Sakura climbs into her car, squinting against the sand that blows across the desert. The sun is red and full in the sky, pregnant with the unfulfilled opportunities of the day. She coughs, mouth dry as bone as she scrabbles around her dashboard for her water bottle.
“It is not safe for you out here,” a voice says.
“Leave me be, Ashura,” Sakura says, leaning her forehead against her wheel. Between her sweat and the sweltering heat, it sticks there. “Can’t you see I’m brooding?”
“You are not a bird; you have no eggs to hatch.”
Sakura rolls her eyes, still refusing to look his way. “Cut the shit, Ashura. You know what I meant.”
“I care not for your ever-changing human definitions. Naught but a few centuries ago, brood meant to breed and nothing more.”
“Well, we’re an ever-changing species,” Sakura says. “You get used to it.”
“I’d rather not.”
Sakura exhales deeply, squeezing her eyes shut and pulling away from the steering wheel, leaving it tacky with sweat.
She glances over to passenger seat, taking in her unwelcome guest. It…he…Sakura still isn’t sure but she considers him male, is large and foreboding. His awe-inspiring presence is slightly negated by the way he is squeezed into her car. He has six feathered wings, all covered by eyes of varying shapes and sizes. She cannot really make out a discernable face of any sort and she idly wonders how exactly he fits into her car. Maybe it is one of his divine qualities.
“Ashura, why don’t you take your human form,” she coaxes. “It’d be a bit more comfortable and hella less creepy.”
He bends in what she thinks is a nod before being enveloped in a blindingly bright light. Sakura turns her gaze back to the darkening landscape.
“Sakura, you are HER Angel,” Ashura says. “You must stay in safety as you receive your training.”
“I don’t want this,” she replies, still staring out the window. “I don’t know this ‘her’ and I am certainly no angel.”
“SHE is not ‘her’ but ‘HER,’” Ashura explains as if it truly clarifies anything. “You are HER Angel, HER messenger, HER prophetess. You will be HER advocate, the herald to HER next coming.”
Sakura shakes her head, finally looking back to him. Ashura is now in his human form, tall and dark haired. He still looks out of place with his hairstyle and antiquated clothing. There is something alien about his dark eyes, maybe in the curve or in the way no light is reflected.
“I do not understand,” she says. “How can I be Kaguya-kami’s angel? I thought you were her angel.”
“HER Angel,” Ashura corrects. “And no, it is not the same. Your English word ‘angel’ is derived from the Greek ὰγγελος. It means ‘messenger.’ I am one of HER descendants, a child of the light.” His expression is oddly wistful. “But you…you are a child of the wind and dust; a child of free will.”
Sakura squirms slightly. He has tried to explain this to her on numerous occasions but she still finds herself lost. There is too much history and context that is beyond Sakura’s scope.
“How am I a candidate to be the Rabbit Goddess’s Angel?” Sakura asks. “I’m an ordinary human.”
“No human is ordinary,” Ashura replies firmly. “As I said, you are a child of free will. You are HER chosen; you are extraordinary.”
Sakura flushes but she clears her throat. “Your…I believe he was your brother? He approached me.”
“Indra?” Ashura asks in alarm.
The air around him heats and vibrates with his invisible wings.
“Whoa, calm down!” Sakura says, bracing herself against the heat. She can feel her skin blistering wherever it is bared. “Not all of us are celestial beings with impervious skin.”
Ashura immediately stops, remorse clear as he reaches a hand out gingerly. He takes her arm, fingers gentle and soothing. Sakura finds the texture of his skin odd, somehow feathery. He brings her elbow to his face, blowing cool, wintry air across her skin. His lips touch her skin ever so slightly.
Sakura finds the bracing chill wonderful. It spreads from her elbow, down her arm, through her torso to the burns upon her legs. Sakura sighs softly, slumping into her seat.
“What did Indra want?” Ashura asks, still holding her arm.
Sakura shrugs as best she can. “He asked me to be his…acolyte? Yeah, his acolyte. Said some stuff about his grand destiny, his right to be a god, yada, yada, yada…”
Ashura’s hand tightens on her elbow. “And how did you respond?”
Sakura snorts. “What do you think? I told him to go to hell and punched him in the face.” She is oblivious to his horrified expression. “He was really surprised and tried to threaten me and then he said something ominous along the lines of: ‘I’ll be back.’ Then he left.” She pauses, glancing at him askance. “Why are his wings black?”
Ashura shakes his head, disappearing from the car.
Sakura glances at the spot he left, the scent of ozone and lightning lingering. A few feathers are in the floorboard.
“So he sheds? Never letting him live that down.”
“What were you thinking, you fool? Daring to approach HER Chosen? Have you no sense or shame?” Ashura asks.
“Brother,” Indra greets, sinuous smirk clear on his face. “How nice to see you. It’s been what; three centuries? Time sure flies when you’re exiled.” His jovial expression melts into a scowl, eyes bright red. “Or not at all since, again, I’m exiled.”
“You made your choice,” Ashura says. “You chose to be a Fallen Child.”
“It is the only choice offered us if we ever want to be free,” Indra says, sauntering forward. “You desire free will do you not? The only taste of freedom you’ll ever have is if you Fall.”
Ashura shakes his head. “And what has that given you? Freedom to wallow in isolation and madness? No thank you.”
“At least it was my choice to make,” Indra hisses. “I see you still fulfill grandmother’s Will in all things.”
“Leave HER Angel alone,” Ashura says tightly. “She is not yours to take.”
“You mean Sakura? Quite an interesting choice for a Messenger; very different from previous candidates,” Indra says, smile large. “She has no fear nor respect for things greater than she.”
“You are not greater than her. None of us are. She is a child of wind and dust and HER Chosen besides,” Ashura says. “Stay away from her.”
“You care for her,” Indra says, blinking at the revelation. It is such an oddly human gesture that it takes Ashura aback. “This is the first time you’ve interfered in my affairs on behalf of a human, even one who may be HER Champion.” His eyes are bright with contemplation. “I can, of course, understand your interest. She is…riveting. She burns brightly but fleetingly; remember that.”
“You needn’t concern yourself with me, Fallen,” Ashura says stiffly. “Stay away.”
“I shall not. This is one heavenly intervention that I do not want to miss. Be ready for Sakura to turn on you. She is too wild and independent to be bound by divine requests,” Indra says, spreading his black wings, covered as they are by red eyes, and flying away.
Ashura watches him go, a pit of dread boiling within him.
Despite himself, he cannot forget the feeling of Sakura’s skin beneath his lips and the heady scent of human (sweat, dust, and blood) that surrounds her.
For the first time in his existence, Ashura can understand why Indra Fell.