Interlude 17 – Cardinal Virtues

Cardinal Gabriel was annoyed. Admittedly, that state of being was becoming an irritatingly common one for them, yet the longer they remained in Luceneva, the more irritated the angel became. 

Yet, simultaneously, they had somehow not reached the point of outright rage. Indeed, it seemed as though they had at some point changed courses on the trajectory of aggravation; instead of their irritation escalating into outright rage, they appeared to have instead reached a point of resignation. Gabriel simply lacked the type of spark Michael was prone to having, and so they subsided into a calm annoyance, simply allowing the constant irritating situations surrounding them continue as they were.

They absolutely hated the damn garish party hat on their head though.

It was supposedly “necessary attire for parties”, or so they were told by Miss Orc-Kicker. Regardless, Gabriel still hated the blue, polka-dotted cone, and they were not especially fond of the festivities themselves either. 

Not that their opinion seemed to sway the king, or the cityfolk, or the nobility, or the heroes, or anyone really. Even that reprobate Torahiko had encouraged Gabriel to “relax”. As such, they were remaining stubbornly unrelaxed amidst the colorful streets, streamers hanging between booths displaying games and confectionaries for public enjoyment.

They let an irritated sigh escape them as they strode down those streets, ignoring the happy chatter filling the air.

Really, why did none of them understand that their lives were at risk? Did they care so little about their short lives that they’d rather waste them away in pursuit of pleasure instead of protecting the land the gods blessed them with? 

Were it not for the laws of their gods, Gabriel would have reprimanded them all…

As it stood, they had the mission they were given. With that in mind, Cardinal Gabriel made their way to the castle to meet with their compatriots.

Soon enough, they arrived within the near vacant castle, most of its inhabitants having gone to the festival with only a few patrols remaining to keep watch. It was almost laughable how easy they made their way in; a quick flight took them over the wall and into the courtyard with ease, where they touched down amid a grassy yard.

“About time you arrived. And what’s with that hat?” Michael asked as they and Raphael stood under a lush tree in the garden, their arms crossed over their chest. 

“Tradition, supposedly. Now, how did your mission go?” 

“It was a waste of time. Since we had to restrain ourselves in dealing with obstacles, it took far too long to enter the former hero’s manor,” Raphael explained, standing straight at attention with their arms behind their back, “His barriers were difficult to wear down, and we could not use a firestorm without setting the nearby forest ablaze.”

“And when we finally got in, we found no trace of Yew or Vlahos. They probably didn’t even go there to begin with,” Michael added. 

“Once we began questioning the people of the capital, they told us they had seen him, but as far as they know, he and his companion disappeared soon after their arrival.” 

“Why must mortals be so unreliable?” Letting out another irritated sigh, Gabriel began to plan. “No matter, we must move on. And since I must continue to keep watch on the young heroes, the task shall continue with you two.” 

“And what, exactly, is that?” Michael questioned.

“When Luceneva finally begins its march to the Dark Lands, they request volunteers to join their army. As such, you two are to pretend to be normal mortals and join their ranks. Doing so will allow you two to move around unnoticed.”

“And why must we do so?” 

“It’s entirely possible the heroes are somehow in contact with the former heroes, and if they know about you two accompanying  us, then they will be on higher guard. However, they have no reason to be wary of newly recruited volunteers.”

“Very well. I accept your plan.”

“My thanks, Cardinal.” Gabriel bowed to the informal, yet entirely accepted, leader of their group, then straightened, their expression calm and even as their siblings removed their helmets, baring their marble skin.

In mere moments, the flames and winds of their forms consolidated into red and green hair, respectively, while their skin shifted to the brown flesh of a common human. 

Gabriel appraised them for a moment, then nodded. Michael’s firm, severe appearance served well to establish them as the elder in comparison to Raphael’s comparatively narrow features. “An elder sibling and a younger sibling then, Cardinal?”

“It will suffice, won’t it?”

“Indeed. However, I would encourage flexibility in your roles. If possible, we should strive to position you both close to the king, in order to ensure your knowledge of potential conspiracy forming amid the mortals.” Gabriel paused, an unpleasant thought entering into their plans. “Maintain some distance between yourselves and the king. He is…” 

“…He is what? An issue?”

“…” Gabriel thought very carefully about what they would say next. Their choice of words could potentially result in the Lucene King’s sudden and violent demise, if poorly phrased. “…He is someone who oversteps his boundaries as a mortal king.” 

“In what regard?” Michael’s eyes narrowed. Unfortunate.

“The Lucene King has lecherous tendencies,” they answered honestly, then raised a hand to halt their sibling’s immediate rage, “He is easily thwarted, yet persistent. I doubt he will attempt to ‘flirt’ with soldiers marching under his banner, though I still advise distance. I would also remind you that we are not to harm the mortal denizens of the Light Lands.”

“I am aware of our restrictions, Gabriel. Has this king made advances towards you?” The worst possible conclusion was indeed reached.

“It does not matter if he did,” Raphael interrupted, “Our role requires caution. If the Lucene King requires removal, it will first be sanctioned by our Lord before any action is taken.”

“I know how it works, Raphael! I don’t need reminders.”

Gabriel nearly sighed as they saw Raphael’s eyes narrow. “Raphael, please.”

“…I will abstain from-”

“Is there something you want to say or not?” Michael snapped. It appeared Gabriel’s explanation had put them in another mood. Unfortunate.

“No. In the interest of group cohesion, I will not mention your overactive desire to burn down the Yew Manor and potentially the surrounding landscape.” 

“…You passive-aggressive little brat-”

“Perhaps we should end this meeting now,” Gabriel suggested, deliberately stepping between their siblings.

“…” Thankfully, they did not escalate to outright fighting one another, though it was clear both were aggravated. 

“Now then, I recommend both of you find proper disguises before recruitment begins. The armor you have stands out far too much.” 

“We shall endeavor to do our best,” Raphael replied, their voice calm and even once more, “May I ask what our window of time may be?” 

“You will certainly have several days to blend in with the mortals, so as to appear to only be a pair of adventuring sisters. However, if I were to hazard a guess for the maximum amount of time you have, it will potentially be at the point the Gorokivan forces make their way into Luceneva to join the building allied army. If they still do not begin the march at that time, then the king and the heroes will be actively working against the Light Lands.” 

“In which case, we must inform our Lord. An acceptable limitation. If that is all, we will be off.” 

“Wait. Something is coming.” Michael held up a hand, their eyes directed towards the sky, before they pointed at an approaching skyship.

“And?” Raphael was frowning again. “It’s a skyship, why should it matter if it’s coming here?”

“If you’d pay attention, you brat, you’d see it’s coming to the castle, not the city.” 

“…Hm. I shall deal with this.” Stepping away from the tree, Gabriel faced the approaching ship. Letting their wings flare up behind them, Gabriel began to fly towards it, idly noting that some of the guards on the wall had noticed the ship as well. At least they weren’t fully incompetent. 

As they flew closer, they noted that the ship appeared to be a simple trade ship, which begged the question on why they were flying directly towards the castle. Quickly stopping at the front of the ship, Gabriel glared down at the crew on deck.

“What is your business he-”

“Oh~! Hey there Gabby~!” 

For a brief moment, Gabriel thought they could feel a deep chill up their spine at the familiar voice.

“…King von Sorafin. Greetings.” They tried to smile. Their lips twitched more into a grimace. “May I ask what you are doing on this ship?” 

“Ah ha, a simple question with a simple answer! My dove and we came to request an audience with our fellow king, the rapacious Richard! Though we are quite surprised to see you in Luceneva.” Letting out an exaggerated gasp, the diminutive king covered his mouth. “Did you have a fight with your siblings and run away from home!?”

“…I shall request you not throw baseless accusations around.” Gabriel clenched their fists to calm down as they landed on the ship, focusing and tamping down their irritation. “What do you require of the Lucene King?” 

“Well~ there’s been a bit of a change in plans. So we came here to inform him. It’s really important, hence why we came in person!” 

“So I see.” Lucere preserve them, the mere idea of Lucene and von Sorafin interacting nearly brought Gabriel to actual anger…Praise be to their Just and Holy Father that Uriel was not present. The second-youngest child of their family had a bizarre enjoyment of the Tramontan King and his quirks, and Heavens knew that Gabriel would inevitably be dragged into their inane conversations-

“So so, what is it you wanted, precisely, oh seraph of sapphire-wings? If you’re curious as to our royal purpose here, you need only ask~.” 

Gabriel paused. For a moment, they had forgotten they had the Tramontan King in front of them… “Very well. For what reason are you here?”

“Oh, many many reasons, but primarily to spread some joyous news~! Your Pontiff has been rescued!”

Gabriel very carefully kept their expression neutral. “…Is that so?” 

“Of course! Why would we ever lie?” Gabriel could think of a multitude of reasons. “Though we must say, you had quite a subdued reaction to such fortuitous news.” 

“It was a suitable reaction to your claim.” The idea that Vocula was rescued already was not impossible, though they had not expected it to happen so soon. “If he was saved, then where is he?” 

“Oh, that’s simple. He’s with his rescuers, the lovely Lady Galinori, the irreverent Douglas, and the responsible Tisma!” 

“Excuse me?” That was…odd. Why would he claim the ones who abducted him were the ones to save him?

“Well, really Galinori did most of the rescuing, as the former heroes did get captured as well. Though once free of their shackles, they did their part!”

…Stranger and stranger. “And who, pray tell, were their former captors?” 

“Skylanders!” 

Gabriel was very glad they’d landed on the deck. “…What?” 

“You know, those denizens of the Sky Lands!”

“…The mythical airborne islands?”

“The very same! Though not quite so mythical now, are they?”

“…Your majesty, are you saying that the heroes are claiming they were abducted by the mythical denizens of a mythical land?”

“Oh no, certainly not. Pontiff Vocula is the one making those claims, and he’s being quite forthright about it. Something about being ripped straight from his office by a monstrous Fury with crimson wings, like those other old legends, you recall?”

Gabriel’s eye twitched. “…I see.”

The king continued to prattle, but Gabriel’s mind was already elsewhere as the facts of the matter coalesced. Obviously, the Pontiff sought an easy escape from his captivity and capitulated to the inane plans of those accursed criminals that dared to wear the title “hero”.

Well. It was a simple matter then. Their plans would adjust.

Vocula would merely have to die too.

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