“Lady Raea, please reconsider,” Owen said. He stood upright with his arms and legs bound by a chain of white light. “You know my virtues are diligence and loyalty. It is impossible for me to forgive that thing.”
Raea’s eyes were closed with five chains extending out of her back, binding her companions. The first sun had set and the second started to descend, illuminating the group with a red glow. Raea’s eyes fluttered opened as she inhaled deeply. Her face was pale as she spoke, “I am completely serious about what I said earlier.” She turned to Owen. “If you want to blame someone for our companions’ deaths, then blame me. I chose to contract Palan. Anything that Palan does is a direct reflection of my actions.” She turned to Palan. His eyes were dull as he stared at the ground. A breeze caused the grass beneath him to sway back and forth. “Maybe if you explained why … Palan?”
Soft snores escaped from Palan’s lips as he remained unresponsive to Raea’s voice. Carmella and Gerome turned their heads to stare at the sleeping demon with their mouths hanging open. “Palan!” Raea said. The demon stirred and his head tilted upwards. Owen snorted and glared at Palan. Raea frowned and asked, “Why are you sleeping at a time like this?”
Palan yawned and ground his teeth together. He spat out a tooth and stretched his neck before looking down at the dire wolf by his feet. “Eat and drink as much as you can,” he said. “You never know when your next meal is.”
“Sleep whenever you can,” Palan said, ignoring Raea as he Emergency Victuals made eye contact with him. “You won’t always find a shelter to rest in at night.” He raised his head to face Raea. “They’re some of my rules for survival. You could do well to learn from them, instead of expending your energy on useless endeavors. I thought you could barely use both your powers in one day.” His arms flexed uselessly against the white chains binding him.
“That is no longer the case because you got stronger,” Raea said. A droplet of sweat dripped from her chin. “Can you explain to Owen, to us, why you did what you did?”
“I already have,” Palan said and snorted. “I did it to kill the greater demon. As long as there was fresh blood around the demon, then he’d be able to regenerate. The lizardmen I interrogated told me about that. The simplest way to stop its regeneration was to taint the blood around it.”
“Nonsense!” Owen said as the veins on his neck bulged as he tried to move forward. “There must have been other ways to deal with it. If you told us what you knew, then we could have developed reasonable countermeasures that didn’t involve mass murder. They could have lived!”
“And now they’re dead. Get over it,” Palan said as he stared at Owen. “If you want to join them so badly, then kill yourself. Quit wasting my time. When you took up guard duty, you accepted the dangers that accompanied it. Why are you acting like a baby?”
Owen’s face flushed as he glared at Palan. Orange flames flickered within his eyes before bursting into life around Owen’s body. Raea gasped as a jet of flame flew towards Palan from Owen’s mouth. “Stop!” she yelled as she jumped in front of Palan, spreading her arms to the side. The flames didn’t yield and engulfed Raea, causing her to let out a shriek. The chains on Raea’s back dissipated, freeing her captives.
Owen’s face turned pale as the flames around him extinguished. He fell to his knees and clutched the grass. “Lady Raea! No,” he said as he tried to crawl forward, sweat pouring from his brow. “I didn’t … no.” His body fell forward as he gasped for breath. Raea was shrieking as she rolled around on the floor, her cloth garments on fire beneath the plate armor.
Palan’s brow was furrowed as he stepped forward and grabbed Raea, stopping her from rolling, with his left hand, his dagger in his right. He cut off the leather straps holding her armor to her body as Carmella and Gerome hovered around, attempting to help. After cutting off the plate, he grabbed her flaming shirt and unceremoniously cut it off. Luckily for Raea, only her upper body caught fire, leaving her pants intact. Palan threw the burning cloth towards Gerome, who cursed and struggled to put it out, stamping on it with his feet.
Raea whimpered as she blinked, staring into Palan’s frowning face. Her shoulders, back, and chest were blood-red, skin hanging loosely from blackened flesh, fluttering in the breeze. She opened her mouth and asked, her voice barely above a whisper, “Are you okay?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” Palan asked and raised an eyebrow. “Why’d you step in front of the flames? Are you stupid?” Raea’s body trembled as she raised her head. She winced and turned her neck towards Owen. He was lying face down on the ground with Emergency Victuals sitting on his head. Its tail swished as it barked at Raea and Palan.
Palan sighed and raised his head to look towards the blue sky while stripping off his gauntlets before placing his hands on Raea’s shoulders. She winced as his hands touched her open flesh. “What are you—”
“Shut up,” Palan said. “You’ll ruin my concentration, Andrea.”
Raea squirmed. “B—”
Palan glared at Raea, causing her to fall silent and shut her mouth. She lowered her head and covered her exposed, but burnt, chest with her hands. Carmella and Gerome glanced at each other, but didn’t say anything as they walked away from the angel and demon, approaching Owen who was still pinned to the floor by a butt. Palan raised his head again and sighed. Raea bit her lip while staring up at Palan’s throat as he squat over her.
Raea opened her mouth and started to speak, but a cold feeling wrapped around her burning shoulders. A gasp escaped from her lips as her body tensed, and her back arched. The icy feeling spread from Palan’s hands and enveloped her torso, washing over her burns. She closed her eyes and groaned as the hanging flaps of skin and burned flesh squirmed, wriggling like worms as it reattached and mended itself.
Seconds turned to minutes as the cold pervaded her body from head to toe before dissipating. After the feeling went away, Raea fell silent and opened her eyes. Palan was still looking up towards the sky with his hands glowing white. Raea smiled and placed one hand over Palan’s. “Thank you,” she said. “Andrea’s your sister?”
Palan glanced at Raea and snorted before letting go of her shoulder, shaking her hand off of his. His back was drenched in sweat underneath his armor, and his face was pale. “It would’ve been problematic for me if you stayed injured,” Palan said as he broke eye contact and stood up. He wiped his bloody hands on his greaves and frowned as he turned in Owen’s direction, placing a hand on an axe handle by his shoulder. Raea scrambled to her feet, keeping one arm across her chest.
“Step aside,” Palan said to Emergency Victuals. The dire wolf wiggled its rump a few times before standing up and walking away. Owen raised his head, his eyes wet with tears.
“Raea, I’m sorry,” Owen said, his voice nearly cracking. “I’ve failed you. I’ve failed you.” His words trailed off as his face fell back towards the ground. He shook as sobs wracked his body. Palan frowned and released his hold on his axe.
“I was going to kill you,” Palan said as he stepped out Owen’s head and unsheathed his dagger, “but that would be too merciful. I should disable your arms and cut your tongue out. Let you live knowing that you failed as an angel of loyalty and attacked your charge. Let you live, knowing that the killer of your friends is right in front of you, and you can’t do anything about it. Isn’t that fun?” Palan ground his heel, forcing Owen’s head deeper into the dirt. “You know? The demons who’ve attacked my sister, it was fine for me to just kill them after terrorizing them for a bit. But you, I want you to suffer.”
“Palan! Stop!” Raea said and pushed Palan off of Owen. She grabbed Owen and rolled him over onto his back. Owen mumbled something incoherent as Raea stared into his face.
“I am uninjured,” Raea said. “Perfectly fine, see? You lost yourself to wrath for a brief moment, but regained control. That is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has lapses from time to time; no one is perfect.”
“I’m a failure as a guard,” Owen said and closed his eyes. “I deserve to be executed on grounds of treason.”
“Stop that. I still need you,” Raea said and frowned.
“I can’t. I deserve to be punished,” Owen said and shook his head.
“What are you?” Palan asked as he crossed his arms and stared down at Owen. “A masochist? Were you just using me to indulge in your sick fantasies?”
“Palan,” Raea said and furrowed her brow as she glanced at her contracted demon. He shrugged.
“I’m a failure. A failure as your guard. A failure as an angel,” Owen said and sighed. “I don’t deserve to protect you.”
“Stop it,” Raea said. “I forgive you. Please, just go back to being you. Not the you from when I was banished to the borderlands, but the you from before, from when I was little. It hurts me to see you like this.”
“Just roll over and die, old man,” Palan said and snorted as he kicked Owen’s arm and walked away.
Carmella approached Palan with Gerome in tow. She said, “I really thought you were going to kill him just now.”
Palan grunted as he glanced at Raea kneeling over Owen. An image of Andrea crying while crouching by her favorite pet lizard, which was dying because she ate its stomach, superimposed itself over the angels. He scratched Emergency Victuals on the head and sighed.