“My sister’s a glutton. When she was born, I fed her five full pouches of goat milk before she went to sleep, only to have her wake up an hour later begging for more food,” Palan sighed and shook his head. “Do you know how difficult it is to get enough goat milk to support a glutton when you’re only ten years old?”
“Your parents did not help?” Raea asked and tilted her head.
“My mom died during childbirth and my dad was too scared of his own shadow to leave the house,” Palan said. “I raised her by myself, fed her at least ten beasts a day until I was able to hunt the larger ones.”
“I see. My condolences,” Raea said. “I—”
“No need. They deserved what they got,” Palan said. “It’s quite normal for people to be raised as orphans or slaves where I’m from.”
Raea frowned. “That sounds terrible,” she said.
Palan tried to shrug, but the chains on his body prevented him from doing so. “You get used to it,” he said. “It’s every man for himself.”
“But you took care of your sister,” Raea said and combed her hair behind her ear, “even under that toxic environment.”
“I know. Where’s my medal?” Palan asked and snorted. “I couldn’t just abandon her.”
“Why not?” Raea asked. “I thought you said it was every man for himself. No one would have blamed you if you did.”
Palan fell silent. “Maybe it was my pride,” he said after a while. “I wanted to show my dad that I was better than him.”
Raea shook her head. “I think it was your compassion that compelled you to help your sister,” she said.
Palan laughed and opened his mouth, showing Raea his serrated teeth. “You think these were made for compassion?” he asked and narrowed his eyes. “Demons don’t have compassion. The ones who do are taken advantage of and killed off.”
Raea shuddered and Palan faced his head back towards the ceiling. Raea lowered her head and said, “I still believe there is some good in you. Everyone has a virtue, no matter how small—even demons.”
“You wouldn’t last a day in my world,” Palan said and clenched his hands into fists. He sighed. “Since you saved my life, I guess I should give you a warning. That angel who came in earlier, he’s going to kill you if you don’t kill him first. Consider my debt repaid.” Palan turned his head away from Raea.
“Captain Ishim? He would not go that far,” Raea said and raised an eyebrow. “He can be a bit overbearing with his sense of duty at times, but he is still an angel. Murder is not an option for him.”
Palan didn’t respond. There was a knock on the door to the cell. Moments later it creaked open, revealing Owen’s face. “Lady Raea?”
“I am here,” Raea said and turned her head.
“Why are you dressed like that?” Owen asked and tilted his head. “Wait, no. More importantly, I wanted to ask you if you did anything to offend Captain Ishim. He has issued an expedition against the lizardmen to the south and ordered you to head it.”
“Has he?” Raea asked and frowned.
“Yes,” Owen said. “We are to leave first thing in the morning tomorrow. I will gather the necessary soldiers and supplies. Rest assured.”
“Then I will leave it to you,” Raea said and smiled. “There are a few more things I would like to discuss with Palan before I leave.”
“Yes,” Raea said and nodded at the silent demon.
Owen frowned. “Lady Raea, I hope you are not considering forming a contract with him,” he said. “It would be unbecoming of an angel of your status.”
“My status disappeared when my father sent me here,” Raea said. “You do not need to worry about me.”
“I understand,” Owen said and lowered his head. “Excuse me.” He straightened his back and closed the door on his way out.
Raea turned her head back towards Palan, who was still looking away from her. “Tomorrow I will have to leave this fort,” she said.
“I’m not deaf.”
“I will not be able to protect you from Ishim.”
Palan rolled his head over to face Raea. “Then free me or kill me and get it over with already.”
“I cannot. I—”
“Then why did you save me?” Palan asked and bared his teeth. “What do you want from me? My sister’s waiting for me to return. I don’t have time to be locked up here because a girl thought she was doing me a favor.”
Raea bit her lip. She rummaged through a leather sack by her waist and pulled out a silver orb. “This orb,” she said and held it out towards Palan’s face. “Where did you get it?”
“I found it on the road, by a golden carriage.”
“Were there wolf corpses and skeletons there?”
Palan nodded. “What is it?”
“This really is Lady Menyel’s orb then. This orb is a magical conduit given only to angels with heavenly virtues, untainted by any sin,” Raea said and sighed. “I always wanted one of these.”
Raea stroked the orb before placing it back in the leather pouch. She nodded at Palan. “Why are you here?”
“You brought me here and chained me up.”
“A demon is always accompanied by an angel. I considered the possibility that you were Lady Menyel’s contracted demon, but it seems like that is not the case,” Raea said and leaned forward. “How did you get to this world?”
“One moment I was with my sister. Then I stepped onto a strange platform and the next moment I was in front of that carriage. After I picked up that orb, I stumbled upon the beast when I started exploring.”
Raea frowned. “Is that true?”
“Would I say it if it wasn’t?”
Raea lowered her head and furrowed her brow. “Maybe Lady Menyel performed the summoning ritual while she was under attack,” she murmured, “and you arrived after she was killed.” She sighed and sat up straight.
“I cannot let you free if you do not have a contractor,” Raea said. “I can offer you two options: you can stay here and let Captain Ishim have his way with you or you can become my contracted demon and wait until I return to the capital so I can send you back home.”
Palan narrowed his eyes. “What is a contracted demon?”
“A contracted demon has to listen to their angel’s orders, but, in return, they absorb some of the angel’s powers and grow stronger.”
“For how long?”
“The contract lasts until both parties agree to end it. Of course, it can only be formed if both parties are willing.”
“Can you make me do things that I don’t want to?”
“I cannot make you harm yourself.”
Palan frowned. “I suppose you’re a better choice than Ishim,” he said. Raea’s eyes lit up. “Don’t be mistaken. Under normal circumstances, I’d defy Ishim until he killed me. I’m not swallowing my pride for you; I’m doing this for my sister.”
“So you are willing to form a contract with me?”
Palan sighed and gnashed his teeth. The bedsheet tore underneath his fingers. “Yes.”
“Great,” Raea said and smiled. She freed Palan’s right arm and stuck her hand out.
“I’m not a dog.”
“This is how we form the contract, unless you want to go through the whole wrist slitting and blood exchanging ritual.”
“Just shake my hand.”
Palan sighed and grasped Raea’s hand. A golden light enveloped their hands and golden etchings appeared on both their foreheads before fading away. Raea grinned and sat back in her chair. She squealed.
“You seem awfully happy,” Palan said and frowned. He tried to tear off the remaining chains with his free arm to no avail.
“Of course,” Raea said as she started to unfetter Palan. “There’s never been a case where a pride demon submitted to a contract. Now there is! Aren’t I amazing?”
Palan raised an eyebrow. “Even your manner of speech has changed…”
Raea flung away the last of Palan’s restraints and stuck her tongue out as she skipped towards the door. “Let’s go. You’re stuck with me now. No backsies.”