Lily silently held Iris close as both she and Sarah continued to cry. When Lily felt the sobbing subside somewhat, she quietly spoke into Iris’ ear.

“You okay? We can leave if you want.”

Iris shook her head and answered between sobs.

“No… I… I need to hear the rest of it. I want to know what happened… after.”

Sarah interjected here with a cracking voice.

“Are you sure? It only gets worse from here. You would be best off doing what this young lady says, Iris. This tale is just an old woman’s story, the story of a time long past. You might be better off just leaving now, and forgetting that this place ever existed.”

Leaning against the wall, Sarah’s sobs had subsided, but the trail of her tears remained. Iris slowly separated from Lily’s embrace, then walked over to the quiet Sarah, who said nothing but only watched her carefully. Iris knelt down next to the pitiful figure of Sarah, such that their eyes were at the same level. Reaching out with one hand, she quietly wiped away the vestiges of the tears that lingered on Sarah’s face. Taking that for her answer, Sarah sighed and allowed herself to smile slightly, softly whispering a wistful line that Lily had to strain to hear.

“…Fine then. Both of us spoiled you all the time, back then, too.”

Clearing her throat, Sarah shook her head clear of nostalgia and continued her story.

“When Liliana passed, I… lost control. Something in me snapped. My wings flared out, these tattoos appeared on my forehead, and my magic just lashed out at everything. I destroyed the alley we were hiding in, I destroyed the pavement that lined the roads, I destroyed everything around me. I don’t even know why I did it. I didn’t even know I had done it, not until I came to my senses and found myself standing in the midst of a ruin. When I finally realised what I had done, my only relief was that my magic had left Iris and Liliana’s body unharmed. With that little display of power, my disguise was completely shattered – I found myself unable to retract these black wings of mine. Anyone could plainly see I was an angel – and therefore, the enemy.

The logical thing to do at that point, I believe, would have been to run away and put as much distance between myself and the incident as possible, as soon as possible. But I didn’t. I might have intelligence as one of my aspects, but I also have love as an equally important aspect. In fact, over the years I spent with Liliana, I had nurtured it, such that it became arguably the most defining part of my being.

Love is irrational, and thus I did something wholly irrational: I did nothing. I knew I had to run, to get away. I knew that Liliana would have wanted me to leave her and keep running. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t bring myself to leave her side, even after she passed. I stayed next to her and simply wept.

So it was that when the government agents arrived just short of an hour later, they found me kneeling on the ground next to Liliana’s body, my wings fully on display. I didn’t resist when they took me into custody. I couldn’t find the strength to. With Liliana dead, I had no reason to live. I had no reason to fight. I had no reason to do anything.

They locked me up in this prison, constructed in accordance to the schematics they had found in her laboratory – schematics that she had withheld from the government, only to be released when it became truly necessary. That was how they learned to make this prison that restrains me, prevents me from using my magic. This suit, the chains, everything. I suppose if I had been in any other state of mind, the abuse of Liliana’s work in this way would have been a source of considerable outrage. Back in those days, though, the only emotion I could muster up was apathy.

Thankfully, they gave Liliana a proper funeral. Portrayed her as a bright young girl, the greatest talent humanity had to offer, who was the tragic target of seduction and coercion by an evil angel. The evil angel had orchestrated the corruption and subsequent death of humanity’s greatest mind. The lie brought humans even closer to the likelihood of war with the gods. I didn’t particularly care, though I was grateful that Liliana would go down in history as a hero and visionary.

I was a rather cooperative prisoner. I passively submitted to their initial tests. I gave them the names and positions of all the members of the Hidden Flight. It was my small, insignificant vengeance. A vengeance that I no longer really cared about. Still, it was one of the first questions they asked me, so I was more than glad to divulge the information. Even vengeance, however, could not fill the emptiness that had appeared in my world, the emptiness left by the absence of Liliana. When they took my limbs, I did not cry. When they pulled out my eye, I did not scream. When they clipped my wings, I did not mourn. I was hollow. I never objected to anything they did to me, for I had no reason to object.

None of the scientists could match up to Liliana’s genius. Nobody even came close. Even after they cut me up to examine my magical core, nobody could understand how it worked or how it could be replicated. It was just that complex. By eavesdropping on their conversations, I learned that they had tried to examine Iris’ core as well, to try and reverse-engineer it, but none of them could understand that, either, especially since Liliana had taken care to leave no documentation, and had designed the core to be as confounding as possible. Liliana was a genius beyond human limits. She probably knew and understood more about my core than I did.

Eventually, they decided they had learned all they needed to from me, and decided to kill me, finding no further use. Better to free up the resources that were keeping me prisoner and use them for the war effort. Of course, they had neither demonic nor divine weaponry. They quickly found that they were unable to kill me. Each time they crushed my heart, it regenerated. Each time they tried to cut off my head, threads of magic would sew it back. As they grew increasingly frustrated, I told them that only magic with an equivalent degree of divinity could harm me. After all, I no longer cared for the world. I wanted to die, to leave this world without Liliana in it. Still, I knew that they had no means of procuring divine magic, since they could not even understand how my core worked.

At least, that was my mindset up till those bastards brought Iris before me and showed off what they’d done to my poor girl.”

Iris tensed up as her name was mentioned. She remained seated, with a calm expression across her face, but her fingers were trembling. Lily walked up to her and knelt next to her, taking hold of her quivering hand.

“In accordance to Liliana’s emergency protocol, Iris wiped her memory banks clean the moment she was captured. Thanks to that, the government had no access to Iris’ visual records about the work that Liliana had done, preventing them from getting vital information. Unfortunately, that also meant that they had a blank slate that they could colour however they wished.”

Sarah again paused her narrative here to grind her teeth in rage, her face taking on an expression of pure anger as she recalled the events. Meanwhile, Iris felt a surge of fear as she considered the ramifications of what Sarah had just said. Responding to the fluctuation in her emotional state, her skin texture adjusted its pigmentation, becoming several shades paler. Sarah’s next words were spat out rather than said.

“They turned Iris into a killer. My girl, our girl, our sweet daughter, so kind and gentle, who would frantically and desperately apologise just for lightly bumping into a stranger. They gave her weapons and turned her into a killer. They were unable to replicate her core, but they instead simply used its capabilities to power a number of weapons systems that they installed in her body. They contaminated her databanks with combat data. They intruded upon her database – where she kept information like the names of plants, or her favorite stories – with their flood of combat-relevant information. They turned my sweet girl into a weapon.

The bastards were so smug about it, too. Called her, ‘humanity’s greatest weapon’, called her ‘the key to the future’, even went as far as to call her ‘the queen of death’. Death? Weapon? Fuck that! This was my daughter they were talking about, not some fucking gun!”

Sarah breathed heavily, recovering from her outburst. Iris’ fingers gripped Lily’s tighter. Her other hand lightly played over her thigh, hovering over the compartment which stored her shooters.

“That was the day I stopped being passive. Over the next few weeks, I constantly heard the scientists talking about how much of a success Iris was. As if she were their child rather than mine. They even gave her a new name, named after their modification project: Project Angelfall.”

Iris froze as she heard the name. Her eyes momentarily flashed gold, but she then shook her head rapidly and refocused on Sarah, her eyes returning to a subdued green. Sarah kept her eye trained on Iris, her brow narrowed. She seemed like she wanted to say something, but she instead returned to her tale.

“From what I gathered based on the scientists’ conversations, they had ‘successfully employed’ Iris under various conditions.” Sarah spoke the words with spiteful emphasis. “They had apparently used her to kill the other members of the Hidden Flight, the members whose identities I had revealed. An astounding success, they called her. Merciless, they said. Every praise they sang of Iris as a killer broke my heart. Every time they mentioned another of her successful kills, I cursed my weakness and failure to protect my daughter.

Within a short time, Iris had successfully killed almost every member of the Hidden Flight. I don’t why they left me for last. Maybe the bastards just liked watching the despair on my face. Whatever the case, eventually, it came to be my turn to be murdered by my daughter.”