Michael was uncomfortable. Not in the Elder’s presence, of course, there was never any point at which they could possibly be uncomfortable with the divine radiance of their creator’s holy mother.
Their cousins were a very different story though.
So Michael ignored the fact that one of them was indeed going on the same journey as them–which was still somewhat disquieting–in favor of focusing on Elder Lucere, the Elder Goddess of Light and undisputed authority of the Daybreak Court of Gods. She was a vision of grace and authority, standing easily 40 feet above all angels present, taller than either of Her present sons, and clad in enormous, hooded robes that resembled a tapestry in their intricate weavings of geometric patterns, coalescing into a pale yellow pattern matched by the serene, cream-colored mask that concealed Her face from view. Even being swathed in luminous fabrics wasn’t enough to hide the natural light of the Elder Goddess, though it did allow Her attending angels to still shine with their own natural lights.
"So it seems this journey shall finally begin," Lucere said, Her serene voice helping calm Michael’s agitation. "I trust that you three are already prepared for your mission?"
"Yes, mother," Jophiel, Lucere's eldest angel, said. As with most light angels, he was entirely composed of his natural element; where Michael’s body was a mix of marble skin and ruby flames–transformed into flesh and crimson hairs at the moment–Jophiel was formed from solid light, contoured into the clear and detailed shape of an elvinoid face, hairless and pointed in both chin and ears. He stood at a shorter height than Michael, his face unlined by age but weathered by experience, and he wore the simple robes of a cleric, rather than any garish vestments.
"If it means keeping the lands pure, I shall always be ready," with an unnervingly even tone, Apollyon answered Her. Michael’s cousins were...off. Very off. Much like their father and Lucere Herself, the pure angel wore a mask and a robe; however, the mask was made of opaque glass and lacked an eyehole, leaving a blank space where their right eye would normally be. It resembled a saddened face, with a single tear trailing down where the missing eye would be. It was an eerie visage for the angel of hope, not helped by the pointed helm they wore, spiking up like a sea snail’s shell.
"I need only your word and I shall be off." Responding last, Michael bowed to the divine Elder Goddess.
"Excellent. Now, since you have already been told of who shall be accompanying you, I shall move on ahead. As representatives of the Triarchy, you three have strict laws to follow, as well as the laws of the lands you shall be visiting. However, I shall allow you to defer to your own judgement should the need arise. We know not what misdeeds the mortals may be tricked into now that a 'peace' has been established with those accursed lands."
Michael felt honored at being trusted enough by the divine goddess to make their own decisions. Even so, they knew that without a doubt that Her faith meant this task had to be completed with utter perfection.
But that would be of little matter; for an angel like them, this task would be a breeze.
"Now, while I would prefer the three of you to travel together-" Despite their best efforts, Michael couldn't help but stiffen at the thought. "-to better guide the Light Lands, all of you shall have to travel separately. May you enlighten me with how you shall proceed with your journeys?"
"I was considering traveling to Tramontava,” Jophiel began, “As the lands of your son are quite large, I'm sure I can learn many things there."
"I shall have my guide lead me to where the Light Lands need to be purified," Apollyon continued.
"To better understand the lands, I shall introduce my guide to everything Divica has to offer, before heading south," Michael finished, now certain where they stood in the order of things. It did make sense to speak in order of seniority.
“That is acceptable. I thank you all for your service,” Elder Lucere said, Her voice noble and kind, “Do your best.”
“We shall,” they all echoed, bowing to the Elder Goddess, before they each vanished in a flash of light, leaving the holy realm of Paasa to meet their destiny.
Which was more waiting.
Waiting in the grand hall of the Temple of Light, specifically. The companions they were going to have weren’t there yet, so the angels had to wait, because apparently no one could be punctual anymore.
Such matters could wait though, because the instant the trio of angels went from the heavens to the lands, Jophiel flopped face first into the foyer’s floor.
“Jophiel! Are you alright?!” Michael asked, crouching by the elderly angel as they tried to check him.
“Relax yourself, cousin. You would know if dear Jophiel were dying. His body would fade back into the light from whence he came-” Apollyon paused as Jophiel’s body smoothed, forming into a lump on the floor. “-or he is indeed dying. How tragic.”
“JOPHIEL! Don’t die! I can-” Michael blinked, the glow of Life cutting off in their hand as Jophiel let out a deep yawn, his now leonine eyes blinking back at them as he finished morphing from a lump of light into a winged lion.
“Mm? What is it?”
“...Oh. You were changing shape.” Michael grimaced as Apollyon snickered behind them. “You could’ve warned us.”
“Ah, yes, my bad. I forgot to. Haven’t I transformed in front of you before?” He studied Michael’s face for a moment, then shook his head. “Right, no, I’m thinking of that one girl...Semi, something. Or was it Ali? Or Kezi…”
“Ignore the senile lump, cousin. We must be ready when our tasks arrive,” Apollyon chided, standing at attention with their hands in their robes.
“I know that! I can care about two things at once!”
“You can? How quaint.”
Michael scowled, then stood, brushing their robes down and standing at attention too, ready for what would come.
“Your back isn’t straight enough.”
Their eye twitched. “I don’t need your advice.”
“Oh yes, I’m ever so certain you don’t, little cousin.” Michael had the distinct impression Apollyon was smiling beneath their crying mask. “You never did, did you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means many things. I do so hope you can grasp at least a few of them. For such a fiery spirit, you have never shone especially bright.”
Michael fully glared at their cousin, ignoring the slumbering lion by their side. “I see time hasn’t dulled your tongue!”
“I see time has taken your hand.” Michael flinched, and Apollyon chuckled. “And there. There you are again, my scared little cousin.”
“And there you are again, my vindictive elder cousin. Keep your lies to yourself. You know who I am.” Michael had never been afraid. Never in their life.
“Yes, Fortitude. A title you have never lived up to. How sad.” They sighed, shaking their head without changing their posture. “I always did hope you would get better. But you never did. Tragic. Yet I hope all the same that one day, you will improve.” Their head cocked to the side with a soft crack. “It’s fine though. Disappointment is a natural result of hope.”
Michael swallowed their rage. They had to keep calm, because their cousins were always like this. Metatron, Sandalphon, and Apollyon, the children of Purus, the Pure Angels. The Last Inquisitors. Taunting, smothering, callous–they knew how each one would act, and Apollyon’s attitude here was the same as always. Always pushing, prodding, and baiting, hoping to get reactions.
So Michael turned from them and glared at the doorway, even though they knew it would do nothing. It was like Apollyon said, disappointment was a natural result of hope. The cyan angel didn’t care for the results of their prodding, they were just satisfied with hoping. It was disgusting.
Thankfully, a reprieve soon came as the double doors of the temple opened and the angels’ intended companions entered. Two companions. Not three. Hm.
One a tigrithrope, their yellow garments–emblazoned with golden lightning bolts–indicating they were a representative of Innominatum, while the other wore a green cloak with several small, pink roses decorating it in a pattern of flowers and thorns, a full set of white armor obscuring their features.
So that meant their companion wasn't here. Great.
"Oh great angels, I apologize for making you wait. My name is Mao, Cleric of Innominatum," Mao introduced herself as she gave a deep bow, her hands folded into the sleeves of her kimono. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight braid and her bronzed skin bore the dark markings common to the tigerfolk of Gorokiva. As she smiled, she showed a hint of sharp teeth.
"Agnes, follower of the Rose God." Placing a hand on their armored chest, Agnes gave a shallow bow. Their voice echoed in the helm they wore, which seemed to be altered to compensate for their tall, goatish horns. They stood without issue, but the shape of their legs clearly showed they had hooves rather than feet; all signs pointing to a satyr.
"Hm…so you're the one I shall be traveling with. Do try not to be too loud," Jophiel requested as he eyed Mao, not even rising to greet her.
"You need not worry, Great Angel, I shall endeavor to do so,” the cleric replied as she crouched beside him, smiling easily, “Though, on the days of thunderous festivities, I will not be able to follow such an order. I hope you can forgive that."
"Right, right, of course I can. You can tell me all about your culture later. For now, I have matters to attend to." Matters being sleeping, considering he flumped back down to the floor, earning a barely hidden laugh from Mao.
"Greetings Agnes,” Apollyon said, meanwhile, “I hope that we are able to get along on our journey."
"Until the day we part, we shall."
“My thanks then, for your tolerance.”
Michael grimaced, then cleared their throat. “Pardon the interruption, honored guests, but there should be a third one of you.”
“I would notice if there were two more rose druids, I assure you,” Agnes retorted with a dry tone. Michael decided they were really glad they didn’t have the Rose Druid as a companion, and looked to the Lightning Cleric instead. Who had started petting Jophiel’s fluffy ears. Hm.
“There was...Ah, Great Cardinal.” Why did she pause...oh, right, mortal disguise. “Our traveling companion, a druid of Chlora, departed from our group as we approached the Temple of Light,” Mao explained as she continued petting Jophiel, who let out a pleased rumble, “I believe she sought a spiritual reassurance before our meeting.”
“Or she wanted to see the sights,” Jophiel offered, ignoring how Michael scowled at him.
“I suppose that is a possibility, Great Angel.”
“You realize you could call me Jophiel instead. It’s less wordy.”
“No, that would be impolite. You are several thousand years older than me, honored elder.”
“Pff, try millions…”
Michael didn’t have time for this. “Fine, I’ll find her myself.” And with that, they spread their wings and took off into the sky, phasing through the stone of the temple as they looked around, still scowling because of course they would be, the blasted druid ran off rather than even trying to meet with them!
Scanning the area around the temple from high in the sky, where it was admittedly somewhat chilly to their current elvish form, Michael began to approach where the lesser shrines were located. While Divica may heavily follow in the teachings of the Triarchy, there were several minor shrines dedicated to the other children of Lucere. Though it came as no surprise that none of them were well-frequented among the average populace. They were meant as a way of honoring Lucere’s children, not as places of worship, though apparently some people didn’t understand that…
They didn’t even have buildings, more just a small, outdoor plaza. It was a peaceful place, one the citizens of Divica would sometimes frequent to relax and enjoy the scenery, though it was empty on that day, aside from a single figure kneeling in front of the decorated oak tree that served as Chlora’s shrine.
“There you are,” Michael muttered as they touched down, before speaking louder to catch the absent druid’s attention, “You were supposed to head directly to the tem-…”
The druid had looked back at Michael.
White antlers jutted out of curly black hair that framed her lightly tanned and freckled face, which wore a small, gentle smile. She smiled very naturally, evidenced by the slight lines under her beautiful brown eyes. She also wasn’t dressed nearly as modestly as the people of Zemava; rather than a long-sleeved and high-necked dress, she wore a loose gown that left her arms, all the way up to her shoulders, entirely bare, displaying the green tattoos of vines and leaves that curled around her skin.
The straps of the dress went around her neck, thankfully concealing her...chest. Which Michael wasn’t staring at. But they also left her back entirely bare, and Michael could even see her bra strap there which really wasn’t appropriate in the slightest and it was a very good thing that the obvious wood elf was standing and turning towards them with that same soft smile and oh, her gown had slits on the sides so her legs would be free, how marvelous. She was wearing shorts, so no high elf would be having a heart attack if they saw her, which was good.
Also, brown, calf-high boots. Practical. Emphasized her firm legs. One of which was fully hairless and now that they looked at it, made of wood, huh. She was also shorter than Michael. Maybe around an average height, for a wood elf? High elves were typically taller, so they really didn’t have a point of reference...
"My apologies, lady paladin.” She gave a slight bow, her smile still present. “As I approached the temple, I grew nervous and wished to settle myself, so I came to the shrine to pray. It’s comforting, asking for guidance and knowing you’ll be heard.”
“...Quite. You...ahem. I...It is not an issue. Of course, I understand.”
She giggled, and Michael felt their heart flutter. “Thank you for your understanding, lady paladin. So, are you to be my escort to the temple~?” Wait, escort-? “Ah, but where are my manners?”
The druid took the hem of her skirts and curtsied. “My name is Anaya Greenfall, faithful druid of Chlora. And you, Miss?”
Ah. She doesn’t know who I am. I do look like an elf...Right. That’s simple, I’ll just explain. “I am Mi-Misha...Centola.” Why. Why do I do this. “Faithful of Iudex.”
Anaya blinked. “Of Iudex? Ah, my mistake then, I didn’t expect a paladin of judgment to be residing in Zemava. Heh, well, shows what I know, doesn’t it?” She giggled, grinning in amusement at herself. “Oh, or are you visiting?”
“...I...do live here. This is…” Michael–Misha?–cleared their throat, ignoring the fact that their face felt hot for some reason. “Divica is my...not quite home, exactly. I…” They took a breath, though not because they were angry. They didn’t know why they were taking a breath, exactly, but it felt like they needed to calm down even though they definitely weren’t angry. “Sorry, I should be more clear.”
“Heh, no need to worry. You’re not the first young lady to get tongue-tied around me.” Young?
“I’m not young.”
“Of course you aren’t,” she replied, chipper in the way of an older person humoring someone younger, which Michael most emphatically was not.
“No, I’m not. I can guarantee I’m older than you.”
She had the audacity to raise an eyebrow at them, smiling with some amusement before she schooled her features. “Sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. Are you older than three hundred and twenty-seven?”
Michael smirked. “Yes, I am. In fact, I am over three thousand years old, young lady.”
Anaya stared at them for a moment, then lit up, smiling in a way that made Michael’s heart flutter, for some reason. “Ahhh, clever! Very clever, oh Cardinal of Divica~.” She giggled in that same cute, happy way. “Was this a secret test then? You come down as a young elf and see how I act with you? Oh, did I pass?”
“...” A test? No, wait, yes, that works. “Yes. You did. Congratulations.”
“Ha! Ah, I didn’t get it immediately though, so I’m not sure I did the best I could,” she mused, tapping a finger to her chin, “Ah well. I’m sure once I get to know you well enough, these sorts of things will come far quicker.”
“I doubt that. I can be very clever.”
She snorted. She outright snorted, giggling again and giving them the most adorable smile they had ever seen. “I can tell~! You’re going to be a lot more fun than I expected, huh?”
Michael felt themself gulp on reflex, before they steadied their ridiculous body that was clearly acting on its own with all its strange and sudden reactions. “...What did you expect I would be like?”
“Hm? You know, I’m not really sure myself. If someone hears ‘angel of judgment’, what do you think their first thoughts would be? It would probably depend a great deal on the person in question, though...I suppose I thought you would be more...unattainable. Like the statues I saw on my way in. Someone grander and larger than life.” Anaya beamed. “Not someone who shows up as a cute elven girl and plays along with my humor. It’s nice.”
Right. I am meant to be a Cardinal. Not some mere mortal. I need to be better than this. Michael took a breath, then nodded. “Understood. Come with me. We should visit the temple of light first.”
Anaya blinked at the sudden tone shift, then shrugged as her grin returned. “Okay! Please, lead the way.”
Michael nodded stiffly, then turned and did exactly that, all while ignoring how it felt like their ears were still burning. It was just some biological reaction. It didn’t matter.