The man’s body was reduced to ashes underneath Raea’s gaze. The mud continued to burn as the rain dropped down on it, evaporating on contact. Raea’s head lowered until she was staring at her feet. She raised her hands and flipped them over to look at her palms. Rainwater pooled inside of them until they were full and began to leak from the cracks in between her fingers. What had she done? An irrepressible rage surged out of her when she saw Palan getting impaled followed by an immediate feeling of overwhelming guilt. Her body stiffened—she had forgotten about Palan.
Her head whipped around, and she saw Cleo attempting to stanch the blood flowing from the holes in Palan’s body. Sally was in the process of removing the pitchfork from Palan’s body. Raea ran over and placed her hands on Palan’s back. “What took you so long?” Cleo asked as she retreated a few steps. “I called you over and over.”
“Sorry,” Raea said and bit her lower lip. She willed her mana into her hands. Her brow furrowed when a barely noticeable light came out of her fingertips. Ten strings of light, no thicker than strands of hair, snaked along Palan’s body until they reached a puncture wound. They converged inside of it and vanished. The wound was healed, but the strands disappeared in the process. Raea’s face paled as she forced more mana into her hands. Only six fingertips lit up this time and barely healed the second puncture wound. Her stomach tightened as despair ran through her body. She leaned over and dry-heaved. Her fingers became clammy as her breathing became shallow.
“Raea?” Cleo asked and furrowed her brow. “What happened? Why aren’t you healing him?” She looked at Palan who had blood steadily leaking out of his remaining wounds. Raea didn’t respond; instead, she curled up into the fetal position and began to cry. Cleo and Sally exchanged glances with each other.
“Check the orbs,” Sally said and attempted to lift Palan’s body off of the old lady. Cleo took the orbs off of the dead woman’s belt and looked through them.
“This looks like it’d heal him,” Cleo said as she picked out a perfectly white orb. “Right?” She looked at Sally for confirmation. The harpy shrugged. Cleo nodded and squeezed the orb. A white chain shot out of it and smacked Palan in the face. Cleo blinked and dropped the orb before choosing another whitish-colored orb. She pointed it at Palan and squeezed it. A white light shone over the demon and danced along his body until it reached his wounds. The flesh wriggled and stitched itself together. Cleo let out a sigh as Palan’s body recovered completely while the orb dulled and turned gray.
Cleo put the orbs away and scratched her head. Palan lay unconscious by her feet, and Raea was still gently sobbing besides Palan. In the distance, the ground continued to burn with black fire. It was slowly spreading towards the house because of the rain and wind. “Now what?” Cleo asked Sally.
“Why are you asking me?” Sally asked back. “But I think we should run away. According to Solra’s guidebook that everyone was forced to read, after you commit a crime on the surface, you should run away to not get caught. And you have to eliminate all the witnesses of the crime.” She glanced at the window where a pale angel’s face was staring at them. The face disappeared when it made eye contact with Sally. “You can throw the old lady into the fire. I’ll get rid of the other witness.”
Cleo blinked. “You’re awfully brave right now,” she said. “Aren’t you usually a coward?”
“Of course I’m a coward,” Sally said. “But if someone’s weaker than me, then I definitely won’t be afraid. A spider that’s afraid of a harpy won’t be afraid of a fly.” She pat her chest with her wing before flying towards the house. Cleo shook her head as a window shattered. She picked up the first orb she tried on Palan and used the chains to drag the old lady into the burning ground. The orb dulled after the deed was done.
Moments later, a second body joined the old lady, and Sally alighted besides Cleo. “All done,” Sally said with a chirp. She cleaned off her talons in a pool of mud water. The sky flashed and thunder rumbled through their ears. Sally flinched and crouched into a ball while covering her head with her wings.
“So the spider’s afraid of thunder,” Cleo said.
“I thought Madison was here,” Sally said and peeked at the sky through her wings. “What else can make that noise other than the orbs?”
Cleo pat Sally on the shoulder and tugged on her butt feathers, pulling her towards Raea and Palan. “Lightning and thunder occur during storms,” Cleo said. “You’ve never … right. Lived underground.” She crouched beside Raea and shook her, but the angel was unresponsive. “Being the only adult in a group of children sucks,” Cleo said and sighed. “Let’s take them inside the house. It’s dangerous to stay outside during a thunderstorm.”
Sally nodded as she wrapped her talons around Raea’s arm. She flew towards the house, dragging Raea through the mud. Raea didn’t resist even when Sally accidently dragged her headfirst into the steps leading up the porch. After storing Raea inside the house, Sally flew out to help Cleo who barely managed to move Palan an inch. They struggled a lot but managed to get the mud-covered demon into the house.
“Raea’s broken again,” Cleo said as she waved her hands over Raea’s face. Her eyes were glazed over, and mumbles occasionally escaped from her lips. Cleo pinched Raea’s nose shut but received no response.
“General Elrith,” Michael said. “I understand that you want to find your sister, but haven’t we wasted enough time as it is? While we’re dallying around here looking for an overemotional teenaged girl, Solra is proceeding forwards with his plan.”
Elrith didn’t respond, but he stopped moving. The two were standing in a field of crops with their army scattered about. Raea had left a trail where she ran through, but there were many other trails left behind by fleeing slaves as well. When the earthquake struck, the slaves working in the fields had scattered, uncaring if they destroyed crops in their panic.
“You understand, right?” Michael asked.
“Raea killed an archdemon. I think it’s our duty to find her,” Elrith said. “She deserves recognition for her actions.”
“I don’t disagree. An angel who slays an archdemon should be celebrated,” Michael said. “But those were only the words of a halfling. And there was no body to prove any deaths. If Raea had said it herself, I would believe her, but as it stands … and I’m not even mentioning the black flames of wrath.”
Cleo’s story had been an incredible one. Raea single-handedly defeated a demon who used black flames with her powers of patience and her bare fists. The corpse had clearly dissolved after the demon was defeated. Michael didn’t believe it. Elrith had his suspicions as well, but he didn’t care, or rather, he chose not to believe in his suspicions.
“We continue the search,” Elrith said, narrowing his eyes.
Michael shook his head. “You have to think of the big picture,” he said. “You’re still too young.” He cleared his throat. “As a member of the council, I order you, General Elrith, to abandon this search and fulfill your previous obligations first before you may resume looking for her.”
Elrith’s face hardened. Palan’s words echoed through his ears: Then why didn’t you go with her? Elrith took in a deep breath and made eye contact with Michael. “I quit. Being a general means nothing if I don’t have my family.” He took off his armor and threw it to the ground. After a moment’s of hesitation, he placed his towershield on top of the armor pile. “After embarrassing myself for two months, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am unqualified to be one of the four generals.”
“You’ll be treated as a deserter,” Michael said, his voice monotonous. There was no expression on his face.
“Then so be it,” Elrith said. “After I send Raea back to the capital, I hope you’ll promote her to my position. This is where we part ways, old man.”
Michael crossed his arms over his chest as he watched Elrith walk deeper into the field of crops, shouting Raea every so often. Michael sighed and turned around, ordering the army to gather using his powers of humility to transmit his voice through the wind. It was his responsibility to take care of Elrith’s punishment, but he wasn’t confident in beating the young general—ex-general now. Even if he did, there was no doubt he’d be exhausted afterwards. There were more pressing matters to take care of. Solra.