“Over here…Another one. Looks like the head was cut off cleanly.”

Asbeel looked over the charred body, hoping to find any clue that could lead them closer to the Fire Soul. After nearly a year of scouring the lands for signs of activity, they were finally tipped off to the decimated settlement. They arrived to a horrific scene. A village that was burned to the ground without a single survivor to tell the tale. The corpses were charred beyond recognition for the most part.

“Why would he attack a settlement that posed no threat?” Athena wondered aloud.

The former exile found herself disgusted at the senseless slaughter of these defenseless villagers. She passed through this settlement many years ago during her exile. They had no warriors. It was a peaceful group of outcasts doing their best to survive in a harsh land. Athena had a sixth sense whenever she met someone new. She could usually tell what someone was capable of after a brief interaction. When she met the mortal, Edward, in the Forest of Eden, she never sensed he was capable of something this horrific.

“This primordial must have a powerful sway over the mortal.” She said to the group.

“Or he is simply a monster.” Harut chimed in.

Harut, the former jokester of the Kingdom, was far more somber these days. The violent death of his oldest companion, Marut, in the final day of the Archangels’ reign weighed heavily on him. Not a day went by where he did not reflect on that final battle. He blamed himself, despite the insistence of his companions that it was not his blame to carry. The attempts to comfort him fell on deaf ears. It was his pride and arrogance that led him to be poisoned. Had he been of sound mind and body, Marut would not have been handicapped and forced to protect him.

“He wanted something from this village. Information. They must have known something. Why else would he do this?” Twi’el mused.

“I suppose you would know a thing or two about how such a vile being thinks.” Harut said as he glared at Twi’el.

As much as Harut held himself responsible for the death of his companion, he knew Twi’el was the true culprit. The rat bastard was the one who poisoned him after all, and he was the one who commanded the forces that landed the killing blow on Marut. The only reason he had not slit the animal’s throat in his sleep was for the simple fact that Twi’el was a far more skilled warrior than he was. Harut wanted his pound of flesh, but he was smart enough to realize that Twi’el would sniff out such an attack well before he could pull it off. Athena preached nonsense about second chances and forgiveness. The decision to bring Twi’el along on this quest definitely put her leadership into question.

“Perhaps I can show you what I’m capable of.” Twi’el threatened back.

Protégé of the Archangels, Captain of the Kingdom, next in line for the coveted Commander’s throne; these titles meant nothing to Twi’el anymore. Shame was all he felt these days. The atrocities he committed at the will of his leaders were his burden to own, but he struggled to vocalize it. Harut had every right to hate him. Twi’el could not blame him for that, but he would not simply cower to any challenge. That was not in his nature.

That was not what Seraphiel taught him.

Seraphiel…his mentor...his father-figure. Twi’el plunged a blade through the angel he loved most over petty vengeance…a simple notch on his belt…yet another achievement he could flaunt to the Archangels in his bid for the Commander’s throne. Ambition and rage were the only thoughts that consumed him. Ambition for a position that no longer mattered. Ambition to impress a bunch of dead Archangels. Twi’el failed Seraphiel in every way, and he was reminded of this every day by Harut.

“Try it, murderer!” Harut shouted back.

“Enough, you two!” Asbeel shouted, rolling his eyes.

Asbeel and Athena spent far too much of their time diffusing the tension between those two. The pyromancer often wondered what Athena’s logic was in bringing Twi’el along on this journey. He was an unknown. Though he swore he no longer held loyalty to the deceased Archangels, there was no way for anyone to be sure. On top of that, Asbeel’s relationship with Athena was rather strained as well. She was a difficult person to care for, always keeping herself guarded. Their physical connection was great, but they struggled to connect beyond a surface level. The only time Asbeel managed to breakthrough to her was when they believed their time was limited in the weeks leading up to the battle of the Kingdom. Though he was a patient angel, his willingness to wait for her to open up to him was fading with every day that passed. The habits of a former exile were hard to break.

“I would venture to guess someone in Aaru knows.” Athena finally chimed in.

“Aaru?” Asbeel asked.

“One of the two major cities nearby. Whatever the primordial is looking for, Aaru’s leader, Amun-Ra, would at least know where to start.”

Athena, the exile once known as Aphrodite of Olympus, was also growing impatient with Harut and Twi’el. She was questioning her own judgement in bringing Twi’el along. He was indeed a phenomenal warrior, and his instincts rivaled hers, but the tension it created with Harut was more difficult to deal with than she anticipated. The stress from those two mixed in with Asbeel’s incessant need to pry into her past life was wearing thin on her. Asbeel was a kind soul. He was caring, brave, and everything one would hope for in a partner. He just wanted more than she was willing to give. They had a task to focus on. Now was not the time to get caught up in the past. Now was not the time to share pointless stories of their emotional strife. Perhaps allowing someone as close to her as she allowed Asbeel was a mistake. There was so much more buried in her past that she did not wish him to know. The unsavory tasks she completed in the name of survival as an exile would most likely cause Asbeel to think differently of her.

“I assume you’ve been there before?” Twi’el asked.

“Yes.” Athena responded with hesitation. “Aaru can be a dangerous place. We will need to tread with caution.”

“What of this second city?” Harut asked, trying to take his focus off of Twi’el.

Athena paused for a moment before answering. “Let us hope our answers lie within Aaru. The other city is one I do not wish to find myself in again.”