Ishim sat on the floor of a cave. Glowing blue stones were embedded in the ceiling, illuminating the darkness. Across from him, Solra was eating a fried mushroom that was larger than his face. Solra looked up. “You’re not eating?”
“I was expecting a fight,” Ishim said and frowned. Solra tore off a piece of mushroom and offered it to him. Ishim had no choice but to accept. It tasted like dirt. “How long are we going to stay down here?”
“Until we win,” Solra said and licked his lips. “They were expecting a quick, honorable battle. We prepared for a siege. Do you think they have that many supplies?”
“They can hunt,” Ishim said. “Wouldn’t it be best to strike while they’re wounded and low on mana?” His thigh itched, and he clenched his hands.
“What are they going to hunt?” Solra asked as he picked up a wooden cup. Grey-colored liquid sloshed around inside. “We burned everything down for miles. You underestimate how flammable this is.” He tapped on the side of the cup before downing the liquid. Ishim made a face. Solra laughed. “Isn’t this what you wanted? To avenge your teacher? You just have to follow my instructions and you’ll get what you want; I wish I had it as easy as you.”
“I will follow your orders, Sir Solra,” Ishim said and bowed his head. “But I don’t understand why you didn’t deploy the hobgoblins along with the centaurs. The battle could have turned out much differently if you had.”
Solra shook his head. “You should learn more about the halflings’ cultures,” he said. “Once we win, you’re going to be living with them after all. Centaurs and hobgoblins abhor each other. It was better to send them as separate groups. And goblins are better at fighting in caves—less legs and all that.”
“But why did you send so few centaurs then?”
Solra wrinkled his nose. “You ask too many questions for a subordinate, you know?”
Ishim lowered his head and walked away under Solra’s gaze. After he left, Solra snorted and resumed eating his mushroom but not before grabbing an orb and injecting some power into it. This invention was extremely handy. He could probably maintain his zone of charity for three months at the very least.
Raea bit her lip and climbed up the side of the storage chest. She found Palan lying on top of it with his hands behind his head, staring up at the sky. Cleo was sitting beside him, counting invisible items in her invisible pouch. “Um.” Raea started. “Palan.”
Palan grunted and shifted his head to look at Raea. Two days had passed since Elrith had ordered the army to wait outside the tunnels. The general had unblocked on of the entrances and sent an occasional scout to determine the situation inside. “Elly wants you to lead a hunting expedition,” Raea said. “It’s fine if you don’t want to. I can—“
“I’ll do it.”
“—tell Elly you … eh?” Raea blinked at him. “Come again?”
“I said I’ll do it,” Palan said and licked his lips. “How many people do I get to bring?”
“Huh?” Raea’s mouth fell open. “I don’t … What even … Are you feeling okay? You weren’t hit over the head or anything during the battle, right?”
“Quit blathering,” Palan said. He ignored Cleo’s squinty-eyed gaze. She was making a humming sound while rubbing her chin, staring intensely at his face while wrinkling her nose. Palan flicked her forehead, causing her to yelp. He jumped off the storage chest and walked over to a group of angels and demons. Cleo recognized the insect-like demon from the cafeteria amongst the group.
Raea rubbed her eyes and regained control of her motor functions. “Do you think Palan is acting strange?” she asked Cleo. “He’s usually never this agreeable. I thought he would outright refuse after hearing it was Elly’s idea.” She frowned as Palan slapped an angel. “Well. It was nice while it lasted.”
“He’s cheating on you,” Cleo said and pouted. The two watched Palan’s tail eat a different angel.
“It’s obvious,” Cleo said and nodded. “He just needed an excuse to get away from you. He fell in love with one of those demons over there and wants to go hunting with them. Now that you gave him the perfect excuse, it’s not suspicious at all. How can you ruin your own chances like that? You should claim your man. Don’t let—ack!” She rubbed her forehead and puffed her cheeks out. “You’re just as violent as he is!”
Raea frowned as she withdrew her hand. She glanced at her demon in the distance. An angel knelt next to him, covered in slime. Palan did seem awfully familiar with some of those demons. Maybe Cleo was … no. Raea shook her head. “He’s not my lover,” Raea said and pinched Cleo’s cheeks, causing the orange lizardman to wail. “He’s free to do whatever he wants. If he has a lover, then that is completely fine. He always seemed so alone. I’m happy for him.” Her hands pinched tighter with every word she said, and tears spilled from Cleo’s eyes. Raea only realized what she had done after her fingers were wet with tears, and she released Cleo while apologizing.
“You’re a bully!” Cleo said and sniffled. “You’re going to lose Palan and it’s going to serve you right!” She crossed her arms and turned her head to the side. She would’ve looked a lot more imposing if she wasn’t sniffing and hiccupping.
Raea’s brow furrowed. “Maybe I should go after him,” she said. She pat Cleo’s cheeks with glowing hands. “I’m sorry, alright? I really didn’t mean to pinch you that hard.” She sighed. “I guess I was just … yeah.”
Cleo tilted her head as the pain went away. “Envy?”
“No!” Raea practically shouted, causing Cleo to flinch away. Raea slapped her cheeks and took in a deep breath. “I’m going after him.”
Cleo watched as Raea climbed off the storage chest and ran towards Palan. He had finished his negotiations with Elrith and was just beginning to depart with a group of five angels and five demons. The orange lizardman wiped away her tears and grinned before picking the lock to the storage chest and climbing inside.