“I’m going to smoke you like a sausage on a Totherian street cart.” Simon let his wings flutter out behind him. He gave them a few soft flexes just for good measure, letting the jet-black feathers catch on the soft wind.
“What’s that?” Patricia glanced over at him, a curious frown on her face. Her own white wings stretched out behind her as well, ready for action. “You use the funniest words!”
“That’s because I’m funny.” Simon knelt down, stretching his wings one more time. “Now, all we need is an impartial judge to start us off.”
“Go!” An annoyed voice shouted from behind him. Patricia blew past him in an instant, her wings beating as fast as she could move them. She arced up into the sky, angling for the spires of the towers of their fortress, giving herself quite a lead over Simon.
Simon swore under his breath and took off after her, frantically trying to catch up. He zoomed through the air behind her, slowly gaining speed as she leveled out around the top of the tower, twirled around it, and began to fly along the top of the wall.
Simon quickly looped around the tower as well, beating his wings as hard as he could manage. As they passed over the enormous wooden gate of the fortress, he drew up next to her, thankful just to be with her.
Patricia was… Well, she was something else. Despite not exactly hitting it off with her back on the angel homeworld, he had grown to enjoy her company a great deal since moving to their new home in Istinis. She was fun, she was silly, she was everything that the world wasn’t. He cast a single gaze across at her face, relishing the way that her cheeks formed elegant dimples speckled with auburn freckles. Her hair blew back behind her head, her white dress fluttered in the wind.
Despite their newfound ability to shapeshift, many of the angels simply continued to use the forms that they had been trapped within for the previous several thousand millennia. While he himself enjoyed experiencing a number of different shapes, he rather appreciated the fact that Patricia didn’t bother to indulge in such things. She was just so… Perfect. Why change something so elegant?
They flew neck and neck until they rounded the final tower, at which point they spun and blasted up into the sky, rising as high as their wings could take them. Patricia burst into laughter as she finally noticed how close Simon was, and the two of them continued to race higher and higher. Finally, as they blew through the bottom of a puffy white cloud, Simon slowed and took a deep breath. Patricia slowed and stopped as well, and, for a few moments, they just floated there.
The cloud soon enough blew on by, leaving them hovering hundreds of feet in the air. Simon continued to flap his wings, but let his gaze wander downwards, to the fortress that they now called home. Home. It was such a strange thought, and yet there they were. Not on any maps, it was located about twenty miles outside of the enormous city of Ondtov in Istinis. A sparse forest covered the hills around them, warm-weather deciduous plants that perpetually looked like they were in autumn due to the influence of the Scorched Lands nearby. They were in talks with the Lord Commander to find them a more permanent solution, but at least until the rumored anti-angel sentiment throughout the land died down, there was no reason to push anything.
And, as far as Simon was concerned, there was no need to push anything. It wasn’t large, but it was more than large enough for the two hundred survivors to begin building up their new life. Empty homes had been filled with laughter not heard from either gender in millennia. Empty shops were now filled with the smell of fresh-baked bread. Walls stood to repel their enemies, swords hung ready to be equipped by the soldiers. It was truly something remarkable, something that Simon had never even imagined would be possible.
“Thank you for this, Simon.” Patricia sighed and held out her hands, which Simon quickly took. “I keep forgetting that we can fly this high!”
“That’s because Fortrina never let you guys outside of that bubble of yours.” Simon snickered as he thought of the stern-faced angel that liked to consider herself his boss. “It’s really something, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Patricia sighed, then tilted her head back. The sun blazed down overhead, blocking out the stars, but that hardly meant that they weren’t there. “And you said that you used to be able to go even higher than this?”
“Our ship could sail from world to world, star system to star system, dimension to dimension.” Simon nodded. “You would not believe the things I’ve seen.”
“Tell me one of those stories. Please?” Patricia gave his hands a squeeze and looked him directly in the eye. “You always say that you have stories, but you never actually tell them to me!”
Simon kept his face outwardly stoic, but winced inwardly. That was because his stories involved quite a large number of women, and he didn’t exactly think that such topics were necessarily the most appropriate to share with a potential mate. Not to mention that most of his stories that didn’t involved women involved massive amounts of death and destruction, which were things that he was now far more careful to avoid.
“Look, Patricia…” Simon sighed and pulled his right hand out of hers, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Everything you can remember happened in a bubble. Literally. Your memories have been shielded, and I just… I can’t expose you to the horrors of the world.”
“Isnita says that we need to be exposing ourselves to the world.” Patricia blinked several times. “I haven’t actually gone to any of the classes yet, but-”
“First off, those classes are a joke.” Simon held up a finger. At the request of Mal and Isnita, the de facto leaders of the new colony, the Lord Commander had begun bringing in mages from the various institutions of higher learning across Calsin to teach the angels. “I don’t care what they say, knowledge of how to identify a dwarven potato from an elven potato has no practical value. Secondly…” Simon shrugged. “There’s no need to rush things. I just-”
Simon’s voice was cut off as a mystical force burst into existence between the two angels. He was tossed backwards, away from Patricia, and sent tumbling head over heels. He finally caught himself and slowed his fall a few hundred feet below, and gazed upwards to find another angel floating next to Patricia. She was immediately recognizable as Fortrina, clad in a tunic emblazoned with a red sun. It had been purchased from the Istinis military, which the hardhanded enforcer now used as a symbol of her power. She seemed to be giving Patricia some sort of lecture, and Simon sighed. He started flapping back up to meet them, only to have Fortrina make a sharp gesture with her hand. Patricia dove, flashing past Simon to the fortress below.
Simon sighed, then folded his wings and dove as well, chasing after her and mostly ignoring Fortrina. They continued to race down to the fortress itself, where they leveled out and slowly angled down to the main courtyard, a small open space just inside the main gates. Patricia landed and darted into the streets, vanishing from sight. Simon landed and started after her, only to be cut off as Fortrina landed in front of him.
“What in Calsin was that all about?” Simon balled his fists as Fortrina took her stance and spread her wings. Unlike most of the other females, who had kept their white wings, Fortrina now sported brownish-red feathers that closely resembled those of a hawk.
“You know the rules.” Fortrina snarled as a crowd began to form around them. “You signed the same document that the rest of us signed.”
“Firstly, I signed it under protest.” Simon held up a finger. “Secondly, what in that document states that I couldn’t go fly around with a girl that I happen to really like?”
“The part of the document that states that you’ll sleep with her the moment she lets you.” Fortrina spat. “Oh wait, no. That’s just your personality.”
“I’ve changed!” Simon took his own stance, preparing for combat. “Ask anyone. A year ago, a fortress like this would have been paradise. Now, I just want to survive.”
“You want a lot more than survival.” Fortrina sneered. “You’ll be the death of us all.”
“Keep talking like that, and I’ll only be the death of you.” The words left Simon’s mouth before he had a proper chance to process them. Fortrina’s jaw hardened, and Simon winced.
Fortrina threw her wings backwards, throwing herself forward quite powerfully. Simon let his defenses take over, transforming his body into solid stone. Fortrina’s fist slammed into his face, only for something to snap quite loudly. Simon reverted back to ordinary flesh, then shifted his right arm from the elbow downward into the blade of a bronze sword. He lunged forward, only for Fortrina to raise her hands and shift them into the form of solid metal shields. Simon’s sword glanced off her palms, and she lunged forward, the top of her head transforming into something that looked rather like an anvil.
Before she could strike home, another blast of concussive magic separated the two brawlers. The handful of angels that had gathered to watch the fight quickly scattered as two more angels slowly descended from the sky. They landed with a thud between Simon and Fortrina, which rather annoyed him. He could have taken her!
The newcomers, of course, were Mal and Isnita. The two siblings, the two tyrants. Mal had kept his male form, and in fact had changed very little since they had left Elsinor. His body was still streaked with odd lines of age, wrinkles and streaks of white through his hair. The only true change was his long coat, a leather piece of apparel that had two long tails that hung down to his feet.
Isnita, on the other hand, changed her appearance on a nearly-daily basis. He had seen her take on forms that we male, female, elven, dwarven, aqahartis, and still other shapes. At that particular moment, she was female and sported her ordinary facial features, but was covered head to toe in thick white feathers instead of clothes.
“What’s the issue here?” Mal glanced back and forth between Mal and Fortrina. “If the two of you don’t start behaving, I’m going to figure out how to build a prison that can actually hold you.”
“He was breaking the rules.” Fortrina pointed a finger at Simon. “He knows the regulations, and he was clearly breaking them.”
“I was trying to spend some time with someone I consider a friend.” Simon muttered. “Despite my clear trajectory showing otherwise, some people just can’t see me as anything other than a villain.”
“You have no regard for anyone other than yourself.” Fortrina spat. “I’m trying to keep us safe.”
“And I’m trying to have a life.” Simon shot back. “Nothing was going to happen. I just-”
“Hold on.” Isnita held up a hand and turned to Simon. “What exactly was going on?”
“I was going on a flight with Patricia.” Simon shrugged. “We were talking. It was nice. That was it.”
Isnita nodded and turned to Fortrina. “And you saw something different?”
“They were clearly flirting. I guarantee that he was going to ask her to eat supper with her.” Fortrina scowled. “He loves eating meals with people.”
“Some people consider social interaction to be a necessary part of survival.” Simon scoffed.
“Please.” Mal took a deep breath and closed his eyes. After a few seconds, he sighed and turned to Simon. “Simon, you know the rules. I don’t mean to impose such harsh regulations on you, but until the mages can finish doing an analysis of our species, we can’t risk anyone getting pregnant.”
“If we’re going to survive as a species, we’re going to need to be getting pregnant.” Simon crossed his arms tightly. “We’re not exactly immortal anymore. Procreation is kinda how other races stay afloat.”
“I’m aware of that. I’m also aware that other species, especially humans and dwarves, have an incredibly high mortality rate among mothers and infants.” Mal inclined his head. “There are two hundred thirty-seven of us left. That’s it. If we lose even a single angel, we lose those genes. We shrink the pool, we increase the possibility that our species fails. We have to be careful. Not to mention the fact that even though we’re probably older than this entire planet, biologically we’re still children.”
Simon scowled at Mal. “Who made you the leader, anyway?”
“Literally everyone except you and Fortrina.” Isnita crossed her arms. After a few seconds, she sighed. “Alright, look. We obviously can’t mandate that no one spends time with anyone else, but I would ask that you refrain from pursuing such close relationships with anyone else. Obviously, we don’t have the luxury of saying no females, so just try to maintain professional relationships? We’re all under that same crunch, it’s not just you who’s suffering.”
On the other side, Fortrina chucked. Mal shot Simon an exasperated look before spinning to face the crowing angel. “You’re next, Fortrina.”
“What did I do?” Fortrina protested as Isnita turned to her as well. “Come on! I’m trying to protect our way of life!”
“Our way of life is protected.” Isnita gestured at the walls that rose around them. “We’re alive. So many of our brothers and sisters can’t say the same thing. We have no way of knowing how many people we lost, but it’s likely been hundreds of thousands if Simon remembers the numbers correctly. Hundreds and thousands of our people, immortal just like us, who have been scattered throughout the multiverse. Maybe their curse was broken as well, ending their suffering. Maybe they’re still out there. We don’t know. What we do know is that when our world exploded, billions died. The fact that we’re still standing together, all this time later…” Isnita shrugged. “That’s no small miracle. We have rules, but it’s okay if someone wants to meet up for a meal together. Mal and I often share an evening meal with each other, and it’s rather nice on occasion.”
Fortrina hmphed. “What would you have me do? Just sit around, then?”
Mal held up his hands. “Find a job. Do some work. The rest of us have jobs.”
“Pointless jobs.” Fortrina countered. “Shipments of food arrive every week. We have servants here to clean up after us. The Lord Commander is taking care of every aspect of our lives for us. There’s nothing to do. Nothing important, anyway. People just have hobbies. Baking. Weaving. Painting. Nothing that I’m going to be good at.”
“Well, we’re not going to order the servants away anytime soon.” Mal inclined his head. “Lord Commander Salthia has agreed to honor the request from the King of Elsinor even after reports of his death. I will not slight her honor.”
“She’s using you, you do realize that, right?” Fortrina barked. “She wants an army of shapeshifters, and you’re going to give that to her.”
“She’ll be waiting a long time if that’s her plan.” Mal chuckled.
“So you’ll give it to her successor. Or her successor’s successor.” Fortrina sighed. “Listen to me. Please.”
“As leader of the angels, I’m giving you, Fortrina, the executive order to go find something to do.” Isnita crossed her arms. “We have plenty to do in this city. Just… Enjoy yourself. Please.”
Fortrina muttered something under her breath about enjoying enforcing the rules before turning and stomping away. As she vanished into the distance, Mal and Isnita turned back to Simon. He risked a celebratory sneer in Fortrina’s direction before directing his attention to Mal.
“You realize that she’s probably not wrong, right?” Simon raised an eyebrow. “I’ve seen similar situations throughout the entire known multiverse. People with our kinds of abilities and naivety are easy marks for giant, oppressive armies. The Lord Commander could be sacrificing a hundred times the number of resources she’s sending our way, and it would still be a good tradeoff.”
Mal sighed and scratched his head. It was strange, to see the boyish face streaked with such age. Mal had seen more during his battle with Ferguson than Simon cared to think about.
“Believe me when I say that Isnita and I are aware of the situation.” Mal finally sighed and inclined his head after glancing around to make sure that no one else was in the area. “Look, what would you have me do? We don’t have the resources to break free of Istinis right now, and even if we did, everyone on this continent is going to want to kill us. We would be in constant danger. We still might be in constant danger over the next few years anyway depending on whether or not word of our existence happens to leak out.”
“So why not enjoy life right now?” Simon held up his hands. “Why live like this is we’re just going to get cut down in a few years anyway?”
“Simon, think. Please.” Isnita placed a hand on Simon’s arm. “There’s so much we don’t know about our species. Consider for a moment, just a moment, what might happen if one of us were to get pregnant when we had to go on the run. Or if we have small children who can’t stay quiet or shapeshift? We don’t yet know for certain, but it stands to reason that any females who get pregnant won’t be able to shapeshift either. We’re in an incredibly perilous situation, and we can’t afford any risks.”
“I don’t know if anyone has bothered explaining bipedal anatomy to you, but my flying around with Patricia isn’t going to get her pregnant. Nor will eating a meal with her.” Simon protested. “Please. I just love spending time with her. Or if you’re too worried about her, pick someone to let me spend time with that you won’t worry about.”
Mal groaned and ran his hand through his hair. After a few seconds, he sighed. “Spend as much time with Fortrina as you’d like. Believe me when I say that I’m not overly concerned about the two of you.”
“It feels like being handed a sandwich that you know is poisoned, but I’ll take it.” Simon sighed as Isnita gave him a soft nod before blasting back up into the air. Mal cocked his wings as well, and Simon held up a hand. “Wait.”
Mal paused. “Yes?”
“I just…” Simon sighed. “I miss the old days. You and me. Diving headlong into an interdimensional vortex. Saving the day. Getting shot with plasma pistols.”
Mal flashed a small smile. “You know I don’t remember any of that, right?”
“Please believe me when I say that I know it, and it hurts.” Simon felt a lump form in his throat. “I know you’re doing your best to keep us alive. Just… Please don’t sacrifice our lives for our safety. You know?”
Mal returned the thin smile, though Simon was certain that it didn’t carry the same weight that Simon’s smile contained. “I’ll do my best.”
With that, Mal blasted up into the sky after his sister. Simon watched them go, then puffed out his cheeks in frustration. It wasn’t that he wanted to go sleep around with everyone. It wasn’t that he even wanted to sleep with Patricia. He just… He just wanted a normal life. That was what they had promised themselves when they left Elsinor, right? Some semblance of a normal life? That’s what Simon had been fighting for. It’s what he had dove through a vortex to find, what he had recklessly chased Ferguson into the ruins of Nettingo to grab. A normal life, one filled with less death and destruction than tended to rain down upon the ill-fated angels.
Dejected, he turned and started stomping through the city, letting his wings trail behind him. All around, angels laughed and called out to each other. Baking breads, playing games. Eating that bread alone at tables, staring at candles and walls. Finishing the games and going about their pointless lives, wandering and wishing that they had purpose.
He continued to wander as the sun traced its way through the sky and began to set. Finally, drawn by an irresistible urge in his chest, he found himself standing at Patricia’s door. It was a small home near the rear of the fortress, tucked away in one of the most secure places possible. Simon had made sure that she had received the dwelling, well-protected from possible outside attacks. He sighed and began to knock on the door, not really caring if Fortrina saw him or not.
When the door cracked open, he found a rather terrified-looking Patricia staring out at him. He flashed her a small smile, even while she simply stared at him.
“Look, I just want to be friends.” Simon held up his hands. “Please, just give me a chance. Fortrina can go rot in a dungeon somewhere.”
“Simon, I…” Patricia sighed and shook her head. “Do you know what she said to me?”
“No, and I really don’t care.” Simon shook his head. “Please. I really like you. Just… Let’s go get something to eat. The two of us.”
“She told me what you’ve done.” Patricia shook her head. “She said that you probably hadn’t told me.”
Simon crossed his arms. “I’ve literally spent our entire time together telling you that I wasn’t telling you everything.”
“But now I know what some of those things are.” Patricia protested. Her voice dropped, emerging as a mere whisper. “You’re a monster.”
Simon felt his heart plummet. “I wouldn’t use language quite that strong.”
“Get out!” Patricia slammed the door. Simon sighed, fury boiling in his blood. He spun and once more began to march through the city, simply stomping back and forth without any real discerning path.
Oh, how he wanted to find Fortrina. He wanted to find her and smash her head into the ground, over and over, until she was dead. He wanted to spear her, he wanted to watch her burn, he wanted to do any number of rather horrible things to her. Life was so much easier when he could torture and kill people without actually killing them.
He was in such a rage that he soon found himself standing in the doorway of a pie restaurant, watching Fortrina slowly taking bites of a mutton pastry. The sun had set, leaving only candlelight illuminating the area. An angel bumped into Simon from behind, muttering softly under her breath.
“Move out of the way, will you?”
Simon muttered an apology and slid to the side as the girl stumbled through. Fortrina chose that moment to look up and meet Simon’s eyes. Once more, the fury flooded Simon’s veins. He started forward, intent on ripping her head from her body. He wanted to slash her open, he wanted to…
He didn’t want to do anything. The rage faded as he reached her table, and instead of attacking her, he simply dropped into the chair on the opposite side of the table. His wings flopped out across the ground behind him, and he sighed.
“A defeated Simon. Believe me when I say that I’m pleasantly surprised.” Fortrina smirked. “Which one of us got the harsher lecture? And yet which one of us is still functioning in society?” She leaned forward. “Maybe it’s time to reconsider your life, Simon.”
“She doesn’t want to see me anymore.” Simon’s voice was lifeless. “What did you tell her?”
Fortrina just raised an eyebrow. “Nothing more than the truth.”
“Fortrina, she doesn’t even know what a kiss is.” Simon sighed. “I’ve done nothing more than hold her hands. Trying to explain the concept of a hug to her would take hours and a detailed chart from one of the professors that keep showing up. And now she’s not talking to me. You at least owe me an explanation.”
Fortrina just shrugged casually. “I mentioned the number of people that you’ve killed. The number of people who have perished at the ends of your own weapons.”
Simon scoffed. “There’s no possible way to know how high that number is. Which is one of the reasons why I was so adamant that we revert back to a mortal state. You do remember that I was one of ones pushing for that, right? In fact…” Simon held up a finger. “It seems to me that you were one of the people trying to convince everyone not to go through with this whole mortal business.”
“At the time, I thought it was the right move.” Fortrina leaned forward. “I hadn’t yet realized just how deadly you people truly were.”
“And how do you know this, anyway?” Simon crossed his arms. “You weren’t on the realmship.”
“No, but I’ve talked to the people who were.” Fortrina raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard the stories. You were legendary. The wrath of Simon was almost as feared as Amil’s pettiness.”
Simon opened his mouth, then frowned. “And what exactly are we talking about here?”
“How about the time you burned down Septheris?” Fortrina held up a finger. “Or the time you dropped a moon on Planet X0-32.”
“In fairness, the moon was in self-defense.” Simon sighed. “It’s long and complicated, but I promise-”
“Or the time you carpet-bombed a city on Theranos?”
Simon sighed and shook his head. “What’s your game, Fortrina? I really, really liked that girl.”
“And so do I.” Fortrina took another bite of the mutton pie. When she finished chewing, she pointed the fork at Simon’s face. “I don’t think you understand what I went through back in that crater. You brothers got to go out and see the world. We were stuck in a single forest surrounded by desolation. For my entire living memory. You lost people when your ships blew up or crashed. We lost people when they just snapped. They decided that didn’t want to live anymore, so we turned them into mindless drones. They gave up, so we let them forget. They just wandered off into the wastes, never to be seen again.”
Simon snorted. “Sounds like you just let your people do whatever they felt like doing.”
“I was doing my best to keep them safe.” Fortrina snarled. “They gave up their responsibilities, and I took them on. Now, I’m told to stop doing the one and only job I know how to do. Well, guess what? That’s not who I am. These girls are still under my charge, and I’m going to do everything in my power to protect them. Even from their fellow angels. Is that clear?”
Simon sighed as a male angel with glittering feathers walked up to the table. Simon sighed and nodded, and a plate of mutton pie appeared in front of him. As he picked up his own fork and started eating, Fortrina just scowled at him.
“Does the survival of our species mean so little to you?”
“Does it occur to you that I’ve made sacrifices to be here, too?” Simon snapped back. “I was on that ship for, as you’re so fond of pointing out, my entire working memory. When I was stranded on Calsin, I wanted nothing more than to get back. Back to Amil, back to Ferguson, back to everyone I knew and loved. And do you know what I did the moment I found them again? I helped Mal escape their clutches. I branded myself as their enemies. It took a bit longer for them to discover it was me, of course, but that was the choice that I made. There was no hesitation. I did what I needed to do, I cut myself off from the only people I remembered caring about.”
Simon felt a lump form in his throat. “I never got to say goodbye to any of them. I never got to tell Amil how much I truly did appreciate his leadership. I never got a chance to congratulate Ferguson on his excellent pilot’s skills. I never got the chance to tell them how much I loved them, because I was too busy trying to find a way to kill them to protect this realm.” Simon shook his head and angrily stabbed at the mutton pie. “I’m no saint. I don’t claim to be a model of character, and I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit of a creep, but I care.”
Fortrina sighed and sat back, her fork now dropped from her threatening pose. After a few seconds, she sighed. “I’m sorry.”
Simon held her gaze for a few seconds before shrugging and nodding. “I’m sorry too.”
They continued to sit there in silence for several long minutes. In the distance, a log gave a mighty crack as it burned within the fireplace. Simon drummed his fingers along the table, odd thoughts running through his mind.
“So do you want me to go tell Patricia it was all a lie?” Fortrina finally held up her hands.
“No, no.” Simon sighed. “It would have all come out eventually. If she couldn’t handle it now, she wouldn’t be able to handle it later.”
“For what it’s worth, I agree.” Fortrina nodded slowly. “Patricia isn’t exactly the hardiest individual under my command. None of the carefree ones are. I can try to set you up with one of my generals.”
Simon closed his eyes. Images of Patricia danced in front of his eyes. When he opened them, Fortrina simply looked at him curiously.
“Fortrina, it’s not about just having someone.” Simon sighed. “It’s about having her. I just… I’ve been talking to her, and I really like her. But I keep telling you that, and you keep not understanding.”
“I’m sorry. I truly am.” Fortrina dipped her head. After a few seconds, she tapped her fingers against the wooden table. “Simon? Can I say something?”
“Please.” Simon nodded as he finished off his mutton pie.
“You don’t belong here.” Fortrina shrugged. “You thrive on adventure. You’re going crazy just sitting around here, and you know it.”
“I mean, I’m not going to argue.” Simon grimaced back. “Unfortunately, King Mal had decreed that we’re not allowed to leave.”
“Since when have you obeyed the rules?” Fortrina raised an eyebrow. After a few seconds, she sighed. “And, more importantly, when was the last time I bothered to break the rules?”
Now this was an interesting turn of events. Simon folded his arms as Fortrina leaned forward.
“Let’s run. You and me. I can’t protect people when I’m stuck here, not even allowed to hold a weapon. You’re just going to keep spiraling deeper and deeper into your own personal pit if you stay. Neither of us are fit for this.”
Simon felt his heart stop for a moment. “You mean… Leave the walls?”
“Why not?” Fortrina pressed. “We don’t even have to stay together forever, just long enough to figure out how to survive in this world. I can train to become a warrior so I can do my job. You can do… Well, whatever it is that you want to do. Go exploring. See the sights of Calsin. Find an attractive elven girl.”
Simon puffed out his cheeks and sighed. After a few seconds, he began to nod slowly. As far as his plans went, it was far from the craziest he had ever followed. It would solve his problems. Perhaps it would create some more, but it would give him freedom. Freedom to do… Whatever he wanted.
“Let’s do it before I change my mind.” Simon nodded slowly. “Race you to Ondtov?”
“You’re on.” Fortrina nodded. “Sparrows.”
“Deal.” Simon climbed to his feet and slowly walked out of the bar, a sense of surrealness fluttering through his body. As Fortrina stood next to him, he spread his wings wide and shifted into the form of pigeon. Fortrina did the same, and both blasted into the sky as fast as they could move.
Navigating as a bird was far different than flying in his normal form. Everything around him was so much bigger, for starters. He did a twirl in the air as he blasted past the stone rooftops and soared over the walls. Fortrina spared no such elaborate movements, but nonetheless kept up immediately behind him. Together, the two shot off across the forest, ready for their new destiny.
Of course, this all came to an end as a falcon came diving out of the sky after only a short distance. It slammed into Simon, snaring him tightly in its claws, and then swerved to bash Fortrina from the sky. All three birds came tumbling to the ground, where they crashed through an oak tree canopy and slammed into the ground.
Simon’s right wing snapped loudly, and he squawked in pain. He shifted back into his angelic form as quickly as possible, grimacing to notice that his right arm now hung at an odd angel. He waited for it to heal, only to subsequently remember that his healing powers weren’t exactly functional anymore.
Fortrina shifted back into her own form only a few feet away, followed by Mal growing up from the Falcon. As Simon cradled his arm in pain, Mal inclined his head at the break.
“I’m sorry, I truly am.”
“Spare me your sentiments.” Simon spat. “What are you doing here? You do realize that we have to sleep now, right?”
“I do realize that, yes.” Mal sighed. “I also know the two of you. I’m honestly surprised that it took you guys so long to try and run.”
“Don’t try and stop us.” Fortrina balled her fists. “We’re not coming back.”
“And I’m not asking you to.” Mal took a deep breath and walked up to Simon. He placed a hand on Simon’s shoulder, eliciting a brief flash of pain from Simon’s right arm. “I know that the two of you haven’t exactly fit in. I’m going to ask, once, if you’ll consider remaining a part of the community. We desperately need every person on board if we’re going to survive. Simon, a lot of things can be said about you, but you’re a survivor.”
Simon just gave a small smirk. “No, Mal. I’m not.” Mal opened his mouth to reply, but Simon cut him off. “I haven’t been a survivor since our species was cursed. You saw the same recordings that I did. I lost Lilith, and I was trapped in a body that I wasn’t familiar with. I tried every possible way to kill myself, and it never worked. Since then, I’ve done nothing but try to kill myself. I offered myself dozens of times over trying to find a way into Nettingo. I was gunned down by the brothers time and time again. I’ve been biologically slain millions of times in my life, and every time, even when I was planning on a resurrection, I’ve secretly hoped that it would be the end. That my resurrection cycles would run out, that I wouldn’t wake up, anything to end the miserable existence I had.”
Simon puffed out his cheeks as thoughts exploded through his mind. “For the first time since our curse, I’m actually faced with that reality. I have one life left.” He nodded down at his arm. “We don’t heal anymore. We’re mortal. And, for the first time in my life, I actually want to live.” He sighed. “I want to recapture whatever I once had with Lilith. I want to enjoy the few short years I have left. And I’m not willing to spend that time trapped behind bars.”
Mal slowly inclined his head, then lowered his hands and turned to Fortrina. “And you?”
“Nothing that eloquent, but the sentiment is the same.” Fortrina shrugged. “We’re mortal now. That was the goal, right? Well, let’s put that to use. Whether it’s in ten minutes or ten decades, the rest of our life is a fingersnap compared to what we’ve already lived. Let’s make something good out of it.”
Mal grimaced, but slowly nodded. “Then I wish you the best of luck.”
There was a short pause, and Simon raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? No begging, pleading, or reverse psychology?”
“Nothing.” Mal sighed. “If I fight you, you’ll be less likely to ever come back. Please, know that you’ll always have a home here. Whatever you do, I simply ask that you not threaten our species. No revealing our presence to the world. Deal?”
“Deal.” Fortrina nodded firmly. “I also vow to return to you with any news that I learn regarding the safety of our people.”
“Then I offer my thanks in advance.”
Mal turned away from Fortrina, but locked eyes with Simon. “Be careful, Simon. Calsin is a crazy land. I’d hate to see anything happen to you.”
With that, Mal flapped his wings and shot back up into the sky, being careful to avoid the tree this time. Simon sighed and turned back to Fortrina, his stomach finally starting to settle.
They didn’t have a plan, other than to leave. They didn’t have any support, other than each other. All they could do was travel, see what they could experience, and go from there.
Somehow, for the first time since the lifting of their curse, Simon actually felt alive. He only hoped that he would remain that way long enough to figure out what to actually do with his life.
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