Owen stared at the skies with his mouth gaping. Lightning bolts continuously rained from the clear, blue sky, striking a building in the distance. They seemed oddly familiar. “Hey,” a voice said from behind him. “Get moving.”
Owen blinked and scratched his head, causing a metallic sound to ring out. His arms and legs were bound together by a generous length of chain with enough slack to let him walk freely but cumbersome enough to make running difficult. “Right, sorry,” he said and took a step forward. He approached a goblin who was sitting next to a bonfire. It glanced at the chains on his arms and pursed its lips before ladling him a bowl of stew. Turning his head, he asked the angel who told him to move, “Excuse me, Colonel, do you know what that lightning is?”
Uzziel frowned and stared at the shackled Owen. “Our army works on a need to know basis,” he said. “You do not need to know.” He snorted and knocked Owen out of his way, spilling some stew onto the ground.
Owen scowled as Uzziel intimidated the goblin into giving him a larger portion. It was true that he attacked a general, but he didn’t think he deserved this kind of treatment. A soldier noticed him glaring at Uzziel and decided to speak up, “Hey. Don’t worry about it. The Colonel’s been in a bad mood ever since General Elrith showed up.” He lowered his voice. “He thinks the Tyrant is his rival, but I’m pretty sure the Tyrant doesn’t even know his name.”
“I see,” Owen said and nodded at the soldier. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” the soldier said and smiled. He leaned closer to Owen and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but Colonel Uzziel’s nickname is Slu. It stands for sore loser Uzziel.”
A fist punched the soldier in the back of the head, causing Owen to nearly drop his stew. A female soldier grabbed the man by the back of his hair. “Quit bad-mouthing our superiors,” she said. “The last thing we need is for them to call a discipline assembly.”
The male soldier laughed. “Your ears are sharp as always, Justitia,” he said and winced as her fingers twisted his hair. “Do you think you could let go now?” He half-heartedly raised his arm to point at the goblin serving stew. “It’s my turn to get some grub.”
Justitia snorted and released the soldier—who scurried away—before looking at Owen. She frowned. “You’re the one who fought the Tyrant?” she asked. A trace of purple lightning flashed through her pupils.
Owen sighed. “Is that what I am known for around here?” he asked. “It was a misunderstanding.”
Justitia nodded. “You didn’t die. Good job,” she said and pat his shoulder before approaching the stew-serving goblin. Owen watched her walk away with a crease in his brow. The only reason he survived was because Elrith knew he was Raea’s bodyguard. He knew it had nothing to do with his own skill. He glanced the spot where she touched him and shook his head before walking over to a fallen log, taking a seat. The outpost wasn’t meant to accommodate this many soldiers, leaving the generals no choice but to expand the cafeteria outdoors.
The chains hanging from his arms jangled as he raised the bowl of stew to his lips and took gulps of the hot liquid. The goblin had forgotten to give him a spoon. He sighed and chewed on a piece of potato, savoring the taste as the mush rolled over his tongue. Ishim had fed his army porridge made from grass. He stared into his bowl, the murky surface of the stew reflecting a rough outline of his face. Footsteps approached him and metal clanked. He raised his head and saw Justitia sitting next to him with a bowl in her hand. She had a spoon. “Why?” Owen blurted out, staring at the wooden spoon.
“What? Is there a problem?” Justitia asked and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see your name on this log.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Owen said and furrowed his brow. “I have no issue with you sitting here.” He turned his head back towards his stew and took another gulp. Thunder boomed, and more lightning bolts flashed through the clear sky. “Do you know what’s causing that?”
Justitia shrugged. “It seems like a demon is violating its contract,” she said. She wrinkled her nose and sniffed her stew. Ever since she was poisoned by the cook and forced to kill that greed demon, she developed a habit of smelling her food even if she couldn’t detect anything. She wanted to believe she would if there was actually poison. “It’s not too surprising considering the Tyrant’s army is here.” After finding nothing odd about her stew, she placed the spoon in her mouth.
“What do you mean?” Owen asked.
“Did you live under a rock?” Justitia asked. She glanced at his unkempt face. “That would explain the lack of hygiene.”
Owen frowned and touched his hand to his face. He hadn’t been able to shave ever since Ishim went crazy and forced the soldiers to rebel. “I came from the capital,” Owen said. “I don’t know much about warfare.” Justitia stared at him and put another spoonful of stew into her mouth. “Well, I do know about warfare from books and the like but not about the state of the armies.”
Justitia nodded. “I see. You’re one of those,” she said. Another bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, causing both of them to raise their heads. “Nearly half of all the angels in General Elrith’s army is contracted with a demon. There are roughly a thousand soldiers in his army. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“But don’t you think the lightning would stop after the first or second time?” Owen asked. “It’s been going on for the whole morning.”
“That is a bit odd,” Justitia said. “Disobedient demons are usually killed pretty quickly. Maybe they’re making an example out of one?” She shrugged. “There’s nothing to worry about since there are two archangels here.”
Owen grunted and finished his stew. “I hope you’re right,” he said. His stomach churned. Elrith had said he’d take over watching Raea for now, but Owen couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was in danger.
“Everyone hopes they’re right,” Justitia said and finished her stew as well. She turned her head to face Owen. “I didn’t get your name.”
“Just Owen? Aren’t you capital folk supposed to be proud of your household names?”
Owen grimaced and nodded. “Just Owen.” He clenched his hands. For now, he didn’t think he deserved the name of Caelum.