Chapter 32

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Palan leaned back against the rough cave wall, the rocks scratching at his bare skin, and gazed at the four angels sitting around the flickering campfire. The yellow moon hung in the sky, illuminating the entrance to the cave with a pale light. Gerome was whispering to Carmella while gesturing with his hands. A piece of roast meat rested on a broad leaf in his lap. Carmella’s expression remained unchanging as she grunted or nodded in reply, occasionally smiling while nibbling on a fruit.

Raea and Owen sat on the other side of the fire from the two angels. Raea was silent as she ate her meal. She wore Palan’s shirt, and her cuirass leaned against a rock behind her. Owen sat with his head hung, staring at an untouched piece of meat in his lap. He hadn’t said a word on the way to the cave, not even when Emergency Victuals nipped his ankle for walking too slowly. The corners of Raea’s lips turned down as she glanced at Owen. “You should eat.”

There was no sign of acknowledgment from Owen, but he grabbed the food in his lap with both hands and raised it to his mouth. Owen silently consumed his meal, still staring downwards. Raea’s frowned deepened and she shot a glance at Palan, who was rummaging through his bag, his brows furrowed. She sighed and stood up, tossing her half-eaten piece of boar to Emergency Victuals before heading towards Palan. Gerome fell silent as he and Carmella followed Raea’s movements with their eyes.

“What are you doing?” Raea asked as she sat next to Palan, pushing a pile of ribs to the side with her feet.

“Organizing,” Palan said, not bothering to glance at Raea. He frowned as he picked up the orb he retrieved from the goblin shaman. The blue light had expanded to fill in half of the sphere’s volume. The light slithered around the dirty brown color like oil through water. Raea blinked and reached for the orb, but Palan knocked her hand away before closing his bag. “Did you need something?”

Raea pouted as she retracted her hand and leaned back against the wall. Her blue eyes met Gerome’s and Carmella’s, causing them both to turn away. Owen was still mechanically eating the meat in his hands. Raea turned her head to meet Palan’s gaze. “Thank you,” Raea said and lowered her head to look at her hands. Her face burned. “For earlier.”

“I just pretended you were my sister,” Palan said as he tied his bag to his waist. It was noticeably smaller than usual. “If my life didn’t depend on yours, I wouldn’t have bothered healing you.”

Raea smiled. “Then I’m glad it does,” she said and raised her head. She stroked her slightly burnt hair, causing ash to crumble from her fingers. “I guess this means I was right.” Palan tilted his head. “It was your compassion that made you take care of your sister, not pride.”

Palan snorted. “You’re still going on about that nonsense after what I just did? Ask that old man what he thinks of me. I’ll bet you my left arm that compassionate is far from the top,” he said. Owen flinched by the fire, but didn’t say anything as he placed down the bones in his hand. “I’m only putting up with you out of necessity. There’s nothing more between us.” His voice sounded harsher than he intended.

“Is that so?” Raea asked, her voice quavering. “I just thought, no, never mind.” She looked away from Palan; her vision blurred as she brought her knees to her chest. She sighed and closed her eyes. Carmella and Gerome glanced at each other before Carmella stood up and walked over to Raea and Palan. Gerome scrambled to his feet and followed after her.

“Your skill in killing is excellent, but your communicational skill seems to be lacking,” Carmella said as she sat by the wall adjacent to Palan’s. Gerome furrowed his brow and hesitated as Palan glared in Carmella’s direction. His adam’s apple bobbed in his throat before he tentatively sat next to Carmella, shivers rolling down his spine from the tension in the air. Carmella tilted her head. “Am I right?”

“Want to see how communicative you are after I cut out your tongue?” Palan asked.

“Palan,” Raea said and sighed as she opened her eyes. “Can you not threaten our allies?”

Carmella raised her hand towards Raea. “No, let him,” she said and smiled at Palan. “Are you upset because you feel as if I am insulting you, or are you upset because you know I am right?” Palan placed his hand on the metal axe lying beside him. Carmella’s face cramped. “You do not have to answer that.”

Palan glared at her before removing his hand. Carmella’s body relaxed as she leaned her head back against the wall and stared at the ceiling. “I knew someone like you,” she said. “He was a prideful person, very prickly. Every word that was not praise would set him off like sticking a wet finger down a cat’s ear. He also had a problem with wine, but refused to admit it. People would avoid him because of his behavior, and his behavior would worsen because people avoided him. One day, he snapped and killed the only person who ever loved him—his wife. Luckily for his daughter, she was not home at the time, but, after that moment, he lost everything that he did not realize he had.” Carmella stopped talking and closed her eyes.

Palan was silent for a moment. “What are you trying to say?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at Carmella.

Carmella opened her eyes and smiled. “Not every angel is as kind as Lieutenant Raea. Why must you make her cry?”

Raea blinked and sniffed as she looked at Carmella, hurriedly wiping at her eyes. Palan frowned. “What do you know?”

“During my time as an apprentice, I met a few angels with contracted demons,” Carmella said. “Their relationships’ were akin to master and slave. Raea treats you like a companion, a friend almost. But I imagine you do not know how that feels.”

Palan frowned as he stood up and strapped his axes to his back with strips of leather. Carmella stared at him and eyed his hands before relaxing when she realized he wasn’t going to attack her.

“Where are you going?” Raea asked as Palan walked towards the fire.

“Keeping watch. We invade the lizardmen camp tomorrow,” Palan said and sat outside the cave entrance with his arms crossed across his chest.

Gerome let out a breath and stared at Carmella. “That was crazy,” he said. “I thought you said you were never going to provoke him.”

Carmella shrugged. “The story was true,” she said as she pressed her lips together. “Maybe I wanted to tell him what I could never tell my dad.” She brought her hand to her chest. Her heart was racing. “I do feel better for it, but I definitely will not be doing that again any time soon.”

Raea watched Emergency Victuals wolf down the remains of the boar she gave him. The dire wolf trotted outside of the cave and sat next to Palan, tilting its head at him. Palan frowned. “The hell are you looking at?”

Emergency Victuals licked Palan’s hand before lying down by his side. Palan stayed silent as he placed his hand on the wolf’s back before staring up at the moon. It was hard to tell what he was thinking.

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