Chapter 18

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“What were you hiding from me?” Palan asked as the horse galloped down the straight dirt road, heading towards the third outpost. Raea sat in front of him with her hands on the reins. Her short hair bounced in time with the horse’s hooves. Her subordinates followed behind her in a wedge formation.

“It’s not really hiding information,” Raea said, keeping her eyes on the road. “It’s more like not telling you things because you probably wouldn’t have formed the contract with me if I told you.”

“Alright,” Palan said while frowning, “so what were you hiding from me?”

Raea sighed. “I come from the Caelum household,” Raea said and used her hand to touch a badge that sported a pair of white wings pinned on her chest. “It’s a well-established family in the capital, producing generation after generation of virtuous angels. My father is the head of the family. I’m the youngest child out of seven, but I’m the only one that got sent to the borderland.” Her lips twisted into a bitter smile. “My siblings are all much better than I am in nearly all aspects. I was jealous of them. I wanted what they had. And then I wanted more.”

Palan stayed silent, waiting for Raea to continue. Her shoulders were hunched forward and her head was angled downwards. He thought he saw her back shaking, but it could’ve been the movements from the horse. A minute passed in silence.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Raea asked. Her brow furrowed as she turned around to look at Palan.

“You were done?” Palan asked in return. “That’s it? Your parents threw you away so I wouldn’t want you either, is that what you’re saying?”

“That’s not the case?” Raea asked while turning her head back to the road.

“No. I don’t want you as my contractor for an entirely different set of reasons,” Palan said. “I thought you were going to tell me something like—I don’t know—you withheld vital information about our contract that really screws me over or something along those lines. I contracted with you, mostly against my will, because that was the best choice I had for survival. I don’t care what kind of person you are as long as I can use you to reunite with my sister.”

Raea tilted her head. “I’m not sure whether I should be glad or offended by what you just said,” she said. “Is this your awkward way of trying to be nice to me?”

“No,” Palan said and furrowed his brow. “I hate you, simple as that.”

“What? Why?” Raea asked and turned her head around to face Palan.

“You’ve forced me into the position of a servant. There’s no way I can’t hate you.”

“But I did that to protect you,” Raea said and frowned. “Without a contract, you’ll just be killed.”

“I know that rationally, but I still resent you for stifling my pride.”

“You swallowed your own pride,” Raea said and turned back to the road. “I couldn’t have made the contract with you otherwise.”

Palan grunted. “It’s easier to hate you than to hate myself because I’m perfect.”

Raea sighed. “Sometimes I wish you were a standard greed demon.”

“That reminds me,” Palan said as he glanced at Emergency Victuals running alongside them, “what did that rabbit-demon”—Raea shuddered—”mean by ‘use my sins properly’ before I killed her?”

“Maybe you should’ve asked her before biting her head off,” Raea said while frowning.

Palan shrugged. “Eliminate your enemies before they have a chance to do anything,” he said. “I learned that the hard way once. My strength lies in surprising my prey, not confronting it head-on, although angels seem to be a lot easier to kill than demons.”

“Demons are inherently stronger than angels,” Raea said, “but in return, angels can use magic. That’s not to say there aren’t any physically strong angels or that all demons can’t use magic. Those two angels you killed would have given you trouble if you fought them fairly.”

“Fair? There’s no such thing as fair,” Palan said and snorted. “There’s only those who are dead and those who aren’t.” Palan’s nose crinkled and he sneezed.

“Are you cold?” Raea asked and glanced at Palan’s ripped shirt.

“No,” Palan said and sniffed. “This place smells like a festering pile of lizard dung. Kind of like that green thing from before.”

“The goblin?” Raea asked and frowned. “Goblins aren’t allowed near the roads between outposts.”

“Why not?”

“There’s been many incidents with goblins interfering with construction after the angels subjugated them. So in return, the angels established a law prohibiting goblins from being near the roads during the day,” Raea said. “Any goblins who approach the roads without permission from an angel are assumed to be aggressors and will be arrested on sight.”

“Angels and their laws,” Palan said. “The only law that exists in my world is the strong can do whatever they want.”

Raea frowned. “Laws exist to keep order and protect the people.”

“Whatever. The smell’s getting worse,” Palan said. “I can’t even count how many of them are up ahead. Their stench is too overwhelming.”

“Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t lie to you when it concerns your life. If you die, I die after all,” Palan said. His eyes narrowed and he grabbed Raea’s shoulder. “Wait a minute. Why didn’t the rabbit-demon die when I killed her angel?”

“I didn’t lie to you if that’s what you’re asking,” Raea said. “You really will die if I die. As for the rabbit, her contract could have had different terms. Not a lot of demons are willing to die if their angel dies; you should be proud to be one of them.”

“You’re going to tell me all the terms of our contract,” Palan said and breathed down Raea’s neck. She shuddered and nodded.

“Tonight, when we’re in a more private area,” Raea said. “Even amongst friends, details of a contract should only be kept between the contractor and contractee.”

“Fine,” Palan said and took his hand off Raea’s shoulder. “The goblins are moving closer to the side of the road.”

“How far ahead are they?”

“About a mile.”

Raea raised her right hand and spread her fingers apart while tugging on her horse’s reins. The cavalry ground to a halt and Emergency Victuals glanced backwards with its head tilted and tongue sticking out before stopping.

“Why did we stop?” Owen asked as his horse trotted next to Raea’s.

“Palan said there were goblins a mile down this road,” Raea said.

Owen frowned and shielded his eyes from the sun with his right hand as he peered down the road. “How do you know that?” Owen turned his head towards Palan and asked.

“Because I’m awesome, old man,” Palan said.

“He can s—,” Raea said before Palan clamped his hand over her mouth. She ripped his hand off and glared at him. “Stop doing that!”

“My secrets aren’t for you to give away,” Palan said and narrowed his eyes as he stared at Raea.

Raea ignored him and faced Owen. “Regardless of how he knows, I trust him. We proceed as if we are engaging a goblin army.”

Owen’s brow furrowed. He shot a glance at Palan before he nodded and turned around to address the cavalry behind them. “You heard the lieutenant. Ready your weapons.”

Metal clinked as lances were unsheathed and visors dropped down. Raea frowned as she unsheathed her halberd and grabbed onto the horse’s reins while nudging its belly with her foot. “Onwards!”

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