Chapter 11- Ready to Explode

Mjolnir struck the foolish, poorly armored loyalist with a loud thud, sending the robed mortal hurdling through the air. A nearby wall quickly ended his journey, shaking the entire structure as the mortal's shattered body bounced off the building and hit the street. It was obvious to his now frightened companions that they stood against a power they could not hope to defeat. Rather than face certain death, they turned and sprinted in the direction of the gates.

Cason, caught in the heat of battle, began to give chase.

"Let them flee!" Bethrael shouted, uninterested in chasing down useless pawns.

Bethrael and Cason moved the fighting away from the innards of the main palace in an effort to draw the loyalist away from the infirmary. The baffling piece of this attack was lack of angel loyalists. The attackers all seemed mortal. While some appeared to have combat training, the majority of the attackers were woefully inept and easy to scare off. These "loyalists" were hardly loyal to this cause.

"They are the diversion." Cason concluded aloud. He had some experience in this area. During his military service on Earth, he recalled an operation in the city of Boranabad. Insurgents working for an infamous terrorist by the name Saif al-Syed paid off a local civilian population to attack Cason's squad. It was meant to be a distraction to allow Al-Syed time to escape the city. The civilians that Cason's team managed to captured alive confessed to promises of payment to surviving family members for their sacrifice. They were simple pawns. Al-Syed's plan worked. He escaped Cason's grasp after months of surveillance and weeks of planning. It was one of the low points of his military career. "The attack on you and Zeus was the primary attack." Cason inferred.

This seemed logical to Bethrael. Ensure the guards were occupied, and then send a small force to assassinate the true target. "As much as these loyalists despise me, I struggle to see why they would sacrifice all of these willing mortals just to kill me." Bethrael wondered.

"Maybe they believed you to be alone?" Cason answered.

She thought to herself for a moment. She had not had much time to reflect between the ambush and treating Zeus's wounds. "No...the council!" Bethrael exclaimed. "We must check on the council chambers!"

Cason nodded his head. This made sense. There could be multiple strike teams in place to take out leadership in one fell swoop. It was a sloppily executed plan, albeit, not an unprecedented one. Military coups happened all the time on Earth. Why should the afterlife be any different? It brought back memories of hunting Al-Syed. Saif al-Syed started out as an ally to Cason's country. For a full decade Al-Syed's forces were armed and funded by Cason's government, all in the name of overthrowing an uncooperative regime. A regime that simply did not want to share its riches with the wealthiest country in the world. This was unacceptable to Cason's leaders, so rather than force their own kids to die for the cause, they simply armed a religious zealot. "Better their kids than ours." was the prevailing thought. To the surprise of no one with common sense, Al-Syed quickly turned on his allies. Without stable government leadership in place, he quickly turned the nation of Ukilapuastan into a zealot haven, a haven that held deep seeded hatred for the United States.

The duo charged back towards the palace, alert and ready to take on any would be challengers in their way. The majority of the attacking force had either been slain by the guards or fled the city. Cason could see the look of satisfaction on Bethrael's face. He assumed she felt confident knowing her guards were prepared for such an attack. Sometimes a leader finds themselves in dire need of a victory, a need Cason knew all too well.

Saif al-Syed eluded Cason's grasp that day. A failure that still haunted him, even in death. Al-Syed left a bloody trail in his wake. Thousands of dead Ukilapuastan citizens, dozens of dead American soldiers, and a violent attack on a tourist trap in an allegedly "safe" nation. Every one of those deaths was on Cason's conscience. Even for a hardened, career military man, this was almost too much to bear. Eventually, Al-Syed was caught in a drone strike. He was one of eight military targets killed that week. The news ran the story for a couple of days, average citizens pretended to know who Al-Syed was for a day, and eventually it all became a footnote in history, forgotten by most. Someone else inevitably rose to take Al-Syed's place, and the cycle continued onward.

They pushed through the doors into the main hallway, to be greeted by a trio of Amazon guards and a tall, bearded angel in a red robe.

"Hildr...Tyr?!" Bethrael said, indicating to Cason she knew this group. "Are you ok? Did they attack you?"

The bearded man in the red robe stepped forward. Cason assumed this was Tyr, but was not sure. His knowledge of ancient gods was limited to the most famous ones. He was not familiar with these names. "No. It was all quiet on our side of the palace. Had Hildr not stormed in, I would not have known anything was wrong."

Cason observed the bearded man. He was clearly elderly. His beard was grey and his skin wrinkled. He seemed like a man who lived in luxury based on the silk, red robes. There was no weapon adorned to his waist, so he clearly relied on his guards for protection. By all appearances, the old man appeared to be a pampered politician.

"Strange. These mortals were clearly sacrificial pawns." Hildr interjected.

"They sent a team of my own guards to kill me. Were it not for Cason and Zeus, they might have succeeded." Bethrael said.

"Zeus? Is he ok?" Hildr asked.

"Injured, but he will live." Bethrael said, pointing towards the infirmary.

"Good." Hildr said with a sigh of relief. "I'm happy to see the warrior spirit is still strong in you."

"We need to deduce who is behind this." Tyr said, forcefully bursting into the conversation. "Who has the most to gain from killing you?"

Bethrael looked down, showing her shame. "Kushiel." She muttered. "I believed I could trust him. He deceived us all. Imamu warned-" Bethrael failed to finish her thought before her eyes widened in horror. "It was never about the Council." she mumbled to herself.

"Speak up!" Tyr shouted. "What do you mean?"

"We have to get to Imamu!" Bethrael shouted, as she bolted to the mortal representative's quarters.

"Areto, stay with Tyr! Iphito, you come with us" Hildr ordered, as she followed suit.

Cason observed as Tyr rolled his eyes at the request. "Definitely a politician." he whispered to himself, as he followed the others. They could barely keep up with Bethrael. She was running as if her life depended on it. Perhaps her life did depend on this. It did not matter. All that was important now was ensuring Bethrael's safety. She made a promise to help Cason get back to Earth and save his family, as they once saved him.

Cason spiraled into depression and self-destruction after the death of Al-Syed. While the world move on, Cason found himself consumed. All those lives lost because he failed his mission in Boranabad. How many parents buried their children because he failed? How may families were fractured because of him? It was too much to bear. He took to self-medicating. Alcohol seemed to be the only thing that numbed his mind long enough to rest. At first, it was not all that noticeable. He was able to keep his habit contained to his private quarters. Then the signs started showing. He was late for meetings. He would forget details. His fellow Marines would smell it on his breath. Had he been a nobody, they would have most likely disciplined and discharged him, but Cason was a decorated special forces operative. He was placed on leave and sent to rehab with a side of therapy. It was there he met Michelle, a psychiatrist in the Navy. The two spoke almost everyday. There was an instant spark between them. It was the first time in Cason's life that he was able to let his walls down and let someone in. On his final day of leave, he asked Michelle out to dinner, fully expecting to be shot down. The military was all about professionalism. To his surprise, she said yes. That dinner lead to a loving relationship and beautiful daughter, both of which saved Cason from himself.

He struggled to keep up with Bethrael. The angel leader would not relent. Whoever this Imamu was, he was clearly important to her. She ran into a building that was several streets away from the palace. Cason, Hildr, and Iphito followed suit, still trying to stay in step with Bethrael. They ran up several flights of stairs and watched as Bethrael burst into a room. It was a foolish move, running into a room without surveying first. He quickly followed behind her, eager to protect her from any ambushes. As he turned the corner, he saw Bethrael fall to her knees at the sight in front of her. The mortal, the one Cason assumed to be Imamu, was face down at his desk in a pool of blood.

He walked over and examined the body as Hildr and Iphito entered the room behind them. "They slashed his throat." he said quietly.

"Why him?" Hildr asked.

Bethrael kept her eyes focused on the ground, unable to bring herself to look at her deceased ally. "Mortals out number angels three to one." she said. "If I lose the trust of the mortals, I lose New Eden."

Now it all made sense to Cason. Kushiel never planned to take the city by force. Why bother with that when you can get the citizens angry enough to do it for you? Conjure up fear of an unknown enemy, showcase the ineptitude of a young, inexperienced leader, and then present yourself as the strong and safe alternative. They had all been playing checkers while a game a chess was happening around them.

Kushiel spent all this time creating a powder keg in New Eden, and now, with the murder of Imamu, he just lit the match.