Chapter 2 – An Angel’s Virtues

All angels have seven virtues. While some are more apparent than others in certain angels, all have those virtues. That is natural. Angels are virtuous beings.

The shop was quiet, thankfully. There was the rustle of clothes and the barest hint of movement, but it was quiet enough. The lack of noise gave Michael the time to think as they waited, their gaze drifting from the curtains to a dress on display.

It was a white dress, fitting the common fashion of Zemava, or more particularly its capital city, Divica. Modesty was paramount, so the sleeves and skirts were long and straight, fitting close to keep out the cold morning air. The top buttoned up with a high collar to keep the neck hidden, and most would wear a habit, hood, or headscarf with it. The buttons were the only point of decoration, coming in varying colors for “variety”, though Michael had, at points, seen women with ornamentation. Necklaces bearing the triangle of the triarchy, or prayer beads wrapped around their wrists and up their forearms. 

Similar, in many ways, to the raiments Michael themself wore, though the commonfolk’s garments lacked the crimson breastplate, vambraces, and pauldrons the Cardinal was garbed in. No elf would ever wear the crimson half-helm that covered their upper face either, a pair of red-steel wings spreading from it to further symbolize their angelic bearing.

Chastity comes naturally to all angels. They are born directly by the wills of their god. There is no need for something as loathsome and filthy as mortal reproduction within the heavenly realms.

“What in blazes are you staring at?” a sudden voice sounded out, distracting Michael from their thoughts.

“Dresses,” they answered promptly, turning as the curtain settled back into place and their “principal” stepped forward, an irritated cast to her golden features.

Icilia Centola, deacon of the Order Centola, rolled her blue eyes with a sneer of disgust. “Why are you staring at dresses when you should be keeping vigilant? You are meant to be my protector, are you not?”

They were meant to be a Cardinal of Divica. Protecting some 400 year old granny of a high elf wasn’t supposed to be their job, but here they were. Yet another “easy” job assigned to them during their “time of rest”.

Diligence is a virtue all angels share. They are all made for service, to act in the stead and at the behest of their god. As such, they will always serve, no matter the purpose they are called upon to fulfill.

“I am.”

“Then do your job right. Now gather up my things, I have no intention of being late to my meeting.” Centola brushed an errant strand of copper hair from her face and turned, her long braid nearly smacking Michael in the face as she strolled out of the store without another word. And without paying for the very non-traditionally scarlet dress she wore.

Michael glanced to the changing room, where Centola’s original outfit lay strewn on the floor without a care, and felt their eye twitch. One little spark and it could go up in seconds…

Patience is a virtue all angels understand. They are servants by nature, and all servants obey when an order comes. When there are no orders though, they have to remain at attention regardless, for to be an angel is to be ready for any divine command, even if it is an unpleasant one.

It was an exceptionally disgruntled Michael that left the boutique some minutes later, though they had some slight amusement at making Centola wait. They did have to gather all her belongings, clean up after her petty mess, and overpay the clerk at the counter, while further insisting that she and her fellow employees take a substantial tip in return for their “excellent service”.

Charity too comes naturally to angels, for material things lack value to them, but can mean much to others. An angel only truly cares for the love of their god, and that is given freely. As such, it is only natural to give freely as well when others have need.

So with bags in hand, the angel returned to their impatiently toe-tapping principal, ignored her pathetic attempt to berate them, and followed the clack of her ruby heels through the grand city of Divica, capital of Zemava, the Halidom of Light.

The city was the same as it ever was or ever would be; peaceful, prosperous, and glimmering. The waters of Crescent Bay shimmered in the sunlight, down by the lowest tiers of the city, while the upper tiers, where Michael and their irritating principal were walking, glittered brightly as well. In small alcoves set in walls or at the corners of buildings nearby, their roofs sloped and made up of sparkling tiles, small statues of armored angelic figures could be seen, standing vigilant on their own or gathered in groups of four. 

Their lights, shining bright in hues of red, blue, green and yellow–the same colors set in diamond insignias along the walls–represented the Cardinals, of whom Michael was the leader. It was only fitting; as the guardians of Divica, it was their right to be honored, and their honor to keep all parts of their dominion safe and bright. In the City of Light, no darkness would ever find purchase.

Humility is a virtue known to all angels. To be a servant is to be humble, to be angelic is to know one’s place. All angels know they are the servants of the gods, and all angels know what it means to have divine beings so indescribably amazing, glorious, and powerful as their creators. To be an angel is to know, inherently, that you are below someone greater.

Of all the jewels in Divica, the Temple of Light shone the brightest. It was a monument to Elder Lucere’s grace, a massive palatial stronghold composed of strong orichalcum columns, solid marble walls, and shining stained glass windows depicting the glories of their faith. In many ways, it was the center of the city, the core of light itself; though technically that particular object was down in the underground portions of the temple.

Michael’s destination was nowhere near those depths, instead lying in the heights of the temple. Up those stairs they ascended with Centola, climbing floor after floor without complaint until the two reached a rounded meeting room lined with stained glass depictions of founding heroes and filled with those who claimed authority over the orders they founded. So essentially a number of overly pretentious high elves, none of whom were younger than 400.

Along with one other person.

Temperance is a virtue of special importance. It is not merely a virtue held by all angels, but a virtue exemplified by one in particular. Though, yes, all angels still have it; they all understand the meaning of not indulging in silly things like food or drink, yet it is also a cardinal virtue, and that means it belongs to a Cardinal. The Cardinal of the Airy West. My middle sibling, Raphael.

And Michael really wasn’t happy to see their green-winged sibling grimace the instant they spotted them.

“You’re late,” one of the elves at the table commented, glancing at Centola as she entered. Michael wasn’t sure which one it was; all their faces blended together, mixing with ancestors long dead to create further irritating confusion. It didn’t help that most of them insisted on always looking the same type of condescendingly haughty.

“I arrive when I choose to arrive, Tammaro. Don’t presume to lecture me,” Centola sneered, taking the same seat the Centola always took. It never changed, and it irritated Michael that these cretins insisted on sharing a color with them. The Red Paladins of Zemava, the Red Cardinal of Divica…it was ridiculous and irritating and yet the association continued.

Michael took a breath–unneeded, yet the action helped cool their building fury–then strode to the wall where their sibling stood while the elves finally began their talks again.

“Peace, my fellow worshippers of the most Holy Light,” the new Pontiff began, raising a ringed hand. Michael wasn’t fond of Popola. The newest Deacon-turned-Pontiff from the Order Popola carried himself with too proud a bearing. His back was straight, his shoulders were broad, he had a solid jaw and generally more muscular figure than the typical slender elf. His thin, golden blonde mustache was well-groomed, his hair was coiffed into ringlets that fell loose around his face, and he wore his colors more than he wore white. “We are all friends here, aren’t we?”

Outfits meant things. What a person chose to wear spoke to their character. The typical garments of office within Divica–conservative clothing that covered the body–was white, yet would have hints of decoration. The commoner would wear what they wanted, though covering clothing was still the trend, yet officials of the church made sure their outfits were primarily white. It was to show their connection to the faith above all else.

The royal purple tassels and tabards he wore over his embroidered robes said a great deal about the newest Pontiff. As did the diamonds sparkling where they were set in his mitre and vestments.

While Michael would never go against the decisions of the Elder Goddess, a part of them did briefly wonder if he was simply chosen because a replacement was needed immediately. Though if he ever overstepped his station, they would gladly remove him without hesitation. 

For now though, they would merely watch as the elves began their discussions again.

“–and we still haven’t found the former pontiff. Caius Veritas seems to have vanished entirely, and as the current Deacon of the Order Vocula, I need to know where exactly–”

“–I do understand the need for consistent taxation across the nation, but realistically, the Silvium Province provides the vast majority of orichalcum ore–”

“–the issue is that Tramontava is still refusing to allow our paladins unsupervised access under the grounds that they count as military officers! Yes, we may have integration of faith and nation, but that doesn’t mean natural exemptions should suddenly be dropped–”

“–some reports of odd occurrences throughout the Janean Sea. Shadows in the water, scores of dead fish–”

“Is the prospect of changing our national currency to orichalcum coins still on the table? The silver standard may be what most nations hold to, but really, we have the resources and there are still some ancient coins out there, albeit not exactly in circulation–”

“–do realize we can’t just demand another nation suspend their legal rulings, correct? We don’t have the clout, nor the military pressure to force Tramontava to acquiesce to any demands. Really, it’s the opposite, what with their larger territory and military–”

“Stop bringing up the fucking coins, Lurio! Every! Single! Time! Orichalcum this, orichalcum that, we get it! It’s a pretty metal, that doesn’t mean we can upend the entire economy just to have fancier coins–”

“–we haven’t had any ships disappear, but it might be something to wonder about–”

“No but listen, it’s a great idea! We just start handing out orichalcum coins as an alternative to larger denominations of gold coins! We already use gold as a value of ten and I’ve read some places use platinum to represent twenty, so if we just start phasing it in, maybe as a fifty piece–”

The same talks, spoken a thousand times and guaranteed to be said a thousand more, filled the air, and Michael let the noise wash over them as they reclined on the wall beside their sibling. Who wasn’t looking at them.

<You’ve been avoiding me,> they stated, not turning nor speaking with their mouth. The half-helms they both wore would have shown verbal speech, so they settled for “whispering” in Celestial.

<I have.>

Michael felt their eye twitch at the non-answer. The helmets kept that hidden though. They didn’t sigh, but they turned their head towards Raphael for a brief moment. They understood their sibling’s reluctance, even if they didn’t enjoy having one of their family ignore them for an entire month. <I’m not mad at you. I know I can…I’m not angry. I might have been, at the moment of my maiming, but I swear to you, I genuinely am not angry about anything that happened on that island.>

<Good to hear. I am.>

It took actual effort not to gape. <Y-What?! Why are you mad?!>

<Oh I don’t know, could it be because my eldest sibling, leader of our team and role model to us all, decided the brightest idea they could ever have would be to assassinate the EMPRESS OF THE DARK LANDS right in front of an entire room full of Light Land royals?>

Celestial, as an angelic language, was surprisingly good at conveying sarcasm. <Hey! I made the choice that seemed right in the moment! You’re the one that’s decided to hold a month-long grudge!>

<Oh as if you haven’t done the same! You and Gabe spent an entire year not talking to each other after that mess with that hero Liarni–>

<That’s not the point!> Michael grit their teeth, then took another unnecessary breath. And another. <My point is…Look, you heard her there! That smug condescension, that insistence she’d won, just like every other blasted Demon Lord that ever crawled out of that miserable continent! You cannot tell me you don’t just want to blast the bastards when they insist on making speeches over every little thing!>

<I don’t, because I’m not a hotheaded idiot who flies off without any back-up even when every member of their squad is already there and willing to help!>

Oh. <This isn’t about Valondrac.>

Raphael flinched, their hands curled into fists at their sides. <Yes it is. You tried to kill her->

<Which you don’t care about. Do you?>

<I do! You nearly ruined everything for us! Zemava’s standing on the national stage would’ve been completely destroyed if people learned one of the cardinals murdered a foreign leader like that! Especially in front of all those witnesses! It could have even counted as a violation of the accords–!>

<I know that. Gabriel already lectured me on all of it, you were there.> And while Michael hated every moment of that lecture, given a day after that fateful meeting and taking the entire day to get through, it did, somewhat, help them understand exactly how wrong matters could have gone. Even if they still thought Valondrac deserved to die. <…And I did apologize to them about it. I meant to do the same with you, but I can’t find you if you don’t want me to.>

<What, perfect Michael can’t do something?>

The “perfect” crack there nearly brought all their rage roaring back, but they clamped down on it quick enough. <You’re better at disappearing, oh “quiet wind”. Don’t act like you’re not.>

<Hmph. Can’t even praise me right…>

Did they mean to say that? Michael glanced at Raphael again, but they were stubbornly staring in the exact opposite direction. Which meant facing away from Michael. Which looked remarkably awkward from where they were standing… <You’re less angry about my screw-ups with Valondrac than you are furious about my duel with Goldforge.>

Raphael tensed and turned back towards them, visibly scowling now. <Of course I am. Of course I’m angry that you flew off on your own and left me to fumble together some sort of plan just to hide the fact that you screwed up. And of course I’m angry that you…That…>

<That I lost.>

<You shouldn’t have. I should have been there. I should have flown right after you and fought against that traitor with you. Gabriel and Uriel could have handled the stupid problem, but because I wasn’t there…>

<I never thought that.> Michael paused. <Not to say what you just said had any validity in the slightest, I just didn’t consider it was even a possibility that I could blame you in any regard.  Because I can’t. At all. In any way.>

<…Why do you always make reassurances sound so weird?>

<Shut up. It wasn’t your fault, I messed up, and if you blame yourself again, I’ll tell Father you need a vacation.>

Somehow, Raphael went even more rigid than before. <You wouldn’t!>

<I would.>

<I-There are more grounds for me to say you need one!>

<You might’ve had a point a month ago, but I’ve been on easy assignments for an entire month–> And that fact rankled. It rankled deep… <–and that means Father is far more likely to take my word over my poor, stressed little sibling, who has been so worried for me that they couldn’t even bear to be in my presence.>

<…> 

<…> Why were they being silent? Wait, did they touch on something? <…Raphael?>

<…When I found you, you looked…your chest was…open. There was such a deep cut, carving right through, and your wings…> 

Michael ignored the throb of their scars. It seemed any mention of the stupid disfigurements made them want to announce their presence to the entire world… <I lived.>

<You weren’t going to though. If I hadn’t…If I’d been even a little late…>

Should Michael hug them? That was something siblings did for comfort. Father did it, and that was cozy and comfortable and silenced any doubts and fears that Michael most certainly did not have because they were the Cardinal of Fortitude and that meant they had absolutely none of those things because they were a strong, solid wall of pure flame and divine fury.

So Michael hugged Raphael and ignored the surprised yelp their sibling let out. <What are you doing.>

<I’m hugging you.>

<…Stop??> Raphael stood rigid, arms at their sides, not returning the hug.

<No. Just be comforted already.>

<How is this supposed to comfort me?? This is just awkward–!>

“What are you doing?”

Michael paused, then looked at the table. The elves were all staring at them. Michael frowned back. “What?”

Popola blinked. “…I…Ahem. Cardinal Michael, why are you…hugging Cardinal-”

“You don’t need to know that.”

“You really don’t,” Raphael agreed, frowning at him too. A good show of solidarity.

Popola stared at them, then attempted a smile. “Be that as it may, as the Pontiff of Divica, I am, in a sense, your superior, so-”

“No you’re not. You’re an intermediary at best,” Michael explained, stubbornly keeping one arm around Raphael’s shoulders as they faced the irritant. “You carry orders to us from Elder Lucere, you do not give us orders.”

He blinked, then shook his head and smiled again in some vague try at being genial. “Now Michael, I do-”

Cardinal Michael.”

“-Cardinal Michael, I do understand I may be new to the job here, no one can deny that, but I am aware of the responsibilities and authorities that the office carries with it-”

“No, you’re not. Gabriel hasn’t given you the orientation yet.” Michael didn’t visibly pause, but they did send Raphael a slight query. <Gabriel didn’t orientate him yet, right?>

<No, she’s been busy too. She and Father are working out some plans, I think.>

<Really? I should ask about that then->

“Ahem.” Right, Popola. “Cardinal, I don’t believe anyone stated there would be an orientation–”

Michael raised a finger, shushed the Pontiff, and looked to their right as a flurry of blue-light feathers burst into the air, fading into mist that drifted away in an instant as Gabriel strode from the heavens to the mortal realm. <Michael, Raphael, your presence–…Why are you two hugging?>

Michael and Raphael glanced at each other, then looked at their younger/older sister in unison. <I’m comforting them-> <-They’re comforting me.>

<…> Gabriel sighed, then paused again and looked to Popola. “Ah, Lord Pontiff Popola. My apologies for failing to address you earlier in this past month. I have been busy with other matters and will endeavor to present your orientation later today. For now though, I must retrieve my siblings for a meeting of our own. I hope you and your fellow worshippers of the light have a productive meeting.”

“…Ah, of course, I look forward to this…orientation.” 

Appearing grateful to the Pontiff, Gabriel turned back to the two hugging cardinals. <As I was saying, your presence is required by Father.>

<Then let us be off.> Keeping a hold of Raphael, Michael walked forward, opening a portal to the heavens to take the two to father, ignoring the twinge in their back as they went. It was slightly awkward to remain hugging, but Michael refused to back down. 

And in the next moment, they found themselves before the grace of their Holy Father, the remaining two of their siblings already there. Uriel and Sariel, the Cardinal of Justice and the one that technically wasn’t a Cardinal. The two looked odd, side by side, since Uriel was easily the tallest of them while Sariel was the shortest. 

A second later, Gabriel arrived beside them, bringing the total to five before the radiance of Judgment.

“Ah, Michael, Raphael, how wonderful it is to see you two getting along again.” Michael was happy that their helmet was still on, as while they were able to keep their mouth even, their eyes lit up with joy at their father’s happy words, His voice echoing in His great helm. 

“Of course, Father.” Bowing in time with Raphael, the two siblings looked up at Lord Iudex, their Creator and the God of Judgment. He towered over all of them–easily over 20ft tall–as He sat straight on His high-backed throne, made of the same white, celestial stone that composed the rest of his office, decorated with lines of shining luminite and old trophies Michael and their siblings brought back from various excursions. “Raphael and I have cleared up any unfortunate misunderstandings we may have had.”

“Less misunderstandings, more legitimate grievances,” Raphael muttered, before standing straight and proper before their Father, “We’ve decided to put such things behind us, Father, and we’re ready to resume working together, if need be.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Thank you, both of you.” Michael stood straighter, doing their best to keep their lips from twisting into a beaming smile as Father praised them. “However, I…Well, I would hate to disappoint you two. I could move some things around if-”

“Er, father?” Gabriel raised a hand. “Not to interrupt, but didn’t you have some things to say?”

“Ah, yes, right, I do, and that was why I paused, because this is somewhat awkward…To be exact, Michael, Raphael, the two of you won’t be working together for some time due to the tour taking place today.”

“Of course, Father. I am more than prepared for my task ahead. If I may ask, have you been informed about who I shall escort?”

“I have been informed that she is one of more elder druids that is part of her faith. So it seems Chlora is not foolish enough to send a neophyte, at least.” 

Michael would never say anything to make their father think they were not looking forward to this mission. However, the thought of possibly having to deal with an old crone for the entirety of this mission would have potentially been a deal breaker to anyone who had a weaker will than theirs.

“Sorry to intrude, but Cardinal Michael, are you certain you wish to be the one to guide our guest?” Gabriel asked, with a tinge of what Michael was almost sure was doubt in their abilities as a Cardinal. 

“As the eldest, it is my duty to act as a representative of our Father to this druid. Unless you’re implying that I am not fit for the role, I see no reason to question my decision.”

“I am not trying to question your decision, I simply wished to check if you had made up your mind.”

“Well I have, so shu-ush,” Michael corrected, catching themself before they wound up saying something bad in front of Father.

He did let out an odd, amused noise, so maybe they hadn’t quite caught it… “Not to worry, Gabriel, I do have a task for you while Michael is busy. As second-in-command of the Cardinals, it’s best that you take a more active role while your sibling is on their journey, so you will be accompanying the Pontiff Popola during all points of his governance. It’s best if we take a more active role in guiding this one’s hand. Vocula was useful to a point, but he was far too focused on keeping his beloved status quo in the name of peace.”

“…” Gabriel was composed enough not to display her displeasure, yet Michael didn’t envy their sister her task. Pontiff’s were…mortal. Often unpleasantly so. “Of course, Father, I shall endeavor to do my utmost while guiding Popola.”

Father nodded, radiating warmth. “Good child. Thank you for your help.”

“…Mmph.” Gabriel ducked her head, obviously embarrassed.

“Moving on, I have further tasks for everyone else. Uriel, Sariel, I would like both of you to remain at Divica alongside Gabriel. You will be expected to carry out the typical duties of a cardinal, which you do have far less experience with, Sariel. As such, Uriel will mentor you.”

“Oh nice! Brand new team up!” Uriel cheered, raising her fists and beaming as Sariel went stiff beside them.

“O-Oh, er, y-yes! Good!” Sariel tried to mimic Uriel’s fist-raising, to far less effect. “I look forward to learning from you, elder sibling!”

Father chuckled at their antics, then continued in a far less pleased tone, “Raphael, I don’t like the task I have for you, but it was a request from Mother, and thus is her word law.” Raphael straightened further at attention, fully focused. Good. “The Demon Lord Valondrac has established a peace treaty with the Light Lands. This leaves her as the active ruler of the Dark Lands. Infiltrate the ranks of her servants and discover what her future plans are for taking advantage of this false peace.”

“Understood, Father. Should I eliminate Valondrac if the opportunity presents itself?”

“No. Your mission is to solely investigate and relay what information you can find back to us. Do not harm Valondrac nor any of her forces unless necessary. Do not take any risks. If your life is in immediate jeopardy, take what actions you must. I prefer you retreat should matters come to such.”

Michael tried not to frown. It was obvious Father was telling Raphael to act with caution because of what happened to them. If they had just…No. No, it didn’t matter. If Valondrac attacked, they would fight her. If she wanted to pretend at peace, they would let her. Simple.

“Michael.” They went rigid, their thoughts sharpening back into focus on their Father. “You know your task. However, you have additional tasks to fulfill. One I have informed you of, and one I have not yet.”

Michael nodded, trying not to show their displeasure. “Then I am indeed to act in a mortal guise during my journey?”

“You’re doing what?” Raphael asked, immediately whirling to look at them without any sense of decorum.

“A mortal guise?” Gabriel mumbled, like she always did. Mumbler.

“Oh, what kind of mortal?” At least Uriel asked the right questions. And Sariel didn’t ask any, instead just looking curiously at them.

Still, Michael was a generous leader, thus they spoke to enlighten their foolish younger siblings. “Father and Elder Lucere have presented the issue that I, as Cardinal of Fire and leader of the Cardinals, am a very distinctive being. I’m not some random angel of lightning or fire, but one of the guardians of Divica. If I’m seen traipsing about the mortal realm like some gawking tourist, it’s going to look strange and draw an unfortunate amount of attention.”

Father coughed, for some reason. He didn’t get sick, but he would do that sometimes. “Ye-es, those are excellent points, Michael. However, we of the Triarchy would also prefer you not draw attention to yourself because of your second task.” He lowered His hand from His mouth and stared directly at them. “On your journey, go to the Temples of Fire, Water, Air, Metal, and Earth, and retrieve the divine essence sealed within the Temple Cores of each location.” 

“Understood, Father,” Michael promptly responded without question, bowing deep. The cores were artifacts of importance, vessels through which the Temples acted in manners akin to the natural Dungeons that formed across the mortal realm, though the Temples were made with the purpose of testing and training heroes on their journeys. Each one contained the divine essence of the temple’s god; they did not know why they had to retrieve such a thing, but they would obey.

“Thank you. I know you will perform admirably.” He held out a hand as Michael straightened, and a strange object formed in the air about His palm. It seemed to be a necklace or bracelet of some kind, made out of five clear orbs and a metal rope connecting them in a circle. “This will be the vessel to hold that power within. Wear it around your wrist and raise your hand to the essence to draw it in.”

“Understood.”

“Er, Father? Why would you want to have Michael do that?” Uriel asked, raising their hand in question even though they really shouldn’t do that, “If Raphi’s already going out on a mission, why not have them do it?”

“Good question.” …Father could, at times, be indulgent. It was not a flaw, simply a quirk. “Raphael is needed for the reconnaissance mission. Their skills are suited best to remaining undetected and we do need someone to keep watch on Valondrac. Michael will already be traveling to every region in the Light Lands, so they will have ample opportunity to enter the temples when possible.”

“Yes Uriel, I can handle it,” Michael added. They didn’t outright glare at their younger sibling, just used the proper tone to convey their question was foolish.

“Course you can!” Uriel replied, smiling wide and oblivious. They were a simple angel, but there was a charm to that.

Father made another odd cough. Michael had the feeling He was smiling, but they didn’t know why. Such were the mysteries of the divine. “I am glad to hear it. Now, we should prepare your mortal guise as soon as-Oh?” He paused, looking at Michael’s raised hand. 

They hated to interrupt, but this was a simple matter to address. “Not to worry father, I have had this matter in mind since you first brought it up to me. As such, I have fully prepared my mortal guise ahead of time.”

“Marvelous! Show it to me!”

Michael beamed, then did exactly that, clasping their hands together in a mimicry of prayer as crimson flames surged up and over their body, altering their clothing and shifting their marble skin to mortal flesh. 

In an instant, Michael’s helm and armor were burnt away, leaving their now elvin face bare and their short, crimson hair resting against their head, longer than their typical, closely cropped ruby fuzz. Their ears remained pointed–part of why they picked “elf” for their guise; round ears just seemed…strange–and the general structure of their face and body remained the same, though with a few slight adjustments to appear less androgynous and more distinctly feminine. Still lean and muscular, but with a swell to the chest and a widening of the hips. 

Not that anyone could see much of their body, since they kept their same concealing robes on, though far more white so they may be a proper “follower of the faith”. Thus fully changed, Michael lowered themself into a bow, smiling as their ruby eyes shifted to a more mortal crimson. “Greetings, oh holy cardinals and beloved creator. I now present myself to you as Micah Justborn, holy follower of the Faith of Judgment.”

And, as was right, applause filled the room as Sariel and Uriel smiled wide and clapped for them. Even Father was clapping politely, so they really couldn’t help the cheerful smile on their face.

“…Micah?”

“Justborn?”

Then Raphael and Gabriel had to ruin it. “What? It’s a name. Micah is a derivative of Michael.”

“…Isn’t that a little too on the nose though?” Raphael asked, continuing to ruin the moment, “I wouldn’t call myself ‘Raphi’ if I was going undercover-”

“Oh really now? Then what would you call yourself, hm? Rayfa?”

“…” Raphael paused and tilted their head. “…Huh. That’s actually a good one.”

“Hmph.” Michael glanced at Gabriel. “And what’s your problem?”

“There’s no ‘Justborn’ order in Zemava. You are intending to be a Zemavan paladin, correct?”

“I am, yes.”

“Then you should be taking the name of one of the orders. Paladins do not keep their initial surnames-”

Yes, I know that. I don’t belong to one of the orders though.”

Gabriel shrugged. “Then just say you do. We can set up some paperwork if anyone takes issue enough to investigate, but it is far less suspicious to use one of the available names instead of coming up with one yourself.”

“Also, Justborn sounds dumb,” Raphael decided to add, as though that had any bearing on matters.

“It does not! Many human names consist of two nouns put together, or an adjective and a noun, and the name in question implies one who is born from Justice!” Michael explained, now glaring at their green sibling.

“Aw, that’s cute! You decided to reference me with your name?” Uriel asked, beaming.

“…Your virtue, yes-” They shook their head and glared back at Gabriel. “Look, do you have a better suggestion?!”

“Certainly. Just use Centola. They’re already the crimson order, so your colors would match.”

“…I hate that you have a point.”

“Oh, what about Misha for a name?” Raphael chimed in again, “It sounds plenty cute.”

“Wha-Why would I want it to be cute?!”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

“I am to be a paladin of judgement, I have no need to be cute,” Michael said through gritted teeth. 

“Oh, what about Miriam?” Uriel offered without any prompting, “That would also be cute-”

“No! Stop suggesting ‘cute’ names! I am not trying to be cute, I am trying to be inconspicuous!”

“And Misha would be a very inconspicuous name,” Raphael replied, being very stubborn about this for some reason, “And it sounds less obviously like Michael, so mortals wouldn’t make the connection.”

…Aggravating as it is, they do have a point. “Sariel, you haven’t said anything in some time, what are your thoughts?”

Their youngest sibling stiffened at the attention, fidgeting. “O-Oh, um…I-I s-suppose…Misha? I-I, um, i-it does sound…subtle?”

There was clearly a conspiracy against Michael’s naming decisions here and they really didn’t appreciate it. “Your opinion is noted. However, the final choice is mine.”

“Oh, of course! I w-wouldn’t presume.”

Gabriel and Raphael, presumptuous angels that they were, huffed and rolled their eyes respectively before Father tapped his armrest, gaining their attention once more. 

“Now then, since it seems that Michael has made a decision, they are ready to begin their mission. However, before that, I do require you to come with me to a meeting. Mother, the Elder Lucere, has requested we convene with our representatives before you begin your journey.” 

“Of course, Father,” Michael replied, bowing to their Father, “Now, unless one of my siblings has another thing they wish to interject about, I believe we can go.” They had to refrain from smirking as they saw Gabriel visibly hold herself back from speaking. 

“It seems that no one has anything to say,” Father noted with a light tone one could almost mistake for amusement, “Thank you all for coming here, but I must dismiss all of you, aside from Michael, for now. May you all succeed in your respective tasks.” 

“Thank you, Father.” Bowing as one, Michael’s siblings spread their wings and flew off, prepared to perform their own duties, as they should. Letting a smile spread across their face, Michael looked to their Father. 

“Shall we be off?” 

All angels know Kindness. From the moment they are born, they know what it means to be loved, unconditionally and without reservation. There is a certainty in them, a surety that the hands that gave them life, the hands of their god, hold the tenderness of genuine love, the love of a parent to their child, and thus they know, in every depth of their heart, that they must return the kindness that gave them life. That to be born is an act of kindness, and thus, kindness must be given in turn to those deserving of it.

Kindness is also Sariel’s virtue. It‘s their specific trait, like how Temperance is Raphael’s. Just something to note.

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