Arael spent the next few days researching magic and preparing the spells he would need to heal Sariel and send her back to the upper plane. While all angels had an enormous amount of magical potential, the level of mastery Arael had attained, driven by curiosity and the Darkness of ambition, was unparalleled. Most of his knowledge came from personal experimentation upon reaching Earth, but he had come across one or two books written by humans that had been useful.
He also arranged for a trip out to an unpopulated area. The dimensional gate he would create would be very bright and conspicuous, and he did not want to attract any attention.
“Would you like to fly there or drive?” he asked Sariel. He could easily bear Sariel’s weight in flight, but he was afraid to pain her with the loss of her own wings.
“Fly.” Sariel appreciated Arael’s concern for her feelings, but would rather be carried in his arms than seated in a car, which felt strange and unnatural to her.
Arael nodded, and continued to write in a notebook, finalizing the details of the spells. Sariel had moved the blanket and pillows from the bed into his study to make a comfortable nest where she could watch Arael as he worked. Anyone on Earth would have been incredibly bored after a few hours, but Sariel found watching the balance of his energy shifting slowly towards the Light a fascinating process.
Eventually, Arael completed the preparations. As he put down the notebook, heaviness filled his heart. He had managed to treat the preparations as an academic puzzle, looking over his past experiments with detached interest, but now had to face Sariel’s impending departure. Now that his energy was primarily Light, he felt a calm sorrow instead of anguish at the thought of being alone again.
The calm allowed him to savour his remaining time with Sariel rather than flinching away from the pain she represented. Picking her up, Arael settled into the nest of blankets and pillows with his arms wrapped around his angel. He forced himself to speak.
“It’s done. We will leave at sundown.”
Sariel was having trouble understanding her own feelings, let alone Arael’s. She knew contentment so well, but what she felt in his arms was somehow slightly different from the contentment of the upper plane. It was more than contentment. It was… Happiness? The word had been introduced into her vocabulary, but she did not fully understand the meaning. In the beginning, she had simply classified it as a synonym to contentment, but the more time she spent on Earth, the more difference she felt.
“Arael, what is happiness?”
Arael sucked in a breath at the question. That Sariel would ask about happiness, that strange alchemy of Light and Darkness, indicated that she had picked up a measurable amount of Darkness. If he did not perform the magic soon, she would be unable to return to the upper plane.
Still, he answered. He could deny her nothing. “Happiness is the feeling that makes you smile and laugh.”
Sariel nodded as Arael helped her to pinpoint the difference between happiness and contentment. Back in the upper plane, smiling was as common as breathing, but nobody laughed.
“I made you laugh,” she said softly, smiling at the memory.
“Yes, you did.”
“Teira made me laugh.”
“Yes.” Arael had etched the beautiful sound deep inside his mind.
Sariel settled back into silence as she continued to ponder.
At sundown, Arael and Sariel drove to the city limits and parked. Finding a secluded spot, Arael manifested his true form. Sariel was struck by his beauty.
At first glance, the only difference between Arael’s human and angel guise was the pair of wings. His plumage was a pure continuous white with the bottom edges of his wings edged in the deepest black.
However, subtler differences could be observed. Over the years, Arael had learned to alter his appearance to be less noticeable in the human population. Small changes that made him less extraordinary were now shed. His skin exuded the same golden aura that Sariel’s did, his eyes subtly changed shade depending on his emotions, and his voice, already so attractive, became inhumanly beautiful.
“Let’s go.” Lifting Sariel in his arms, Arael launched himself into the night sky, travelling away from the city lights.
They flew for a long time, the only sounds being the beat of Arael’s wings and his steady breathing. Arael landed in a forest clearing, next to one of the cabins he owned.
As the grey predawn light lightened the sky, Arael thought of one last memory that he wanted to share with Sariel. In his true form, he used the speech-song that was his native tongue.
“Sariel, will you greet the dawn with me?”
Sariel’s eyes widened at the request. Ever since that first day, they had both carefully ignored the sun’s movements. However, she realized she was no longer sad about her wings. She had absolute trust in Arael’s promise to restore them. She wanted to share the joy of singing with her guardian and protector.
“I will,” she chimed in the same musical tongue.
As the sun finally broke over the horizon, two voices were lifted to greet it. Their duet was a unique sound never before heard in any of the planes, being neither the pure loneliness of a solo, or the grand choir of a thousand voices. Sariel’s high, pure voice was grounded and complemented by the rich, resonant notes that Arael sang. Their voices danced together, sometimes coming together in unison, sometimes creating beautiful harmony, and sometimes leaving each other in balanced countermelodies before once again singing as one.
The moment both stretched into eternity and felt over in an instant. When their song ended, the world was hushed and quiet, as if afraid to mar the beauty of those perfect sounds with the noises of the mundane. Slowly, Arael lowered his arms and wings, returning from the world of pure sound to that of flesh and blood. “Thank you,” he breathed.
Sariel trembled at the emotions that ran through her. Immobilized, she simply watched as Arael began to trace glowing lines into the ground and air.
Arael forced himself to pay strict attention to his work. A small error could make the entire spell collapse, even endanger Sariel as she travelled through the gate. He prepared the gate first so that he could cast the magics in quick succession.
Finally, everything was ready. Arael turned to Sariel and committed one last image of her to his memory before he began. He was afraid to even say goodbye, knowing that the slightest pause would cause him to deny Sariel the right to return to the upper plane.
The first magic was small and simple, not even requiring words or drawings, just physical contact. With a gentle kiss, Arael drew away the wisps of Darkness Sariel had collected, pulling them into himself. Her trembling stopped as she returned to being composed of pure Light and her turbulent emotions were taken away.
The second magic required words, precise sounds that shaped the energy that Arael channelled. It was a spell of Light, of restoration, returning Sariel to her former form. Light glowed and shaped itself, and finally solidified into a pair of pure white wings. Caught up in the energy of the spell, Sariel launched herself into the air and flew.
Arael felt his heart breaking as he watched his love in her full glory. She did not belong here. He activated the last magic, simply pouring Light into the lines he had already prepared. A circular portal opened in the air, leading to a place where the skies were bluer and the sunshine always warm.
Still energized from the restoration spell, Sariel flew straight towards the portal. The pure Light of her being resonated strongly with the upper plane, calling her home with welcoming arms.
Home. Despite the lack of Darkness in her being, something made Sariel deviate from her focus on the portal to look down at the ground. She saw Arael, who stood stoically, but looked at her with heartbreak in his eyes.
Home. Where you belong. The place that you return to, where you feel safe and warm. Sariel landed.
Arael stood frozen and mute, as if afraid he would shatter if he made the slightest movement. Hesitatingly, unable to understand the emotions that drove her, Sariel approached at a timid walk. Finally, they stood face-to-face, close enough to touch if either one of them reached the slightest bit forward.
A moment of utter stillness. Then Sariel spoke the single word that helped her understand her own confusing actions.
Arael did shatter then. Silent tears glittered in the sunlight as he pulled Sariel into his arms. He was broken. He no longer had the willpower not to be selfish. He begged. “Stay with me.” His voice was no longer perfect and smooth, but raw with emotion. Tendrils of Darkness and Light spun within him so quickly that they appeared to merge into grey. “Stay with me,” he repeated with hope and despair.
For the longest time, Sariel did nothing. Long enough that hope withered, and Arael was left with nothing but despair. Long enough that his core froze into complete stillness and each distinct strand of Light and Darkness could be seen. Long enough for him to gather the shards of his broken self and release the angel who did not want him. Dully, he gathered his power and reopened the portal. He had not even noticed when he had stopped holding it open. He waited for his love to leave him.
But still, Sariel did not move. Unconsciously, she was gathering tiny wisps of Darkness. In such a remote area, lacking other sentient beings, there were only miniscule traces available, and the process was excruciatingly slow. But gradually, ever so gradually, Sariel could once again understand herself.
The first thing she saw was that, by her slowness and stillness, she had caused her protector and saviour an unimaginable amount of pain. She immediately started towards him again, but then hesitated. She could never forgive herself for what she had inadvertently done, and she could not imagine that he would forgive her either.
Arael’s thoughts were dull and sluggish, but he noticed that Sariel again had a visible amount of Darkness inside herself. How had that happened so quickly? He was too broken to care. However, he knew that he had to remove it again so she could leave him. He reached forwards.
Sariel readily grasped his hand in both of hers, but resisted when Arael tried to draw her Darkness away. Tiny, but visible, the wisps of Darkness stubbornly remained at the edges of her being.
After a few seconds of magical tug-of-war, Arael stopped. “What?” he asked. His voice was now so flat and dead that Sariel flinched. She had done this to him, destroyed the strongest and kindest person she had ever met. It was her turn for tears to trail silently down her face.
Sariel’s tears made Arael put aside his own pain. Why was his love crying? He had to fix it. “What’s wrong?” he asked gently, his voice once again smooth, though it cost him to sound that way when his heart felt withered and dead.
Sariel’s tears came even faster at Arael’s continued kindness. She did not deserve it in the slightest. Her shoulders began to shake with sobs. “I’m sorry!” she cried out.
Arael gathered the sobbing angel into his arms. Each tear she shed seemed to reawaken his heart only to shred it again with pain. He felt desperate to comfort her.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled repeatedly, almost incoherent with crying.
“It’s okay. It’s all right. I forgive you.” Arael had not the slightest idea what his love was apologizing for, but he would forgive her anything. If she would only smile again, he would happily lay down his life.
Eventually, Sariel had exhausted her weeping and looked up. Arael tenderly wiped away her tears. Looking into his green eyes, she saw no hatred or blame. Hoping that it was still what he wanted, Sariel gathered her courage, and said, “I want to stay with you.”
Arael’s mind went into shock. He could not understand. His magic told him that Sariel felt absolutely no regret at choosing him over their homeland, and that somehow, she was afraid that he no longer wanted her. “What?” This time, his question was full of bewilderment.
“I’m sorry that I took so long, but it was so hard…”
As Arael’s magic filled in the blanks from Sariel’s explanation, he understood. It was his own fault that Sariel had been unable to answer him. By drawing the Darkness out of her, he had removed half of her emotions and her ability to want, let alone take initiative to do anything. He had also taken them to such a remote place that Sariel could not access the free Dark energy that was so plentiful in populated areas. He did not blame her in the slightest for the emotional turmoil he had gone through. In being so insistent that she go home, Arael had very nearly taken away her choice in the matter.
“I love you.” Arael meant the words down to the core of his being.
Sariel replied with what she had been trying to say while separated from half of her emotions. “I’m home.” He was her home.
Arael kissed his love, and this time, when his Darkness extended a tendril in her direction, he did nothing to stop it. When it connected, a small spiral of Darkness travelled into her column of Light, never to be removed.
Sariel gasped as the full array of human emotion became available to her. She gasped again when the Darkness allowed Arael’s kiss to awaken desire for the first time.
Laughing with joy, two angels played in a remote forest for a day. They ran, flew, and sang. At sundown, they flew off together. The destination did not matter; they were already home.