Raea lay on her back, gasping as she stared up at the ceiling that had multiple holes in it. The lightning had broken through the roof to strike Palan during their training session. Luckily they were on the highest floor or the damage to the building would’ve been greater. She turned her head to the side, causing her to wince. Her body hurt all over. “How do you feel?” she asked.
Palan grunted in reply. His armor was covered in a thick layer of soot, and his left leg was twitching. He sat on the floor with his back against the wall. The door to the room opened, revealing Cleo who was carrying a tray of food. Her eyes widened. “You look dead,” she said to Raea and placed a bowl of stew next to her. She offered a bowl to Palan. “You don’t look that much better than her.”
Palan sighed and grasped the bowl with his right hand. His arm trembled as he brought the bowl to his nose. He sniffed it before drinking the contents in one gulp. His body spasmed as dropped the bowl and stood up, walking over to Raea. He squat next to her and placed his hand on her forehead, causing her to tremble. “Don’t move,” he said and inhaled. She smelled like smoke and burnt hair. His hand glowed white, and Raea gasped as her body shivered. She let out a groan as her eyes closed, a faint smile appearing on her lips.
After a few minutes, Palan removed his hand and frowned. “That was easy,” he said and stared at his fingers. He wiggled them in the air before clenching them into a fist.
Raea sat up and beamed at him. “Your turn,” she said and tackled him, knocking him over. She laughed and placed her glowing hand on his chest. His body lay still as the white energy coursed through him, removing the jitters while repairing any internal injuries he may have suffered from the lightning. After he was healed, she sat up and said, “You know, I wouldn’t have minded so much if I knew you could heal me afterwards. But can we never do this again?”
Palan sat up and stared at her. His hand flashed, stretching towards Raea’s neck. She instantly leaned back and smacked his forearm with her hand, deflecting his strike. Palan nodded. “At least you’re not closing your eyes anymore,” he said.
Raea pouted. “I have had official training before, you know?” she asked. “Just not with someone as … violent as you.”
“What about you, Palan?” Cleo asked as she sipped on her own stew. “Raea improved, right? Did you?”
“Barely,” he said recalling Raea’s defense comprised of glowing white chains. He had to maneuver his tail properly to deflect them. There was no space to run around them in the small bedroom.
The door swung open with a bang. Elrith entered the room and creased his brow. “What happened here?” he asked. Wooden splinters littered the ground, sunlight streamed in through the holes in the ceiling, and the majority of the furniture in the room lay in pieces. After he was rudely thrown out by Palan, he went to his own residence and came back to inspect the source of lightning.
Cleo blinked and continued to eat her stew with noisy slurps as Raea and Palan stood up while dusting their armor off. “We were training,” Raea said and pursed her lips.
“Training,” Elrith repeated. He kicked away a block of wood, revealing the cracked floor beneath. He paused and furrowed his brow before looking up at Raea. Her stomach sank when she saw his expression. He spoke in a soft voice, “I wrote a letter to Mom and Dad.”
Raea’s heart pounded in her chest. Her eyes narrowed, and she shifted her weight from one foot to another. “About what?” she asked. The skin around her chest prickled as a wave of heat washed through her body. She lowered her head.
“You,” Elrith said. “I told them everything: your new appearance, your personality switch, your contract with”—his nose wrinkled as he looked at Palan—“that.” Raea’s eyes grew wet, and Elrith took a step forward. “Mom and Dad can help you. They’ll find a way to turn you back. I didn’t know what else to do, Ray. You just changed so much.”
“Why?” Raea asked as a tear fell from her eye. She raised her head. “Do you think Dad would accept me like this? Do you think Mom would? Or Nina? Or Sely?” Her voice raised as her vision blurred. “You can’t even look at me without flinching! That’s right. I’m a monster! Just tell everyone, why don’t you!?”
“Rayray,” Elrith said, his voice barely above a whisper. He reached forward to embrace his sister. “That’s not true. They care about you. They’ll want to help.” Raea took a step to the side before Elrith could reach her.
“You’re wrong!” Raea screamed. “You’re wrong!” She sobbed and choked out her words. “You’re wrong…” Her body trembled as she glared at Elrith and took a step behind Palan.
Elrith furrowed his brow and winced underneath his sister’s gaze. “I genuinely care about you, Ray. Please, just work with me. I want to help you.” He lowered his arms and sighed. Messy slurping interrupted his train of thought as Cleo stared at him with her lips on the bowl of stew. “Look. I already sent the letter. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first, but I really do want what’s best for you.”
Palan crossed his arms over his chest. Danger Noodle raised its body and stared at Elrith, poised to strike. “Where were you when Raea was exiled?” he asked and narrowed his eyes. Raea grabbed onto his arm and sniffed while wiping her nose with the back of her hand. Elrith responded by clenching his hands and gritting his teeth. “And you say you care?”
“What would you know?” Elrith asked, practically growling at Palan. “You’re just a filthy demon. Everything that’s happened to Raea is your fault. Would she be like this if you weren’t here?” His words were belligerent, but he took no action, choosing to glare at Palan instead.
“No. She’d probably be dead,” Palan said, unintimidated. “Your family threw her away”—Raea flinched and tightened her grip on Palan’s arm—“how can you say they care about her? At least demons don’t try to pretend to be righteous after abandoning their children.”
“We didn’t throw her away,” Elrith said. “We saved her. We had to send her away or she would’ve been executed. Our Mother sacrificed her position to prevent Raea from being killed.” He spoke in a level voice, afraid of startling Raea and causing another outburst.
“Pathetic,” Palan said and snorted. “Get out of here. Raea obviously doesn’t want to see you right now.” He glanced at Raea, who nodded her head once.
“How is that pathetic?” Elrith asked and took a step forward. “It was all we could do to prevent her from being killed. What would you have done?” He straightened his back and glared at Palan. It would’ve been more intimidating if Palan wasn’t taller and bulkier than he was.
“Why didn’t you leave the capital with her?” Palan asked. Elrith’s eyes widened, causing his face to soften. Palan grabbed his shoulder and tossed him outside the room in the same fashion as earlier that day. Cleo hopped off the bed and closed the door, placing her empty bowl on top of Palan’s discarded one.
Raea whispered, “Thank you.” Palan grunted in reply as her tears slid down his arm.