Chapter 123

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“How about some food?” Cleo asked and pulled a piece of smoked meat out of her invisible pouch. It was a boar’s hind leg that was as big as her head. “You always get grumpy when you’re hungry.”

“I do not!” Raea said as she took the drumstick out of Cleo’s hand. The orange lizardman smirked and turned to Palan.

“Want one?” she asked and pulled out another drumstick.

“I already ate,” Palan said, recalling the dead angel and demon he ate two days ago. “Still digesting.”

“Like a proper Danger Noodle,” Cleo said and nodded as she bit into the drumstick. She blinked her eyes at Raea who was staring at her. The angel had already finished her portion, and the boar’s bone lay on the ground beside her. “You want another one…?” Raea nodded and Cleo tossed her another piece of meat.

“Are you the reason why we had to go hunting?” Raea asked and furrowed her brow. The meat was cooked in the same style as their lunches had been.

“Uh, no comment,” Cleo said. “And it’s not like I’m the only one. You two are just as guilty as me! You think they always give such large portions?” She grinned. “If you rat me out, you’re ratting yourself out as well.”

“So that’s what you meant by partner in crime,” Raea said with a frown. She couldn’t resist taking a bite out of the smoked ham in front of herself though.

“Huh? No, that was something else,” Cleo said and nodded at Raea before smiling up at Palan. “Did you know that when a lizardman is pregnant, her mood changes a lot and she craves food?”

“I’m not pregnant! Nor a lizardman!” Raea said and tore a chunk of flesh off her meal. She devoured it within seconds with a furrowed brow. “I already told you nothing happened between me and Palan.” She exhaled through her nose as she tossed aside another bone.

Cleo blinked and whispered to Palan, “I think we should really stop teasing her.” Her eyes shifted towards Raea before focusing on Palan again. “Maybe she’d like it if you teased her instead.”

“Out!” Raea shouted. Her face was bright red. “Both of you!”

Cleo scrambled up Palan’s back. “Aren’t you supposed to be patient?” she asked while peeking over his shoulder. She stored the drumstick and pulled out a bag. “Do you want a cookie? I have cookies.”

Raea buried her face into her hands. She walked around Palan, not looking up, and crawled into her bed. She curled up into a ball and bundled the blanket over herself, covering her pillow as well. Cleo’s tail swished back and forth. “I think you broke her.”

Palan shrugged and sat down beside the bundle. Cleo slid off his back and stripped Palan’s tail of its armor. She wrapped Danger Noodle around herself until only her head stuck out. She yawned as her eyes drooped. “I stayed up two days waiting for you, you know? It’s not fair to leave me behind like that.” Her eyes closed and she started to snore.

Palan frowned. Cleo wasn’t the only person he left behind. He wondered how Andrea was doing and sighed. A voice came from underneath the blanket. “Are you thinking about your sister?” Raea asked. Palan didn’t reply. “You haven’t been here that long. I hope she’s alright. Your world sounds awfully dangerous.” Piles of armor flew out from underneath the blanket as Raea made herself more comfortable. Palan kept his on.

“She’s fine,” Palan said and crossed his legs and arms. “She’s much more adept at survival than you’ll ever be.”

“Hey,” Raea said. Her face was still hidden by the blanket. “I’m still alive, aren’t I?”

“You almost survived to adulthood, congratulations,” Palan said. “Cleo’s already done that.”

“That’s not fair,” Raea said. “Lizardmen mature earlier than angels.” Palan grunted. Silence pervaded the room. The occasional sound of laughter or metal clinking would come from outside the tent. Palan saw bonfires being lit with Danger Noodle’s heat vision. The first sun had set a while ago, and the second was still barely over the horizon. Cleo’s soft snores rang through Palan’s ears.

“Palan?” Raea asked and pulled the blanket off of her head. Her brow was furrowed. “Are you awake?” Palan turned his head and looked into Raea’s eyes. His eyes seemed to shine in the dimly lit tent. “I … No … Thank you,” she said and turned over, pulling the blanket over her head again. Her heart rate increased, and she could hear the blood rushing through her ears. Palan frowned. One day, he’d have to kill Sariel and return to his sister. His stomach felt heavy as he looked at the blanket Raea was under.

***

The next day, Michael’s voice echoed over the field of soldiers. “Everyone up! The capital has ordered us to withdraw!”

Raea groaned and stirred. Her head popped out from beneath the blanket. “What’s going on?” she asked. Palan was already standing, putting armor onto Danger Noodle. Cleo was rubbing her eyes and yawning.

“The bald man said something about withdrawing,” Palan said. Raea shook her head and smoothed down her hair with her hands before crawling out of bed. She dressed herself and equipped her armor. The trio walked outside and froze. The army was bustling and forming into ranks, facing the tunnels where the goblins had retreated into.

“Weren’t we retreating?” Raea asked. She saw Owen and his squadron of captured soldiers at the head of the army. A goblin with a metal collar around its neck walked over with a folded up tent in its arms. Raea stopped it. “Why are they gathering like that?”

The goblin blinked at her before rapidly shaking its head. “I’m just a slave. Please don’t kill me, ma’am.” Raea pursed her lips as the goblin scurried away. She saw Michael heading towards them and saluted.

“You and Palan will stay back here with the other medics,” Michael said.

“What was the talk about retreating then?” Raea asked.

“The capital ordered us to confirm whether or not the enemy has dwarves on their side at once,” Michael said. “The announcement was to throw Solra’s army off guard. We don’t have time to besiege them if they’re truly advancing towards the capital through dwarven tunnels.” He glanced at Palan. “I’m trusting you to at least watch over Raea.”

Palan snorted. His arms were crossed over his chest. “If you lose, I’m leaving and taking her with me.”

Michael nodded. “Please do,” he said and turned around, heading towards the front of the army.

Raea’s brow furrowed. “Didn’t Elrith decide it was too dangerous to enter the tunnels? Our formations mean nothing in narrow tunnels. The ceilings could collapse,” she said and turned to Palan. “My concerns are valid, right?”

Palan nodded. “I’d never chase a lizard into its nest,” he said. He sneered. “But hey, everything for the capital, right?”

“The council wouldn’t send us to die, would they?” Raea asked. Her lip trembled. She wasn’t sure if she believed herself anymore.

Palan snorted. “They execute people for throwing temper tantrums. You tell me what they will and won’t do.” Raea clenched her hands and stared at Elrith as he stood at the head of the troops—even further in front than Owen. She prayed to the Creator to keep him safe.


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