Michael marched alongside Elrith in the rain, observing the young general’s face. He seemed to have grown older during the short period of time he was at the borderland. The confident expression he used to wear had become an expression of grim determination. Michael was beginning to regret asking him to come. The old general cleared his throat and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to stop?”
“Orders are orders,” Elrith said with no expression on his face.
“No one will blame you if you wish to grieve,” Michael said.
“I can grieve while marching,” Elrith said.
“I no longer wish to discuss this,” Elrith said and narrowed his eyes at Michael.
“Very well,” Michael said. He looked towards the storage chests and sighed. Elrith had refused to bury Selena where she died, bringing her corpse along instead. He wanted to bury her underneath the oak tree in Hailing Academy. She had told him it was her favorite place to go when she wanted peace and quiet. As for Raea…. Michael shook his head and focused on the road.
Cleo sat in a corner of the dimly-light storage chest with Sally, peering out of two slits in the wall. They weren’t afraid of another cave-in because Elrith ordered the elephants to march alongside the army instead of behind it. That way, if the storage chest went under, the army would also accompany them. Cleo’s gaze shifted from the slits to Raea. She was lying perfectly still on the floor, covered by a blanket. If it weren’t for the occasional whimpers that slipped from her mouth, Cleo would’ve thought she was dead. She hadn’t moved from that position for the past two days, neither eating nor drinking. Occasionally, her eyes would open and stare at the ceiling for a few seconds before closing again.
Cleo felt Sally stiffen beside her, and something tapped the lizardman’s shoulder. She let out a squeak and slowly turned her head around. Palan stared at her. “Yes?” Cleo asked. “You aren’t overdrafted anymore?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Palan said and held out his hand. Cleo reached into her space and pulled out a taloned foot. Palan grabbed the blackened leg and pulled Madison’s corpse out of Cleo’s belt area. Madison’s corpse was missing three wings, and there were a few gaping holes in her torso. Cleo made a face when Palan placed his hand on the base of Madison’s remaining wing. A sickening crunch echoed through the storage chest as he ripped the wing off and handed the remaining corpse back to Cleo. She put it away without a word as Palan walked to the other end of the storage chest and sat down. The sounds of chewing and bones breaking filled the small space.
Sally gagged as her own wings trembled. She folded them as close to her sides as she possibly could and shrank her body down to hide behind Cleo. The past two days, the duo had been walking on eggshells, not daring to speak or even breathe too loudly. Cleo wanted to go outside and talk with the elephant she named Mr. Bubbles Number Two, but the elephant wasn’t in a good mood due to the rain. Cleo hung her head and put her tail in her mouth.
Cleo raised her head and blinked twice before looking at Raea. The angel’s cracked lips moved. “Water.”
Cleo walked over and pulled a bucket out of her space, offering it to Raea. Raea sat up and frowned at the bucket but picked it up and attempted to drink from it like a cup. Water cascaded down the sides of her mouth, drenching her and her blankets. She spluttered and placed the bucket down, wiping her lips with the back of her arm. The storage chest was silent with all eyes staring at Raea. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular. After a minute of tense silence—punctuated by chewing sounds—Raea lay back down and closed her eyes, pulling the wet blanket over her body.
“Um.” Cleo fidgeted with her tail. “Raea? Maybe you should change your blanket….” Cleo’s voice trailed off while Raea showed no signs of having heard her. “That can’t be too comfortable, right?” There was still no response.
Cleo sighed and reached for the half-empty bucket. Before she could take it, Palan picked it up and began to drink from it just like Raea had. The water poured down the sides of his mouth as he drank, spilling onto Raea, but he didn’t seem to care or notice—neither did she. He handed the empty bucket back to Cleo before yawning and lying down. Danger Noodle crawled on top of Raea’s blanket until it came face to face with Raea. Its tongue flickered and poked Raea’s nose. Her eyes opened, and the two stared at each other. Danger Noodle’s tongue flickered again, poking her nose once again. Raea’s eyes closed.
The whole time, Cleo and Sally had practically been hugging each other, ready to dash out of the storage chest at a moment’s notice. Raea had left a deep impression on both of them when she killed Madison without batting an eye, and they were afraid she’d explode again. “I can’t do this anymore,” Sally said and stood up. She flapped her wings, kicked open the trapdoor on the ceiling of the storage chest and started to fly outside.
Right before she could make it out, Cleo latched onto her legs and pleaded with large eyes, “Take me with you.” The two disappeared from the storage chest, leaving behind an open ceiling that continuously let rain in.
Palan frowned as the raindrops pelted him. This was his first time experiencing rain in his whole life. The sound was disorienting, throwing off his sense of hearing. His sense of smell also felt duller, like someone stuffed his nose with cotton. And his visibility was greatly reduced when he had tried to peer out of the slits in the wall. Danger Noodle lifted itself into the air and hovered in front of Palan before rolling its eyes. It seemed to crawl through the air until it reached the trapdoor in the ceiling and shut it.
A loud gurgling sound echoed in the storage chest coming from Raea’s stomach. Palan sat up and squat next to Raea’s face. Her eyes opened and looked at him, but they didn’t seem to be seeing him. “Sely? I knew they could heal you. I knew you wouldn’t break your promise to me.”
Palan didn’t say anything as he rummaged through his bag and pulled out a chunk of meat that seemed burnt. He placed his finger on Raea’s chin, and gently forced her mouth open. Then he jammed the burnt food into her mouth and forced her to chew and swallow by covering her mouth and pinching her nose. Raea choked a bit, but managed to get all the food down, and Palan released her nose. Her eyes seemed clearer. “Palan?” Her expression turned dark as her face hardened. She lifted the blanket and covered her head. Water vapor rapidly rose out of the blanket as the room was bathed in a soft-red glow. Palan lifted the blanket and saw Raea’s chest covered in a layer of black fire. “Leave me alone,” Raea said and smacked his arm. It didn’t budge.
“You’ll set the storage chest on fire.”
“I don’t care.” Raea growled.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re mad at me.”
“Am I? Am I!? You think I am mad at you!?” The flames around Raea’s chest began to spread along Raea’s body. She screamed, “Why would I be mad at you? I am an angel of patience! I Never. Get. Mad!” Her last word was practically a shriek. The floorboards began to catch fire.
“Your actions aren’t reflecting your words.”
“If you don’t get out of my sight right now,” Raea said as she stood up, “then I’ll kill you like you killed Sely!” The walls began to burn. Mr. Bubbles Number Two trumpeted and broke out into a run. “It’s all your fault! It was you! It’s always you! I hate you! Hate you! Why did you do this to me!?” Tears streamed down her face, but dried before reaching her chin.
Palan frowned and stood up as well. “I think you should calm down and remember our contract. Let’s be rational.”
Raea let out an unintelligible scream and thousands of black, fiery chains burst out of her back, rushing towards Palan. His eyes widened, and he dove to the side, breaking straight through the wooden wall of the burning storage chest. He rolled in the mud a few times before coming to a stop. Raea was still standing on the storage chest which was getting further and further away as Mr. Bubbles Number Two tried to outrun the flames attached to his harness. The chains hovered in the air around Raea and didn’t pursue him.
“Sheesh,” Palan muttered as he picked himself up while Elrith ran towards the runaway storage chest, using his powers of charity to cancel out Raea’s flames. “It’s not like I was the one that killed Selena. I even fed her Madison’s heart as a sign of goodwill.” He dusted the mud off his body and glared at one of the elephants dragging a nearby storage chest. “Let me ride you,” he said and jumped on top of it, not waiting for an answer. He’d give Raea some space to cool off. She’d be back to normal in a few days, right? He noticed Cleo and Sally behind him, sitting on top of the storage chest. Apparently, they migrated to this one after fleeing.