Angels are servants of God.
Servants who, despite the many pretty wrappings and delicate orders of things, are meant for nothing more than to carry out their missions. Whether it be war or peace, famine or fortune, they linger in the world of the living only long enough to intervene to protect His creations before vanishing like smoke in the wind. As such, they appear untouchable, divine in the most potent of ways.
And yet, even the most divine are capable of sin.
Even those, with the purest of heart and noble intention, may be swayed from their path of righteousness.
Led to ruin by their own doing.
Once, many years ago, an angel came to what modern peoples would commonly know as Japan.
His mission there has long since been lost, though there are always the tales whispered in the dark corners and hidden crevices where secrecy is assumed but not proven. Some say that a mighty samurai saved the angel during a great battle between two warring lords, while some say it was the other way around. Some say that the angel was meant to ferry the soul of the same samurai to the gates of Heaven and rebelled, instead restoring the samurai’s life and sheltering him. And some further still speculate that it was nothing more than a passing glance in the streets of a village, a blip in the peripheral before continuing with their very different lives.
In truth, it had been some of those rumors and yet none of them at all.
An angel had been assigned a mission by the Messenger. Rumor had spread of angels banished from Heaven- known as the Fallen- appearing amongst the war and strife in the feudal regions of a small island country. These beings, twisted into demons of the highest orders over the course of time, were taking souls that had no business being reaped before their time. Commonly known as Reapers- though hardly comparable to the actual angels tasked with the grisly duty- they could easily warp the balance of the planes of existence. And with the number of skirmishes and battles that were occurring in the area, it certainly wasn’t uncommon for there to be large numbers of samurai casualties, but this was something else. Someone was reaping souls, and it was beginning to unsettle the natural order of Heaven.
The angel tracked the Fallen Reaper, striking the first blow during one such skirmish. The Living, unable to see the wings of those of the divine, would later describe in detail the strange man clad in fabrics of crimsons and earthy browns, a broad blade gleaming almost unnaturally under the slivers of sunlight through the dark clouds above.
It was a hard-fought fight, the abilities gifted to both their races evening the score. But the angel emerged victorious, striking a fatal blow that turned the Fallen to ash in the wind before disappearing as swiftly as he had come, never to be seen again.
But that wasn’t entirely true, for someone did.
The angel, wounded from his encounter with the Fallen, retreated to the private gardens of a shogun lord, knowing his vulnerable state would only serve to attract more of the Fallen should he remain on the battlefield.
A hand to his side held the largest of his wounds- several large claws sinking deeply into the flesh as he had blocked a moment too slowly. It would not kill him, but it rendered him weak enough while he spent the time and energy to heal himself. Wounds received from a demon could infect easily, causing an angel’s Grace to leak from their form not unlike blood in water.
It was there, crouched among the spring blossoms of the garden, that the angel found himself looking up into the face of a samurai- one who had been tasked with protecting his lord. Deceptively gentle features were settled firmly into a cool stare as the angel found himself at the receiving end of the samurai’s blade. If he were in his right mind, he would have laughed at the idea that a human would be capable of harming an angelic being. As it were, all he could manage was a huff of amusement, settling further into the grass below him and inviting the samurai to do what he would. A part of him was certainly genuinely curious to see how this would play out.
The samurai appraised him, dark eyes studying his strange clothing and the angelic blade with thinly veiled curiosity and suitable wariness before carefully lowering his sword. It went to show his intelligence then, that he wouldn’t outright sheath it in his presence.
“Who are you? What has brought you here?”
The angel was familiar with all tongues of men, and was thusly able to understand the low rumble of the samurai’s voice as he spoke his own language. It was an oddly pleasant tone, he would admit. Hardly like the hissed threats he was usually subject to whilst dealing with Fallen.
He shook his head.
“You would not believe me, even if I were to tell you.” He said dryly, the unfamiliar syllables of the different language rolling off his tongue.
For reasons unbeknownst to the angel, his words brought a twitch to the samurai’s lips.
“I think you would be surprised.” He returned.
“Perhaps.” The angel replied, wincing as one of his wings ached fiercely. There were a handful of feathers missing now, the blood from the wounds bleeding sluggishly. It would not hinder his flight, but it was hardly comfortable.
No, what surprised him was that as he spoke, the samurai’s gaze had followed the motion of his wings. That by all rights, he shouldn’t have been able to see as a mortal being.
Surprised, suddenly fearful, the angel fled with what Grace he was able to muster, leaving behind the samurai amid the blooms of the sprawling gardens.
Despite the near overwhelming caution pulling at his limbs, the angel did return to the gardens once he had healed. Perhaps it was the nature in which he had parted, or perhaps it had simply been the way the samurai had looked at him. But nonetheless, he returned, appearing in a shower of Grace, hand hovering over the hilt of his blade in the instance of an attack. But none came.
It should be mentioned that the time between worlds is fickle. The angel, having fled from the gardens, had sought refuge in one of the in-betweens to replenish his energy stores. For all he knew, it had been a great many years since he had last been in this time, or nearly none at all.
The sky was dark above him, clouds crowding the dim, gleaming light of the moon and teasingly revealing glimpses of the stars intermittently. The flowers around him were still in bloom, but there was a strange aura about them. Almost as if they had been blessed- but that simply was not possible. But then, an angel leaking Grace could certainly be capable of anything, he supposed.
Brows furrowed as he puzzled that thought, the angel walked amongst the beauty of the gardens, taking the time to appreciate the quiet simplicity that surrounded the grounds. There were beautiful places of refuge in the gardens of the heavens, of course, but there was always something different about the way that His creations would treasure the gifts of their world. Always searching for another level of understanding perhaps, or taking inspiration from the divine, humanity would always seek to create and better themselves as time stretched on.
The path straightened ahead of him, the glassy surface of a large pond situated in a central location, a wooden bridge leading across to a crimson and amber painted pavilion. It was here that the angel grasped his blade and readied himself for trouble. For another Fallen had come to this place. But, just as it had come, it appeared that something, or someone, had already dealt with the situation.
The wings black as pitch draped into the pond’s still waters, the gentle lapping of the water against the withered feathers almost grotesque in comparison to the rest of the peaceful place that was painted around it. The gleaming amber gaze, pupiless, sightless, was staring at the sky above, a trail of black blood dripping from its fanged mouth, still open in a soundless snarl.
A small, subtle noise from further beyond the corpse drew the angel’s attention. Cautious, dark eyes surveyed his surroundings, darting around as he sought the source. It wasn’t until he stepped into the pavilion that he realized it to be the same samurai he had encountered the first time he had come to this place, a bloody hole torn through his shoulder. Thick gouges criss-crossed his chest, the navy-blue fabric doing nothing to staunch the bleeding as he leaned heavily against one of the posts of the structure.
The angel could sense the samurai’s soul, flickering like a candle in a crisp breeze, wavering as he clung to life with a dogged determination the like he had not seen before. His harsh pants broke the quiet night as the angel approached quietly, some deep instinct driving him to crouch before him, tilting his head to one side in contemplation.
The samurai’s lips twisted into a wry smile as he looked upon the angel, no doubt already able to see the full magnificence of soft golden wings spread behind him and the eerie glow of his Grace surrounding his silhouette that all who were dying began to See.
“You came back.” He coughed wetly, barely twitching as the angel settled before him, steady gaze intense as he paused. Waiting. Though for what even he didn’t know.
“I did.” The angel replied simply.
“I had wondered… if you would.”
The angel cocked his head at the words, confusion coloring his features for a moment. This human, one of His creations… what did the samurai mean by those words?
The vaguest of motions- an aborted attempt to shrug one shoulder, the angel realized. The samurai’s dark hair was falling into a cut on his cheek- without thinking, the angel brushed it away, freezing as he realized what he had done.
“You seemed…” the samurai blinked, slowly, every part of him reading exhausted. “Lonely.”
Lonely was a word that the angel was not unfamiliar with. It could be a difficult existence, constantly shifting from one place to the next, barely manifested upon the Earth before he was recalled back to Heaven for some matter or another. Few angels were close, fewer still who knew one another completely.
He had seen the rise and falls of civilizations, partook in wars and battles of men to shape the future into something better alongside angel and man alike.
But to describe him lonely? It was certainly unexpected.
“It is in your eyes.” The samurai said quietly, the rasping growing louder as he winced, though not making any effort to change his position or make himself more comfortable. The growing shadows in the edges of the angel’s vision were a precursor to a Reaper appearing soon- the samurai did not have much time left.
“The creature you slew- did you know of its true nature?” the angel asked instead, forcing patience as the words took several long moments to register to the man.
“I suspected it was not like you.”
“In which way.”
“You are pure. It was not- a youkai.”
Youkai. A demon. Not untrue, but not entirely correct, either. The term was used loosely, for a true youkai was not quite either. Regardless of that fact, for a mere human man to manage to kill one was no small feat, and to survive much rarer. He said as much, in fact, to which the man reacted rather differently than the angel had anticipated.
“You and I have different ideas of that word, I think.” The samurai chuckled, gasping in pain and gritting his jaw as a spasm wracked him.
The angel looked upon the samurai, and something shifted in his perspective. What he had done was worthy of titles and glory, in days past. But he suspected, should he hold the samurai’s soul in hand and Judge it, that he would find no higher motive other than his own reasons. Reasons he already suspected, but did not confirm.
“Perhaps.” He finally said, slowly, gathering his thoughts. “Do you have a name, samurai?”
“Shirogane Takashi.” The samurai managed, eyes growing more distant as he leaned more heavily into the post. “Do you have a name as well, Kami-sama?”
The words were soft and nearly reverent, and with their utterance something within the angel settled. They washed over him, pushing him to nod shortly, his decision made. With a gentle touch, he reached out, resting his palms over the samurai’s forehead and heart.
He could feel the stuttering, slowing beat beneath his fingers. A warm golden glow began to pulse from his center, fueling his Grace into something less sharp and softer around the edges, healing rather than harming. Within moments, he could sense the soul of the mortal man pulsing and strengthening as light bolstered it- soon it glowed with strength enough to light most of the surrounding garden as the angel’s eyes closed in focus, channeling his Grace with a steadiness he was unused to.
When it eventually faded, the samurai could only stare at him blearily, exhaustion pulling at his limbs.
“I have many names. Few that you would know, and fewer still to speak. You may call me Kaeth.” The angel finally spoke, blinking once before leaving the samurai’s- Takashi’s side- in a shimmer of Grace.
It was strange, the way that the angel fell into the samurai’s orbit. Never before had he become so quickly entrenched in the ways of the Creator’s inventions, nor had he ever become so quickly curious of the ways of the samurai. He knew, of course, of many things of the world and how it worked, but so often angels were called back to Heaven before they were able to see the Earth for what it was.
Thrice more he returned to the gardens, only once in which he encountered the samurai again. For it was still a time of war here in this place, and he was often called away to battle with his lord. But in the time he did not see the samurai, he instead spent it examining the blooms and other natural wonders of the place.
It spoke of the wealth of the samurai’s lord that they would be so expansive- the house itself was not to be found for quite some time as the angel eventually sought it out. However, there was great care shown in the gardens. Well cared for, with wildlife bountiful in the songbirds and wild deer that seemed hardly surprised at his presence.
He wondered, idly, if the humans would realize that he had accidentally blessed the garden with his first visit. It had made the already vivid plants even more so, the blooms of the flowers barely wilting. It was certainly not possible for the realm of mortals, but the evidence spoke for itself. Then again, a great many things should not be possible, and yet were.
The samurai’s abilities to see his wings, for example.
There were also the matters of the Fallen assuming the roles of Reapers.
Several more had appeared in the area the angel had come to protect, each of them dispatched by angels or others. One of them, he discovered, had been dealt with by the samurai Shirogane Takashi.
He was learning very quickly that humans were not always what other angels and their Father had made them out to be. Oh, there were the dark and corrupt sides of humanity- it seemed to be just another facet in the complexities of their natures. But all races had such flaws.
But Takashi was different.
While he had seen some truly cruel things amongst his time on the Earth, he realized very quickly that his samurai was one with a compassionate heart. Those he could spare, he would. Those he was unable to sway were put to death quickly and mercifully. In some circles, he had even come to be known as “Champion”.
Time passed, days growing into weeks, and the angel continued to visit the gardens of the shogun that Takashi had once served. Once, for he had fallen in battle, leaving the grounds of the gardens to whomever would claim them. Someone turning out to be the samurai himself, taking to residing there to tend to the gardens. Save for a single black stain upon the earth from where the Fallen angel had perished, the plants grew and thrived under the samurai’s gentle coaxing and touches.
What would happen once the angel were to move on from this place, if the samurai were to perish in battle next?
It was becoming more and more difficult to resist the call of simply staying with the samurai, to persist in calling him by his station rather than by his true name. Willing himself to focus his attention on the mission he had been assigned by the holy Messenger, continuing to deal with the Fallen who continued still to flock to the sweet honey that was war. Just like it was becoming harder to ignore that perhaps the samurai meant something more to him, given his accidental blessing via angelic spirit, tending to a likewise blessed garden.
But he was an angel. It was unacceptable.
And yet, the longer he stayed, the more his heart wavered.
It was hard to deny the request.
The angel had fought long and hard alongside the samurai and the shogun, the battle fierce and their foes fiercer still. Fallen had been plentiful among them- more than the angel had seen before. It had resulted in his journeying back to Heaven to report his findings to the Messenger.
The elder angel had tossed her mane of silvery hair over her shoulder, gleaming silver eyes watching him knowingly as he excused himself from her presence. He couldn’t help but wonder what the others thought of him, leaving their angelic home to travel Below so often, fighting next to humanity and angels alike.
In some ways it felt as though he had a foot in both worlds now.
“Be careful, Warrior.” She said to him as he flared his wings, gathering his Grace to travel back to the world Below. “I fear your future should you forget your Mission.”
“I will be.” He promised, even as his chest tightened at the words, an unfamiliar sensation that nearly stopped him in his tracks. However, he did not allow himself to show it outwardly, travelling back to the gardens that were quickly becoming a second home while he was in the feudal region.
The samurai waited for him, as he always seemed to, now. It had long since been months since their first meeting, and while they were familiar, acquainted with one another, the angel continued to persist a boundary between them. Fear stopped him. Wariness. Uneasiness. He knew the tales of those who Fell. The Temptations that had led to their downfall.
Perhaps not all of it had been true.
The samurai spoke fondly of things of his past- his grandfather, whom he had left behind in hopes that he would be able to protect them both. Of his love of the open skies at night, the soft songs of the evening breeze in the summers- the summer that was now upon them. Of small, insignificant things that sparked new emotion in the angel.
He voiced his thoughts as such, one evening, as he sat perched on the roof of the pavilion, the samurai sitting below.
“You are strange.”
“Oh?” Amusement colored the samurai’s tone, and he smiled gently up at the angel from where he was reclined against a carved stone. The burbling pond punctuated the comfortable silence that fell between them.
“I was not meant to stay.” He said, frustration coloring his tone. “But there are still so many Fallen plaguing this place. I do not know what draws them here still.”
The samurai shrugged, looking far too at ease.
“And yet here you are.”
Astute, as always. But there was something in the easy gentleness that the words were spoken that soothed the angel, and he sighed, looking at the stars above in search of some kind of answer.
“You make me want to stay.”
The words felt traitorous, even as he tasted them on his tongue and rolled them from his lips.
“I am but a simple samurai, Kami-sama. I have nothing to offer you.”
The angel made a noise of frustration in the back of his throat, shaking his head.
“It is not that.” He nearly growled. “You are gentle, and kind, and you do not treat others as cruelly as some of your world. You offer yourself in tribute to any who would offer your comrades harm, and you have seen and challenged beings not of this world simply for your own reasons. You do not make sense, and it makes me feel-“
Feel as though the reality he resided in were turning into some cruel jest. He was Warrior, one of the angelic host. His Mission was to do His bidding, to follow His words and love Him as he loved all of His creations.
But Takashi changed it.
Takashi was soft laughter in the night, hands carefully brushing aside the dark locks from his cheek in the shadows of the gardens, eyes that were so, so soft despite the angel doing nothing to deserve it. He had done nothing to deserve this man’s love, and yet, he knew that he had gained it.
Deep within his heart, the angel knew that he would freely give it if he dared. If he were only asked.
He slipped off the pavilion, landing on the grass with a soft sound that was whisked away with the breeze. He felt his hair shift, felt the whispering tendrils soothing their way through his wings, felt connected as he never had before to the world around him, and he spoke.
“If only you asked, I would give you everything.” He whispered.
And in that moment, the angel’s fate was sealed.
Where once the angel had tread with caution, none remained once those dark words had left his lips. Did Takashi realize what he risked, speaking those words out loud, where any could hear?
The angel continued his work, of course. The presence of the Fallen and the false Reapers was not something that would simply vanish with new revelations in other matters. No, they would still be there, watching, waiting, hunting the souls of the samurai warriors and taking them for themselves, turning their bright lights into nothing but withered husks to do their bidding.
But in the quiet moments between battles, of parting ways from Takashi until they met again, things had changed. Where once walls had carefully been constructed, now existed only rubble between them.
They sat in the engawa of the house- more a mansion, really- the overhang enough to cover them both as the rain thundered down from the skies. The angel seated himself cross-legged, while Takashi reclined back onto his elbows, uncharacteristically relaxed for once. Then again, it had also been oddly peaceful for the last few weeks.
The angel hummed contentedly, watching the ripples of the droplets as they hit the small pond next to the house, almost tempted to dip his toes into the waters and see if the koi were interested enough to investigate. His wings, usually kept pinned closely to his back, draped across the tatami.
Takashi reached out to comb his hands tentatively through the long golden feathers, relishing in the sensation as Kaeth’s shoulders relaxed and he sighed. He could watch Takashi’s warm expressions of warm contentment for eternity, if only he were allowed to. He had always asked if he were allowed to touch his wings, and after the first time told him he need never ask. Whether he realized their significance to his status or not, Takashi’s calloused fingers never tugged or pulled a feather out of place, rather doing the opposite and preening what he could reach. And always, his contentment would slowly change to contemplation to something akin to grief, though for what the angel didn’t dare ask.
He didn’t know how Takashi could see the aura of the angelic, nor could he figure out how he was able to see his wings, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answers if it meant returning to Heaven to find them. The thought of leaving the earth saddened him now rather than gladdened his heart, and it led to several instances that he vanished to a hidden world between worlds. Never for long- never long enough to harm the time that he would be able to spend with his samurai- but enough that he could think.
Think of what he was doing.
He was loyal to his cause and his Mission, but it was becoming clear that his heart was beginning to speak its own desires, and those desires were fixated on Takashi. His gentle smile, his soft touch, the way that he pressed close to him in the night as he slept, for an angel had no need for the same needs and wants as humanity. Or so he had thought.
Now, he was not so certain, and doubt began to fester in his heart.
It happened during battle.
Matters had been brewing between several clan of samurai for some time, and Takashi was called to war. The angel followed, this time. While he realized that Takashi was blessed, he also festered great fear in his chest. By now he had realized that the Fallen were attracted to this place because of Takashi and his simple abilities of seeing things that others were unable to.
It made sense- they desired his soul to feast upon, to take as their own and use it for their own means. But he would not allow it.
Before the battle, Takashi had been quiet. Quieter than the angel had ever seen him in the time that he had known the man.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” He demanded, crossing his arms over his breastplate and levelling a stare at the man. “Something is bothering you. It taints your soul.”
Takashi was quiet for far too long, and something in the angel feared that perhaps he had inquired into matters that did not concern him, or he had offended the man. He knew he was difficult to get along with- amongst the other angelic host, he was known to be standoffish and distant at best. But it meant little if when it mattered, he could do nothing.
“I thought it would pass.” He finally said, meeting the angel’s gaze. “I had almost hoped for it. But now, I see there is no hope of hiding it.”
The angel blinked, waiting for him to go on.
“Something is going to happen in this battle. I can sense it.” The samurai said, eye focused on a distant horizon only he could see. “If I should join the halls of my ancestors-“
“You won’t.” the angel said immediately, fierce protection brewing in his veins. “Never will I allow harm to come to you.”
Takashi’s smile was twisted as he looked at the angel, took in the wings that were strong enough to carry a thousand men, the blade sheathed at his side, the armor and the dark crimson fabric draped about him. A messenger of God, a warrior to serve the host.
All of it balanced on the delicate praecipe of his own ruin.
The angel should have known better than to assume that Takashi would be wrong now.
They had become separated, as matters tended to go in the midst of battle. He had been pinned by a Fallen with eyes like coals and claws that sparked with dark power like oil. Dark, ragged feathers beat against him as he drew his angelic blade and threw himself into the fight, entrenched in the thick of it as he fought to return to Takashi’s side.
It was long. Many of the men who had joined the fight against their so-called youkai were dead, their sightless eyes forever affixed on some far place only they could see, true Reapers beginning to appear to collect the souls and smite the Fallen who remained.
A howl echoed across the plain that they had found themselves in, a sound that chilled him to the bone in its familiarity. Takashi was in danger.
He gathered his Grace to him, depleting was little of his stores he had left as he reappeared in time to see the Fallen baring teeth down at the man, who gripped the remains of his arm, taken cleanly by a dark blade that had visible shadows twining along its length.
“You think a Blessed Man would stop us from finding him?” the Fallen hissed at him, baring her teeth at him in a macabre grin. The angel recognized her from the ancient texts- Haggar, once Honerva, first Messenger and Host to God. “There is nothing on this Earth nor the next world that could keep him safe from us.”
The angel readied his blade, the Fallen snarling as she fell upon him. She quickly discarded her cursed blade in favor of her dark magics, digging claws into his sides and tearing his Grace from him. His body shuddered at the sensation, never before feeling so weak as he fell to his knees, every part of him refusing to yield even in the direst of circumstances.
And yet, he dug deeply, finding a strand of some unknown bond that he did not even know was there and tugging it close to him, realizing quickly that it was none other than Takashi to whom it belonged. His strength, his belief, and his love, all washed over the angel like a balm, giving him the strength to raise his blade and plunge it deeply into her breast, the angelic Grace it had been forged in destroying her in a final scream of agony and a burst of ash.
His energy spent, the angel collapsed next to his love, for that was what he finally realized Takashi to be to him. His Grace flickered weakly along his skin, wings limp along the ground that he lay upon. Takashi was no better, features ashen as he attempted to staunch the bleeding from his injured arm.
He reached out to touch him, words of healing upon his lips, but Takashi shook his head with a pained smile.
“Save it for yourself. There could still be others, and you need your strength.”
“And I could not lose you.” He returned with all the bite he could muster. “I refuse to let you die.”
He grasped onto Takashi with everything he had, willing his battered and broken body to cooperate, forcing the last vestige of his energy into Takashi’s life, sealing his wounds and his own fate as a searing pain fell across his back.
The last thing he knew was a frantic noise above him, and then nothing.