Traditionally, noble mothers give their daughters a string of pearls as a coming-of-age gift.
—by Olivia Ramstedt, “8 Epic Coming-of-Age Gifts for Girls,” Wanted Magazine, volume 362, no. 5
I knew this day would come.
The Commander has gone insane.
There are three Commanders, but when someone says “the Commander” with no qualifiers, we’re talking about Commander Seraphiel, popularly known as Seraph.
Uriel was my mentor and he was the best mentor ever, but even I had to admit that Seraph was the most famous of us ELs. People normally become legends after they die, but Seraph has been worshipped as the most powerful warrior in the world since he was eighteen.
How the mighty have fallen!
Seraph started acting strange two days ago. He came to work very late which he'd never done before. Uriel was worried, and I was helping him at the office that day so he asked me to call Seraph’s apartment.
“Hello, this is-” I started to introduce myself, but I was interrupted.
“Don’t call me again!” Seraph barked over the phone then hung up.
A worried expression flitted over Uriel’s face when I told him what had happened, and he called Seraph himself. I could hear Uriel’s part of the conversation.
“What? It’s only been one day. You were warned this might happen. Calm yourself, Seraph. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Calling every day is a bit… no, there could be circumstances. You’re supposed to come to work like normal.”
Whatever the problem was, Uriel persuaded Seraph to come to work, but he was only in his office for an hour before he rushed off during his lunch break.
“He’s going home to check his messages,” I overheard Sariel say to Uriel as they left for lunch.
“What else can he do?” said Uriel.
Seraph came back after his lunch break, but he didn’t do any work. He spent the entire time pacing in his room and staring at his phone. He left in a tearing hurry the minute office hours were over.
We got a mission to hunt monsters in the Great Pirineus. Seraph tried to refuse the mission, but the other Commanders persuaded him to do it by saying, “It’ll take your mind off it” and “You can take the day off afterward.”
The helicopter ride took three hours and Seraph spent the entire time glaring at the passing clouds and tapping on the hilt of his new long sword. It was a masterpiece that he’d ordered from a famous smith. Seraph’s other swords were plain and functional, but this one had a winged blue star etched on the hilt. He’d named it Starfrost.
“See that wavy black line of rocks? That’s where the cecarid made their nest,” said the helicopter pilot as he circled the mountain lake where we were going to start the mission.
“I see it,” said Seraph. He got up, buttoned his greatcoat then opened the helicopter door.
“Hey!” said the pilot.
“Seraph-” Uriel never finished whatever he was going to say because Seraph jumped out of the helicopter.
“That crazy bastard!” said Sariel as he closed the door.
We all gaped at the sight of Seraph plummeting down to the lake. We were so high up that if there had been people down there, they would have looked as small as ants. Our enhanced EL sight let us see Seraph coolly using wind anima to control his descent. All the other ELs and I were extremely impressed.
“I didn’t know he could do that,” said one EL.
“I didn’t even know that was possible,” said another.
“No one else could do that.”
“Because you’d have to be certifiable to even try it!” snapped Sariel. He sounded pissed off, but I knew that was only because he and Uriel were extremely worried about Seraph’s erratic behavior.
The helicopter followed as quickly as it could, but then Uriel said, “Get the helicopter away!”
“What?” said the pilot.
“Seraph said to move away!” I said, seeing it. Seraph was waving his arm in the “move out of the way of my attack” signal.
Right in front of our disbelieving eyes, Seraph unsheathed his sword and pointed it at the cecarid nest.
“He’s too far away,” said an EL.
“Uh, maybe he’s just softening them up?”
“Look!” said another EL, as though we weren’t all glued to the windows watching Seraph.
Eye-wateringly bright white light surrounded the Commander. He was going to use a special skill! None of us had ever seen Seraph’s special skills since there weren’t any monsters that were strong enough for him to need to use one.
Seraph summoned dozens of enormous ice blades that hung in the air for a few seconds before falling down to the cecarid nest, exploding as they hit the ground. A dazzling flash blinded me and a violent wind buffeted the helicopter from the shockwave of Seraph’s skill. When my vision cleared, I looked down and saw a white ring rapidly expanding outwards. It was a massive blast storm of ice and wind. In moments, everything in its path had been destroyed. The nest was so completely obliterated even my EL sight couldn’t find any trace of it. The entire lake had been turned to ice.
I’m sure the awe that I saw on the other ELs faces was mirrored in mine.
When the wind had died down, the helicopter made a landing near where Seraph was waiting. Without waiting for the rotor to stop turning, Seraph wrenched the door open and entered.
“Let’s go!” Seraph yelled to the pilot. “Tell the other helicopter they’re in charge of the cleanup.”
“Yes, sir!” said the pilot.
Seraph turned to the window and continued silently glaring at the clouds and tapping on the hilt of his sword as though nothing had happened. The rest of us were mute with wonder. Seraph only spoke once, when we were near Kraej City.
“Inform base of our ETA,” he said to the pilot.
“Why?” Sariel whispered to Uriel.
“He told his secretary to meet him at the landing point with his messages,” Uriel whispered back.
“Smart. I hope she has a message waiting for us.”
Seraph was so eager to return that he tried to leap off the helicopter the moment the base came into sight, but Uriel and Sariel were on the alert and managed to stop him just in time. It wouldn’t do for the pencil pushers to receive reports that the Commander was acting peculiarly.
The unlucky secretary squealed when Seraph snatched the sheaf of papers from her hand. He quickly leafed through the messages, but the one he wanted must not have been among them since he threw them to the ground and stomped off, swearing.
Uriel and Sariel exchanged glances then followed after him.
“Israfel, file the report for us,” Uriel ordered. “Just say Seraph used an ice spell. It’s after hours so we’re leaving now and taking the day off tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. We didn’t get a day off after a mission, but it was the ELs division’s unofficial custom that we were allowed to slack off. I spent an hour typing up a bland report about eradicating the cecarid infestation at the Great Pirineus Lake then turned it in right before midnight.
“Are you done?” To my surprise, Uriel had called to check up on me despite the lateness of the hour.
“Finished the report just now,” I said.
“Grab your spare uniform and come to Seraph’s apartment.” He gave me directions to Seraph’s place.
Uriel and Sariel peppered me with commands the moment I stepped inside Seraph’s apartment.
“You’re here to run errands for us because we have to stay with Seraph at all times.”
“Don’t ask what’s wrong.”
“That room is one hundred percent off-limits.”
“If the phone rings, get out of Seraph’s way as quickly as you can.”
“You can watch TV or listen to the radio.”
“Sleep on the sofa tonight.”
“You can leave tomorrow after you do the errands.”
I waited patiently until they were done and asked, “What is this all about?”
“We’re on suicide watch,” said Sariel.
“Don’t even joke about it,” said Uriel to him. To me, he said, “Seraph’s upset about something so we’re keeping him company, that’s all.”
My parents didn’t raise no dummy, so I knew exactly what was wrong with Seraph. There was only one thing that could have driven him this crazy.
It had to be a woman. I always knew this day would come. Seraph had had hookups but he’d never been serious about any woman. Until now, it seemed. He was the cold, unfeeling type who when he fell, fell hard.
“I hope she calls soon,” I said solemnly. The two Commanders exchanged rueful looks, but weren’t surprised that I’d figured it out.
“Don’t ask him about it,” said Uriel.
“That woman’s going to be the death of us all!” said Sariel.
Let’s hope not.