“Interesting,” Palan said as he stood over a whimpering lizardman. The ground beneath him was soaked with red blood and fresh lacerations decorated the lizardman’s body. “I wonder if that’s true.”
“I’m not lying,” the lizardman said as it drew its knees to its chest. Its ankles were bound together and its hands were tied behind its back. “I swear to Elbegon. Believe me.”
“I don’t know who Elbegon is, but whether you lose another finger depends on your friends’ answers,” Palan said as he turned his back on the cowering lizardman and approached another one. He squat in front of the uninjured lizardman who glared at him. Palan smiled and twirled his dagger in his hand, causing a few blood drops to splatter on the lizardman’s face.
“Your turn,” Palan said. “Who’s the strongest person in your camp? Your friend over there”—Palan said and pointed at the bleeding lizardman—”gave me an interesting answer. Let’s see if you can continue to remain uninjured.”
The lizardman’s teeth clacked together as it turned its head to the side, avoiding Palan’s gaze. He whispered, “Anidun.” Palan grinned and pat the lizardman’s face with the flat of his dagger, leaving a bloody smear. He stood up and sauntered over to a third lizardman who was sitting up straight with its teeth bared.
“As for you,” Palan said and lunged at the lizardman before sinking his dagger into the lizardman’s shoulder. The lizardman let out a scream as it tried to grab Palan’s arm with its hands that appeared from behind its back, the broken leather binding falling to the ground. Palan kicked the lizardman in the face and withdrew his dagger before plunging it into the lizardman’s uninjured shoulder. Palan smirked as the lizardman’s arms went limp and fell to the ground. “Nice try. I was waiting for one of you to try to break free. Now speak; who’s the strongest person in your camp?”
“Go die, you filthy dog of the angels,” the lizardman said as it spat out a strand of blood.
“Wrong answer,” Palan said and stabbed the lizardman in the throat. “That’s the third time you disrespected me. I don’t have time to waste on you.” He removed the dagger and watched as bubbles of blood leaked out of the lizardman’s neck as it gurgled in a final attempt to breathe.
“Carmella,” Gerome whispered to the angel next to him while shuddering. Carmella was sitting on a rock with her back to Palan while Gerome stood by her, watching the demon go about his interrogation. “He just killed one of them.”
“What are we supposed to do about it?” Carmella asked without even turning around. She nudged at a pebble on the ground with her foot.
Gerome scratched his head. “Uh, never mind then,” he said and shook his head as Palan walked over to the last lizardman. After another hour of interrogations, Palan cracked his neck as he walked over to Gerome and Carmella with the three lizardmen following after him. Their legs were untied, but their arms were still bound behind their backs.
“Is it over?” Gerome asked.
Palan nodded. “Their camp is too far away from here to go there and back before nightfall. We’ll head back to our base first with these kind fellows. They turned out to be very cooperative,” he said and smiled. The lizardmen glared at him, but remained silent.
“What if they run away?” Gerome asked as he eyed the lizardmen’s unfettered legs.
“The stop powder is still in effect,” Palan said. “If they try anything funny, I’ll just cut off their tails and force them to eat it.”
“I see,” Gerome said and gulped as Palan walked past him. The three lizardmen glanced at Gerome and frowned before brushing past him. His eyes widened as he saw the multiple lacerations decorating their bodies.
“Stop spacing out,” Carmella said as she nudged Gerome and followed after the lizardmen.
“Right,” Gerome said and nodded. “This scouting mission could be counted as a success, yeah?” The crunching of leaves underfoot was the only response.
The first sun was beginning to set by the time Palan returned to the camp. Around twenty tents had been erected in a neat rectangular formation with a large bonfire in the center. Wooden spike walls surrounded the camp with a gap, guarded by two angels, to let people in and out. Three boars were being spit-roasted over the fire while the angels sat around in a circle. Raea sat on a rock with her chin propped on her knees and Emergency Victuals lying next to her. Her body twitched and she raised her head as a movement caught her attention.
Palan walked through the gap in the wall with the three lizardmen and two angels in tow. His gaze landed on Raea who stared at him before standing up. She smiled and said, “You made it back safely.”
Palan snorted. “Of course. What did you expect?” he asked Raea as he walked towards her. Emergency Victuals barked and trotted next to Palan, but got ignored. “I brought back some souvenirs.” Palan gestured at the three disgruntled lizardmen behind him.
“Please do not refer to living creatures as souvenirs,” Raea said and sighed. She bit her lip. “Did you injure them?”
“I found them like that,” Palan said, causing Gerome and Carmella to cough. The lizardmen grimaced, but didn’t say anything. “They were quite cooperative and told me a lot about their camp. It’s actually being run by an angel named Anidun.”
The surrounding angels tensed and fell silent as they turned their heads away from the fire to stare at Palan. Raea’s brow furrowed. “Is that true?” She turned towards the lizardmen who were looking down at the ground.
Palan’s hand touched the dagger on his waist and the lizardmen shuddered. One of them opened its mouth and said, “Yes. It’s true. Anidun came to our tribe over three years ago and helped us become the strongest in the region.”
“Why were we not told about this before we were given the mission?” Raea asked no one in particular. “We have to report this back to Captain Ishim. This mission is impossible with the numbers we have if Anidun is our enemy.”
“Are you scared?” Palan asked and tilted his head. “Who is Anidun?”
Owen cleared his throat. “Anidun was one of the thirteen council members in the capital nearly ten years ago,” he said and frowned. “He was the only angel who was able to hide his sins from The Watcher and killed half the council members before he was forced to flee. I thought he went to Eljiam, but it turns out he did not.”
“Is he really that scary?” Palan asked and raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been under the impression that every angel in the capital was a pansy except for Sariel. So what if this Anidun killed six or seven people? My sister’s killed more than that and she’s only eight.”
Owen’s face darkened as he glared at Palan. “Watch your tongue,” he said. “You are barely stronger than a lesser demon. An archangel, like Anidun, can easily eliminate you by lifting a single finger.”
“Is that so?” Palan asked as he snarled and unsheathed his dagger. “Didn’t you address this weak demon as master? Maybe it’s you who needs to learn his place.”
“Palan!” Raea said and stepped in front of her contracted demon. “This is not the time nor is it the place to be fighting amongst ourselves.” She turned towards Owen. “You too, Owen. I thought I told you to stop antagonizing Palan.” She turned back towards Palan and said, “But what Owen said is true. Anidun could eliminate this whole camp and not break a sweat. Ten years ago, he fended off four archangels by himself and escaped while gravely injuring one of his attackers.”
Palan frowned and opened his mouth to speak, but Raea grabbed his hand. She gazed into his eyes and said, “Remember poking the king of the forest? Think of your sister before you act.”
Palan sighed and looked up at the sky. The three lizardmen glanced at each other before gazing at Raea with open mouths, their eyes asking, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Whatever,” Palan said. “Do what you want.” He jerked his hand out of Raea’s grasp and walked towards the wooden spike wall before sitting down, propping his back up against it. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the camping angels while Emergency Victuals sat on the ground next to him.
“Owen,” Raea said and faced her head guard. “Have a soldier send a message back to Captain Ishim about Anidun. We need reinforcements if we are to subjugate this camp. As for these three”—she gestured towards the lizardmen—”interrogate them for information, but make sure to feed them and do not mistreat them.”
“Understood,” Owen said and nodded before he went off on his own. Moments later, a soldier left the camp on horseback while the lizardmen followed after Owen. Raea watched the messenger leave before walking towards the bonfire. She sliced off a hind leg from one of the boars and walked towards Palan.
“Here,” Raea said and offered the roasted leg to her contracted demon. Palan frowned as he looked into her eyes. Raea tilted her head and asked, “You’re not hungry? You’ve been gone all day.”
“Do you want something from me?” Palan asked as he eyed the roasted leg.
“No? If you don’t want it, then I’ll eat it by myself,” Raea said as she sat down next to Palan. She blew on the leg before taking a small bite. “You know it’s rude to refuse food when it’s offered to you, right?”
Palan snorted. “No one’s ever offered me food before.”
“Yes,” Palan said. “And you’d have to be stupid to accept food from someone else. What if it’s poisoned?”
“I wouldn’t poison you,” Raea said and pouted.
“I can’t say the same,” Palan said, causing Raea to frown and lightly slap his arm.
Gerome and Carmella sat off to the side with a plate of food in their hands. “Lieutenant Raea is really brave, huh?” Gerome asked as he watched Raea interact with Palan.
Carmella shrugged. “She has a contract with him,” she said and bit into the boar’s meat. “Whether she is courageous or a coward has yet to be determined. I do hope she is the former.”