“Virtue of Might, this is proscribed in the most emphatic terms by—” The avatar began, but Helen cut it off with a sharp gesture.
“No. The mortals have reached this planet, which means that the entire purpose of the proscriptions has been rendered moot.” Helen replied sharply. “At the moment, the most important thing is to ensure they don’t come to further harm. Their technology is obviously insufficient to survive conflict with the Ravagers.”
The avatar paused, and Helen resisted the urge to tap her foot. For one, it was impossible to do in power armor. For another, she could see how all the mortals were staring at her and the figure of the avatar in confusion. Except for the elven mage, anyway, and the woman seemed more fascinated than anything else.
She’d taken them into the infirmary, or as the avatar insisted on calling it, the Halls of Heavenly Solace. The mortal races had looked around themselves in shock and awe for the short trip, save for the two that were injured, and they’d reached the room at last.
Four healing platforms were along one wall, each crafted of a magically enhanced diamond lattice, with the orbiting rings of the platforms shimmering gold as they slowly spun near the wall, each ring a few centimeters thick and almost ten centimeters across. There were also normal beds around the room, but Helen sighed and looked at the woman who could understand her, a pretty elven woman with dark hair and lightly tanned skin, at least from what she could see through the woman’s helmet.
“I need your injured to lay down on the tables that look like crystal.” Helen said, trying not to let her impatience color her words. “Put the severed limb as close to the injury as you can as well.”
“I’ll let them know, but may I ask why?” The woman asked, then began to speak to the others in their language. Helen really hoped the avatar would finish her language analysis shortly so she could upload it to Helen’s mind.
“The tables are for healing, and if the systems work correctly, it should be able to reconnect the arm and revive the limb. It’s far quicker and more efficient than rebuilding a limb from nothing.” Helen explained, and saw the woman’s gaze brighten. The soldiers who’d been moving reluctantly picked up the pace as the woman relayed the explanation.
Once they were on the tables, Helen glanced to the avatar and commanded. “Commence scan and reconstruction of the mortals.”
“Pardon, Virtue of Might?” The avatar said, and Helen gritted her teeth, once again wishing she had something modern.
“Proceed to divine the health of the mortals and grant them divine succor to heal their wounds.” Helen spoke patiently, and she could hear the elf giggle.
“That is not possible, Virtue of Might,” the avatar replied, and Helen swore under her breath, instinctively using a word in dwarven. Unsurprisingly, the dwarf looked at her in shock and said something to the elf, but Helen ignored it, focusing on the avatar instead.
“Why?” Helen demanded.
“All knowledge of mortal bodies is in excess of a thousand years out of date, and as such it is in violation of the proscriptions to perform divine healing upon them while a knowledgeable healer is in residence.” The avatar replied calmly, causing a soft growl from Helen.
“There isn’t a healer in residence! Uther was in Reassa when the Ravager warship overloaded it’s power core.” Helen retorted, and she saw the smile on the elf’s face vanish.
“Not so. Holy Healer Olivia of the Third Choir took refuge within the temple with her family before the infidels caused us to imprison the essence of time. She is qualified to divine the condition of the mortals.” The avatar countered, causing Helen to swear again.
“Then explain it to her and ask her if she’s willing to do so. If she is not, you are to perform the procedure without her.” Helen replied, crossing her arms and glowering at the avatar.
The figure bowed its head and agreed. “As you wish, Virtue of Might.”
Evelyn’s amusement at the interaction between the angel and the semi-translucent angelic figure in front of her had vanished at their latest exchange. Not all the words they used were familiar, or were used in unusual ways, but she recognized enough to get the gist of what they were saying, and that was sobering.
“She used dwarven again! Do angels swear in dwarven?” Rammer asked, sounding perplexed.
“I’m not sure, and I’m a bit distracted.” Evelyn replied. “They’re arguing about the treatment, since the… other one doesn’t seem to like the idea of using the automated systems with how out of date their data on us is. Apparently, there’s another healer of some type here, and they’re asking them to come perform the procedure.”
“I was starting to wonder.” Esress grunted, not sounding particularly happy. “This entire situation is frustrating as hells.”
“If I had a way to get around it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.” Evelyn assured the lizzan.
The entire structure was a marvel, and Evelyn couldn’t help wondering if the bed the lizzan was laying on, big enough to fit the woman easily, was actually diamond like she thought it was. It almost had to be synthetic, since she didn’t see any flaws except for what looked like circuitry and a spell structure going through it, but the sight was staggering. She kept wanting to study everything, but she couldn’t.
“Holy Healer Olivia has agreed to aid you, and is on her way.” The spectral figure said in angelic, and their host let out a sigh, unfolding her arms.
“It appears we will have to wait a minute or five before healing your allies, my apologies.” The angel said, turning to face Evelyn. She couldn’t see through her helmet, but Evelyn wasn’t too worried, not since the angel could have easily wiped them out with how easily she’d destroyed the aliens.
“It looks like the healer is on her way.” Evelyn told the others in standard, then switched to angelic as she looked back. “It’s fine, Lady Angel. We can wait for a time, as the injured are currently stable.”
“If they weren’t, the avatar wouldn’t be arguing with me,” the angel replied simply. “My apologies again, but I have neglected to ask who you are.”
“Oh, of course! I’m Evelyn Whisper, a xenoarcheologist aboard the Lightseeker.” Evelyn replied, smiling broadly. “Not that we expected to find anyone alive when we came out here.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Evelyn Whisper. I’m certain that full explanations will have to wait. I believe the avatar should have a translation for your language for me soon, which will be a relief,” the angel replied, and patted herself on the chest as she said. “I am Virtue of Might Helen of the Second Choir, what amounts to a reserve military commander, likely the equivalent of a lieutenant or so. Perhaps more, I’m not certain about mortal command structures… I never had the opportunity to visit one of your worlds, even if I knew a number of mortals.”
“It’s an honor to meet you, Helen.” Evelyn said, feeling a little flustered. After a moment she glanced over at Rammer, then asked. “Is that why you curse in dwarven? Rammer was startled to hear you.”
“Ah, as to that… well, I’m a soldier. We pick up curses from any language we feel has good ones.” Helen replied, shrugging slightly. “It’s… ah, one moment. It appears the translation is complete.”
“Okay…” Evelyn said, blinking, then turning to the others to explain, switching languages. “It sounds like she was a military commander, and she says she just picked up good curses, Rammer. She’s also saying that the translation is complete, so I guess that will ease translations.”
“Really? So we’re going to be stuck getting translations from her system instead of you?” Esress asked, her tone skeptical as well as pained.
“Hardly that.” Helen’s voice was a shock, as she was speaking in standard as well this time, her accent odd but understandable. “If it were merely translating your words from one of us to another, that would be simply done. Instead, the avatar analyzed your full language and created a version which I could use, then uploaded it to my implants. I can utilize up to five languages of this complexity at once if I don’t know them myself.”
“Implants?” Esress asked, then shook her head. “No, I suppose I shouldn’t be asking that. I should be asking what the blazes happened here. We thought angels were a myth! You also don’t look anything like servants of the gods to me.”
“We are not gods. Instead, we are another species like yourselves, simply one that is far, far more advanced in magic and technology. We do not age, but we can die like anyone else.” Helen replied calmly. “Millennia ago our Emperor of the time decided that we should attempt to guide those we considered mortal races down a better path. After a great deal of discussion, they chose to pose as agents of the gods to do so. Relatively recently we changed Emperors, and the new one decided that the results were… causing unintended problems, so ordered our withdrawal from your worlds. It’s obvious to me that this was a wise decision, as in the intervening time you’ve learned to cooperate, where our records indicate that when we were on your worlds, the species were far more likely to come to blows.”
Evelyn’s eyes went wide at how calmly Helen dropped a bombshell that would cause major upheavals in religion and history throughout the Coalition, feeling dazed. She opened her mouth to speak, but Esress shot her a look as the lizzan spoke quickly.
“That is… obviously something that we’re going to need to speak more about. It appears you’ve stunned our xenoarcheologist, but that can wait.” Esress said, hesitating before asking. “The entire reason we came out here was because we detected multiple stellar explosions from this region of space, unnaturally close together both in time and space. After so many of them were detected, and possibly more since we left, we were trying to figure out what had happened. Then we encountered those… things outside, and you. What in all the hells is going on?”
“Multiple explosions? How many are you talking about?” Helen asked, her voice losing any hint of mirth it’d had before.
Esress looked at Evelyn, and she hesitated for a moment, then spoke. “Twelve, at last report. All within fifty light years of one another.”
“Heaven help us.” Helen said softly, raising a hand to cover her faceplate. For a long moment she was silent, and Evelyn looked at the nearest soldier in some concern. Then the angel spoke calmly. “Retrieve and refit armor and weapons.”
The armor around the angel shimmered and vanished, to Evelyn’s shock, and the occupant’s wings beat once to help her settle to the floor as everyone gawked. Helen looked much like a human, though her bone structure was different, oddly beautiful in its own way. She stood nearly two meters tall, and the long wings that extended from her back had white feathers, some of which were edged in red. Her skin was pale, and she had a curvaceous, attractive figure that was shown off by the tight white bodysuit she wore, sections of it outlined in patterns of gold that glowed with magic, and there was a symbol of crimson sword over spread red wings above her right breast and on either shoulder. Helen’s eyes were a simple blue, and her hair was blonde and of middling length. Most surprising to Evelyn was how tired the woman looked, with dark circles under her eyes.
“What do you mean?” Evelyn asked after a moment.
“There were originally nineteen colonies of the Empire in the sector nearest the mortal worlds. We deliberately left the stars nearest your homes uncolonized to give you space to grow, leaving a four-hundred-eighty light-year gap between us. An auspicious number, it was thought.” Helen said, smiling bitterly. “Before the Ravagers attacked here, they took four of those colonies, and were beginning to advance toward the mortal worlds. As you could not defend yourselves, High Command sent down a simple order. We were to begin evacuating the planets and were to detonate the Heavenly Gates, effectively wormhole gates, to render the planets uninhabitable and to destroy the aliens if they invaded. Unfortunately, they attacked before the evacuation had begun in force. If twelve systems fell… it means they attacked the others as well. Doubtlessly they turned on the Empire, as otherwise they’d have long-since reached your worlds, but… it explains why no one came for us.”
“What?” A woman’s voice came from the side, her words in angelic, and Helen turned to face the doorway and winced, while Evelyn looked as well, somewhat horrified by what she’d heard.
The woman in the doorway was also an angel, but she looked little like Helen in many ways, and not just because she was a dozen centimeters shorter. Her hair was cerulean blue that fell to her waist, and her body was obviously softer, while her feathers were edged in faint blue highlights. It didn’t surprise Evelyn too much that her eyes were a deep blue as well, and the woman wore a flowing white dress that was smudged in a few places by soot and grime. In her arms she held an angelic child no more than eight years old, the young boy almost uncannily resembling his mother, and his eyes were wide.
This must be Olivia, Evelyn realized, and glancing around the room, she saw the shock on the faces of most of the landing party. It was probably the child that had them startled, she realized, since it drove home the fact that the angels were just another species.
“You did that to the world outside? It wasn’t the invaders that did it?” Olivia asked, her eyes fixed on Helen, her voice trembling as she spoke. “What about everyone else?”
“Evelyn?” Esress asked, obviously confused.
“Lieutenant, remember… for them it’s only been minutes since the attack was going.” Evelyn temporized, and she swallowed before adding. “And at that point the world outside was still… well, alive.”
“Yes. I was the one who made the final decision.” Helen said, her voice relatively calm. “As for the others… those who couldn’t reach here or didn’t get away on one of the evacuation ships died.”
“How could you do that?” Olivia demanded, her voice rising, and anger appearing on her face. “If there were still people on the surface, then—”
“Avatar, illuminate the room with scryings of the past. Show Olivia of the Third Choir what happened to civilians the Ravagers caught.” Helen interrupted, and this time her tone was flat, almost humorless. She was also speaking in standard, Evelyn realized. An instant later she added. “Ensure that the child does not see the scryings.”
“Yes, Virtue of Might.” The spectral angel replied, and before Evelyn could say anything, holographic images appeared around the room.
“Gods above!” One of the soldiers exclaimed, and Evelyn gagged, even as she saw Olivia recoil.
The images of a beautiful angelic city would have been breathtaking, if they weren’t taken in the middle of a war zone. One of the gleaming spires was hit by an orbital strike as they watched, exploding, while others were burning or charred from attacks. A handful of angels in body armor were shooting at the aliens, but instead of the fifty or so that had been around the temple, there were hundreds of them in sight, and the angels were being easily overwhelmed. Civilians were fleeing, both on foot, by wing, or in vehicles, but they weren’t getting far.
Angels were shot from the sky without hesitation, and the aliens seemed to be aiming for their wings, letting them drop to the ground to horrifying, bloody results. But that was better than those which were caught by them on the ground. Most were ripped limb from limb, but as they watched a couple were dragged in front of the strange, multi-armed aliens that Evelyn had seen before, and she gagged as one pulled out knives and started to cut the angel open.
“End visualization.” Helen said, her voice tight as she looked at Olivia. For a long moment she was silent, and Evelyn felt her stomach roiling after even a few moments of that. Then Helen spoke again, her voice flat. “If I’d had a modern Temple of Might, rather than a five century out of date relic, I might have been able to hold them off long enough to finish the evacuation. If I’d had six squads of battle angels instead of one, I might have been able to hold them off. If I’d had three times the warships to fight them with, they might never have landed before you got off the planet. Instead, out of four hundred thousand colonists, half that number got off the planet. When I made my decision, every other battle angel was dead, all the militia were dead, and best readings indicated that in excess of ninety percent of the remaining population was dead or dying. They did that in less than six hours.”
The sound of a pin dropping could be heard, and Evelyn swallowed hard. No one said anything, so eventually Helen continued, her voice soft. “What happened here will haunt me for the rest of my life, Olivia. I did everything in my power to protect your home, but it wasn’t enough, and in the end I chose to grant a merciful, instant death to those still alive, and to destroy the Ravagers and render the planet useless to them in the same breath. Now please… would you heal the mortals? They freed us from stasis, else we’d still be waiting for the Empire to send someone for us.”
“I… very well.” Olivia conceded, and she slowly started across the room.
Evelyn looked at Esress, and even through the faceplate she could see the shock and horror on the lizzan’s scaly face.
The idea of being forced to make a decision like that was utterly horrifying. Evelyn’s heart tightened at the idea of seeing images like they’d just witnessed for hours, and knowing she couldn’t do anything about it. No wonder Helen looked exhausted.
As Evelyn looked at the angel, her awe turned to a sense of pity. A tiny part of her suspected that their presence and that of the civilians who’d shown up were the only reason Helen was able to keep going.
Instead of saying anything, Evelyn kept quiet as Olivia gently set the young angel down next to her, and tapped the wall next to Esress’s bed, speaking in heavily accented, archaic lizzan. “This should take only a few minutes, and will go faster if you relax.”
“As you say.” Esress rumbled, and Evelyn almost smiled as the soldier tried to relax on the table.