Lightning rends the sky and splits the stone of the ground. Marietta—the archangel, the champion of justice and all that is right with the world—sits on high as if on a throne, and holds her staff to the sky, and it rips wide wide open and killing light pours out.
And Meria? She does what she’s always done, every second of her life—she runs. The second she stops running, she dies. So she’ll never stop running, as long as there’s a battle to be fought.
This is beyond her—probably. It’s definitely beyond the human souls she and her Arbitrator raised; she should never have tripped up so badly as to allow Marietta to take back this much power because they’ve got nearly no chance of winning.
She’ll win if it’s the last damn thing she does.
See, there are things more important than justice and order, and at the top of that list is being true to yourself. True to your dreams.
Meria can taste that dream of freedom, she’s so close to it. She can taste it as well as she can taste the dust and the flecks of blood coming up with her breath and the electric buzz to the singed air.
She runs through the ravaged earth of the forlorn gateway.
Gods, and angels, and Magi—are you watching? I’ll show you the miracle you’d never grant in a million billion years.
He is there with her, spreading hot white energy through her tired sword arm, and she charges at Marietta with all her strength, throwing herself out of the path of every judgment bolt as she heads into close enough range to strike.
“You’re nothing,” Marietta is screaming as if to deny reality; “you’re nothing and I will take back what I lost—”
“I am not,” Meria is screaming back (for the words deepen those chiseled cracks in her heart and her pride), “your cast-off goods, you bitch! I’m alive! I have a right to be alive!”
“You are nothing but an aberration to the Rule of our world, and I’ll strike you down in the name of—”
“Fuck you and fuck your justice! I’m me! I’m not you!”
She swings her sword even as her muscles scream at her that they can’t take any more—Marietta’s armor deflects most of the blow, but blood flies into the air nonetheless—and in a whirl of orange wings the archangel is airborne, out of range.
Meria screams her frustration and braces herself.
“Willimgard—please! Give me your power—just one last time!”
It fills her up from the inside out. Transcendence, ecstasy, luminescence, possibility; asexual orgasm through every nerve. Her racing heart speeds up, speeds out; the air ripples around her and she plants her feet wide as her hair billows up in spiraling curls, the Arbitrator’s power mixed and melded to her own and reforging her body into invincible steel.
A warning of system overload, faint dread curling in her toes and the backs of her fingers and she knows: she can’t. Not anymore. She’s finally done what she’s been risking all this time since her very birth: she’s gone too far.
She will die. If she keeps going. She will die.
…If she tells Willimgard to stop. She should still be all right.
…If she tells Willimgard to stop. He’ll die instead. His knights will die. Forever. Everyone on this world. Her, too. For daring to believe in something other than the gods: in freedom. In everything-in-balance, in chaos; for daring to have any hope at all.
Meria coughs and tastes blood, feels it dripping warm down her cheek and chin onto her breastplate. The distortion of the air makes a few droplets splash up onto her face instead.
She can see her dream: she reaches out.
It’s not so much that she has no other choice, but that choosing anything else would be repugnant to her: She’s doing what she wants to do. Selfishly, selfishly clinging to her pride. If she can do this as a result—an added bonus.
Meria grins; the expression twists her face.
All there is left to do is fly.
Her body screams warnings that she’s beyond hearing as she launches herself into the air, spreads her arms, and lashes black lightning and violet feathers across Heaven’s Gate.
No one else will grant this wish but her.
Meria stands still, half-supported on her sword, trying not to be too obvious about it (although really, that’s never worked too well with Willimgard, the damn little soul sees right through her every ruse). The ball of light is spinning circles around her even now.
“You better… go on ahead,” she manages to get out, making a weak shooing motion with her free hand. “Your body. It’s still down there. We’ve gotta get you back in that thing. There’s one thing… I’ve gotta do first. And I’m—a little tired. Shoo, now.”
The warm soul brushes against her cheek, and disappears down the path from which they came.
Meria coughs, and blood splatters across the ground. Her arms are shaking, her body is shaking, she can barely move and soon she won’t be able to breathe. Her body is slowly but surely shutting down, coming apart at the seams.
…Her dream. She’ll be pissed if she fails only a few steps away. She’s got to hold herself together. Somehow. Until she makes it.
She turns and stares at Marietta’s corpse.
It’s funny. Where did all that hatred go? Maybe once the life fled from that body, her hatred went with it. It’s just a body, a place she came from. Marietta is gone now; the thing she left behind her is just a thing.
Meria drags herself over to it. The steps are painful beyond anything, but she does it. Out of pride. Out of obligation.
She bends down—her joints creaking in protest—and lifts Ancardia. The staff fell from Marietta’s fingers when she died, and seems a bit scuffed, but it’s not otherwise harmed.
Meria looks at it. Solemnly, wasting precious seconds, she considers her options.
She smiles a little, bitterly; she’s already made that choice, hasn’t she.
“…I really… never needed this at all.”
With as much strength as she can muster, she cracks the staff in two over her armored knee.
……From then on, things are blurry. She has no idea how long it takes her to get back to the throne room—perhaps minutes, or hours, or days. To her it’s a timeless expanse of pain.
But she makes it. Her body about to fall apart and stop working and become a “thing” just like Marietta’s did, she makes it.
Willimgard is there, a soul fluttering anxiously around the body he cannot reinhabit. Meria had a suspicion this would happen; it’s the gods’ last fuck you to them. She’ll fix it.
…If she can stop coughing. If she stops tasting blood. If she can urge her heart to just—keep—beating—five minutes more. Just five minutes more.
The stairs take a lifetime to climb. Forget the battles, the escape, protecting Willimgard in exchange for near-certain death—this is the hardest thing she’s ever done.
And she is just in time: That which was Zolgonark is almost gone, disintegrating into dust and silt. She drags herself to the center of the remains, casts her sword down, and spreads out her arms.
“…Yeah. This way—is better. I’d rather use the power I won than the power I lost.”
And she claims the spoils of her victory, and reaches out to grasp the fleeting dream.
It’s nothing like the pure power of the Arbitrator. This power is heady and poisonous, and it tears her apart and violates her nerves as it flows through her body.
She emerges from the storm like a butterfly with its pupa half-sloughed off. Still evolving, still becoming a new creature, sublimation from angel to half-mortal to goddess. Her mortal flesh will melt and rot away and she will become something else.
She will become a something that is not Meria if she lets this go too far. She has to do this. Now. While her heart is still hers, while it still beats frantically but draws on the strength that will corrupt her with every second she does.
She opens her eyes.
“I wanted power—yes, more than anything I wanted power.”
Whose is this clear, melodic voice, with its high sweet pitch? Not hers, surely, and yet it frames her words perfectly.
“The power to destroy everything—the power to create everything. I wanted the power to live. …And I have finally attained that power.”
She opens her hands before her, beckoning, and smiles sweetly.
It takes a few moments—her half-transformed appearance must be frightening—but the white soul eventually drifts towards her. She frames it in small, reddening hands and brings it to her chest, then raises it and touches her lips to its light.
The eternal night over the land of Aventheim is shattered; everything turns inside out; Meria lays hands upon her dream and makes it hers.
It really hurts. Being enveloped in that power hurt, and feeling it flake away from her hurt a lot too. The knowledge soothes that hurt—the knowledge that she pulled away in time, wasn’t overtaken, remained herself.
But how unfair.
She’s so cold. The only warmth comes from the arms supporting her. And even though her eyes are open, she can barely see. She wants to see his face now, to see if he’s properly grateful.
How unfair. She won. She attained that impossible dream, but her time is already up. She can’t do anything with her hard-earned prize.
…Hey, Willimgard. Use it just like I would, okay?
She smiles her best smile and closes her eyes, which can’t even see anything anymore. And she goes to sleep.
…Was she dreaming?
Meria can’t remember. She feels awful. She doesn’t remember what exactly she was doing before she fell asleep, but she feels sick and can’t move. …She bets Willimgard brought her more feathers or something else her body had a bad reaction to, ugh. She relies on him so much and he’s the best companion she could ask for, but sometimes he’s pretty stupid. Especially for a king.
Somebody ought to complain.
She rolls to the side, or tries to, but her body is bound tightly and the heavy silken sheets drag across her bare skin and it’s too comfortable to move and she’s still too weak. She needs more time to recover and she’s too confused.
…A strange feeling.
There’s a warm hand on her forehead, smoothing her hair. It’s strange and ticklish; nobody’s ever patted her on the head before. She thinks it’s not a bad feeling. A little embarrassing, but not that bad.
She opens her eyes and a hazy bearded face swims into view before she closes them again, dizzy.
…She’ll yell at him for whatever dumb thing he did or is doing when she’s more awake.