And suddenly, everything was fine. The golden grass swayed in the wind, and the golden trees swayed with it. The bliss could be almost smelled in the air. Like a lazy summer day without an end, where every sound of life sings our name. As if the veil of mortal suffering has been lifted; a nightmare that finally ended, and a swift sunrise has arrived.
Zach stepped into a field of wheat and found it soft. One could lay in it and sleep without dreams, without longings and unreachable desires. And then the voices came across the grass, carried by the wind. A chorus, followed by the sound of silver bells, spoke to his soul and made him close his eyes.
- What is that... enchanting music...
- It is the chorus of the Triad. - said Bernard. - Different Triad, not the one I serve. Be careful not to get addicted. The chorus can do that.
The old man led him through seemingly endless hills, yet walking was as easy as if they were carried on a cloud. Pearl white rivers bathed in the sun and Zach was sure he saw his reflection in it smile at him, or maybe he was simply unaware of his own smile. This place certainly did make him oddly calm and happy, even though he knew he shouldn't be. But an aura of peace spoke to him; chasing away his worries as something that will come together in time.
- Look. - the old man said quietly and pointed.
There were several golden trees with rounded treetops, standing in a field. Many angels sat on their branches, with their wings opened and their eyes closed.
- They bathe in sunlight, and meditate to the chorus.
Bernard continued to walk, but Zach kept looking back at the angels over his shoulder.
- The house of the Triad was created by three siblings, angelic deities. Unlike most deities, these spoke to their followers. Advised them, guided them. After many angels fell and became corrupted, the deities deemed angels just as unworthy of holiness as demons, and silenced forever. Only the song remained, and the blind faith of these angels, who believe that the gods are still in the house of the Triad, locked. Till this day, angels work to prove their worth and purity, but many original values and virtues are buried in time, and angels vision of justice and servitude to righteousness is often nothing but a cruel hypocrisy.
They past by an alley of twisted hills that look like snail shell. Some of them had trees growing down, towards the ground. A curious mouse-like creature with a long tail and six pair of legs ran under one of the treetops like it's a tent. Zach thought about how much Bruno would like to see that.
- When will I see my family?
- You will see them, be patient. Your belt granted you the entrance. They need to find their own way inside. And they will.
The old man sat down on a stone, panting.
- Blasted old bones. Hurt even in here.
- Oh... Is there anything I can do?
Bernard squinted at him cause of the sun.
- What could you possibly do?
- I don't know, I could-
- Hope was right about you. You are far too kind.
He reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a pipe.
- Smoking in Heaven. How's that for a life on the edge, eh? - he laughed and took a smoke, until his laughter turned into loud coughing.
Zach looked at him without a word for a while.
- Why did you come to aid me? - he asked eventually, to break the silence.
- Believe me, lad, you need me on this part. You need all the miracles you can get right now.
- The purpose of your journey is to explore the potential threat from the Unknown and uncover whether Defiler is back or not. And who can do that better than the one who defeated him before? Also, it had to be someone who proved himself to be neutral when it comes to wars that concern all. They would never grant a passage to the Unknown to a demon or just any human. This is why it's good that your companions are lagging behind. You don't want to come before the royal family with a demon beside you.
- That demon is my husband.
- Your husband is still a demon. And anything beyond that title does not concern angels. In many ways, you will find that Heaven and Hell are just two sides of a same coin.
- So what then? How will they join me?
- If they approve your access to the Unknown, they will approve your companions to follow as well. But that comes later. Now, - he got up, with the help from Zach who rushed to help him. - now we have to reach the Golden City.
- Golden City?
- The center of Heaven's kingdom.
They continued down a curvy path. A dozen of golden feathered birds flew above their heads.
- Those are beautiful.
- They are. They are flying to the queen Love. The queen is, you could say... a bit obsessed with birds. You may want to show respect to them around her. And do try to agree with her, even when you don't. Oh and - he paused to take a good look at Zach, especially his hair. - She despises any shade of blue.
- What?? Despises blue?
- With everything she has. Not only that she greatly dislikes it, but she had it forbidden anywhere around her.
- That's insane! What about the sky, or the sea!?
- She doesn't go out.
- Oh, now it all makes sense!
- Zachary. I am serious. I'm not talking about fashion.
- What am I suppose to do, shave my head!?
- Don't be ridiculous. - Bernard looked around, like he's searching for something. - There, climb that tree.
- Come on now, pip pip.
Without further ado, Bernard walked towards the tree in the middle of nowhere, leaving Zach only one choice. To follow.
- Yes. This should do.
- Bernard, what are we doing?
- Climb the tree and you'll see.
- If I break my neck- Zach ranted as he started climbing. - Ok, so now what?
- Cover your eyebrows.
- Come on, come on. Unless you want them colored too.
Bernard exhaled impatiently.
- What do you think, why all the angels have golden and white hairs and beards?
- Let me guess: it's the sun.
- Don't be stupid, boy. How can sun change your hair color? It's the chorus on this height.
- Right. How stupid of me.
- Cover your eyebrows now and close your eyes.
Zach did as he was told. After he closed his eyes, the chorus was louder and clearer. He could feel the wind brushing off him and slowing as it touches his face. As if every breeze of the valley came to touch him the moment he stopped looking.
- Don't fall asleep now. You can climb down.
When he opened his eyes, the chorus became distant again, and the locks of his hair weren't flying around anymore, but gently tossed against his forehead.
- Did it work?
- Like a charm. If I saw you from afar, I'd mistake you for a wheel of cheese.
Zach looked at his reflection on the tree's golden bark. His hair was indeed as pale as the sunlight, with the shades of gold.
- Okay, I'm loving this.
- Let's get moving.
The path took them further into the wheat valley with many trees, filled with flocks of angels. Some sat on the branches, others stood on them, but they all had their eyes closed and slowly turned around, following the sun like sunflowers.
- What's the king like? I mean, I saw him briefly, long ago. At the election festivity in Hell. He was greatly disapproving of his kids helping me.
- The king Honesty is a shadow of a man he once was. He and his wife, queen Love, deal with grief in their own way... But you won't find a single person who doesn't call them mad. Sadly, I have to agree with them. This is why I advise you caution and no bantering. They are not evil, they are just...
Clouds were burning bright on the horizon. A bridge stood ahead, stretching across a wide river. It was pure white, glowing in the sun, with sides carved to look like wild roots.
- Look there. - Bernard pointed as they walked across. - The Elenia mountains. That's where the Veil into the Unknown is.
Two enormous mountains were rising far into the sky, with peaks hidden in the clouds. They looked identical. Soft rays of sun were falling all over the flat, green valley around them.
- So if we get their allowance to proceed to the Unknown, we'll have to climb up there?
The mountains silently moved before their eyes as they passed. Once the bridge was behind them, the mountains were fading behind the clouds and hills.
- What's that noise? - Zach asked.
- That's a city noise.
Before Zach got to ask anything else, the road ended with an almost vertical dive into a giant valley. A city lied down there, like a majestic jewel, carved from a single piece of gold and marble. It bloomed far and wide, with wings-like walls embracing it. White towers shined in the morning sun, with golden flags dancing in the wind. A sea stretched around it and far as eye can see, with white harbors and ships accompanied with seagulls. The calling of the chorus was stronger than before, and Zach walked forward without knowing it.
- It really is a sight to behold, isn't it? - the old man smiled.
- I never could've dreamed that a place like this exists.
In the center of the kingdom stood a castle, shaped like a diamond needle, piercing deep into the clouds. Many birds flew around it and coming in and out of its windows. The city noise was getting more intense as they were approaching, and Zach could see millions of citizens filling the streets. They looked like ants from his point of view. Statues of armored angels greeted them with cold, saint-like expression. Once they climbed down into the valley and found themselves on a flat road again, it was more clear just how tall the Golden City is. The castle itself was peaking higher than the Elenia mountains, reaching the unknown heights. An expression of uniting with their deities. The walls were disappearing miles to the left and right and Zach was certain that no force in the universe can break something so big and thick. Its front gate was guarded by a dozen of angel soldiers in white armor. Their wings were much smaller than the ones Zach remembered Mercy and Justice had.
When one of them spotted Bernard and Zach approaching, he stepped forward and spread his wings into a sharp and still formation, as if they were made out of metal.
- Halt. - he said. - State your business, humans.
- I am Bernard of the Triad. I demand an entry for my companion and myself. There's an urgent matter we need to discuss with their Majesties.
- Their Majesties won't receive any visitors. It's been months now, and the rule still remains.
- Be a good lad and go in there and mention my name. That will change their minds. - the old man pat his shoulder.
The angel stiffly moved head towards Bernard's hand on his shiny armor, then looked back at him. He didn't look very amused.
- Your name and title don't matter here, Bernard of the Triad. After the departure of the Great Seer Janaduri, your position isn't valuated here as you might think.
- Have angels ever wondered why the Seer has departed in the first place? - Zach spoke.
The angel glanced him with intolerance.
- And who might this be?
- I am Zachary, the Heir of Azura and the usurper of Kalista's throne. The bearer of the Dragon belt. The reason of Janaduri's departure and the reason you have new people in her place.
Bernard smirked as the angel's eyes kept bouncing from one to another, as if he was expecting a punch line of a joke.
- Is this true?
- It is. - Bernard confirmed.
- In that case, you may proceed. Their Majesties have long waited to speak to you, lord Zachary.
The way he said that did not promise a friendly chit-chat with the king and the queen. The soldier gave a sign to his fellow angels and they cleared their way to the gate.
- That didn't sound good, Bernard.
- Just keep walking.
The earth vibrated, as the golden gates started opening. They stepped into the crowed colored citizens of every class. Everyone was rushing and minding their own business, which Zach was glad to notice. Noble angels had their long wings braided and tied into rich strings of gold and silver. Farmers and middle class citizens walked just as gracefully, but with much wings. Other than wings, another thing almost all angels had in common was the golden hair. Zach felt like he's back in the field of wheat. Bernard was talking, but he couldn't hear a thing he said. There was too much noise. People talking, soldiers marching, blacksmiths forging shiny armors and weapons, merchants bantering, and numerous fountains splashed water into all kinds of shapes. Seeing all those angels reminded Zach of Justice and Mercy. They once walked these streets. The thought of that made him sad.
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