Chapter 41

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The first sun rose to its zenith, shining its red light directly onto the glade below. Palan’s body stirred, causing Emergency Victuals’ head to perk up. His nictitating membrane flickered and cleared his vision as he tilted his head to the side, cracking his neck. His muscles were sore and burned in protest as he leaned forward. He frowned as he saw an orange-scaled blob clinging to his shin. “What is this thing doing on my leg?”

“I think she is sleeping,” Owen said. He was sitting on a rock, polishing a new set of armor since his old one was taken away by the lizardmen. White stubble had begun to grow along his chin and jawline, framing his face.

Palan snorted and used his free foot to push Cleo off of his leg. She hissed as she fell onto her back and scrambled to her feet, her cheeks puffing outwards. Her beady black eyes blinked a few times before she frowned and tilted her head, staring at the purple demon. Palan stood up and ignored her, stretching his arms in front of his body. He saw Gerome sitting in a tree, his body oriented towards the lizardmen city with his hand over his eyes to block out the suns. Palan inhaled through his nose, his chest expanding. He asked, “What’s Raea doing?”

“Lady Raea went to clean herself off in the river along with Carmella,” Owen said. “They should be back soon.”

“River?” Palan asked.

“Yeah,” Cleo said as she walked next to Palan. “It’s over there.” She pointed with a clawed finger towards the east. “You haven’t seen it?” Palan stared at her. “Loud, lots of fish, kind of green?”

“I see,” Palan said and nodded. His mind brought up images of the desert as he frowned. “Such a waste of water. Using it to clean themselves?”

“What do you mean?” Cleo asked as Owen furrowed his brow at Palan. “Everyone bathes in water.”

“Water’s a luxury where I’m from,” Palan said. “We clean ourselves with sand.”

“I thought you would’ve cleaned yourself with the blood of your enemies,” Gerome said and grinned as he climbed down the tree.

“That’s what I wanted to remove,” Palan said. “Vultures follow you if you smell like carrion. I’ve tried washing blood off here with your clumpy sand and greens. It doesn’t work as well.”

“You mean dirt and grass?” Cleo asked. Palan shrugged and turned his head towards the forest. Raea and Carmella appeared, wearing full metal armor, with their hair slightly damp and helmets under their arms.

“You woke up,” Raea said. The layer of dirt that had accumulated over the past week disappeared, revealing her unblemished red skin. Her eyes twinkled as she smiled at Palan.

“No. I’m sleeping while standing on my feet,” Palan said. Raea rolled her eyes and tucked her hair behind her ear. “You can subjugate the lizardmen today. I finished with my part of the plan.”

“So I’ve heard,” Raea said and bit her lip as she glanced at Cleo. “How many of them did you kill?”

Palan shrugged as he took inventory of the items in his bag. “Why would I keep track of something so insignificant?” he asked as he frowned at the one remaining pouch of poison. He could tell that replacing his stock was going to be a pain. Raea’s brow furrowed, but she didn’t say anything as she sighed and shook her head.

“Where did you get that dagger?” Owen asked as he stared at the red dagger that Palan retrieved from his sack. “It was Anidun’s.”

“I took it off the chieftain,” Palan said as he unsheathed the blade and inspected it for nicks. Raea blinked and stared at the red metal, her fingers twitching. “Stop coveting my stuff.” Palan sheathed the dagger and placed it back into his bag, closing it in front of Raea’s face, but not before a fully blue orb caught his eye.

“Shouldn’t your stuff be my stuff too?” Raea asked as she sidled next to her demon. “We’re partners after all. Don’t you think that an angel’s dagger would be better off in the hands of an angel?”

“Does that mean your stuff is my stuff then?” Palan asked as he narrowed his eyes.

“Nope. My stuff is my stuff and your stuff is my stuff too,” Raea said and smiled at Palan. “I’m an angel of kindness, not generosity.”

“Piss off,” Palan said and snorted as he turned towards Owen. “Did you get me a set of armor?” Owen nodded and pointed at a burlap sack underneath a tree by the cooking supplies. “Good. It’s best if they don’t see my face.” Palan walked towards the sack and pulled out a set of slightly bloody armor.

“What exactly is the plan though?” Raea asked as Palan donned his gear. She went to his side and retrieved her halberd, strapping it to her back.

“I terrorized them and destabilized their upper echelon,” Palan said as he held a helmet underneath his arm. “I made the chieftain think the only way to preserve the city was to submit to the angels.”

“And you are sure this is going to work?” Raea asked, staring into Palan’s bright-red irises. Hints of doubt floated in her eyes.

“Of course. It’s a plan I created,” Palan said and crossed his arms, holding onto the visor of his helmet.

Raea pursed her lips. “You said you wouldn’t get hurt with your plan also.”

“Minor details,” Palan said and turned his gaze towards the sky. “I’ve seen many town leaders before; I know how they work. Bring them benefits while letting them know that you can kill them at any time and they’ll be easy to manipulate. Fear and money seem to be universally understood.”

“You know, you can’t accomplish everything through fear and money,” Raea said. “It’s better to establish relations based on integrity and respect.”

“Integrity will get you killed. Respect is earned through fear,” Palan said and wiggled his teeth with his tongue, causing a loose tooth to drop onto the ground. Cleo picked it up and put it in a leather pouch that Carmella created for her. Palan raised an eyebrow as the diminutive lizardman giggled while smiling. “Let’s go. The second sun should be at its zenith by the time we get there.”

The group marched through the forest with Cleo sitting on Emergency Victuals’ back, her legs barely dangling past its belly. They arrived in front of the city; its gates were wide open, and lizardmen could be seen sitting in neat rows, watching the gates. A few tiny lizardmen could be seen squirming in their mothers’ laps. Their eyes lit up when they saw the group of approaching angels. Raea gulped as she raised her visor and crossed the threshold into the city. A green lizardman with black tattoos on his chest, who Palan recognized as the acting chieftain, stepped forward and dipped his head downwards at Raea. “You must be the savior,” he said as his tongue flickered, tasting the air in front of Raea. “We’ve been expecting you. Welcome.”

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