Elrith swore as he stared down the hole. He sent all his diligence angels to dig tunnels in the nearby surroundings to find any trace of the elephant that was swallowed by the earthquake. He didn’t expect a tunnel to be suddenly created over a hundred feet away from his closest diligence angel. It was reported to him as soon as it was found, but by the time he ran over, black flames had begun to rise out of the tunnel, setting the nearby crops ablaze. He had to uproot the earth and smother the spreading flames using his powers, but it still took a while for them to disperse. He tried shouting down the hole, hoping for a response, but the roaring of the fire within the tunnel was too loud. Even if a response had come, he wouldn’t have been able to hear it.
Could Raea be down there? Elrith frowned and placed his palms against the ground. Heat flowed into his palms from the earth, nearly burning him, but he ignored it and focused his powers into closing the tunnel to put out the flames. He took a couple of steps to the right and opened another tunnel leading into the earth. He couldn’t see anything, but he sensed through his power that the tunnel reached an open space. He shouted, “Is anyone down there?”
“Yes!” Someone shouted back. Elrith let out a sigh of relief when he realized it was Raea’s lizardman slave who responded. It was easy to recognize her high-pitched voice even if it was distorted by the length of the tunnel. Elrith swiped backwards with his arm, and a section of the earth was blasted away, leaving behind a ramp. He furrowed his brow and pressed on the ramp, and a staircase began to take form, connecting to the open space at the end of the tunnel.
“Follow me,” he said to no one in particular and charged down the stairs. Owen and Justitia were the first to run after him. Owen was the most frantic when Raea’s party was swallowed by the earth and was the first to use his powers of diligence to look for her. Even if he was the squad leader of a band of prisoners of war, Elrith trusted him given his history as a guard of the Caelum family. As for Justitia, she had gotten quite attached to Raea who was so different from all the regular stuffy angels.
The first thing Elrith noticed before he even made it halfway down the staircase was the smell. It smelled like burning hair, burning boar, burning chicken. Lots of burning. The next thing he noticed was the silence. Only the sounds of the angels’ footsteps could be heard. Had something happened to the lizardman in the short amount of time it took to create the staircase? Then he noticed the heat. It felt like he was walking into a furnace. Waves upon waves of hot air rushed out of the stairs, drying out his eyes. His skin started to itch, and a bead of sweat rolled down his neck.
Elrith reached the bottom of the staircase and had to squint to see anything. There was some sunlight pouring in from the staircase and some artificial light coming from the other end of the cavern-like area he was in. He saw Palan sitting on the ground, unmoving with the two halflings holding his torso up. Then he saw the silhouette of someone sitting in the center of the room with someone or something in its lap. He ignored Palan who seemed to be having trouble breathing. His footsteps were heavy as he approached the center of the room, coming to the conclusion that the figure must be Raea. He walked past an area that seemed to be the source of the burning smell, but only saw a blackened floor with a few feathers.
“Raea?” Elrith asked. His eyes widened when his naked sister looked up at him. Selena was lying down with her head on Raea’s lap. Elrith quickly took off his cuirass and the shirt he was wearing underneath. He stuffed the shirt over Raea before putting his armor back on. “Is that Sely? Why is she here? What happened down here?” His brow furrowed when neither of his sisters answered him even though their eyes were wide open. Selena didn’t seem to be looking at him. Raea was staring at his face, but there was something off about her gaze.
Raea lowered her head and looked at Selena. “Elly’s here,” she said. “Everything will be alright now.” She smiled at Selena and ran her fingers through her sister’s matted hair.
Elrith crouched down and grabbed Raea’s shoulders. Her body trembled and began to heat up. “Raea,” Elrith said. “Look at me. Are you alright?”
Raea raised her head and gazed at her brother. Tears began to well up in her eyes. “What’s wrong, Ray?” Elrith asked when he saw the liquid begin to flow down his sister’s cheeks.
“Sely,” Raea whispered. “She won’t say anything.”
Elrith frowned and lowered his head to look at Selena. He lifted her off of Raea’s lap. Her face was unusually pale, and she was completely unresponsive. “Sely?” Elrith asked. He didn’t notice the footsteps of his soldiers approaching him. His world seemed to slow as a sick feeling gnawed at his stomach. His hands trembled as he placed his fingers on his sister’s neck. He couldn’t find a pulse. “Owen,” Elrith said. There was a grunt behind him. “Take Raea and her cohort back to the surface.” His face was pale when he raised it. He looked around until he saw a kindness angel he recognized. “You. Come here.”
The angel stepped forward as Owen gently placed his hands on Raea’s shoulder and helped her stand. Justitia grabbed Raea’s hand and led the way out with a grimace on her face. Palan forced himself to walk after her, ignoring the burning pain in his body. Raea had forcibly used his power as a greater demon to suppress an archdemon which overdrafted him; thankfully, he had Cleo store Madison’s body in her storage to eat later.
“Can you heal her?” Elrith asked the angel that stepped forward.
The angel frowned and placed his hand on Selena’s neck. “But … she’s dead, sir,” he said.
“I didn’t ask if she was dead. I asked if you could heal her,” Elrith said, practically growling.
“I, I can try,” the angel said as his hands started to glow. He placed them against Selena’s chest. Elrith furrowed his brow as he stared into his dead sister’s eyes, hoping for something. Anything. A minute passed.
“I tried, sir,” the angel said and gestured around. “It looks like she lost nearly all the blood in her body. It’s too much for anyone to revive a bloodless corpse. Not only that, but it looks like an amateur already attempted a healing on her. You can see the scar left behind on her neck.”
“Raea’s powers are close to an archangel’s,” Elrith said. “Michael told me that. You’ve seen her heal on the battlefield yourself—she’s no amateur.” He glared at the kindness angel. “Her powers wouldn’t leave behind a scar.”
“Please, General,” the angel said. “I’m just a medic. I mean no offense to the Stormbringer, but maybe his evaluation was wrong? Or something happened that weakened her healing? My skills may not be as good as General Akurel’s, but I believe I definitely could have saved this lady”—he gestured towards Selena—“even if her head was cut off, as long as I acted immediately. It’s too late now. I’m sorry, General.”
A clunking sound followed by Owen’s shout of “Lady Raea” caught Elrith’s attention and he whirled around to look at the stairwell. Raea had collapsed to her knees and began to sob. Ever since she evolved, her sense of hearing was nearly on par with Palan’s. She had heard every word.