Hermiod. Bihena’s voice sounded out in the mind of the old man, causing his eyes to wide as he was playing with his adopted daughter. It’s time.
“Oh, dear.” He gave a low chuckle as he rose to his feet, feeling his back popping. “It seems to finally be that time, then.”
“What time, Papa?” Anna asked from just in front of him. Her hair was as dark as night, her skin fair. On her face was a kind smile, her two different colored eyes staring up at him. One blue, and the other green.
“Just a moment, dear.” Hermiod said in a kind tone, before glancing up towards the sky. “Has the Keeper at last decided to return?”
In truth, Hermiod had never much been looking forward to going to the Citadel. He would much rather spend his days among the people, doing what he could to make their lives easier. However, several kings and queens had approached him directly, pleading for him to become the new Voice for the humans, and to live in the Sky Citadel.
At first, he wanted to refuse. He felt he could do so much more for them down here. But then, they started to tell him about the Citadel, what they had learned from the last Voice. A font of knowledge, which could improve the lives of every human. When he heard that… there was no longer any reason for him to refuse.
Or at least, that’s what he thought for the first few years. But then, his body had begun to age. He was no longer the spry young man he had once been. No longer able to carry out the same tasks that he used to. In fact, as it was it had even become hard for him to read from a tome.
That’s why… “Will she be treated well, my Goddess?” His voice was tinged with worry as he thought about his Anna. His little girl that he had found abandoned in the streets. Her parents killed by thieves, she was left with nobody and nothing in this world. Had he not found her when he did, she would have died to the elements mere hours later.
Ever since then, he had been training her, teaching her how to take his place. To show that while there were indeed monsters among humans, there was also kindness. There was also love, and joy. Hermiod had wished that the Keeper would not return, not until Anna had grown a few more years. Yet now, it seemed that the time had come sooner than he expected.
I promise you, I will watch over her as if she were my own. Bihena replied softly, and this time even Anna herself could hear it, causing the young girl to blink her eyes in confusion.
“Am I going away, Papa?” She asked in a sad tone, reaching up to tug at his sleeve. “Do I have to go, now?”
Hermiod let out another laugh, groaning as he crouched down to look Anna in the eyes. “Afraid so, munchkin.” He said as he ruffled her hair. “Do you remember all those stories I’ve told you? How, one day, I would let you live in the greatest palace, with the most amazing people in the world?”
Anna’s eyes became misty as she heard Hermiod speaking. “But… but I don’t want to leave you, Papa!” She suddenly threw herself forward, wrapping her arms around the older man and began to cry against his chest. “What if I can never see you again?”
“That won’t happen.” Hermiod shook his head, his hand gently patting the girl’s back. “There is this wonderful room in the palace, where you will be able to see me and talk to me whenever you want. It’ll be as if I was right there with you.”
Between her sniffles, Anna could barely force out a single word. “P-promise?”
“I promise, munchkin.” He gave a slow nod, leaning his head down to kiss the top of hers. “This is for more than just you or me. Once you’re in the palace, it will be your job to help every human in the world. More than that, you’ll be showing everyone just how kind and gentle our people can be. And for that, I could never be more proud of you.”
Despite his words, Anna continued to sniffle against his chest. It was then that the two of them heard a new voice echo in their minds. One that Anna herself had never heard before, and Hermiod hadn’t in a long time.
Anna will be cared for. You have my word. I can arrange for her to be able to visit you from time to time, if you would like.
Hermiod knew that the voice was that of the Keeper, but he only shook his head. “Thank you, sir, but no.” Anna looked up at him in confusion when she heard him reject the offer, causing him to look down at the young girl. “She doesn’t need this useless old fool anymore.”
The old man knew better than anyone the condition of his body. If he was lucky, he would live for another ten years, at most. Of that, more than half would be spent bedridden, and he was even at risk of losing touch with his own mind.
He didn’t want Anna to see him going through that. He wanted her to be happy with a new group of friends, and people that cared for her. He wanted her to remember him for his loving smile, not the mad ramblings of a man whose mind had faded.
Once again, Anna’s eyes began to grow wet, even as a large shadow loomed over their head. Looking up, they could see that magnificent palace in the sky. Floating atop an island lifted in the air by a series of rings made from golden light.
Hermiod knew that this was a special service. The previous Voice did not receive such a welcome, nor was there word that she had been sent back in such a manner. This was something that they had arranged for him, for his little Anna.
“Papa, who’s that?” Anna asked, tugging on Hermiod’s sleeve while she wiped her eyes, before pointing up at the edge of the floating island. Hermiod’s eyes had long since deteriorated too much to compare to the eyes of a young girl trained as a Scout, so he could not even make out the figure that she was pointing at. Not until he saw that figure slowly descending to the ground.
“That’s the Keeper, munchkin.” He answered, ruffling her hair. “He’s the one who even the Goddess has to listen to. And he came down here today just for you.”
“For me…?” Anna asked, her eyes wide as she watched the man gently land on the floor in front of her. “He’s… he’s the one making me leave Papa?”
“No, child.” Hermiod corrected her. “This was my decision. All he’s doing is giving you a place where you can show the world what it really means to be human.”
Anna glanced back towards her adoptive father in confusion for a moment, before looking at the Keeper. Slowly, she walked up towards him, her eyes wandering over his form. “Uhm… sir… Did you really mean it? Can I really see my Papa again?”
The Keeper nodded his head, holding a hand out towards Anna. “I’ll show you the room myself once we get up there.”
Anna simply stared at that hand for a long moment, as if thinking whether she should accept it. When she looked back to the old man, he gave an encouraging nod, drawing one last sniffle from her as she reached her hand up to take Dale’s. “O-okay… But, you promised!”
The Keeper let out a light laugh, but didn’t say anything else to her for the moment. Instead, his eyes rested on Hermiod. “You raised a good child.” He spoke, his voice seeming genuine.
“No, sir. You’re wrong there.” Hermiod shook his head, a sad smile on his face as he thought about Anna leave. “I just have the best daughter in the world. Please, take care of her.”
“I promise, she’ll be well loved.” Dale spoke, before a platform of stone rose up beneath his feet, causing Anna to yelp and grab onto his hand tighter. Hurriedly, she looked back towards Hermiod as the two of them rose up into the air, watching him get smaller and smaller beneath them. Soon, she could see the entirety of the town, and then several of the surrounding towns as they continued to rise into the air.
The platform did not stop until it was level with the Sky Citadel itself, letting her see the large marble castle. A translucent barrier opened up for just a moment as they approached, quickly closing behind them. Finally, the platform set down on top of the stone walkway in front of the citadel itself.
Anna was just about to speak up when she caught sight of a woman sitting nearby. A human woman, with blonde hair just down to her shoulders. As soon as Anna saw her, she know who the woman was. The name came to her as if she had been born to say it. “Bihena…”
“That’s right, dear.” The Goddess spoke with a warm expression as she walked closer, her silver dress brushing against the stone floor beneath her. When she arrived in front of Anna, she kneeled down to put herself at eye level with the young girl. “Welcome home. I’m sure you’re going to love it here.”
Anna nodded her head slowly. She didn’t have that same wonder when facing the Goddess that an adult would, and simply saw her as a really important woman. Almost like a mother. Letting go of the Keeper’s hand, she took a step forward closer to the Goddess.
Bihena let out a happy laugh, reaching forward and picking Anna up to hold in her arms. “My, you’re a lot bigger than I imagined. Why don’t you have me show you the special room, instead of this old busybody?” She asked playfully, hooking a thumb towards the Keeper.
Anna couldn’t help but giggle at that, leaning her head against Bihena’s shoulder and nodding softly. “Mhm.” She muttered, simply enjoying the Goddess’s embrace. As Bihena turned to walk away, Anna belatedly realized that they were leaving the Keeper behind. Lifting her head up, she waved towards him. “Bye bye, mister!”
Returning Anna’s wave, I felt a small smile on my lips. I had been surprised when Bihena offered to personally care for Anna, as much as she could anyways. I had been far less surprised when Terra, Ryone, and Aurivy had chimed in to offer the exact same thing. Before the conversation with the Saint had finished, even Udona and Ashley were whispering to me to ask if they could take turns babysitting.
It was nice to see the six of them all coming together, wanting to help raise a little girl. For Bihena, she looked every bit a mother as she carried Anna away, speaking softly to the young girl. It reminded me that she had likely already had hundreds of children in the past throughout her incarnations. Perhaps, she had grown to enjoy being a mother.
The one thing that I was concerned about was how she would get along with the other representatives. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem with Tsubaki, and even Trixy would likely make good friends with her. But Bracken, Jace, or Lily? I couldn’t be sure. Though at the same time, I knew that their goddesses doting on the girl would likely make them not want to cause problems.
Shortly after Bihena and Anna had disappeared into the Citadel, I saw the tiny figure of Tsubaki appearing in front of me. Unlike before, she was now fully clothed, though she had once again dropped to one knee in front of me. “Tsubaki is ready for her training, my Keeper.” She spoke in an earnest tone.
Nodding my head, I sent a mental prayer towards Irena. Alright, Tsubaki’s ready to head to the Underworld, the monster side. Just… drop her somewhere relatively safe, alright? And keep an eye on her?
I assure you, Dale. Irena spoke, a somewhat amused tone in her voice. I do not wish to lose my most promising priestess. I’ll watch over her to make sure she doesn’t get in too much trouble.
I let out a breath of relief at that, though I was surprised to hear that Tsubaki had been made Irena’s priestess. However, just as a portal began to appear behind Tsubaki, I heard her voice speak out. “My Keeper, I would like to make one last selfish request, before I leave.”
Raising an eyebrow, I glanced down towards her. “What is it, Tsubaki?”
“The world has named me your Knight. As such, I wish for the gift of your command.” While she spoke, Tsubaki kept her head facing down, so I could not see her expression.
It took me a moment to understand what she meant, before I gave another nod. “I understand. Then, as your Keeper, I command you to become stronger, and to return here alive. Is that clear?”
Finally, Tsubaki looked up to me, and I thought I saw a faint golden glow in the back of her eyes. “By my oath, I hear and obey.” I could tell that this was not just a simple promise, as I felt the faintest divine spark flare up at her words. Similar to a bard, and yet different at the same time.
With the small portal finally formed behind Tsubaki, I saw her jump backwards into it. As she did, she looked straight at me, bringing her fist up over her heart. That was the last I saw before the portal closed behind her. There’s nothing to do now, but wait… Whenever she’s done with her training, please bring her back here.
Irena let out a light laugh in the back of my mind. Dale, when she’s done with her training… she won’t need me to bring her out of Hell. But I will ensure that she returns to the Citadel.