Chapter 9- Sins of the Past

Athena, Twi'el, Harut, and Asbeel followed Ma'at through the corridors of the strange palace. Amun-Ra's throne room was located on the opposite side of the large building. They finally arrived to an impressively massive set of bronze double doors.

"Ra has requested an audience with only Athena, for now." Ma'at said.

"Of course." Athena said, recognizing the manipulative tactic. Ma'at was trying to divide and conquer, knowing her companions were far more likely to divulge the information they sought to protect. "Remember what we discussed." she whispered to Harut and Twi'el. Asbeel was still too far behind the group to hear her order.

Ma'at knocked on the doors. They immediately opened, even though there were no guards nearby to open them. "He waits within." Ma'at said.

Athena marched through, somewhat unnerved by the nature of this summoning.

Ma'at turned back to the remaining trio as the doors closed behind Athena. "Twi'el, follow me please. You two wait here." she said referring to Asbeel and Harut. Ra will summon you when he is done speaking with Athena."

Twi'el shot a look to Asbeel and Harut who shared the same concern. Dividing themselves was not an ideal situation. "Sure." Twi'el said, following Ma'at as she lead him into a side room.

Asbeel and Harut were left alone standing outside the doorway. They could not hear anything within the room. They had grown accustomed to each other's company during their long journey, often finding themselves paired off as Athena and Twi'el appeared to bond with one another.

"So, that was...intense." Harut said, trying to break the tense silence between the two of them.

"I apologize, Harut. I allowed my temper to get the best of me." Asbeel said. The walk had allowed him time to collect himself and calm down after his outburst with Athena.

"No. I'm glad you finally said something. It needed to be said." Harut eagerly said back. "Athena has not been treating you well. Her judgement is lacking." Harut was referring to her obvious preference for the murderer, Twi'el.

"I don't think she is capable of loving someone." Asbeel responded with a defeated tone. "She's worked so hard to cut herself off. It is like talking to a wall most days."

"She's never been much of a conversationalist." Harut said, trying to comfort his friend.

"She blames herself for the atrocities of her past and hides many demons. I grow tired of trying to connect with her."

"Then stop trying." Harut replied in an uncharacteristically blunt moment.

"Right in this room. I have a gift for you." Ma'at said as she led Twi'el into an armory.

Twi'el found himself mesmerized by the beautiful Ma'at. Her green, piercing eyes were hypnotic, her skin was as smooth as water on an undisturbed lake, and the way the silk dress hugged the curvature of her figure had him completely off focus. He was attracted to her in a way he had never felt before. Of course there were beautiful angels within the Kingdom, but they were all bound by duty. Emotional bonds were forbidden and physical relationships were discouraged. The leadership of the Kingdom preached that every servant of the Archangels must be completely dedicated to their duty, less they lapse in focus and put the Kingdom at risk. Twi'el had essentially put such thoughts and desires out of his mind. Now that his world had been turned upside down, he was not sure how to handle such feelings.

Ma'at reached out to a shelf and pulled a strange gauntlet down. It was clenched into a fist. It had a bronze coating and was covered with carvings of strange pictures. "It's enchanted by Ra himself." she said as she reached out for Twi'el's left arm.

Instinctively, Twi'el pulled back, ashamed to let her see his disfigurement. It symbolized the monster that he was. It was a monument to all his sins.

"Do not be afraid." Ma'at said in her soothing and disarming voice. "I know what you hunt. You will need all the help you can get."

Twi'el nervously extended his arm. The black armor he wore overlapped the stump where his hand once was. Ma'at gently pulled the armor plate off of his forearm, exposing the scabbed stump. Twi'el looked away, unable to hide the shame he felt.

"You are ashamed of this?" Ma'at asked.

"Yes." Twi'el answered truthfully.

"Why?" Ma'at pressed.

"It serves as a reminder to all those that are dead because of me."

Ma'at examined the stump. She ran her fingers across it, trying to discern what type of weapon was used. "It was not a clean cut?" she asked.

"No." Twi'el said as he started breathing more heavily. He flashed back to the moment where his hand was brutally lopped off...the cold, calculated cruelty of it...the enjoyment his tormentor seemed to get from it...the memories of the moment forever haunting him.

"A scar will never heal if you re-open it every day." she said with another disarming smile. She held the end of the strange gauntlet up to the stump where Twi'el's hand once was. She ran her other hand across with her eyes closed while she mumbled something in a strange language.

Twi'el felt a burning sensation followed by a mild pain. "Ah! What are you doing!?" he said as he jerked his arm back.

The gauntlet was pulled from Ma'at's grip and remained fastened to Twi'el's arm. He looked down to see the the gauntlet now open, no longer clenched in a fist. He held the strange thing up to his eyes. To his utter amazement, he was able to control it as if it were his own hand.

"How?!" he exclaimed.

"Ra's knowledge of enchantments and curses is limitless. He created these appendages for the warriors who have lost limbs in the games with Duat. Your gauntlet is special, though."

He continued making a fist and releasing it, nearly smiling at the thought of having a hand again. "Special?" Twi'el asked, still mesmerized by his new hand.

"Yes, with this weapon, you will be able to see the true nature of your enemies." she said.

"How does that work?" he asked.

"You will know when you see it."

"Ah, Athena." A deep, grumbling voice echoed from within the chamber.

"Amun-Ra. It has been a while." she said as she approached the throne he sat upon.

"Indeed. I never expected you to return to this place."

"I am only here because I need information." Athena defiantly said. She approached the powerful leader of Aaru. He was dressed in simple cloth robes and gripped a black scepter. A tall, golden head-dress laid at his feet. His hair was a dark black, and his beard was well groomed and tied off. His wrinkled, olive skin showed his age, and his left eye was scarred and cloudy. She doubted he had the ability to see from it.

"I already know who you hunt. Nothing happens in these lands without my knowledge." Amun-Ra said in an effort to intimidate Athena.

"Then you know how urgent this matter is." Athena stated.

Ra leaned forward in his throne and stared at the defiant warrior for a moment. "We will discuss that in time. Now, you must answer for your crimes against Aaru."

Athena allowed her impatience to bubble up. "I worked for whoever the highest bidder was at the time, and your brother paid well."

"I do not care about your trivial mercenary work. I do care that you murdered one of my own."

Athena thought for a moment. Should she attempt to lie and call his bluff? Was it possible he knew what she did? He seemed to know about Surtr. Perhaps she underestimated his abilities.

"Admit to your crime. Save me the trouble of proving it in a drawn out trial."

Athena had largely blocked out the memory of her time in Aaru. Her actions were reprehensible...unforgivable. "I killed her." she said with the regret evident in her voice.

"She was a kind and harmless soul. Tell me, what trinkets were worth her life?" Ra asked in an effort to understand why Athena would commit such a heinous act.

"I do not remember what they offered me."

Athena told the truth. She was so cold and remorseless during her time as an exile. Centuries went by where she killed without feeling. The assassination of Serqet was different, though. Athena could never forget the look of betrayal in Serqet's eyes as she bled out on the cold sand in front of her. The vast majority of Athena's kills up to that point were deserving of death. Serqet was not. The assassination awoke centuries of repressed guilt, anger, and sadness within Athena. It was at that moment Athena decided to do something meaningful with the life she had. She fled Aaru, not even bothering to return to Duat to collect her payment.

"Make no mistake, the only reason I do not have you hauled off to our dungeon is due to the other urgent matter we must deal with. You will stand trial for your crime." Ra said, still leaning forward, making sure to keep his eyes locked with Athena's.

"So, what do you know of Surtr?" Athena asked, desperately trying to change the topic.

"The being you hunt is not Surtr. Not entirely, anyway. If it were Surtr's true form, we would all be dead by now."

"He slaughtered four Archangels like they were lambs. You are telling me he's even more powerful?" Athena asked, almost scared to hear the answer.

"Yes. The Fire Soul is merely a vessel....a beacon that Surtr has control of. It's powers have limitations. He is in hiding, biding his time, planning his next move."

"Do you know what he plans?!" Athena asked

"If he is in these lands, then he seeks the power of the abyss."

"Then where can we find this abyss?!" Athena said, eager to beat Surtr to the punch.

A smile crept across Amun-Ra's wrinkled face. "Underneath the city of Duat."

"Then my companions and I must go there." she responded.

"You will go nowhere. You are not to leave this palace." Amun-Ra announced.

"There are larger stakes here than our past. I will answer for my crimes, but I cannot sit by and do nothing while Surtr threatens us all." she pleaded to Ra.

"I have made my decision. Your companions and Ma'at will go. I have already sent a messenger to Duat's leaders announcing their arrival."

"This is ridiculous!" Athena shouted.

Amun-Ra raised his arm. Athena found herself floating off the ground, being pulled towards the throne. She fought to free herself from this strange grip, but her efforts were futile. Amun-Ra held her in place inches away from his face. She was close enough that she could feel his his breath.

"Consider yourself lucky that I do not simply execute you here. I would be happy to have you rot in the dungeon until your trial, if you so choose."

He released her, dropping her to the floor. The agile warrior managed to catch herself on one knee, but kept her eyes glued to the ground in a rare moment of submission. "Can I speak with them before they go?" she asked.

"They leave at sunrise tomorrow. You will have until then to provide them the information they will need."