An endless gray sky swirled above the tallest spire, hanging over the black silhouette of a massive castle that loomed over the world it governed.

"So… This is the Knights' hideout, is it?"

An angel had entered, and had paused to survey his surroundings. Despite being so far away, the castle—which, in actuality, was more like a fortress—was so large that it was impossible to escape his field of vision unless he had his back turned to it. Not that there was much to look at in the opposite direction, of course; this makeshift city he had landed himself in seemed to stretch on to infinity, which, given the nature of this world, wouldn't be entirely unusual.

As he made his way toward the castle, the angel felt several pairs of eyes on him; when he turned to look, their owners scattered out of sight like mice. He pitied them. Scores of lost souls had become trapped in this world by Mephisto's Harvester, and the only fate they had to look forward to was a choice between oblivion or recruitment into the Knights. Until that choice came to them, they would be forced to remain here, never to feel the sanctity of the Dragon King's Forest…

He felt a sudden presence materialize behind him. Before he could react, he felt a curved blade being pressed to his throat.

"What's this…? I don't recall picking you up recently…"

The angel had guessed he would end up in a situation like this. "…The Soul Harvester, I presume?"

"Correct." The Soul Harvester withdrew, allowing the angel to turn and face him. He was an ethereal being, floating several inches above the ground and clothed in flowing, golden robes and a wide-brimmed sedge shade that obscured his face. His similarly-golden hair flared out behind him, and a smile spread over his face. "…You still live. You must be the one summoned here by the Superior, yes?"

"I am."

"And that makes your name… Aimhlaide, is it?" The smile grew wider. "A tricky one to remember, that is! Ah, but I know all about you, and your wonderful work for the Queen…" He drew closer, almost threateningly, angling the point of his scythe towards Aimhlaide's throat. "Yes, I see it quite clearly… Your soul, tainted with guilt…"

"I am done with that," Aimhlaide said sharply, glaring up at the Harvester. "I may have made a mistake once, but I refuse to pay for it the rest of my life."

"…Of course. Silly me." The Harvester started to float past him. "The Superior wants to see you, doesn't he? I shall escort you to the palace. A man like you just isn't safe with all these ruffian souls wandering about."

Aimhlaide wasn't sure exactly how much damage a lost soul could do to him, but he knew better than to turn down the Harvester's offer. He walked beside the floating being in silence for several minutes. "…The Superior… His name is Typhon, isn't it?"

"Correct," the Harvester said brightly. "And before him was Mephistopheles, and before him was Auguste Villefort. But neither of them were very good Superiors, not compared to Typhon."

"Why not?"

"Well, Villefort went through all the right motions, but he was actually really weak. You know why?" He seemed barely able to contain himself, so Aimhlaide decided to indulge him by shaking his head. "He fell in love!" The Harvester could hardly stifle a snicker. "Love! Isn't that funny? With one of his own Knights, too! So, of course he was too weak to do much of anything, so Mephisto decided to take over. It was a pretty fierce battle, though; he killed Villefort, but he also tried to kill Morelle—you know, Villefort's right-hand-man—to make sure his conquer would be complete, and Morelle just flew into a rage and went nephilim mode all over the place. He got away in the end, but I haven't seen him since. He's probably dead, too."

"…And what of Mephistopheles?"

The Harvester grew quiet. He seemed reluctant to speak of the man who had created him. "…He wasn't so great, either. He was always arrogant. He had his own hit squad, the Libertines, but I don't think he ever used them right… Anyway, he came up with this brilliant plan—to force the Destroyer and the Dragon King to unite their powers and cause the conflict between Gaia and anti-Gaia to cease, so existence would just be blinked out—but it backfired on him."

"And he died?"

"No, he lived… But he's completely insane, and right now he's being held prisoner in the Dragon King's Palace."

"…I see."

"But Typhon is really strong, way stronger than the other Superiors!" the Harvester continued, the excited tone re-entering his voice. "He'll succeed for sure; he isn't weak, like Villefort, and he isn't arrogant, either."

Aimhlaide said nothing. For the sake of conversation he wanted to agree with him, but in agreeing to Typhon's assured success, he would also be agreeing to the Falcon's assured success…

"Well, here you are. You're on your own from here."

Aimhlaide looked up, seeing that they had arrived at the castle gates. He glanced back at the Harvester. "…Thanks."

"No problem." A dark look suddenly came over his face; his cordial tone vanished completely. "Just don't do anything stupid. It would be silly for me to come all the way into the palace just to collect your soul."

The audience chamber was just as large and intimidating as Aimhlaide had expected it to be. Rows of heavily armored knights lined the hall, standing statue-still. There were two thrones on the dais at the opposite end of the room; on one sat a tall man in ornate, regal black armor, a horned helmet masking his face. This man was obviously Typhon, as the aura he exuded was far more powerful than those of any of the other knights.

In the throne beside him, however, Aimhlaide was surprised to see a teenage boy, dressed in a simple white robe; his presence so close to the Superior entailed some sort of significance, although exactly what sort of significance that could be he had no idea.

…A concubine, perhaps?

No, no. Typhon didn't strike him as the type of person to take a concubine. Still, the boy was certainly beautiful; the paleness of his figure stood out like nothing else in the dark, black room, and his pale blue eyes were unbelievably clear. When Aimhlaide looked closer, he could also see that his clear blue eyes very clearly lacked pupils.

"Ah, Aimhlaide… I am glad to see you honor my invitation."

Aimhlaide turned his attention back to Typhon, who was now standing. Common sense dictated that he should be kneeling before Typhon in such a situation, but Typhon had been the one to request an audience, and so Aimhlaide did not feel inclined to even bow his head. "I would be foolish to turn down such an invitation."

Typhon laughed. "Yes, that is true. I was prepared to have the zmey collect you, but that is no longer necessary."

"…I mean you no disrespect, but I would greatly appreciate it if you could cut straight to the matter of this meeting."

A tense silence filled the air. It seemed like almost an eternity had passed before Typhon spoke again. "…You waste no time, do you? I like that." He removed his helmet, shaking loose his black hair and letting it cascade down his shoulders; his face had a somehow ageless look to it, appearing neither young nor old, and his eyes were dark, like those of a predator. "…So. You want to know why you were summoned here?"

"Yes. I do."

A smile slowly spread over Typhon's face. "You really haven't figured it out yet? I expected at least that much of you."

Aimhlaide clenched his hand into a fist. "I had an idea."

"Then let's hear it."

"…You want me to join your ranks. …Or, at the very least, you want my power."

"It would be crude to use you without first making you one of our Knights. The former guess is correct." He clapped his hands together. "You are intuitive, as well. Very good."

"Why me?" Aimhlaide said shortly. "I may be an angel, but my power is nothing remarkable."

"That is a lie." The smile vanished from Typhon's face. "Your full power is not yet realized. Besides, I know your history well… You served the Queen aboard the Russati, did you not? 'First Angel' Aimhlaide?"

Aimhlaide bristled. "I don't see how that affects the current situation."

"And why did you leave her?"

He tensed, realizing what Typhon was getting at. "…Because…I…"

"You have something you wish to protect. You wish that with all the strength of your heart, more strongly than you have ever wished anything before. And that strength will greaten your power—that strength will further our cause."

Aimhlaide glared at Typhon. "I fail to see your logic. The Falcon is a force that desires naught but the complete annihilation of existence."

Another smile crossed Typhon's face, but this one seemed to be more of a grimace. "…Tell me. Are you familiar with our former Superiors?"

Aimhlaide figured that Typhon would be a more reliable source of information than the excitable Soul Harvester. "No, not entirely."

Typhon paused, then turned his back to Aimhlaide. "…Auguste Villefort founded our organization. He vowed not to make the same mistakes as his former god, Horus… But, in the end, doubt took hold of his mind, and Mephistopheles took hold of his position. Mephisto never wavered, never once allowed an ounce of love or a shadow of doubt to enter his heart, but he sought to use the Falcon for his own gain—and was rewarded with insanity."

He fell silent. Aimhlaide hesitated. "…And why will you succeed, when they have failed?"

Typhon turned back to face him. His face was impassive. "This world is ugly. All worlds, all universes, all histories, all existence—it's all ugly. It's all beyond salvation. Wouldn't it be better to just…start over?"

Aimhlaide tensed; he was well familiar with this line of thought. "Why?"

"I am going to create a beautiful world," he said, walking over to the boy on the second throne and putting a hand on his shoulder, "with the Talon's power—with his power."

Now he understood. "That boy… He is your weapon?"

The boy smiled, and slid his hand up to meet Typhon's. "He is our greatest asset," Typhon continued, "our greatest power, our greatest tool—and he is the one most precious to me." Typhon stepped closer to him, softly stroking his face. "I want to make a world fit for him, free of sin… It is the only way I can atone for my own sins." He looked gravely at Aimhlaide. "Surely you know what that feels like."

Aimhlaide's heart ached; he could not lie to Typhon. "…I do."

"Then our desires are one and the same. You would do anything to protect the one most precious to you." Typhon briskly stepped forward to his former position at the front of the dais. "I have seen the strength of your mind, and now the strength of your heart. But what I have yet to see is the strength of your body." His gaze shifted beyond Aimhlaide. "Rahu!"

Aimhlaide quickly turned to see one of the knights step forward out of the ranks and approach him. He wondered briefly why he hadn't noticed this knight before, as his armor was astonishingly different from the others': it was much slimmer and sleeker, and consisted of so many curves and sharp points that he honestly couldn't see how it all fit together; a long, white mane trailed out from underneath the helmet, the front of which was a scarred tribal mask. His armor didn't make a sound as he moved determinedly towards Aimhlaide, before finally stopping about ten feet away from him.

"I present to you Savitarrahu," said Typhon, hardly keeping the pride out of his voice, "the Desert Scorpion, a sword dancer of the Arrabai—and the most powerful of my Knights."

Savitarrahu pulled two bone handles out of his belt, which Aimhlaide had previously thought to be daggers; that assumption was quickly proven wrong, however, as two much larger blades suddenly materialized on either hilt. Realizing that Typhon intended for them to fight, Aimhlaide quickly drew out his own blade.

Typhon smirked. "You may begin."

Before Typhon's words finished echoing throughout the room, Savitarrahu lunged at him, closing the distance between them in a mere second and swinging one of his blades at Aimhlaide. Aimhlaide could barely bring up his own sword to defend himself against the blow, and managed to dodge another strike from the other sword. Savitarrahu's speed was incredible, like nothing he had ever seen before, and the ease with which he handled those two swords…

Even as they fought, it was obvious to Aimhlaide that his weapons were abnormal; they pulsed with an intense magickal energy, and a visible aura flickered around each blade, leaving burning trails where they sliced the air. His own sword couldn't possibly hold up for long against them. Aimhlaide had only heard passing rumors of the Arrabai, but he had heard enough to know that Savitarrahu would easily overpower him unless he ended this fight soon.

Aimhlaide felt a searing heat across his upper arm—one of Savitarrahu's blades had cut into his arm. He saw his chance; gritting his teeth, he stepped forward, rather than withdraw from the attack, and summoned a blast of magickal energy to send Savitarrahu flying back and falling to his knees; before he could regain his senses, Aimhlaide ran at him and swung his sword directly at his head.

The helmet caught on the point of the blade and was knocked away, taking the white mane with it and clattering to the floor. A mass of red spilled out and fell around Savitarrahu's face; it was far too much red to be blood, as Aimhlaide knew from experience that blood didn't spatter in quite that way, and he realized that it was merely his hair. Savitarrahu's face remained turned from the impact of the blow, eyes burning with rage and surprise, bleeding from a single scratch left by Aimhlaide's sword, bleeding down his slender face and slender neck…

…Something doesn't seem right.

"Well done, well done… I have never seen Savitarrahu bested in combat."

Before Aimhlaide could give a second thought to exactly what seemed so odd about his opponent, his attention was drawn back to Typhon once more. He glanced down at the wound on his arm; it still stung, but it wasn't particularly deep, and it could easily be healed later. "…Are you satisfied?"

"Yes, quite. Your strength is very remarkable." Typhon grinned. "I would be most honored to have you join the ranks of the Knights of the Order of the Falcon. But, after all, it's your decision." He crossed his arms over his chest. "What will it be?"

Aimhlaide looked down at the fallen Savitarrahu, then back to Typhon, and finally to the Talon who still sat silently, emotionlessly on the second throne. Typhon's words still echoed in his mind, but he didn't know if a new…"beautiful" world was truly what he wanted.

But… If it's for his sake…

He turned his back to Typhon and started heading for the exit. "…I'll think on it."