Palan stood next to Raea wearing a t-shirt and long pants with a frown on his face and a metal dagger on his waist. Raea wore full silver metal armor with her arms across her chest and a halberd strapped to her back. Owen held a horse’s reins in his hands and stood in front of the duo with his eyes squinted as the first sun rose and shone in his eyes.
“What is this?” Palan asked as he stared at the horse. It shuddered and hid behind Owen’s back.
“A horse,” Raea said.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You are not supposed to eat a horse,” Raea said and pinched Palan’s arm, causing him to jump and scowl at her. “It is a mount.”
Palan raised an eyebrow as he rubbed his arm. “You want me to ride this thing?” he asked. “Its legs are thinner than a cactus needle. I refuse.”
“Is the poor little demon baby scared?” Owen asked and tilted his head.
“Don’t make me break your nose again, old man,” Palan said and narrowed his eyes. “I’ll gladly get struck by lightning to see you cry.”
“Stop bickering, you two,” Raea said and stepped forward while holding out her hand. Owen passed her the reins and went back to the stables while Raea smiled at the horse as she pat its forehead. “We’re going to be doing a lot of traveling to get to the lizardmen’s camp.”
“That’s fine,” Palan said and nodded. Owen came back, leading another horse by its reins.
“So you will ride the horse?”
“No. I’ll run.”
“You think you can travel more efficiently than a horse?” Owen asked. He turned to Raea. “Are you sure his sin is pride and not stupidity?”
“One day, I’m going to castrate you while you sleep,” Palan said and crossed his arms.
Owen nodded. “I am starting to think that no one has ever formed a contract with a pride demon, not because they were too strong to be subdued, but because their personalities were so insufferable that the angels killed themselves before they could succeed.”
Palan traced his finger along his dagger’s edge as he bared his teeth. “I see you don’t want kids.”
“Palan,” Raea said and sighed. “Please stop being so difficult.”
“I’m not being difficult. It’s you two who are being difficult,” Palan said and gnashed his teeth together. “Quit trying to cripple my mobility by making me ride your rations.” He stomped his foot towards the horse, causing it to neigh and duck behind Raea’s back.
Raea bit her lip. Owen put his hand on her shoulder. “Just leave him be, Lady Raea,” he said. “He can find out the hard way when he gets zapped by lightning because he was running too slowly. We should stop wasting time and head to the gathering point.”
Raea nodded and turned her head towards Palan. “If you get tired, let me know and I will let you ride with me,” she said. “Try not to overexert yourself because of your pride.” The two angels mounted their horses while Palan yawned and stretched out his leg.
The three headed south towards their meeting point with Palan easily keeping pace. After fifteen minutes, they reached the southern gate. All the soldiers from last night were already standing in four rows of ten with their horses next to them while a muzzled wolf lay on its stomach next to the gate. Raea pulled on her horse’s reins causing it to slow to a halt. “All of you are early.”
One of the soldiers standing in the front row saluted. “Captain Ishim is very strict,” he said. “Anyone that is late gets punished. You must be ten minutes early to be on time, and being on time means you are late.”
Raea frowned. “I see,” she said. “Since we are all here, we can prepare to depart. I want to reach the third outpost before the suns set tonight.”
The wolf’s ear perked up and it raised its head. It scrambled to its feet when it saw Palan and wagged its tail. Its metal leash rattled as it strained against it. Palan pretended not to notice and looked the other way. “Palan,” Raea said as the group approached the gate. “Are you not going to greet your companion?”
“Companion?” Palan asked and turned his head. “Never seen it before.” The wolf scratched at the ground and whimpered.
“Are you sure…?” Raea asked and furrowed her brow. “It defended you quite earnestly while we were trying to bring you back.”
“Clearly it failed at that,” Palan said. “Just leave it.”
“That would be cruel,” Raea said and dismounted. She walked over to the wolf and unclipped its leash. It dashed towards Palan before lowering its head and whining through its muzzle. “Does it have a name?”
“Emergency Victuals,” Palan said and stripped its muzzle off. He pat the wolf’s snout and whispered in its ear, “You see that grumpy looking man over there? Go bite him in between his legs for me when you get the chance.” The wolf snarled and snapped its jaws as it glanced at Owen. Palan nodded and stood up.
Raea frowned. “Palan…”
“Weren’t we setting off?” Palan asked and smiled. “What’s the holdup?”
Raea sighed and shook her head. “Forwards!” she said and raised one arm. The squadron of angels and one demon and his wolf, following behind, dashed out of the gate as the second sun began to rise. They proceeded down a straight dirt road with trees surrounding them on both sides. Tree trunks could be seen on the sides of the road with a few wheelbarrows filled with dirt nearby. A wooden structure with a gate and wooden walls came into view after two hours of travel. The group stopped outside the outpost as an angel peered out of a watchtower.
“I am Lieutenant Raea,” Raea said as she raised her head towards the watchtower. “I am leading an expedition against the lizardmen’s camp under Captain Ishim’s orders.” The angel in the watchtower frowned before signaling towards the ground. Moments later, the gates moved, leaving marks in the ground as they creaked open.
“I thought it was supposed to take longer to reach the first outpost,” Raea said to Owen as their horses crossed through the gate. “The first sun has not reached its zenith yet.”
“I think your contracted demon can take credit for that,” Owen said as he pat his panting horse. “Our horses must have been terrified because he chased us the whole way here with a wolf. They probably feel greatly threatened by him.”
Palan opened his mouth and yawned as he sauntered through the gate. He scratched his head and glared at a horse that was shying away from him. He snapped his jaws at it. “What’re you looking at?” The horse neighed and skittered away, crashing into another horse. “Stupid hornless goats.”
“Palan,” Raea said and brought her horse in front of her contracted demon. “From now on, when we travel, you will accompany me on my horse. That is an order. We cannot afford to have our horses collapse from exhaustion brought on by terror.”
“You’re the one who freed the wolf,” Palan said and snorted. Thunder rumbled overhead and Palan sighed. “I’ll ride your stupid goat; there were a few questions I wanted to ask you anyway.” He grabbed onto Raea’s shoulders and used her body to help swing himself onto her horse.
“We depart after our horses have their fill of water,” Raea said aloud to her troop before leading her horse towards another gate on the southern end of the outpost. Two guards watched the group of roughly forty angels, followed by a wolf, walk past them before they glanced at each other.
The two angels pressed their shoulders against the just-opened gate and grunted as they closed it before placing down a metal latch. One angel wiped his brow and asked the angel next to him, “That new lieutenant said she was going to subdue the lizardmen?”
“Looks like it,” the other angel said. “She must have gotten on Captain Ishim’s bad side. What a shame.”
The other angel grunted as the two watched Raea’s group move further away. “She contracted a demon though. She might survive.”
“Anyone can contract a demon if they have enough essence stones,” the other angel said and shook his head. “Contracting doesn’t mean anything.”
“Hmm. I think your envy is showing again. Keep it up and Ishim will place you in the second outpost before you know it.”