Palan sat on the ground outside of Raea’s tent with his legs crossed and hands resting on his ankles, interlacing his fingers. His back was straight, and his head faced forward with his eyes slightly downcast, staring into a fire. A light-blue aura that looked like miniature wings enveloped his upper back and cast a faint glow on the tent behind him. Emergency Victuals was sitting next to him with its head tilted, staring at the demon’s unresponsive face. A sliver of red light shone through a crack in the trees and illuminated Palan’s hands as the first sun began to rise. Behind him, inside the tent, a girl groaned as a blanket rustled.
Moments later, the tent flap next to Palan swung open as Raea stepped outside, wearing a brown leather tunic and gray cloth pants. A pale-blue light shone out of the collar of her shirt, illuminating her face from below. Raea crouched down and placed her right hand on Palan’s bare shoulder. “Good morning. Aren’t you cold?”
The blue light faded away from Raea’s and Palan’s body as the demon’s eyes flickered upwards. He craned his neck to look at Raea. “No,” he said as he lowered his head again. “I figured out how to draw on your mana.” The miniature blue wings reappeared on Palan’s back, causing Raea to shudder and close her eyes.
“I noticed,” Raea said as her eyes shot open. She inhaled through her nose and held her breath for ten seconds before exhaling through her mouth. Her red-skinned face seemed paler than usual as she pat Emergency Victuals on the head before sitting down next to Palan. “Can you feel its effects?”
Palan grunted and nodded as the wings faded away. He turned his head and stared at Raea. “What did Owen mean when he said, ‘barely stronger than a lesser demon?’”
Raea furrowed her brow. “You don’t know?” she asked. “You seemed to know what evolutions were though. Was I mistaken?”
“I’ve only heard rumors about it,” Palan said and looked at the ground. “I’ve always lived on the outskirts of the outskirts in my world. It was safer for my sister there. The only things I’m an expert in are hunting and killing; that’s all I ever needed to learn.”
“Hey, where’s your pride?” Raea said and frowned as she poked Palan’s arm. “Shouldn’t you be bragging and making stuff up to at least pretend you know what you’re talking about?”
Palan snorted. “I only need to show my pride to other people,” he said. “I can recognize when I’m lacking knowledge in a certain area.”
A smile bloomed on Raea’s face. “Does this mean you’re finally trusting me more, since you don’t consider me as an other person?” she asked and leaned closer to Palan.
Palan’s head tilted. “It’s more like you’re an inanimate object to me,” he said. “Who would show off in front of a rock? Anyways”—Palan ignored Raea’s dejected face—”tell me more about lesser demons and archangels.”
Raea sighed. “You know how there’s a limit to your pride?” she asked. “I think I’m starting to see the limits of my patience.” She shook her head and slapped her cheeks. “There are four classifications of demons and angels: lesser, regular, greater, and arch. Your physique barely qualifies you as a regular demon. As for myself, I am a greater angel.”
“But you’re super weak,” Palan said and frowned. “I could kill you in my sleep; your classification system seems faulty.”
Raea pouted. “Don’t mistaken my mercy for weakness,” she said. “I did tell you my mana reserves are a lot greater than an average angels. Not only that, I do have two heavenly virtues, but that’s not important for classifications—”
“So you’re just bragging.”
“Hush. It’s because your attitude is rubbing off on me,” Raea said. “Do you want to know or not?”
Palan rolled his eyes. “Speak.”
“Your mana levels determine your classification,” Raea said and crossed her arms over her chest. “When you get enough mana, whether by chasing after your sins and virtues or forming a contract with an angel, you’ll evolve to the next classification. I heard some demons actually undergo metamorphosis when they evolve, and when anyone evolves, they’ll be able to use higher tier powers of their virtues and sins.”
“I see. So I just need to drain your mana until I become an archdemon,” Palan said and nodded. He corrected his posture and prepared to draw on Raea’s mana reserves again.
“No,” Raea said and shook Palan’s shoulder, “that’s impossible. At most, you can become a greater demon by using my mana. I can’t even fathom how many years it would take for you to become an archdemon through my mana reserves alone, unless I become an archangel. But if I do become an archangel, then I’d have to disband our contract. There’s an unwritten rule against archangels forming contracts with demons; archdemons are frightening existences that no one wants to deal with.”
“I see,” Palan said as he recalled Menyel’s reaction to his words when he first arrived on Div’Nya. He frowned. “So what are you going to do about Anidun?”
Raea shrugged. “The only thing we can do is wait for Captain Ishim to report Anidun’s existence to the capital so they dispatch archangels to subdue him,” she said. “For now, we should clear out the goblin mine that Captain Ishim assigned to us, but first, we have to wait for our messenger to return.”
“So in the meantime, I’ll be taking your mana,” Palan said with a nod. “Even though I can’t use any of your powers, I still feel myself growing physically stronger.” He clicked his tongue. “I don’t understand why you’re so frail if you’re loaded with mana.”
Raea sighed and stood up as Palan resumed his meditation. She ignored the pale-blue light leaking out of tunic and wandered over to Owen’s tent. Owen was sitting outside of the tent, fitting his metal gauntlets over his chainmail. His head turned upwards when he saw Raea approaching him from the corner of his eye. “Lady Raea,” he said and nodded. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Owen,” Raea said. “Did you find out anything useful during the interrogation of the guests?”
“I have received the rough location of their camp,” Owen said as he patted his gauntlets. “They also claimed to have at least 1,800 lizardmen living on their territory and”—Owen’s face darkened—”it seems like there is a greater demon working with Anidun. Not only that, but the camp will notice that their hunters, our prisoners, are missing within the next two days, and it is highly probable that the demon will personally look for them with an army; Palan killed the chieftain’s son while interrogating them yesterday.”
Raea’s face blanched. “Anidun formed a contract?”
“It seems to have been recent, thankfully,” Owen said and nodded. “The demon has not had enough time to grow into an archdemon.”
Raea bit her lip. The patter of hooves on grass brought Owen’s and Raea’s attention towards the gate. The messenger that left the other night charged through the gate on horseback with blood dripping from his right arm.
“What happened?” Raea asked as her hands glowed white, and she approached the messenger.
The messenger dismounted while gritting his teeth. He ripped the helmet off his head and hurled it against the ground. His eyes were bloodshot as he said, “I returned to the third outpost at night, but Lieutenant Malak refused to let me in. I told him that Anidun was leading the lizardmen and archangel reinforcements were direly needed, but he just scoffed at me and said, ‘Captain Ishim would not have sent you on a mission that you were not capable of completing. If Lieutenant Raea accepts my guidance, then I may be willing to help.’ When I persisted and attempted to go around the outpost, he ordered the guards to throw their spears at me and bar my way, forcing me to return here.”
Metal screeched as Owen clenched his hands and gnashed his teeth. “That snake,” he said and faced Raea. “Just wait until your father hears about this.”
Raea let out a hollow laugh. “You already know about my relationship with my family,” she said and looked at her feet. “Perhaps the best plan of action is for me to talk with Lieutenant Malak directly.”
“Why would you do that?” a voice asked.
Raea turned around and saw Palan looking at her while leaning against a tent. “It’s not like Anidun is personally making a move, right? If we kill his contracted demon when he comes to attack us, then we’ll be injuring Anidun indirectly, won’t we?”
Raea frowned. “That depends on the level of the contract he formed with his demon,” she said.
“And I will not gamble Lady Raea’s life on the whim of an archangel,” Owen said and narrowed his eyes. “If Anidun does decide to personally move, then we will all die.”
Palan touched his dagger the dagger on his waist and licked his lips. “Looks like I need to ask our guests a few more questions.”