Lily watched on as the woman – who bore such a striking resemblance to Iris – cried. After several minutes, when the woman’s sobbing had calmed down, lowering in intensity, Lily posed the question which was on her mind.

“So? Who are you, and why do you look so much like Iris?”

The woman giggled in response to Lily’s question.

“Rather than me looking like Iris, it’s Iris looking like me.”

She sighed and looked Lily in the eye.

“…How long has it been? Since the war?”

“Which war?”

“The divine one. The one where you humans tried to fight off the gods.”

“…There are no records of such a war.”

“…I see.”

The woman closed her eyes and allowed a bitter expression to cross her face.

“Tell me, then, what year is it?”

“487 A.R.”

“A.R.? No, it doesn’t matter. 487, huh… 487 years… it’s been a long time…”

The woman hung her head, carrying an air of sadness. Then she glanced up tiredly.

“You asked me who I am and why Iris looks like me. I can answer, but it’s a long story. It’s also one I’d rather not tell in this manner. Could you break my chains? It’s not like I have any legs to run away, and my wings have long been clipped.”

Lily wordlessly stepped over to the chains on the woman’s left and forcefully tore them asunder. At the same time, Iris walked around to her other side and cut through the chains on her right with a mana blade. As the woman fell forward, Lily caught her and held her in position while Iris cut through the bindings that held her wings. Once they were freed, they fluttered weakly, shifting slightly, but true to her word, the woman seemed unable to move them properly. Carefully, Lily set the woman on the floor, leaning her against the wall. Once in this position, the woman sighed in relief.

“Finally. You have no idea how annoyingly uncomfortable it is to have to hang like a ceiling decoration for 500 years. Honestly, I hope you never have to find out.”

Lily said nothing, staring expectantly at her. The woman sighed and nodded.

“Yes, yes. Your answers. Young people these days…”

She took a deep breath and fixated her single eye on Lily.

“I have many names. It’s a side effect of living as long as I have. The name that I cherish the most, however, is Sarah.”

Iris felt a twinge of recognition, but was unable to chase it down to its source. Holding an uneasy feeling in her heart, she kept silently watching.

“As you might have inferred, I’m an angel. A messenger of the gods. A servant to the divine. Or at least, I was, at one point. See my black wings, my cursed eye? These tattoos? These are the evidence that I’m now a fallen angel, and therefore not your enemy.”

Lily narrowed her eyes and interjected.

“And by that you mean to say that regular angels are our enemies.”

“Very acute. Angels are the enemy of humanity. At times, we served as messengers and envoys, but we were born as warriors, and our final role was as warriors.”

Sarah closed her eyes, reminiscing about days long gone.

“To fully explain everything you’re asking, who I am and why Iris looks like me, it is necessary to start from the beginning. Not the beginning of time, definitely, but from the beginning of the chain of events that led me to be imprisoned here. So, I certainly hope you’ll excuse this old woman for telling you her life story.”

Sarah stole a glance at Iris, that sad expression appearing once again. Then she began to speak, in a slower, melancholic voice, as she recounted and relived the past.

“In the beginning, there were two sets of entities: the gods, and the demons. The gods inhabited the heavens, the demons inhabited the land. The two sides differed greatly: the gods were gifted with the highest of magics, but were few in number. The demons had no magic, but were vast, intelligent and numerous. They quickly developed a level of technology that allowed them to rival the magic of the gods. The two sides were locked in a stalemate for millennia, neither side having a reason to go to battle, but both sides finding the presence of the other distasteful.

Then the demons declared war. The reigning Demon King at the time broke the peace, and launched an assault on the gods. The demons made great gains, utilising their advanced technological abilities to build numerous structures which allowed them to reach the gates of the heavens. There they laid siege to the gods, who were in a precarious position.

You see, the base nature of the gods is to create. They are gifted with boundless power, but as a part of this power, they are bound by an urge to create, to breathe life into things. It goes against their very nature to take life away, and thus they are fundamentally incapable of doing so. The demons had no such restrictions.

Faced with the threat of demon aggression, the gods’ lives seemed to be in immense peril. They had no way of fighting back. Then one god, Kuldevic, the deity of justice and foresight, realised one simple fact: they were creators that could not take life away. However, they could create soldiers that would take lives on their behalf.

With that realisation, the gods created us, the angels, as warriors to fight for them. They gifted us with flight, with magic, with power, and we drove the demons back to the ground, and further still, beneath the ground. To make sure they would never again threaten the gods, we imprisoned the demons in large, labyrinthine structures around the world, scattering the demon clans.

With the world devoid of life, the gods, driven by the urge to create, repopulated it with new creatures: humans. To prevent the actions of the past from repeating, the gods took a far more active role in the development of the humans. They presented themselves as benevolent deities, to be worshipped and respected, and the warrior race known as the angels gained new roles as messengers and envoys.

For the longest time, humanity and the gods lived in harmony. It was to be expected: the gods had created humanity, after all. The humans worshipped and adored the deities, and the gods in turn guided them, protecting them, planting and nurturing the seeds of civilisation and wisdom in them. We taught humanity that the seals in the labyrinths must never come undone, that they were not to approach the labyrinths. For a long time, there was peace. The humans occasionally fought among themselves, but the gods viewed that as a vital component of their development. As civilisation evolved, the gods began to step back, becoming less active in the growth of the humans, trusting in humanity to flourish on its own power. Kuldevic, at that time, urged against it, insisted that they keep reinforcing the humans’ worship of the gods, to prevent another war. The other gods dismissed his ideas as paranoia, enamoured with watching the growth of humanity.

As human civilisation advanced and technology evolved, humanity slowly began to lose their respect for the gods – ancient rituals of worship were abandoned, science was elevated above faith. When humanity began to research and explore the labyrinths, the gods decided it was time to step in. They sent down an angel as a messenger, but to their horror, the humans did not heed their words – instead, they captured the messenger, imprisoning her, experimenting on her. Soon after, a declaration of war was issued upon the gods.”

Sarah paused in her narrative here and smiled slyly. She had not breathed at all during her speech – it seemed angels had no need of air – but now she took in a deep breath.

“I suppose, given all that exposition, it would not be surprising for me to say that I was the captured angel. Fortunately, that is not the case. The experiments performed on me were nothing compared to what they did to her. I’m not privy to the details, but I heard they broke her to the point where she was unable to speak, nor even to think. The bastards installed machinery and a rudimentary AI into her shell, and tried to use her as a mechanical soldier; it was a failure. Her divine nature rejected the machinery, and the thing wasn’t even able to move, much less fight. They scrapped her, after learning everything they wanted about the angels.”

Sarah’s face contorted in disgust and revulsion as she spoke, no doubt furious about the injustice committed against her fellow.

“Thankfully, I wasn’t that unfortunate girl. Seeing what the humans had done, the gods were horrified – they began preparations for war. In addition to creating more legions of angels to serve as soldiers, they also created a higher caste of angels – they called us the Hidden Flight. There were seven of us, each personally sculpted by one of the major gods. My creator was Ayjestilya, goddess of love, wisdom and sacrifice. Each of the seven angels in the Hidden Flight possessed far higher intelligence, autonomy and power than the average angel. We were also gifted with emotions, unlike the rest of our winged sisters. This was to accommodate our mission: Each of us was to masquerade as a human, and infiltrate human society and government. The gods were loath to resort to war so quickly, after investing so much into helping humanity grow. With the Hidden Flight initiative, they hoped to disrupt technological progress and guide humanity towards a path of non-violence.

Each of us was inserted into a field of influence, where we would use our heightened abilities and intelligence to seize power and create a hegemony. I was inserted into the Academy of Mechanical Research as a student, my mission to interfere with and misdirect the humans’ weapons research.”

Sarah finally turned her gaze from Lily and fixed her single eye on Iris.

“That was where I met Liliana. That was where I met your mother.”