I was, sadly, expecting the words that came out of his mouth the second our eyes met.
“Curse you all,” he snapped furiously, wings raised and feathers ruffled in anger. “You brought that cursed weapon of destruction here, knowing Ryval is after it?!” The other Angels shrivelled away under the warrior’s wrathful words, but he ignored it. He glared at me with utmost fury, but I did not back down. I refused to. “You best have an excellent reason for its being here!” he snarled, hand tightening around the grip of his sheathed sword.
It was a simple matter to determine that his rage came directly from fear; he was, rightfully, afraid of the Eversortorix. It was, after all, capable of annihilating his entire race and realm within seconds of being activated, and it was in the hands of one of the people capable of using it to its full power. That was why I refused to back down in the face of his wrath; instead, I stepped forward. “We came here to ask for your help to destroy the Eversortorix. The time for its destruction is long overdue; it cannot be allowed to exist within any of the realms anymore,” I explained, looking him dead in the eye..
He hesitated, perhaps debating whether I was telling the truth or not. Eventually, however, he gave a sigh and a nod, releasing his sword’s haft and putting his hand on its sheath instead. “I should have more faith in thee, Sai of the Firstborn,” he said, his wings smoothing and pressing against his back again. “You are trying to stop Ryval in any way possible; I doubt you would intentionally bring her here.”
I nodded a little, glad he was in the same boat as the rest of us. “You know as well as I do that this weapon’s destruction will set Ryval’s plans back a notch.” Looking at the Eversortorix from the corners of my eyes, I sighed softly. “Of course, she may already have instigated another plan. She’s thought out the destruction of humanity far too well. But at least we can prevent anyone else from following her path.”
Augral inclined his head, knowing my words to be true. “Indeed we can. She might be considered insane by a great many, but she is an intellectual.” He turned his back to us and looked up at the Council Tower, towering in the distance. “In any case, I will take you to see Oracle. The weapon can certainly be destroyed in our forges, but we need permission first.” He looked over his shoulder, meeting my eyes. “Please, come along, and quickly.” His eyes flicked to Hailey and Soren as he spoke.
None of us needed to be told twice, and we followed him as he began to walk. He was fully armoured, I noticed, and a strange feeling welled in my heart. Most Angel warriors didn’t wear full armour while in their home domain, unless they were assigned to guard positions or were training new soldiers. Augral was doing neither of these things. I felt terrible upon realising what this meant; the Angels were in such a state where they felt they could not drop their guards even for a fraction of a second, lest they get attacked again.
I could feel the uncertainty in Augral’s tense body, and I sighed lugubriously, keeping my eyes trained on my father’s feet. The others walking behind me were quiet. No wonder. We were all filled with immense grief, and the tension in Heaven didn’t help the dour mood. I, for one, absolutely hated myself for being unable to prevent Aidan’s death, and my mood wasn’t helped when I thought about the injuries Soren had sustained. Hailey, too, was a deep concern. She needed help pretty soon if she was to be alright…
“How is she?” I heard Tiff ask Nathan quietly.
“She’s very weak.” His reply did not fill me with hope. “If we don’t get her help soon, Hailey will die a very painful death.”
“And Soren?” she asked after making a scared sound. “How’re you holding up?”
“I’m alright,” he lied. “Just a little sore.”
I winced as I heard him speak. To avoid the rest of the conversation, I briskly joined Augral. He looked down at me as I walked abreast of him, and grunted a bit in greeting, but spoke no words, leaving me to initiate conversation.
“Father,” I said quietly, as to prevent the others from hearing, “are you alright?” I bit my lip, unable to hide my worry for him. “Ryval was once the woman you loved. Knowing she’s on a path of destruction and knowing that she’ll need to be eliminated... That has to be hard on you.”
He sighed heavily as the feathers of his wings fluttered in the light, warm breeze. “It is hard,” he admitted gently. “But I am a warrior, and I know that your mission is the one that must be successful.” He gave a morose, thin-lipped smile. “Now, Sai... I know you wanted to speak to me about something, not ask me if I was alright.”
I ruefully smiled at him. “You’re right. I wanted to ask if you would help me destroy the Eversortorix.”
He stared at me with wide, surprised eyes. “Of course I will.” His wings fluttered as we neared the tower. “Yet I must still ask Lady Oracle if we can use one of Heaven’s forges. A weapon like that–” he paused to mull over his words “—is half Demon. Those energies are not something wanted – or needed – in our fair realm.” He eyed me carefully. “If your plea is rejected—”
“I’ll understand,” I interrupted. “Demonic energies are bad for Angels, and vice versa.”
He nodded, glad that I was aware, and spoke no more as we reached the tower. A question began itching at the back of my mind, but I ignored it as the tower’s massive doors opened, and we stepped inside. Yet before we stepped into the centre circle...
“Augral,” Lydia called. My father turned to her, raising an eyebrow as he met her eyes.
“Yes, Lydia?” he asked politely.
Lydia hesitated. “You called Oracle ‘Lady’, as if she is of high status here... and yet... she was merely a seer the last time we were here.”
Augral’s feathers ruffled. “Us of Heaven work differently to those of Hell,” he replied, his voice a little cold. Realising that he sounded a little annoyed, he attempted to relax, his feathers slowly smoothing. “Unlike them,” he continued once relaxed, “we do not elect our leader once the previous passes away. Rather, our Archangel selects an heir. When they die, that heir is automatically thrust into power, and it is announced to the entirety of the realm by the Council. Lady Oracle has been Lady Eryn’s heir for at least one thousand years.” He grimaced. “Our first Archangel, Xaerel, had selected no heir before he… died.” I noticed that he hesitated as he spoke. “Eryn was chosen by the masses.”
Lydia blinked, looking at the rest of us, her surprise apparent. I honestly hadn’t known what Augral had just told us either, and I was surprised that I had not learned that earlier, having been at least somewhat informed about the Demon way of doing things. I’d assumed the Angels did the same thing.
“That’s a much simpler method than the way the Demons do it...,” I admitted.
“Well, yes,” Augral said nonchalantly, “but their elective way is not without its benefits. It shows all possible candidates for the role, the bad eggs can be weeded out, thus eliminating the risk of getting an Archdemon that will run Hell’s society into the ground.” He turned and walked over to the rune ring on the ground as he finished speaking; no more was said between us as he stepped into it, and waited for us to join him.
Nathan stepped forward first, holding Hailey very close to his chest. Soren, Lydia, Tiff, and I followed, and the ring around us flashed brightly. In the next second, we were standing in the Council’s chamber.
Oracle was standing by a window, looking out over the realm. A veil was covering her face, indicating that she was mourning, and she was accompanied by her twin brother. He, like Augral, was fully armoured. He nodded at us as we approached, yet Oracle did not turn around, although I had a feeling she was not unaware of our presence.
Augral went to one knee and bowed his head respectfully. “My lady,” he greeted, his voice very quiet. “We have come to ask for your aid, and for your permission to destroy the ancient Nephilim weapon Firstborn Sai carries upon her shoulder.”
“I expected as much.” Oracle turned around and stepped over, ignoring the fact that her words had stunned all but Arkaine and Augral. “I saw what happened in my mind’s eye.” She walked over to Nathan. “Please, may I see to the child?”
Nathan nodded, carefully holding the Halfling out in his arms. Oracle gently laid one hand on Hailey’s forehead, and laid the other above the Halfling’s heart. A glow began to emanate from Oracle’s palms, and colour slowly began to return to Hailey’s cheeks. Nathan soon confirmed that Hailey was beginning to strengthen, once the glow had ceased and Oracle had stepped away, and I couldn’t help the flood of relief that coursed through me.
“There,” Oracle said gently, Nathan pulling Hailey close to his body again. “Now.” She turned to Soren. “Come here, child. Let me see what I can do for your grievous wounds.”
Soren quietly stepped forward. He hugged his arm close to his chest, his face twisted with agony. Oracle bit her lip as she gently touched his shoulder. He flinched away, once, before forcing himself to remain still as she began to heal his shoulder as much as she could.
The skin and muscles knitted together under the glow her palms radiated, and after a time his arm was fully healed. She did, however, recommend that he take it easy, which he promised to do. But I had begun to doubt she could heal his face completely, and my heart broke in my chest when she confirmed this. “Soren,” murmured the Angel, her voice apologetic, “I can only heal the flesh. I can do nothing for your eye.”
He… gave a weak smile. Had he expected this outcome? “That’s fine. Really. It’s all that can be done.”
She nodded a little, holding her hands over his face. Palms glowing, she quickly restored the flesh, but his eye socket was little more than a gaping hollow. “There.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, grateful. He stepped back to us, stopping beside the silent Nathan.
“It is of no consequence,” Oracle replied, before looking over at her brother. “But we have wasted enough time, sadly, and you still have so much to do.” Biting her lip, she bowed her head. “Time is of the essence. Ryval’s actions are getting far more erratic and fierce.”
Fear coursed through me. “She must have changed plans,” I whispered to myself. I’d known it would be so, of course, but... the news Oracle had delivered upon us had still driven the nail deeper. “Damn it...”
Nathan clicked his tongue. “She’s growing desperate,” he mused, “and it will be disastrous for all involved if we do not stop her soon.” He looked back at me, his eyes lingering on the cannon I carried. “That thing needs to be destroyed, and quickly.”
“I know,” I whispered. I was painfully aware of the weight on my shoulder.
In response to this, Augral looked at Oracle. “Is it possible for it to be destroyed in one of Heaven’s forges?”
She nodded, her eyes calm as they rested on him. “Yes. It must be destroyed as soon as possible, and as we have the facilities for its destruction, you can take use of them.” Her wings extended from her back a little, but soon resettled. “Take it to a forge close to a chapel; the Demonic energies will be dispelled by the wards all buildings of prayer have on them.”
We turned to leave, only for Arkaine to teleport in front of us, blocking our way. “Oracle,” he said, voice toneless, “you are forgetting to tell them something.”
Oracle blinked, a bit, before coming to an epiphany. “Ah, yes, that’s correct.” Looking at us, she almost seemed to grow reluctant. “I must tell you of something I saw, something that concerns your group.” She looked away, briefly, before returning her gaze to my group. As she looked at us, her eyes lingered on Nathan. “One of your friends is to die in a coming battle. And due to this, you will require the aid of Lucion and Lilith.”
Her words were too ominous to be a lie. I swallowed – or tried to swallow – around the lump that formed within my throat, and looked over at the others. Tiff and Soren had blanched, Nathan looked slightly uncomfortable, and Lydia looked cautiously worried.
Oracle turned back to the window, and Arkaine teleported back to her side. I assumed, now, that she wasn’t going to explain to us who was going to die next. It could be anyone. Lydia, Nathan, Hailey, Soren, Tiff... or myself. I wasn’t counting myself out of this; I knew as much as anyone that I could die too.
I had to admit that that fact frightened me.
We took our leave. Leaving the tower with the utmost haste, Augral led us through the marble streets. The Angels walking or flying around avoided us like we were the plague. The weight of the Eversortorix pressed upon me both physically and mentally, and I shivered as Augral took us to a large forge located next to what I could only describe as a House of the Creator. I wanted this over and done with.
The smith inside looked up as we entered, panicking when he laid eyes on the object I was carrying. He began to tremble, and was dead silent, gaping like a stunned fish as he groped for words to say.
Augral spared him from his troubles. “Smith,” he said, not naming th frightened Angel for his sake, “we require use of your forge.”
The smith jumped a bit, swallowing. “U-Uh... o-of cou-course, sir...,” he stammered, stepping aside and gesturing to the roaring flames. “D-Do y-y-you need me h-here?”
“No.” Augral’s voice was gentle as he attempted to calm the smith down. “You cannot be in here for your own safety, so you might as well take a break for now. I will have someone tell you when it is safe to return.” He watched as the poor smith nodded and almost sprinted out, not desiring to be in the presence of the cannon resting atop my shoulder for much longer.
Once he was gone, Augral looked at me, and I laid the cannon on the smith’s anvil. I then turned to the others and asked, “Can you all go outside?”
Nathan gave me a funny look. “Excuse me? Why?”
Soren frowned and put his hand on his hip. “Any reason?”
Tiff and Lydia remained silent, just staring at me in confusion. I sighed. “The Eversortorix will release an extreme amount of energy in its moment of destruction,” I explained. “Mimicking the effects of the weapons of old to a certain degree, this energy will seek out those who are not blood-bound to it, and rips them to bloody shreds from the inside out.”
Augral’s pinions gave a light flap. “The old Angel weapons would do the same to anything without Angel blood, and vice versa.” He bit his lip. “The last Angel weapon of such degree was destroyed the day an envoy of Hell was discussing the terms of the treaty with Lord Xaerel. Let us just say that taking that poor Demon to the forge to witness was an ill-planned idea.”
I watched their faces pale as they began to realise what my father and I were getting at. “If everyone was in here when the Eversortorix is destroyed, the only ones to be left alive would be myself and Augral.”
Tiff frowned as her eyes flicked to the Angel warrior. “But only the Firstborn and their parents are blood-bound, right?” she asked.
“That’s right,” I confirmed. “Hence why Augral can stay here.”
Nobody seemed to understand, and as they shared looks of bewilderment Augral stepped over to me. “They do not appear to get the hint,” he whispered, a light smile on his face.
A grin graced mine. “No,” I agreed, looking up at him. “They don’t. It should be fairly obvious, though.” I looked back to the others and almost laughed as they whispered amongst themselves, trying to guess what my words meant. They fell silent, though, as I cleared my throat and half-giggled, “Want me to tell you?”
Tiff huffed and crossed her arms. “Please, by all means.” She did a craptastic job of hiding the mild irritation in her voice, and I once again suppressed laughter.
“Augral’s my father.”
It was instantly apparent none of them had been expecting that bombshell, for Tiff spluttered for a bit before blurting, “Holy shit.”
“Faecal matter is not holy, even when it comes from Angels,” was my father’s reply. His face was dead straight as he spoke.
Silence pervaded the forge before Soren, Nathan and Lydia burst into laughter. Tiff just gaped at Augral like he had just spoken gibberish, and I couldn’t help a snicker, covering my mouth with my hand.
Once the laughter had settled Nathan peered at me. “Sai, how long have you known?”
I shrugged. “A while,” I replied, trying to keep my tone nonchalant as I crossed my arms and huffed. “Now, as much as I would like to laugh at your confusion more, we have tasks to do.”
The group shared a look. Lydia was the first to speak. “Please be careful,” she whispered, turning and walking out. Soren gave me a sad, worried look as he followed Lydia out. Nathan followed after looking at the cannon, hugging Hailey close to his chest, and Tiff followed him, but not without giving me a tight hug first.
Once they were all outside, Augral closed the forge’s door and exhaled as I walked over to the Eversortorix. I laid my hand on it, my eyes lacklustre as the thought of destroying a part of my peoples’ history permeated my mind. Both grief and gladness were mixing in my heart. I was saddened because this was one of the last pieces of my culture remaining in all the realms. Yet I was glad, too, for I knew this was preventing what had happened to the Nephilim from being repeated with the Humans.
“Let’s get this done,” Augral mused as he walked over to the main part of the forge. “How long do you think this will take?”
I looked up, keeping my hand on the Eversortorix. I didn’t know how to answer and kept my silence, which he took as my answer instead. A sigh escaped him, but he didn’t speak, instead stripping off his armour to reveal a black bodysuit underneath. I blinked in surprise, but kept my questions to myself as I hefted the cannon onto my shoulder and strode over to the forge’s flames. I guessed that armour wasn’t something one could really smith in.
Wordlessly I laid the weapon down on the heat. Augral began to pump the bellows. As the room warmed up I swore I could hear the weapon scream, yet I knew that that was impossible; the Eversortorix was not sentient. I still couldn’t help a wince, and also couldn’t avert my eyes as the metal of the cannon heated up, becoming white hot as Augral worked.
It wasn’t as simple as melting it, however. Grabbing the heatproof gloves and slipping them on, I reached into the fireand pulled the slowly melting weapon out. I set it on the anvil and grabbed the forge hammer from nearby, then exhaled heavily and began to pound the metal of the weapon until it cooled down too much to be tensile. As it cooled, I returned it to the heat, pulling it out and hammering it again until it once more lost malleability.
Over and over, we repeated this process. I felt a heavy pressure weighing upon my shoulders the closer we got to the weapon’s destruction, and we had both lost track of time while we tried to send the cannon into Oblivion. Soot and dirt was stuck to my skin by my sweat, yet I did not wipe our brow; the sweat on my arms would have made the action useless anyway. Augral was in a similar condition, probably more so than me due to his proximity to the heat, but neither he nor I ceased our actions.
The weapon was slowly turning into a blackened, melted mass. The energy it was emitting pressed more and more on me, and I couldn’t help the whimper that escaped me as we kept working. I wondered if the others were growing concerned, yet, but pushed my thoughts down, continuing, hammering the metal more until it was cool again. And finally, one last time of placing the weapon in the forge fire turned into a useless lump of metal.
I slumped backwards against a wall once we had finished, knees shaking akin to moulds of jelly in an earthquake. Augral was no better; he was leaning on a bench covered in tools, panting. Once he caught me looking, he smiled weakly. “We did it.”
“That we did,” I panted, smiling feebly at him before returning my gaze to the lump of charred metal that we’d created from the Eversortorix. The energies that had been released were ebbing, and I began to relax. “So,” I gasped out, not daring to walk over to him, “what will happen to... that?” I gestured to the lump as I spoke, keeping my eyes on him.
He exhaled heavily before he slowly rose to his feet. “It will be purified by our priests and priestesses, and then used to forge armour or weapons for our warriors.” His voice was dull, and deep lines were set into his face. He slowly donned the armour he’d set aside as I struggled to my feet, and said, “Let’s go tell the others the good news.” He scooped the lump into his arms and slowly lumbered out, hot and tired. I followed him, in the exact same state, just wanting to eat something and get some sleep.
The others were waiting in a nearby garden. They were sitting under a tree with beautiful leaves of orange and red, and they looked up as the forge door opened. They all rose as we approached. I noticed that Hailey had awoken at some point, possibly when we had been working. Yet before they could say anything to us, or we to them, my vision swum and I stumbled, falling to my knees.
“Sai!” I heard Tiff cry as I hit the ground, vision black around the edges and quickly enswathing my vision. As my eyes closed I heard another thud from next to me... but, seconds later, heard and saw no more.