The Angel of the Owl House - Chapter 46 - OwlHouseAngel (2024)

Chapter Text

“By order of the Severn Seraphim of Gran Seraphia, we have been ordered to take you, Luciel of Crest Kindness, into custody. You stand accused of breaking the Treaty of Division by opening the Forbidden Black Tombs and assembling their contents. I apologise, but you are under arrest.”

The words of the Diligence Arch-Angel seemed to echo across the quarry, leaving everybody stunned. Una, Dex, Treble, and Fyra exchanged confused looks, barely knowing anything about Angels or the Divine Realm, while the others were all left gaping at the Arch-Angel in horror. Luz stared at the other Arch-Angel with wide eyes, while the others shook their heads in denial.

“You’re kidding! You came all the way here just to arrest Luz!?” King snapped furiously; “She’s done nothing wrong!”

“The presence of the tears in the sky and the awakening of the Divider proves this is false, and our Divination Specialists have determined that the culprits behind opening each of the four Forbidden Black Tombs are Luciel of Crest Kindness, the young Titan King Clawthorne-Noceda, the witches Edalyn Clawthorne and Amity Blight, and the monster Belos; formally the human Philip Wittebane.” The Arch-Angel said firmly, before looking back to Luz; “Luciel, I ask that you surrender peacefully. You will have the opportunity to make your case in a formal hearing, and then the trial should charges be made against you.”

Luz gasped softly and looked around; this wasn’t like Belos and his Emperor’s Coven! These people weren’t serving a tyrannical overlord and arresting Luz for their own reasons; to them, she’d actually broken the law! Still, she had to defend herself!

“I’ve never heard of the Treaty of Division and while I did open two of the Black Tombs, I didn’t know they were forbidden! I thought Rasiel had been captured by a villain called the Divider! I didn’t know he was the Divider until it was too late!” Luz argued.

“That’s right!” King chimed in; “And I helped open three of the tombs as well! You gonna arrest me too!?” he asked challengingly.

The Arch-Angel sighed; “Luciel, I apologise but I am not the one to make your case to. You’ll have a chance to speak to defence attorneys and plead your case to the proper authorities. And yes, young Titan; I am afraid we must take you into custody too.”

King’s eyes widened as one of the High Angels stepped forward and gently grabbed him, placing white magic bands around his wrists. “Weh!?”

“King!” Luz cried; “Leave my little brother alone! He’s only 9 years old and not an Angel!”

“His age will be taken into account. The bands merely prevent him from casting magic; we do not want a fight.” the Arch-Angel declared.

“Well you’re about to get one!” Hunter scowled, gripping his staff. “We won’t let you drag our friends off to the Divine Realm!”

Lyra, Vee, and the Basilisks were all immediately ready for battle too, while the human trio prepared to do whatever they could to help fight back. They had no magic any longer, but they could still try and protect their friends!

The Angels all conjured weapons and spell circles to defend themselves with, leaving only Luz, Camila, King, and the Diligence Arch-Angel not currently preparing to fight.

Camila stepped between her daughter and the Arch-Angel; “I’ve not heard anything about this supposed treaty before either, nor do I recall that the Crest Orders have the authority to arrest citizens of other worlds! My daughter has never been to the Divine Realm and is not officially a member of any Crest Order! You have no right to arrest her.”

“I apologise Madam, but you are incorrect. The Treaty of Division specifically allows the Crest Orders to investigate and prosecute it’s violators, even if they are not citizens of the Crest Orders. The Demon Realm has the same right for our own people. I have legal warrants for the arrest of these individuals.” the Arch-Angel replied politely, snapping his fingers and causing five golden scrolls to appear in the air in front of him and unfurl. They were each arrest warrants and completely legitimate from what Camila could see. They specifically named Luciel, Amity, King, Edalyn, and Belos as the subjects of the warrants.

The sight of them made Camila go pale; “T-These are real… you’re really going to arrest them all!?”

The others gulped as the Arch-Angel nodded grimly; “I take no pleasure in this, but yes. Only Edalyn will not be pursued, as travel to the Demon Realm has been made expressly forbidden even to us, in light of recent events. And truth be told, I hadn’t heard of the treaty either, until the sky was torn open and the shadow monsters began falling into our city.”

That shocked the group even further; “Monsters have been appearing in Gran Seraphia!?” Camila exclaimed.

The Arch-Angel nodded; “It has become a problem we cannot ignore. The tears in the sky of this realm are simple windows between the realms, but the entire sky in the Divine Realm has been replaced by a vision of the Boiling Isles in the Demon Realm. Occasionally, shadow monsters that we call Distorted Shadows will appear, each one made of living shadows and taking the form of witches and demons. We’ve even been forced to deal with a Distorted Shadow in the shape of a Goliath Ash Moth! The problem cannot be ignored, and as your daughter’s actions are linked to this, the warrant for her arrest was issued.”

Luz grimaced; had more people been hurt by her decisions? Had freeing Rasiel caused even more suffering!?

Before anyone else could make a move, there was a yell from the south and everyone turned to see Amity and the rest of the Hexsquad flying towards the quarry, with Hanu hitching a ride with Willow. Their faces wore expressions of surprise and worry as they saw both the new forms of the Basilisks, and the Angels surrounding their friends with weapons drawn, so they immediately landed and pointed their own staves and spell circles at the Angels.

“Who are you people!? What are you doing to our friends!?” Amity demanded, baring her teeth like a wild cat.

“We are Angels from Crest Diligence, here performing our duties.” The Arch-Angel replied.

“They’ve come to arrest me and everyone else who opened a Black Tomb. Releasing Rasiel was supposedly some big crime that broke a treaty, and he’s causing chaos in the Divine Realm!” Luz cried, guilt tearing at her heart once again.

The rest of the Hexsquad gasped; “No way! You can’t be serious!” Willow yelled.

“How was anyone supposed to know that was a crime? No one in the Boiling Isles even knew what was in the tombs!” Skara argued.

“Yeah, and pretty much no one alive knew there was even more than one!” Boscha agreed.

“Luz is innocent! If you’re gonna arrest anyone, arrest Belos! He’s the one who actually hurt people!” Matt shouted.

“Yeah! Luz has done a ton to help people! She’s the reason not everyone on the Isles hates Angels any more!” Gus said.

The Arch-Angel sighed once again; this was getting messy and he didn’t want to fight a bunch of upset children! He didn’t even like being made to arrest three of them! But the law was clear and so were his orders.

“We will be arresting Belos. He stands accused of breaking the Treaty also, as well as breaking the taboo of mutilating an Angel’s wings, the attempted genocide of the Demon Realm, the impersonation of a Seraphim, the torture and mutilation of an Underage Angel, and the repugnant act of producing Grimwalkers.” the Arch-Angel informed them.

Hunter and Lyra both gulped, as the others all paled. Noticing the reaction, the Arch-Angel looked at Hunter and Lyra and tilted his head curiously; “Ah, so these two are among the Grimwalkers he made? To think he made a Black-Winged Angel… making a Grimwalker of an Angel is even more serious than making one of a human or demon.” he commented.

Luz suddenly moved between them and the Arch-Angel; “Don’t you dare lay a finger on them!” she demanded.

The Arch-Angel surprisingly nodded; “I have no intention of harming them or arresting them. The creation of a Grimwalker is a monstrous sin, but the Grimwalker themselves is not complicit in that. No one chooses their circ*mstances of birth, so while making a Grimwalker is illegal, simply being one is not. Your friends have nothing to fear so long as they do not attack us.”

That was a surprise, but a reassuring one that helped ease some of the growing tension. The fact the Arch-Angel was being polite to them as well and had only sounded hostile when mentioning Belos’ crimes also made him seem more reasonable, though naturally none of them were willing to just let Luz, King, and Amity be arrested.

“Look, we’re glad you’re not jerks with a grudge against Hunter and Lyra…” Amity began, “… but there’s no way we’re letting you drag Luz off to stand trial for a crime she didn’t even know was a crime! That’s nor fair or just! And if you’ve got a problem with the Divider, then help us all go back to the Demon Realm, and we’ll deal with it! We were planning to do that anyway.”

The Arch-Angel shook his head; “My orders are absolute, Amity Blight.” he said, revealing that he knew who she was; “As an Arch-Angel of Crest Diligence, it is my sworn duty to uphold the law of the Divine Realm, whether that be protecting people or punishing those who’ve sinned. Now lay down your staff and surrender; we will take yourself, Luciel, and King into custody, along with Belos. You will not be harmed and you will have a fair chance at defending yourselves against the charges, should the preliminary hearing end with formal charges being made.”

To punctuate his sentence, the Arch-Angel conjured a large white bow with golden filigree on it, and pulled back the string as he pointed it at Amity, an arrow of light forming on it.

“I will not ask you again. We abhor the use of force and violence, but won’t hesitate if you leave us no choice!”

In an instant, the tension in the quarry skyrocketed. The Nocedas, the Hexsquad, the Cabin Seven Crew, and the Basilisks all prepared to fight, with Luz even switching her casual clothing to her Holy Raiment to show she meant business. Seeing her glyphs made the Arch-Angel pause for a moment as he and his subordinates all appeared to resign themselves to battle. However as everyone waited with bated breath to see who would make the first move, the battle was stopped before it could even truly begin, as a new voice sounded out across the quarry.

“Cease all hostilities immediately.” the voice commanded.

In an instant, the Angels all dismissed their spell circles and banished their weapons, with the regular Angels dropping to one knee, the High Angels bowing formally, and the Arch-Angel, performing a hand-on-heart salute in the direction of the voice. Luz and the others looked into the sky, expecting to see another Angel… though this Angel was unlike any they’d seen before.

The Angel was a man clad in similar armour to the Arch-Angel, only far more ornate. It was gold with silver detailing rather than white with gold detailing, and incorporated a white cape that attached to the man’s back. He wore no helmet, and his arms were bare from the shoulder to the elbow, revealing dark skin that was a shade darker than Darius’. The Angel’s face was also visible; he was very handsome with a square jaw and defined cheekbones, with a somewhat wide nose. He sported a white goatee and long white hair that was braided into dreadlocks that flowed halfway down his back and across his shoulders, while his eyes were a piercing blue. Most shockingly however was his eight gleaming white wings, and the halo made of light behind his head, which was shaped like a perfect ring and had long spikes jutting out in the four cardinal directions, and smaller spikes pointing jutting out between them. The longer spikes had additional barbs along the sides, making the halo rather imposing despite its holy nature.

This was a Seraphim; the equivalent of a King in the Divine Realm.

Of Luz’s friends and family, only Camila recognised him and immediately dropped down to one knee out of habit, as was expected of a regular Angel in the presence of a Seraphim.

“T-That’s Lord Barachiel! He’s the Seraphim of Crest Diligence and the greatest warrior of the Crest Orders!” she whispered.

Barachiel slowly landed between the Hexsquad and Luz’s group, and inclined his head slowly, nodding to his subordinates, and then again to Luz, Camila, and Lyra; showing them respect as Angels. He also gave a curious look to Vee, though didn’t otherwise acknowledge her.

“Lord Barachiel, we were not expecting you.” The Arch-Angel said, still holding his salute.

“It was decided that as one of the suspects is an Arch-Angel blessed by a Titan, it would be best to have someone on hand who can deal with her should she become violent. As this is within my purview, I volunteered. I waited at the gate until I sensed the hostility and chose to step in.” Barachiel said, his voice deep and carrying a Kenyan accent. Angels didn’t usually have distinct accents unless they’d spent time in the Human Realm, so Camila wondered if Barachiel had been a Missionary Angel in his younger years.

Barachiel then addressed Luz; “Young Luciel, we have gathered intelligence of your actions in the Demon Realm. Your victories there are impressive, but I am afraid you will not be able to defeat me. Please surrender; you have my personal oath that you and your friends will not be harmed.”

Luz looked the man in the eye, and while he was smiling pleasantly at her, his eyes were battle-hardened. His posture was relaxed but Luz was sure that if she tried anything, he’d knock her flat before she could so much as make a spell circle! This was the finest warrior of the Divine Realm, and just the passive aura he gave off made Luz hesitate to even think about disobeying or arguing. No one, not even Belos or the Supreme Dragons, had given Luz pause like this before!

Before Luz could say anything, Amity and the others who’d been kept out of the Basilisk fight pointed their staves at Barachiel’s back; “We don’t care how much of a big shot you are! We’ll protect our friend!” Skara growled.

Barachiel slowly turned his head to look at them; “Are you sure you wish to fight? Your chances of victory were good when it was just the Captain and his unit, but they’ve dropped to zero now that I’m here.”

“Don’t get co*cky!” Boscha yelled; “We’re not some pushovers who-”

She never got to finish her sentence, as Barachiel suddenly flew at her with blinding speed. Before the girl knew what was happening, she suddenly found herself laying face down on the ground, with her wrists bound in chains of white magic behind her back and her ankles similarly bound together, leaving her unable to move. Barachiel knelt down in front of her, regarding her with an unimpressed frown as he held her staff. Maya returned to her crab form and tried to pinch Barachiel, but was swiftly trapped in a cage of white magic. The rest of the Hexsquad, startled by his sudden actions, surrounded Barachiel and pointed their staves at him with a lot more nerves, while he ignored them.

“Young Lady, I have lived for 2000 years. I have seen more battles than you have sunrises. I have no doubts that you are powerful for a witch of your age, but you are still a child. Do not mistake my well-earned confidence for arrogance.” Barachiel warned, like a stern teacher scolding a mischievous child. “I will release you once the arrests are complete. Consider this to be discipline from an elder, and a warning to pick your battles more carefully.”

He then stood and turned to Amity, who gulped and took a step back. He in turn stepped forward, causing Luz to suddenly mimic Hunter’s flash spell and appear between the Seraphim and her lover.

“Wait! I-I will surrender and go back with you, but please spare Amity and King! They aren’t Angels and wouldn’t have freed Rasiel if I wasn’t there. I take sole responsibility for all of this!” Luz pleaded.

Naturally, King and Amity immediately protested that they’d done everything of their own free will, while the Hexsquad continued to argue that none of them deserved to be arrested and put on trial. Barachiel listened to it all, but his eyes never left Luz’s face. Her expression was frightened, but also resigned and guilt-ridden… Barachiel had seen such faces many times in his long career in Crest Diligence; it was the face of a person drowning in guilt. That was enough to confirm to him that she was not evil or corrupt like some of the people he’d dealt with, but it did not change his responsibilities.

“I respect your honesty and attempt at self-sacrifice, Luciel. Your peaceful surrender will be noted, and I will advocate for leniency towards your friends. I will also not charge your other friends with obstruction of justice or attempted assault on my people.” Barachiel said, getting a hopeful smile from the girl. He sadly had to dash it though; “However, I must still take Amity Blight and King Clawthorne-Noceda into custody. No harm will come to them; Angels of the Crest Orders do not use pain, torture, or execution, nor do we fight unless attacked first. That is all I can promise.”

Luz closed her eyes, face twisting with regret, before turning back to Amity; “I’m sorry. We can’t win this fight. Please cooperate with them; I’ll make sure you aren’t blamed, I promise.”

Amity shook her head; “Luz, no! This isn’t all your fault! Let me share the burden!”

“I can’t, Amity. I need to protect you… this is all I can do to help now. Please trust me… okay?” Luz pleased, before gently kissing her lover’s cheek.

Amity bit her lip to keep her frustrations in, then nodded; “Alright. But promise you’ll do whatever you can to protect yourself too, okay?”

Luz’s only response was a tired smile, before turning to King, who was still wiggling in the grip of one of the other Angels, who was holding him at arms length. “King, it’ll all be okay. I’ll get you out of this.”

King went still and pouted; “Fine… but don’t take any of these guys’ garbage, Luz! You’re not a criminal or bad guy!”

With that, Luz turned back to Barachiel and offered her wrists to be bound, and Amity soon followed suit. Barachiel placed the same magic nullifying wristbands on the pair, then twirled his finger to create another one to fit around Ghost’s neck like a collar, which immediately turned the Palisman back into her cat form. Like King’s, the restraints only suppressed the girls’ magic and didn’t actually bind their wrists together, though Luz also felt an invisible weight on her wings, making her certain the bands kept her from flying too.

Seeing Luz’s surrender, the rest of the group reluctantly lowered their staves and spells, with Hunter and Lyra rushing to join the others, while Vee and Camila took King from the Angel holding him and went to Luz’s side. Barachiel also released Boscha and Maya from their restraints, allowing them to join their friends too.

“Don’t worry Luz, we’ll get this all sorted out.” Camila assured her, before looking to Barachiel; “As my daughter is underage, Arch-Angel or not, I will be coming with her. Do I have your oath that you won’t attempt to stop me from leaving with her once this is over?” she asked sternly, her motherly instincts overpowering any fear.

Barachiel nodded, and Vee and the entire Hexsquad immediately yelled; “We’re coming too!”

“Yes you are. I was going to insist on it.” The Seraphim said; “The Divine Realm has ordered that all known Witches, Biped Demons, and Wild Demons currently within the Human Realm are to be returned to the Demon Realm upon discovery. You will be allowed to accompany us to the Divine Realm as witnesses for the hearing and any subsequent trial.”

Hanu frowned, knowing this included her too. She’d wanted to stay in the Human Realm where she’d be safe, but it seemed that wasn’t on the cards now. However she did notice one detail; Basilisks were technically Beast Demons, not Bipeds… and none of them could be considered wild either, except for perhaps Zero.

“Excuse me, but if only Biped and Wild Demons need to be returned home, then doesn’t that mean that my friends over there can stay?” Hanu asked, pointing to the Basilisks.

Barachiel and the other Angels all turned to the Basilisks, then began exchanging looks. Barachiel thought about it for a moment, then beckoned the Basilisks over. They cautiously approached, and he asked; “Please give me your names and ages.”

Each one did so, revealing they were 16 (having learned from the Divider when he relocated them to Spriggan Manor). They also told Vee that she was 13, though since none of them knew their exact birthday, they weren’t sure if Vee had turned 14 yet.

Satisfied with the answer, Barachiel then asked; “Do you have access to magic in order to maintain a human form? And a place to live without causing trouble?”

“I’ve stockpiled some simple magic items for them to drain, and they can live in my home while we’re gone.” Camila answered.

“And we’ll help take care of them.” Masha volunteered, “I don’t imagine you’re planning to let us Humans go with you too, after all.”

Barachiel nodded; “I’m afraid so. Humans are only allowed in our world with special permission, otherwise it is breaking another term of the Treaty of Division.” he then looked back to the Basilisks; “If the four of you are planning to remain disguised and out of trouble, I will allow you to stay here.”

“Really?” Una asked hopefully.

“Yes. The exact wording of the deportation orders is “Witches, Biped Demons, and Wild Demons”, so I am under no obligation to take sapient, non-Bipeds back to the Demon Realm.” Barachiel said. He was technically going against the spirit of the orders, but since Luciel had agreed to come quietly and he had mixed feelings about the arrest in the first place, he decided to throw them a bone.

Vee slithered forward and said; “I’m coming too! Luz is my adoptive sister, so I need to be there for her and Mama!” she declared.

“We’re aware of your situation. We’ve been observing your family for the last few months; nothing that breaches the privacy of your home, but enough to know the details of your adoption. You are welcome to come, and as you are not included in the deportation order either, you will be allowed to return here when this mess is taken care of.” Barachiel promised.

That got sighs of relief from all the Nocedas, though it also made Treble slither forward; “I-I would like to come too! I want to stay with Hanu!”

Hanu looked torn between delighted and horrified. On the one hand, it was wonderful that her boyfriend (who she was struggling to take her eyes off with his handsome new form) wanted to stay with her even if it meant being deported back to the Demon Realm where it was more dangerous, but on the other hand, she wanted to keep him safe and away from the Divider and his creepy cult!

“Treble, you don’t need to do that. I love that you want to stay with me, but you should stay in the Human Realm where you’re safe!” Hanu argued, though admittedly not sounding very convincing.

Treble answered by wrapping her up in his tail and shaking his head; “Nope! I’m staying with my Hanu! Don’t try and stop me!”

Hanu sighed theatrically, then blushed and smiled; “Well nothing changes your mind when you get like this, so okay. I’m happier with you than away from you anyway.”

Treble beamed at that, and the sweet moment helped ease some of the tension. Even a few of the masked Angels went “Aww.” in response, while Barachiel just smiled kindly.

“Diligence to one’s love and relationships is important. But now we need to be returning to the Divine Realm. Captain, is the rest of our business here complete yet?” the Seraphim asked.

“Almost, Lord Barachiel.” the Arch-Angel replied, holding up a crystal jug with the liquid Belos trapped inside, still unconscious and sealed in by a glowing crystal stopper. “The last suspect has been detained. We have also prepared the Abyssal Basilisk for transportation.” he pointed behind him to where the unconscious Subject Zero was being sealed inside a crystal tank conjured by the High Angels of the group. “We are just finishing up with healing the injured human he possessed.”

Everyone looked over to Jacob, who was being healed up by a pair of Angels that had released him from his restraints. They were Diligence Angels, not Kindness ones, so their healing was less effective and meant more for emergency use in war zones, but it was still effective enough to heal up Jacob’s cuts and bruises, and repair any other damage done by Hunter during their battle. The scars caused by Belos’ possession had also been reduced, though they were still present. Once the healing was complete, the Angels backed off and cast a spell on him to restore him to consciousness.

“Ugh… what happened? Philip?” he groaned, clearly disoriented as he slowly rolled onto his front and began to drag himself to his feet. He’d dropped his glasses, so Masha picked them up and went to return them, making Vee nervously edge towards them.

“Philip is gone. The Angels came to arrest him. Sorry to say this, but you got tricked.” Masha said gently, placing the glasses on the man’s face.

Jacob, now able to see properly, looked around groggily. He gasped as he realised he was surrounded by Angels, but that turned into anger as he saw Masha was in front of him.

“You! You’re that monster lover that stole my job!” Jacob yelled.

“Dude, you got fired for messing with the exhibits! And don’t call Vee a monster! She may not be human, but she’s got more humanity than you or that thing you let control you like a puppet!” Masha scoffed, narrowing their eyes on the deluded man.

With a roar of rage, Jacob lunged at Masha, aiming to put his hands around their throat. The surrounding Angels immediately moved to pacify him, but they were beaten to the punch. Masha slapped him hard, making him rear back a little before Vee’s tail slammed down on his head and smashed him into the ground, knocking him out once more.

“DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH THEM!” Vee roared, her eyes narrowing to slits as her hair and feathers seemed to fluff up in anger.

“I don’t think he can hear you, Cutie.” Masha grinned. They had the situation well in hand, but they still felt their heart skip a beat at Vee coming to their rescue.

Vee blushed as she began to calm down; “O-Oh… right. I guess I got a little carried away… I don’t like confrontation, but if it’s for people I love then…” Vee’s eyes suddenly widened as she realised what she’d said, but as she looked at Masha and saw the slight blush of their cheeks and the teasing grin they wore, Vee decided not to try and take it back or qualify the statement. She had feelings for her gothic friend and that was that.

To their credit, Masha just giggled; “People you love, huh? I’m honoured.” they stepped into Vee’s space, a flirty look in their eyes; “I’m not one for the whole damsel in distress shtick, but seeing you be a badass today has definitely got me wanting to reward you, so just this once…”

They batted their eyes dramatically then threw their arms around Vee’s neck whilst saying; “My hero!” in a breathy, damsel-like tone, before smirking and pressing a kiss to the blushing Basilisk’s lips.

Vee gave the most adorable squeak any of them had ever heard, and everyone watching felt their hearts warm. Luz and Camila looked especially excited by this development, with the former briefly snapping back to her more cheerful self as she squealed in delight, and the latter pretended to wipe a tear from her eyes.

“They grow up so fast!” she said with a huge smile.

Again, even some of the watching Angels went “Aww!”, though the two that had healed Jacob looked at the unconscious idiot with irritated postures, muttering how they’d just finished healing him! They got to work fixing him again, and Vee and Masha finally pulled apart.

Vee, subconsciously shapeshifting her pupils into heart shapes, then said the most Noceda thing possible in such a situation;


Unable to help themselves, Masha burst into laughter and was soon joined by their Cabin Seven friends and the entire Noceda Household, leaving just the Angels, Basilisks, and Hanu puzzled by what was so funny.

“As if we needed more proof that she’s a proper Noceda!” Camila laughed.

Vee didn’t know if it was the familial affirmations, the kiss, or both, but she suddenly felt like she was walking on air. Riding high on that feeling, she turned to Masha and asked; “Will you go out with me?”

Masha grinned; “If you think I’m kissing someone who isn’t my girlfriend, you’ve got another thing coming Cutie!” they said, before kissing Vee again.

Vee couldn’t stop smiling after that, especially as Rebecca and Gray hugged her and Masha whilst giving their congratulations, followed swiftly by Luz and Camila, then the various members of the Hexsquad and even the Basilisks, who considered Vee to be their cousin. The Angels looked to Barachiel, who nodded to them that it was okay; their three suspects were wearing the wristbands to restrain their magic and allow Crest Diligence to easily find them, so he wasn’t concerned about letting them move freely for a bit longer.

As that was happening, Jacob was healed from his fresh new concussion and broken nose (his face had hit the floor hard) but not woken up this time. Instead, Barachiel had his people search the man’s memories while he was unconscious, and upon learning of his deeds and the knowledge he’d acquired (plus his false conclusions), the Seraphim had ordered Jacob’s memory wiped, taking away all memories of Angels, Witches, Demons, and anything related to them. Unfortunately, with Jacob being so obsessed and shaping his life around these topics, the Angel that performed the memory wipe worried that he wouldn’t have much of his original personality left. Barachiel wasn’t pleased, but it was necessary to preserve the peace and order of the Human Realm, so he accepted the loss and had one of his people take the unconscious man to the nearest hospital, where they would hopefully get him the help he’d need to rebuild his life without the obsession that led him to this fate.

With Jacob dealt with, and both Belos and Subject Zero in custody, Barachiel decided that it was finally time to get a move on.

“I apologise for breaking up your happy moment, but we must be going. The hearing is set for this afternoon and we’re running out of time. Please follow us.” Barachiel ordered politely.

Immediately, the apprehension and dread of the situation returned, and Luz found her heart sinking as she reluctantly nodded. Under the cover of an illusion they all flew back to the Noceda house (with the non-flyers hitching rides with the Hexsquad, while Luz was carried in the arms of Barachiel himself). Upon arriving there, Camila gave a spare key and her credit card to Masha, and made it clear that they, Gray, and Rebecca could use the place and the clubhouse as they saw fit until she returned, and that Una, Dex, and Fyra could stay there as long as they wanted, and use any of the bedrooms. The Hexsquad were required to pack all their belongings too, since they were to be returned to the Demon Realm, and they took the opportunity to change back into their favourite outfits, which they’d been wearing on the Day of Unity.

After that and a heartfelt goodbye, in which the Cabin Seven Crew swore to help the Basilisks fit in and cover for the missing Vee and Camila, the Angels finally led the Noceda and Hexsquad (plus Hanu and Treble) back to the Portal Gate they’d used to arrive in Gravesfield; the same one Camila and Manny had used to go to the Demon Realm in the first place.

As they arrived, Barachiel held up a keystone shaped like an orb with folded feathery wings, causing the gate to open. Luz noticed this and asked; “Did you make a new keystone somehow?”

Barachiel nodded; “Yes. There is a process for “recalling” lost keystones. We recalled the one to this gate when we first detected the Divider nearby, back at the end of August last year. We then constructed a new keystone shortly thereafter, seeing as the recalled one had an improper form.”

Luz thought back and realised the end of August last year had been when she’d first met Vee, meaning it was the day she’d first come home from the Demon Realm. Rasiel had been with her at the time… He’d helped make her Mami understand. It felt so odd to remember how much he’d helped her, considering what he was doing now.

Shaking off that thought, the young Arch-Angel walked into the portal gate with her friends and witnessed the transport hub that her Mami had described. Camila looked around with a nostalgic look on her face, and each member of the Hexsquad stared longingly at the portal to the Boiling Isles. Barachiel was all business though and immediately opened the gate to Gran Seraphia, the Capital City of the Crest Orders.

The Arch-Angel serving Barachiel couldn’t help but comment; “We will be arriving in the Divine Crossroads; the hub for all of our portal gates. This gate leads to a rarely used wing of the Crossroads, so it will appear somewhat more worn down and dirty than the rest of the building. Please do not think badly of our people based on that first impression.”

The man seemed almost embarrassed to be saying that, while the Demon Realm residents wondered how bad it would actually be. One by one, they stepped through the portal (each one flanked by two Diligence Angels), with Luz, Barachiel, and his Arch-Angel subordinate as the last ones through.

They arrived inside a long hallway lined with arch-shaped alcoves, each one of which had a portal gate inside. The hallway was all white stone with faded gold filigree, which seemed to be normal for Angelic building. The spaces between alcoves had murals depicting different historical events, and the entire style reminded King and Luz of King’s tower on Titan Cradle Island. The others were all looking around in amazement, though they were confused too; this place wasn’t worn down or dirty! There were some cobwebs in a few alcoves and the filigree could do with a polishing, but the whole place was otherwise pretty immaculate! It was certainly cleaner than most similar places in the Human and Demon Realms! If it weren’t for the fact the place was empty (save for a single bored looking Angel in a security booth), they’d never have guessed the place was barely ever used.

“This place is pretty cool!” Lyra beamed, feeling the sheer amount of Angelic Magic in the air.

“I am glad you think so. Welcome home, Young Angel.” Barachiel said to her, before leading the group to the end of the hall and a set of double doors; “But you have yet to see the true splendour of our Realm.”

He threw open the doors, and the visitors immediately realised what Barachiel meant. They emerged into an enormous atrium of immaculate white stone, gold detailing, and clear crystal, which seemed to stretch on forever both above and below them. The Divine Crossroads was a 200ft tall building that used crystal and white marble to create a tree-like sky scraper, with the atrium being the massive trunk. Each floor was a ring around the edge of the open centre, and had numerous doors leading to different hallways or “branches”. It wasn’t all white and gold either; different coloured crystal was used liberally in different areas, seemingly acting like signs to denote what each area was for. It made the building look almost like a stained glass window! Everything was cleaned to the point that it gleamed in the sunlight that poured through the crystal walls, and there was not a speck of dirt anywhere.

The place was also absolutely full of Angels of all ranks (excluding the Seraphim and Sephiroth), and the Demon Realm Visitors were surprised to see that they wore very light clothing, with men often walking around bare chested and women wearing fairly thin dresses or robes that left their arms and mid-riffs exposed. No one seemed to be body shy, nor were there any admiring stares; this was just a fact of life for the people here. The visitors couldn’t blame them for the light clothing either; the sun was so warm that they all felt themselves starting to sweat; the climate of Gran Seraphia appeared to be fairly tropical! The clothing of the Angels also had as many varied colours and styles as the Human Realm and Demon Realm outfits, with only those wearing uniforms limited to white and gold, unless they were an Arch-Angel wearing their Holy Raiments. The Angels bodies themselves appeared to be as diverse as Humans too, with skin varying from snow white to extremely dark, and a variety of different builds. Their eyes all appeared to be some shade of gold or blue though, and the majority of the Angels had hair that was white, gold, silver, or some shade between them. A few Angels did have differently coloured hair, though they appeared to have dyed it, and ALL Angels had their wings out. The Cherubs and Common Angels had theirs at full size behind them, while the High and Arch-Angels kept theirs shrunken so as not to inconvenience people.

Their looks weren’t the only interesting thing about them; their behaviour was curious too. They all seemed fairly pleasant and happy, and while there was some hustle and bustle as people moved around, flew up and down to reach their desired floors, or wrangled some energetic Cherubs, there was a definite calmness and order to the way everyone behaved. People were chatting but not shouting or making excessive noise, and those who were talking did so while stood out of everyone’s way. It was extremely peaceful despite how busy it was, and the entire place felt almost carefree.

Luz and her friends all gaped in amazement at the place, completely floored by how beautiful and different the place was! They were getting a lot of attention from the locals, though most of the focus seemed to be on Luz and Lyra. As Barachiel gestured for everyone to follow him, they began to hear whispers.

“Is that girl an Arch-Angel? She can’t possibly be an adult yet!”

“She looks like she’s from Crest Kindness. Did they have someone amazing like that?”

“That Angel has black wings! How rare!”

“Shush! If the Diviners hear about her, they’ll snap her up!”

“You’re just saying that because you want to recruit her yourself!”

“Oh, she has purple hair! Is that dye? If not, I’m jealous!”

“What’s with the other people?”

“I think those are witches! They can’t be human; look at the ears!”

“Are those three Basilisks? Aren’t those dangerous?”

“That one with the tentacles is in a cage, but the others are free so they must be peaceful. Oh, look at the cute monkey girl! I wish I had a tail!”

“Oh! That little skull-faced doggy has wings! Is that a person or a pet?”

“They’re with Lord Barachiel and a bunch of knights. Could they be criminals?”

“They’re not chained so they can’t be dangerous… but the little Arch-Angel has restraining bands.”

Luz and the others felt a little self-conscious; most people seemed to just be curious about them, and the Cherubs were especially interested, with a few edging closer to get a better look at the group. The Knights of Crest Diligence kept them at bay with a few warning looks, while the more open members of the Hexsquad waved and smiled kindly at them. Barachiel eventually led the group to a large platform hanging in the middle of the atrium, then turned to the Angels escorting Subject Zero and holding the pitcher of Belos.

“Take the Abyssal Basilisk to the Bestial Sanctuary and get her examined. We need to determine if she can be kept calm, so maintain quarantine procedures until she is deemed safe. As for Suspect Belos, use a gate and escort him to the Patience Court Penitentiary and ensure he is in full quarantine and under maximum security. He is not to be left alone with fewer that five Knights and one Knight-Captain at any point, and Healers are to maintain the maximum possible distance.” the Seraphim ordered.

The Arch-Angel (or Knight-Captain as he was also called), gave a salute and signalled for his people to move out. They took Belos and Subject Zero to another of the platforms, which began flying up to a higher floor. The Knight-Captain then asked; “Are you not joining us at the Patience Court, Lord Barachiel? I thought the disciplinary hearing was supposed to be there.”

“It is.” Barachiel confirmed; “However we still have a bit of time, so I’ll take the other Suspects and their companions there through the scenic route and let them see more of what the Divine Realm has to offer.”

The Knight-Captain nodded in understanding, then gave a nod to Luz and her friends before flying off to follow the group he’d just sent off. This left Barachiel and 15 Knights to guard Luz and her friends as they operated the platform and made it descend down to the ground floor.

As they descended, Willow caught sight of a lush green display of plants in the middle of the ground floor, with many plants being crystalline in appearance.

“This place really is beautiful! The whole place is a giant Divine Tree!” she gushed, loving the plant aesthetic.

“Indeed. All Crest Cities have a Divine Crossroads that resembles a Tree, though as Gran Seraphia is the largest city in the Union, it has the largest crossroads. This hub connects out entire Union, as well as our outposts and gates in the other realms.” Barachiel explained. “In fact, the Divine Crossroads in the Chastity Capital: Virtus Castitas, is the direct inspiration for the human legends of Yggdrasil. A Missionary Angel’s Human mate was brought there briefly and returned home with wild tales that became legends.”

That amazed Willow and Gus, who’d read a lot about human legends, but also invited more questions from the others.

“Union? Chastity Capital? What are those?” Amity asked.

Camila answered; “The Union is the casual name of the Crest Order Nation. The full name of the nation is “The Divine Union of Virtuous Crests”, but it is more commonly known as the Crest Union or just the Union. The Crest Union controls 80% of the Divine Realm and is made up of a ruling council of the Seven Seraphim that lead the seven Crest Orders of Virtue.”

“Indeed. Tell me Cassiel, how much have you educated your daughter on her homeland?” Barachiel asked.

Luz automatically replied; “The Boiling Isles is my homeland. This place isn’t home. Though Mami did teach me a lot about it when I was young.”

Barachiel didn’t seem bothered by her answer and instead pressed her; “So can you answer your lover’s questions regarding the Capital?”

“I think so.” Luz said, searching her memory; “If I remember right, then Gran Seraphia is the Capital City of the entire Nation, but each Crest Order also has a Capital City that they rule over. They’re called the Virtus Capitals because all their names start with Virtus. Chastity has Castitas, Kindness has Humanitas, Temperance has Temperantia, Diligence has Diligentia, Charity has Caritas, Patience has Patientia, and Humility has Humititas.”

“Correct!” Barachiel said, pleased. “The Virtus Capitals are large cities, with each being roughly the size of the human city of New York. Meanwhile Gran Seraphia is about the same size as the Boiling Isles, meaning it is larger than the entire state of Connecticut that we just left.”

The Demon Realm natives all gaped in shock; Gran Seraphia, a single city, was the size of the entire Boiling Isles!? That would make it larger than any single city in either the Human or Demon Realms! The idea of their being a city that huge was insane! Still, it was less surprising when one considered it was the capital of the government that essentially ruled the entire world.

“It’s crazy that you’ve built and maintained a city this big! But does the Union really control 80% of the planet?” Hunter asked.

“Of course. Our system may seem restrictive to you, and it is true that it lacks personal freedoms in many ways, but it is effective and has spread to control most of the planet without the need for invasion or expansionist policies. The Crest Union has never once conquered or annexed land, nor gone to war for anything but self-defence… at least not since the Treaty of Division was established and the old Union was reformed into the current one. All of our land gains since then have been from other nations wanting to join us. They are then fully integrated, both land and people, and those who don’t wish to be a part of it are welcome to leave.” Barachiel explained.

Matt raised a hand; “So what’s in the other 20% of the world?”

“The territory of smaller city states or fiefdoms. There are quite a few Free Cities that have a friendly relationship with the Union. The Free Cities even have their own Independent Union, which serves like the Human United Nations. We trade with them and our citizens are freely able to move between their cities and ours, so long as our respective laws are obeyed.” Barachiel answered.

Luz’s friends exchanged curious looks, wondering what the Free Cities were like compared to the Crest Orders. Camila, who’d obviously known all this, was just looking around with a sense of nostalgia, while Luz (who’d heard it in stories from her Mami) was split between worrying about her current predicament and curiously looking around and trying to match up what she saw with the stories she’d been told.

Finally, they reached the exit of the Divine Crossroads, which was a series of large ornate gates at regular intervals, and emerged into the outside of Grand Seraphia. They were all immediately blown away.

They’d emerged onto the ground floor of the city, stepping out into a large open park full of green lawns, flower beds, and groves of trees, which all surrounded the Crossroads, with the rest of the city beyond it. The Crossroads was the tallest building they could see, but other huge buildings still stretched on for as far as the eye could see, all made from gleaming white stone with shining gold and silver metal all over them, and copious amounts of crystal in every colour of the rainbow. The architecture of the buildings resembled a mix of ornate cathedrals, temples of Roman, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean origins, ancient Arabic buildings, and colossal trees, all with an art deco coating. It was a somewhat eclectic style, but it meant no two buildings looked the same, and it truly resembled something that could pass for Heaven. Like the crossroads, it was also clean, orderly, and surprisingly quiet for a bustling city, and there were angels flying around everywhere. There were other creatures too; Skara spotted some Cherubs playing in the park with some pet Carbuncles, Hunter nearly melted at the sight of some Stellar Wolves (silver furred, winged wolves that served as both pets and police dogs), birds of all kinds fluttered about in the sky, tweeting happily, and Vee even gasped at the sight of an actual Quetzalcoatl flying overhead, its large white wings flapping silently as the sun caught its rainbow coloured scales.

There was a mind-blowing amount to see, hear, and even smell, but it would take months for them to experience even a fraction of it and they sadly didn’t have that much time. Barachiel did enjoy the look of amazement on their faces though as he escorted them towards a small courtyard in the nearby park. There they found a Divine Realm Zeppelin, which was surprisingly similar to the airships of the Demon Realm; it featured a large floating balloon with a ship beneath it, though the design was very clearly angelic and the ship resembled a small yacht. Barachiel led them to it and handed a single platinum coin to the elderly Angel who sat on a chair beside the boarding ramp, reading a newspaper.

“Please take us to the Patience Court.” Barachiel said politely. “Keep the change.”

The old Angel (who must be nearing his thousandth year judging by how he’d aged with only one pair of wings), eyed the group and hummed. He counted them all, then frowned. “There’s thirty of you. Charge is one silver per person, so three gold for all of you. That’s a seven gold tip. You certain of that, Lord Barachiel?”

The man nodded; “Yes. Please take the scenic route, we have outsiders to impress.”

“So I see!” the old Angel chuckled, looking at Luz and Lyra; “A Black Winged Angel and a Teenage Arch-Angel! Plus a gaggle of Witchlings! You have interesting company, my Lord. Well alright then, I won’t turn my nose up at generosity! All aboard!”

He bowed politely and gestured for the group to board the Zeppelin. Luz and her group were bundled into the back with Barachiel, while the rest of his Angels took up the front half of the airship. The inside was a bit like a combination of a luxury cruise ship and a regular bus, so it was very nice and comfy, and the large windows provided excellent views of the city as the old Angel went to the pilot’s cabin and took them into the air.

As they gained altitude, Camila commented; “Zeppelins like this aren’t used too often, since Angels can fly. They’re mostly for tours, transporting Cherubs and animals, and those who can’t fly for whatever reason. You won’t see many of them around.”

“The pilot said it cost one silver to ride. Is that a lot?” Lyra asked.

Camila shook her head; “The Divine Realm uses copper, silver, gold, and platinum pieces. Copper pieces are the equivalent of a dime, or ten cents in the US. Ten of them makes a silver piece, or the equivalent of a US dollar or a Boiling Isles snail. Ten silver pieces make a gold one, and ten gold ones make a platinum. Lord Barachiel basically tipped the pilot $70 on a $30 trip.”

“It only costs one snail to ride this thing!?” Matt exclaimed; “A cart ride on the isles is usually like 5 snails at least!”

“A taxi in the Human Realm is way more! They start at like $3, but the price goes up the longer the journey! You can rack up hundreds of dollars in charges if you go far enough.” Vee said.

“How can it be this cheap?” Luz asked.

Barachiel smiled; “The economy is run entirely by Crest Charity, and if the name didn’t give it away, they aren’t big on greed. This business is independently owned rather than Union owned, but ALL businesses have strict restrictions on how much profit you can make. Magic keeps maintenance and fuel costs at a negligible amount, so there’s only so much a business like this can charge.”

“Does that really work?” Hanu asked, suddenly interested. “What if a business doesn’t do enough business to cover its costs?”

“If that happens, then Crest Charity investigates. In most cases, it means the business is too expensive for the service it offers, making it a non-viable business. Such things are shut down quickly and the owner given the value of their business assets as compensation, minus any outstanding debts they owned. If a business cannot stay afloat without charging too much, then it is simply closed. Appeals can be made for assistance if unforeseen circ*mstances occur, and sometimes a business can be shrunken or even grown to better match demand, but it is all strictly controlled. The Union doesn’t tolerate greed.” Barachiel explained.

Luz and her friends liked the sound of that; scam artists, greedy nobles, and corporate overlords were a plague on society in both the Human and Demon Realms, so it made them happy to know such things weren’t permitted here. It also left them feeling conflicted; the Crest Union seemed like a utopia in some ways, but totally despotic in others! People couldn’t be exploited by the greedy, but they also couldn’t decide their own occupations unless they proved they were good enough at their chosen occupation to not be considered a wasted resource. Love barely existed and family was an almost alien concept, but everything was peaceful and the people seemed happy, with no violence and war… It was a mess of contradictions that made their heads spin. The perfect utopia… but only if no one involved had true freedom, with the utopia existing to support itself rather than its pieces.

It reminded Luz more of a living thing than a society; the Crest Union was like a person and the Angels were like its cells, tirelessly working to maintain the existence of the union itself, with no thoughts beyond their given tasks. She briefly had a dark thought; would that make people like her, the ones who didn’t fit with their system, something akin to a cancer?

Shaking that thought off, Luz looked out the window as they finally reached the airship’s maximum altitude, allowing her and the others to finally see all of Gran Seraphia. Even the layout of the city was neat and orderly; it was shaped like a series of perfectly round concentric rings, with the inner rings being built higher than the outer ones, and the whole city being above the surrounding grasslands on a colossal platform. In addition to these rings, there were eight petal shaped outer districts that surrounded the city, making it look like a flower. Each petal district had a tall tower at the very tip of the petal, and a fortress-like building at the opposite end of the district, which served as the entrance to the outermost ring of the city. The Divine Crossroads they’d just left was situated in the middle of one of these petal districts, and the airship was slowly flying towards the very centre of the city, where an absolutely colossal spire reached all the way up to beyond the cloud layer.

“Whoa… I’ve never seen anything like this! The whole city is like a giant flower!” Willow gasped.

“It is a beautiful place, and home to just over 100 million people. It is often called “The Flower of the Union”. It’s name, Gran Seraphia, even comes from a flower here in the Divine Realm; the Seraphia Bloom. The bloom has eight petals; seven in the hues of the rainbow and then a prismatic petal that shines in all seven of the other colours. Similarly, the seven outer districts of the city are each devoted to one of the seven Crest Orders and serves as their headquarters in the Capital, while the eighth is intended for visitors and immigrants from beyond our borders, being the integration hub. The district we just left was this district, officially called the Prismatic District”. Barachiel explained, before pointing out the window towards the three concentric ring districts that made up the centre of the city.

“The outer ring is the Bronze District, and it is home to the population who prefer to live away from their Crest Orders. Most people live in provided housing within their Crest District, but for those who prefer a bit of independence, they can apply to live in apartments in the Bronze District instead. As they earn money, they often upgrade and move closer and closer to the inner part of the ring, where more expensive homes can be found. Then there is the Silver District, where our specialised facilities can be found, such as many hospitals, schools, training grounds, and recreational facilities. It is also where you’ll find apartments for the High Angels of our society.”

“So I’m guessing Arch-Angels are allowed to live in the next district, which is the Gold District, right?” Skara asked. “I didn’t think class stuff existed here.”

“You’re right about the name of the district and the fact Arch-Angels live here, but you’re wrong about one thing. There is no class-based standard of living. The apartments in the Gold District are identical in price and quality as the ones in the Silver and Bronze Districts. We simply have higher ranked Angels living closer to the centre of the city because that is where they usually work. Higher ranked Angels have more responsibilities and as more important facilities are closer to the middle of the city, we house the Angels that work there closer too. The Gold District houses our most important facilities; our military HQ, our courts, our research facilities, our archives, and so much more.” Barachiel countered calmly, not taking offence to Skara’s slightly clipped tone.

Camila nodded; “Think of it like this; higher ranked Angels are magically more powerful, so they get more important jobs. An Arch-Angel working in a hospital can handle higher level emergencies than a regular Angel. So if an emergency happens, it’s better for an Arch-Angel to be living closer to the hospital than a normal Angel, as it means there’s less time before they can arrive. Get it?”

The teens (and King) all nodded in understanding. It made sense, though it was a little odd to think that an Arch-Angel in the Gold District and a common Angel in the Bronze District could have the exact same standard of living.

As the older kids were thinking on this, King pointed to the massive spire in the centre of the city; “What’s that?” he asked.

Barachiel smiled; “That is the Platinum Spire, the seat of the Council of Seraphim and the location of our offices and apartments. It is also the central control point for all magical systems in the city, from the water supply to the power supply. It is also houses embassies to foreign cities, and the various ministries and governmental departments. Simply put, it is the lynchpin of our Government.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to have so many important things in one place?” Boscha asked, arms crossed with an eyebrow raised; “What if someone destroyed it?”

The Seraphim of Diligence gave her a smirk, revealing his elongated canines. “My dear, that building is roughly half the height of this little fellow’s species when full grown.” he said, pointing to King. “It is magically and physically reinforced with more protections than I could name. Literally; I could sit here for days and never stop reciting protective spells and still not cover them all. Not to mention the city’s other defences, it’s magic wielding population of 100 million, and the full might of the Seven Seraphim, plus other Seraphim who are either training as successors to the current council, or are prior council members who retired. The Platinum Spire could survive a direct assault with every bomb and missile in the Human Realm and remain standing; including the atomic ones!” Barachiel chuckled; “We even have protections against the Sephiroth, specifically because of the Divider. If anyone can overcome all that to destroy the spire, then they deserve to defeat us.”

Boscha pouted; “Huh, well there goes Plan B…”

Most of Barachiel’s knights bristled at that comment, while Boscha’s friends all looked nervously at the Seraphim himself. To his credit, the man seemed more amused by the girl than threatened.

“Boscha babe, you said the quiet part out loud.” Skara said.

“Oh like I’d actually do it! I’m pretty sure Luz wouldn’t thank me for saving her from this farce by destroying the heart of the Union and killing countless people.” Boscha crossed her arms with a huff.

Willow smirked; “Praise the Titan, Boscha is learning restraint!”

“Don’t test me, Park! I am this close to setting something on fire!”

The two girls began to bicker, at least until Camila shushed them both by putting her hands on their shoulders and giving them her patented “Mom” look. Both girls bowed their heads sheepishly while the rest of their friends just chuckled or rolled their eyes. Barachiel and his Angels watched the exchange with bewilderment, before the Seraphim commented to Luz.

“Your friends are bizarre.”

Luz smiled; “Yeah, but they’re all amazing people.”

“I see. It is refreshing to see Angels, Demons, Witches, and even a Titan together as one group. If you include the Humans left behind in their own world, you have a shockingly diverse, yet harmonious group.” Barachiel said, smiling wistfully.

King chimed in; “You can thank Luz for that! She’s the one that brought us all together!”

Luz blushed as the others all nodded. Barachiel smiled a little wider, before seemingly remembering what he was here to do as his face fell.

“Luciel, Amity, King; I feel I should explain how things will proceed from this point forward.” he said, wiping the smiles from everyone’s faces. “When we arrive at the Patience Court in the Gold District, we will be immediately going into a formal hearing adjudicated by myself as Seraphim of Diligence and Head of Law Enforcement, as well as Lord Gabriel, the Seraphim of Patience and Head of the Supreme Court of the Union, and Lord Camael, the Seraphim of Kindness and the Head of your own Crest Order. The charges will be properly explained to you, and questions will be asked. Depending on the answers you give, we may vote to press formal charges, in which case we will move to a full trial before the entire Council of Seraphim. This will likely take place tomorrow. If we vote not to press charges, then you will be exonerated. Your witch friends will still be deported back to the Demon Realm, but you’ll be allowed to go with them if you choose.”

Luz nodded in understanding, while both Amity and King frowned sullenly; they never imagined their first experience of the Divine Realm would be as prisoners!

“Lord Barachiel, what do you think are the chances that they’ll be charged? Just based on what you already know?” Camila asked.

Barachiel winced, which had everyone’s heart plummeting. “The fact that an arrest warrant was even issued means the chances are high. We don’t normally go that far if we think there is reasonable doubt of your guilt. I’m sorry.”

King growled; “This isn’t fair! We were told you came after us because the Divider made the sky all messed up permanently, but it looks fine to me!”

“That is due to an extremely powerful illusion placed by the Union and our allied nations around the world. Let me show you something.” Barachiel said, before casting a spell on the windows around the group. The windows became tinted with cyan magic for a moment before returning to normal. When the tint disappeared, the world beyond the windows suddenly changed and the entire sky was replaced by a vision of the Boiling Isles, with the boiling sea spreading out for miles in every direction. It was like a to-scale map of the Demon Realm had replaced the sky. Luz gasped as she saw the Boiling Isles, and noticed strange lights at each of the Primordial Wellsprings, as well as some kind of large floating structure above Belos’ old castle, though it was still too far away for Luz to make out details.

“That appeared two months ago. The sky just tore open one day and that replaced it. It hasn’t closed or wavered even once, and nothing we’ve done has been able to shift it. All we could do is hide it with an illusion.” Barachiel explained. “Worse still, the Divider himself walked right into a council meeting to announce his return and his plans. He said he wanted to minimize chaos, so he informed us of what he was doing, knowing that we can’t stop him. It was during this meeting that he told us how he came to be free, giving us the names of you three, Edalyn Clawthorne, and Philip Wittebane AKA Belos.”

That confused everyone; why would the Divider paint a target on Luz’s back like that? Was he hoping she’d end up locked away without him needing to dirty his hands, fearing she’d find a way back and try to stop him? Or perhaps he was hoping to rally supporters by naming one of his saviours behind his grand return… Hanu and Treble had mentioned Angels descending from the sky to join him, and the Divider could have opened the way for them to pass through the distortion.

However that also begged the question; why did the Union wait until now to come after her?

Hunter asked exactly that, and Barachiel answered; “Luciel was safely tucked away in the Human Realm, and not causing trouble as far as we could tell. But starting this morning, new distortions have been appearing over the top of the existing one, showing the Human Realm and the In-Between Realm. We investigated and found the distortions spreading over the sky of the Human Realm too, though it seems limited to the Connecticut area for the moment, and the tears close after a few minutes before opening again two hours later. Some of the council feared that Luciel was assisting the Divider again; she was in the place the distortions were appearing after all, so we decided we could no longer put off this investigation. A warrant was issued immediately and myself and a group of my Knights of Diligence was mobilised to carry it out.”

“Well that’s just great…” Luz sighed, putting her head in her hands; “What are you doing, Rasiel?”

No one had any answers for that, nor did they feel like asking questions with this fresh reminder of what awaited them even if they got out of their current predicament.

The rest of the flight was spent mostly in silence, with Barachiel or Camila occasionally trying to keep the kids’ spirits up by pointing things out that might be interesting, but it was clear no one was in the mood. The spectacle had worn off, and all they could focus on was the fact three of their friends were now in danger of being punished for a crime no one had even known was a crime! It also became obvious to the kids that none of the Angels seemed happy about the situation; there was an awkwardness to the Knights escorting them, and a guilty slump to their shoulders, while Barachiel himself seemed decidedly uncomfortable with taking three children to be potentially charged with what was apparently a serious crime. However they were all steadfast in their duty, not wavering for an instant.

When they arrived at the Patience Court, the Zeppelin landed outside the large estate the court was built on. The estate was surrounded by tall white walls, which were topped with silver vines with sharp thorns and golden roses, and which had banners at regular intervals that depicted the emblem of Crest Patience; a set of golden scales with a white scroll in one of the dishes and a black scroll in the other. The party disembarked, thanking the old Angel pilot as they did, and approached a set of colossal silver gates, which opened with a spell cast by Barachiel, allowing them into the estate itself. The estate resembled a large and beautiful garden with flowers and fancy topiary as far as the eye could see, and white marble walkways leading to an open courtyard that featured a crystal water fountain that depicted an Angel with a set of scales in one hand, offering their other hand to a kneeling and weeping Angel at their feet. From this fountain there were paths leading to the left, right, and straight ahead, with each leading to a different building. The left building resembled a fortress of silver stone, and looked almost as if it had been ripped from the pages of a fantasy novel. The opposite building resembled Hexside a little, only with a cathedral-like aesthetic instead of the usual Demon Realm look. Lastly, the building ahead resembled the Greek Parthenon as it had looked in its heyday.

Barachiel led the group towards the Parthenon-like building as he explained the other buildings. “The building on the left is the Penitentiary, where Sinners and Fallen Angels await their trials or the carrying out of their sentences. They rarely stay long; we don’t believe prison sentences are effective as either a deterrent or a method of rehabilitation. Instead, most of those sentenced for crimes end up going to the building opposite; the Rehabilitation Centre. It houses therapists to help Penitents work through their problems and find healthier coping mechanisms and solutions, as well as being a kind of temp job agency in which they can pick up their community service assignments, where they work to repay their debts to society. It also houses a dormitory for those who aren’t trusted or are unwilling to live away from the centre.”

“It’s so different from our world… do these methods actually work?” Lyra asked, wondering if such a system could be adopted in the Demon Realm.

“Our reoffender rate is roughly 1 in 10,000. It is also extraordinarily rare for a penitent to serve their full sentence, as most are judged “redeemed” before that point, and continuing a punishment beyond the point of redemption is just a waste of time for all involved.” Barachiel replied as he led them into the final building.

“This is the Grand Court, were the majority of trials and hearings take place. We also have lesser courts in the other districts for smaller infractions, and the Supreme Court in the Platinum Spire for Capital Crimes. With the proposed charges against you, it’ll be at the spire that your own trials would take place.” he continued. He said that last part with clear regret, and it made Camila turn pale and gasp, covering her mouth in shock. Her reaction made Luz and the others gulp, but they didn’t have a chance to answer questions as they were hurried through the building.

The inside of the Grand Court looked surprisingly similar to the inside of a human courthouse, only with the usual angelic aesthetic over the top. There were Knights of Diligence roaming about guarding the place, as well as Angels of Crest Patience serving as lawyers, clerks, judges, and other such roles all going about their jobs. Their judges wore robes similar to white and silver versions of American Judge robes, while the lawyers and clerks wore fancy tunics in white with black accents.

As soon as they approached the front desk, a female High Angel spoke quietly to Barachiel, who nodded and directed the group to follow him.

“We’re in Hearing Room Alpha. Lord Gabriel and Lord Camael are already awaiting us, so the hearing will begin immediately upon our arrival. Fair warning; Young Master Clawthorne-Noceda and Young Miss Blight will be required to take a Truth Tincture before hand, to ensure you cannot lie.” Barachiel warned.

The two frowned at that but didn’t bother to argue, so they were quickly led to the Hearing Room, which was guarded by two Arch-Angel Knights. They entered past their watchful eyes and looked around at the room. It looked more like a comfortable sitting room for afternoon tea than it did a room in a courthouse, as it had a series of comfortable sofas against one wall, wide open patio doors on the opposite wall, which opened out onto the rear gardens of the estate, and two even fancier sofas facing each other in the middle of the room, with a small coffee table between them. The coffee table was already laden with tea and baked goods, and similar set ups were on smaller tables on either side of the other sofas too. The far wall was taken up entirely by bookshelves, each full of books written in angelic script.

The occupants of the room consisted of four more Arch-Angel Knights in full armour, flanking the inside of the door and the open patio doors, a High Angel Clerk stood off to the side, and the two other Seraphim conducting the hearing, who were currently stood in front of the sofa facing towards the door. They were Gabriel of Crest Patience and Camael of Crest Kindness.

Gabriel was a handsome man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, with olive skin and a somewhat androgynous face. He had no facial hair, delicate features reminiscent of people of Middle Eastern descent, and vibrant golden eyes. His hair was a dark golden hue and slightly curly as it flowed just past his shoulders. His eight wings were shrunken for convenience like Barachiel’s, and his Divine Regalia took the form of a judge’s robe, but in gold with intricate white detailing and a white stole over his shoulders, similar to the ones worn by the Principals of Boiling Isles’ schools. Like Barachiel, he had a halo behind his head, though his was shaped like diamond instead of a circle, and had the shape of thorned vines wrapped around it.

Then there was Camael… the Seraphim who was also Camila’s Grandfather by blood and thus Luz’s Great-Grandfather. He looked exactly as her Mami had described him; a handsome man that appeared to be in his mid-fifties (Angels seemed to be fairly beautiful by default) that had the air of a kind and dignified gentleman. He had a simple and neat goatee and moustache that was as white as his hair, which was almost exactly the same as Luz’s in length and curls, even being tied in the same ponytail style. His eyes were golden, and everyone from the Demon Realm found themselves looking between Camila, Luz, and Camael; the resemblance between them was strong, even with Camila having been aged by the stress of losing her partners. His eight wings were shrunken also, and his Divine Regalia consisted of white suit trousers, a matching shirt, a gold waistcoat with small silver snakes embroidered into it, and a golden lab coat-like robe worn over the top, perfectly matching his role as the leader of the Angelic Healers. His halo actually resembled two snakes eating each other’s tails, like a double Ouroboros.

Gabriel had a neutral expression, but his eyes were sad as he looked at the three children that were the subject of the hearing, while Camael wore a kind smile, with even sadder eyes above it. As the head adjudicator of the hearing, Gabriel spoke first, his voice soft and somewhat effeminate.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I am Gabriel, Seraphim of Crest Patience. It saddens me that our first meeting has to be under such negative circ*mstances, but I am afraid that the law must be followed. I take it Lord Barachiel has informed you all of the procedure?” he asked.

Luz nodded shakily along with the others, trying not to look at Camael. He seemed to be trying to catch her eye, but whenever he managed it, Luz’s own eyes would fill with anger and hurt; this was the man who’d revealed his relationship to her Mami solely to manipulate her, and who’d refused to help heal her Papi without taking either her Mami or Luz herself away. Any familial feelings she could have had for him died a fiery death before they’d ever even met.

Camael didn’t give up however, introducing himself next; “And I am Camael, Seraphim of Crest Kindness. I must say that while the circ*mstances are less than ideal, I am ecstatic to see you again, Cassiel. And my great-granddaughter too; Luciel. You’ve proven to be quite the young prodigy! From Cherub to Arch-Angel in less than a year… you are extraordinary!” he smiled, complimenting her shamelessly; “Did your mother tell you about me?”

Luz glared at him; “Yes. She told me all about you. Like how you only told her you were related to make her stay in the order.”

Camael winced; “Not my finest moment, I will admit. You must understand that family doesn’t come naturally to many Angels… we avoid it so as to keep the peoples’ loyalty on each other and our society as a whole, rather than a small number of individuals. I acted as I did solely because your mother was a wonderful healer and I didn’t wish to see her lost to us. Her power could have saved many lives!”

Camila grit her teeth and bit her tongue, the lessons of her childhood still holding strong and making it hard to talk back to a Seraphim. However Luz had no such problems; “Oh, so now you care about saving lives!? A shame you didn’t feel the same when my Papi needed your help! But you chose to let him die because he wouldn’t sell me or Mami to you for a Panacea Mirror!”

That made Camael grimace guiltily, and the other Angels in the room averted their eyes while Luz’s family and friends all glared daggers at the Seraphim.

“I cannot express how sorry I am for your loss, Luciel.” Camael eventually said, bowing his head. “However, my first responsibility is to the Crest Union. Panacea Mirrors are rare and difficult to produce, and not just anyone can make them. I couldn’t use one simply out of charity to save the life of a man that is outside of the Crest Union. I made the offer for your mother to rejoin us or fulfil her original missionary agreement, so that I could ensure the Union did not lose something of such high value. Your father chose to refuse the deal, and while I respected his devotion to his family, my own devotion is to the 4 BILLION Angels of the Crest Union, and not a respectable human. I accept your hatred for me, it is well earned, and I do regret not doing more to help your mother feel comfortable within our society, but despite my regrets, I had little choice in the decision I made that day.”

Luz’s eyes flashed gold for a moment, and the Angelic Knights all braced themselves for a moment, before the bands on Luz’s wrists glowed and Luz felt her magic being slightly drained, painlessly pacifying her. With tears in her eyes, she refused to look at Camael again and both Amity and Camila put their hands on her shoulders, while King reached up and held her hand.

Gabriel then cleared his throat; “Forgive me, but I think this personal conversation is best saved for a later time. We should get on with the hearing. Luciel, Miss Blight, Mr Clawthorne-Noceda, please take seats on the sofa across from us. Cassiel, as Luciel’s legal guardian and the current host of Miss Blight and Mr Clawthorne-Noceda, you are asked to sit with them too as their advocate.”

Camila nodded, and sat down on the left side of the sofa, with Amity on the right and Luz in the middle, with King held on Camila’s lap. Gabriel then looked to the others; “You are all welcome to remain as witnesses. Please take a seat on the sofas against the wall and feel free to enjoy some refreshments. We may ask you questions, in which case we request that you answer, but please remain silent otherwise.”

Sullenly, they all bundled onto the sofas, with three to a chair. The Seraphim (especially Camael) watched Lyra curiously but made no comments as they turned back to the defendants of the hearing. Gabriel produced a pair of small crystal vials from his robe and showed them to Camael.

“In accordance with Angelic Law, I have prepared Truth Tinctures for the two defendants not bound by the Angelic Curse of Honesty. Lord Camael, can you confirm the prepared tinctures are functional and not tampered with?” Gabriel said, purely following procedure.

Camael cast a spell on them, then answered; “The tinctures are properly brewed and functional. They may be safely administered.”

“In that case, Miss Blight and Mr Clawthorne-Noceda, you are to drink these potions. The potions do not compel you to answer questions nor do they force you to tell the truth, but they will inflict a burning sensation should you lie, just as we Angels experience. Do you understand?” he asked, handing them the vials.

Amity and King grumbled but nodded, before chugging the potions down. They didn’t taste bad at least. With that done, Gabriel finally sat opposite Luz, while Camael sat opposite Camila and Barachiel sat opposite Amity.

“Feel free to partake in the refreshments. Now with the potions administered, I declare this disciplinary hearing to be in progress. Luciel, Amity Blight, and King Clawthorne-Noceda; the three of you have been accused of violating the terms of the Treaty of Division by intentionally opening the Forbidden Black Tombs containing the fragments of the Rogue Sephiroth known as Rasiel the Divider. You are also accused of actively and willingly working to reassemble the fragments. Luciel, you additionally stand accused of assisting the Divider in breaking the peace and order of the Human Realm via the distortions he has caused.” Gabriel explained, his voice grave.

That last accusation shocked Luz, who quickly said; “I’ve got nothing to do with the distortions! I was the last person in this room to learn about them!”

Some guilt flashed across the faces of her friends as they thought back to how their plan to keep it a surprise for Luz had backfired, whilst the Seraphim seemed extremely interested in this. Gabriel looked over to the Clerk, who was keeping notes, and upon receiving a nod, he smiled.

“I see. Our observations of your friends’ actions today do corroborate that story. Now, do you understand the rest of the accusations being levelled against you?” Gabriel asked.

“Not really.” Amity frowned; “We had no idea about any treaty or its terms!

“Yeah! We’ve never heard of it! Is it some Angel thing?” King asked testily.

Camila and Luz was just as confused; “I can’t say I remember hearing anything about it either, Lord Gabriel. I’m certain today is the first I’ve heard of the Treaty of Division.” Camila answered.

“That isn’t unexpected. The Treaty was made 100,000 years ago, and it caps off a rather dark period in our history. It is rarely spoken of out of shame, though it appears that has blown up in our faces with these recent developments.” Camael muttered darkly.

“Wait, you don’t even teach your own people about it!?” Amity cried.

Barachiel shook his head; “Most actions that violate the terms are Capital Crimes that are well-known to the public, so the treaty itself and the history leading up to it is widely forgotten about. Only the terms that you stand accused of violating are not well-known.”

“But that just makes this whole thing even more unfair! We had no way of knowing about the treaty or the terms!” Luz exclaimed.

The three Seraphim looked back at her with guilty frowns, while Camila sighed; “Luz, you’re right that it’s unfair. However ignorance can’t be used as a defence when it comes to anything but minor crimes, and not even coercion or mental imbalance can be used as a defence for a Capital Crime. The only defence for them is mind control of some kind.”

“Your mother is correct.” Gabriel said gravely; “We can forgive minor crimes committed out of ignorance, and major crimes committed due to coercion, but there is no excuse for a Capital Crime; they are simply too serious to ignore. I am afraid the violation of the treaty’s terms were made Capital Crimes 100,000 years ago, and while society has changed, the law hasn’t. The Council at the time didn’t believe there would ever be a time that Angels went to the Demon Realm again, so they didn’t worry about ensuring all Angels were made aware of the crime. In fact, there have been no Union sanctioned visits from Angels to the Demon Realm since that era; only runaways, defectors, and citizens of the Free Cities.”

“But that is completely unjust!” Amity argued; “How can you arrest and punish someone for committing a crime that no one even remembers is a crime!? That’s not justice!”

“Obedience to the law is Justice and ignorance of it is not an excuse. We are not happy about this situation either, but these laws have been in place since before many of us were born, and there is no motion in place to change that law at this time. I am sorry; we do not enjoy this, but we must act as the law demands! That is the order of the Crest Union.” Barachiel said seriously.

The three defendants and their watching allies could see there would be no changing the trio of Seraphim’s minds; they would rigidly follow the law no matter what, even if they didn’t like or agree with it (and to their credit, they clearly saw the unfairness of the situation but were powerless to defy their laws). Luz didn’t think she’d be wriggling out of this mess without a trial and a miracle, but she at least wanted to know the truth of what she’d been accused of violating!

“Can you at least teach us now? It’s obvious you’ve all decided on the outcome of this hearing before we even showed up, so the least you could do is explain to us what we’ve been accused of breaking!” Luz asked, voice quivering with anger and unshed tears.

Gabriel nodded; “You are right, Luciel. We do owe you that much at least… Very well, I will explain, though it will take some time. The information I will be giving is not exactly a secret or hidden information, but it is not widely known…”

The Seraphim took a deep breath, and began his explanation with a reveal that shook Luz and her friends to their cores.

“Before the Divider came into being, the Divine Realm and the Demon Realm were actually a single realm.”

A series of gasps filled the room, and even the Angel Knights and Clerk froze in shock. A thousand questions filled everyone’s minds, but Gabriel silenced everyone with a gesture and continued his story.

“This realm was known as the Arcane Realm, and it was home to both Angels and Demons, though not in the forms you know of today. These Proto-Angels and Demons shared the Arcane Realm, or more accurately, warred over it. We have no records of when these wars began, but the entire known history of the Arcane Realm is one of never-ending war and bloodshed. At some point, when our populations began to weaken, we looked to outside sources to replenish our numbers… both Angels and Demons made portals to the Human Realm and conscripted Prehistoric Humans as our soldiers, imbuing them with magic via blessings or giving them enchanted tools. Over time, many of our two species even chose to mate with them. We found that introducing Human DNA to our gene pool changed us dramatically, and Angels soon evolved to become human-like. The Demons were not as potently affected as we were, so they didn’t breed with them as much. Those that did produced the first Witches, while those that didn’t became the ancestors of Biped, Beast, and Bug Demons.”

“Wait a second! Does that mean every Witch and Angel has a Human ancestor!?” Camila exclaimed.

Gabriel nodded; “Proto-Angels became extinct and were replaced entirely by the Angels of the Modern Era thanks to breeding with Humans. The Modern Angels were simply more powerful than the Proto-Angels, finally becoming equals to the previously superior Demons. Of course, the Proto-Angels didn’t just give birth to the Modern Angels… their legacy continues in the Nephilim too; the children of the Proto-Angels and the Proto-Demons.”

“Nephilim… Luz, didn’t you mention that once? I think it was on our first trip to the Knee.” Amity asked.

Luz nodded; “Yeah, I remember Mami telling me an old story that they were supposedly cursed beings that were half-Angel and half-Demon. I was pretty young at the time though, so I don’t remember the full details.”

“Honestly, there isn’t much more to it. There is an old legend of a Nephilim causing some kind of calamity millennia ago, but that’s it. I don’t remember hearing much else about them.” Camila answered.

Camael chuckled; “That is because the name Nephilim fell out of favour. It is the name for the race in our ancient tongue, but as they are not considered an Angelic people any more, we do not use their Angelic name, just as we don’t refer to Demons as Malakhim any more, which is their old name in our original language. And the legend Cassiel mentioned is related to the Treaty of Division. I’m afraid the old legends mentioning Nephilim as monsters are leftover propaganda from the wars between Angels and Demons; they are no more monsters than you or I. After all, I doubt you’d be keen to have a monster for a little brother.”

It took everyone a moment to register that comment, before all eyes snapped to King, whose own jaw was wide open in shock.

“The Titans are the Nephilim!?” he practically screamed.

“That’s right. The union of Angels and Demons was forbidden due to the war between our people, but some chose to ignore that and interbred with each other, resulting in the Nephilim. The child of a Nephilim is also a Nephilim regardless of the other parent, so their numbers soon grew, and it was discovered that they grew to colossal sizes and possessed incredible Arcane power, to the point that some considered them living Gods or the true successors to the Arcane Realm. Sadly both Angels and Demons alienated them at first, and they became a third faction that left the rest alone, but utterly decimated their enemies if provoked. They gained the name “Titans” sometime later.” Gabriel explained.

King could scarcely believe it; “Whoa… I have an Angel ancestor! I wonder if Luz and I have a common ancestor!”

“It’s impossible to say; your common Ancestor would have to be a Proto-Angel from hundreds of thousands of generations ago, and our tests won’t reveal anything that far back.” Camael replied.

That was disappointing for King, but he shrugged it off fast. As strange as it was to learn he was a Nephilim, it was ultimately just a different name for the Titan Race which he already knew he was a member of, so it didn’t change anything for him fundamentally.

Luz spoke up next; “So something happened with a Titan that caused the Divider to split the Arcane Realm into two halves and led to this whole treaty thing.”

Gabriel nodded; “You’re getting ahead of yourself, but essentially yes. It was a long time after the Proto-Angels and Demons were replaced by their modern counterparts and the Titans were born and became widespread. In that time, an Angel named Rasiel was born. He was registered as being born in the Union, but was then believed to have died in infancy. He was later found in the care of a Titan and willing joined the Crest Union shortly thereafter, becoming a part of Crest Humility. Details are sketchy, but it is said he used the power of the Titans to ascend rapidly through the evolutionary stages of the Angels until he became a Seraphim, and became head of Crest Humility when its previous leader died in the war. He allegedly advocated peace and living in harmony with the Demons, but that was largely ignored. Then one day, he reunited with the Titan that raised him. Again, details are vague, but someone other than Rasiel killed the Titan, who was not yet a full adult. As a result, something happened and Rasiel ascended to the rank of the legendary Ten-Winged Angels known as the Sephiroth.”

“Rasiel told us he was a Sephiroth, but we hadn’t heard that name before.” Luz said.

Barachiel hummed; “It isn’t widely used. Only Ten Sephiroth can exist, and none have been created in millennia. I believe the last was one of the Born Sephiroth.”

“Born Sephiroth?” Amity repeated.

“Yes. While only Ten can exist, there are actually only Eight currently in existence that we know of; three Angels who ascended to become Sephiroth, and five who were born as the Sephiroth children of one of those three.” Camael began to explain; “The oldest known Sephiroth is the Guardian, who was ascended from one of the Proto-Angels. The second is the Celestial, who disappeared a long time ago and was the mother of the five Born Sephiroth; collectively known as the Archivists-”


That single word ended up yelled by Luz and all her friends, who stared at the Seraphim like he’d grown a second head.

“Are you serious!? The Collector is a Sephiroth!? An Angel!?” Amity exclaimed.

The Seraphim, bewildered by the outburst, nodded. “Yes. Well, sort of? It is debated among the oldest Angels in the Union whether or not the Born Sephiroth can be truly considered Angels. However the Collector is indeed the youngest of the Celestial’s children and thus a Sephiroth. I’m surprised you know about him.” Gabriel said.

“We’ve had contact with him. He was imprisoned by King’s Dad when he mistakenly thought he helped his siblings wipe out the Titans, and then later tricked into helping Belos.” Luz told them.

King suddenly slapped his skull; “That’s what Rasiel meant! He said that he didn’t like the “brats born with their powers!” Now I know what he was talking about!”

Barachiel rubbed his beard; “This situation is becoming more complex than initially anticipated…”

“I think that’s the first thing we’ve agreed on since this hearing began.” Camila sighed, rubbing her eyes tiredly. “Why exactly did this “Celestial” create the Archivists?”

“Allegedly it was to find out what happened once all Ten Sephiroth were assembled. But she disappeared before she could produce any more.” Gabriel said.

“Which leaves Rasiel becoming the latest ascended Sephiroth; the Divider.” Luz said grimly.

The Seraphim nodded and Gabriel said; “And with that helpful transition, we can get back to the story at hand. There are no known survivors of the Divider’s ascension, but he pushed for peace with renewed vigour and tried to use his immense power to stop the war on all fronts and force peace talks. Any successes were short-lived, and he eventually decided to treat the Angels and Demons like naughty children squabbling over the last candy bar; he split it in half. With his powers of Division, the Divider tore the Arcane Realm into two pieces and placed the Angels in one half and the Demons in the other. The Titans were in both, but they eventually all migrated to the Demon Realm. Sadly, that still didn’t end things; we had already developed portal magic and it was easier than ever with the Titans, so we began invading each other’s realms.”

“I’m starting to see why Rasiel went off the deep end…” Amity muttered darkly. The Angels and Demons of the past seemed determined to kill each other no matter what!

Gabriel couldn’t dispute the girl’s words; “Yes, and his obsession with ending all conflict and creating a paradise of peace led him to decide that splitting Angels from Demons wasn’t enough; he needed to split good from evil, even within our own souls. He gathered followers on both sides of the divide and began his Paradise plan, the same one he is instituting now. Ironically, this plan did more to end the eternal war than anything else, as it united our people against him. It all came to a head 100,000 years ago, when the Divider was cornered in the Demon Realm by an army consisting of the Council of Seraphim, three Titans, countless Witches and Demons, and even the eldest of the Sephiroth; the Guardian themselves. He was defeated and divided into four pieces; his spirit, his body, his mind, and the magic tattoos that he received from the Titan that helped raise him, and which we believe caused his rapid evolution. Each piece was then sealed in a Black Tomb, with one being cast into the In-Between Realm and the remaining three being merged into the bodies of the three Titans, who passed them down through their bloodlines.”

“And I’m descended from all three! Dad is the child of two of them and Mama had the third.” King commented.

“Yes, the Divider enjoyed boasting that fact when he showed up to inform us that he was continuing his Paradise plan and that we were to join him or stay out of the way.” Barachiel said with a scowl. “Several of our people defected to his side and we suspect more did that we’re not aware of, meaning we likely have spies in our midst. To compound the issue, the Divider is tearing apart the boundary between our realms in order to undo his prior act of dividing us.”

Camael looked grave; “That would be catastrophic, especially since most places in the Demon Realm are highly hostile to Angels, and many of the Free Cities are equally hostile to Demons. If he succeeds, we’d basically be forced to accept his Paradise plan just to avoid another Eternal War.”

“I’m sure all of you can see why we’re treating this so seriously.” Gabriel said; “Now onto the treaty itself. In the aftermath of the Divider’s sealing, the Guardian basically sat down the leaders of the Angels and Demons and ordered them to make peace; our war created that man, and so we had to ensure it never happened again. The Treaty forbade open hostilities between any nations of the Divine and Demon Realms, as well as any citizen of either realm opening the Black Tombs or reassembling the Divider. It also forbade Angels from hunting and killing Titans, since the Angels of the time saw them as Demons and a threat to order. It forbade Demons from attempting to cross-breed with Titans, ensuring their species didn’t evolve further and limited their population. And finally, it forbade either realm from excessive involvement in the affairs of Humans. Passing visits and our missionary work skirt around this point, but we are not allowed to influence their governing bodies, hence why Angels don’t do more to stop the Humans’ pointless wars.”

It began to sink in to Luz and her friends exactly how serious the situation really was. Reviving the Divider had violated the terms of the Treaty, and either side could now claim it was null and void, allowing them to restart the Eternal War between Angels and Demons! Sure the Crest Union had no interest in that, and the people of the Boiling Isles didn’t even know the treaty existed, but who’s to say that the other nations of the Divine Realm wouldn’t jump at this chance? Or that Demon Realm nations beyond the Isles wouldn’t take the opportunity too? And if just one nation went to war, the other Realm could band together to repel it, inviting the remaining nations of the other realm to fight too! And if there is no treaty, the Angels could hunt King! The Demons might try to imprison him until he’s older enough to have kids! Both sides could start interfering in the Human Realm!

It could be a literal world ending calamity!

Luz began to shake as she hugged herself; could her actions potentially lead to the destruction of the three realms!?

Just like that, all resistance and outrage towards the charges against her vanished, and Luz’s guilt nearly consumed her entirely. She couldn’t fight these charges… she didn’t even feel like she should. That left her with only one option available to her; taking responsibility and protecting King, Amity, and Eda!

No one else quite knew what to say; now that they knew why the Angels were treating this so seriously, they weren’t sure what to do or think. Their only concern was protecting their friends and stopping the Divider. To that end, Gus raised his hand since he had noticed something.

The Seraphim gestured for him to speak, so the boy said; “You said that one of the treaty’s terms is that Angels can’t kill Titans, right?”

“Correct. Unless it is in self-defence.” Barachiel replied.

“Well, the Archivists killed the Titans! And they’re Sephiroth, so they’re basically angels, right? Doesn’t that mean the treaty was violated thousands of years ago? And if the treaty is already broken, then Luz, Amity, and King didn’t break any laws! You can’t violate a treaty if the treaty is already gone!” he declared.

The others nodded in agreement, and Matt added; “Aside from the Collector, the only Archivist we’re sort of allies with, all the others helped commit genocide against the Titans, and that was a worldwide event! No way was it unnoticed! So if anyone alive had known about this treaty in our world, they’d definitely have acted on it! The fact no one did means the treaty was forgotten so you can just ignore it! Heck, our realm barely remembers yours exists!”

There were more murmurs of agreements and the three Seraphim seemed intrigued by the argument. Camael, the one least knowledgeable about the law, leaned over to whisper to Barachiel and Gabriel. Barachiel looked unsure on how to answer, but Gabriel shook his head with a grave expression before whispering back. The other two Seraphim looked disappointed by what he said and sat back with defeated sighs as Gabriel gave Gus and Matt a sympathetic look.

“You make sound arguments, but there are three flaws in it. The first is that the status of the Born Sephiroth is disputed; we do not know if they can truly be considered Angels. They do not possess Halos like Seraphim or Sephiroth, though I believe they do have wings they can choose to manifest. The second is that the treaty specifically states Angels of the Divine Realm, and the Archivists do not call any one realm home. They are not legal residents of any nation in the Divine Realm.”

Willow opened her mouth to cease on that last point to help Luz, but Gabriel anticipated it and spoke first; “Before you say it, Luciel IS an Angel of the Divine Realm and legal citizen of the Crest Union. She gained this status from birth due to being born to another legal citizen. Cassiel never formally renounced her citizenship and couldn’t have until she was a legal adult. Instead she opted to run away at 13, and since there is no procedure to revoke citizenship within our laws, she remains one to this day. Not that it would matter, as the terms she is accused of violating do not specify the species or origin of the person, which is also why Mr Clawthorne-Noceda and Miss Blight were arrested.”

That made Willow shut her mouth with an irritated click of her teeth as Gabriel continued his response to Gus and Matt.

“The final flaw in your argument is less of a legal one and more of a practical one… how exactly are we supposed to apprehend and charge a Sephiroth? A Born Sephiroth is a lot weaker than an Ascended one, but still significantly more powerful than our forces. Their only weaknesses are Titans and other Sephiroth, and the last Titan is a 9 year old child while the Sephiroth are all either missing or currently against us. We simply can’t do anything about the Archivists.” Gabriel finished.

With that, all arguments the group could think of had turned to ash. Most of the Hexsquad were racking their brains for the answer to get their friends out of this, while Lyra was wondering if she could bargain for their freedom by offering to join the Union herself. Vee was petrified with fear for her sister, while Treble and Hanu tried to comfort her. Amity and King were both beginning to freak out on the inside, wondering what would become of them, while Camila was just staring at Camael, wondering the same thing as Lyra; if she could save her daughter by returning to the order… That left only Luz, who was borderline disassociating over the entire affair.

Seeing that there were no more arguments, Gabriel exchanged looks with his fellow Seraphim, each of whom mirrored his own grim expression as they nodded.

“Luciel of Crest Kindness, Amity Blight, King Clawthorne-Noceda; do you or your advocate have anything more to say? Any thus far unrevealed information that might effect our decision on whether or not to charge you with the crimes you stand accused of?” Gabriel asked.

Luz just stared blankly at Gabriel, while Amity and King looked nervously to Camila, who was biting her lip to the point it was almost bleeding. The woman just shook her head silently, knowing there was nothing they could say that would change things.

Sighing, Gabriel hardened his expression and sat a little straighter; “In that case, my colleagues and I will now vote on whether the evidence is sufficient to charge you. My Lords, raise your hands if you believe charges should be pressed for the stated crime. First, the violation of the Second and Third Terms of the Treaty of Division? In the case of King Clawthorne-Noceda?”

Gabriel raised his hand, as did Barachiel and Camael. None were happy to do so, and King felt a pit in his stomach.

“In the case of Amity Blight?”

Again, all three raised their hands and Amity shivered.

“In the case of Luciel of Crest Kindness?”

For a third time, three hands were raised. Luz just continued to stare ahead with glassy eyes.

“Three unanimous decisions. All three defendants will face trial, officially charged with the aforementioned offence.” Gabriel said reluctantly. “Secondly, the violation of the Fourth Term of the Treaty of Division by directly influencing the Human Realm, via assisting the Rogue Sephiroth known as the Divider in his disruptive actions involving the distortions. Luciel of Crest Kindness alone is faced with this charge. Your decisions?”

This time, none of the Seraphim raised their hands, believing Luz truly hadn’t been involved in the incident with the distortions in the Human Realm. It was a small comfort though, seeing as she was already being charged with a Capital Crime.

“The case for the second violation has been judged insubstantial enough to not warrant prosecution, as such no charge will be pressed in relation to it.” Gabriel said, looking to his Clerk to make sure they were making a proper note. He then looked back to Luz and said; “The three of you will face trial together, tomorrow morning. It will be carried out by a full sitting of the Council of Seraphim, and take place within the Supreme Court inside the Platinum Spire, were you are to present yourselves at the appointed time. You remain innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but as you have been formally charged, you will not be allowed to freely use magic and will remain under house arrest at an approved location provided by the Union. Your friends and companions will be given accommodations in the same location and may freely serve as witnesses in your defence. With that, I declare this hearing officially over.”

A dark cloud hung over the entire room and an impending sense of doom filled the air. Luz, Amity, and King hadn’t denied their actions at all, merely trying to excuse them instead, and now that they knew there was no excuse the law of Angels would accept, they were essentially doomed. The fact charges had been pressed in such a way was as good as a guilty verdict already! Camila knew that trials rarely ended in anything else, as charges were only ever filed if the evidence was ironclad. There was a 99.9% conviction rate in the Crest Union, which did not bode well for them.

“I am sorry it has come to this. It brings us no pleasure to do this, but the law cannot be ignored or defied. I pray you’ll forgive us.” Gabriel said as he stood up, along with the other Seraphim. They began to leave the room, sweeping past the stunned group of children, until Hunter got to his feet and approached them.

“Wait a moment! W-What exactly will happen tomorrow if they are found guilty? What will you do to them?” he asked, terrified.

Over a dozen frightened pairs of eyes looked to the grimacing face of Gabriel, who answered in a soft voice; “In the case of Amity Blight and King Clawthorne-Noceda, they will have their magical talents permanently sealed and then deported to the Demon Realm, where they will be given into the custody of the ruling Government of their homeland, in this case the Boiling Isles.”

Amity turned green while King looked ready to hyperventilate; they’d be stripped of their magic and handed over to the Divider himself, seeing as he was effectively the Isles’ ruler now! They’d be serving them up on a silver platter! By the look on the Seraphim’s face, he knew it too; but he was totally bound by the law, and that was the prescribed punishment for a non-Angel that had committed a Capital Crime…

The three Seraphim all went pale as Gabriel forced himself to look at Luz; “As an Angel, Luciel of Crest Kindness is legally able to face the standard penalty for committing a Capital Crime… should she be found guilty, she will immediately be subjected to the Ultimate Sanction.”

Camila couldn’t stop herself from letting out a startled whimper, while Luz was momentarily snapped from her stupor by the sheer shock of the proposed penalty, before her face became one of grim resignation. However the rest of her friends and family just about rioted.

The Ultimate Sanction… that could only be execution of some manner!

“WE WON’T LET YOU!” Willow roared, leaping to her feet as her eyes immediately began to glow green.

The rest of the Hexsquad were in the same boat, with Boscha and Amity also gaining glowing eyes as they stood and summoned their staves (or at least tried to in Amity’s case). The others were calmer, but still stood ready to fight, and both Vee and Treble were preparing to drain magic from the Seraphim so they could all bust their way out. King was in a similar state; he hadn’t quite entered his feral state yet but it was clear he was on the edge as his fur puffed up and his muscles flexed and stretched beneath it.

The Clerk immediately raised a barrier around herself while the Arch-Angel knights all braced for battle. The Seraphim did not seem worried though; Gabriel’s expression was one of sadness and understanding, Barachiel had a calm and collected face, and Camael was simply trying not to meet anyone’s eyes as he felt clear shame at being unable to help two of his descendants. The fact that none of the Seraphim were even remotely threatened, even by the Basilisks, worried the Hexsquad a little but they were too wound up to back down now.

Camila, holding King tightly to her chest so he wouldn’t attack, stood up and began trying to soothe everyone before things got worse, but before she could say anything there was a loud bell toll. The toll distracted the Angels, who immediately tensed on the third toll.

“That is an alert bell; the city is under attack! Those Strange Shadow Creatures must be appearing again!” Camael scowled, drawing a spell circle and conjuring six scalpel-like knives, holding three between the fingers of each hand.

Barachiel summoned a large halberd; “It wasn’t the citywide bell, but a local one. The attack must be happening nearby.”

As if to punctuate his words, the illusion covering the sky outside began to flicker a bit over the Patience Court, and while it didn’t break entirely, things did begin falling from it. At first it looked like huge black droplets, but as these droplets hit the ground and splattered, they began to reform into the shapes of various witches and demons of all kinds. Everyone in the hearing room looked out through the patio doors as many of the creatures began falling there, each one resembling a literal pitch black shadow with gleaming golden eyes and wisps of some kind of black magic wafting off them, forming chain-like shapes. It was rather unsettling, especially as the creatures all began to give strange shrieks in the voices of the people they resembled, only with unnatural echoes, before attacking every living thing around them with wild abandon. The Knights outside the hearing room immediately raced to begin slaughtering them, their magic effortlessly carving through the shadows like they were nothing.

It didn’t look like the creatures could use magic or any form of attack not purely physical in nature, so they weren’t difficult to defeat. However their sheer numbers were ridiculous! They were falling from the sky almost like literal rain drops, so for every shadow destroyed, about five more took its place, evening the odds against the Angels.

“This is a problem. You two;” Barachiel pointed to two of his Arch-Angel Knights; “Remain here and protect the Defendants. They cannot use magic with their current bindings. The rest of you, assist me in dealing with this attack.”

With that, Barachiel twirled his Halberd (which Hunter suddenly realised had a winged Lion-like design) and marched out through the patio doors to do battle with the shadow monsters, while the other knights went out to join him. The two he’d left behind approached Luz, Amity, and King and politely bundled them into the corner of the room closest to the door and began guarding them, while Gabriel looked to his clerk and gestured for her to leave, which she did gratefully. He then summoned a white staff with a golden winged camel on the top, which Hunter suspected was Gabriel’s Palisman.

“I’m going out there to help; two Seraphim is better than one. If the attack is a local one, we shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.” he said.

“Make it three.” Camael said, twirling one of his knives, which Hunter now noticed looked like the feathers of a bird forged into a scalpel-like shape. The pommels of the knives also had what appeared to be a Palm Chat design, a small songbird that Hunter recognised from some of Camila’s books on fauna. It made him wonder if the knives were Camael’s Palisman, and the lion halberd was Barachiel’s… Luz had said only high-ranking Angels had Palismen, and a Seraphim would definitely count.

“Alright, three then. The rest of you may stay here where it’s safe.” Gabriel said to Camila and the teens, before he and Camael flew out to join the battle now raging outside.

The Hexsquad edged closer to the patio doors to watch the fight and were amazed by what they saw. The shadows were able to overwhelm the regular Angelic Knights through raw numbers, but the Arch-Angel Knight Captains tore through swathes of them like tissue paper, dispersing dozens of shadows with every spell cast and weapon swung. The Seraphim were even more impressive; Camael blitzed through the horde with extreme speed, darting back and forth like a blur, throwing his knives with pinpoint accuracy and surgically focusing on and taking out the largest shadows in an instant. Barachiel swung his heavy halberd like it was lighter than air, cleaving hundreds of shadows in half with a single magically extended swing, all while his weapon passed harmlessly through the angels fighting around him like they weren’t even there. Then there was Gabriel, who was fighting more like a witch by drawing spell circles, though his spells were a step above any the Hexsquad had ever seen. A normal sized spell circle could summon down bolts of golden lightning that made Luz’s Thunderclap Spell from earlier look like static, and he casually summoned up monstrous gouts of white flame that burned the shadows away before even making direct contact!

It was incredible to watch and suddenly made the Hexsquad extremely glad they hadn’t attacked before the shadow creatures appeared… they really would have gotten their butts kicked! This was the power of a creature that could fight on even terms with a full power Supreme Dragon. In fact, a large shadow creature in the shape of an Ice Wyrm was among the members of the horde, and Camael had dispatched it with nary a look. Sure it didn’t have its signature ice magic, but it still had its huge size and physical strength.

“Whoa… Seraphim really are on a whole other level!” Skara said, borderline stunned by the display. The others nodded numbly, but were soon distracted as some of the shadow creatures began making their way towards them.

The Arch-Angels guarding Luz, Amity, and King called out to them; “Stay back, young ones! We will defend you!”

The Hexsquad was still a little wired though, so they just ignored the Arch-Angels and defended themselves with their already summoned Palismen. Willow began the assault by conjuring thick tree roots from her wooden bangles, impaling the horde of shadows blocking their exit from the room. Once they were gone, the rest hopped onto their Palismen and took flight (save for Lyra, who simply flew with her own wings).

“We can defend ourselves! Protect our friends since you left them helpless!” Matt yelled, before coating his fists in rock and punching the head off a shadow that looked suspiciously like a Coven Scout.

The rest of the Hexsquad quickly got stuck into the fight too, using their teamwork to watch each other’s backs as they tossed out spells of their own. Vee flew out to join them too since she could cast spells and fly like them, while Camila remained behind with Hanu and Treble to prevent any shadows from getting into the hearing room, which they did by maintaining a barrier and a wall of brambles and tree roots.

The battle didn’t last very long after that; Boscha’s explosive potions and flames destroyed dozens of shadows, while Skara performed Bardic Songs to make everyone (even the Angels) more effective, as well as using wind to help blow them out of the way from attacks and control the horde. Matt similarly controlled the horde by creating a maze of rock walls, which Gus augmented with his ice since the shadows didn’t seem to be able to fall for illusions. Willow grew her Artillery Seed Pods all over the area too, and they fired explosive seeds that made short work of countless shadows, while Hunter zipped back and forth with his lightning flash spell, while using a Beast-Keeping Spell to improve his senses and spatial awareness to ensure he wasn’t snuck up on. Lastly, Vee tried to eat the magic of the monsters only to find that they appeared to be more negative energy made manifest than actual magical creatures, forcing her to rely instead on simple elemental spells, while Lyra tried to use her Darkness Magic to control the shadows, but found that they weren’t truly shadows either; they just appeared to be. When that didn’t work, she began conjuring knives to toss at the monsters, mimicking Camael (and considering her resemblance to Luz and Camael’s relationship with her, the Seraphim seemed both pleased and unsettled to see her tactics).

With the entire Hexsquad (minus Amity and Luz) fighting the shadows alongside Vee, the three Seraphim, and the squad of Angelic Knights, the battle didn’t end up lasting very long. The black rain continued for about five more minutes, but with so many now fighting against its creatures, barely any of it had a chance to even fully form before it was wiped out and dispersed. When the rain ended and the tolls of the alarm bell stopped, the fighters took a moment to make sure they’d completely wiped out the shadows, before they all landed and caught their breath, with Camael going around checking for signs of injuries. He checked the teens first, and upon seeing they were all fine, he thanked them for their aid and turned his attention to the Angelic Knights. A few of the regular knights had taken some minor damage, but Camael effortlessly healed that up and left everyone in pristine condition. Barachiel then dismissed the Knights, relieving them from duty for the rest of the day and conjuring a golden mirror (which seemed to be the Angelic equivalent of a Smart Scroll) so he could call in some reserves to take their place guarding the Patience Court.

Almost as soon as Barachiel ended this call, his mirror chimed to show he had an incoming call, and both Gabriel and Camael found their own mirrors appearing. They answered and the same automated message played for all three.

“Attention all Seraphim Councillors: in light of the recent attack on the Patience Court by the Distorted Shadows, an emergency meeting of the Seraphim Council has been called for by Lady Raphael, Seraphim of Humility. Attendance is highly encouraged. Thank you for your understanding.”

The three Seraphim exchanged looks, then nodded and headed back into the hearing room, followed by the Hexsquad. Arriving inside, Gabriel addressed Camila; “Cassiel; I am sorry, but we’ll have to cut this short. I trust you will explain to your daughter’s friends the truth of the situation, to avoid any further hostilities?”

Camila agreed; “I will. But what do we do now?”

“Living accommodations for the night have already been arranged for you. A squad of Knights from Crest Diligence and one of my own Clerks will escort you to your host, who will then take you to their home. I’m certain I don’t need to remind you and your charges to be respectful?” Gabriel asked, eyeing the still angry members of the Hexsquad.

“As upset as they are, these are good kids. They won’t cause any trouble, I’m sure of it.” Camila answered.

Gabriel nodded, then turned to the kids; “In that case, farewell to you all. Listen to what Cassiel has to say, and do not jump to conclusions regarding our Ultimate Sanction. With that said, I will see all of you at the trial tomorrow morning.” he then turned to Luz, Amity, and King and gave them a regretful nod of acknowledgement before leaving.

Similarly, Barachiel said his own farewells along with a serious warning; “Please stay out of trouble. Remember that getting yourselves arrested or prematurely deported will not help your friends’ case. As it stands, a suspiciously timed attack by the Distorted Shadows at the site of this hearing will already make many people in our government suspicious; do not give them more ammunition against you.”

He then left too, leaving only Camael, who spoke only to Cassiel and Luz; “I will come and visit you at your accommodations as soon as the meeting is over. No doubt they’ll have some kind of Plea Bargain to offer, and I shall be the one to deliver it. Until then, please don’t try to run away and make yourselves look guilty.” he implored.

Finally, he left too and the clerk from earlier returned to escort Luz and her friends and family out of the Patience Court. They were met by the promised squad of knights, who escorted them back to the Zeppelin. As they boarded (the old man flying it refused to take more money, since Barachiel had paid more than double the price the first time), the Clerk spoke to the three defendants.

“The host that will be taking you and your friends in is a High Angel of Crest Chastity, who is currently working with a group of young Cherubs in a park near the Chastity Academy here in the Gold District. It’ll only be a short flight to get there, so please be patient.” the Clerk explained.

The group nodded and sat in a tight group at the back of the Zeppelin, their earlier curiosity totally overpowered by their anger and fear over the coming trial. They waited only until they were in the air and heading towards the meeting spot for their host before they started whispering darkly to one another, while Skara subtly used some Bardic Magic to ensure the sound of their conversation didn’t reach the other Angels.

“Okay, so we need to bust out!” Boscha declared. “These guys have basically already decided Luz, Amity, and King are guilty! If we stay here, Amity and King will lose their magic and be handed over to the Divider, and Luz…”

The three-eyed girl didn’t even want to say it, and the rest of the children felt the same. Camila could understand their fear and she was honestly terrified too, but they needed to be calm and rational. Besides, it wasn’t what they thought.

“Everyone, the Ultimate Sanction is not Execution. The Crest Union even prefers to take prisoners over killing in times of war! They’d never execute someone, especially not a child.” Camila assured them.

“It’s not?” Willow asked with a hint of hope; “But then what is it? If it’s the “Ultimate” Sanction then it has to be pretty bad, right?”

“It is the most severe punishment the Crest Union can hand out; a sign that they don’t believe redemption is possible, or they don’t want to risk giving that chance due to the seriousness of the crime. Only Capital Crimes like Murder, Sexual Assault, and Violent Child Abuse are usually punished with the sanction, and apparently also acts that could bring the Divine Realm or Crest Union into a war…” Camila said, before looking down at her hands; “The Ultimate Sanction is Reformation.”

“Reformation?” Hunter repeated; “But isn’t reforming people the whole point of the justice system? To punish and rehabilitate criminals until they are reformed?”

Camila nodded; “Normally yes, but in this case Reformation means the complete reforming of a person’s very essence. Their mind, body, and soul.”

Everyone’s eyes widened as Vee whispered in a terrified voice; “Mama, what exactly do you mean by that?”

“I mean that Reformation is a ritual that causes the victim to be reformed completely, being regressed back into the form of a newborn infant. Stripped of their memories and experiences, they are left as a completely blank state. It is also called Living Reincarnation or Resetting.” Camila said darkly, her heart aching at the very idea of it. It truly was the most serious penalty an Angel could be subjected to.

Almost the entire group sat there gaping at the older Angel, almost unable to wrap their heads around what she’d just said. Only Luz didn’t react, but she vaguely remembered hearing about Reformation from one of her Mami’s stories as a child.

The stunned silence didn’t last long however, as Amity yelled; “But that’s basically still just execution!”

Her loud cry pushed the limits of what Skara could silence, but the girl didn’t care in her worked up state. The others were in a similar state, and King was glaring darkly at the other Angels on the Zeppelin. “Amity’s right! If they erase Luz’s whole personality and her memories when turning her back into a baby, then they’re basically killing the Luz we all know! It’s execution with extra steps, except this way they can raise her again to be the perfect little Angel they want!”

“It’s like permanent brainwashing!” Matt scowled, “How could they do that to someone!?”

“This is WORSE than execution!” Lyra cried, horrified beyond belief; “At least an executed person can move on and be with the people they love in the afterlife! If Luz loses her memories completely, she won’t be the same person any more and won’t have a bond with the people she loved in the past! All of us, her own parents, and our friends back in the Demon Realm… we’ll be strangers to her! That isn’t just death, it’s Oblivion!”

Seeing as Lyra was an Oracle well versed in spirits, she knew what she was talking about too! If Luz was given the Ultimate Sanction, it would be the complete end of her!

“This is too cruel! I thought Angels weren’t like that!” Skara cried.

“It makes sense when you think about Angel Society.” Luz suddenly spoke up, eerily calm. Everyone turned to her with shocked eyes, becoming very worried by her apparent calm.

“Luz, what do you mean by that?” Gus asked, “You’re not just going to accept this, right?”

Luz shuddered; “The idea terrifies me… the thought of forgetting all of you, and Mom and everyone back home? It scares me so much I can hardly think! But as much as I hate it and I think it’s an awful thing to do to someone, it is a logical alternative to execution. Every Angel is a potentially valuable resource to the Crest Union, so why kill one and lose that resource when you can just… well, reset them? It’s like when a functional computer gets a bad virus; you don’t just scrap the thing, you try to fix it and if that isn’t possible, you do a factory reset. Reformation gets rid of a potential danger to society and replaces them with a fresh new resource that can be moulded into whatever they want.”

The others had to admit that when phrased that way, the Ultimate Sanction didn’t sound quite as evil… but when one remembered that these were people and not just resources being recycled, it became almost worse! It was a totally callous disregard for what made a person themselves! Luz herself would admit (if only to herself) that she’d rather be executed than reformed… but she doubted she’d have a choice in the matter.

“People aren’t machines and shouldn’t be treated like them.” Vee scowled.

Hanu nodded; “I’m with Vee and the others. I may not be as close to Luz as the rest of you, but we can’t let this happen!”

“Is there a way to escape? Those Seraphim were stupid powerful, and there are probably a ton of Arch-Angels as powerful as Luz, and she’s the strongest member of your group.” Treble pointed out, “Plus, the Seraphim didn’t seem threatened by me or Vee. I don’t think eating their magic would go over well. I don’t think we can just defeat them in a battle.”

“Definitely not. The Seven Seraphim together are said to be invincible to anything but a Titan or a Ten-Winged Seraphim, or Sephiroth as I guess they’re called now.” Camila said, wanting to cut off that train of thought immediately. The Seraphim’s warnings had not been given lightly!

“Then we bust out some other way!” Boscha declared, “Camila, didn’t you break out of here once? We’ll just do what you did! We’ll sneak out at night, steal a keystone for a portal gate, then head back to the Demon Realm! There’s no way the CATTs or the Divider would gave any of us up to the Angels, and they won’t want to force the issue and start a war, so we’ll be safe!”

Camila shook her head with a frown; “I’m sorry, but that isn’t going to work. I was extraordinarily lucky to get away! I had to wait until myself and my fellow Kindness Cherubs were being taken on a trip through the gates to Virtus Humanitas, then steal the keystone from our overseer’s bag once we’d arrived at the Divine Crossroads there, before quickly running back through the gate and closing it before I could be followed. That’s why I ended up in New Haven; I didn’t choose it, it just happened to be the only Human Realm Gate connected to the same hub as the Gran Seraphia to Virtus Humanitas gates. I also wasn’t magically restrained, so I had my powers and couldn’t be tracked so long as I used no magic.” Camila explained. “Even if we successfully stole a keystone, which would be next to impossible, and reached the corresponding gate in the Divine Crossroads, which is also next to impossible, we wouldn’t be able to pass through the gate because of the bands on Luz, Amity, and King. They prevent the wearer from leaving the Divine Realm, and only a Diligence Angel can remove them, and they’ll never do that, so our only option would be amputation. Considering Ghost has one around her neck…”

Everyone gulped; they’d have to beat the odds twice AND abandon Ghost in order to escape. Considering they also didn’t have access to pain nullifying potions to make amputation bearable either, their escape plans were killed stone dead. Hunter considered suggesting they catch and threaten a Diligence Angel to free King and the girls, but given their Crest Order’s chosen virtue, he doubted they’d give in no matter what they threatened them with.

“S-So we’re supposed to just do nothing!?” Skara looked on the verge of tears; “We can’t fight, we can’t run, and those Seraphim guys acted like the trial verdict was already decided! We have to try something!”

The others agreed, and Camila nodded too; “We still have one option, and the one I suspect Lord Camael will bring up when he visits after his meeting… a plea bargain.”

“A plea bargain?” Vee repeated; “They have those here?”

Camila nodded; “If the accused is willing to plead guilty from the outset and offers or is offered an alternative penalty that provides more value to the Union than the prescribed punishment for their crime then the Courts often accept the alternative. The Union is pragmatic and practical above all else; the law can never be defied, but the law does allow the penalty for a crime to be changed if the results are more valuable.”

For the first time since the hearing, Amity actually smiled; “If that’s true, we might be able to worm our way out of this! The Divider is a threat to the peace right? And his actions are causing all this chaos in the Divine Realm! So we could suggest a suicide mission to go and stop him! We were planning to anyway, and that’s got to be more valuable to the Union than stripping the magic from two kids and handing them over to their enemy, and reducing one of the youngest Arch-Angels back to an infant Cherub!”

“Well technically she’d be an Infant Arch-Angel. We don’t know why, but the number of wings an Angel has remains the same even after Reformation.” Camila explained; “Most High Angels and Arch-Angels take plea bargains, so they are almost never given Reformation, and a Seraphim outright can’t receive Reformation, as their power is so great that regressing them back to a baby with no control is dangerous. But you’re right; the Union would definitely prefer not to waste all the years it’ll take for Luz to grow up again! This might just work after all!”

Seeing Camila get some real hope in her eyes for the first time since the hearing helped brighten the mood of the rest of the group. After all that doom and gloom, they could now see a light at the end of the tunnel! They all began to relax a little, and Skara stopped her silencing spell so everything they said could be heard by the other Angels again. Luz alone remained quiet and deep in thought, though everyone could see she was fighting some internal demons right now, so her Mami pulled her against her side and cuddled with her, while Amity cuddled into Luz’s other side and King sat on her lap. There was no room for anyone else, but Vee did gently wrap her tail around one of Luz’s hands to show she was supporting her sister too.

A few minutes later, the Zeppelin began to descend onto a landing zone in a nice park area. It was clearly a park for Cherubs, as there was playground equipment nearby and plenty of fruit trees and flowers everywhere, as well as some friendly animals. The group disembarked, escorted by the Clerk and the Knights, and headed towards the playground. Almost as soon as they got close, the Cherubs playing inside all turned to look at the witches and demons, and immediately rushed over to get a closer look. As they did so, the Clerk whispered to Camila that she’d go and find their host, leaving the group and their Knight escorts behind to face the horde of little Cherubs.

“Look it! Witches!” one little girl said, pointing to the group.

“They don’t got wings! That’s sad…”

“But the cute snaky thing does! Is that one like a baby Quetzalcoatl?”

“Those big girls have cool wings! One’s got black wings and one’s got six!”

“Wow! You can be an Arch-Angel when you’re not a grown-up yet? I want to be one too!”

“Look at the puppy! That one’s got wings too! Can I pet him?”

That last question was directed at Luz, who was still holding King in her arms. She looked down at her little brother, who gave a nod, so she knelt and placed him on the ground.

“I’m not a Puppy; I’m King! A great and powerful Demon!” the young Titan declared.

The Cherubs all oohed and ahhed, and the little girl who’d asked to pet him nodded politely, then asked again; “Can I pet you, Mr. King?”

“I’ll allow it.” King said regally, before crying “Weh!?” as he was swarmed by the children and was thoroughly petted. They were gentle with him, but there were at least 30 of them and they were all eagerly petting his fur, fluffing his tail, patting his skull, or comparing his wings to their own, totally fascinated by him. It amused his family and friends greatly, and after getting used to it, King didn’t seem to mind the touching. He always did like getting pets!

Eventually the Cherubs’ interest moved on to Vee, who they believed to be a Baby Quetzalcoatl. She corrected them and introduced herself, and let them touch her tail and wings a bit, but her scales weren’t as fun to pet as fur was, so they got bored fairly fast and turned their attention to Hanu, who was pretty much covered in fur with the exception of her face. The Macaque Demon did not want to be touched however, and shyly hid behind Treble while Willow came to her rescue by offering another sacrifice to the grabby hands of the Cherubs; Amity and Ghost.

“You love kids, Amity; you keep them distracted!” Willow said with an infuriating grin.

Amity didn’t mind, since she really did love kids and these Cherubs were adorable, but it wasn’t until she knelt down to introduce herself and Ghost that she realised Willow had an ulterior motive… now that Amity could see their faces close up, she could tell that most of these Cherubs were from Crest Kindness, as almost all of them (the girls especially) looked like little Luzs.

Camila had shown Amity baby pictures of Luz, and many other pictures of her when she was little, and Amity had just about melted at the adorable sight. Now she was surrounded by dozens of little kids, whom she loved, that looked just like the girl she loved most in the world!

Before her brain melted completely, Amity had one last conscious thought; “I wonder if my kids with Luz would look like these little Cherubs?”

Everything after that was a cacophony of “CUTE! CUTE! ADORABLE! I LOVE THEM!”

“Hello, Little Ones! My name is Amity! I’m a witch from the Boiling Isles, in the Demon Realm!” she introduced happily, while holding Ghost in her arms; “This is my Palisman, Ghost! You can pet her, but please be gentle.” Amity introduced, the intelligent part of her brain taking the wheel.

The Cherubs looked at Amity for a moment, then they all beamed. Children of all species seemed to have a sixth sense that told them Amity was a friend to them, and made her immediately well-liked. They eagerly took her up on her offer to gently pet Ghost, who meowed and playfully batted at some of them with her paws or tail. Amity let one little girl (who happened to be a dead-ringer for an eight year old Luz with blue eyes) hold Ghost, and the Cherub nearly cried with joy as she hugged the cat. Amity herself ended up hugged by a few of the Cherubs as they asked her about Demons and her homeland, and how she cast magic without wings. One tomboyish girl of about seven even clambered onto her back and began playing with her ears, which were fwipping up and down in delight. Amity was in heaven, and Luz was blushing with an adoring smile as she imagined Amity as the mother to their children, playing with a future Noceda-Clawthorne-Blight… The mental image was almost too strong for her, though she did make a mental note to discuss the surname with Amity when the time came.

If” the dark part of Luz’s mind replied.

Seeing Amity and Ghost get all the love made the other Palismen jealous, so they soon hurried over to enjoy pets and cuddles too, which naturally meant the rest of the Hexsquad was introduced and began to play with the kids. It didn’t take long before they were dragged into the playground itself, with only Camila, Hanu, and Treble staying back since an adult is less interesting to Cherubs and Hanu and Treble made it clear they weren’t big on playing. King was naturally drawn into the ranks of the Cherubs, who played with him while barely acknowledging that he was a different species from them, with the sole exception of their amazement that he could already fly. Gus and Matt made illusions and sculptures in the sand box to show the kids sights from the Demon Realm. Skara conducted a mini-choir with the Cherubs singing along to a children’s song. Boscha mostly played hide and seek whilst using her third eye to cheat, since the kids didn’t realise the eye was real. Willow grew flowers from the Demon Realm for them to smell and touch. Hunter taught the children about the animals that their Palismen were based on. Vee gave her wings a workout by letting the Cherubs ride on her back as she took short flights around the playground (never going more than two metres off the ground). Lastly, Luz and Lyra sat together and answered questions about their rare forms, with the Cherubs being very interested in Luz’s glyph markings and Lyra’s Darkness Magic.

It proved to be a heartening, if sadly short-lived experience for King and the teens, which helped them work out some frustrations with the Divine Realm, which had proven to be a mixed bag of experiences so far. The whole place gave the impression of a beautiful and peaceful society that felt almost like a very pretty gilded cage one moment and a soulless machine the next. Playtime unfortunately came to an end after only about 10 minutes, when the Clerk returned in the company of another Angel. Seeing the Clerk return, King and the teens had reluctantly said their farewells to the Cherubs and rejoined Camila, Hanu, and Treble so they could meet the High Angel hosting them and their home.

A female High Angel who clearly recognised Camila.

“Cassiel!” the woman cried with joy as she suddenly ran towards Camila.

Camila gasped as she recognised the approaching woman; “Lazuliel!? You’re our host!?” she said, her shocked face morphing into a huge smile as Lazuliel leapt into her arms. The two women hugged and laughed with delight, tears in their eyes.

“I can’t believe it! It’s really you! I haven’t seen you for over twenty years!” Camila said as they finally pulled apart.

Lazuliel chuckled; “Tell me about it! I still can’t believe you up and ran away right at the start of our class trip! You always were the more devious and smart one out of the two of us!”

Camila scoffed playfully; “Oh please, you were far more devious! You were just terrible at not getting caught!”

“Guilty as charged! I can’t tell you how much of my teenage years I spent having to repent for some stupid prank!” Lazuliel laughed happily. “We need to take some time to properly catch up! But I’m also here in an official capacity; I was asked by Lord Camael to host you, your daughters, and their friends until this whole trial business is over. I naturally accepted, since I recently managed to score a huge apartment in the Gold District!”

“That’s wonderful! Let me introduce everyone to you, starting with my daughters.” Camila moved over to stand between her girls, who she put her arms around proudly. “These are my eldest daughter Luciel, though she prefers her human name Luz, and my youngest daughter Vee!”

Lazuliel grinned at the two; “Wonderful to meet you both!” she said, offering her hands to shake.

Luz and Vee shook her hand politely, while they and the rest of the kids took in the appearance of this energetic old friend of Camila’s.

She appeared to be a Kindness Angel, and bore a striking resemblance to Luz! In fact, if one were to take Luz as a High Angel and remove her eyebrow scar, straighten her hair, give her long bangs to frame her face, and make her about 5 years older, the result would be an almost mirror image of Lazuliel. She had the same infectious smile that Luz had on her happy days, and wore a bandana on the back of her head to keep most of her hair out of the way. The rest of her outfit was a simple white tank-top worn under a sleeveless and unbuttoned sky blue shirt, and accompanied by a three quarter length pair of pants in a slightly darker blue, and white boots that looked like they’d been customised to look almost like Human Realm sneakers.

“Nice to meet you too.” Vee replied, while Luz nodded dumbly, a little blown away by meeting her Mami’s friend.

“Man, you Angels really are all cut from the same cloth, huh? You look just like Luz and Lyra!” King commented.

Lazuliel laughed; “You got that right! Angel genetics is weird; there isn’t a lot of diversity in our appearances unless you starting adding DNA from other species.” she pulled Camila to her side so they were both facing the kids and smiled broadly; “You know, when Cassiel and I were kids, we looked almost totally identical! The only difference was I had straight hair while she had curly hair. We were basically twins, and the best of friends! Heck, our birthdays were within a week of each other!”

“Wait, you’re the same age as Camila?” Hanu asked bluntly, not knowing much about Angel aging.

“You bet! I’m a little sad we don’t look alike any more. Speaking of which, what the heck happened to you, Cassiel!? I don’t want to be rude, but you’ve aged like a human! And a stressed one too! Angels like us stop ageing in our twenties and don’t start again until the last century of our lives. You should still look like me!” Lazuliel frowned.

Camila huffed; “You’re as blunt and rude as ever! Though you’re not wrong. The stress of losing my lover, my husband, and almost my daughter has aged me a lot. If Michael and Manny had lived, and Luz hadn’t been born with her health troubles, I’d probably still look like you.”

That made Lazuliel’s face fall and she looked tearful; “I heard about that. I’m so sorry for your loss. I tried to get in to talk to you when you visited 15 years ago, but I wasn’t allowed. I got into a huge fight with Camael over it when I heard what he’d done. I couldn’t stand to be around him after that and transferred to Crest Chastity; I told him I couldn’t serve as a healer under a man who’d let someone die when he could help. So I take care of kids now; got good at it and now I’m a high-ranked High Angel.”

“Thank you, Laz. It means a lot to hear that from you.” Camila said, hugging her old friend once again.

Further introductions would have to wait though, as the Clerk from Crest Patience cleared her throat; “I apologise, but we must ensure the three defendants are under house arrest before we can continue our other duties. May we postpone the rest of your reunion until that point?”

Lazuliel nodded; “Very well. I’ve already sent my assigned Cherubs home for the day, so I can escort you all to my place. Follow me; it’s only a short walk from here.”

Camila smiled and gestured for the others to follow along with her as she walked beside Lazuliel. The walk really did turn out to be a short one; they left the park via the closest exit and walked just a couple of blocks until they reached a large apartment building that looked like a Japanese Pagoda with an Art Deco style finish applied to it. The interior of the lobby they arrived in was like that of a fancy 5 star hotel, and it amazed the teens as they looked around and were directed to a large crystal spire that run up the centre of the tower-like building. This spire was a tall empty tube that served as the “stairwell” allowing people to fly up to the other floors, so the group either flew up with their wings, their Palismen, or by hitching a ride with someone else. They flew all the way up to the top floor and arrived in a square room with a different apartment on each of the four walls. Lazuliel’s name was immediately visible on a plaque beside one of the doors, and the High Angel herself led them into it.

Camila and her group were pretty impressed by what they saw; it really was a high-end apartment! The main room was a single huge square room with the outward facing wall being completely made of glass doors that opened out onto a balcony with a sitting area. There was a large kitchenette against the wall beside the front door, and then a dining room set up on the left and a living room-like sitting area on the right, filling up the rest of the room. The place was sparsely decorated, but had a modern style similar to the USA. There were also six doors leading to other rooms, three on either side of the main room.

“Okay guys, welcome to my home! The doors on the left are the guest bathroom, the boys bedroom, and the recreation room. The doors on the right are the girls bedroom, my personal bedroom, and a currently unused guest room. All bedrooms have their own bathrooms, and the bedrooms themselves are enchanted to keep out members of the opposite sex. If you try and go in, you’ll be repelled! Currently the enchantment works solely on biological sex, so if that doesn’t align with any of your gender identities then let me know, and I’ll fix it to let you pass.” Lazuliel explained, “Feel free to look around, though you won’t be able to enter my room.”

The kids, who’d all introduced themselves on the walk over, immediately began looking around while Lazuliel and Camila turned to the Clerk and Knights that had escorted them. Lazuliel spoke formally; “I have accepted temporary custody of the defendants and the witnesses in their case. I will ensure they are cared for until the trial tomorrow, which I will ensure they attend in a timely manner. I have also made preparations to assume guardianship in the event of the Ultimate Sanction being handed down.”

That caused everyone in the room to turn to her in surprise, while the Clerk and Knights nodded and said their farewells, before leaving to get on with their duties. As soon as Lazuliel closed the door behind them, Camila frowned at her old friend.

“Laz, you’ve been assigned to be Luz’s guardian if she is sentenced to Reformation?”

“I have. Camael himself asked me to do it when the case against your daughter was first brought up following the Divider’s visit, a couple of months back. I agreed once I heard she was your daughter. It’s part of why I was able to buy this apartment; the pay that Guardians of the Reformed is pretty high since your charge has to take priority over everything else. The fact I’m a High Angel despite still being in my first century also marks me as a prodigy and I was able to convince Crest Chastity to institute some new programs to help increase the satisfaction of our Cherubs and prevent more cases of runaways like you.” Lazuliel explained; “The Union doesn’t like to admit it, but discontent with the system has grown in recent decades, and the number of people leaving the Union for the Free Cities has increased by a small, but steadily growing amount. My programs aim to fix that, and hopefully drum up support for new policies and laws to help combat the problem.”

“That sounds great!” Willow smiled, “Most of your society seems happy and pretty cool, but the bad stuff is downright messed up!”

Lazuliel nodded; “I can agree with you there, Willow! My programs are also why I have dorm-style rooms, as I sometimes host little events here and my assigned kids stay over. But enough politics; let me show you around!”

The others nodded and were shown around the apartment, with the sole exception of Lazuliel’s bedroom. The boys’ and girls’ bedrooms were identical to each other, being a long room (magically enchanted to be bigger on the inside) that had ten comfy looking beds, each with their own desk and chair on one side, and wardrobe on the other. The guest bedroom (which Lazuliel reluctantly confessed would be Luz’s bedroom if she was Reformed) had a similar set up to the other rooms, but also had a crib alongside the bed and a wardrobe full of baby clothes.

“It’s almost like they’ve already sentenced Luz long before we got here.” Hunter frowned.

“It’s standard procedure. Everything needs to be prepared long before the trial, so we’re not scrambling at the last moment to set things up. If Luciel isn’t Reformed, which I sincerely hope is the case, then this stuff will either be returned or remain here until I take in another Reformed Cherub. You’ll find that they’ve also got Knight Squads assigned to hand Amity and King over to the Boiling Isles Government, even though it’s the last thing they want to to.” Lazuliel answered.

“You guys take the rules WAY too seriously…” Treble commented, getting no arguments from the Angel.

Lazuliel shrugged; “You’re not wrong, but it has kept our society peaceful and thriving for thousands of years. It’s our inability to change with the times that is hurting us now… our culture is the same now has it was centuries ago! But enough about that, let me show you the rest of the apartment!”

There was only one room left to see, which was the recreation room, which had a large crystal projector in the middle of the room (the equivalent of a TV or Crystal Ball), and shelves filled with books and games of all kinds, plus a lot of comfy seating. There was even a couple of chests filled with toys for younger Cherubs, which only really interested King. It looked like a fun place to hang out though, and if the situation had been better, the Hexsquad would have loved to spend time there, just having fun together.

With the tour completed, Lazuliel decided to get to work on dinner, which she was making for everyone. Camila quickly volunteered to help, as did everyone else since they’d be making a meal for a large number of people, so Lazuliel took the opportunity to teach them all some Angelic Recipes while filling Camila in on what had been happening in the Divine Realm since she ran away, and listening to Camila’s own story of the last two decades. Lazuliel had been extremely sympathetic and gave her condolences to her and Luz, and the Noceda Angels had been grateful for her kind words.

Lazuliel’s own past over the last twenty years had been fairly tame; she’d remained with Crest Kindness until she was 19, transferring to Chastity after her blow-up with Camael. She’d been training her magic rigorously to blow off steam and pent-up aggression, which led to her defeating a Quetzalcoatl that had gone wild during a visit to Virtus Castitas. The emotions of that battle and all her training led her to becoming a High Angel at only 23 years old, which was a stunning achievement! Lazuliel also revealed that she’d had a child of her own after being requested to. Her child, a son named Alastael, was currently 6 and being raised in Crest Chastity as was common for all Cherubs, though Lazuliel visited him frequently which was one of the conditions she’d demanded. Part of her proposed reforms was allowing parents greater access to their own children if they wished it, and she was using herself as a case study (plus she genuinely did love the boy). She didn’t know who the father was (she’d been made pregnant via IVF), but since the father hadn’t opted to be involved in Alastael’s life beyond having his DNA used to create the boy, that was no surprise.

Following this conversation, dinner was served and they all sat down together for quite a feast as the afternoon turned into evening. The Hexsquad had a lot of experience with Angelic Food thanks to Camila, but this was Hanu and Treble’s first time experiencing it, and they found it tasty, but bizarre. During the meal, they took turns telling Lazuliel about some of their adventures in the Demon Realm, their fights with Belos and his Coven System, their involvement with the Divider, and how Luz evolved rapidly to an Arch-Angel within the space of three months thanks to the power of the Titans.

Lazuliel was still reeling from it all by the time she was carrying their empty dishes back to the kitchen and having them wash themselves with a spell; “It really is incredible what you kids have been doing! Coven Heads, Supreme Dragons, Grimwalkers, Titan Slayers, Black Tombs, and Basilisks… You’ve experienced more excitement in a year than most Angels do in their 1000 year life spans!”

“It hasn’t all gone well at times though…” Luz admitted, eyes downcast as she thought about her mistakes and the trouble they’d caused.

Lazuliel frowned sympathetically; she hadn’t missed Luz’s obvious depression and self-loathing throughout their conversations. She was trained to look after kids, so she could see it a mile away and knew that in her current state, Luz needed to do some soul-searching and work through her guilt. There was something unsettling in the way the girl acted, almost like she’d given up entirely but was still marching forward and trying to help because it’s all she knows how to do.

The High Angel really hoped Luz wouldn’t be Reformed after the trial tomorrow, so she and her friends in Crest Chastity could finally give her some proper therapy. Camila and the kids weren’t therapists after all, and Luz couldn’t exactly talk to a Human Therapist since her issues were heavily tied into the different realms. Maybe Lazuliel could try to use that as a defence for Luz at her trial? It could help earn her some sympathy at least.

“You’ve all had a very difficult time of it. It’s incredibly impressive that you’ve all fought through so much! But you need to cut yourself some slack; nobody is perfect, and we Angels are no different.” Laz said to all the kids, before looking to Luz in particular. “And look, I dearly hope that tomorrow doesn’t end with your Reformation. I think it’d be a tragic loss of epic proportions… but I want you to know that in that horrible, awful event, you have my word that I will do anything and everything in my power to take care of you. Even beyond my job for Crest Chastity, I want to see you happy! Your Mami is like a sister to me, so I see you like my niece. We Angels have precious little when it comes to family.”

Luz gave a weak smile; “You’ll take care of me, huh? I see… thank you, Tia Lazuli.” she said, giving the woman a new nickname. Lazuliel smiled happily at that and gave Luz a pat on the back.

“You know, we actually are related pretty closely too. Camael told me that he’s my grandfather, the same as Cassiel, so that makes me and your Mami cousins, and you my first cousin, once removed.” she revealed. She then turned to Vee; “The same goes for you, Vee. Though we obviously don’t share any blood at all. You can call me Auntie too, or Tia if you prefer!”

Vee nodded happily, while Luz’s smile grew a little and the rest of the group laughed and began joking about expanding the complex family tree of the Nocedas and Clawthornes.

“When did you find out we were cousins?” Camila asked.

Lazuliel frowned; “The day I found out about you and your husband’s visit to the Divine Realm.”

“Camael revealed it when you said you wanted to leave his order, right?” Camila asked knowingly.

“Got it in one, Cassie! That old buzzard is completely shameless! Considering he’s over a millennia old, I’m pretty sure there are hundreds of his grandchildren running around, if not way more.”

The two old friends grumbled to one another, and a moment later there was a knock at the door. Lazuliel went to answer it, and her face fell into a scowl the instant she saw that it was Lord Camael.

Narrowing her eyes, Lazuliel spoke; “What’s that human saying? “Speak of the Devil and he shall appear”? Guess it’s more accurate than I thought.”

Camael winced; “Was that truly necessary, Lazuliel? I’m not here for an argument, but to see your cousin and the three young Defendants. May I come in?”

“Fine, but the moment you start your emotional manipulation BS, I’m kicking you out! I’ve been tasked with the well-being of these people, and that includes their emotions!” Lazuliel warned, before stepping aside and letting Camael into the apartment. He was met by a sea of scowls and narrowed eyes, which was quite the unusual experience for a Seraphim, who tended to be revered and looked upon favourably.

“Good evening everyone. I apologise for interrupting your time together, but I’ve come to discuss important matters regarding the trial tomorrow.” he said.

“The Plea Bargain stuff, right?” Boscha asked, crossing her arms.

Camael simply nodded, then gestured to the sitting area out on the balcony. “Why don’t we discuss it out there, and watch the sunset?”

Luz nodded stiffly and followed him out onto the balcony, followed by Amity, King, Camila, and Lazuliel. The others were asked to stay inside, though they would be watching and listening through the windows. Once they all sat down, Camael pulled out his communication mirror and set it on the table.

“Alright, I take it the three of you have been informed about the concept of a Plea Bargain?” he got three nods and continued; “Well I’ll be frank; no one on the Council of Seraphim is happy about this situation. The law is clear; this was a Capital Crime and must be punished as such, and since there is no evidence that you were controlled in anyway, we really can’t excuse it without breaking the law ourselves. The evidence against you is overwhelming and you’ve not even tried to deny committing the crime, just excusing it, so a guilty verdict is almost assured. You’ve been made aware of the legal penalty for these crimes, but we of the Council of Seraphim do not want to see you three children suffer such severe fates, so we are eager for a Plea Bargain to be made.” Camael said seriously.

“We’ve got a potential offer that might satisfy you.” Amity said; “Our penalty needs to provide more value than the current one, right? Then we suggest this; send the three of us back to the Demon Realm and let us deal with the Divider. If we succeed, then we’ll have undone the very act we’ve been accused of. And if we fail, then the Divider will have carried out your sentence for you.”

Camael’s eyes widened; “You suggest a suicide mission? You are aware that we don’t even have the resources needed to seal the Divider like last time, aren’t you? Three adult Titans were needed back then, and we only have one borderline infant one now. Should you fail, then yourself and the last Titan will fall into the Divider’s hands with your magic intact, making it worse for us than the current penalty. Not to mention that if Luciel is lost, all the value the Union gets from her would be given to the Divider on a silver platter!”

“We won’t fail! We can do it! We’ve beaten the odds before!” King declared confidently.

The Seraphim leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment, before turning to his fellow Angels; “What do the three of you think?”

“I think it’s the only shot we have at ending this debacle without heartbreak.” Lazuliel said.

“It’s worth a try. Surely it’s better than the suffering you’d be inflicting with your current plans?” Camila agreed.

“I want a chance to make things right. If you’ll agree, I’ll go and face the Divider. It’s the least I can do for releasing him.” Luz said, her tone worrying everyone at the table.

Camael didn’t look convinced, but went to his mirror; “I will send your suggestion to the rest of the Council. If a majority agrees, then the plea will be accepted. And for the record, I will offer my own agreement. I do not believe the alternative is just.”

The group smiled at him for the first time as he sent a message to the rest of the Seraphim, then waited as the sun began to set in the distance. A few moments after the message was sent, there were six different chime sounds as the replies were sent one after the other, with the sixth coming in a few seconds after the others.

Camael’s resulting frown made everyone’s hearts sink. “The plea is denied. Myself, Lord Barachiel, and Lord Raguel of Crest Charity accepted, but the remaining four Seraphim refused. I am sorry.”

“But why!? If they don’t want to punish us but are bound to by the law, why not just accept any plea at all!?” King demanded.

“We are required by law to only accept a plea that provides greater value to the Union than the prescribed punishments. The risk vs reward of your plea was just not worth it. A guarantee of the youngest Arch-Angel in the history of the Union being added to our ranks VS the guaranteed loss of her, with a miniscule chance of the Divider also being defeated? It just doesn’t add up. Plus, the attack on the hearing earlier has been considered highly suspicious and the Council is torn on whether or not you are in league with the Divider and the attack was an attempted rescue.”

“You can’t really think we had anything to do with that!?” Amity yelled; “Our friends fought to stop the attack along with you!”

“And the whole reason we were all trapped in the Human Realm is because the Divider forced us there when we refused to join up with him!” Luz argued.

“I’m sorry Luciel. I don’t believe you’re guilty of helping the Divider and the Seraphim agree not to charge you with being in league with him, but the suspicion cannot be avoided. The timing and location was just too perfect to pass as a random assault.” Camael said soothingly.

Luz lowered her head miserably; “I just want to get my friends and little brother back home, and fix what I broke… why does this have to be so complicated?”

Camila stroked her daughter’s back to comfort her, then looked her grandfather in the eye; “If our plea has been rejected, what plea has the Council offered?”

The Seraphim snapped his fingers and summoned a scroll, which he began to read from; “The Council’s offer is thus: Amity Blight will be spend one year in the joint custody of Crest Diligence and Crest Kindness while we study her biology to better understand the magical abilities of Witches. This will include the taking of hair and blood samples but no invasive procedures nor any kind of experimentation. Upon the completion of this year of study, she will be released to the Boiling Isles and forbidden from ever again passing through a Portal Gate constructed by the Union. A sealing mark will be placed somewhere on her body to ensure the gates do not let her pass.”

Amity’s eyes widened, while the others gaped. This deal already sounded bad!

“King Clawthorne-Noceda will remain permanently within the Divine Realm so that the Union may carefully observe and aid in the growth of the Titan Population. This is to ensure the survival of their race, as well as to keep the power of the Titans out of the Divider’s hands. He will also be studied humanely and with non-invasive methods to find a way to nullify the magic of a Sephiroth. Contact with family members in either any of the three realms will be permitted. Officially, he will become a citizen of the Crest Unions.”

King growled; so the Angels would keep him prisoner too! Sure they weren’t using that word, but it amounted to the same thing.

“Luciel of Crest Kindness will take on the position of Ophanim to myself, the current Seraphim of Crest Kindness. She will serve the Crest Union loyally for the remainder of her life, with the ultimate goal of replacing myself as Seraphim of Crest Kindness upon the completion of my term. She will also be forbidden from leaving the Divine Realm except when necessary to do her duty as either Ophanim or Seraphim. Until her majority and for a period of ten years afterwards, she will be in the joint custody of myself and Lazuliel of Crest Chastity. In addition, Cassiel of Crest Kindness will return to the service of the Union. Her adopted daughter Vee will be permitted citizenship and residence in the Divine Realm with her mother. Contact with family members will be permitted. In return for these terms, the Council of Seraphim also agree to drop all charges against Edalyn Clawthorne for her own part in violating the Treaty of Division, though she will not be allowed to enter the Divine Realm for any reason.” Camael finally finished.

Luz wasn’t too surprised by the terms of her own punishment, especially compared to Amity and King. She was still horrified however and objected vehemently.

“You can’t do that! If King and I can’t leave the Divine Realm and Mom can’t enter it, then we’ll be separated from her forever! And Amity too! She’s my girlfriend, you can’t just expect us to never see each other again! Plus, you’re punishing Mami by forcing her back into the Crest Orders even though she’s not a criminal AND you’re forcing Vee to join you if she doesn’t want to lose her Mama! But joining you would take her away from her human friends! Plus King and I will lose all our friends too! It’s way too much!”

“It is a harsh penalty, but it is still less severe than the alternative. Am I to take it from your reactions that you reject this deal?” Camael asked.

Luz, Amity, and King didn’t even get a chance to answer, as the rest of their friends had finally had enough of listening from the sidelines and rushed out onto the balcony too to give the Seraphim a piece of their minds, with only Hanu and Treble keeping silent since they were so new to the situation. However they still stood with them for moral support.

“You guys are totally out of line! You outright said your council didn’t like punishing them for this, but instead of taking a legal way out, you rejected it and stuck them with an awful choice!?” Skara yelled.

“For the so-called good guys, you’re coming off as real bullies!” Matt sneered, “You’re treating three kids like tools you can threaten and squeeze the most value out of!”

“It’s messed up! I actually feel sick to my stomach seeing this, and I was a real Witch with a capital B not that long ago!” Boscha spat, looking ready to attack; “This punishment is almost worse than the original! I bet even the Divider wouldn’t treat Amity and King like science experiments!”

“It’s blatant emotional manipulation on your part too!” Hunter said, crimson eyes full of hatred; “You revealed that you’re Aunt Camila’s and Miss Lazuliel’s grandfather to try and make them do as you say when they were upset, and now you’re trying to act like the “Good Guard” while pushing our friends into a living Hell! Has Belos been giving you tips as part of his own Plea Bargain!?”

Lyra nodded vehemently, then yelled; “You want to tear apart a family for nothing more than the gain of your own union! It doesn’t matter what logic you use; that’s evil!”

“Not to mention that trying to drag Camila into this by giving her a penalty too.” Gus said as he glared; “There is no logical reason to do that, but I think we both know the Union is just trying to get back one of its lost “resources” and is threatening a horrible punishment for her daughter to get their way!”

“And if you think Luz, Amity, and King releasing the Divider threatens the treaty, then oh boy, you’ve got no idea what’ll happen when everyone back home finds out about what you’re planning to do.” Willow openly threatened, trying very hard not to lose control of her magic; “Do you think the Demon Realm will accept you kidnapping the last Titan on a flimsy charge? Not to mention how Eda will react to you keeping her kids from her, and what the Blights and Lilith will do when they hear you kept Amity for a year to study her like some animal! The CATTs will declare war and Luz has helped enough people on the Isles that the entire place may very well join them! They may even join forces with the Divider for real, and then you’ll never have any hope of defeating him!”

Vee nodded with a dark expression; “Willow is right. Do the smart thing and just let Luz, Amity, and King go. Banish them from the Divine Realm forever if you have to feel like you’ve punished them, because there’s no amount of value they can give that’ll be worth what you lose when the Divider and Demon Realm rise up to war.”

Camael stared at the Hexsquad and Vee with hard eyes, though his skin had paled a bit. He wasn’t sure if they were bluffing or not, but he wouldn’t put it past them… Witches and Demons weren’t motivated by the common good like Angels were; they were motivated by their own emotions and bonds. They may very well stoke the flames of war themselves and burn down both their realms to save or avenge their friends.

Seeing him hesitate, Amity, King, and Camila decided to twist the knife.

“I won’t be having any kids if you imprison me, my sister, or my future sister-in-law. So you do this, and you’ll cause the extinction of the Titan Race! I wonder if that’d violate your precious treaty, since you’d be causing the death of the Titans!” King threatened.

“And just how do you expect to beat the Divider without the power of the Titans anyway? Because news flash; all the remaining Titan power left in existence is sat right next to me. Luz and King are all that’s left of it, and you won’t be beating the Divider without them!” Amity smiled coldly.

Camila nodded; “I think this conversation is over, Grandfather; we reject your bargain. You rejected ours because you chose a guarantee of getting my daughter over a slim chance at beating the Divider… well here’s the reality of your choice; you go ahead with this plan and you lose no matter what. Reform Luz, and she’ll never grow up in time to be of use to you, as the Divider will conquer the Union and reunite the worlds before that can happen, and you’ll have made an enemy of the only other hope of stopping him!”

Camael paled further, and Lazuliel smirked a little wider; the man’s bargain had obviously been devised by the Council of Seraphim to get the most value for them by exploiting the defendants’ fears of the original penalty. But they’d pushed it too hard… bizarrely hard actually. Come to think of it; the bargain offered was too ludicrous to ever be truly considered, making Lazuliel wonder if this had been an attempt to start a negotiation of some kind? But that was strange in itself; the Seraphim didn’t normally play games like this. Her smirk fell as she began to smell a rat, and the reaction from Camael made it worse.

The man looked down in shame; “I am sorry that you all feel this way… to be totally transparent, I disagree with this bargain. I would have protested, but it was signed by five of the seven members of the Council, and co-signed by ten of the Thrones; our retired Seraphim predecessors that finished their 1000 year terms as leaders of the Crest Unions. With such strong support, my voice would achieve nothing in this instance. Only myself and Lord Raguel of Crest Charity refused to sign it!” he confessed, clearly frustrated. “I will not deny my mistakes in how I used my blood relation to Cassiel and Lazuliel to try and keep them from leaving my order… but I did that out of genuine affection and a selfish desire to not see them leave. Crest Kindness is my family, so for my blood relations to choose to leave feels like losing a family member twice over. You have my apologies for the way I used our relation to manipulate you, but that apology is all I can give.”

Seeing the man’s genuine regret took some of the wind out of everyone’s sails, as it became harder to be angry at a man who openly admitted to being against this decision they were mad at.

“So what do we do now? Do we continue to exchange plea bargains until we’re satisfied? Or do we take the mutually assured destruction route?” Lazuliel asked.

“I… don’t know. Most Plea Bargains are very generous, to inspire gratitude in a criminal and make them more willing to work hard on redemption. Negotiations don’t often happen.” Camael said, going for his mirror and sending a message to his fellow Seraphim. The message he got in response was not a good one however.

“Most of the others have replied that the bargain they offered is already incredibly generous given the circ*mstances. They won’t offer anything lighter, or else it won’t qualify as a punishment by law.” he said.

“So our only choice is to have them plead not guilty and hope to win the trial?” Amity asked.

Lazuliel shook her head; “Impossible. This is a trial before the Council, and you’ve all basically confessed your guilt.”

“So what are we supposed to do? It feels like we keep getting flashes of hope only for them to be dashed!” Lyra cried, becoming emotional as she didn’t know how to deal with all the ups and downs she’d experienced today.

Camael had no answers for her, but Lazuliel had one potential idea.

Turning to the teens, the High Angel said; “Listen, Luz, Amity, and King are under house arrest but all of you can leave whenever you wish; you have free reign of all public areas of the city so long as you’re witnesses. You should go out to a public place and peacefully protest; drum up some support for your friends’ case. If the public outcry is strong enough, the Seraphim will be forced to re-evaluate things.”

“And that would help?” Willow asked.

“It could.” Camael chimed in; “The Council is answerable to the people. If enough people speak out, my fellow Seraphim could be forced to at least delay the trial and give us time to find a better solution. They may even be willing to renegotiate the plea bargain.”

The Hexsquad exchanged looks, then nodded resolutely. “Alright! It’s our only plan, so we’ll do it!” Skara declared.

“Yeah! We’ll have the entire city against the trial!” Matt grinned.

“Just be careful to keep it peaceful! Do not try inciting a riot or rebellion, or you’ll lose support.” Lazuliel warned.

“Your best bet would be the Divine Crossroads. It’s the busiest place at this time of day. So long as you’re not obstructing anyone or inciting violence, you should be fine.” Camael said, before adding with a frown; “I can’t assist you I’m afraid. I am already skirting the conflict of interest laws by telling you this much.”

The Hexsquad nodded and didn’t hesitate to summon their staves and prepare to fly off right from the balcony. Camila and Vee decided to stay behind with Luz, Amity, and King, while Hanu and Treble decided to accompany the Hexsquad to help with their protest.

As they prepared to fly off, the Hexsquad promised their friends that they’d gather support for them, before finally taking off and flying fast to the Divine Crossroads. Once they were gone, an awkward silence filled the balcony, until King got up and began to stomp off.

“I don’t want to be around these Seraphim any more!” he declared, before running off to the recreation room. A few minutes later, they all heard a muffled squeak of rage as King worked out his frustration by throwing a bit of a tantrum. It would have been cute if the mood wasn’t so dire.

Camael took this as his moment to excuse himself, but before he could actually announce his departure, Luz piped up for the first time in a while.

“Lord Camael, can I talk to you about something in private, please?” she asked.

“Of course. Do you really want it to be just you and I though?” he replied.

Luz gave a nod, her expression curiously blank despite the desperation in her eyes. Camila, Vee, and Amity didn’t look happy about this, but they would respect Luz’s choice and left the balcony to head back inside the apartment, with Lazuliel following closely behind. Both she and Camila gave Camael warning looks not to upset Luz further, then once they were gone Camael placed a silencing spell around them to ensure no eavesdropping.

With that done, he looked Luz in the eye and tried to look as much like a caring grandfather as he could; “What is it you want, Luciel?” he asked.

Luz looked down at her hands for a moment, then looked back into Camael’s eyes. He flinched as he saw how dull and hopeless the girl’s golden eyes had become.

“I want to save my friends and family. Nothing else matters.”

Camael’s heart sank; he didn’t like where this was going…



The setting sun had fully dipped beneath the horizon and turned the sky an inky black by the time the Hexsquad arrived at the Divine Crossroads again. Despite it being night time now, the city was so well lit that the streets, parks, and buildings were all as clear as day, with the gold parts of the buildings seeming to actually radiate light. The atmosphere of the city had changed too, as Angels who’d finished a long day of work went out to enjoy themselves in much the same way people did in the Human and Demon Realms. There were restaurants and bars that were becoming packed, and each district they passed through was filled with the sounds of music and laughter, once again creating the image of paradise that the Hexsquad had been seeing on and off since their arrival. They weren’t as enraptured by it this time though; the scales had fallen from their eyes and they remained focused on their goal of helping their friends!

Walking into the Divine Crossroads and going to the centre of the atrium, they began using their magic to draw people’s attention. Gus and Matt created large illusions, Skara used whistles to make people take notice, and Hunter and Boscha used their own magic to create fireworks to keep their attention. Willow and Hanu used plant magic to make large wooden signs covered in flowers that formed the phrases “Protest against injustice!” and “Spare the Innocent!”, while Treble and Lyra just used their unique appearances to make people want to come over and talk to them. A lot of the people who began paying attention were mostly fascinated by Lyra, due to her being a Black-Winged Angel, and while many questioned her about her existence and rarity, the growing crowd was willing to listen to what they all had to say.

The Hexsquad began telling everyone about the situation; about the Treaty of Division and the things they’d learned in the hearing, and how Luz, Amity, and King stood to have their lives ruined for a crime that no one even remembered. Their words had initially been met with disbelief and accusations of lying, seeing as most of them were witches or demons, but when Lyra said they’d heard it all directly from the Seraphim themselves, people were forced to take notice. An Angel couldn’t easily lie, so a person’s word carried a lot more weight in the Divine Realm. The reactions morphed from disbelief to horror, and many began asking if they could sign a petition or something to let their voices be heard. An ecstatic Willow had grown a large tree and invited the angels to carve their names and signatures into its bark, and it didn’t take long for angels to begin covering the thing in their names. Some even joined the peaceful protest and worked to get more attention, while others left and promised to spread the message to their friends throughout the unions. Even some of the Knights keeping an eye on their protest to make sure it didn’t get out of hand decided to sign their names, moved by the Hexsquad’s impassioned defence of their friends. Within an hour, hundreds of Angels had agreed to attend the trial if they were allowed, all in support of Luz, Amity, and King, who garnered even more interest by being the youngest Arch-Angel on record, an Angel’s witch lover with an affinity for Light Magic (which was almost as rare for Demon Realm residents as Dark affinities were for Angels), and the last of the Titan Race.

It wasn’t totally smooth sailing though. Some Angels had shown sympathy but refused to support the protest, repeating the Seraphim’s words and their position of “The Law is the Law and cannot be defied or ignored”. Others were more hostile, claiming the trio deserved to be punished for the trouble the Divider was causing, citing those injured in the various attacks by the Distorted Shadows and the damages they caused. Sure no one had been killed and the injuries and damage were easily cleaned up, but the chaos and disruption they caused definitely had the Angels on edge.

To make a bad situation worse, there was actually another Distorted Shadow attack while the Hexsquad was at the Divine Crossroads, and like the one at the Patience Court, this one seemed suspiciously timed as the shadowy monsters descended from the sky and attacked the Crossroads. The Hexsquad had flown into action to assist the Knights and other Angels in fighting back the monsters, and the attack ended up only lasting about ten minutes. The sheer number of Angels at the Crossroads meant that the damage was limited, as all but the larger shadows were totally obliterated within seconds. There were very few injuries, and the Hexsquad used their limited healing potions and magic to help fix up the people who got hurt, but the entire attack had caused a greater divide among the Angels who’d been watching the protest. Some believed that the Hexsquad were the targets of the attack and deserved either sympathy or exile so they didn’t bring trouble to the Union. Others believed they caused the attack intentionally so they could defeat it to garner more support, while others saw it as a random attack and commended the Hexsquad for defending them. Lyra had said she and her friends had nothing to do with the attack, which at least killed that second theory, but she couldn’t deny they may have been the targets of the attack.

Overall, the attack had increased both the support they received for their friends, and the distrust they received as well, shrinking the number of neutral Angels as more and more took sides. Debates began to occur and the Hexsquad got to see another difference between their home realm and the Divine Realm, as Angels would generally debate things calmly rather than rioting, and if someone started to get too heated and emotional, their debate partner would stop and they’d all take a moment to calm down. It was bizarre, but interesting to see.

These debates continued until it finally drew the attention of an unexpected visitor; another of the Council of Seraphim.

“My my, what a lively series of debates!” came a jovial sounding man’s voice from behind the crowd.

Immediately, the debates stopped and the Angels all turned and moved aside, while bowing their heads politely as the Seraphim walked forward to stand in front of the Hexsquad.

This Seraphim was a tall man and fairly muscular, being only a little leaner than the buff Barachiel. He had light coloured skin of a similar complexion to Matt’s, and had a fairly handsome face too, with a defined nose and sharp golden eyes. His white hair was shoulder length and hung loosely in a similar way to Rasiel’s, but he also had a full beard of short white bristles that covered a good portion of his face. His Divine Regalia was an elegant and intricate tunic of ivory white with some gold detailing on the shoulders and the cuffs of his sleeves, but mostly silver patterns woven throughout the tunic itself, making him stand out from the usual gold that dominated the other Seraphim’s regalia. His lower body was clad in loose fitting white pants with a gold belt and hem, while the tunic connected to a lower body robe that flowed around the side and back of his legs and had the same gold edge and silver detailing as the tunic itself. Unlike the other Seraphim, he had jewellery in the form of a single earring shaped like a golden feather hanging from his left ear, and the halo that hung behind his head took the shape of dozens of solid light circles that overlapped one another to form the ring shape of his halo.

Knowing how important the Seraphim were, the Hexsquad were polite as they briefly bowed their heads to the man, and the man smiled a little wider.

“I see you’ve decided to peacefully protest your friends’ situation?” he said.

“Yes, sir.” Lyra said, acting as the spokesman of the group so they would be believed. “We can’t accept the cruel punishments the Seraphim have tried to suggest for our friends. The Plea Bargain you offered was incredibly unfair and would tear apart families and relationships.”

Her voice had quivered a little as she was still quite shy, but she managed to not stutter! The Seraphim smiled even wider.

“Oh, you are a gem! A Black-Winged Angel, and one with such a big heart! I would love to recruit you into my own Crest Order! But I’m getting ahead of myself! Introductions are in order.” he bowed flamboyantly, his eight wings spreading wide behind him before he straightened up again; “I am Lord Raguel of Crest Charity. I oversee every single bit of commerce and weave the complicated tapestry that is the Union Economy. It is a pleasure.”

Hearing Raguel’s name made the others smile; this was the only Seraphim besides Camael and Barachiel to agree to the Hexsquad’s proposed plea bargain, and the only one besides Camael to refuse to sign the Council’s own bargain!

“Nice to meet you, Lord Raguel! Would you be interested in helping us? We know you didn’t agree with the Council’s plea bargain.” Lyra asked.

Raguel’s smile became guilty; “I’m sorry, but as a Seraphim on the Council it would be unbecoming of me to publicly denounce the decision of my colleagues. We must provide a united front, lest we invite dissent into the Union.”

The Hexsquad’s faces fell, but Raguel tried to cheer them up by patting Lyra on the head and saying; “But your loyalty to your friends is truly admirable. I will listen favourably to your friends’ defence at the trial tomorrow! You have my word that I will vote for what is right, for the good of all our Realms.”

“Thank you, Lord Raguel. It’s nice to know we’ll have at least one person on our side at the trial.” Lyra said.

The man chuckled in reply; “Well I am the Seraphim of Charity! Generosity is something I live to embody! Just as Gabriel is eternally patient, Barachiel is tirelessly diligent, and Camael is incredibly kind! And don’t even get me started on the ladies on the council! Speaking of, it really would be remise of not to at least try to recruit you, young lady. A Black-Winged Angel is a rarity and often a sign of good luck!”

“It is?” Lyra asked, blushing a little as Gus and Hunter grinned at her.

“Of course! They say a Black-Winged Angel is able to better connect to the Celestial Bodies of the Heavens, making them Heaven-Blessed. Such Angels are immaculate at Divination! If you’re interested at all, I would love to have you join Crest Charity. Perhaps you could even become my Ophanim one day!” Lord Raguel praised.

Lyra looked bashful at the positive attention, especially since the people in the crowd from the other six Crest Orders looked a little disappointed that she was being scouted by a Seraphim directly, while the Crest Charity Angels all looked ecstatic and excited, probably thinking there is no way Lyra would refuse such an invitation.

However Hunter stepped forward and put an arm around his sister protectively, as he asked; “What exactly do you mean by Ophanim? The Divider asked Luz to be his Ophanim, though she refused, and part of the Plea Bargain the council sent her was for Luz to become Camael’s Ophanim instead. What is an Ophanim?”

“Oh, an Ophanim is basically one of the Seven Seraphim’s apprentices. The Seraphim of the Council may each take a high-ranking or powerful Angel of their order and personally train them to be their successor once their 1000 year terms are complete. Most Ophanim are Arch-Angels or Seraphim, but lower ranked Angels may be given the title by Council Seraphim with a long time left to serve, so they have time to ascend to the rank of Seraphim themselves.” Raguel explained; “The young lady here can’t be older than 13, yet she’s already a full Angel, so I suspect her development to the higher ranks will be fairly quick.”

Hunter hummed; “So an Ophanim is the apprentice of a Seraphim, and replaces them as leader of their Crest Order when their mentors retire?”

“Yep, and the retired Seraphim takes the title of “Throne” and becomes an advisor, on top of returning to the normal duties of their order.” Raguel nodded. “Now what do you say, young lady? Care to join Crest Charity? I don’t currently have an Ophanim and I’ve only been Lord of the Order for about 100 years! Think you can reach Seraphim Rank within 900 years?” he asked with a playful wink.

Lyra shook her head shyly; “I appreciate the offer Lord Raguel, but I have to decline. My place is in the Demon Realm with my friends and family.”

Raguel’s smile drooped a little, but didn’t disappear completely. “As you wish. My offer remains open! Well, I should get out of your hair! I’m quite busy after all, and I shall see you at the trial tomorrow! Good luck, my young friends!”

With that, he turned and began to walk away, humming a little and nodding to his fellow angels as he disappeared into one of the branches of the tree-like crossroads. The Hexsquad exchanged curious looks; hadn’t Raguel come to see them because of the protest? Or because of the very recent attack? Yet he hadn’t mentioned the former at all, and was now off doing something else in the crossroads. It was curious, but the Hexsquad were willing to write it off as the man just talking to them while on his way to do something else. Treble was too, but Hanu wasn’t so sure.

Growing up as the illegitimate daughter of a noble and his mistress, then as a servant/apprentice/plaything of Terra Snapdragon’s, Hanu had learned to be observant when it came to dealing with the powerful. Their friendliness always seemed just a little more forced, a little less natural than the average person’s, as if it was a well cultivated mask. Like a pretty flower to hide the stench beneath it. She was sure Raguel’s interactions had an ulterior motive to them, and decided to find out what.

“I’m going to step out for a bit. You stay with the others.” she told Treble. The Basilisk was surprised but didn’t argue, just watching the Macaque girl hurry off through the crowd in the direction that Raguel had walked off in. She quickly conjured up some Swift Saffron and Chameleon Camomile, then inhaled their pollen to make her move quicker and make her body slowly change colour to match her surroundings, like a real chameleon. She hastily rushed down the hallway Raguel had entered and found him at the very end. She darted after him as quickly and silently as he could and observed him turning a corner and taking a short flight of stairs up to a small off-shoot hallway with only a few old Portal Gates.

Hanu immediately noticed that there were no other Angels here; no Knights, no Guides, no anything, and the hall itself looked a little more rundown than the rest of the crossroads, similar to the one they’d first arrived in that afternoon. That immediately made Hanu more suspicious, as she crept closer to Raguel, ducking into alcoves whenever she could to ensure she wasn’t seen. Raguel suspected nothing however, and reached a gate at the very end of this offshoot hall, and promptly opened it with a keystone, before stepping through. Hanu blinked in surprise, wondering where the man was going, before rushing towards the gate and peeking through it.

The gate lead to a Transport Hub just like the one they’d passed through earlier, only this time it had only two other gates; one that seemed to lead to a cold place in the Human Realm (based on the snowflake emblem engraved on the top of the gate), and the other that lead to a Titan Landmass in the Demon Realm. Hanu watched as Raguel approached the apparatus in the centre of the hub and turned it on to open the Demon Realm portal. With his back to her, Hanu took the opportunity to fully step through the portal and hide behind the stone of the archway, remaining very still so the pollen of the Chameleon Camomile could hide her effectively.

Strangely, Raguel did not actually pass through the gate he’d just opened and instead waited patiently for something else to come through. They were waiting for only about a minute before a figure stepped through, and Hanu took a good look at them. They appeared to be an Angel woman, with oddly discoloured wings that were more grey than white. The woman was dressed head to toe in a red and gold dress with white armoured segments layered over the top, and with her hair hidden beneath a red hood that had two wing-like ornaments where the ears should be, and her face was hidden behind a mask that resembled the helmets worn by Angel Knights. She was also quite tall at over 6ft, and there was something strange about the way she walked, though Hanu couldn’t get a good look at her legs since the contraption in the middle of the hub was blocking her view of them.

“Apologies for keeping you waiting, Lord Raguel. Some of the children began to pout when I said I had to go.” the woman said, her voice distorted by a spell on the mask.

“Think nothing of it, my Lady Valkyrie. I have been here only a few moments. I was actually late myself due to running into Young Luz’s charming little friends.” Raguel chuckled; “A delightful bunch, so eager to save their friends. It’s a shame their efforts won’t amount to anything. No amount of protests and signatures will be able to pressure the Council into changing their minds. The trial has even been dubbed serious enough to warrant it being closed to the public. No one but witnesses, the Council, the Thrones, and their Ophanim are allowed in.”

Valkyrie went still and answered emotionlessly; “It must be terrible to watch Luz, King, and Amity suffering, and their friends fighting in-vain to save them, but it is necessary for the Lord Divider’s Paradise to be realised.”

Raguel nodded; “Indeed. Speaking of, have their been any updates on our lord?”

Hanu’s eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth to stop her gasp of surprise from being audible. Raguel was working with the Divider!? Was that why he’d approved the bargains that sent them all back to the Demon Realm, but rejected the one that kept Luz, Amity, and King trapped in the Divine Realm!? Was he plotting against the Union from the inside!?

“Lord Divider has still not returned to the Isles. He set up the defensive countermeasures against the Archivists in case they snuck past him, then departed to find them. We’ve had no word on them or him though.” Valkyrie answered.

“Unfortunate, but at least that means I can handle the Luz situation before he returns.” Raguel replied.

Valkyrie shifted uncomfortably; “I’m sorry to question you again, Lord Raguel, but are you really sure that Lord Divider would approve of this plan? He wanted Luz and the others left alone in the Human Realm. He revealed himself to the Seraphim Council specifically to threaten them into keeping away from them, yet you’ve manipulated the council into arresting them anyway.”

“I am aware that my decision was not well received by many of my fellows, but as our Lord’s highest ranked and oldest comrade, I did what I felt I had to. Ever since he conquered his old friends in the CATTs, his conscience has plagued him… he didn’t even go through with Dividing all of them, or even the captured enemy leaders because of it! I love the man like a brother and would die for him and his dream, but Lord Divider has softened with age. If he was faced with Luz; his saviour and a girl he has so much in common with, and is told that his path to paradise is evil and wrong? Well he might just be compelled to listen.” Raguel said, pacing around the hub, his usual easy smile becoming strained and wistful. “He loves Luz like family and wants her by his side as an Ophanim. I aim to give him what he wants. Luz and her friends will never accept the fake plea bargain I tricked Camael into handing over, and since the original bargain was so generous, the Seraphim Council will never agree to negotiate an alternative. They will plead not guilty, fight and lose the trial, then Luz will be Reformed, and handed over to Lazuliel, a High Angel who already has issues with the way things are done in the Union. From there it’ll only take a bit of gentle persuasion to have Lazuliel join Lord Divider, and bringing little baby Luz along with her. Our Lord will get Luz, and before that he’ll have the Blight girl and the baby Titan delivered to him by our people in the Union, practically gift wrapped!”

Hanu almost couldn’t believe her ears; that awful deal had been fake! Not only was Raguel working with the Divider, but this whole thing had been a set up! She needed to get to the others and tell them the truth! Then they could speak to the Seraphim and reveal Raguel’s treachery! With a Truth Tonic in her system, they’d be forced to believe her!

Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be that easy. In her shock at what she’d just heard, Hanu hadn’t noticed that the pollen from the Chameleon Camomile had begun to wear off, causing her to slowly regain her real colouration without realising it. The blonde fur and swaying tail of the Macaque Demon stood out against the white stone of the Transport Hub, and both Valkyrie and the pacing Raguel saw it immediately. They both froze and looked right at her, making Hanu’s face turn white as she suddenly realised they could see her. She quickly tried to retreat through the portal, but Raguel moved like lightning and used his keystone to close the portal, trapping Hanu completely.

The Macaque Demon immediately conjured some Iron Irises and inhaled its pollen to give herself the properties of iron before pouncing frantically towards Raguel in an attempt to steal his keystone, but the man had absolutely no trouble in dodging her attack. He casually sidestepped her, then pointed a single finger at her, drawing a blue spell circle faster than Hanu could blink. The girl hoped her iron body would protect her or at least reduce the damage of whatever spell was about to be launched at her, but she was shocked to find herself being hit by an absolutely torrential blast of water. The power of a Seraphim was no joke, and the water jet crashed into her so hard that she slammed into the contraption that opened the portals, being bruised and winded by the impact.

Groaning, Hanu slowly picked herself up, then blinked in confusion as her iron body returned to normal, as did her speed from the Swift Saffron. Neither effect should have worn off that fast! Confused and desperate, Hanu tried to figure out how to use the contraption to reopen the portal to the Divine Realm, but a tendril of water grabbed her and dragged her over to Raguel, before forcing her to her knees in front of him, all while Valkyrie watched on impassively.

“My my, it seems we have a little monkey spying on us. I underestimated your little gang.” Raguel smiled pleasantly, petting Hanu’s head as if she were a precocious child. “Tell me, do you friends suspect me? Did they send you to follow me?”

Hanu grit her teeth; “I won’t tell you anything! You’re trying to do something evil to Luz and the others! I may not be super close to them like I am Treble and Willow, but they still took me in! I won’t betray them!”

“I admire you strength of character. Oh well, a few memory spells will sort this little problem out.” Raguel said calmly, creating a pair of blue spell circles, one in each hand.

Hanu looked at him in shock, making him chuckle; “What, did you think I was going to murder you? Or hide you away? Not only is that genuinely evil, but it’d arouse suspicion if you went missing while following me.”

“W-Wait! If you’re going to erase my memories anyway, can you at least answer a question for me? It’s not like I’ll be able to tell anyone anyway.” Hanu pleaded as she began subtly drawing a spell circle with her tail, ready to grow some vines to suck up all this water. “I heard your whole plot; you manipulated the Seraphim to arrest Luz, and set this all up to get her Reformed, but how did you trick Camael with a fake bargain? Wouldn’t he have known the truth since he was at the meeting?”

Raguel raised an eyebrow, before chuckling; “You mean you haven’t worked it out? You’ve surely overhead enough to piece it together!”

“Well let’s say that I haven’t!” Hanu shot back, flushing a little as it felt like she was being mocked.

“It’s simple, little girl. Camael had a potential conflict of interest, and when I brought it up to Lady Raphael before the meeting earlier, she agreed that he should sit out of the discussion for the plea bargain, so he didn’t know about it until afterwards. I also volunteered to deliver the scroll with the bargain personally, so it was easy to switch it out with a fake. After that, what reason did Camael have to doubt me or the scroll?” Raguel said, before giving Hanu a knowing look; “Now did my answer buy you enough time to prepare whatever spell you’ve been trying to cast?”

Hanu’s eyes widened, and her shock only grew worse when the plants she’d been creating were suddenly engulfed in water faster than they could absorb it, resulting in them becoming waterlogged and essentially drowned. Seeing her last hope disappear right before her eyes, Hanu could do nothing but stare fearfully at the Seraphim.

“You won’t get away with this!” she yelled.

Raguel smiled sadly; “Perhaps not. But I’ll pay any price to help Lord Divider achieve his paradise. A child who has never known the horror of a true war can never understand. Don’t fret though; the Divider will restore your friends’ sealed magic once he has removed their flaws, so they will be happy and free.”

“And what about Luz!? The person whose entire life you’re wiping away!?” Hanu cried.

The Seraphim’s smile became a strange, crooked and broken mockery of itself. He raised his hands to Hanu’s head and began to cast the memory spells; “Reformation isn’t so bad… I should know.”

With those final words, Hanu’s world went black.



It was almost midnight by the time the Hexsquad returned to Lazuliel’s apartment after their protest. They had all done their best and got a lot of support, though they were left with a creeping sense of dread, as they had no idea how successful their protest had been. Would the people who’d promised their support be enough to turn the tables and save their friends? They had no idea, and the uncertainty scared them.

They got back to find everyone still awake. Luz and Amity were cuddling on the balcony as they stared up at the stars, while Vee was listening enraptured to the stories that her Mama and Lazuliel told of their childhood. King had remained isolated in the recreation room, idly playing with the toys and not really wanting company.

When everyone convened in the living room again, Lazuliel asked; “How did it go?”

“Well! I think?” Skara said; “We got a ton of people promising their support and signing a tree Willow and Hanu grew!”

“Now we’ve just got to hope signing a petition means more here than it does back home.” Boscha added somewhat irritably. She and the others were all exhausted; they’d woken up that morning to prepare for Luz’s birthday party, and had ended up shopping, dealing with the sky distortions, facing the Basilisks and Belos, and now all this Divine Realm stuff AND two battles with shadowy monsters from the sky… it had been their longest day since the Day of Unity, and most of them were dead on their feet.

“We heard there was a Distorted Shadow attack at the Divine Crossroads while you were there.” Amity frowned; “Another attack hit us here too, though it was taken care of easily.”

That reveal made everyone scowl; “Someone is definitely trying to set us up.” Gus said, “First the hearing, then the Crossroads, and now here? Twice is a coincidence, but three times is suspicious.”

“It’s almost like someone is trying to ensure the trial goes against Luz, Amity, and King.” Hunter said, rubbing his chin; “But who would do that? The Divider wouldn’t need to bother with this, but who else would have the power and the motive? There’s no way it’s Belos.”

Luz nodded; “Lord Camael told us that Belos is being kept under a sleep spell until our trial is dealt with. He’ll be tried after us for all his crimes, though I’ve got no idea what they’ll do to him. They aren’t the killing type and I’m not sure they’d hand him over to the Demon Realm if it meant his guaranteed execution.”

No one had any answers, but Hanu did find herself frowning as a slight headache bothered her. She felt like she was forgetting something…

“Did anything else happen while you were at the Crossroads? No trouble besides the attack?” Camila asked.

Everyone shook their head, though Lyra did say; “We met Lord Raguel. He seemed nice and I think he’s on our side; he just can’t publicly say it. He tried to recruit me too, but I declined.”

“Hanu followed him at one point too, didn’t you?” Treble said, looking to his lover.

“Yeah, I thought he was being suspicious. I followed him to a mostly abandoned part of the crossroads and saw him use a portal. I followed him, but it turns out he was just going to some village in the Human Realm. The name is impossible to pronounce, but it was in a cold place called Ice Land. He caught me following him and got all embarrassed, saying he was addicted to this special Hot Chocolate they sell at an inn there. I’ve got no idea what Hot Chocolate is, but Raguel apparently drinks it when he’s stressed out.” Hanu explained.

Lazuliel chuckled; “Lord Raguel does have an infamous sweet tooth. The Cherubs love visiting Crest Charity, because he and his people give out free candy by the handful!”

That got a few smiles from everyone, except Hanu who looked like she’d had enough talking or doing anything today.

Seeing as the kids were all exhausted, Camila decided that enough was enough; it was time for bed.

“Okay everyone, I think you should all go and get some sleep. We’ll be up early tomorrow for the trial and we need to be awake, alert, and at our best.” she ordered in her “Mom” voice.

She received a chorus of “Yes Ma’am/Camila/Aunt Camila/Tia Cammie/Mama/Mami” from the children, before they sleepily trudged off to bed. Lazuliel had left out some simple pajamas for all of them to change into, so they washed up and got dressed one by one, before getting themselves tucked into bed. Camila went around to all of them and said goodnight, making sure to stop at King, Amity, and Luz’s beds in particular to reassure them that they would be okay, and to offer a sleeping spell to help them drift off if they felt too worried to sleep. Amity and Luz accepted the spell, while King had declined.

Once all the kids were asleep, Lazuliel and Camila turned in too, with Camila being allowed to sleep in the guest room. Both adults worried for the children, but they especially worried for Luz, who’d been acting strange since Camael left. The Seraphim had left with a sombre face and tears in his eyes, but had refused to say a word to anyone, and Luz had steadfastly refused to tell them what they’d talked about. However Luz had been cuddly through most of the evening, and her entire attitude made Camila fear that she’d given up hope. She’d given as much love and encouragement as she could, and Luz always smiled that tired, empty smile in return, which was at least better than the usual inability to smile on her bad days. As Camila finally lay her head down to sleep, she cursed the Seraphim for this whole mess… the thought of her daughter having to spend her 15th Birthday in a trial just broke her heart. She cast a sleeping spell over herself, and everything within the apartment went still and silent.

The silence continued for about half an hour, before King crept out of his bed. He’d chosen to sleep beside Luz, and since the girl had opted for Camila’s spell, he didn’t need to worry too much about being quiet to avoid waking her. Once he was free of the blankets and Luz’s arms, King fluttered over to Vee’s bed and pulled out a glyph combo he’d made earlier. The restraining bands on his wrists may prevent him from using his roar, but they couldn’t stop him from drawing and activating glyphs!

The combo was a Silencing Combo utilising the light and wind glyphs, and it created a pinkish red dome around him that prevented sound from getting in or out. With this up, he shook Vee awake.

“H-Huh!? What’s going on!? King!?” Vee yelped, startled by the sudden awakening.

“It’s me. Vee, I need your help.” King replied.

“It’s the middle of the night! What could you need my help with?” Vee asked, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

“Saving our sister, along with me and Amity.” King answered.

That caught Vee’s attention and she looked into the little Titan’s yellow eyes. They had a hard look to them; Vee had never seen him so serious.

“I’ll happily help if it protects you guys, but what can I do?” Vee asked.

“Follow me to the balcony and I’ll tell you.” King said, before flying over to the door and leaving the room. Vee followed a moment later, slithering after him until they were both out on the balcony.

“Okay, I’m here. What’s this plan you’ve got cooked up?” the young Basilisk asked.

King pointed to the illusion-covered sky; “I need you to go up and eat as much magic from the distortions as you can, just like earlier this morning. Or I guess yesterday morning now.” It was passed midnight by this point.

Vee’s eyes widened; “You want me to throw up one of those weird portals again? Do you just want to bring the other Basilisks here?”

“No. I want to bring something else!” King said as he began to explain; “Remember, after you threw up that weird distortion magic, me touching it caused it to become a freaky kind of summoning circle, right? Then when you touched it, it summoned everything that was like you; namely the other Basilisks.”

Vee nodded; “It was less than 24 hours ago, of course I remember. So you’re planning to summon something that can help us? But what?”

Silently, King reached into his neckerchief and pulled out the shard of the Collector’s Mirror. Vee’s eyes grew huge; “You’re planning to summon the other shards!?”

“Yeah. If I put them together and complete the mirror, I’ll be able to use it to free the Collector. The Seraphim won’t stand a chance against a Sephiroth, even if the Collector is just a born one and not an ascended one.” King nodded.

Vee gulped; this was actually a good plan if it worked! The Collector would have the power to save Luz, Amity, and King and get them all back to the Demon Realm without trouble! But unleashing him in the Divine Realm as a direct response to the Seraphim trying to punish them for releasing a different Sephiroth could turn the whole realm against them! It could be the final push into war… the young Basilisk said as much to King, and the little Titan nodded grimly; “I know. I won’t release him until we get to the Demon Realm unless the Seraphim give us no choice. I will save my family no matter what!”

“Then I’ll help you. Whether this saves us or blows up in our faces, I’ll take that step with you King.” Vee said, stuffing down her apprehension and letting her determination shine. King beamed and the two shared a hug. Their relationship had always been a bit strange; they each considered Luz to be their big sister, but weren’t sure what to think of each other. Cousins had been the word they’d each opted for, but in that solitary moment, the two were a brother and sister team!

When the hug ended, Vee used her wings to fly off from the balcony and up to the sky so she could begin devouring magic from the distortions hidden behind the illusory sky. An invisibility glyph combo kept her from being spotted, and she soon returned to the balcony looking sick and shaking just like last time. King hurried her to the bathroom and set up both a barrier glyph combo and a silencing one, so no one could hear what was going on. They lacked the emetic potion this time, but Vee really didn’t need it with how awful the magic made her feel, and a moment later the bathtub was filled with the strange starry liquid magic. King reached it and touched it with a claw, causing the same swirling effect as last time, then after sharing one final “Here goes nothing!” look with Vee, he dipped the shard of the Collector’s mirror into it.

For a moment, nothing happened and both King and Vee felt their hearts sinking. But then the liquid magic began to swell and bubble just as it had when it summoned the basilisks. The effect wasn’t as potent as last time, but King and Vee still backed off and put up another barrier around the liquid. The resulting explosion was fairly mild and didn’t produce too much smoke, as the liquid was summoning something significantly smaller. When the limited smoke dissipated, King dropped the barrier and shared a beaming smile with Vee as they each laid eyes on a small pile of shards.

“It worked! It really worked! Finally something goes our way!” King cheered at the top of his lungs, thankful for the barrier. He hugged Vee again; “Thank you! We can save our friends now!”

“Thank you too, King. This was your idea! But it looks like there are a lot of pieces. Do you think you can really put it together?” Vee asked.

King nodded determinedly; “I’ll get it done if it’s the last thing I do! You should go back to bed now Vee; if this is like the Titan Trappers’ mirror, then only I can actually put it together.”

“Are you sure you don’t at least want the help finding out which piece goes where?” Vee asked.

“No, I can handle it. You’ve done enough; you saved our butts with your cousins earlier too. Get some rest! Once the mirror is done and I’ve told the Collector the plan, I’ll hide the mirror in the neckerchief my Mom made me. It’s got the same kind of spell that Mom and Luz use on their hair, so it’ll be fine.”

Vee considered insisting, but was suddenly hit by a yawn and decided she was probably too tired to be useful at solving the jigsaw puzzle of a mirror anyway. She gave her agreement and stooped to kiss the top of King’s head, then said goodnight and returned to bed, leaving King along in the bathroom with all the fragments of the mirror. King gathered them up and made sure to clean up any mess made by the explosion, then went to the Recreation Room to begin repairing the mirror. As he breathed on two pieces and successfully fused them back together, he smiled to himself.

“Just you wait, Collector! I’ll save you, then you’ll save us!”


[The Next Morning]

Everyone awoke fairly early, not having been able to sleep too well, and began getting ready for the day. When Vee got up, she’d seen King curled into Luz’s side again, meaning he must have finished the mirror. This was confirmed when Luz finally roused him from his slumber and he awoke groggy and still a bit tired, though he appeared more relaxed despite his tiredness. He gave Vee a knowing look and patted his neckerchief, making Vee smile. However he also brought a claw to his snout in a hushing motion, silently telling Vee to keep it to herself. Vee decided that was a smart move; if the others knew, they’d appear more confident and less worried, and the Seraphim may realise something was off. At least Vee and King could try to keep the others from worrying too much, now that they knew they had a safety net.

Everyone washed and dressed, and had their clothes given a thorough cleaning with spells by Camila while Lazuliel made breakfast for everyone. As it was now officially Luz’s birthday, everyone wished her a happy 15th birthday and gave her a hug, promising a better party and presents once they were out of this mess, which Luz didn’t mind at all. The general mood in the apartment was one of anticipation, with Amity being the Defendant who seemed most nervous, while Luz was oddly calm even if she looked miserable whenever she wasn’t forcing herself to smile. The others were either jittery, grumpy, or trying hard to stay optimistic. Hunter kept pacing while Willow talked to him softly to try and focus his anxious energy on something else. Lyra was doing breathing exercises with Gus to stave off a panic attack as the time of the trial grew closer, Gus was mostly trying to keep her from volunteering to join the Crest Union in return for leniency to her friends. Skara had sat Boscha down and then sat on her lap and put her arms around the girl’s neck, and whispered various sweet and silly things to keep Boscha distracted so she didn’t lose her temper, while Boscha played along and flirted shamelessly, trying to see how red she could make Skara blush to keep her the Bardic girl’s mind on something more pleasant. Matt was hanging out with Hanu and Treble, the former of whom had gotten rid of her headache and gave no thoughts to her encounter with Raguel, while Treble and Matt poked through the collection of books and games that Lazuliel had in the Rec Room.

At 9:30 AM, after they’d all eaten a hearty breakfast of Sapphire Steak and Emerald Eggs (that had the taste and texture of thick slabs of smoky bacon and real eggs, despite having the appearance of blue crystal, and green crystal in the middle of a pearlescent egg white respectively), they were visited by an Arch-Angel from Crest Patience, who would be serving as their defence lawyer for the trial. He walked them through the procedure a little; after the charges were read and their pleas were given, the prosecutor would outline all the evidence against them, and then it would be their turn to present evidence that either disputes, disproves, or recontextualises the evidence given by the prosecutor, including witness testimonies. Truth Tonics would be used on everyone taking the stand, even Angels, to ensure there was no chance of lies, and answers were to be kept as succinct as possible to avoid double speak and “Exact Words” style avoidance of answering properly and truthfully. The prosecution may then try to dispute some of the defence, and vice versa back and forth until neither side had anything more to say or add. Once both cases had been rested, the Seven Seraphim serving as judges would make their verdict based on the evidence and only the evidence, as they are required to take oaths before hand that compel them to do so, so even Camael’s potential conflict of interest wouldn’t be a problem.

The Judgement would be based entirely on the law.

Willow asked about the protests and the people who’d promised to support them, and the lawyer had said those people would likely be taken into consideration, as a judgement that caused mass-discontent among the populace would be seen as a major downside for the Union. However while this might decrease the severity of the punishment, it’d have no bearing on the actual verdict. Worse still, as the charges are for a Capital Crime, the chances of the punishment being reduced enough to not cause a huge problem for the group was next to nil, and the trial itself had been declared a closed affair, so no one outside the Thrones, and Ophanim could attend it…

Needless to say, the uncertainty and fear that filled them all was palpable, with only Luz, Vee, and King seeming to still have some hope. Luz even told her friends not to worry and that she was confident it would all work out for them.

The “for them” part only worried them further, but Luz refused to elaborate.

Finally, the time for the trial itself approached and a squad of Knights from Crest Diligence came to escort them all to the Platinum Spire for the Trial. Luz, dressed in her Holy Raiment, was the one to lead the group to the Zeppelin waiting outside, and a short flight later they were disembarking on a landing pad towards the upper parts of the Platinum Spire. The spire somewhat resembled the Tower of Babel; a spiralling structure of silvery white platinum-like metal that went beyond the clouds, and with each section looking different from the last. The section they’d landed on shared no similarities with any human cultures on Earth though, and looked like a white, gold, and platinum representation of what humans believed Heaven looked like. It was bright, sunny, and incredibly clean and warm; the sort of place most people would love to visit. However, it was also high enough in the sky that it was actually above the illusion that hid the distortions and even the distortions themselves, meaning the sky was dyed orange, the sun shining an ominous gold, and the visions of the Boiling Isles and In-Between Realm flickered beneath them whenever they looked out a window, like a sea from another world.

The Supreme Court was held in the Council Chambers, which were on the very top floor of the spire, so they were led to a floating platform to take them up to the top. Upon arriving, they were met by two colossal golden doors, both marked with seven intersecting rings, each containing the sigils of one of the seven crest orders. There was the familiar scales and scrolls of Crest Patience, the winged and flaming sword of Crest Diligence, a snake intertwined an open palm for Crest Kindness, a winged rose for Crest Chastity, an apple in the middle of a wreath of wheat stalks for Crest Temperance, a pair of hands holding a single coin for Crest Charity, and lastly, a winged sun for Crest Humility. Each sigil was stylised in the same fashion, and the rings they were in all had carved golden wings, giving the design the appearance of a biblical angel, sans the eyes.

The large gates were opened with a spell from the Arch-Angel Knight-Captain that was leading their escort, and the party walked into a huge room that was filled with a lot of people. The Council Chambers were large and circular, being about the same size as the atrium at Hexside, and it’s usual décor had been shifted to the court version for the duration of the trial. The general aesthetic of the place was the same as the rest of the spire’s top floors, but the entire outward facing wall and ceiling was made from a diamond-like crystal that flooded the room with natural light. Directly opposite the door was a large curved table that the Seven Seraphim of the Council were sat at, while a small podium surrounded by a stone banister was in the dead centre of the room, meant to act as the stand. Two smaller tables sat on either side of the stand, with the left side being for the defence and the right side for the prosecution. There was only enough room at these tables for the lawyers and the defendants, but large jury box-style seating areas filled the rest of the walls, and there was an open row at the front of the left box, meant for Luz’s friends and family. All the rest of the seats were filled with sombre looking Angels, and all were high-ranked. There were mostly Arch-Angels, but there were also plenty of Seraphim too; either Ophanim, super-high ranked members of the Crest Orders, or retired Thrones. Now that Luz noticed it, literally every angel in the room with the exception of her Mami, Lyra, and Lazuliel was at least an Arch-Angel! Even the guards, lawyers, and court scribe.

Luz, Amity, and King were gently urged to the table of the defence by their lawyer, while the others were escorted to their seats in the audience, sharing some final whispered words and gestures of support before being separated. Once everyone was in their seats, the Seven Seraphim of the Union Council stood up to formally begin the proceedings.

“We will now commence the Trial of Luciel of Crest Kindness, Amity Blight, and King Clawthorne-Noceda. Presiding are the Seven High Lord Seraphim; Lord Gabriel of Patience, Lady Sophiel of Temperance, Lord Barachiel of Diligence, Lord Raguel of Charity, Lord Camael of Kindness, Lady Uriel of Chastity, and myself; Lady Raphael of Humility. In the sight of the defence, prosecution, and witnesses, we will now give our solemn oath.” the Seraphim in the middle, Lady Raphael, announced.

The Seven Seraphim then placed their hands over their hearts and bowed their heads with sombre expressions as they recited an oath together; “I do solemnly swear upon my honour and the honour of my order that I shall make a fair and just judgement based on the law, and informed by the evidence and arguments brought before me, and that I shall allow no outside influences or personal feelings to alter the judgement I render. May my oath be heard and received.”

In a flash, every Angel in the room had their eyes glow (even Camila, Lazuliel, Lyra, and Luz) and they all said as one; “The Oath is heard. The Oath is received.”

With that oath given, and both Luz and Lyra shocked that their own magic had made them respond like that, the Seraphim went to sit back down. Luz took that moment to get a good look at the remaining four Seraphim she hadn’t met; Raguel, Sophiel, Uriel, and Raphael. Raguel looked no different than when Luz’s friends had run into him the previous night, though his mood was definitely darker and more serious than his previous easy smiles.

Sophiel of Crest Temperance was a somewhat pale skinned woman of impressive height, being as tall as Barachiel, and even more impressive muscles. She still had a feminine shape, but her body was hard and muscular, as befitting the hard working farmers and labourers of Crest Temperance. Her features resembled that of an East Asian human, but with straight white hair that was about as long as Luz’s, and tied up into a short ponytail. Her face was pretty but plain, and her eyes were a dark blue like the deep sea. Her Divine Regalia somewhat resembled a white and gold version of an Emperor’s clothing from Imperial Korea, though slightly less loose and baggy in appearance. The halo above her head looked almost like a Greek laurel wreath, but made with wheat stalks instead of the usual leaves.

Uriel of Crest Chastity was, perhaps ironically for an embodiment of the chaste, an astoundingly beautiful woman. She was about 5ft 6 and had an extremely voluptuous body, with a beautiful face with vibrant sky blue eyes. Her skin tone was a pale pink, and the long wavy hair that trailed all the way down to the back of her hips was a lustrous golden hue. She had a gentle and innocent expression, and Luz and all her friends (save King) looked at her with faint awe as their cheeks blushed. Despite her desirable appearance, she showed no skin beneath the neck and her Divine Regalia looked almost like a white, gold, and heavily ornate version of a Nun’s habit, and it was somewhat loose and flowing to avoid accentuating her bust or curves. She wore no ornamentation of any kind beyond the regalia too, and her halo resembled a blooming flower with spread open petals, each of which was vaguely heart shaped.

Finally there was Raphael of Crest Humility, and she was the most unusual looking of the Seraphim. For a start, she looked extremely young; looking no older than 18, yet carried herself with the dignity of a Queen that had ruled for centuries. She was the shortest of the Seraphim, yet her wings were the largest, and her face and body appeared androgynous, to the point no one would have been sure if she was male or female if she hadn’t introduced herself as a Lady. Her skin was a bronze colour, lighter than Gus or Barachiel but a shade darker than Luz, being closest to Camila in colour. Her eyes were a striking golden colour, and her hair was pure ivory white, with even her eyebrows and thick eyelashes being pure white too. Her face was cute and youthful, but like her slender body, it was androgynous in appearance. Her hair was also extremely long and layered, with parts of it flaring out like flames until it all came together into a single point just an inch above the ground. Her Divine Regalia consisted of a tight white and gold tank top that covered her throat entirely and stopped just below her ribs, exposing her entire stomach, and a pair of spats-like shorts in the same design that covered her from waist to mid-thigh. Over the top of this was a Greek-style toga that was light and flowing, leaving her Divine Regalia as the most simple and humble of the Seraphim, which was fitting given her Crest Order. Lastly, she had a halo that somewhat resembled Rasiel’s, only it consisted of three diamond shapes made of light and connected to each other by a full golden ring.

As Crest Humility was the order in charge of administration, they were considered unofficial leaders of the Union, so Raphael acted as the spokeswoman of the Council as she summoned a scroll and began to read from it.

“Luciel of Crest Kindness, Amity Blight, and King Clawthorne-Noceda: you are charged with the violation of the Treaty of Division’s second term by opening the Forbidden Black Tombs, and its third term by intentionally reassembling the pieces of the rogue Sephiroth: Rasiel the Divider. Luciel, your charges are specifically two successful Black Tomb breaches, an attempted Black Tomb breach, and conspiracy to breach a fourth Black Tomb, along with accessory to the opening of the two tombs you didn’t personally open, in addition to the reassembly of the Divider. Amity, you are charged only with one successful opening, one attempted opening, and one conspiracy and accessory to opening. King, you are charged with the opening of three tombs and the attempted opening of one. Do you all understand these charges?” Raphael asked.

The trio thought about it for a minute as they tried to piece it together. Luz had opened the Caplacier and Pulvoltary tombs, attempted to open Volcarpalis one (but it was open before she got there by Belos), and conspired with King and Rasiel to open the last one in the In-Between Realm. She’d also technically been an accessory to Belos opening the Volcarpalis tomb since he’d used her blood and the information she’d inadvertently given him to help him evade death by the tomb’s protector, Godric. Amity had only opened the Caplacier tomb but had attempted to open Volcarpalis’ and had been present for Pulvoltary, while King had opened Caplacier, Pulvoltary, and the In-Between Realm’s tombs, along with attempting to open Volcarpalis too. On the surface, it looked like King’s charges were technically the most serious since he’d done the most, but he also wasn’t a citizen of the Union like Luz was, so it looked like most of the blame was pointed at her.

The three of them nodded, and their lawyer declared; “The Defendants understand the charges, my Lady.”

Raphael nodded in reply; “Then we shall move on to the pleas. Luciel, take the stand and formally give your plea.”

Luz slowly got up, turning pale and a little shaky as she gave a loving and apologetic look to her friends and family in the audience, which made them all begin to panic. She then stooped to whisper to Amity and King; “Trust me one last time. This is all I can do for you now.”

Both of them stared at her with widened eyes as Luz smiled back at them, tears in her eyes as she kissed the top of King’s head, then gave Amity one last breathtaking kiss on the lips. When she pulled away, she finally walked over and took the stand on the pedestal in the middle of the room.

All Seven Seraphim looked at Luz with sad eyes, knowing full well what was about to happen, which only caused the panic in her friends and family’s eyes to grow. Luz took a deep breath and steeled herself, before straightening her back and spreading her wings, making sure she looked every inch the Arch-Angel she was.

“I, Luciel of Crest Kindness, plead guilty to all charges.”

The others all gaped at her in shock, too stunned to even argue or object, while the rest of the Angels in attendance murmured at the unexpected response. The Seven Seraphim, having expected this, simply nodded with resigned expressions.

“Your plea is heard, Luciel. The bargain you agreed to is as follows: you will take sole responsibility for the actions of Amity Blight, King Clawthorne-Noceda, and Edalyn Clawthorne, in return for them be cleared of all charges related to the Divider and his actions. In addition, the investigation into your Demon Realm friends’ potential connection to the seemingly coordinated assaults by the Distorted Shadows will be suspended indefinitely. Your friends and family will be allowed freedom of movement between the Human, Demon, and Divine Realms, and access to sanctuary within the Divine Realm for as long as they require it. The Council of Seraphim also agree to extend this sanctuary to any Demon Realm resident escaping the reign of the Divider. In return, you alone assume all culpability for the violation of the treaty and agree to the prescribed punishment.” Raphael stated, her voice free of emotion.

“I understand, my Lady.” Luz replied, starting to shake a little.

“Under the circ*mstances of this bargain, only one punishment is legally permitted… the Ultimate Sanction of Reformation. Do you understand this and still agree?” Raphael asked, and for a moment everyone turned to Luz. Her friends and family silently pleaded with their eyes for her to say no, while the other Angels watched with bated breath to see if the child in front of them would really accept this.

Luz could barely whisper; “I do.”

“NO!” her friends and family all screamed, leaping to their feet. Aside from Lazuliel, they all tried to rush to Luz, but the Arch-Angel Knights summoned long metal rods and used them to hold them all back, while two held Amity and King by the shoulders to stop them storming the stand.

“Luz, what are you doing!? What the heck is this deal!?” Amity cried.

Luz turned to look at her friends with a heartbreakingly fragile smile and tears streaming down her face.

“I’m sorry… I know this is awful, but this deal protects all of you! You’ll be free to go home, you won’t be held back from going to other places, and you won’t be separated from your friends and family! No one but me gets punished, and the sanctuary clause means I can help protect more people! This is for the best! It keeps everyone safe and gives them a chance!” Luz argued, trying to sound upbeat but failing miserably. It was a terrible sight, seeing the girl try to be brave and hold it together was hard to watch for even the oldest and most stoic Seraphim in the room.

Her answer didn’t even come close to satisfying her friends and family though, who all yelled out to her.

“Luz, stop! We can find a better solution together!” Willow cried.

“We can’t go back without you! You’re the glue that sticks us all together!” Gus yelled.

“Don’t give up so easily! There’s gotta be another way!” Skara pleaded.

“We can’t just accept this! Come on, we’ve faced tougher odds!” Matt tried to rally her.

“There’s no damn way we can let you just throw your life away for us!? Stop being a martyr!” Boscha yelled.

“I know you want to protect us, but this isn’t the way!” Hunter said, trying and failing to stay calm.

“You may be in a dark place right now Luz, but this isn’t the answer! Let us help you!” Lyra begged.

“Luz, we have another plan! Just step away and don’t do anything rash!” Vee cried, wanting to yell about the Collector but fearing that giving it away would ruin the plan.

“Mija, please! I know how low you feel, but we can still help each other and the world! Erasing yourself won’t save anyone!” Camila pleaded, already in tears; “I can’t lose you too!”

Luz’s heart began to shatter and she lowered her head as tears streamed down her face faster and faster.

King stomped his little foot as he yelled; “No! I won’t let you, Luz! You’re not going to do this! King demands it! P-Please!”

“Luz, I love you! We all love you! No one wants to see you do this! Don’t take all this on by yourself!” Amity begged, in tears herself as she struggled against the Arch-Angel holding her back.

“Amity… I’m sorry, but I need to do this. Please understand. I don’t want to hurt any of you… I will protect you with this…” Luz struggled to choke out as her voice broke and she held back sobs through sheer force of will.

“But why Luz!? Why does it have to be you!? Why is it always you!?” Amity cried.

“BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY WAY I CAN SAVE YOU!” Luz suddenly screamed, shocking everyone into silence. The girl broke down sobbing, clutching her head; “I’ve screwed up too much! Made too many mistakes! Caused too much suffering! Every bad thing that has happened with Belos and Rasiel is at least partly my fault and would never have happened if not for me!”

The girl couldn’t look at anyone, instead falling to her knees and sobbing into her hands; “My whole life I’ve been nothing but a screw up! I only ever wanted to be a good Angel and help people, but everything I did backfired and made things worse! I caused chaos no matter how hard I tried! And when Mami sent me away to fix me, I ran away instead and found the Demon Realm!”

For a moment, Luz managed to smile through the tears; “It was wonderful at first; I finally awakened my magic so I wouldn’t be a burden on Mami, and my absence meant Vee got to have a home and make friends in safety, while I met tons of amazing people! But then I started making mistakes and screwing up just like before! It was me feeling sorry for myself that led Amity to take me into Caplacier for an adventure, leading to me opening the first tomb and unleashing Rasiel! It was me who promised to free the rest of him without even knowing his past or why he was really sealed up! It was me who got captured by Belos and nearly killed Eda because I stupidly told Belos about the Titan Bile in the past!”

Luz traced a finger over her eyebrow scar as her heart continued to break; “Because I was stupid and reckless, my attempts to “help” caused so much suffering! I “helped” Belos in the past and he led dozens of people to their deaths to steal Rasiel’s wings, which also opened another tomb! Belos used the power he stole to torment so many others, when he never would have survived the attempt if I hadn’t warned him! Belos might have died to Godric and none of this would have happened! Every evil act Belos committed after that could be laid at my feet, including countless deaths, petrifications, torture, experimentation, and other heinous deeds! If not for that, the situation that led to the death of my Papi would never have happened, and he and Mami could have had a proper child that wasn’t a failure from birth!”

Everyone watching went pale as the realised just how deep the self-hatred in Luz went, as months upon months of deep depression finally exploded out of her in a storm of misery.

“And let’s not even get started on Rasiel! All of my friends are under his power or trapped and torn away from their families, because of me! I’ve got no idea if Mom or Titi Raine or Tia Lily or anyone else is okay, and if they’ve been hurt because of my screw up! The Boiling Isles has been conquered, the entire Demon Realm might have been too, we’re at the precipice of war over a treaty I broke without even knowing about it, and the Demon Realm, Divine Realm, and potentially even the Human Realm are all at risk of being changed forever because I MESSED UP!”

Luz panted a little between sobs, trying to get her breath back as all the emotions inside her began to spill out.

“And on top of all of that, there is nothing I can do! I was powerless on the Day of Unity as Belos used me to try and genocide the entire Demon Realm! I’ve been powerless these last four months to get you all home to your loved ones! And I’m powerless now to do anything about Rasiel… I can’t save anyone back home.” she looked Amity in the eyes, her golden eyes turned red with tears as she looked at the girl she loved most. “But I can at least save all of you from my screw ups. This is all I can do; the only way I can protect you! I love you all, and if doing this is the only way I can help you after all my mistakes…? Then so be it. Maybe after I’m reformed, the new me will be less of a failure.”

With those final broken words, Luz tore her eyes away from the people she loved most in all the realms. She closed her eyes and pictured the faces of her Mom, her Titi, her Tia, her Abuelo and Abuela, and all the wonderful friends and family she’d found in the Demon Realm, each one bringing a wave of sorrow to her heart, as Luz whispered to herself; “I wish I could thank you all one more time… forgive me.”

She then thought of Rasiel too, and remembered the times she’d spent with him before he became complete. Despite what the man had become, Luz couldn’t deny that her heart still saw him as a friend; “Rasiel… I wish I could have stopped you. But I guess I’m no better than you; you’re changing the world you don’t think can be fixed… and I’m changing myself for the same reason.” she whispered, barely audible.

Among the Seraphim, Raguel clenched his fists beneath the table as he saw his plan on the cusp of completion. It brought him only sorrow, but this was the price he’d pay for his Lord’s dream.

You will find joy in paradise, Luciel. That I do swear.’ he thought, before clearing his throat and speaking to Raphael.

“Raphael, I think we can dispense with some of the formality here now. The child has given her plea and we as the Council have accepted it. Let’s not drag out her emotional suffering, or that of her loved ones.”

Raphael nodded in agreement, though she seemed to be trying hard to contain her tears. Many of the Angels in the room were openly crying, including Camael, who had his head in his hands as his shoulders shook. Seeing a child completely break down like that and decide that it was better for everyone that she receive their nation’s harshest punishment was both heartbreaking and disturbing, and Angels as a rule were already a highly empathetic race.

“Luciel of Crest Kindness, as per your plea bargain, we find you guilty of all charges. Your sentence is Reformation, upon completion of which you will be given into the custody of Lazuliel of Crest Chastity, with additional support from Lord Camael of Crest Kindness. As an act of respect to your family, your mother Cassiel of Crest Kindness will be given full access to you, even if we cannot legally grant her guardianship.”

Luz bowed her head in thanks, unable to bear looking directly at anyone. Her friends and family had been shocked into silence by her breakdown, each one trying to mentally process just how far she had fallen into self-loathing and how far she was willing to go just to try and save them. However, the other Angels in the room were not silent, and a fervour began to spread throughout the room at the sentencing. Luz’s breakdown had disturbed everyone, and now an a fierce debate had begun to rage between the Thrones and the other Angels.

“This has gone too far! Since when did the Union traumatise children to this extent, then sentence them so harshly for a crime no one knew existed!?”

“The law is clear and the Council is bound by oath to follow it! We may wish it wasn’t so, but the child committed a crime and has to face the penalty for it!”

“That’s right! If we allow this child to get away with such a serious violation of the law, then not only are we complicit in breaking the law as well, but we set a dangerous precedent!”

“But the law exists to ensure order and justice! What justice is there in this!? What order is preserved by tormenting a child! She’s what? 14 years old!?”

“The court records show she is 15 actually. It’s her birthday today.”

“By the Seraphim, surely I’m not the only one who thinks we look like villains here!”

“Considering the protests I passed on the lower levels, I think others agree. It seems the young Arch-Angel’s friends managed to whip up a lot of support!”

“Then why are we only hearing this now!? Would the unrest caused by this verdict not at least warrant mercy? The Council is supposed to serve the will of the people!”

“The Thrones blocked it. They said Capital Crimes can’t be forgiven, even if the whole case riles up the people.”

“As much as I hate it, do we even have a choice? The law is the law.”

“Then we should change it! If a law is unjust then it serves no purpose!”

“Change our laws now, in the middle of a trial!? That is madness! It invites anarchy, chaos! We must not let the weakness of our hearts bring weakness to the Union!”

“Wise words! The Union is build on the foundations of self-sacrifice! No single Angel can be valued above the collective! By her own admission, the child brought us to the brink of war. She has accepted her culpability! This talk of mercy and changing the law because we don’t like it is disrespectful to the Union, our people, and the girl’s resolve and honour! The girl chose Reformation in return for shielding her friends and offering them sanctuary, and I for one would not see that choice disrespected!”

The arguments continued, and Luz’s friends and family desperately hoped it would at least buy them time to stop this nightmare. However that was not to be, as the Seraphim all stood and summoned their staves, slamming them into the ground and creating a booming sound that silenced everyone. As well as Barachiel’s Lion Staff, Gabriel’s Camel Staff, and Camael’s Palm Chat Staff, Raguel wielded a Bear Staff (the bear appearing to have a kangaroo-like pouch), Sophiel wielded an Emerald Pheasant Staff, Uriel wielded a Unicorn Staff, and Raphael wielded a Fennec Fox Staff.

“Order in the court!” Raphael commanded, her fierce gaze sweeping across the room and keeping everybody silent. “We of the Seraphim Council share you disquiet towards this unusual case, but we have all been left with no choice. Procedure has been followed to the letter of the law. Investigations were done, evidence gathered, and a hearing that confirmed it all, leading to this trial. Luciel has given her plea and it has been accepted. The verdict has been given and the sentence issued. By the laws of the Divine Union of Virtuous Crests, there is nothing more that can be done.”

“B-But the protests-!” Amity cried in-vain, only to be silenced with a look from Raphael.

“We acknowledge the protests, but as was mentioned by one of the Thrones, a trial for Capital Crime cannot be swayed for the sake of public opinion. A decision was made based on objective facts and the unambiguous wording of the law. I am sorry, but there is no changing that now.”

The woman’s face then softened as she raised her staff a little and then tapped it against the white marble floor, like a judge’s gavel. It made a strange chime-like sound, and a moment later the doors of the court swung open and in walked four hooded and masked Arch-Angels. They were all totally identical, with their true appearances and even genders being concealed behind their plain white robes and silver, featureless masks. They carried rods as tall as the were, each tipped with a white crystal shaped like a perfect sphere. They walked slowly towards Luz on the witness stand and stood around her in each of the four cardinal directions, tapping their rods on the ground at their feet. The floor tiles between them suddenly glowed white and four 10ft tall pillars rose out from them and formed a large halo of white and gold magic above Luz’s head.

The Seven Seraphim all closed their eyes and held their staves in front of them, causing beams of light in the seven hues of the rainbow to shoot from them (one colour per Seraphim) and fuse into the giant halo, which began to glow in the colours of the rainbow and sparked with energy.

At the same time, the Seraphim recited; “The Ultimate Sanction has been issued. Reformation will now commence; take this Penitent Child of the Union and bring her the gift of Rebirth!”

Beams of light connected the staves of the four Reformation Angels, forming a diamond shape around Luz, and then the same thing happened with crystals embedded in the pillars, creating a second diamond of light around the girl. Luz felt magic wrap around her and compel her to stand, where upon the halo and the two diamonds combined together and became a kind of spell circle at her feet.

“No no no! This can’t be it! Mija!” Camila cried desperately, struggling with all her might against the Arch-Angels holding her back. The others were doing the same, but they were being held too tightly, as the Thrones in the audience behind them also held their arms to ensure they didn’t cast any spells. Amity tried to run to Luz but was forced to her knees by the regretful Knight holding her, and King was thrashing and snarling like a feral animal as he struggled in the grip of his own guard. He was desperately trying to reach for his neckerchief, but he couldn’t get his arms free! Vee alone noticed this, and turned to the others.

“Free King! If we can just free King’s arms for a moment, this will all be over!” she cried.

“These bastards won’t let us go!” Hunter snarled, struggling as he was held firmly by two Arch-Angel Knight-Captains.

Lazuliel, who’d not been restrained as she wasn’t trying to rush forward, turned to the kids with a determined face. “I promised I’d take care of Luciel… and I’ll start now!”

Drawing a spell circle as quickly as she could, she shot a simple bolt of magic at the Throne holding back Lyra. The Throne hadn’t expected such audacity and flinched, his grip loosening enough for Lyra to pull free and immediately dive into the shadows. She burst out of the shadow of one of the Reformation Angels and swiftly kicked them in the back of the head, knocking them to the floor with a squawk of surprise and stopping the Reformation Ritual.

Luz gasped as she turned to see what her friends were doing; “Stop! Please! You can’t defeat them!”

“We can’t do nothing either! I don’t want your protection! I want my friend and cousin!” Lyra screamed, diving into the shadows again and this time shooting out beside the Arch-Angel holding King. She delivered the strongest uppercut she could straight to his jaw, making the man stagger back and release King.

The Little Titan didn’t waste a second, immediately reaching into his neckerchief and pulling out three items. One was a warp glyph combo that he immediately used to warp into Luz, knocking the girl onto her back on the stand with an “Oof!”. The second was another combo; this time a barrier, which erected the sturdiest barrier of Titan Magic that King could muster. The barrier was then reinforced with several layers of crystal and purple Oracle Magic as Lyra drew as many spell circles as she could before she was tackled and held to the ground by the Arch-Angel guards. Anti-Magic restraints were immediately placed on her to keep her from causing more trouble, but it was too late; Luz was now protected inside a barrier with King, who held aloft the third item.

The Mirror of the Collector.

Luz’s eyes widened as King sat on her chest; “K-King! What are you-!?”

“Can’t you tell, Big Sister? I’m saving you!” King declared, looking down at Luz with tears dripping down his skull; “You may not be able to love yourself like you deserve, but the others and I do! So we’ll love you and protect you and save you, no matter how much you try to sacrifice yourself! Because there’s one thing we’ve both got in common; we’re as stubborn as our Mom, and won’t give up on protecting the ones we love!”

Luz gasped softly as the Collector’s mirror glowed and the shadow form of the Collector emerged from it.

“Do it now, King! Let me out, and I’ll do just what I promised!” the Collector moved so his image was over the mirror itself, with his pinky held out on its surface; “Pinky swear!”

Without hesitating, King brought the mirror down and looked into it with a nod; “Let’s do this, Collector!”

He touched his bottom claw against the Collector’s pinky and instantly, the entire mirror glowed a shining white that had a blue tint to it. Everyone in the chamber had to shield their eyes except for King and Luz, whose Titan power of Light allowed her to see through the blinding light. She saw a flesh and blood pinky emerge from the mirror and wrap around King’s claw, and King instinctively pulled his claw back and pulled the Collector’s arm out of the mirror. A magic circle suddenly began to spread out beneath him and Luz; it had the face of the Collector’s shadow form in the centre, surrounded by sun-like rays, then the eight phases of the moon in a ring around the face, and then finally a ring of five pointed stars in a variety of colours forming a final ring on the edge of the circle. King continued to pull back, until the Collector fully emerged from the mirror, which erupted with a huge burst of magic and light the instant the Collector had fully passed through. Even Luz and King had to shield their eyes from this, and King found his grip on the Collector’s pinky slipping until he was finally forced to let go.

There were groans from various people in the room as the light and magic began to calm down, and one by one everyone rubbed their eyes and looked at the new figure floating in the dead centre of the room, high above Luz and King.

The figure looked to be a little boy, no older than eight or nine years old in appearance. His face was youthful and had a cute and playful smile on it, with pale yellow skin on his right side and a dark blue patch on his left side, placed in a way that made his face look like a crescent moon. His irises were a dark shade of amber with yellow sclera surrounding them, and he had a little crop of dark blue star-shaped freckles beneath his left eye. His hair was fluffy and pure white, and the rest of his body seemed to be mostly pale yellow like the right side of his face, though he also had a blue coloured left ankle so it was hard to tell what patterns were on his skin beneath his clothes. Said clothing was of unusual design, looking almost like a combination of robes and comfy Pajamas. It had overly large and flowing sleeves that went past his hands, but slightly shorter legs that exposed his ankles. The right side of his outfit was dark blue and had a light blue sleeve, with a lilac coloured cuff and dark blue suns embroidered onto it. His left side was the opposite, being light blue with a dark blue sleeve (though it still had the same lilac cuff) and had light blue crescent moons embroidered on them. He also wore simple slipper-style shoes with cute light blue pompoms on the top, as well a hat that looked like a mix between a sleeping cap and a hood, which was coloured dark blue, had a lilac edge and had little white specks all over it to make it look like a starry sky. Lastly, he wore an amulet around his neck that looked like the face of his shadow form hanging from a gold chain.

This was the Collector, youngest of the Archivists and a Born Sephiroth.

As everyone stared at him, stunned, the Collector looked down at his own body and began patting himself.

“I’m free…” he whispered, almost unable to believe it. He began to giggle with childish delight; “I’m free! I’M FREE! Oh, this is the good-est I’ve felt in forever and ever! It’s like the whole world is singing!”

He giggled and flew around, waving his limbs around and causing stars, sparkles, and ribbons of magic to burst from him with his every movement. Everyone looking at him could only gape in amazement as they felt the raw power coming off him in waves; the kind of power they’d only ever felt from the likes of the Divider.

King smiled victoriously; now that the Collector was free, his sister would be safe! No matter what!

“Collector! I’m glad to see the real you! But remember what you promised!” King reminded him.

The Collector beamed at him; “Of course! Anything for my best-est friend in the whole wide world!” he then turned to the Seraphim Council with a slightly unsettling smile, before his gaze shifted to the Reformation Angels.

The Collector held his hand up, ready to snap his fingers; “I think it’s time to play a game!”

The Star Child giggled as he stared down at the Reformation Angels, his eerie desire to play ringing in everyone’s ears as they tried to process what was going on. King and his friends and family were in in a state of both shock and joy, seeing the Collector finally free and coming to the rescue, saving Luz from Reformation and her own self-sacrifice. Aside from Vee, no one had known about King’s plan and so they were totally taken by surprise, though they were all happy to see him. The only people on their side who weren’t overjoyed were Hanu, Treble, and Lazuliel, all of whom had barely any idea who he was, the latter never having heard of him and the former two only having passing knowledge. On the opposite side, the Angels were all horrified and afraid; this whole trial had been over Luz releasing the Divider, and now her little brother had just summoned another Sephiroth right into their midst, and one that was clearly happy to do anything his new “best-est friend” asked of him. Even the assembled might of the Seven Seraphim and the retired Thrones would be useless against an immortal Sephiroth, even if the Born variant weren’t as powerful as the ascended ones.

As for the Collector, he was just beaming and giggling, totally overcome with joy at his newfound freedom. However when he looked at the Reformation Angels and remembered what he’d promised to do, his smile fell a little. “But as much as I want to play, I don’t want to play with mean bullies! I’ve been watching from inside that mirror this whole time, and I saw all of you mean bad birdies bullying my best friend’s big sister! You made her cry! You made all of King’s friends cry, and his Tia too! I’m kinda mad…”

He snapped his fingers and a large blue five pointed star appeared above him. It appeared to be a circular shape with the five points of the star orbiting around it, and the whole thing was made of a glassy, crystalline material. It also had strange black eyes with red irises that never looked in the same direction. The strange Star Creature’s eyes moved to look between the four Reformation Angels, who were slowly backing away in fear, before it conjured tiny glowing crescent moons on the ends of each of its points. Four of these crescent moons shot out and hit the Reformation Angels in the forehead, while the fifth one went and hit the Arch-Angel holding Lyra to the ground. The instant the moons hit them and became embedded on their foreheads, the Angels yelped and glowed, before transforming into altered versions of themselves. The Reformation Angels all gained more colourful robes and masks, with stars and moons and ribbons all over them, while their bodies became rigid. It was difficult to tell what had really been done to them, but looking at their wings revealed an almost wooden texture and some kind of hinge on each wing, making them look like puppets. This was even more obvious with the Arch-Angel Knight, whose armour suddenly looked like plastic and had the same aesthetic as the other four puppets.

The rest of the Angels looked on in shock, while Lyra was able to shove the Arch-Angel puppet off her and stand up. The Collector smiled at her; “You okay? You’re a birdie too, but you’re a good one! You’re not broken anywhere, right?”

Lyra shook her head, not sure how to speak to this child-like being with god-like powers. “Um, I’m fine. Thank you for helping me.” she said politely.

The Collector just giggled and waved at her, then turned back to King; “See King, I told you I could help! Those mean bullies won’t make your big sister cry any more!”

“Thanks Collector!” King beamed, getting off of Luz’s chest so the girl could sit up. The Born Sephiroth looked at Luz with a big smile and flew close to her.

“Hiya! I’m the Collector! You’re the one that told King the truth about me being locked up! Thanks to you, I got to be friends with King! You’re my new friend too! I’ll take good care of you!” he declared, before patting her on the head like she was a cute puppy or something. It made Luz feel a little strange, but she was so emotionally wrecked that she didn’t really know how to respond to anything at the moment. Everything just felt numb.

The Collector then turned to the Arch-Angels and Thrones still holding on to the rest of King’s family and friends (plus Lazuliel, after her attack on the Throne) and narrowed his eyes a little as his Star Minion turned to look at them too. Each and every one of the Angels let go of the group and backed off with their hands up, not foolish enough to attack someone that even the Seven Seraphim were terrified of facing. The freed group didn’t waste a moment in rushing over to Luz, with Amity and Lyra getting there first due to being closest, though Lyra did move over so Camila could scoop her daughter up into a hug.

“Oh Luz! I’m so sorry! I knew you were hurting inside, but I had no idea it was so awful! I should never have kept those secrets from you! I should never have made you feel like you weren’t good enough! You are my beautiful, wonderful daughter and I don’t care if you make mistakes! The fact you always have good intentions is more than enough for me.” Camila cried, tears in her eyes as she kissed her daughter’s cheek over and over again.

“Mami, it isn’t your fault. I’m the one who-” Luz began, only for Boscha to literally cover her mouth to silence her.

“Nope! I’m not hearing one more self-hating word from you! I get it, believe me, it sucks when you feel like a screw up that just hurts the people you care about, but this isn’t healthy!” the three-eyed girl scolded. She felt like she should probably be gentler, but she had to speak from the heart here!

“Boscha is right, and Titan do I hate saying that!” Willow said, flashing a smirk at her rival, who snorted in response.

“Love you too, Willow.” she muttered sarcastically.

“Luz, you’re self-hatred isn’t healthy for you. You’re just hurting yourself, and we can’t bear to watch you self-destruct, especially for our sakes!” Skara said sympathetically.

Luz looked down in shame; “I’m sorry… even when trying to save you, I only managed to hurt you more…”

“NO!” all of them yelled, startling her.

“Ugh, how can we phrase this better without you blaming yourself!?” Gus groaned in frustration.

“Luz, no one is blaming you for the stuff that goes bad! You’re not the one doing those things!” Matt added.

“In every case, you were either helping someone you had no reason to distrust, or doing it for the sake of others!” Hunter said.

“It’s the truth, Luz. You’ve done so much good, and the bad was done by others who exploited you. Why can’t you see that?” Lyra asked.

Luz bit her lip as fresh tears built in her eyes; “I-I just want to be helpful. To be good at something! For other people to like that something! I keep trying to learn from my mistakes, but I only hurt people more… what can I do to change that? How can I be useful?”

Vee shook her head; “Luz, people aren’t born to be useful. You treat yourself like Belos treated Hunter and Lyra, and all my cousins! You aren’t a tool!”

“And to be honest, I think we’d all rather you just be selfish for once!” Amity cried, clinging tightly to her girlfriend. “When is the last time you did anything good that wasn’t purely for someone else’s sake?”

Luz genuinely couldn’t answer. Aside from the day to day stuff that everyone did for their own upkeep, like eating and bathing, Luz didn’t really do anything for herself. She didn’t pursue any of her old hobbies any more unless it was to share them with her friends, and even isolating herself on her bad days had been about not causing distress to her loved ones. When was the last time she’d done something purely for herself, without also thinking of how it benefited others? The closest she could think of was when she’d asked out Amity, as she’d done that purely because she wanted to… but then again, she’d also fretted over whether or not it was what Amity wanted too.

Unable to give an answer, Luz just averted her eyes and began to feel even more like a broken mess of a person. Could someone like her even be considered a person? Or was she just as much a puppet as the Collector’s new toys?

The Collector, who’d just snapped his fingers to remove the restraining magic bands from Luz, Amity, and King, watched the interactions with a strange look on his face before blowing a raspberry and floating in front of Luz’s face; “You’re a silly one! It’s all work work, help help! You need to just have fun! Forget all that serious stuff and just play! Otherwise you’ll turn out boring and mean like my siblings, and these bad birdies.”

He pointed over to the Seven Seraphim, who were still at a loss what to do. Raguel looked especially nervous, as if everything had just fallen apart around him, which made Hanu feel a twinge of deja vu. The other Seraphim had more varied expressions, with Camael even having a look of hope. In his mind, this was the perfect game changer to spare his Great-Granddaughter and ensure everyone got what they wanted!

Slowly, he stepped forward with his hands up and his staff returning to the form of a Green Palm Chat that rested on his shoulder. “Lord Collector, let me be the first of my brethren to congratulate you on your newfound freedom! With you now free, the situation has changed and we might be able to turn this whole trial affair into something that benefits everyone! No sacrifices, no suffering, and everyone gets to be free and happy!”

The other Seraphim looked at him with interest, while the Demon Realm Crew just looked unimpressed. Still, they knew Camael had to speak the truth, so they at least listened to him. The Collector was less keen to listen though, already looking bored.

“I don’t wanna play trial, or with you bad birdies! That game made King and his friends cry! Go away!” he huffed, crossing his arms petulantly and looking away, while his Star Minion’s eyes both focused on Camael.

The Seraphim of Kindness gulped, but King came to his defence. “Hold on a second, Collector! We can at least listen to him. They can’t hurt us any more, but we can make sure they properly say they’re sorry! And maybe they can help us with some other stuff too!”

As mad as the Titan still was at the Seraphim and their whole Union for pushing his sister to her breaking point, King still didn’t want a war. Luz would only blame herself if saving her led to more suffering, and King wanted to be fair and just; something he felt the Union wasn’t being.

“I guess if they do say sorry for being mean…” the Collector conceded, looking over his shoulder with a slight pout. “But they better have something fun to make up for it!”

“I’m sure they will.” King nodded, before glaring over at Camael; “Alright, talk.”

“W-Well, we’ve made it clear that none of us want to see Luciel or yourself and Amity punished like this, but we had no choice due to the law. With a guilty verdict basically guaranteed, the only legal way out of this is a plea bargain. How about we set up a new one? You’ve freed one of the Born Sephiroth, and as they’re sort of Angels too…” the Collector scoffed at that, “… that could be seen as a great charitable act that would greatly reduce the punishment we’d be forced to give!”

King and the others saw where this was going. Luz had already taken full responsibility, so King, Amity, and the absent Eda were off the hook, so now it was just a matter of reducing Luz’s punishment as much as possible. Freeing someone of importance (even if only tangentially) helped a great deal, but the Collector wasn’t a part of the Union so there was no benefit to them for it and thus it wasn’t enough to legally absolve Luz completely.

The other Seraphim saw where this was going and seized the chance they were being offered with both hands.

Raphael spoke up; “Not only that, but you are a being of power on a similar level to the Divider! If you agree to work with Luciel to deal with him and prevent him from forcibly reuniting the Demon and Divine Realms, we could accept her original plea bargain and let her and her friends go back to the Demon Realm with no trouble. The accused go free, the Divider is dealt with, war is averted, and everyone is happy!”

Everyone in the room seemed to agree with that, if only to appease the Star Child now in their midst. It was true that a Born Sephiroth like the Collector wouldn’t be as strong as an ascended one like the Divider, but with the help of a young Titan and an Arch-Angel infused with Titan power, they might just be able to pull it off! The Angels felt that at the very least, they’d disrupt the Divider’s plans enough to give the Crest Union and the rest of the Divine Realm a chance to rally together and come up with a new plan to seal the rogue Sephiroth. The Demon Realm Crew were also willing to let this idea pass just so they could finally be done with this whole affair; they’d save Luz and then their world!

However, the Collector wasn’t so keen.

“Nope! I don’t wanna!” he declared, once again looking away from the Seraphim.

Everyone gaped at him in shock; “W-What? But why!? We’re offering you a way out of fighting on a silver platter here! Why would you refuse!?” Sophiel of Crest Temperance asked, her voice melodious even with her shock.

The Collector refused to acknowledge her at all, so King asked; “Buddy, what’s wrong? Don’t you want to help us get our home back? Once we rescue all my other friends, we’ll have tons of players for a whole bunch of really fun games!”

“We can get just as many players here! Watch!” the Collector said, before snapping his fingers and making his five Angel puppets begin doing a little dance, before running around chasing each other like a game of tag.

“B-But what about our home?” King pressed, trying not to upset his new friend. “If we stop the Divider, we’ll have the whole Demon Realm to play in!”

“We don’t need it! We’ve got this world instead! I spent a long time in the Demon Realm, so it’s not as interesting now. But this new world is interesting and fun, and full of birdies to play with! And no Dead Titans…” the Star Child shuddered. In the four months he’d spent with Orion and Cassiopeia keeping him company, they’d explained lots of things to him, and the true meaning of death and mortality was one of them. The Collector was scared of it, even if he couldn’t die, and he didn’t want to see the bones of all the Titans slain by his siblings.

However, King could tell there was something else to this too and continued to press him.

“But don’t you want to get your own back on the Divider? He promised to help free you but then broke his promise!” King pointed out.

The Collector looked away; “Yeah… well… I don’t want to ever see him again! So I’m not going!”

“But Collector-!”

“NO!” The Collector suddenly yelled, finally looking fully at King. His cheeks were puffed out with anger, but his eyes were terrified. “I’m not going back there! I’m not going to fight that big mean bully! He can stay there with all the bones while I play somewhere fun with you and all your other friends!”

King’s eyes widened as his friends exchanged looks. “Collector… are you scared of the Divider?”

The Collector averted his eyes; “I don’t like bullies…” was all he said. He didn’t want to be a fibber, but he also didn’t want to confess that the answer was yes; he was petrified of the Divider! The Ascended Sephiroth were among the only ones who could hurt him, even if they still couldn’t kill him. In fact, as the youngest of the Archivists and weakest of his siblings, technically ALL the Sephiroth were stronger than him.

Camael, seeing his plan on the verge of ruin and feeling the oath he took beginning to niggle at his soul, grew desperate and implored the Collector.

“Please Lord Collector! You’re our only hope! Surely you can be brave and aid us in sealing the Divider at least!? We have at least one Titan and an Angel with Titan Power! If we combine your power with theirs and us Seraphim, we might really be able to win!” he yelled.

But the Collector just shook his head; “No! I don’t wanna!”

Camael took a step forward; “Please! If you don’t, the oaths we Seraphim swore to uphold the law will kick in! We’ll be forced to punish Luciel again! If you don’t help us, she’ll be refor-”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence. While he hadn’t meant it as a threat, the Collector had taken it as one and was not about to let that pass. In a flash, the Collector had conjured one of the crescent marks and shot it at Camael’s forehead, turning him into a puppet. The sight of a Seraphim falling to the Collector’s power sent the entire courtroom into an uproar and the Arch-Angel Knight-Captains surged forward to try and stop the Collector, only for the Star Minion to turn around and transform them into puppets too, evading their attacks easily. Raphael saw this and turned her Fennec Fox Palisman into a fox-themed Rapier, then darted at the back of the minion and pierced it through the middle, causing spiderweb-like cracks to form throughout its body, each one having light pouring out from the inside before the minion shattered. Her victory was short-lived however, as the instant she turned around, she too was hit by the Collector’s Puppet Spell and added to the ranks of his toys. The Collector then snapped his fingers and made his minion reassemble itself as good as new, while a second snap conjured two more of them.

“No more! I won’t let any more of you bad birdies bully my friends or try to push me around! If you’re not gonna be nice, then all of you can be toys!” the Collector growled, sending his minions to begin turning every Angel in the courtroom into his puppets. They tried to run or fight back or just protect themselves with barriers, but nothing they did saved them; the Collector sealed the doors with a snap of his fingers and the crescents that turned them into puppets would blast through any barrier like a rock through glass. Even if they managed to defeat one of the Star Minions, the Collector would just snap his fingers and repair them. Within minutes, just about every Angel in the room was a motionless puppet, and only one of them had even so much as scratched the Collector; Barachiel. The finest warrior of the Crest Union had lived up to his title by destroying the minions over and over and even managed to knick the Collector’s cheek with a swing from his halberd, but the cut had healed immediately without spilling a single drop of blood, and the Collector hadn’t so much as flinched, as if he’d not even felt the cut. His only reaction was to repair his minions and some seven more, and this proved too much for even Barachiel to deal with, and soon he was a puppet too.

King and his friends tried to calm things down by yelling for the Collector to stop, but considering how much Luz had been hurt by this whole debacle, they weren’t being as convincing as they could have been. Boscha wasn’t even bothering to yell, instead just sitting back with a slight grin (though she did feel bad about the Angels who’d spoken up for Luz getting caught up in it too, but it wasn’t like they were being hurt).

“Collector, buddy, you’re getting a little too crazy! Maybe don’t turn everyone into puppets? Uh, you can turn them back too, right? This isn’t permanent?” King asked nervously.

The last of the Angels was finally turned into a puppet and the Collector turned his attention back to King; “Dumb bullies, threatening my friend… and yeah, I can turn ‘em back if I want. But I like them better like this; I can make ‘em do what I want and they don’t do any bad things!”

Luz, Camila, and Lazuliel were all extremely uncomfortable with this, and Lazuliel gently stepped forward, unsure if she should treat the Collector like someone important or just a hyper-powerful child.

“Um, Lord Collector? I think you might have gone a bit too far. They weren’t bullies, they were just misguided and forced to obey a law that none of them liked. Maybe you should turn them back to normal so we can sit down and talk about this peacefully? You know they can’t bully Luz with you here, and they don’t really want to either. So let’s just play nice, okay? I can make you a snack too; if you’ve been locked up for so long, you must be hungry!” she said, giving a caring smile.

The Collector hummed; “Snacks would be good… but I don’t wanna turn them back. I heard everything while King had my mirror; some of them said bad stuff about King’s big sister! They stay as puppets!”

“But if you do that, a lot of people will be upset.” Lazuliel tried to reason; “You turned the city’s leaders into puppets, so they’ll be scared and begin to panic, which could cause a lot of trouble!”

“Would that be bad for King and his buddies?” the Collector asked.

Lazuliel nodded; “It could be. If people think they unleashed you and you immediately took out the city’s leaders, then they might blame King and the others. They could think you’re all trying to take over, just like that Emperor Belos I heard about.”

The Star Child’s eyes narrowed; “I don’t like him; he’s a fibber! But I don’t want the other birdies coming and hurting my friends. So…” he turned to his Star Minions and snapped his fingers, causing them to suddenly fly through the nearest window, shattering it as they flew rapidly down towards the city.

“There! My toys will go tidy up all the birdies and make sure they don’t do anything bad!” the Collector smiled, dusting off his hands.

Everyone paled; had the Collector just sent his minions to turn everyone in Gran Seraphia into a puppet!?

“No! Lord Collector, you can’t do that!” Lazuliel exclaimed in a panic, fearing she’d just made everything worse. She tried to grab his hands and pull him down a little so they were on the same eye level, but the Collector scowled and moved out of her range as he pointed a little crescent moon at her. “Wait-!”

Lazuliel didn’t get any further before the crescent hit her and turned her into a puppet, which collapsed to the ground in front of the horrified Camila and equally horrified teens.

“Lazuliel!” Camila cried, rushing to pick up her friend’s puppet form, which just stared ahead with soulless puppet eyes.

“Collector! Why did you do that!? She was our friend and was helping us!” King scolded angrily.

“She tried to stop me protecting you!” the Collector said, looking confused.

“Turning the whole city into puppets isn’t protecting us!” Hunter yelled, “You’re just scaring people!”

“So? Scary can be fun sometimes! I’m not actually hurting them! Besides, I’m not even turning ‘em into puppets! My stars are just making sure no one does anything bad! They won’t touch anyone that doesn’t attack first! I made sure!” The Collector explained, crossing his arms with a petulant pout once more.

Luz shook her head; “Collector, please stop! This isn’t fun! I appreciate you wanting to protect us, but this is going too far!”

The Collector tutted and flew over to pat her head again; “Don’t worry, you just don’t know how to have fun and play! But I’ll teach you!” he then flew up and began doing loops in the air for his own amusem*nt; “That mean Divider can have the Demon Realm; I’ll play here with all of you guys instead! We’ve got tons of players, and a bunch of cool stuff here in this big city! I bet there’s enough games to keep us busy for years and years! And if the Divider comes and bothers us, I’ll just move us to a new realm somewhere else!”

He then smiled brightly; “Yeah, I like that idea! Let’s make this place our new home! But we need a proper club house!” he snapped his fingers and the Platinum Spire began to rumble a little, but soon stopped as the Collector frowned. “Ick, there’s a whole bunch of annoying spells on this tower! It’d take forever to rebuilt it with them here, so we’ll have to build our clubhouse somewhere else!”

The boy flew over to the window and began to look around for a good spot; “Huh, this city is shaped like a big flower! Pretty…”

“Collector, please listen to us! We need to save our friends in the Demon Realm! We can’t stay here and play forever!” Amity tried to reason with him. The Collector just shook his head in response.

“Nope! I pinky promised with King that I’d do my best to protect his big sister and all his friends! That means keeping you all with me! Don’t worry; we’re gonna have a blast!” he giggled, before turning his back on the group again.

They were left helplessly looking to each other, none of them having a clue on what to do. From what they’d been told, Archivist Magic didn’t work properly on Titans (meaning Sephiroth Magic probably didn’t either), so King would be immune to him and Luz might be resistant thanks to the Titan power in her glyphs, but even then they doubted they could beat him in a fight. They also didn’t really want to fight if they could help it; the Collector was going about things in just about the worst possible way, but he seemed to just be a kid that didn’t know any better.

King and Luz slowly approached him together, with Luz reaching out for his shoulder; “Collector, we should talk about this.”

The Collector ignored her, then gasped and suddenly turned around; “I’ve got it! A super awesome tree house! We’ll make the best-est tree house ever! Right in that!” he said, pointing to the tree-like Divine Crossroads in the distance. “I bet I could make a whole castle in that thing!”

“Um, I’m sure you’d make an amazing castle, Collector. But we need to-whoa!” Luz was suddenly cut off as a pair of pink ribbons swirled through the air, picking King and her up and making them levitate beside the Collector. He then snapped his fingers and made Camila, Vee, Hanu, Treble, and the Hexsquad all begin floating around him.

“Let’s go!” he cheered, before flying out of the window his Star Minions broke and heading to the Divine Crossroads. As they flew, Luz, King, and their friends looked out across the city and saw the Star Minions floating around in the sky. A couple of them were being attacked by Knights from Crest Diligence, resulting in them turning the Knights into puppets and causing the watching populace to panic and run for cover. They all felt a surge of panic; this was awful! The people were being terrorised and the Collector didn’t seem to care, or even notice! He just hummed happily as they flew to the Crossroads.

They eventually landed outside it so the Collector could get a good close-up look. A lot of Angels had taken refuge there or begun using the gates to flee to other cities in the Divine Realm, but none of that concerned the Collector; he didn’t want to live in the tree itself, he just wanted to use it as the basis for his Tree House!

“Now I gotta find stuff to build my Tree Castle! Oh, I know! You guys wait here, I’ll be right back!” The Collector said, before dropping the group gently on the grass outside the Crossroads and flying off.

As soon as he was out of ear shot, they huddled together to discuss what to do next. “Okay, so this whole situation went from the worst possible situation to a slightly better but still awful situation. Anyone got any ideas on how to make it not awful?” Gus asked.

“We could always try and run through the gates and get to the Demon Realm?” Skara suggested, “If we find a gate to the Boiling Isles and the Collector follows us to get us back, we could lure him and the Divider into fighting each other!”

“Assuming the Collector doesn’t just run away! Or worse, side against us!” Matt pointed out.

“Well then, maybe this is Luz’s time to shine!” Willow smiled, hoping to get some spirit back into her best friend; “What do you think Luz? You managed to turn Boscha into a basically good person, so I bet the Collector will be way easier!”

“Rude, but accurate.” Boscha conceded.

“Turning spoiled brats into decent people is kinda your signature move, right Luz?” Amity smiled, squeezing her girlfriend’s hand. “You did it for me too after all.”

Luz just paled and looked down at the ground, on the verge of panicking; “I-I don’t know… I-If I mess up again and make everything worse…!” she began to breathe a little faster, “I already tried to protect everyone but all I did is upset everyone and make King desperate enough to release the Collector and now everything is going crazy and the Union won’t forgive this and it’ll all be for nothing and…!”

The poor girl’s mind began to spiral, horrifying her friends. Camila was quick to hold the girl to her side and try to soothe her, while Gus and Lyra gently walked her through the counting and breathing technique to try and steady her. The rest of the gang backed off a step to give her some space, and Hunter turned to Vee and Treble.

“Forgetting the Collector for now, we need to do something about the populace of the city. If they panic any more, this place will become a war zone between the Collector and the Angels. You two should transform into a couple of the Seraphim and try to calm people down, and have them spread the word.” Hunter instructed.

Treble agreed immediately and transformed into Camael, while Vee bit her lip as she looked at her struggling sister. She wanted to be there for her, but this was all she could do for the moment. Looking back at Hunter with a determined glint in her eye, she transformed into Raphael.

“Tell us what to say.” she said in Raphael’s youthful voice. Strangely enough, it didn’t sound too different from Vee’s normal voice.

“Tell everyone that the situation with the Collector is being dealt with by the Seraphim, but everyone is to return to their homes and remain there until the all-clear is given. This includes law enforcement. Only essential personnel required for medical care, power, and water are to continue working. Under no circ*mstances is anyone to assault the Star Minions.” Hunter ordered, taking charge as he often did back in the Emperor’s Coven.

Vee and Treble nodded and rushed towards the closest Angels they could find and gave them their instructions and ordered them to pass the message along to any Angels they met on their way home. Before long, the Angels were all fleeing back to their homes, emptying the streets. The sound of some Angels shouting the orders for all to hear echoed around, amplified by magic, but within about ten minutes of giving the order, Hunter, Vee, and Treble found that everyone was gone, and the Divine Crossroads stood empty and eerie in front of them.

The Basilisks took their own forms again and turned back to the others, who were watching Luz. The girl had stopped hyperventilating, but now she just stood there staring at the floor, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. She let King sit on her shoulders and pet her hair (a look of guilt etched on his face), and she kept her grip on Amity’s hand, but otherwise she seemed to be barely acknowledging the world around her.

“We’ve take care of a basic evacuation, and it looks like it worked around here. But there’s no telling if it’ll spread to the rest of the city.” Hunter informed them.

“Good job, you three.” Camila praised with a tired smile.

Before anyone could say anything else or make more plans, Matt noticed something out of the corner of his eye and turned to look at it, then gulped.

“Uh, guys? The Collector’s back. Looks like he found something to build his castle with!” the boy said, pointing a shaky finger to the sky. Everyone turned and gaped as they saw the Collector flying back to them with a huge and very familiar building floating behind him, held up by magic ribbons attached to more Star Minions.

It was the entire Patience Court! The Collector had literally carved the entire thing out of the city, including the courtyard, the penitentiary, the rehabilitation centre, the Grand Court itself, and some subterranean buildings beneath them that looked vaguely like utility facilities. There were no broken pipes either, so the Hexsquad assumed the underground parts were a private water and power station, so a power outage or problem elsewhere in the city wouldn’t disable the security at the penitentiary.

The Collector stopped just above King and his friends, while waving his hand to make the Patience Court float above the Divine Crossroads.

“Ta-da! I’m gonna use this thing to make my Tree Castle! This is one of the bad places where the Bad Birdies bullied your big sister and you, right King?” the Collector asked with a big smile.

“Um, yeah…” King mumbled, regretting that he’d told the Collector all about the hearing and the Patience Court when they were planning what to do the previous night.

The Collector picked up on his regretful expression and frowned; “Hey, why are you so glum? And hey, did Luz’s eyes do that leaking thing?” he looked at the girl’s tear-stained cheeks. “Did someone bully her again? I’ll deal with ‘em!”

“No! No one bullied me! Please don’t hurt anyone!” Luz begged.

The Collector blinked in surprise, but King quickly took his attention; “We just don’t like seeing that bad place! That’s all.” he lied.

“Oh! Now I get it! Don’t worry, I’ll make it look better! I’m just using this thing for blocks. I’m gonna build something way cooler! Watch this!” The Collector ordered gleefully, before flying up high and clapping his hands. The entire Patience Court completely shattered, coming undone brick by brick, with the raw materials and furniture flowing through the air to begin forming a new structure. The incredible display of magical power was mind-boggling and truly showed just why the Sephiroth were so feared and respected! If they could do something like this with a snap of their fingers, just what else were they capable of?

Camila noticed a lack of any people inside the disassembled buildings, much to her relief, and shouted up to the Collector; “What did you do with the people inside?”

“Oh, some of them were mean and attacked me, so they’re puppets now. I told the others to go home until I was ready to play with them! There were also some Bad Birdies in cages in one of the buildings, and an armoured guy told me they were criminals! So I turned them into puppets too and left them with the armoured guys.” The Collector explained, not looking away from his work. He was twirling his fingers back and forth like a conductor’s baton, directing all the blocks and materials to construct his perfect Tree Castle.

Finally, after only about five minutes, the Collector clapped his hands once again and declared his work to be finished. King and his friends all looked up at the castle, and despite the situation, they found themselves admiring it. It was a large castle shaped like a halo floating above the Divine Crossroads, made of the same white stone and golden detailing as the rest of the city, but with the addition of a star and moon motif. The castle was also vaguely tiara-like, with one part of the ring being more pronounced and built up than the rest, looking like a celestial cathedral.

“All done! What do you guys think?” The Collector asked, looking proudly between them and his creation.

“Uh, it’s very nice Collector.” Camila said nervously, “But can we please talk about what’s going on the Demon Realm? We really need to help everyone there!”

The Collector groaned loudly and rolled his eyes; “King! Your Tia is being boring!”

“Aunt Camila is just worried about the rest of our friends and family.” Lyra said shyly, nervous about being turned into a puppet too; “We’re all worried. It’s hard to play and have fun when you’re scared the people you love are in trouble. Like my Grandpa Osran.”

“Or Darius and Eber.” Hunter added.

“My Mommy and Daddy too.” Boscha frowned, actually looking a bit vulnerable for a moment.

“And my Dad, plus Uncle Scooter!” Skara said.

“And my parents and Big Bro! Plus my Bro’s Mom!” Matt agreed.

“And my Dad.” Gus nodded along.

“And my Dad and Papa too.” Willow fretted.

“And my Dad and older siblings, and grandparents too.” Amity’s eyes became downcast, and she felt Luz squeeze her hand a little.

“And then there’s my Mom, and Titi Raine, Aunt Lily, and Grandma and Grandpa!” King exclaimed, getting emotional. “We’re all worried about them, plus the rest of the CATTs too!”

Vee, Hanu, and Treble nodded along, even though they didn’t personally know anyone in the Demon Realm now that the Basilisks were back in the Human Realm. The Collector frowned at their reactions and huffed.

“That’s silly! My Mama is missing too and I can still have fun! And my siblings all got blasted by King’s Mama and I don’t care about those meanies! Just forget about all that and have fun! The Divider isn’t gonna kill them!” the Collector argued.

King frowned; “We don’t want to play with you until our families and home is safe!” he declared, hopping off Luz’s shoulders and putting his foot down.

“No!” The Collector stomped his foot; “This is your home now! And you pinky swore! Remember King!? You said that if I protected your big sister from those bullies and made sure they couldn’t hurt her or your friends, you would be my new best friend and play with me whenever I want! Well I wanna play now! I was locked up for 5000 years! I wanna play a lot!”

King shook his head; “I’m not playing with you until my family is safe! If you don’t want to help then fine, but you’ll just have to wait until I’m done! And I’m not gonna play with a bully either, so let all the Angels you trapped go! The Seraphim were one thing, but you turned a lot of innocents into puppets too and basically conquered the city!”

With King’s every word, the Collector grew redder and redder in the face as he struggled to contain his temper. He was on the verge of a major tantrum, and it was likely only his love of Baby Titans and the knowledge that his magic wouldn’t work properly on King that made him hold back. That didn’t stop him completely however, and he snapped his fingers and caused golden ribbons to appear from thin air and encircle King, before transforming into a fancy golden bird cage.

“Weh!?” King exclaimed as the cage floated into the air.

“King!” Luz cried as she reached for him, only for the cage to fly away extremely fast towards the Collector’s castle.

“If you’re gonna break your promise then you can go in time out!” The Collector yelled after him.

“King!” Luz cried again, flapping her wings to go after him. She didn’t get far before a pink ribbon wrapped around her ankle and yanked her back towards the Collector, who waggled a finger in her face.

“Nuh uh! Luz needs to stay here with me! It’s not time out if he’s not alone!” The Collector said, “But we can still play while he’s in time out! What do you wanna do first? I don’t wanna do any of the really fun ones until King is being nice again, but we can do some other games! Ooh, how about tag?”

Luz ignored him and just tried to pull free of the ribbon holding her ankle. When that didn’t work, she went to shoot a light beam at it but the spell fizzled out almost immediately, shocking Luz. She tried again and again, ignoring the confused Collector and her worried friends and family, until she eventually gave up and just tried to summon a light glyph. The light glyph appeared but almost immediately shattered, making Luz gasp and look down at her chest where the light glyph was etched onto her skin. To her horror and the horror of her friends, the glyph began to flicker until it faded altogether, vanishing from her skin as if it was never there. As soon as it was gone, Luz felt a huge chunk of her energy disappear with it, causing her wings to become a dull, washed-out grey colour as she went limp in the sky. Unable to fly, she ended up hanging upside down from the ribbon holding her ankle, looking utterly stunned and heartbroken.

“The light glyph disappeared… I lost it… D-Did Orion take it away? Was losing King the last straw?” she asked herself in a broken whisper.

The Collector poked at Luz’s sternum where the light glyph had just been, a strange look on his face; “Weird. It didn’t feel like Uncle Orion took the power away, but it’s still gone. It looked to me more like you rejected it. But whatever, can we stop being all sad now? I’ll teach you how to have fun! But if you try to runaway again, I’ll put you in time out too!”

Between seeing King dragged off in a cage, Luz’s heartbroken expression as the light glyph faded from her skin, and the Collector’s callous, uncaring attitude towards their whole situation, the others had had enough!

“Stop already!” Amity growled, hopping onto Ghost and flying at the Collector. She actually managed to catch him off-guard and slam into him, making him fly away with a surprised yelp.

The Collector came to a stop and looked at Amity; “Ha ha! That was fun! Are we playing pinball?”

“No, you idiot! We’re not playing with you! We’re sick of you hurting our friends!” Amity, using her own light magic to cut the ribbon and pull Luz onto the back of her staff, still looking shell-shocked. The rest of the Hexsquad was flying on their staves too (except for Lyra, who preferred to fly with her wings while wielding Waffles like a proper staff), and the others joined them in the air, with Camila and Vee flying with their own wings while Hanu and Treble rode with Willow and Skara respectively.

“Let King, the Angels, and all of us go! You do that, and we’ll play with you properly once everyone is safe!” Amity demanded.

The Collector’s eyes widened in surprise, before he grit his teeth and summoned a crescent mark; “You’re not being very nice right now!”

He shot the mark at Amity, but she dodged out of the way and conjured some spikes out of abomination slime that she launched at the Collector. He was hit, and the spikes covered him in purple slime as they splattered harmlessly against his skin. It made the Collector giggle at the mess, so Amity countered by trying to harden it to restrict his movements, though he kept moving easily as he scraped some of the gunk out of his eyes. Hunter and Willow then tried to knock him unconscious with a team attack; Willow conjured Iron Vines from the ground to tie the Collector up, while Hunter shot the vines with huge amounts of lightning magic to zap the Collector. Again, the only response was some giggling from the Collector.

“W-What is that!? It tickles! Hahaha!” he thrashed about, easily breaking free of the vines and cracking more of the abomination slime shell.

Seeing her shell wouldn’t last much longer, Amity used the abomination self-destruct spell on it, causing it to begin swelling up until it exploded with a loud boom. There was a yelp of surprise and then coughing from inside the smoke, but then the Collector just inhaled deeply and blew all the smoke away with a huge gust of wind. The smokescreen blew over their group, so Gus tried to use it as cover to make an illusion, turning them all invisible while leaving illusory copies to fly around the Collector. The Collector was briefly distracted, but then he got a strange look on his face and frowned.

“Oh no, you’re not tricking me with your fibs!” the Collector cried, his eyes glowing ominously for a moment. Hw clapped his hands and a shockwave blasted through the area, causing all the illusions to disperse.

“W-What!? He can see through illusions!?” Gus exclaimed.

“Yup! The magic of itty bitty spiders doesn’t work on me! Just like how my magic doesn’t work on Titans, but like, way more!” the Collector said smugly, seemingly torn between amused at this new “game” and annoyed by the group attacking him.

“Oh yeah!? We’ll see about that!” Boscha growled, holding dozens of small potion bottles in her hands. She tossed them all into the air, and Skara immediately began playing her harp to manipulate the wind with her Bardic Magic. The wind caught the bottles and blew them around the Collector, bombarding him from different angles. Some were simple explosives, while others were acid or smoke bombs of some kind, or even miscellaneous potions like a Pale Curse Potion to stop him from healing. However none of them had the slightest effect, excluding the smoke bombs which at least blinded the Collector for a moment, giving Lyra the opportunity to try and use a combo move with Hanu and the Basilisks.

Lyra sank Vee into the shadows, then used tendrils of inky black darkness to try and bind the Collector’s right arm and leg, while Hanu grew a small tree and had its branches shoot out to bind the Collector’s left arm and leg. While the Collector was occupied pulling himself free, Treble used his Forest Siren Basilisk abilities to fuse into the trunk of Hanu’s tree and emerge from the branches holding the Collector’s arm, while Lyra conjured a throwing knife and launched it at the Collector’s face. It bounced off harmlessly, but since Lyra had been careful with positioning, the sun was behind the Collector’s head and so he cast a shadow on the knife, which Lyra used to expel Vee from the shadow world. Both Basilisks then began to try and devour the Sephiroth child’s magic, aiming to put him out of commission for good.

However, not a single wisp of magic emerged from the Collector, who just giggled at them.

“Silly Snakes! You can’t eat my magic! People like me and the Titans are way too strong! You’d get sick!” The Collector said, before making a crescent mark on the end of a finger as he pulled free from the restraints without difficulty; “Too bad! This was almost fun!”

He flicked the mark at Treble, who gasped before being turned into a puppet and falling to the ground. Hanu screamed and rushed to catch him by leaping off Willow’s staff and using conjured vines to swing from her tree towards him. She managed to grab his puppet form and get to the ground, but before she could say a word, she too was hit by a mark and turned into a puppet.

The Collector then turned to Vee, who tried to flee by flying as fast as she could. The Collector pointed a mark at her, but Camila shot the mark with a light beam before he could fire it, giving Matt time to create a huge rock dome to trap the Collector. This dome also cast a shadow, so Lyra used it to shoot tendrils out and grab everyone, including the puppet Treble and Hanu, and pull them into the shadow world in an attempt to get them to safety. They all watched from the shadows as the Collector turned Matt’s rock dome into sand with a snap of his fingers, then look around in confusion, wondering where they’d gone. He briefly twirled his finger to make the sand shape itself into a huge sand castle, then giggled and pulled the front of his cap over his eyes. No one in the group knew what he was doing, until Lyra sensed something in the shadows and saw ethereal copies of the Collector’s eyes staring at them.

“Found you!” The Collector giggled in the physical world. He then clapped his hands and produced a blinding light that erased all shadows within range of Lyra’s magic, forcing the entire group out of the Shadow World and causing them to land in a heap. Lyra was shocked; since getting better with Darkness Magic, normal light hadn’t been able to destroy her shadows! The only way they could be destroyed now is by magic stronger than the magic she’d put into her own spells, so the Collector had broken through it easily.

As one final act of desperation, Vee tried to use her Rainbow Light Beam just as she’d done against Subject Zero, while Lyra and Camila tried the same light and darkness explosion, hoping it would at least do something! Barachiel’s halberd had cut the Collector, even if he’d healed immediately and didn’t seem to feel the pain, so there had to be something that could damage him!

However both attacks struck the Collector head on, doing no damage at all. The worst they’d done was make him blink as the bright flashes made him see spots for a moment. As soon as they were done though, he shot a pair of crescent marks at them, aiming at Vee and Lyra. Vee was hit and turned into a puppet before Camila could react, but since she was closer to Lyra thanks to their combo, she was able to throw herself in the way of the second crescent, being turned into a puppet instead of the Dark Angel.

“VEE! MAMI!” Luz cried, catching her Mami in her arms while using vines to grab and cradle Vee before she hit the ground. She then looked up and saw the Collector preparing more crescent marks and knew in that instant that there was no hope of victory here. Gently putting her mother down, she threw herself in front of Lyra just in time to stop another crescent mark from hitting her.

The Hexsquad, being the only ones left still flesh and blood, cried out in horror as Luz was hit and turned into a puppet. However their horror became confusion, mirroring the Collector’s own as Puppet Luz didn’t go rigid and flop to the ground, instead remaining standing and lurching around awkwardly. After a moment, the mark on her forehead burned away, and Luz returned to normal with a gasp of relief, though she also collapsed to her knees after the disorienting experience.

“Luz! Are you okay!?” Lyra cried, grabbing the girl and shoving her into the midst of the Hexsquad.

“I-I’m okay. It just felt like I blacked out for a moment.” Luz answered. She assumed she’d become a puppet, but she hadn’t experienced anything beyond a vague sense of the magic around her. That at least eased her worries; if it was the same for everyone, then the others turned to puppets likely weren’t suffering.

The Collector looked intrigued; “Wow, your Titan powers are pretty strong if you can just shake off my puppet spell. But if I make it a lot stronger, I bet it’ll hold.” he said, creating another crescent mark that crackled with more power.

The Hexsquad grit their teeth and prepared to continue fighting, but Luz shook her head and put her hands up; “Y-You win Collector! We give up! We can’t beat you!”

“Luz, we can’t give up! What about everyone back home?” Willow whispered urgently.

“We can’t help them if we’re all turned to puppets! Just… just play along with him for now. You guys might be able to convince him later. We’ve got no other choices.” Luz whispered back.

The Collector narrowed his eyes; “Are you really giving up? Because I’ll be mad if you’re fibbing again!”

“I’m an Angel, Collector. I can’t lie without pain, and I’ve had enough of that today.” Luz replied, sounding utterly exhausted. It wasn’t even noon yet, but she felt like she hadn’t slept in days.

The young Sephiroth hummed with a suspicious look, then snapped his fingers. A swarm of golden ribbons made their way through the gathered Hexsquad, snatching away their Palismen and wrapping up their bodies. Their tight knit group was then pulled apart, and the golden ribbons transformed into golden bird cages, just like the one that carried King away. The cages were big enough for them to both stand up and lie down comfortably, and the floors of the cage were lined with plush purple pillows so they were quite cosy, but that didn’t change the fact they were all caged. Their Palismen were also returned to their animal forms and similarly caged.

Once they were all locked up, the Collector levitated them all in a ring around him. “You know, I’m a little mad! I did all this so we could have a nice fun place to hang out and play, and I even stopped those mean bully birdies! But you’re all being really ungrateful! I’m trying to be a good friend here, but you just won’t listen!” he scolded with a pout.

“This isn’t friendship! Bossing people around and making them do what you want is not friendship! Trust me, I should know!” Boscha yelled.

“Yeah, and taking a place over and lording your power over them isn’t cool!” Matt agreed.

The Collector huffed and looked away; “Yeah, well we’ll see how you feel after your time-out! I’ll wake you up in a couple of hours.”

Amity blinked; “Wait, wake us up? What do you-?”

She didn’t get to finish before the Collector released a strange golden orange smoke into each of their cages. The Hexsquad members breathed in the fragrant smoke, and felt a sense of peace and calm fill them as their eyes glazed over, all of them glowing with a golden orange sheen. This left them all in a kind of stupor; they were still conscious, but their minds were trapped inside their own heads, within a time-out illusion of an empty white void that the Collector made. It was boring in there, which was the exact punishment the Collector had in mind. The only one who hadn’t succumbed yet was Luz, her Titan power weakening his spell, though her eyes were still flashing between their normal state and the golden orange sheen.

“C-Collector…” she whispered weakly, fighting the effects.

Once again, the Collector just patted her head like she was a pet, reaching through the bars of her cage to do so. “It’s okay! Once you’ve had your time-out, I’ll forgive you and we can have fun! I’ll even let your Mama and Snaky Sister out too, and we can all play together! You’re all really important to King, so I want you to be important to me too! But you gotta have your time-out and be good first! Nighty-night!” he said cheerfully, before giving Luz a concentrated dose of the golden orange smoke. This time Luz’s Titan resistance wasn’t enough, and she succumbed to the time-out illusion, staring blankly ahead like all her friends were doing.

With that done, the Collector took them all up into his Tree Castle, which he decided to call his Archives, just like the bigger one he’d lived in with his siblings before. They floated through the building until they reached a room that seemingly contained a starry void filled with some giant floating toys, and pretty star, planet, and moon shapes in all the colours of the rainbow. King’s cage was hanging above a giant rubix cube, his eyes glazed over just like his friends’, keeping him trapped in his own time-out illusion. The Collector snapped his fingers and the Hexsquad’s cages were grabbed by golden ribbons and moved to hang in the air beside King’s, while their Palismen (which weren’t put under illusions) were all placed inside a giant playpen with a protective barrier over it, so they had plenty of room to run around and play, but couldn’t escape.

“Okay, now I’ve just gotta wait for time-out to be done! I’ll get King in an hour and the others in two hours.” the Collector decided. Perhaps he was biased towards his best friend, but he also hadn’t attacked him like the others had. The only problem for the Star Child was that now he had no one to play with! The Palismen were cute but too scared of him now, and the other Birdies would all run around screaming if they saw him, just like they did with his minions.

Well, he still had his puppets!

“I guess I could play hide and seek with these guys for a bit.” he said, snapping his fingers and summoning the puppets of Camila, Hanu, Vee, Treble, Lazuliel, and the Seven Seraphim. He clapped his hands to animate them according to his commands, then said; “Okay, go and hide around the archives! I’ll count to 100 then come find you! First one to get found is it next turn!”

The Collector then covered his eyes and began to slowly count to 100, while the puppets ran off to hide around the archives. He didn’t even get to 10 before he had a sudden thought; “Wait a second, with so many people to find, it might take more than an hour… I don’t wanna keep King locked up longer.” the Star Child tapped his chin, then grinned; “I know!”

He flew up to King’s cage and snapped his fingers to make it vanish, then grabbed the still entranced King and gently moved him over to the Palismen Playpen. He lay King down inside the pen with the Palismen, then cast a spell on the pillow King was resting on. “There! When the hour is over, this’ll wake King up and he’ll have the Palismen to play with until I get back! It’ll be great!”

With that, the Collector went back to counting, starting from 10 and slowly working his way to 100 as he eagerly waited to begin his game. However unbeknownst to the Collector, there was more than just puppets hidden within his archives…



When he finally awoke, Belos found himself trapped and disoriented. The last thing he remembered was trying to possess Hunter, before he was hit by some powerful blast of lightning. The next thing he knew, he was waking up inside some kind of glass orb, completely trapped and unable to escape. Peeking out through the glass (which was too tight for him to shape shift in), Belos saw that he was trapped inside some kind of empty white room, with a heavy silver door in front of him. The orb he was trapped inside was atop some kind of marble pedestal too, but it and the whole room seemed to be shaking.

Belos was powerless to do anything as he watched the world around him shake for a few minutes. He felt pretty good; his energy had largely been restored and any damage he’d suffered from Hunter and that lightning bolt seemed to have regenerated, though considering he’d been unconscious and at the mercy of those wretched sinners, Belos was surprised he’d woken up at all!

The shaking eventually stopped, but this only last for a moment before it came back worse than ever, and the room he was in began to come apart block by block. Belos was surprised, as it looked like the entire building was breaking apart and being reformed into a new shape. During this, the glass orb containing him fell from pedestal and cracked against the stone floor, leaving just enough of a break in the orb for Belos to ooze his way out of it. The instant he was free, Belos clung to the block he’d landed on for dear life and tried to grasp what was happening. As the building reformed, he caught a glimpse of an immaculate city of white and gold, as well as a huge tree of the same materials, plus a copious amount of crystals. Belos also saw what appeared to be a child flying in the air; he was a bit too far to get a good look at, but the child’s silhouette reminded him of the Collector’s shadow form.

Clinging tightly to the stone block he was on and only moving when he was nearly crushed by the block being set into a wall, Belos held out until finally everything stopped moving and he found himself suddenly inside the hallway of the new building. The shaking had stopped and showed no signs of starting again, so Belos began creeping around as he kept his senses sharp. The hallway he’d found himself in was largely white and gold, but also had various shades of blue that reminded him of the evening sky. The ceiling itself depicted clouds and stars in the night sky, and the walls were full of murals that seemed to depict beings like the Collector, as well as Titans in various stages of their life, and even those bizarre Titan Trappers Belos had encountered once. The rest of the murals seemed to show celestial bodies in the same stylised way, making Belos mutter to himself.

“This building was surely made by the Collector! He must have escaped somehow! I’ll need to be careful until I can gather more information. First, I need to find a way outside.” he said, before picking a random direction and hurrying in it. His slimy body had regained enough strength to take on his monster-like form, so he was able to move quite quickly on all fours, staying close to the ground and ready to pounce at any moment.

It took him a while, but Belos eventually found a window and looked outside, giving himself the first proper look of the world he’d found himself in. The immaculate golden city could only be one thing in his mind!

“Was I killed by those sinners and sent to Heaven!? I must have; what else could this place be!?” he asked, a disgusting smile on his rotten face; “Praise the Lord! My work was not for nothing! But why am I stuck in this form?” he looked down at his rotted limbs. “Is this my penance for my sins? Or was I supposed to regenerate my true form inside that orb, and the process was interrupted by the Collector’s actions?” he wondered aloud.

He then glowered as he thought about the Collector; “Come to think of it, why is he even here? What is he doing!? He built this strange… sky crown… in Heaven! Atop a holy tree! But how did he get out? The only one who should be able to do that is… the Titan Brat!” Belos gasped, suddenly piecing together what he believed to be the truth in his deranged mind. “The Brat must have released the Collector sometime after I was destroyed, and now the Collector is helping those sinners invade Heaven itself! I must do something to stop them!”

With that, he decided to turn around and head deeper into the building, searching for any signs of Demons he could destroy or Angels he could aid. He ended up using his slime’s stickiness to cling to the ceiling to ensure he wasn’t discovered before he was ready to reveal himself. Once again, it took him a while to find or see anyone in the labyrinth-like creation of the Collector’s castle; everything was eerily quiet without the sounds of movement or battle or talking! Most of what Belos heard was his own raspy breathing!

After a short time, Belos finally got a stroke of luck when he heard a strange wooden tapping coming towards him, like the sound of someone running in wooden shoes. He clung tightly to the ceiling and peered ahead, noticing the source of the sound was some kind of puppet. It was an odd one; it appeared to be some kind of humanoid monkey with the face closer to that of a beautiful human mixed with a monkey, and it was covered in golden blonde fur that had copious amounts of ribbons tied into it, as well as on the end of the puppet’s tail. They were barefoot with monkey like feet (the wooden puppet’s steps being the source of the tapping he’d heard before), and they were wearing some kind of sleeveless glittery green sundress with flowers shaped like stars embroidered all over the hem of the skirt. The puppet was just running along with a blank look on its carved face, clearly operated by magic, so Belos decided to make use of it. After all, the body of that puppet would be less likely to scare any potential allies he came across, and if it had magic then he could absorb it to gain even more strength! If he got enough, he might even be able to retake his Human form!

Belos waited for the puppet to run past, then descended silently to the ground and stalked up behind it. When he was as close as he could get, he grabbed it and spun it around, then poured his slimy form into the puppet’s mouth, filling it’s interior completely. As Belos possessed it however, he found things he hadn’t expected to; a soul and a mind! Both were largely dormant, their owner in a deep enchanted stasis, but that worked perfectly for Belos! This puppet had actually been some kind of Demon, and he could pick through it’s brain for information!

As he did so, Belos learned many things. He learned his host was named Manuella Hanu, a bastard child of a noble from the Boiling Isles, and former student and minion of Terra Snapdragon that turned to the CATTs when Terra betrayed her. More importantly, he learned what had really happened while he was unconscious; namely the Angels arriving to arrest Luz, the hearing, the trial, and what caused the Collector to be unleashed and what happened in response. Some of the details were murky, and Belos found a strange web of enchantments in the girl’s brain that he had to undo, revealing that her memories had been altered somehow. Belos didn’t pay too much attention to these memories at first, only seeing that it involved a powerful Angel working with someone in the Demon Realm to subjugate it, something Belos made a note to investigate later, sensing a potential ally.

However, Hanu’s memories did reveal three crucial facts: firstly was that Belos was not dead, explaining why he hadn’t been restored to his true form. Secondly; he’d been arrested for apparent crimes by the Angels (likely a mistake he could talk his way out of once he’d spoken to uncorrupted Angels, or something he could redeem himself for by finishing his duty to destroy the Demon Realm). And thirdly, he was now in the perfect position to deal with those wretched sinners and save the Divine Realm and its Angels! After all, now he knew that the Collector was vulnerable to Titan Magic, and there was a Baby Titan nearby, along with an Angel infused with Titan Magic!

Belos grinned darkly; he could redeem himself of his sins and use Luz… no, Luciel, to do it! She’d serve her purpose and save the world from evil, even if Belos had to be the one behind the wheel!

Yes, that would be perfect! He’d find Luciel and possess her, then use her Titan Power to deal with the Collector. From there he could go to the Demon Realm and face that other Sephiroth, the Divider if Hanu’s memories were correct. He’d already made a Grimwalker of him, but hadn’t been able to possess it… though if he had Titan Power coursing through him, he might be able to overcome the Sephiroth’s powers to successfully control the Grimwalker! With an immortal body and all that power at his disposal, destroying the Demon Realm would be easy! But he had to get Luciel first!

Hanu’s last memory of Luciel showed her as part of the group fighting the Collector, so the young Angel had likely been bested, meaning she was either a puppet or in a cage somewhere like the Baby Titan. Either way, she had to be in the castle, so Belos began to run around whilst making his host body move just as it had before he possessed it. He wasn’t running for long before he ran almost straight into the Collector, who looked confused.

“Hey, I thought I told you to hide! It’s not proper hide and seek if you’re not hiding! Did you not find a good place?” The Collector asked, floating close to the possessed puppet; “Are you kinda slow? It’s no fun if you’re not faster!”

“Uh, no Lord Collector!” Belos replied in Hanu’s voice; “I-I was actually hoping to find you!”

The Collector’s eyes widened; “Hey, how are you able to talk on your own like that? And I’m supposed to find you! Did I do the spell wrong? Did you break it?” he wondered aloud, producing another crescent mark.

Belos put his arms up in surrender; “No! No, it’s nothing like that Lord Collector!” Belos lifted his host’s fringe to show the intact mark on her forehead; “The spell isn’t broken or anything! You did it perfectly as always. It’s just…” he wracked his brain for the perfect way to manipulate the brat; “… I-I was just having so much fun with you that it made me realise how wrong I was to fight you. I felt very guilty, and wanted to repay your kindness, so I came to find you!” Belos lied shamelessly.

The Collector blinked slowly, before giving a big smile; “Really!? I knew it! I knew that if I just showed you guys how to have fun, you’d understand and be my friends and playmates! I can’t wait to tell King and the others! Once they play with me, they’ll never want to leave me!”

Belos smirked, a look that was disguised as a simple smile on Hanu’s face. The Collector was such a child; and from what Hanu had learned, he was just a fake Angel! Perhaps not a Grimwalker like Lucy, but still an imitation made by a Fallen Angel that had since disappeared from God’s Creation! As such Belos felt no shame in manipulating him. In fact, he could use the brat to get into the perfect position to possess Luciel, and maybe hand out some punishment to those foul Brats that had led her astray!

“Lord Collector, what exactly have you done with our other friends?” he asked, feigning concern.

“Oh, I put them in a time-out.” the Collector said casually.

Belos gave him a questioning look, and the Star Child happily explained everything. The knowledge that Luz and her manipulators were all trapped inside their own minds and helpless gave Belos a cruel idea, making him inwardly smirk. Outwardly however, he put on a show of sighing theatrically and looked worried.

“What’s wrong, Hanu?” The Collector asked, “Are you not feeling well? You’ve got some gunk on you…”

Belos wiped his cheek, where some of his slime was leaking out from Hanu’s body. “I’m a Plant Witch and a Demon; these things happen.” he said dismissively, before saying; “And I’m just worried that the others will be too stubborn to even try and play with you! They can’t see the error of their ways if they don’t play, but if you force them to then they might be so angry that they’ll refuse to let themselves have fun!”

“Really? But then what should I do?” The Collector asked.

“Make them want to play with you. Make them feel grateful to you. And I know just how to do it!” Belos grinned; “Instead of an empty void of boredom, turn those Time-Out Illusions into something scary. Even nightmarish! Make them utterly terrified, then enter the illusions yourself to save them from the nightmare. They’ll be so grateful that they’ll listen to anything you say!”

The Collector looked conflicted; “B-But that sounds mean! Scary stuff can be fun, but that is more than just a little bit scary! A-And they’ll know what I did! They’ll hate me for sure if I scare them like that! I want to be their friend!”

Belos held back a sneer, then decided a different approach. “Then how about you instead have it so the time-out illusion draws out their guilt and insecurities? Something not controlled by you, but conjured by their own minds? That way you can still save them, the bad things they feel will be purely their own fault, and you can tell them their own minds created those illusions without it being a lie. Plus, it’ll be like therapy! They’ll be faced with their nasty guilt and feel hopeless, but you’ll come and erase that guilt like a hero! You’ll make them feel better and grateful! It’ll be perfect!”

“D-Do you really think that’ll work?” the Collector asked, looking almost convinced.

“It will! I guarantee it!” Belos lied. Truthfully though, he didn’t care. A little mental anguish and torment was what those evil sinners deserved! Plus he’d seen Luciel’s mental state in Hanu’s memories; the girl was practically broken already, and some illusions to enhance her guilt and self-hatred would be perfect for crushing the final vestiges of her willpower, which would allow him to effortlessly control her!

The Collector began to absent-mindedly float around as he considered the plan. It sounded a little mean still, but if his puppet friend was right then it’d solve his problems and ultimately make his new friends happier! All he wanted was for him and his new friends to have fun together away from all the other Sephiroth who’d get in the way, like the Divider and the Archivists…

Ultimately, the Collector agreed; “Okay, I’ll do it! They’ll see the error of their ways, I’ll come in and beat up all the guilt inside their heads to make them feel better, then they’ll be so grateful that they’ll agree to play with me, and that’ll make them realise how fun it is and they’ll never want to leave me alone!”

Belos smirked, and followed the Collector as he spun around and went flying back towards where he’d imprisoned King and the Hexsquad. The Collector chattered on the whole way, talking about all the games they’ll play and how long it’ll take the other puppets to “wake up” like Hanu had, while Belos played the role of the dutiful yes man and agreed with whatever made the Collector happy, all while reinforcing the poison he’d already been dripping into the child’s ears. They eventually arrived in the large play room, where the Collector flew over onto the large rubix cube and levitated Hanu-Belos with him. It amused the evil man to see all his enemies in cages, seemingly zoned out, while he noticed the Baby Titan zoned out in a pen filled with Palismen, who kept their eyes solely on the Collector as they hid behind King and the various toys left in the pen with them. Belos tried to make sure he acted as much like a mindless puppet as possible so they didn’t catch on and reveal who he really was when their masters escaped; he couldn’t afford to be discovered until he’d possessed Luciel and caught the Collector off-guard!

This turned out to be unnecessary, as the Collector flew over to the pen and declared it “Nap Time”, putting all seven of the Palismen he could see to sleep, so they wouldn’t know what the Collector had done to their masters when they woke up later. It did give Belos pause though; only seven Palismen but eight sinners? He knew Luciel didn’t seem to have a Palismen, but one of the others was still missing. The Collector didn’t seem to notice either, so he either knew one of the Palismen escaped being captured before, or he’d forgotten one that was hidden somewhere nearby. Either way, Belos wondered if he could bust through this barrier once he had Luciel’s body; it’d be like opening a lunch box full of little morsels to further boost his power and ensure his control!

The Collector then went up to each member of the Hexsquad one by one and snapped his fingers, turning the glow of their eyes from golden orange to just orange, and causing them to begin whimpering and muttering as their guilt began to manifest inside their minds. He did this for all of them, though Belos noted he spent a bit longer with Luciel (likely due to her Titan resistance), and actually had to draw a spell circle to cast the same spell on King, which also raised the question on why he was able to cast spells on the Baby Titan at all.

Unable to keep in his curiosity, and thinking it could be useful information, Belos asked; “How is it you’re able to cast spells on King, Lord Collector? I thought the Titans were immune to the Mighty Sephiroth?”

“They are, which is why I’ve gotta use the magic of itty bitty birdies!” the Collector answered. “It’s harder to cast my spells with this magic than my stronger kind, but it’s the only way I can make ‘em work on King.”

Belos’ eyes widened; “You still have access to Angelic Magic, despite being created as a Sephiroth from birth?”

“Yup! My Mama was an Angel that grew up big and strong and became a Sephiroth! Me and my siblings all have the same magic inside us! It’s how my mean siblings fought and cursed Auntie Cassiopeia! King’s Mama! Not that it worked out for them in the end!” The Collector said, snickering a little at the memory of his siblings’ fates.

“King’s mother was able to defeat the other four Archivists?” Belos asked.

“Yeah. She had to blow herself up, since my siblings kept retreating to heal each other. If we get Titan magic inside us, the ouchies we get won’t go away unless we heal ourselves with magic, but we can’t use our healing if we’re the ones with the Titan ouchies! So Auntie Cassiopeia blew herself up and hit all four of my siblings at once, giving them bad Titan ouchies that they couldn’t heal each other from! They had to run away somewhere to heal super slowly over like a billion years! Serves ‘em right for killing all my Titan friends!” The Collector said, a vindictive smile on his childish face. He then had a thought; “Now that Auntie Cassiopeia’s soul moved on to the In-Between Realm with Uncle Orion, a lot of her magic has probably disappeared though… I wonder if they’ve healed up by now.”

Belos didn’t know, or care; if he could deal with the Divider then the weaker Born Sephiroth would be no problem! And the foolish child had just given him the perfect tool! If Titan-inflicted wounds impaired their ability to heal, then he just needed to catch the Collector off-guard once with a devastating blow; something to keep him out of commission permanently!

Once the Collector is done, he went to cast another spell on King, but Belos interrupted him. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“What you said, silly! I’m gonna go in and fight all their bad feelings and guilt! I already used my magic to make special connections between my brain and theirs, so I can send my mind in to kick their guilt’s butt!” the Collector explained.

Belos shook his head; “Oh no no no, that’ll never do. You need to give them time to stew in their guilt. If you come to the rescue too quickly, they won’t be properly effected! Give it an hour or two.” he said, wanting to get the Collector to leave while Luciel was still under the power of the guilt illusions, so he could sneak over and possess her.

The Collector hummed, then nodded; “Okay! I’ll come back after finding all the other puppets playing Hide and Seek! You come too, Hanu!” he declared, before grabbing Belos and dragging him out of the room. Belos inwardly cursed, but at least now he knew where his prey was! It was just a matter of finding the perfect moment to sneak away! Luciel would finally be his, then he’d save the Divine Realm, purge the Demon Realm, and earn his proper place in Heaven!

He smirked; things were finally back on track!

The Angel of the Owl House - Chapter 46 - OwlHouseAngel (2024)
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Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.