If you want change, don’t ask for permission.
—Street art, Kraej City
I woke up at the crack of dawn with a headache. You would think that an OP demigod like me would have a spell that cures headaches and you would be right. This wasn’t a regular headache though, it was the aftereffect of channeling the goddess’ power in the Rite of Cleansing three times yesterday.
I lay on the bed for a few minutes more, waiting for the pain to subside. I could hear Seraphiel talking to Sariel and Uriel outside though I couldn’t make out any words. Rising from the bed slowly, I moved like an old, old woman with creaky joints. The throbbing pain in my head was bearable, but I didn’t think I’d be running any races soon.
The door opened and the three Commanders walked inside.
“Asteria,” said Seraphiel.
“Shoo! Shoo!” I croaked out. “Come back when I’ve showered.”
The three ELS obediently went away and I showered, brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and so forth. I felt a little better.
“Come in,” I called.
“That took forever!” said Sariel. He was the mouthy one of the group for sure.
Uriel didn’t say anything. He just put a brown paper bag on the table then started unwrapping what I assumed was my breakfast. The Commander looked a lot healthier today. His skin around his eyes no longer had that bruised look and the color had returned to his cheeks.
“Are you hungry?” asked Seraphiel. The others had fresh clothes on, but Seraphiel was looking a little rumpled. I wondered if he had slept at all last night.
“I’m so hungry I could eat a dyr!” I said.
“So explain what the hell is going on,” said Sariel as soon as I started eating the bread and ham. There was also a cold bottle of some sort of sweet soda.
“For goodness’ sake, let her eat first!” said Seraphiel.
Thank you, Ely. I had every intention of eating first. I would have wanted to spend more time with Seraphiel first, but I guess the other two must be dying to interrogate me. We all ignored Sariel, who kept muttering things like, “There’s no such thing as angels” and “I’m just about ready to start killing everything in sight.”
Once I finished my meal, I went to get my notebooks from my pack.
“Now are you going to explain yourself?!” Wow, Sariel was really close to losing it. Some time during the night he had taken the time to re-dye his hair and change his contact lenses. His hair was now orange with yellow tips and his eyes were red. His clothes, on the other hand, were all black today.
“Yes, I have my presentation ready!” I grinned as I opened the first page of my notebook and read my notes. “It’s like this: Lo! On the eighth day of the eight month, far-famed Adon, greatest of the princes of the Vinleaf…”
“Bloody hell, what is that?” said Sariel, pointing to my crayon illustration of the story of Iah. The souls of the dead had tried to teach me basic drawing skills but, sadly, I had absolutely no talent for it. “Is that a man with an enormous penis?”
“What?! No, that’s the hero Adon with his sword, Rust,” I said.
“Just a minute, how many drawings do you even have?” said Sariel. He snatched the notebook from me and started leafing through it.
“Eh, just a hundred or so,” I said. I had been preparing for this presentation for a long time, after all.
“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” said Sariel.
Seraphiel took the notebook from Sariel and handed it back to me.
“Why don’t you give us the shortened version?” said Uriel tactfully.
“Are you sure?” I said. “Okay, but you all have to promise not to make sarcastic remarks.”
“No promises,” said Sariel instantly.
“Yes, we promise,” said Uriel with a quelling look at the spiky-haired Commander.
“Fine.” I opened the other notebook and showed them a drawing of a piece of the moon falling to Verden. “One day thousands of years ago, a fragment of the moon fell down to Verden. An alien monster was living on the moon and fell down with the fragment.”
The next drawing showed the whole of Verden covered by a black ooze. “The Vinleaf called her Iah and she was a sentient virus that spread over the whole world.”
“A virus? Wasn’t it just a big monster?” said Sariel. The other two shushed him.
I turned the page to reveal a drawing of a many-headed, fanged, clawed, and tentacled monster. “Iah had the power to control other creatures and devoured thousands of humans and monsters to add to her body.”
I glared defensively at Sariel as I unveiled my drawing of the great battle. “Adon, yes that’s him right there with his greatsword, along with his three score hero companions, fought and defeated the monster at the place where the Gleaming Lake is now. That much has gone down in history.”
Next was a colorful psychedelic abstract illustration. I was very proud of this one, actually. “What people don’t know is that Iah was also a psychic predator. Beating her physical body wasn’t enough. The ancient seers and shamans of the Vinleaf worked together to meld their minds to fight her in the spiritual plane. In the end, they sacrificed themselves to defeat Iah. Let us observe a moment of silence for those brave heroes who gave their lives so that we might all live.”
I bent my head down and said a little prayer. Uriel grabbed Sariel’s head and Seraphiel covered his mouth with his hand. Sariel glared at all of us in turn.