Updated: Apr 26
"How could you keep this from us?!" Asbeel demanded to know as he stared down Athena.
She stood in silence, ashamed of her past and ashamed for lying to her companions.
"Did you think you could just walk away from such a horrid act?!" Asbeel was shaken by the revelation, once again feeling betrayed by his lover. Athena arrived back to their quarters in shackles, quickly confessing her crimes against Aaru to the group. It was one thing for her to be the unwitting victim of a plot. It was quite another to execute an unarmed and innocent person.
"I-I..." she stuttered , unable to find the words to explain herself. There was no explanation to be had, though. She did this horrible deed. She killed her former lover in cold blood. There were no words that would satisfy Asbeel. He was an angel of honor, one who always fought for what he believed to be right. He would never forgive her for this.
Asbeel stormed out of the room enraged and unable to continue the conversation. Twi'el, Harut, and Ma'at remained, exchanging nervous glances at one another as Athena longingly stared at the doorway Asbeel exited through. She let out a deep sigh, closed her eyes, and composed herself. There was still work to be done.
"Harut...Twiel." she said with the calm and collected demeanor they had come to know. "You must get this information to Asbeel...for his safety."
"Uh...ok." Harut said, still in shock.
"Duat is a vile place that only respects power. They do not care for your mission, nor do they care for common decency. They can slit your throat in the street and no one would bat an eye. Cross the wrong person, and they will have your head on a pike. Get in, get the information you need, and get out."
Twi'el had been standing in silence since Athena returned from Amun-Ra's throne room, unsure of what to make of all this. It was strange to see Athena simply accept her fate. "Why do we enter through the front gates if Duat is so dangerous?" he asked.
Ma'at interjected, "They will not openly harm guests of Ra. They are a vicious people, but Ra has always maintained an uneasy truce with Anubis."
Athena glared at Ma'at, still angered by her deception. "They've killed your people before." she said, making an obvious reference to Serqet.
"You would know best." Ma'at shot back, mocking Athena."
Athena turned back to Harut and Twi'el, ignoring Ma'at's prodding insults, "Anubis is dangerous, unpredictable, and cunning. He seeks the upper hand in every situation, so any information he deems valuable will stay with him. You will get nothing but riddles and lies out of him. More importantly, he's an Ancient with a sickening obsession with death, and his most loyal followers echo his depraved desires. It is not only a waste for the four of you to enter together, but it is also dangerous. You must stack the odds in your favor."
"What do you suggest then?" Twi'el asked.
Athena was one of the few who knew of the hidden pathway into the underground city. It was a path she once walked. "On the western side of the cavern is a sealed entrance. A basic spell conceals it. I'm confident someone as talented as Ma'at can figure out how to remove it." Athena said, her tone indicating the compliment was dripping with sarcasm.
Ma'at rolled her eyes at the inferred insult.
"Enter the city discretely and find Set."
Ma'at's eyes widened at the name, signaling her alarm. "Set?! Are you mad?! Why would he help us?!"
"Set is vile, but unlike most in Duat, he abides by a code of honor. Tell him you are there to collect my bounty. He will give you whatever information you desire."
"Why would he help us?" Ma'at asked again
The obvious fear in Ma'at's voice brought Athena some joy, though she kept it veiled beneath the surface and maintained her stoic expression. "Set had grown impatient with Anubis when we last met. I have my doubts their relationship has strengthened since then. The assassination job was arranged by him and behind Anubis's back. He would never admit this out loud, but I believe he aims to control Duat in time. A threat such as Surtr would undermine such plans."
"And what if he simply ousts us...raises an alarm for our deception?!" Ma'at asked.
A smirk crept on Athena's face. "Then you will think of something." she answered with another jab of condescending sarcasm.
Angered by yet another insult, Ma'at stormed off in Asbeel's path. Twi'el's first instinct was to go after her, but he remained, eager to speak more with Athena.
"Harut?" Athena asked. His eyes locked with hers. "Please...find Asbeel, make sure he knows what I've told you. Tell him..." she quivered as her voice trailed off, finding it hard to come up with he words to say. She loved Asbeel, but he was better off without her in his life.
"No worries boss. I'll tell him." Harut said, as he made his way towards the exit. After spending so many years by her side, he knew what she wanted him to say. There was no need to force her to speak further.
Twi'el was the last to remain in the room, eager to seek further counsel from Athena. before setting off on this dangerous mission. Athena's eyes were drawn to Twi'el's bronze hand, engraved with the hieroglyphic carvings of Aaru.
"Twi'el...I'm sorry for deceiving you." she began.
"No need for apologies." He was saddened, but strangely relieved to learn the morbid details of Athena's past. It made him feel less alone. The former Kingdom soldier was responsible for his own share of atrocities. Seeing Athena in shackles was a stark reminder that he deserved no better. It was only the intervention of fate that saw him walk free from his crimes, but regardless of whether or not he was chained by physical means, the weight of his actions would always lay atop his shoulders for the rest of his days. Twi'el spent many anxious nights dreaming about Seraphiel. Most of the time, his dreams revolved around their last encounter. Sometimes, Twi'el would simply find himself looking down at his dead mentor. Other times, he would find himself ready to land the killing blow as a sense of dread washed over him. Though those dreams always stirred Twi'el awake, the worst of the dreams were the peaceful ones. The dreams where Seraphiel was alive and well in his quarters, and he would simply talk with Twi'el. It was those dreams where he felt alive again. They would talk of training, strategy, and life under the thumb of the Archangels. Seeing Seraphiel sit at his plain wooden desk in his simple quarters brought him a sense of peace. Of course, as with every dream, it ended with the rise of the sun, leaving Twi'el alone to remind himself that Seraphiel was long dead.
"Be weary of the gifts from Ra." Athena warned, pointing to Twi'el's new hand. "He may play the altruistic part, but everything he does is with an ulterior motive. The Ancient angels all lust for power and control. Never forget that."
"I will not." he said, rubbing the bronze gauntlet with his right hand. The feeling of having a left hand again was comforting, even if it was a cold bronze gauntlet.
"And be weary of Ma'at." Athena warned, observant of Twi'el's infatuation with Ra's advisor. "She's not to be trusted. She works for Ra above all else."
Twi'el nodded as if he was in agreement, but the truth was more complicated than that. Something drew him to Ma'at that he could not explain. Perhaps it was simple attraction, or perhaps there was a deeper connection there. Whatever it was, it was somehow comforting and terrifying all at once. "What will become of you?" Twi'el asked, changing subjects.
"Ra loves a good distraction. There will be a public trial, and I will most likely be put to death for crimes against Aaru."
She said it with such a nonchalant demeanor that it took Twi'el a moment to come to grips with her statement. "Death?! Ma'at said executions were outlawed?!"
Athena smirked again, amused by Twi'el's naivety. "He's the sole power here. There are always exceptions to be made when there is no system to challenge power. The laws are for everyone else. Ra can do as he pleases. Killing me creates a spectacle, a controversy, a distraction. Ra's grip on his power comes from his ability to provide a common enemy for the public. He may not be as overtly sadistic as Anubis, or as crushingly controlling as the Archangels, but they are all cut from the same cloth. They will only ever give up their power if it is pried from their cold, dead hands."
"We won't let them do this!" Twi'el exclaimed, certain he would find a way to save Athena from this fate.
"No. Do not intervene. Your job has not changed. Find Surtr, and find out what he plans to do. Ra is using me for his own gain, but it is time I paid for what I did to Serqet. Her justice is long overdue, and we cannot flee our past forever."
He was unsure if that last line was for her or directed towards him. Perhaps it was a warning. A warning that no matter what good he could do for the world, no matter what injustices he could right, his crimes would eventually catch up to him. The slaughter at Olympus...the slaying of Seraphiel, perhaps justice was going to rear its noble, yet ugly head after all.
He hoped he could face it with the same fearlessness that Athena was able to. More importantly, he hoped that he could make a positive mark on the world before this time came.