“The lieutenant really trusts you, huh?” Gerome asked as he stepped over a tree’s root. Palan and Carmella walked ahead of him as he stepped through the forest.
“What makes you say that?” Palan asked as he sniffed the air. He frowned and continued walking forward, crunching leaves beneath his feet as he walked forward.
“Most contracted demons have to stay by their angels at all times,” Gerome said. “The lieutenant sending you to scout without her is proof enough.”
“What do you mean?”
Carmella cleared her throat as she picked a mushroom off the ground and put it in her bag. “Should we really be talking so much during a scouting mission?”
“It’s fine,” Palan said and snorted. “There’s no one around except for a few of those squealers with tusks.”
“Squealers with tusks?” Gerome asked and furrowed his brow. “You mean boars?”
“I don’t know,” Palan said. “They’re the things that smell like what the guide was sitting on.”
“Those are boars,” Carmella said as she followed behind the trail of broken twigs Palan left as he walked. “You can sense them from here?”
Palan grunted, but didn’t elaborate as he hacked away at the foliage ahead of him with a dagger. A red line marked the tree next to him. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow before asking, “What are your powers?”
“Powers?” Gerome asked as he slapped at a bug flying near his face.
“Yeah,” Palan said as he sniffed the air. “Raea can heal people with magic. What can you two do?”
Carmella frowned. “Not all angels have virtues that manifest into magic,” she said. “Your average foot soldiers, like us, are not capable of using magic. Right?” She turned her head to glance at Gerome.
Gerome nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Only those with the seven heavenly virtues can use magic like Lieutenant Raea. That is what allows them to occupy the position of lieutenant after all.”
“I see,” Palan said and frowned. “I guess Raea isn’t as incompetent as I thought.”
Carmella scratched her head. “Should you really be talking about your contractor like that?”
“Is there something wrong?” Palan asked. He narrowed his eyes at the two angels behind him.
“N-no,” Gerome said as he looked at his feet.
“Demons are usually more,” Carmella said and hesitated as she bit her lip, “docile, at least, the ones I have encountered. Though, I have only encountered around five during my time as an apprentice.”
Palan snorted. “They must’ve been weak then,” he said as he sniffed at the bottom of a tree.
Carmella shook her head. “I do not think that is true,” she said. “Their aura was much more intimidating than yours. When I saw them, I felt my heart go cold. You do not provoke the same reaction even if you may be a bit frightening. To be fair, their contractors were much more imposing than Lieutenant Raea.”
“Are you calling me weak?” Palan asked and smiled at Carmella. His hand shifted down towards the dagger by his waist.
Carmella’s body tensed as she followed Palan’s hand. “I was merely comparing you to demons that I have seen in the past,” she said. “I do not think you are weak. The way you dispatched the goblin shaman and his guards was impressive.”
Palan’s hand relaxed and dropped past his waist as he turned around. “I see you’re not stupid,” he said. His body froze and he stopped. He licked his lips and lowered his body as he balanced on the balls of his feet. “There’s prey up ahead. Be quiet or I’ll kill you.”
Gerome and Carmella glanced at each other as Palan slipped through the forest without making a sound before following after him. They could hear faint squealing that continued to grow louder as they followed Palan, careful to avoid any twigs or dry leaves. After five minutes, a wounded boar came into view of the trio between a few trees. Four green lizardmen followed after it with wooden spears in their hands and grins on their faces.
“We are supposed to scout” Gerome whispered towards Palan. “We should leave them alone and report this back to the lieutenant.”
Palan glared at the angel before unsheathing his dagger. He reached into his leather sack and pulled out a yellow cloth sack. “Just wait,” he whispered back as his eyes followed after the four lizardmen. The boar stumbled and squealed as a spear pierced its hind leg. It scrambled onto its feet and sprinted away, with the four lizardmen laughing while chasing after it. Palan moved parallel to the group while crouching, followed by the two angels.
The boar let out another squeal as a second spear flew towards it and pierced it from behind. Blood trickled out of its wounds, but it refused to go down as it continued to charge forward. One of the lizardmen licked its scaly lips and laughed. “It’s almost down. Watch this.”
The lizardman drew his arm back while running and launched the wooden spear in his hand, cleanly piercing the boar’s uninjured hind leg, causing it to crash against the floor. It let out a scream as it struggled to prop its body up with its two forelegs as the remaining lizardman with a spear dashed forward and plunged it towards the boar’s neck.
The lizardman grinned as it took a step back from the twitching boar. “Right through its windpipe,” he said as he turned around to face his companions. His eyes widened as he saw Gerome slinking towards the group and pointed. “Behind you!”
The three other lizardmen whirled around and bared their teeth at the trembling angel. Gerome raised his hands above his head while falling to his knees and said, “Stop! I want to join you.”
The lizardmens’ eyes narrowed before they glanced at each other. A cloth sack flew through the air and landed on the floor behind them before exploding into a cloud of yellow powder. “Eh?” one of the lizardmen said as he sniffed the air. “Does something smell?” He looked down and saw a layer of yellow air hovering over the ground. He opened his mouth to speak, but found that he couldn’t.
Palan and Carmella stepped around the dying boar and approached the lizardmen from behind as Gerome climbed to his feet. The four lizardmens’ bodies stiffened and fell to the ground as the trio approached them. Carmella frowned as she turned towards Palan and asked, “Was that ground up cassava root?”
Palan shrugged. “We just call it stop powder,” he said as he pinched his nose and dragged the lizardmen out of the yellow haze. He lashed their arms together with leather strips he retrieved from his bag. “We can have these volunteers tell us where their camp is.”
“W-we w-won’t t-tell y-you a-a-anyth-thing,” one of the lizardmen said as his body spasmed. He screamed as Palan plunged a dagger into his shoulder and twisted it.
“You’ll come around,” Palan said and smiled as he propped the four lizardmen up against a tree. He squatted in front of them and licked the blood off his dagger.
“Um, we are not supposed to kill any of them,” Gerome said as he furrowed his brow and stared at the four lizardmen. “We are supposed to be subjugating them.”
“Oh?” Palan raised an eyebrow. “What exactly does that mean?”
Carmella crossed her arms over her chest as she glanced at the dead boar next to her. “It means we have to transport them to the third outpost so they can have their collars fitted,” she said. “They will be used as labor to grow crops and construct roads along with future outposts.”
One of the lizardmen hissed at Carmella and attempted to spit at her, but just leaked drool onto his chest instead. Palan raised an eyebrow as he turned his head towards Carmella. “So you’re enslaving them. And I thought angels were supposed to be virtuous. It would be kinder to just kill them.” His bright-red eyes stared at the lizardmen who shuddered beneath his gaze.
“That is not true,” Gerome said and shook his head. “We are exposing them to a more civilized environment. As long as they work for us, they will not have to worry about starving or being murdered over territorial disputes. It benefits them in the end.”
Palan snorted and pointed at the lizardman who tried to spit at Carmella. “And what do you think about what they’re saying?”
“I-I’d rather d-die than be a s-slave,” the lizardman said between twitches.
Palan smiled. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said as he stood up. “Unfortunately for you though, this is something I have to do. Tell us where your camp is. I want to know how many capable fighters there are. If you lie…” Palan licked his dagger and grinned at the four captives. “I’m going to separate the four of you. If one of your answers doesn’t correspond with the others, then painful stuff will happen.” Palan grabbed each lizardmen and tossed them aside, separating the group.
“Is this alright?” Gerome asked Carmella as he furrowed his brow while Palan began his interrogation.
“I am definitely not going to get on his bad side,” Carmella said and frowned as one of the lizardmen let out a scream. She turned around and covered her ears while looking up at the suns in the sky.