Dawn broke over the icy peaks of the Hildskal Mountains bringing an end to the terrible wintery night. The encroaching light allowed the Shores-men and women to evaluate the damage caused by Doctor Hartschlägel when he ordered the destruction of the Cathedral. They glimpsed the retreating Progress fleet departing from the Aquila tower that continued to burn in small patches. The Koudra and all the denizens of the mountains retreated with the coming dawn, knowing that night would soon return. Far to the south-east the Carpathia fought its battle against the Skullion pirates in a desperate fight that would end in tragedy.
Within Aquila IX few knew that the sun was rising in the sky. Yang watched the sunrise from the airship while trying to breath through his misery. Bookworm Heinrichs tried to navigate the fourth floor maze of tunnels, avoiding men who were still attempting to depart. She narrowly missed Leisig the Hunter, who had just freed his dog from the terrified grip of the clockwork rabbit. Bunny had correctly deduced it would be ripped apart if it had released its facehold.
The former prisoners held in the lowest level prison, the Menagerie, were cheered and exhausted after hearing the order to retreat. The soldiers of Progress and Icarus were still making their way to the hangar, many forced to detour to a lower floor as Jeffrey informed the fleeing men that the bridge was out. He was not aware the catwalk was truly impassable at the moment.
They had felt the ominous quakes in the earth beneath them, but with the power restored they hoped the nightmare was over. They were unaware that, within the reactor of Aquila IX, a vengeful entity had emerged from a century of captivity. A radiant light filled the large chamber, unaided by the dawn above, as five beings that struggled to save the station were now standing before the angels judgement. Dread crept through their hopes as an aetheric pressure wave brought most to their knees.
The room became hot, the companions fought to breathe as the air thickened. It was as if gravity had increased twofold. Tepic crumbled to the floor clutching his already wounded side in agony, while he reached for his flute which was beyond his reach. Mariah palmed a throwing knife she had liberated into her unbandaged hand.
“Wait!” Doctor Falcon felt the pressure increase but her limbs could support worse conditions. Her hooved feet stomped against the metal floor as she moved between the angel and her friends. “You must have understood what I said about innocent people! That means we can talk!!”
“Y-Yes!” Gammis agreed as he clung to the control panel. He gasped the stuffy air like a man almost drowned. He suspected the level of understanding and semblance of sanity was from its current connection to Beryl. They would likely already be dead otherwise, but he would grab at any chance to reason with the entity. “Please!” He struggled to push himself up to look at the creation he had kept imprisoned. It floated in the sky, most of the wires still attached to it as it hovered in the fetal position. It was no bigger than a kindergartener, which was far larger than the normal angels. They were the size of an infant. “We d-don’t w-wa-”
“There has been enough talk from you!” The entity responded bitterly through Beryl’s prone form. Gammis wailed as a radiant cloud of energy enveloped him. He collapsed to the floor convulsing in an uncontrolled seizure, his eyes rolling back as he remained in a constant state of woe. Avariel had been between the Doctor and the angel, but now she saw that the creature could affect anything within the pressure it had already created.
“Oi!” Loki moved sluggishly through the weighted atmosphere, shrugging off his pack and tools, to aid the scientist. His hand was shocked away trying to reach him. The urchin looked at the cherubim pleadingly while Dr. Falcon did her best to ease the man’s suffering, “OI! Whater ya doin’ tew ‘em?! ‘e jes’ saved yew froam them Progress blokes!”
“He feels as I felt.” It replied from its feline surrogate. “Where every waking moment was imprisoned agony. He will hurt no one again.” For the first time the angel raised its head slightly. It opened one glowing white eye, “None of you will ever harm again.”
The companions were taken aback by the sudden threat, Mariah threw her knife for the angels head while Avariel and Tepic cried desperately, “No!!”
That blade never came near the century old creation. The silver edged weapon shattered into a hail of metal that melted and deflected away from the puissant being. The cherubim turned its attention to Mariah who screamed as a radiant cloud of energy consumed her. She fell to the floor joining Gammis in his tormented seizures.
Avariel Falcon could not allow this to go on any farther, she readied herself and tried one last attempt at a rational plea, “I know that terrible things have been done to you, but the Board of Deans and the Shores-men will arrest and imprison the people who did this! You’re free now! Can’t that be enough?!”
“Not in this world,” The cherubim replied through Beryl with a scathing tone filled with resentment, “The scientists, Hartschlägel has taught me that in this world there are only killers and victims.” Loki and Avariel hissed at the hauntingly familiar phrase. The voice became as harsh as winter, “We will not be the victim to your scientists anymore. I will cleanse the stations. I will purge the scientists from the world.”
Doctor Falcon had tried to reason with the entity, but it had ignored her final plea. She had absorbed enough aetheric energy from the area to fill her entire frame to dangerous levels. Her systems overheated as she glowed with a dark purple aura that challenged the angels luminescence. She charged forward knowing she would be destroyed, but hoping to stop this rampage with her sacrificial intent.
The single white eye turned its gaze on Avariel Falcon and her velvet aura was stuck by an effulgent lightning bolt. This was not a crude burst from a tesla cannon or shock mace, nor the simple bolts from Dupyre’s minotaur. She had overcome those attacks with ease and gotten back up to fight. The angels wielded forces that could rip or seal holes in reality. Against the power to tear the universe even Doctor Falcon had no way to compensate. Her systems fried as she crumbled to the ground and her stored power erupted blowing a large hole out of her head and neck.
“Miss Avariel!” Tepic cried as he watched pitifully from the floor. He was echoed by a horrified Loki who wailed at the loss of his friend, “Doctor Falcon!”
Their cries went unnoticed as her remains were enveloped in an aetheric cloud that ate away at her synthetic form. Tepic spared a glance at Loki, who was as terrified as himself, but the younger lad could still walk or run. He whispered quickly, “Get me flute! It’s our only chance!”
Loki did not move. He was shell shocked at what befell his friends one after the other. Part of him wished the angel would stop its horrific attack. Part of him wanted to help make it understand it wasn’t alone. Tepic shouted again, “Me flute! Hurry!”
The cherubim’s attention turned to Loki and Tepic, its gaze stopping for the moment on the frozen Loki. Tepic grunted and crawled forward raising his voice to distract them, “Oi! Hold on a minute, friend! I knows yer’s feelin’ wrathful an’ yer has th’ right, but we’s don’t has ter fight! Yer’s been lied ter!” He raised his dirty red hands pleadingly as he inched closer with his elbows. He was breathing hard from dragging himself even four steps from the stressed atmosphere and gravity.
The creation did not respond, but it had turned its dangerous gaze towards Tepic as it slowly hovered out of its former prison. The pitiful lad with the broken nose gestured to his friends, “Could yer please stop tormentin’ ‘em? Jus’ till yer hear me out?”
There was no response from the floating entity, it stared at the struggling boy without pity. Beryl stirred slightly in their own pod, the wires still attached as they dangled uselessly. The angels connection to the familiar was the only thing that had prevented its attack already. Tepic sensed his own danger and started to explain, “Them scientists has been fillin’ yer head with nonsense! There’s more n’ just killers an’ victims in this world!”
Loki was edging his way from the writhing form of Dr. Gammis to the flute. Tepic watched him with bated breath a moment before turning back to the angel floating above him. “There’s innocent people in the world! Kids that ain’t harmed no one! An’ heroes! Hereos that catch them killers yers talkin’ about! An’ voles! Lots of voles, cats, foxes, an’ friendly animals as lives in the cities an’ places yer gonna destroy!”
Tepic noticed his friend was nearing his destination, but he still needed the fox to stall, “The world ain’t jus’ hurting or bein’ hurt! That were a bloomin’ whopper! The world is a wonderful place full of adventures! Its full of wonder an’ beauty yer never got ter see being trapped here yer whole life!” Tepic thought he saw a flicker of feeling pass through the angels conscience through a subtle change in the light surrounding the creature. “There’s a song in yer heart. Can’t yer hear it?” Another flicker told Tepic he was on the right track. “That song’s the truth of who yer is! Yer ain’t gotta be a killer jus’ cause these numpty scientists didn’t teach yer no better!”
The cherubim closed its eye and lowered itself into the rest of its body floating in the fetal position. Loki reached over and took the flute in hand and hefted it triumphantly. Tepic gestured for the lad to bring it closer when the angels eyelid opened again and it raised its head, “I heard a song. It filled me with Peace like I have never known, and then the pain returned worse than ever.”
Tepic growled down at Whitesmith, who had potentially damned everyone with her interference. The entity stared balefully at the fox, “I want to believe you, but the song is falsehood. A lie you created to save yourself.”
“I never…err…I wasn’t lying!” Tepic shivered from almost telling a lie to the angel. He was already sweating terribly. Loki was trying to pass Tepic the flute unnoticed, but the open eye made him move warily.
The creature turned its neck towards Doctor Gammis who struggled to breath as he clawed at his skull, “I have watched these men of science imprison and torment their experiments,” It turned to Mariah who had killed her capteurs and more this evening, “And I have seen their soldiers kill in the name of whatever excuse they desired.” Avariel’s prone form was the last to earn its ire before it returned to Tepic, which stopped Loki from sneaking any closer. “Even this clockwork fought another to the death and was ready to contain or slay me again. You would kill me now if you could.”
“I would never hurt an angel!” Tepic strained to shout indignantly from the floor.
“The blood on your hands is not your own, boy.” The entity replied from its surrogate darkly. Tepic froze, remembering when he had stabbed a dog’s mouth in this chamber. He threw out a desperate hand towards Loki pleading with his eyes to roll him his flute. Loki bent to the ground and thrust the flute to the lad, but Tepics outstretched digits went rigid as an aetheric cloud covered the child.
Loki watched with sorrow as Tepic crumbled into the fetal position as his body constricted with pain, but it was not as protracted as the others. Unconsciousness, which had been denied everyone else, was granted to him as the cloud continued to roll over him.
The cherubim turned its gaze to Loki, who looked at the tool in his hand. He did not understand how to play the flute or what it was supposed to do, but Tepic had said it was their only hope. The urchin rose to his feet and faced towards the oncoming heavenly wrath. It floated above him glowing radiantly, but filled with the vengeance that had brought down an Empire. The boy trembled, terrified and unsure what an instrument could do against a force that terrible.
The urchin took the flute and tried a note. It hurt his own ears it was so terribly off key. He kept blowing, hoping against hope he could play the right notes, but his song only got worse. The urchin lowered the item to see if it affected the tormented creature.
It stared at him harshly, its eye tightened as if offended by his display. Loki ducked to the floor trembling, knowing he could not stop what was about to happen. After he had fallen it would do the same to everyone trapped within Aquila IX before it destroyed it.
But the angel did not strike. The boy had no blood on his hands, had committed no act of violence beyond sedating his enemies. Those had even survived and escaped with their allies. The entity heard the song stirring inside themselves, but did not want to be deceived. It turned to the familiar to draw on its experiences.
It showed Loki as someone who had never harmed another soul. A being that abhorred violence and tried to do everything he could to avoid it. He had attempted to fight in the past, the urchin owned a knife and had often drawn it in haste and fear, he was not completely innocent. No one here was innocent, but the lad had never harmed another being. He was not a killer, and was not a victim unless the angel attacked.
Loki realized that nothing had happened and he raised his head tentatively. The entity was flickering slightly, its light fluctuating in brilliance. The lad looked around and noticed that Gammis and Mariah had stopped convulsing violently. Clouds still covered them, but they were unconscious now.
The urchin got to his feet rapidly, instrument in hand and played it furiously. He falsely attributed the angels weakening to the flute music. The shrill notes he produced were terrible and would have made any other audience revolt.
The entity descended to Loki’s level, but the wires only stretched a few meters from the pod. It hesitated and remained where it was suspended in the air, as Loki’s hope filled serenade assaulted their senses. The angel closed its eye, “Stop, child. This is the song you are trying to play.”
Loki obediently lowered the instrument. The creation had not used its own voice in decades, it was not sure it could anymore. It let out a soft hum that slowly built into a croon as it sang the song of the angels. The melody made Tepic’s rendition a pale imitation as the music vibrated the very being of its audience. It soothed the listeners easing their nightmares, undoing some of the horror that had been inflicted upon them. Loki wept, though he was not the only one. Even in their sleep tears found their way into their eyes.
The angel discovered the song bringing them back to times they had long forgotten. A time before the experimental procedure, when they had been a poor human child. Where the Empire had control and his family enjoyed picnics in a flower filled park. Before his parents and brother died during the cloud angel’s wrath. Living with their uncle until a theif shot him in the night. Before the orphanage and scientists. Memories that had faded after they had been transformed.
It’s sorrow came out only in song as its voice filled the chamber. It sang until it was overwhelmed by its own loss. The creature’s burning eyes could shed no tears, but they remembered what it was like to cry again. They could weep only on the inside.
“Boy.” The entity spoke through Beryl haltingly, then used the name carried through the connection, “Loki. Please. Come closer.”
The urchin could approach without reservation or fear. Despite everything the angel had done he still wanted to help him. The child cleaned his own eyes and sniffled, briefly noticing that their friends had been released from the terrible aetheric clouds, and the gravity was gone.
He stood before the floating angel, who was close enough to touch. Except for the lack of hair and glowing skin it mostly resembled any other child. The entity curled into itself even more as it spoke through the familiar, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for hurting your friends. For hurting you.”
“I didn’t want to be an engine.” The angel raised its head and looked at Loki with its eyes closed. “I didn’t want to be a monster. I didn’t want to hurt anymore.” It opened its eye which still glowed brightly, but now the boy could make out an almost human orb within. “I wanted to be free.”
Loki reached up and hugged the floating child fiercely. He did not care what the other urchins would think if they saw him crying. “Ye’s freh neow!” The lad tried to pull the angel away from the wires, pulling with all his remaining might, but the entity remained still. “Yew kin come ‘ome wif us! Yew don’ gotta be alone no more!”
The troubled cherubim considered the boys kind offer, and shifted itself to hug him in return. The two held each other briefly before it broke the embrace and shook its head sadly. “I’m sorry, Loki. My time was robbed from me long ago.” The urchin blinked, wondering what that meant. “There will be no adventures for me.” The cherubim slowly rose back into the sky away from the boy. “No picnics. No games. No voles.” It paused and smiled to Loki sadly as it crooned weakly, “No growing up.”
Loki stared as the angel slowly retreated towards the machine. “Oi! Yew don’ has ter go back in there!”
“I know what I have to do, Loki.” the entity replied as it appeared to retreat into the trap, but it did not touch the rear plate that would reseal it. “And it is something I must do before I can be free.”
The cherubim glowed brilliantly as it turned its attention on the generator behind it. It removed itself from the wires, popping them out with ease. The entity flew to Beryl’s prone form and removed them from the needles leaving blood stains under their coat. The angel placing them against the railing where the urchin went to help their friend. They were breathing easier again, and no longer speaking for the other.
The aetheric being looked one last time at Loki before giving a farewell croon filled with regret. The radiant creature flew high into the sky and attached itself to the top of the reactor. The child was forced to avert his gaze as the room brightened blindingly. Bookworm Heinrichs, turning the corner saw the light coming from the doorway. She rushed towards it hoping she was not too late.
The angel began to overload the aetheric engines as it song got louder and more pronounced. The entire structure rumbled dangerously as it reverberated across the halls. Heads lifted as they tried to find the source of the sorrow and joy. Bookworm entered the reactor room fearing the worst.
She had to cover her gaze as ran to the controls, unsure of what was happening, but Loki told her it was trying to help now. She looked at her friends and the broken form of Doctor Falcon hoping that was true. If not it was beyond her ability to stop it. She ordered Loki to grab Tepic as she grabbed Mariah. Book hoped she had time to return for Gammis and Beryl, and that the other side of the reactor wall was a safe distance. The Heroine hid her fear that the cherubim would destroy the station and kill everyone in its vengeance.
She was only half right. The angel glowed ever more brightly as the turbines began to overheat. The antenna was primed to send forth the energy it was preparing. Energy no machine could handle or receive in one giant burst. The song grew louder as turbines, floors, and walls broke apart crushing anything caught beneath.
Finally the angel knew that it was ready to go. A blast of aetheric energy engulfed the reactor room and flowed through the station going up, through the antenna and exploding. A powerful pulse rippled through the aether destroying every mechanical creation in its wake and blowing any creature or entity back.
The pulse passed through the Hildskal mountains and into the caves there where the creatures dwelled, and even the mighty Koudra were no match for the pulse as it knocked them down. It ripped through Wuldram Shores breaking every bulb, every device powered by the aether.
The wave continued further, bringing down the ships of Decagon’s fleet and forcing a hurried crash landing in the ocean, despite running on boilers. Far away, even the Carptathia was brought low as the force passed through after surviving its battle with the air pirates. Their radio equipment, everything shattered by the blast stranding them without communication.
Loki and Bookworm managed to get everyone out, but Beryl by the time the reactor went off, and everyone crashed to the floor from the pressure wave. The machines had all been deactivated, and there was the smell of burnt wiring everywhere. Of the angel there was no sign. Bookworm turned to her companion wondering if Loki might explain what happened, though she didn’t think it likely. She was surprised to find the child unconscious after the burst, sleeping away peacefully.