The remaining halflings were gathered up and herded towards the front of the army. Nearly all of them had visible injuries from the first fight or the one that just occurred, but they stood with their backs straight and chests out. Their eyes were clear as Elrith stared them down. “They look too confident for a defeated army,” Michael said.
“Really,” Elrith said and shot a glance at the Stormbringer, “I would never have guessed it.”
Michael shrugged. “You seemed too hot-blooded,” he said. “One success doesn’t mean more will follow. We should take it slow.” He frowned and walked up to one of the halflings. The three-legged centaur’s tail twitched as Michael stopped in front of it. “Did your leader kidnap two angels? One of them had a blindfold.” The centaur snorted, causing Michael to narrow his eyes. “Speak.”
The centaur stumbled as its eyes glazed over. “I don’t know.”
Michael furrowed his brow. “You’ll follow the orders of this man from now on,” he said and gestured towards Elrith. He continued down the line of captured halflings, using his powers of chastity to order them to speak.
Elrith stood with his arms crossed over his chest. He thought the endeavor was pointless but didn’t say anything because Michael was making the halflings compliant. “Chastity’s a pretty useful power, huh? I wonder how strong Raea is,” he muttered. He raised his head and scanned the crowd as if searching for something or someone. His gaze stopped on Raea who was still shuddering from the earlier violence. His eyes narrowed. “That bastard’s bullying her again.” He turned his head to look at Michael who was halfway through the prisoners.
“I saw an angel with red eyes,” a glassy-eyed harpy said. Her left wing hung to the ground with multiple burn marks. “He summoned a pillar of fire-rock that burned us. I flew away but still got injured. The big boss didn’t do anything even though the angel attacked us.”
Michael’s face hardened. “Be his slave,” he said and gestured towards Elrith before moving on to the next halfling. In the end, the harpy was the only lead he had. He knew Pyre’s eyes were red, but he didn’t want to believe the angel the harpy was talking about was him. He knew Pyre for many years and trusted him.
“So?” Elrith asked. “Find anything?”
Michael shook his head. “I suspect Solra used his powers of chastity on Pyre,” he said. “His mastery should be even greater than mine since he’s at least forty years older than me. I also asked them about any ambushes, but they don’t know anything. They really were abandoned after being injured. It seems Solra doesn’t have many people with kindness.”
“Of course,” Elrith said. “Kind angels wouldn’t betray the capital.” He turned around to face the army. “Halflings! Fan out and march northwards.”
“You’d have our army follow behind cripples?” Michael asked.
“Damnit, old man,” Elrith said, “weren’t you the one who said to take it slow? Make up your mind. We’ll use them to detect any traps that may have been left behind.” He shot a glance towards the storage chest Raea was sitting on before looking away.
Raea had partially lifted her hand in greeting before Elrith looked away. Her head drooped and she lowered her hand. “Is Elly mad at me?” she asked no one in particular.
“Didn’t you publically embarrass him multiple times?” Palan asked. “Like, all the times you’ve seen him?”
Raea sighed. “I was going to volunteer to heal the halflings,” she said. “It’s not right to make them walk in the condition they’re in. Look at that centaur. He only has three legs.”
“You can restore limbs?” Justitia asked, hanging upside-down in the air because of Danger Noodle. She had tried to leave to rejoin the army’s ranks, but Cleo didn’t want her to and persuaded Palan’s tail to act.
“Yeah!” Cleo said and reached inside her bag before Raea could speak. She pulled out a rotting hand. “This used to belong to him.” She curled the fingers on the hand, leaving the index finger sticking out, and pointed at Palan.
Raea screamed. “Why do you still have that!?”
“Souvenir,” Cleo said and put the hand away. She wiped her hands on the roof of the storage chest to get rid of the sticky feeling in her palms. The storage chest started to move towards the north, following after the army. A few demons with more sensitive noses directed the halflings.
“How close are you to becoming an archangel?” Justitia asked Raea. Her face was extremely flushed and her eyes were starting to become bloodshot. “Also, can you put me down? I promise I won’t run away.” Palan didn’t even glance at her before releasing her. She grumbled and rubbed her head before sitting up.
“I’m not sure,” Raea said and bit her lip. “No one ever really told me how to become an archangel, or even a greater angel.” She scratched her head. “It kind of just happened.”
Justitia sighed and shook her head. “It’s ridiculous how fast you people advance in the capital,” she said. “You don’t even look twenty yet and you’re a greater angel?”
“Isn’t that normal?” Raea asked. “Elly became an archangel when he turned eighteen. And Nina became a greater angel when she turned six.”
“Your family is filled with freaks,” Justitia said and cleared her throat when Raea winced, “no offense. For us normal people, becoming a greater angel is just a dream. It’s too easy to give in to your vices.”
“But you’re a greater angel,” Raea said.
“That’s because my family could never afford to feed me anything other than potatoes and cabbages,” Justitia said. “It’s hard to become a glutton when you have nothing to eat; of course temperance would increase.”
Raea frowned. “Where were you born that you could barely afford to eat?” she asked.
“I had plenty to eat,” Justitia said and furrowed her brow. “Just potatoes and cabbage though. I was born in the third sector, but my parents were unable to own their own land. They had to rent under an overseer who took everything except the bare minimum to keep ourselves fed.”
“That’s not right,” Raea said and pursed her lips. “Why can they do that?”
Justitia blinked. “What do you mean?” she asked. “They own the land, and we were lucky they lent us a portion to live on.” She scratched her head. “How sheltered are you?”
“A turtle would be jealous of her,” Cleo said and smiled.