Selena stood over a twenty-meter deep hole in the ground. She wore a simple brown robe with no pockets. Her silver hair was matted and disheveled. Most of it was hidden underneath her robe. She let out a sigh and wiped her forehead with the back of her sleeve. She gazed down the hole and wondered why she was doing this. She had ridden a horse for over twenty hours and ended up in the middle of nowhere digging holes in the ground. As one of the respected teachers at Hailing Academy, she had volunteered to come to the borderlands when the capital asked for angels of diligence, hoping she’d be able to see her brother and sister who were sent out here: one as a general, one as a sinner.
The first rays of sunlight were beginning to peek over the treetops. Behind her, the wall to the checkpoint started to shine with a red light as the rays touched its base. A voice reached Selena’s ears causing her to turn her head to the side. “Did you find anything over there?”
Selena shook her head and frowned at the armored angel who just spoke. He had already directed his attention towards another angel beside him. There were six other angels dressed in brown robes similar to Selena, each manipulating the earth beneath their feet. Selena cracked her neck and raised her arms. The mound of dirt by the entrance of the hole rolled into the pit by her feet, filling it completely. She crouched down and drew an ‘X’ over the spot before standing and walking ten steps over to the right. Glancing at the bossy angel one more time, she started to dig into the ground.
The armored angel walked towards the wall, unequipped the lance on his back, and leaned against the wall, propping his lance up beside him. He glared at the seven angels dressed in brown robes and frowned. Over thirty ‘X’s decorated the ground beside him in a zigzagging pattern. If Michael were here, he would recognize the angel as the captain who greeted them at the checkpoint. The first sun rose over the treetops and shone in his eyes. He squinted and grumbled as he adjusted the visor on his helmet to block out the light. A yawn escaped from his lips as he rubbed his eyes.
Ever since Lieutenant Raea showed up at his checkpoint gate, things had been hectic. She was a Caelum who defended the rights of her demon and halfling. He had refused to let the direwolf she brought along inside and kicked it out, afraid it would eat the chickens they were raising. The lizardman was the only one who complained; her demon had just smiled at him. It had unsettled him, and he avoided the lieutenant for the rest of her stay. Then the Stormbringer arrived. He was still in awe of meeting a living legend, but that admiration had dimmed when the Tyrant followed soon after. More events had happened in that short month than he had experienced in the five years he was stationed here.
The captain wet his lips and glanced at the seven angels. They were angels of diligence, so it wasn’t really necessary for him to watch over them. He was here just in case something bad happened. After the Tyrant passed through the gates, he couldn’t shake the feeling of an impending calamity. Some nights, he would wake up screaming in a cold sweat. Was the rebel army so strong that two generals were needed to stop them?
He was woken in the middle of the night yesterday by these seven angels. They had come from the first sector riding their horses into the ground. They had handed him a letter, and now he was here—watching over them as they dug holes in the ground. He was told another group of angels would be coming shortly to aid them. They were looking for tunnels. Apparently, hundreds of angels were sent to all the gates along the checkpoint. All the patrols were working overtime, in case halflings decided to attack the angels while they were digging. The captain peered into the woods. He had sent his patrols out over four hours ago. Someone should’ve been back by now to give him a report. There was a sinking feeling in his chest. Just three more years, he told himself. Three more years and you can retire.
Palan stomped through the forest, openly challenging any wildlife to come attack him. His tail left behind a wake of destruction, smashing trees to the side for no reason other than because he could. The sun was behind him as he walked. He had no idea where he was going, and he didn’t particularly care. He had been hoping to find something to kill, but the surrounding region was devoid of wildlife due to the fire, so he walked until he reached trees that weren’t dead.
He thought back to Raea’s face when she ordered him to stop lying to her. He knew he was being hypocritical, expecting her to always be truthful with him while he deceived her. But he had his reasons. The sounds of metal clanking and crunching leaves caught his attention. Thoughts of Raea disappeared from his mind as his tail coiled around his body. He climbed up a tree, causing the top to slightly dip downwards. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but he had gotten a lot heavier ever since he evolved with his tail weighing as much as a boulder or two.
Soon, a group of six angels came into view. Their lances were out and they stood in a triangular formation with their backs touching. “You see anything?” one of the angels at the corner of the formation asked.
The angel who was in the lead wet his lips as his gaze scanned the surrounding forest. “Lots of fallen trees. It looks like a group of bears were wrestling with each other,” he said. His gaze landed on the sagging tree. “Above us!”
All the angels looked up and saw Palan pouncing towards them. He was dressed in black armor that looked dull in the sunlight. The angel in front raised his lance. It glowed with a blue light and lightning snaked around it. However, Palan ignored the lightning and batted the lance aside with the back of his hand. It barely tingled. The angel stared with wide eyes as the lance flew out of his arms. “G-greater demon!” he said. He reached behind his back, but Palan seized him by the throat and used him as a club to stun the other angels. One angel fell out of formation and pulled an orb out of his bag. Blades of wind shot out of it, crashing against Palan’s armor. The metal cracked and was split apart in multiple areas, causing blood to flow down Palan’s body.
Palan frowned and threw the angel in his hand towards the orb, knocking it away. From there, it was easy, and the angels were dispatched by Danger Noodle slamming against their heads. Palan crouched by their bodies and tore off one’s armor. He tore out the corpse’s heart and chomped on it. Moments later, he spat it out. “Six regular angels,” he said and snorted, wiping the blood off his lips.
“They’re still food, you know?”
His body whirled around. No one was there. He looked up and saw a familiar bundle floating in the air. “Tara,” Palan said. How was she always able to sneak up on him? His electromagnetic sense allowed him to feel the heartbeats of nearby creatures, but it never worked on Tara. Like her heart wasn’t beating.
“You remembered me,” Tara said as the blanket unraveled, revealing the sloth demon. “I noticed you killed Uzziel. It was quite disorienting to lose my sense of smell. But that other thing, did you get what I asked for?”
Palan reached into his bag and pulled out a lump wrapped in a bloody cloth. It was the heart of the greater demon that died at the hunting party. He tossed it to Tara. It floated in the air and drifted into Tara’s hands. “And as promised, I’ll leave your precious angel alone,” she said and smiled at him.
“How did you find me?” Palan asked.
“Coincidence,” Tara said. “There’s a large number of patrols going around. Some angels found me sleeping in a cave.”
“Poor bastards,” Palan said.
Tara snorted. “Like you have any right to say that,” she said and glanced at the dead angels by his feet. “So you’re a greater demon now?” She licked her lips. “You want to try getting revenge right now?” Palan frowned as he stared at the demon hovering in the air. He raised his hand and tried to use Raea’s chains, but it seemed like he was too far away from Raea. “Well, I don’t feel like fighting today,” Tara said and ate the demon heart in her hands. “Bye.” She rose higher into the air and flew far towards the north out of Palan’s view.