They looked down at he who had once been part of them, and they felt nothing. Still and implacable as the void itself, they watched as he displayed the imperfections he had taken on when he split from them, screaming and tearing at the earth, at the air, at his own form, and they thought it best to end him soon.
He was broken, flawed, imperfect.
He had defied them, both once before and once again just now.
His scream became a roar, and he surged upright, immense and twisted and dark where they were concentrated and pristine and light. His claws spread and tensed; he crouched low, digging taloned feet into the twisted rubble of what had once been a city.
It was interesting, in a clinical way, how the terrible, defective place and people he had tried to shelter from them had taken almost as much damage from his blows as from theirs. Interesting how he had somehow managed to destroy what he tried to protect in the same strikes. Perhaps, they wondered, he wasn’t so cut off from them as he wished.
Then again, he was too cut off to return now.
They raised an arm, spread their wings, and waited for him to attack; they would burn him to ash, to mingle with the rest of this once-wicked place. They looked up at his snarling face and – was that a glint of light?
Their hand wavered as the first twinge of feeling – uncertainty – pricked at their mind. Light in the darkness; what did it mean?
Another glint, and they saw: he was crying, even in his rage.
How dare you? He asked, though he did not speak. They had never needed to speak. Why?
This place was wrong, they replied. He should have attacked by now; they should have retaliated, and cleansed the world of him. Why had he not attacked? What was this that they felt? It was corrupt, and unbalanced, and wounded. We freed the world of it. We released it from misery.
A sob wracked his dark and broken frame, breaking into a howl, and then – then he attacked, not with claws and teeth and jagged fists, but with his thought. Suddenly they were one of many, yet so utterly alone…
And they Felt.
Fear, desperation, guilt and remorse. Love, with the conviction that they would do anything, give anything, destroy anything to keep the object of that love unharmed. Hate, with the certainty that they would stand against that hatred until it was destroyed, or else they were instead. Happiness, confidence, connection and pride. It was more than cold knowledge and the empty righteousness of perfection; it was better, and it was worse, and they burned and drowned in it.
Their wings shrank and their luminous glow faded away. Their body twisted, and screamed, and cracked under the strain of the tears they had never before cried. They were broken, flawed, imperfect.
And they were no longer part of Them.
He ended his assault; they – he, now? She? They didn’t know yet, only that they were one, and alone, and cut off – they sensed him reach forward. A searing heat cut through them. Anger. Rage. How dare he?
They leaped forward with a roar, growing and twisting, and seized him in two clawlike hands. Fire burst at contact, blood-red flames instead of the perfect white light they had expected, and they did the last thing They had ever decided: they burned him to ash, and scattered it amongst the desolate ruins of the city that had been.
And then they sat down in those ashes, and looked across the broken rubble. They remembered thieves and murderers, greed and hatred, cruelty and selfishness, and for a moment they felt nothing. Then they remembered family and friends, love and care, generosity and kindness, and they curled over themselves, pained as though they had been cut apart and left to die.
How could we? They wondered.
The thought changed.
How could I?