As Above, So Below - Prologue (BETA)
The Warden was falling.


If anyone saw her and her massive grey wings they would have, perhaps, mistaken it for flying. Not that she would be particularly surprised by this fact; humans weren’t the smartest race across the Planes. She, however, knew better.


Do you know the difference between flying and falling, Aster?


It didn’t matter. No one would see her. The Warden felt the unbroken flow of sigils over her skin keeping her invisible from the naked eye, simple and second-nature: every legionnaire was taught the sigil spell for erasure from very young. One never knew when one needed to disappear.


It certainly came in handy now. She wasn’t even supposed to be on the Second Plane. If only Garreth could see her now, breaking every rule there ever was. Would he tell the Keeper? What would he even say? There were so many problems back home to worry about — and she’d left it all behind without a word, without a warning. She attempted sigils she didn’t know, pressed against the fabric of the Planes until they tore open, and now she was paying the price with nausea and severe muscle weakness. And, if her body didn’t remember itself soon, probably death.


She wondered if this was how Agents crossed. She should have asked. In reality she’d just thrown sigils together that sounded right at the time, and did no good to her as doubts now.


The panic had disappeared at least a thousand feet above her, and she’d since relaxed and became content to watch the stars fly past and the ground rush up to meet her. A sharp wind cut violently through her skin and pale wings. Tall, jagged peaks lay to her left, skirted by rings of mist. The green grass below shone silver in the moonlight. In a way, it was quite calming.


She convinced herself the falling was fine. The paralysis would soon leave her, and everything would be fine. If she said it enough times, maybe she would believe it. Besides, she’d fallen before.


That’s different, she whispered to no one, her words lost past her lips. Falling for someone is completely different.


But just like then, falling gave her purpose. A self-assigned mission of sorts. And because of that, the Warden didn’t mind the breathless plummet. She let it happen, let it wash over her like the brisk wind around her. If it meant illegally crossing Planes, falling through the sky only to be devoured by the darkness of another Plane so far from home, then so be it. Desperation drove her, coursed through her veins like molten lava, hot and pressing and destructive. Reminding her of what lay ahead — and what was sure to follow. This was a race, in the end. A race she had to win. Failure was not an option.


And falling is always faster than flying.


But as the mountains below came closer and closer, the panic returned. The Warden gasped for air, forced every fiber of herself into motion, prayed for synapses to fire and muscles to work. The Seers had Seen the Rebirth, had Seen the child and known her name, but surely they hadn’t Seen the Warden’s death? If they had, would they still have let her go?


For a single, fleeting moment, the Warden was afraid. Afraid she would have failed — again. She wasn’t sure her heart could bear it.


Then power surged through her like a crackling electricity, returning control to her numb limbs. Her wings snapped open and after another brief, heart-stopping drop, an updraft caught beneath them and she was gliding. Stunned, she let the wind carry her for a moment, low and steady.


Closed eyes. A deep breath. The rest of the tension eased from her lungs.


When the daze finally left her, she flapped her wings experimentally (just to be sure), relishing in the sensation of flying again. The Warden sighed, releasing her silvery blonde hair from beneath the tightly drawn hood of her tunic, the curls pulled almost straight from the vicious airstream. Even the air on this Plane seemed different. Tasted different, not like death and betrayal and war.


She knew now why other legionnaire spoke in hushed, loving tones about the Second Plane. It was so young, so full of potential. For all its humans and their vicious language and stupid mistakes, this Plane was still beautiful. Just like the stories of Zion, when it was new, when only the Sisters and their brethren touched its meadows and swam in its oceans. The Warden wondered what her home would have been like then, at peace.


A memory cross her mind, then: a flash of teal eyes, a keen smile.


Her soft heart hardened, just a little.


Now wasn’t the time for nostalgia. She had to find the Rebirth. The Seers named a child, playing with human parents, but no more. Certainly that should have been enough for the Warden, but she had to be sure; all too often Seers followed false or branched paths, and she wasn’t willing to throw herself into blind faith. Not when it came to this. Or to her.


The Seers did not, however, give her a location, and this world was large compared to Zion. She would only have the tug at her heartstrings and the echo in her soulspace to tell her where to go. She would have to hope it would be enough.


You will always find her, she reassured herself. It was the single truth she clung to, the star her world revolved around. You are a Warden. Her Warden. No matter where she is, no matter what she looks like, you will find her. You will always find her — in this life, and every one after.


So she listened. She trusted and listened, unsure of what she would hear, and waited.


There.


The faintest murmur in the back of her skull, like the sepia-toned memory of something once forgotten, or a childhood song with lyrics slightly faded: the thinnest of threads, pulling her by her sternum.


Heartened by this, the Warden turned her wingtips west and followed it.


---


She flew for days. No food, no rest. Weakness pulsed in her wing joints and behind her eyelids like blunt needles, but stopping was a luxury she could not afford.


The beating sun not-so-far above didn’t help. The rain was worse. Her hooded tunic, densely woven with breathable, light fibers, was designed to shield from the wind. It only withstood so much against moisture, and the Warden had no energy to spare on frivolous spells. Her numb fingers twitched, tempted. A single sigil for heat would help... She pushed wet bangs out of her eyes and groaned in frustration, straining to see in the grey curtains of downpour.


She didn’t quite know where she was going, only that she had flown over towns and expansive forests and endless blankets of ocean to get to this point and there was no turning back now. Only that her ears rang with a tune that made her chest swell to bursting. She thought of why she was here, what she’d had to do and what she hadn’t done, and if only she’d been brave enough to —


Running in circles, that was all she was doing. The Warden forced down the tears the threatened to spill over and focused on following the murmuring thread obediently, though it was no longer just a murmur. It grew louder with each passing mile until the ache was almost unbearable, above a sprawling city of light and sound nestled beside a bustling harbor. The buildings were concrete and glass, ugly and crude, with strange vehicles spewing noxious gases flowing between them like blood through arteries. Still the thread grew louder.


She shut her eyes, a small part of her willing it to go away — if only for a little peace and quiet in the middle of the storm — but she knew she couldn’t let it. If she couldn’t be brave before she had to be brave now; the thread was deafening and more pronounced than even the Warden’s own painful heartbeat, reaching fever pitch.


And just like that, it was gone.


The Warden slammed to a halt and held her breath, eyes wide. Waiting for something. Anything. Listening beyond the strangely quiet drum of the rain that drowned out everything beneath her. Cold streams slid beneath her collar and seeped easily through the already soaked fabric, sending shivers sparking up and down her bones.


Where are you?


Then a baby’s cry pierced the air, and the Warden dove.


I am coming. Wait for me.


---


As a Warden her powers were limited, but not non-existent; she walked into the hospital, the erasure spell sigils ready for release in her hand, and the automatic sliding doors seemingly opened for no one.


It was early morning and most of the residents of the lobby waiting room were asleep, waiting for news of loved ones in restless exhaustion. The lobby itself was small and cramped, stuffed full of rickety plastic chairs and rubber plants in cracked pots. Ceiling lights flickered every couple of minutes, casting eerie shadows on the walls. One man slouched in a chair with his feet kicked up on a coffee table, his bright orange hair greasy and eyes gaunt, stared right through her. Waves of pain emanated off of him and the Warden paused, needing to reach out. Needing to comfort.


I know, she wanted to tell him.


I know.


She pulled herself away. Rain dripped on to the linoleum floor from each slick grey feather of her enormous wings as she wandered down hallways, peeking into each room. Her shoulders shook from the effort of holding herself upright, the suffocating press of illness and death and sadness hitting her with every step.


Battlefields felt like this. The Warden’s fingers twitched with longing, but she could do nothing for them. They are not your burden, she reminded herself. They are not who you came for.


The empathy of Wardens was always their downfall.


She slipped past them all, eyes downturned.


Finally, she came to a stop in front of a door in the birthing ward, suddenly wary. Something wasn’t right. Here the thread fell silent, but all the Warden felt behind the door was more death. There were no voices beyond — just an endless, droning beep.


Her heart faltered. She raised a hand, fingers pressed against the laminated wood of the door.


Hesitation, drowning in silence.


The only difference between flying and falling, Aster, is lack of control.


Why would I ever want to fall?


Be brave, she told herself.


Be brave, and fall.


When she pushed open the door, the Warden was greeted by a stark, empty room that smelled of chemicals that stung her nostrils. A solemn doctor held a newborn baby wrapped in bloody blankets in his arms, watching as two nurses drew a white sheet over the lifeless woman on the bed beside them. He cleaned the child off with shaking hands. No one said a word save for the baby, who wailed loudly when she was set into a plastic bassinet.


The Warden stepped out of the way to allow the doctor and nurses with dead eyes wheel out the equally dead body, leaving legionnaire and child alone in the room.


Chest filled with trepidation, the Warden stood over the bassinet and stared at the squirming infant. Her cheeks were as red as the sun before it dipped behind the horizon, skin still wrinkled with moisture. The crying made her ears ring, but it was beautiful. She was beautiful. Bittersweet, yet beautiful.


It is her. She is here.


Her hands clenched into tight fists, then slowly unfurled in stinging relief.


She is here, and safe, and your burden is done. Your burden —


She took a deep breath.


This was your burden and your burden is —


Why would I ever want to fall?

Because some things you should not control. Some things are meant to happen.


The Warden sighed and crouched beside the bassinet. Swallowed. With a tentative touch she stroked the baby’s cheek, so warm against her cold fingers. She spoke a word with no translation and a soft golden light jumped, like a firefly, from fingertip to lips. The crying petered out until it was only a gurgle.


The light reached further than skin, settling deep within and the child’s soulspace rang in answer, the tintinnabulation reverberating with her own in familiarity. The Warden exhaled, revealing the smallest of smiles.


If she had any doubt before, it was gone now.


She was here, alive, and against all odds. The Warden couldn’t leave — not now. Argent would hear of the Rebirth and scour the Planes for such an opportunity. Amaranthia would want her dead. She had to protect her.


This time, she would protect her.


”Forgive me,” she breathed. “This is all my fault. You might not understand now, but you will. One day. You might even forgive me.”


The Warden laughed at that. The baby cooed and closed her eyes, drifting into sleep and dreams the Warden knew would haunt her for years. Just beneath the child’s warm brow, she could sense the sigil bindings placed there shift ever so slightly, could see the swirl of chains and locks weaving around old memories in the fathoms of a young mind. The bonds weren’t as strong as she’d initially hoped — already they were splintering at their weakest points — but they would have to do. Repairing them now would only lead to more damage.


”But for now, I will stay. For as long as you need me. Forever, if I have to.”


The Warden stood, her face tight with exhaustion and knowing.


You will never see loneliness again.


Overcome with the false finality of finishing a mission only to begin another more


arduous, the Warden hobbled over to the nearest wall and collapsed against it, sliding to the floor and leaving a wet streak along the plaster. Numb lips whispered sigils of gentle heat, slowly evaporating the rainwater that pooled where she sat, knees drawn, still shivering. Her eyes never left the bassinet.


And in that silent, hollow room, the legionnaire began her long vigil.

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