang about peace. And last, it sang about a horror.

The haunting female soprano from nowhere informed them of the heaven's congratulations. As of the moment, the world above rings with a new era at the birth of this special child! Likewise, the world below will also see great events to come. This baby will change the landscape of the world, but she could also destroy it… Tread carefully about this child!

This baby will encounter things bigger than herself, bigger than what heaven had intended! Heaven doesn't control the world of deepest depths of existence, after all, or what mortals call Nihil. Those who lurk there will have plans of their own for the baby... possibly its death.

But do not worry, for the baby's death will be one so mythical and marvelous that bards will sing of it for the next thousands of years.

Do not love her, for as long as she is partly birthed from heaven, she is an angel. And angels cannot love…

Feed her, clothe her, give her a comfortable home. But do not teach her what would cost her her divinity…

And the aria ended. Gloria and Caspian's hearts sank. The Aether, if that name was even enough to capture what they had just experienced, has blessed them, but also cursed them, for how on earth could they not love their own child?

Gloria always dreamt of sharing her dreams with her child. She wanted to travel, and she wanted her family with her. She wanted to hold and love her daughter in her arms as they sailed on a ship to a new land, and she didn't think she could give that up. Caspian, as well, was a loving man, and to tell him to treat his daughter as a person they only had to keep alive would basically mean torture for him.

No, said Gloria and Caspian. Whether it be from the Aether or from Nihil, they will not follow those kinds of orders. This child was theirs, and they will love her as much as they want to.

So be it, replied the aria. What happens to the earthly realms were out of their hands anyway. They had other worlds to keep, and this world was not so important for them to send a second warning.

With the silent conversation ending on a sour note, the aria sung Gloria and Caspian into an instant sleep.

The moment the humans closed their eyes, the angels who watched nearby came out of hiding and approached the family of three. It wouldn't do, they thought, to have such a conspicuous baby roaming the earthly realms. Whether or not Gloria and Caspian follow what the heavens wanted, it would be foolish to leave the baby looking unhuman.

The angels stared at the silent baby girl. The baby stared back, six pairs of eyes dull, unfeeling, and unnervingly intelligent. Though quiet as a rock, this baby undoubtedly had the wisdom of sages, as an angel should!

Move aside, said one of the Three Seraphims, and the other angels parted. They reached their hand out to touch the baby with the tiniest tip of their finger. Once they did, the gold light that emanated from the baby slowly died down, flickering in what seemed to be death. Her wings disintegrated into stardust, and her bone-white skin warmed up. The twelve eyes on her face were reduced to two humanly beautiful raven eyes.

She even finally started breathing and crying.

Gloria and Caspian woke up in a jolt. They shared a loving look at their baby girl—now a league different than the baby she was a second ago—before looking at each other in unperturbed likeness.

"I know what to name her," said Gloria, eyes squinting with the greatest of smiles.

Caspian hushed his baby to stop crying. He did not mind that she lost her wings and her ten-too-many eyes. She was healthy, and that was all that mattered. "Do tell, dear," he said. "For I think we've thought of the same name."

"It's as if the Aether had whispered it to us, then," she said. "Even if They had everything else wrong, the name, at least, is perfect."

Gloria looked down on her child. Now the baby really looked like her, especially without all the eyes. "Arya. Like what was sang to us."

Caspian smiled, his brown mustache going with. "Arya Cardinal it is then. She will be a very special girl."

An understatement, really.

*

Arya was only three when she sprouted her wings again. Everyone thought she was already human, everyone in the village thought that the child was just a normal child. The child was a little unnerving with the way she would stare at the villagers' eyes as if calculating their whole being, but nevertheless, she was more human than what they had expected.

But then Arya accidentally tripped at the edge of the stairs in the House of Prayers one day, and despite her sharp angel eyes, her small legs were human and were not fit for her unnaturally active demeanor. All the Priests and Priestesses in the House stared in dread at the falling child for a split second, before instantly staring in awe.

Mid-air, wings of golden light, as translucent as the finest silk, grew from little Arya's back to catch her fall into dreamlike landing.

News spread and once again, Arya became the center of attention. The simple-minded villagers did not read too much into the situation and were just happy to have uniqueness in Mossmore Village, but the High Priest who witnessed humanity's greed grew a little uneasy. He could already predict what would happen in the near future, but he decided to keep his worries to himself. Gloria and Caspian were good people, and the village was rejoiceful. He did not want to ruin the mood.

A few years passed, and when Arya was seven, she threw a tantrum. The High Priest had told her to go back home when he saw her strolling about in the House of Prayer. The child demanded she help with the next services so she could be just like her mother. when the child had appeared in the House or Prayers, asking to help out with the services like her mother.

But the High Priest was scared. He was scared for the child and for what she could do in front of the delegates from other places. The altar boys who watched the old man and young girl bicker were not from Mossmore, and they could not possibly be as simple-minded as the villagers once they realize what Arya was.

"Go home, child," said the High Priest. "You can help some other day."

"But mother said today was a special day," said Arya, her frown deepening. The child must have been a little spoiled. "I want to help!"

The High Priest glanced behind him, aware of the altar boys stiffling their laughter at the sight. What an event! A High Priest getting ordered around by a little girl.

"Not today, Arya," said the High Priest. He prayed to the Aether that Arya won't sprout wings now. She did it very often though not on purpose. "Please, just go out of the chapel."

Arya's face reddened, and she cried loudly.

Pulses of light shot out from her, shattering the stained glasses of the House of Prayers. The High Priest's thick glasses broke in two, and the monocle of one of the altar servers crumbled down. The pulses of light shoved all the pews towards the stone walls with such velocity that they cracked and splintered.

In the silence of the trembling altar servers and a fatigued High Priest, Arya breathed heavily.

The day ended with the altar boys going home in silence, and the villagers laughing about what happened, and the High Priest deep in worry.

Nothing happened for a while, but a year after, the old King's soldiers started streaming into the far-flung village. They brandished their weapons, those made for killing shadowmen, at the villagers. They wrecked houses, destroyed farms and gardens, threw gasoline into the lake just for the villagers to give Arya up.

When the soldiers had killed so many, it was only then that the whole village, Gloria and Caspian included, realized the truth in the High Priest's concerns. Humanity was greedy and evil, and anything good they would corrupt.

In the midst of the raid, Arya could not control her fear. She saw the blood of her friends on the grass. She saw the High Priest stabbed in the eyes. She saw her mother and father ready to take bullets just for her.

Arya's divinity awakened fully then, her six pairs of eyes and several pairs of wings appearing in a flash. She could not remember anything past seeing the black-clad soldiers shaken with fear as they looked up at her, and when she came to consciousness again, she was surrounded by dead people.

No one liked to recall to Arya what she had done to the soldiers. It took them three days to burn the bodies. The altar servers—outsiders who knew too much and were suspected of being the ones to report Arya to the King—were secretly killed by the villagers themselves.

With no soldiers left to defend the small village, Mossmore was left to the shadowmen's terror. The High Priest couldn't possibly call for the Palace to send in support, not without exposing their crimes of manslaughter and not without inviting more terror in. Mossmore was in shambles, and when the shadowmen finally started to take notice of Mossmore's defenselessness, they came.

And when they came, they died.

Arya could do more than just kill people. She could kill shadowmen with just her presence. She was still an angel, after all, and Nihil hated anything from the heavens.

"Amazing," the High Priest muttered as he gazed upon Gloria, Caspian, and Arya realizing her powers as well. "This child… is amazing. We must never let the King have her."

Arya could not understand why her parents looked so sullen and anxious.

Mossmore decided then and there to close-up as a village. They didn't need the Palace anymore, and they didn't need outsiders. No one would enter the village, and no one would leave. Arya could protect their village more effectively than a hundred soldiers, and this was the only way they knew how to keep Arya safe from humanity.

Gloria and Caspian hesitantly nodded their heads to all these new rules. They didn't like it, they didn't like being cooped up in this small village. They didn't like the implications of it, of how Arya would be used as their protector and savior when all she was was a child. Gloria still had dreams of travelling, and Caspian still wanted to see the world in pursuit of knowledge. But, if this was the only way to keep Arya safe, then they will have to compromise. They loved their child more than anything else.

Despite the drastic change of a lifestyle within Mossmore and the forbiddance of talk about the outside world, Gloria and Caspian would still tell Arya of the places they wished to see. They read her books from another nation, showed her maps of the Noble Realm, and presented pictures of all different kinds of places. The High Priest forbade that Arya learn how to read and write, but the couple found ways.

"Never let anyone know you can read," said Gloria one night as she tucked Arya into bed. "Better to act like you don't know anything. At least, until then…"

Until when, Arya did not know. All she knew was that all that her parents told her sounded more like plans than stories, and most times, it sounded more like desperation than dreams.

*

Arya could vaguely remember how the next years went by since the closing of Mossmore Village, but she recalled that it was full of quarrels between her parents and the High Priest.

"Why are you fighting all the time?" asked Arya once. She was lonely at the time as the other children in the village started avoiding her. She only had her parents to talk to

"Because I'm not a very good Priestess," said Gloria.

"Because the High Priest does not want me joining the Noble War," said Caspian.

Arya knew they were lying but did not understand why. Her parents didn't like the rest of the village very much, she knew that much, and thus why they moved to the abandoned log cabin in the middle of the forest, away from everyone else.

In those years, Arya felt herself stray from her parents. As lonely as she was, they were barely home and sometimes did not even come home during the night. She felt left out of the secret conversations her parents whispered to each other. Arya thought her parents did not want her anymore, and she sulked about it, turning to be cold towards them for as long as she could remember.

Arya was thirteen when the villagers found her mother's body on the foot of the Jupiter mountain ranges. Gloria had been missing for a week after the strongest surge of a continuing typhoon, so there barely was a body to present in the casket. The coroner said that she slipped on a rock and broke her skull.

Both Arya and Caspian did not take the news well. Caspian gaped in dread, more angry and scared than sad, his hands unconsciously hovering in front of Arya as if to hide her when the High Priest came to break the news. Arya, however, felt only emptiness… and a lot regrets.

She couldn't seem to cry, so the ongoing storm grew ever stronger to cry for her. The storm became one of the most violent storms that Mossmore had ever seen, and no one, except Arya's father, knew that it was her fault a landslide occurred at the edge of the village. Three villagers were doomed to die in the landslide.

Arya's distraught at what she had done weakened her as an angel. Angels weren't supposed to feel anything, but now, she felt like she was in the deepest depths of Nihil.

Likewise, her father became a hermit after Gloria's death. He didn't leave the house, only focused on the holomails he received, something that was supposed to be forbidden in the village. No longer did their post office work, and so Arya had to wonder how he sent letters back and forth to a contact she knew nothing about. Transportation, as well, did not exist in the village. Mossmore was hidden deep behind the Jupiter mountain ranges, so no villager could leave so easily.

Her father's beard grew so long, and his eyes sunk so deep that he was not the same energetic engineer he once was. Nevertheless, he was still a good father albeit a depressed one.

Caspian's reclusion pushed Arya to enter Priesthood training at the House of Prayers. There was nothing else to do, no one else to talk to. She was an outsider in her own village, and she felt like being a Priestess would be the best way to win them back. And she always thought she needed to atone for those she killed in the landslide. Being a Priestess was the only way for her, even if her father was greatly against it.

For years, she stayed in a stoic state. Never again would she lose control of herself and risk the lives of the villagers. She controlled her emotions. She became the epitome of a Priestess—silent, calm, wise. Likewise, the epitome of an angel.

In those years came peace. And maybe a little bit of happiness. They had no news of what happened outside their village, but they knew that the Noble War still went on. One day, Caspian received mail from the Castor Palace, stating that they wanted to commission him to create something that would help in the war. An aeroplane engine, it said, and although Arya knew nothing of it and thus felt no excitement, her father became alive again.

He trimmed his beard and began eating properly. He holed himself up in his workshop, forgetting to nag Arya about her Priestly-ness. He started to smile again after the years he spent mourning Gloria's death.

So, Caspian worked himself to the bone for that aeroplane engine. The talk of dreams even started to surface again. The plans, the desperation, the travelling—it was the same as before when Gloria was still alive, but this time, Caspian looked so sure of himself.

"We won't let them burden us," Caspian said one day to Arya. "We will get to see the world, I promise. And then, we will learn to live for ourselves."

Arya smiled all the time, naïve and innocent, not understanding completely the words of her father. Why couldn't they just leave if they wanted to?

The years of work passed, and Caspian died from overwork when Arya was seventeen. She could remember his dead face flat on the table when she opened his workshop door one morning only to find him frothing at the mouth. In his palm, he gripped a blue gem, and even in his death, he gripped it as if it was the most important thing in the world.

Arya felt as if she should hide it before anyone came.

The High Priest said it was a pity, that if only he never accepted the commission in the first place, then his already-frail body could have lived longer. Arya thought it was odd that he knew about the secret commission.

It was at this moment that Arya began to feel some sort of dread, a foreboding, a suspicion in her heart. She did not know where it came from nor why, and where it was even directed at, but the heavens seemed to whisper in her ear that what she was feeling was something she should hold onto.

Arya managed to cry it all out at her father's funeral. She didn't want anymore disasters to happen because of her, after all, and although crying did prove to be effective, it left her very, very tired.

She never even found the engine her father worked. Nor anything else in his career. She found it draining to look for it. He was dead, after all. Nothing to do about it.

She just wanted to fly away, but she had no more wings. She wanted to see the world her parents never got to, but she had to protect the village. The village had nothing but her, and she had nothing but the village. She would stay, then, despite the strongest urges in her heart to leave.

The High Priest told her he was proud of her for making it clear that she would forever be in Mossmore. He, and the rest of the village, would take care of her, he said, though for some reason, Arya didn't find that comforting.

But things had changed the day Zachary arrived to Mossmore Village.

Next chapter