It was a damp winter night, and Tokyo Tower’s orange lights were one of the few things visible through the thick fog that had settled on the city.
Two figures, not looking to stand out, departed from a hop-on, hop-off bus looking for some cheap but fulfilling eats that were still within the budget of the cheap seats it took to get there.
Xana, the shorter of the two, was not in the mood for a fancy restaurant particularly as it was not within Newbie’s budget nor her own. Gabriel was mildly disappointed, but understanding of the need to live within one’s means.
So it was that convenience was the order of the day, and the second floor of FootTown had a food court ready to serve them, along with the many tourists looking to appease their family before making their way up to the observation deck.
It was Gabriel that suggested the location, as Xana wasn’t particularly interested in sightseeing, or for that matter leaving much distance between her and her room. But here she was. Even she had to agree they were running out of things to do in Akihabara.
Gabriel couldn’t explain exactly what it was about the tower that had drawn her in, but there was a significance to this place. As though it was this perpetually standing figure, a shining beacon towards modern prosperity, one that could withstand the end of days, and in many works of fiction, did.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Xana asked as she stepped within some five feet of her date, the archangel Gabriel, in the middle of a packed food court.
"No, it is not on offer here. Perhaps higher up?" Gabriel wondered. She had found a vending machine that proffered the crackers she wanted, though they seemed not to be fresh, but there was no sign of the red wine which was supposed to accompany them.
Xana leaned in to have a look at what had Gabriel stumped. “Good hunting then. I’ll grab a few fries and we should be set.”
Gabriel wrinkled her nose. “Xana, that’s not enough food. Is there nothing here in this palace of fluorescent lighting and white tile that appeals to your senses?”
“Well definitely not the tile. Besides, you’re being fussy. I think my fries have more nutritional value than the starch you’re holding.”
Gabriel’s shoulders sank. Xana was perceptive, even if she liked to come across as more simple minded in conversation. This could be a time to expand one’s palate, even if the setting was more commercial than she’d like.
The two split ways to assemble proper meals. Xana with a credit card and Gabby with a decently sized allowance, provided by the card holder. Neither wasted time in reconvening to a small table in the center.
For Gabriel, a modest meal of a rice bowl with grilled beef ribs from Tanbaya seemed like the least likely to have non-Kosher ingredients. The grapefruit juice was not as rich as a glass of wine, but not too offensively sweet for a non-alcoholic drink.
The choices that Xana had made were worthy of comment.
“Xana,” Gabriel inquired, “is that can filled with spirits?”
Xana’s first response was an attempt at a searing gaze, immediately and hopelessly failed. “It’s Asahi Super Dry, Japan’s number one beer. What about it?”
“How did you get ahold of that, with,” Gabriel gestured with an open palm towards Xana’s terminally youthful face, “THIS?”
Rummaging around her purse, Xana pulled out a card and slammed it towards Gabriel’s seating area. As Gabriel looked closer, Xana’s eyes wandered off at a distant figure or three, chewing on her mega-sized Pizza-La french fries.
Squinting to read the finer print, Gabriel remarked: “this is a motorcycle license? In extremely good standing?”
“And it says that you are twenty-nine years of age.” Gabriel looked up with an accusing glare, “which I find hard to believe, given that your body was fully formed only about a year or two ago, and the combined ages of the souls within it are on the order of a few millennia.”
Xana started cutting her Spicy Meat pizza with plastic utensils, a bad match for an extremely shatter-prone crispy crust pizza. “It’s the median.”
Her stance relaxing, Gabriel was now curious. “How did you do it?”
Between bites of cheesy crumbs, peppers and over processed meats, Xana chirped, “a 3D printer.”
“No, Rika’s.” With Xana’s confession, Gabriel’s expression changed to interest. Xana continued. “It was still left on one night, and I figured it wouldn’t be TOO much trouble if I used it.” Xana sniffed, “This pizza isn’t spicy at all. Would not have again.”
Gabby bowed her head slightly. “I apologize. I am impressed with your handiwork.”
Satisfied, Gabriel thought to move on to small talk, lest someone in the crowd noise would hear about potentially criminal acts. “So then, how was your day, Warrior of Light?”
Xana slumped over her meal, as though she were trying to recall events. After recomposing herself, her eyes met Gabriel’s. “It was so-so. We tried The Tower at Paradigm's Breach again, the same raid that we’ve been doing for the last four weeks. Some within the guild got tired of waiting for Endwalker and started playing this horse girl game instead.”
Gabriel just smiled. There were some things in this world that she did not need to know more about, and this seemed like one.
Continuing, Xana droned, “I spent more time in Aura Gate, smacking the usual bad dudes and saving some Dx2s looking to solo with shit demons.”
Xana looked up at Gabriel, “You know about that. It’s fun, but it’s the same each day.”
Gabriel looked to be enjoying her meal. Just as she was about to chew on the ribs, Xana piped up, “What do angels do when they have time off? Do you have time off?”
Sensing an opportunity to sip beer and enjoy the company of others, Xana popped open the top of the Asahi Super Dry can to form a capitalist approximation of a German beer stein. It was time for her not to be the focus of this conversation.
Gabriel mused, “Well, we watch over God’s children on the good Earth. We interfere where we must to prevent those of ill repute from harming mankind. We have conversations with the Supreme Being when we must.”
Xana cocked an eyebrow and looked at Gabriel with full attention at the mention of that figure.
Gabby continued. “We have to smite evildoers. Only some, of course; long is the path of redemption, but it is open to many of them.”
Xana’s posture straightened. Gently smiling, Gabby finished her summary. “We consider God’s plan, and dogmatically make it happen as we are able.”
Gabriel taps on the table with one fingernail. “However, most of that can’t be obvious to passing eyes. Our influence must be subtle, as though we angels were never there.” She raised a finger to the roof, as though pointing to the sky, “God’s children come to us to offer prayer and faith. We do not come to them as superhuman saviors. We need to be invisible to work effectively.”
Xana tilted her head to the side at an even 45 degree angle, “Do you take applications?”
Covering her mouth to hide laughter, Gabriel beamed, “It is not that simple, but we have had God’s children join us in the past. You may have already met Metatron, who was once a fine man by the name of Enoch?”
Xana hmmed with intensity. “Is there a way that does not involve turning into a giant robot? Not that there's anything wrong with being a giant robot. It’s just that it seems squeaky and inconvenient to move around like that.”
Gabriel thought briefly. “Have you met Aniel? He is a servant of mine, and he used to have the body of a young man.”
Xana’s posture had once again taken on its signature slouch, her eyes half-open as she retorted. “Isn’t he also a robot?”
Looking straight at Xana, Gabby decided to clarify assertively. “For your information, Aniel chose the vessel of a menacing puppet. He is not what you would call a robot, cyborg or android.”
Gabriel looked up at nothing in particular. “Well, Aniel wanted more power. That seems to be a shared desire among angels wishing to be more masculine. The ones that want to be less sensitive to the feelings of God’s children, or more charitably, have no interest in doing so.”
Xana looked left and right. “I think I have read about this! Toxic masculinity? Peer groups influencing bad decisions? …Do angels have a Discord? 2ch?”
“Xana, behave.” Gabriel did not stop smiling, though she was aware some might not take Xana’s inquiry well. “You can be feminine, such as I. There is no one correct choice. It all depends on what is best for each angel and what components of God’s children they best identify with.”
“Hmm. Sounds oddly flexible,” Xana remarked. “And they ‘identify with’ parts of God’s children? Aren’t you otherworldly holy warriors?”
This time, Gabriel did not find Xana’s inquiry unwanted. In fact, many of her fellow angels would really prefer to be regarded as such. But she wanted Xana to hear the blunt truth. “As humans were made in God’s image, so too were we. It is natural that we should share many core similarities.” Gabriel chuckled. “Why, if there was nothing human about me, I doubt you’d have such a keen interest in me.”
Xana pondered that. Their conversation stalled, and despite the low din of the mall around them, Xana decided to fill the silence by chugging half of her beer.
Setting it down, she responded with bluntness in equal measure. “Maybe not, but the parts of you that aren’t human are interesting too. What is it like to be an angel, anyway? You’ve made me wonder that.”
“It is a difficult lifestyle to encapsulate,” Gabriel said. “But I would say that most of it is… flying. Amusing, is it not? Humans once tended farmsteads close to home. But now, their lifestyle of ‘commutes’ has grown to resemble us and our far-flung battles, demanding lengthy travel.”
“Hmm.” Xana moved her lip to her mouth, then began to wipe off the salt. Gabriel handed her a napkin, which she only took after a moment’s pause.
Moving from wiping her mouth to her hands, Xana asked another question. “So anyone who becomes an angel should probably like flying. You’d go crazy if you didn’t. Plus it’s important to you…”
Xana looked down balefully at the remaining third of her pizza and pushed her dish further inward on the table. Then she stared straight at Gabby. “We’re already in a tower. You should take me flying.”
“Take you flying? Well, yes. I suppose I could. But allow me to finish my food first.”
The meal was prepared to the specifications Gabby hoped for, as far as she knew, and it was delicious besides. Rice still had a certain newness to it, to her palate; it was not a staple crop in the lands she frequented when she was, for lack of a better term, young. And the meat was truly well done.
“Now, let us return to the streets,” Gabriel said.
“Huh? Why? There’s a perfectly good observation deck you know.” Then Xana thought about it for a moment longer, and played it cool. “But okay.”
Whether or not Xana had taken the hint, Gabriel decided to explain. “This tower is not porous. We will want to enter a backstreet before our ascent. The fog should make avoiding notice very simple. Come.”
Rather than ascending the tower, as an ordinary pair of tourists would, the duo returned to street level, passing by tourists more eager than them to soak in the view from the inside. This was not lost on Xana, who was relieved that despite their plans for the evening, she still appeared to the residents of Tokyo to be a largely ordinary girl.
Once they descended the last set of steps out onto the street proper, where tail-lights glowed and the occasional horn honked, and where hurried salarymen made their way home from the bar, or to the bar, easily identified by the difference in their gait. Gabriel considered the spot for nary a moment before she took Xana’s hand in hers.
“Let us go, Xana,” she said. “We should find a more discrete spot to take flight.”
Of the four cardinal directions, Shiba Park to the east seemed the most inviting. Gabriel took the lead towards the Tokyo Tower bus stop, then up the stair entrance. Soon they stopped at a small, unmarked Buddhist shrine on the west end of Momiji-dani, an artificial ravine with a waterfall.
Xana carefully scoped out the side of the shrine facing the ravine. With a pocket flashlight and Gabriel’s gesturing, she had determined that the shrine was just elevated enough. With the fog, passers-by couldn’t see that side from the path below winding east nor the bus stop to the west, unless they were extremely close.
Gabriel spoke up. “Should we leave an offering before our journey?”
Xana demurred. “What kind of god do you think would be in a shrine this puny? A naga? A preta?” Pausing to consider the scale of wrath summoned from offending such demons by using their shrine as a launchpad, Xana muttered, “I think my demons can take them, if you won’t.”
With her arms at her sides, Gabriel insisted. “I think it is wise for each of us to leave five yen as tribute. To show piety to the groundskeepers, and to the spirits within.”
With a sigh, Xana leaned over to place ten yen in a porcelain bowl inside the shrine. She did not like giving up money, as a professional NEET does not have much disposable income. Still, she didn’t want to argue with Gabriel about the virtues of giving, considering how many times she’d already lost.
As she got up, she noticed a lily added to one of the flower vases nearby. Looking back at Gabriel, she was met with a wink.
The two proceeded to the back of the shrine. Gabriel’s wings appeared in golden light, then twitched, then flexed as she got a better feel for the area. There was plenty of room, she decided. She reached out to take Xana’s hand.
“Do you always have to worry about this?” Xana asked as she walked forward, figuring that Gabriel wasn’t going to dangle her towards the ground.
Gabriel nodded. “It was not always the consideration it is today. But now man has expanded his dwellings, and lives in great meccas. As demons prowl in the shadows, so too must we. But for now, Xana, we shall ascend towards the light. Or, at the least, the light of the stars… shrouded by fog…”
For the first time, Gabriel felt herself losing a little bit of steam. So, she pulled Xana into a tight embrace against her chest, arms wrapped around her midsection. The two breathed the same air, and in moments their breath synchronized entirely. This, Gabriel decided, was a good feeling.
“Now, let us take flight!”
With the first beat of Gabriel’s wings, the two surged into the air. Xana reached up with her hands and dug her nails into the top sides of Gabriel’s wrists, her legs kicking gently in the air. “Wait! I wasn’t ready!”
The ground receded and the wispy clouds approached. Before long the two were surrounded in a cool blanket of vapor. Amber lights danced just outside of full view, some moving and some stationary. Then a spot of brightness — dozens of white lights, clumped together.
“Few are, at first,” Gabriel said, flying without exertion, beating her wings without a current of air. She smiled gently, though she knew Xana could not see and wished she could. “Even I found the experience overwhelming once upon a time.”
“But you’re made for this!” Xana protested. Her legs, already tired from the day’s walk, slowed their thrashing to a stop. “How were you afraid of it at first?”
“My first one thousand years of life were spent under the balmy shade of an olive tree in Heaven. There, I learned all that the Creator had to share. To become the messenger of God, I first had to understand Him.”
As Gabriel looked up, hoping to break through the clouds and see the stars, Xana looked forward. Those lights were Tokyo Tower, weren’t they? That was comforting. Familiar, as much as anything outside of home was familiar. Sure, she was looking at it from a different angle, but it was still basically the same thing.
Their ascent continued, and the fog thinned. Soon Xana found herself looking down at a blanket of lights dotting a mass of cotton clouds. From here, her eyes could spot the shapes of streets, deep grey blurs of asphalt filled with motion. A construction crane was visible, though just barely, near the lattice framework of a shopping mall.
Gabriel beat her wings, and her height rose and then fell. It wasn’t quite what Xana would call a lurching sensation, but it got close, and it served as a reminder of where Xana was and what was down below. At first, that prompted her to once again dig her nails into Gabriel’s arms, though how smooth and soft they were was another reason. Then she had a thought.
Gabriel’s head snapped away from the stars she meant to reach, back down to Xana’s waiting face.
Xana’s eyes were owlish, but showed neither fear nor surprise. Her mouth was turned down.
“Why? Whatever do you mean to ask for, Xana?”
“You’ll catch me right away, so it’s not a problem.”
Gabriel met Xana’s waiting gaze for a moment. Though all was cool around them, her breath, mingled with Gabriel’s own, was hot. Perhaps that was impairing her judgment, Gabriel thought, as she decided there could be no harm in Xana’s request. She would surely explain what she wanted afterwards.
Gabriel laid flat and upright, legs relaxed as if she were dangling them off the side of a bed. She pulled Xana further up her body, across her chest. This was a relaxing, meditative pose, one she could hold for quite a while in midair. Seconds passed, and Xana raised her eyebrows. Then Gabriel tossed her to the side.
Xana’s legs thrashed about, and then her body formed a wholly embarrassing X shape as her limbs splayed around her. This was not nearly as cool as she had imagined, and she didn’t like the feeling of her heart pounding in her chest. But it was exciting, at least.
Gabriel rolled through the air, twisting her entire frame and beating her wings as she performed a loop and soared into the mists. She dove, spotting a flicker of luminous green above her and turning one final time to catch her.
Xana had never expected to hit the ground, and she didn’t. Instead, she hit Gabriel’s shoulder with one of her legs before crumpling, only a little awkwardly, into her waiting arms.
Blood began to rush to her head before Gabriel lifted her back to get a better look at her face. Gabriel held her in a manner that was gentle and effortless, projecting not an ounce of strength. Her soft body helped that impression, too. It had been like landing on a trampoline, Xana thought.
Gabriel beat her wings once. She beat them again, softer this time. And then, the air was silent.
“This would be a great time for our first kiss,” Xana remarked after a while. “Too bad we already had it.”
Gabriel giggled. “You would not have preferred to wait. Nor would I have, for that matter.”
“You’re gonna ask why I did that, so I’ll explain,” Xana said, stretching her arms out in either direction. “I wanted a better idea of what it’s like to fly. And to see if you would.”
Gabriel nodded to the first claim, but flashed a wry smile at the second. “Of course you did. Well, now you have your answer. What shall we do next?”
“Mm, I’m all flown out for today,” Xana said. “I know you wanted to show me the stars up close, but it’ll have to wait. Let’s go back to the Tower and use the observation deck like ordinary people.”
Gabriel considered being disappointed for a moment, but on reflection, that would not be in accordance with her true emotional state. So she simply relented. She slowly levitated down to the ground, back towards the shrine they had left.
A minute passed, and that was a chance Gabriel relished to enjoy just a little more close contact before tipping Xana out of her arms and back onto her feet.
Xana dusted herself off. “I’m surprised I didn’t get nauseous. You’d think so but the experience DIDN’T make me want to puke.”
Gabriel laughed. “Well, we know one thing for certain. If you do become an angel, you’re not likely to fall… too far.”
The two returned to the Tower. The hour they spent on the observation deck was a blur compared to their first flight together, but it was a happy, fulfilling one, at least. On their way out, however, Xana broke rank with Gabriel to visit a small shop on one of the lower levels. A minute later, she returned with a store-bought lily.
“This is for you,” Xana told Gabriel, “since you keep leaving yours around.”
Incoming links: an intruder in the garden of eden