Chapter 55

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Loud church bells rang, their echoes traveling over the rows of buildings. The two suns blazed overhead as angels and demons scrambled to put on their armor and assemble in neat rows. Streams of elephants walked out of enclosures and joined the ranks, led by a few angels with whips. A bald angel wearing full red armor that seemed to be made of the same material as Anidun’s dagger stood at the head of the assembled troops, facing them. He held his helmet underneath his right arm and a battleaxe in his left. Behind him, a figure stood fully dressed in a dull gray suit of armor.

“Attention!” The bald angel said, his voice was crisp and easily heard by all the assembled people. “I am sure many of you have questions, since we have not assembled like this for a decade. However! It is not your job to ask questions. It is your job to follow orders. Am I understood?!”

“Yes, sir!” The two words were like thunder, the sound booming through the whole second sector—perhaps even heard by the farmers in the third. The bald angel nodded and crossed his arms as he scanned the rows of angels with a measly amount of demons. Their backs were straight with one arm held in a salute. He scowled and pointed at an empty space in front of a block of soldiers.

“Where is Colonel Uzziel?” the man asked. “You.” He pointed at the frontmost angel behind the empty space. “Tell me.”

“Fetching his demon, sir!” the singled-out soldier said. The bald angel scowled.

Meanwhile, in a building five blocks away from the plaza where the army assembled, Colonel Uzziel kicked down a door and stepped inside a bedroom. He had short hair and wore green armor with a star-shaped badge in the center of the cuirass. He shouted, “You demon! I called you over thirty times now and you are still lazing around in bed!?”

The only response was a muffled grunt and the sound of shuffling sheets. Uzziel marched over to the side of the bed and grabbed the edge of the blanket. In one motion, he twisted his waist and arms, flinging the blanket into the air behind him. A female demon, fully-dressed in plate gear lied on the bed with her face planted into the pillow. Her silky black hair was unkempt and billowed out to the sides, the ends reaching the bottom of her back. She said with a voice muffled by the pillow, “Let me … sleep … for five … more … days.”

“Get up!” Uzziel shouted and yanked the pillow out from underneath her head. Snoring sounds rang throughout the room. Uzziel buried his face into his hands. “Why did I get so unlucky with my summon? Why, Creator? Why? I thought you gave me a mission to turn this demon into a more diligent and productive one. Was I mistaken?”

“Yes,” the demon said and turned onto her side, curling up into a ball.

Uzziel’s face cramped. “The assembly bell has been rung! General Michael will skin me alive if I arrive any later,” he said.

“Your problem.”

Uzziel ground his teeth. “I, Uzziel Desti, command you, sloth demon Tara, to get out of bed and accompany me to the assembled army.”

A long drawn-out breath escaped from Tara’s lips. Her eyes opened, revealing a pair of bright red irises. She yawned as she sat up and blinked a few times before turning her head towards Uzziel. She smiled at him, revealing a row of relatively normal teeth except for two pointed fangs. Her voice was raspy, yet pleasant to the ears. “According to our contract, you can only give me two more commands to follow this year.”

Uzziel’s face hardened. “I know,” he said as he whirled around and took a step forward.

“Wait.”

Uzziel sighed. “What is it?”

“Carry me?”

“No!”

It was Tara’s turn to sigh. She stared at the blanket that Uzziel discarded onto the floor. She narrowed her eyes at it, and a moment later, it rose into the air, flying towards her. It wrapped around her body and lifted her off of the bed, causing her to float in midair. A piece of string unwound itself from the blanket and tied itself to Uzziel’s hand, pulling her along as the angel walked. Tara’s eyes were closed as Uzziel walked like a child carrying a balloon until he arrived at the empty spot reserved for him in the army.

“What is this?” the bald angel asked, mouth slightly parted as he stared at Tara who was starting to let out a few light snores while still floating in the air.

“My demon, sir! You have never seen her before because she is always sleeping, but due to the gravity of the situation, I brought her this time,” Uzziel said and saluted with the hand holding the string. Even though the string rose into the air, Tara continued to float at the same altitude. “I apologize for my tardiness, General Michael.”

A shiver ran down Michael’s spine as he frowned and stared at Tara. When was the last time he felt even remotely threatened? He nodded at Uzziel before returning to his spot at the head of the army. Uzziel’s face contorted in surprise as he raised an eyebrow and parted his lips. His body relaxed as he realized he was not going to be punished, but it quickly stiffened again as Michael turned around to face the army and spoke. Tara’s eyes shot open as she stared at Michael, and she furrowed her brow. “Who is that?” she whispered to Uzziel.

“General Michael,” Uzziel whispered back. “Archangel of temperance, diligence, humility, and chastity. We, the officers, call him Stormbringer. He usually serves on the council and does routine inspections of the army, but it seems like he is personally leading us this time around.”

“—and with that, we march!” Michael said, lifting his battleaxe into the air. The giant metal doors behind the plaza screeched as they swung fully open for the first time in a decade. The army passed through, marching side by side with their war elephants into the third sector. The angel overseers who maintained the farms stared at the passing army with their mouths agape. The halfling slaves crouched down and hid beneath the crops, unwilling to even look at the procession.

***

Ishim let out a hollow laugh as he stood inside of the cave that Anidun died in. Behind him, the new lizardman chieftain, Nazgar, stood with a torch in his claws. Ishim asked, “You saw the body for yourself? He is truly dead?”

“Yes,” Nazgar nodded. A bead of sweat rolled down the back of his neck.

“Where is Ulric?” Ishim asked as he exited the cave. “His demon.”

“Possibly dead?” Nazgar said, unsure of whether he was asking a question of making a statement. “An angel came by and brought his axes to us, saying our warrior was in danger and needed to pass on a message to our guardian.”

“—less,” Ishim muttered, his body shaking.

“Pardon?”

“I said,” Ishim said as a vortex of orange flames danced around his body, “you’re all useless!” He roared, and the flames around him turned black, rapidly expanding outwards. Nazgar’s body was instantly incinerated and the boulder that Anidun resided in began to glow red and melt. Screams echoed through the lizardmen’s city as the straw roofs of the buildings on the outskirt of the city caught fire due to the extreme temperature. The black flames spread and the stone roads and buildings caught fire. Ishim stared at the suns in the sky, oblivious to the wailing of the lizardmen as a single tear rolled down his face and dropped to the ground.

“Sir Anidun,” Ishim said and clenched his hands while closing his eyes. “All those years ago, you took me in, raised me as your own when no one wanted a child born of wrath. I will not forget what you have done for me. I swore my life to you. Even when you were crippled by your first contract breach, I stood by your side and fed you countless number of greater angels, but in the end, I still failed you.” Ishim sighed as he opened his eyes. Black smoke surrounded him, obscuring his vision. The city was silent. “You once told me I should never lose myself to wrath. I have not forgotten those words, have not forgotten any of your words.” Ishim closed his eyes again and inhaled. The smell of burnt meat assaulted his nose. “But just this once, I am going to disobey you. I will avenge you.” When he reopened his eyes, black flames and purple thunder danced in the whites of his eyes. “The council will pay with their blood.”


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