“Ah!” Gerome cried out and clutched his thigh while Cleo walked away. “When did she get so haughty?” He scowled and looked at Raea. “And what happene—“
Carmella covered his mouth with her hand. “It really is good to see you again, Lady Raea,” she said. “We were worried.”
“I hope you didn’t have it too hard under Ishim’s reign,” Raea said.
“Oh, she had a swell time,” Owen said and snorted. “I’m going to see General Michael to discuss the new regiment with him.” He nodded at Raea before turning around to leave. The chains on his body jangled as he walked away.
“We should go as well,” Carmella said as she eyed Owen’s back. She turned towards Raea and smiled. “We’ll catch up with you later, alright?” Raea nodded, and Carmella and Gerome made their way to Michael’s tent as well. The remaining prisoners followed suit, leaving Raea, Justitia, Palan, and Cleo alone in the outdoor cafeteria.
Justitia sighed and shook her head. Raea raised an eyebrow and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Most of them aren’t going to survive,” Justitia said as she watched the prisoners line up in front of Michael’s tent. “They’re just regular angels. The general is letting us feast tonight. He never does that unless the upcoming battle is going to be brutal.”
Raea pursed her lips and looked at Palan. “This war,” she said, “is it our fault?”
Palan shrugged. “We don’t have wars in Eljiam,” he said. “Besides, Anidun was already dead when we got there. This would’ve happened sooner or later.”
“That’s true,” Raea said and bit her lip while lowering her head. “You know … I never intended to for you to experience danger so many times because of me. You came back wounded so many times. And now there’s going to be this battle. I—“
Palan covered her mouth with his hand and glared at her. “Stop. You’re giving me chills,” he said. “Just continue being the unreasonable sheltered child you always were.” He wrinkled his nose and let Raea push his hand away.
“I am not the unreasonable one,” Raea said and pouted. “Who was the one who came back half-dead a week ago? It certainly wasn’t me.”
“I’m pretty sure it was Cleo,” Palan said and nodded, ignoring the lizardman’s indignant protest. “And it’s not like we’re going to be fighting on the frontlines. I have no intention of throwing my life away for no reason.” Raea opened her mouth, but Palan continued speaking. “I’ve never died before. That gives me a one hundred percent survival rate.”
“I think something’s off about that logic,” Justitia muttered. Cleo nodded and sidled over to her.
The lizardman whispered, “Don’t they make a good couple?”
Justitia blinked at Palan and Raea who were staring at each other, their lips occasionally moving. “Well, their relationship certainly isn’t normal,” she said. “She’s the strangest angel I’ve encountered in a long while.”
“You’re pretty weird too,” Cleo said and tilted her head while looking up at Justitia. “You’re too friendly.” Cleo placed her hands on her lips and stuck her chin out while narrowing her eyes. “Hurdur, I’m an angel. We bully the halflings because they aren’t real people.” Her expression returned to normal as she nodded. “That’s how most angels are.”
A wry smile appeared on Justitia’s lips. “You know, a normal angel would have you executed or whipped for saying that?” she asked.
“Yeah, but like I said, you’re weird,” Cleo replied while smiling. She patted Justitia’s waist before walking back to stand behind Palan.
Solra pushed open a door and walked inside. The smell of death and carrion caused him to wrinkle his nose. “Is it ready yet?” he asked a figure that was hunched over a bench. Pyre raised his head and rubbed his eyes; they were bloodshot and out of focus. He turned around.
“Ah, Solra, my good buddy ol’ pal,” Pyre said and dusted his brown robe off. “You really had some fine quality materials here. And those angels and demons you, uh, recruited are quite sturdy.” He picked an orb off of the workbench and held it out to Solra. “You see this?”
“It looks like a standard orb,” Solra said.
“Well, yeah,” Pyre said. “Orbs are the most efficient design. But the difference between this orb and all the others is that it can hold two powers. Let me demonstrate outside.” He smiled and walked past Solra, causing the archangel to wrinkle his nose again. Pyre hadn’t taken a bath or left the room to use the bathroom ever since he set foot inside the workshop.
“Behold!” Pyre shouted and raised the orb into the air. “Wrath and diligence.” The reddish-brown orb glowed and the ground rumbled. Solra’s eyes widened as a pool of lava began to form in front of Pyre’s feet. The surface of the glowing red rocks began to bubble and a geyser of lava flew into the air. Pyre cackled as the halflings in the nearby buildings screamed as the lava fell to the ground.
“Impressive,” Solra said as the geyser of lava finished falling to the ground. “I’ve only ever seen Meffi do that before.”
“That’s not all,” Pyre said as he pulled out a bright-green orb. His eyes twinkled. “Envy and humility.” A green mist flew out of the glowing orb and flew towards a nearby tree. When the mist made contact with the tree trunk, it rapidly began to wither. The bark curled up and fell off while black sap began to leak out before the tree fell over—its rotting trunk unable to support itself.
“Very good!” Solra said and applauded. “I knew recruiting you would increase our chances of victory. It’s stupid of Michael to not use your potential to its fullest.”
Pyre chuckled. “Angels don’t like being weak. Of course they’d never allow me to create things that can make a goblin as strong as a greater angel.” He pulled out another orb. It contained black and white lights that swirled around each other, neither mixing. “My favorite,” Pyre said. “Pride and patience. I think I broke your pride angel by the way—I’ll need a new one if you want more of these.”
Solra shrugged. “It doesn’t matter how many angels you break,” he said. “They wouldn’t fight for us willingly. Better to give their powers to someone else.”
Pyre nodded and clutched the orb, causing the two different-colored lights to shine outwards. Black chains emerged from the orb and flew towards a boulder that was firmly wedged into the ground. The chains wrapped around the boulder and lifted it into the air without any resistance. Pyre licked his lips, and the boulder began to blur. Solra blinked, and the rock disappeared. Moments later, a booming noise reached his ears. He looked down and saw a boulder-sized pit leading into the earth. He couldn’t see the bottom.
Solra fell silent. “I didn’t think you’d be willing to work for me so easily,” he said after Pyre put away his orbs.
Pyre shrugged. “My grandfather’s contribution to society was extremely great,” he said. “The angels experienced a rapid expansion due to his invention, but his legacy was forgotten and his name tarnished because his daughter fell in love with a demon. The only thing society has done for me is spit on me while I was down.” He snorted, causing his bright-red eyes to narrow. “They exiled my mother and forced her to watch as her lover was killed in front of her. If they knew she was pregnant with me at the time….” Pyre shook his head. “The only thing I ever wanted was for my mother to be happy.” His face was dark as he looked at Solra. “She died a miserable death drowning in sorrow, drugs, and alcohol.”
Solra nodded. “Society’s not fair,” he said and placed his wrinkled hand on Pyre’s shoulder. “That’s why we, The Sinners, made our plans to overthrow the council so many decades ago. With your help, I don’t believe we can lose.”
Pyre took out his pipe and lit it, inhaling deeply before breathing out a cloud of purple smoke into the sky. His face lightened up and he smiled. “I can finally watch the world burn.” He put his hands in his robe and made his way back into his workshop. “It’s not a bad feeling—no wonder why demons sin; I’m tired of self-sacrificing.”