The next day, Selena got out of bed at sunrise. The checkpoint provided lodgings for the seven angels of discipline. Her room contained a bed, a night table, a bucket, and a wardrobe with a few cheap woolen robes. She hadn’t brought anything with her; the orders from above were urgent and allowed no free time. She yawned and put on a robe, not bothering with her hair. She walked over to the bucket and splashed some water onto her face before drying herself off with the robe. She frowned as a red liquid escaped from a stain on the robe onto her hands. Was that blood? She narrowed her eyes at the drop on her fingertip and frowned. It was blood.
The door to her room creaked when she opened it. The blood could be explained easily as an accident during training, or unsanitary washing, but she still felt uneasy. She closed her door again and changed into a cleaner robe. Selena made her way to the cafeteria, walking past windows that showed the wilderness on one side, and the farmlands on the other. Some soldiers were lounging around, snacking on fruit as they bantered. Evidently, they had stopped training. Nothing had breached the gate since it was created, no thanks to the soldiers. The metal was near impossible to break. Even the windows could withstand a trebuchet shot.
Selena placed her hand on the glowing red wall as she walked down the hallway. She had always wanted to know how the metal was manipulated. Powers couldn’t be used on it, and it was harder than the iron weapons they used. Sadly, the method was kept a secret by the council and the specialists they hired.
“You’re up early,” a voice said. Selena turned around and saw the captain walking towards her. He had walked out of a door that she just passed. She frowned. How did she not notice it opening? “Did you sleep well?”
Selena nodded and did a slight curtsey with her robe. “Good morning, Captain,” she said. She didn’t mention the blood on the robe. “You are also up quite early.”
The captain grunted. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately,” he said. He ran his hand over the stubble on his jawline as he walked alongside Selena. “These halls are so big—sometimes you hear things that aren’t there.” He shook his head. “Like ghosts walking and murmuring. It’s unsettling.”
“Ghosts are not real,” Selena said and raised an eyebrow. “There is no evidence to support their existence. You may be hearing the chattering of mice, or a few goblin slaves walking around at night. I heard one cleaning rooms yesterday.”
The captain snorted. “I’m not surprised you’re a teacher at Hailing,” he said. “I mean you no disrespect, but stay here for a while and you’ll have your evidence of ghosts. Mice don’t whisper. Not like that.” He lowered his voice. “Sometimes, they leave blood on things they touch.”
Selena rolled her eyes. “Alright,” she said and entered the cafeteria. It seemed like the captain was adept at playing practical jokes. Ghosts weren’t real. She couldn’t remember how many times she had to tell that to Raea was she was younger. The meal was a simple one, potatoes and beans with some pork. She polished off her plate and headed outside, ready to start another day of digging. The sooner she found those tunnels and completed her duty, the sooner she could go off to see Raea. She stepped outside the gate and stretched her arms towards the sky, letting the sunlight bathe over her as she closed her eyes. She didn’t even have time to scream when she was yanked off her feet and accelerating with something binding her arms and legs to her body.
Palan had a feeling Selena would be the first one out of the gate. Raea always woke up extremely early to start the day. He had spent all night watching over the checkpoint, observing the guards. They were extremely relaxed: sleeping on duty, gambling in a corner, drinking when they thought no one was looking. It was no wonder why they were sent to the borderlands. His tail tightened around the squirming angel he was transporting and swallowed her head when she began to scream.
After traveling for a decent while, Palan released Selena onto the ground. Her body twitched as she opened her mouth and gasped for air. She sputtered and sat up, before wiping saliva off of her eyes. Danger Noodle’s tongue flickered in front of her face, causing her body to tense. “You!” Selena said and pointed at Palan. Her face contorted as she debated on whether to attack him with earthen spears or not.
“Hi,” Palan said. The two stared at each other in silence.
“Well?” Selena asked and sighed. She wiped the remaining saliva off of her face. “I suppose you had your reasons for kidnapping me. What do you want?”
“You’re an angel of knowledge, right?” Palan asked. “I just wanted to ask a few questions.”
“You did all the question asking last time,” Selena said. A crease formed in her brow. “Is it not my turn to ask you a few questions?”
“No,” Palan said. “I don’t trust you.”
“Then what will it take to earn your trust?” Selena asked.
“You can start by answering my questions,” Palan said and smiled. Selena shuddered at the rows of teeth.
Selena sighed. “Fine. What do you want to know?” she asked. “I’ll answer to the best of my ability.”
“Envy,” Palan said, “what power does it grant?”
Selena furrowed her brow. “At its weakest, it grants a poisonous touch to the user. When it gets stronger, the poison can extend beyond the body like a mist,” she said and crossed her legs, still sitting on the floor. “The poison is easily treatable with the right medicine if applied early. There have been very few cases of fatalities due to envy.”
“A poisonous touch, huh?” Palan said and smiled. That was right up in his alley. “And greed?”
Selena wrinkled her nose. “Are you asking for Raea?” she asked. Palan stared at her in silence. She sighed. “Greed reinforces the user. The hands become like unstoppable spears that seize what they want. At higher levels, the reinforcement can be applied beyond the hands.”
Palan nodded. “Last question,” he said, “what is a standard lust trip?”
“Where did you hear that term?” Selena asked and tilted her head. “I’ve never heard it before. I assume you’re asking about the abilities of lust?”
“Sure,” Palan said. “Let’s go with that. When lust is used on someone, is there a particular person they see?”
“I don’t think that has ever been documented properly,” Selena said and furrowed her brow. “Mostly out of embarrassment for the test subjects. I would assume the illusion would produce the person you found most arousing to be at its peak effectiveness.” Palan smirked. Selena frowned. She had a feeling she just betrayed someone dear to her. “And now it’s my turn to ask you questions?”
“You can ask, but there’s no guarantee I’ll answer,” Palan said. He was still smirking.
“Is Raea alright? Where is she?”
“Raea’s still alive at least,” Palan said. He pointed towards the direction of the army. “She’s over in that direction.”
“And Elrith, how is he?”
“He’s an asshole and a bit of a pansy.”
Selena fell silent with her mouth gaping. After a moment she shook her head. “That wasn’t what I was asking. Is he alright?”
“He’s also alive. Probably,” he said. Selena furrowed her brow at him. “He was alive when I last saw him a day or two ago.”
“I have to finish my duty here at the checkpoint, but can you tell Raea that you saw me?”
“Sure. I have to tell her my source for the lust information after all,” he said and grinned. “You’re not going to ask any more questions?”
“As long as Raea and Elrith are safe, nothing else really matters,” Selena said. “Although I am curious as to why you are here and not by Raea’s side. You know you can be killed on sight for wandering around alone like this?”
Palan snorted. “Killed by what?” he asked. Selena raised an eyebrow. “Raea annoyed me, so I needed to take a break from her presence. I think I’ll head back soon.” He couldn’t advance in strength as fast without Raea’s mana helping him.
Selena nodded. “I didn’t get your name,” she said.
“Since when do angels ask for demons’ names?” Palan asked and laughed. Selena frowned when he turned around and leapt away, floating above the treetops with his body covered in a black glow. She sighed and turned around, heading back to the wall. Rotting flesh assaulted her sense of smell, and she wrinkled her nose. A pile of six corpses lay on the ground. Selena shuddered as she recalled Palan’s earlier words. She knelt beside the corpses and said a prayer before using her powers of diligence to bury them in the ground. She couldn’t shake the feeling that it was extremely bad for her baby sister to associate with that demon.