Palan left the building and looked up at the sky. Not much time had passed. He avoided any nearby angels as he maneuvered his way back to where Raea was dueling with Justitia. Cleo’s eyes lit up when she saw him, and she dashed over to him. A crowd of angels had gathered around the two, and Cleo was too short to see any of the fighting.
“Who’s winning?” Palan asked Cleo as she crawled up his back and propped her head onto his shoulder.
“I don’t know,” Cleo said and puffed her cheeks out. “Owen kicked me out.” She smiled and swished her tail as she patted her bag. “I did receive a lot of donations though.”
Palan nodded and stepped towards the crowd, using his body to shove his way through. A few angels protested and threatened him, but he ignored them as he made his way to the front. Sweat was pouring from Justitia’s forehead, but Raea wasn’t even breathing heavy.
“Your stamina’s pretty good,” Justitia said, catching her breath while leveling her lance towards Raea.
“Thank you,” Raea said and charged forward, raising her halberd into the air. Justitia exhaled and stabbed forward with her lance, aiming for the blade of the halberd. She deflected Raea’s strike and rammed into Raea’s chest using her shoulder, knocking Raea off balance. Justitia followed up by jabbing the butt of her lance into Raea’s gut before leaping out of striking distance. Raea grunted and hunched over but kept her hold on her halberd.
Justitia’s eyes narrowed. “It feels like I’m fighting a demon,” she said and wiped away a bead of sweat that was threatening to fall into her eyes. “You’re not using any powers?”
Raea shook her head and straightened her back while exhaling. Even though her strength and stamina was greater than her opponent, Justitia’s technique managed to keep her in a disadvantaged position at all times. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Palan standing with his arms across his chest. How would Palan approach this fight?
Justitia regulated her breathing while lowering her center of mass with the tip of her lance pointed at Raea’s eyes. She furrowed her brow as Raea lowered her weapon and stared up at the sky with her mouth agape. Justitia turned around and looked up, thinking there was an aerial ambush—she heard of the harpies’ assault on Elrith. There was nothing in the sky. Footsteps drew her attention back to the duel, and the edge of Raea’s halberd was flashing towards her neck. Justitia’s eyes widened as she attempted to raise her lance, but Raea kicked it away and brought the halberd to a halt before her throat.
Justitia sighed and put her lance away behind her back. “You win,” she said and snorted. “It was my fault for thinking a Caelum would fight fairly.”
Raea lowered her halberd and scratched her head. “I was suddenly inspired,” she said and glanced briefly at Palan. “But you were amazing. If I didn’t do that, then there was no way I would’ve won.”
Justitia’s lips twisted into a smile. “At least you realize that,” she said. “But you’re fine with abandoning your honor in front of this crowd?”
Raea shrugged and put her halberd back onto her back. “I’m sure I got the approval of at least one person,” she said and smiled at Palan. She grabbed Justitia’s hand and pulled her towards the log where Palan and Owen were located.
“What’s going on here?” Elrith’s voice asked. The crowd of angels parted, revealing the Tyrant’s figure. His body was caked in a layer of dirt, and woodchips were tangled in his shoulder-length hair. Raea raised her head and looked over the outpost walls. Not a single treetop could be seen. “It looks like all of you are done eating. Disperse and get to your drills.”
The surrounding angels saluted and quickly made themselves scarce. As for the soldiers who were under Michael’s command, they returned to their barracks, suddenly feeling like the bald old man wasn’t that strict of a general. Justitia wanted to flee, but Raea had held her back. Instead, she saluted Elrith as he stared back at her. “Were you bullying my sister?” Elrith asked and narrowed his eyes. “She’s been in the army for less than three months and you wanted to duel with her?”
“Stop it, Elly,” Raea said and pursed her lips while walking in front of Justitia. “She’s my friend. Why are you always bullying my friends?”
Elrith’s brow furrowed. “But—“
“No excuses,” Raea said and crossed her arms over her chest. “I want you to apologize to everyone, or I’ll never forgive you for as long as I live. I’m still mad at you for writing Dad.”
Owen’s eye twitched as he muttered, “Is that something an angel of patience should be saying?”
Elrith sighed and dug his foot into the ground. “Are you really my little sister?” he asked. “The Raea I knew was such a sweet little girl. I guess you’re going through a rebellious phase?” He glanced at Palan. “At least, I hope it’s just a phase.”
“Are you going to apologize?” Raea asked. She chewed on her inner lip while waiting for a reply.
“Fine,” Elrith said and rolled his eyes, throwing his hands up into the air. His face was expressionless as he faced Justitia. “I apologize for accusing you of bullying my little sister. Since you’re her friend, you should watch out for her. If I ever find out—“
Raea smacked his shoulder. “No threatening,” she said and wrinkled her nose. Her brow furrowed. “I just realized I never made any friends in the capital because you kept scaring them away.”
“What?” Elrith asked. “I never did any such thing.”
“Really,” Raea said, her voice flat. “Do you remember Julia from my harp school? I invited her over once, and I thought we had a great time. Then when I asked her again, she trembled and said no with tears in her eyes.” Elrith’s expression turned strange. “That was you, wasn’t it?”
“But she pulled your hair,” Elrith said with his voice trailing off. He withered under Raea’s stare and turned around while clearing his throat. “I have important general things to take care of. I’ll see you later, Ray.”
The group watched Elrith march away with his head held high and back straight. Justitia exhaled. “My image of him is ruined,” she said. “I never expected him to be so … timid? Is that the right word?”
“Whipped,” Cleo said in a high-pitched voice, “that’s the word you’re looking for.”