Later that night, Elrith regained consciousness and sat up. His body was sore, but he stretched out his limbs anyway and stood up, picking up his shield before exiting the tent. The camp was quiet. He could see a group of angels on top of the watchtower he erected, using powers of humility to summon a windstorm around the fortress. If their powers stopped, it meant Solra’s army was approaching. Elrith nodded in approval before making his way to Michael’s tent.
“Finally awake?” Michael’s voice greeted him when he walked inside. The old general sat up. “I already sent a letter to the capital.”
Elrith grunted as he sat down on a cushion. “Those tubes. Have you figured out how they work? I’m thinking they’re an upgraded trebuchet: smaller, compact, easier to transport. Their rate of fire seemed faster too.”
“That’s my assessment as well,” Michael said. “Must be an invention of the dwarves. It seems like they didn’t go extinct and went into hiding instead. They had close to a century to proliferate and create weapons to get revenge on us angels. I wouldn’t put it past the dwarves to create incendiary projectiles for those tubes as well. If they shot flaming projectiles over the checkpoint walls and burned our farms…” Michael grimaced.
Elrith knit his brow. “Unless Solra himself is at the wall, the guardians could take care of them,” he said. “A few lightning strikes or boulders should do the trick.” He sighed. “This whole thing is a lot bigger than what I expected when you told me you needed help. If I had known it would be like this, I would’ve refused and passed the job on to Akurel instead.”
Michael snorted. “Your army is much more suited to fighting like this anyway,” he said. “Akurel’s cavalry wouldn’t fare too well in the forests or tunnels. Your heavy infantry was definitely a better choice, and Pyre knew that.” Michael frowned and wrung his hands together. “I can’t believe he just disappeared like that. That’s not like him.”
“Don’t forget my attendant went missing as well. She may have been old, but she was very effective at her job. Replacing her doesn’t feel right.”
Michael nodded. Elrith smirked. “Shall we have a drink?”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Michael asked and crossed his arms over his chest.
“An old fuddy-duddy,” Elrith said and sighed. “I know you’re an archangel of temperance and all, but you can’t just hold everything in. You need to unwind sometime.”
“Easy for you to say,” Michael said. “What kind of Stormbringer would I be if I can’t even use my lightning?”
“A terrible one,” Elrith said. “But you already can’t use your wind and lightning concurrently anymore, right?” Michael’s eyes narrowed. Elrith’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “So even a legend can’t win against time. Makes you wonder how Solra’s able to maintain his zone of charity for so long. You’d think his manapool would’ve diminished to nothing by now.” Elrith sighed and took his shield off his back. He tapped on it a few times and a secret compartment opened. A small flask no bigger than his palm fell out. He unscrewed the top and downed the liquid in one gulp.
“You’re really going to drink in front of me?” Michael asked.
“Nope. I already did,” Elrith said and put away the flask.
“What kind of general are you?” Michael asked and wrinkled his nose. “You know alcohol is forbidden, right? I’m not going to tell anyone, but I greatly disapprove of your actions.”
“It was water. Calm down,” Elrith said. “It’s my litmus test for finding people I can trust.” Michael frowned. “Don’t worry—you barely passed.”
Michael stayed silent as Elrith closed the compartment in his shield. It was a tiny bulge near one of the handles. “I assume that means you want to tell me something?” Michael asked.
Elrith crossed his legs. “Has there ever been a time where your virtues just flew out the window? Like, something happened and you abandoned your principles,” he said slowly as if struggling to find the right words. “You just forgot everything you knew and … embraced the other side?”
“You’ve sinned?” Michael asked. His face darkened.
“I don’t know,” Elrith said and shook his head. “But has that ever happened to you?”
Michael frowned. “One time,” he said and closed his mouth. Elrith waited. “When I was first promoted to the council. I felt a feeling I never had before in my life. Pride.”
“And you’re still using humility just fine?” Elrith asked when it seemed like Michael wouldn’t say anything else.
Michael nodded. “I think it made me more humble in the end,” he said. “Knowing what is on the other side of the spectrum allows you to appreciate what you have even more. As long as you fully commit to virtues after experiencing sin, then I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing.” He hummed and rubbed his chin. “The Creator created sin for a reason. I think that reason is to make us stronger in our virtues. If pride did not exist, then everyone would be humble. No one could be more humble than others … I guess?”
Elrith looked down, his face deep in thought. After a moment, he raised his head. “I think I understand what you mean,” he said. “But it’s not always easy to let go of a sin after experiencing it, huh?” His lips contorted into a wry smile.
“It’s not. That’s why we have fallen angels,” Michael said, “the ones who gave up their virtues for sins.” He paused and gazed into Elrith’s eyes. “What are you struggling with?”
Elrith scratched his cheek. “Do you know how I became a general at such a young age?”
“Your meteoric rise was due to your merits in conquest,” Michael said. “Even I know you established over eighty outposts in the northern region.”
Elrith nodded. “That was part of it,” he said. “But the main reason was … I never lost a single soldier while doing it.” Michael’s eyes widened. Elrith smiled that smile that wasn’t really a smile. “It’s true, old man. There are plenty of angels who could establish outposts in the same timeframe as me. My casualty rate was the real reason.”
Michael nodded. “I see.”
“And then I came here,” Elrith said. “Ambushes are nothing new to me, but not knowing about Solra? That was fatal. No one had ever died under my command before, and then ten percent of my army was killed in a span of twenty minutes? If Solra’s power hadn’t been suppressing me, I would’ve been shooting out black flames. I had never felt so overwhelmed in my life. The wrath just took over, biting at my chest. Setting me on fire. I couldn’t think straight. My vision was red. Every muscle in my body wanted to tear Solra’s body to pieces. I’m still irritable even now.” He clenched his hands and gritted his teeth. “I let my men down.”
Michael sighed and lay down. He stared up at the ceiling. “Do you still feel anger towards Solra?” he asked.
“I do. Just hearing his name makes my skin itch.” A trail of blood flowed from Elrith’s closed hand and dripped to the floor.
“You’ll have to forgive him you know. If you’re able to forgive him for what he’s done…” Michael’s voice trailed off.
“I don’t know if I can.”