The first sun was just beginning to set when Raea halted her boar in front of the third outpost’s gate. The lizardman chieftain’s corpse was bound in bandages, looking like a mummy strapped to the single boar that Owen led. The group had decided to spend one more night in the forest to polish their armor and bury Anidun’s corpse before heading back.
“Lieutenant Raea has returned from her expedition against the lizardmen and commands you to open the gate,” Raea said towards the soldiers in the watchtower. Her face was hard as she stared at the soldier’s, recalling her subordinate’s words when he returned after being driven away by spears.
“She actually did it?” one of the soldiers asked as he scratched his head. He squinted his eyes to stare at Raea’s group of six. “Go report this back to Lieutenant Malak. I will open the gate.” Raea watched the two soldiers vacate the watchtower. Moments later, the gate creaked open and her group traveled through. Cleo’s eyes were wide as she sat on Emergency Victuals’ back, gazing at the crowd of armored angels that had gathered just a few seconds ago. They chattered and pointed at Raea, noting the obvious lack of numbers that composed her group.
“Lieutenant Raea,” the soldier who opened the gate said. He passed her a metal collar as she dismounted from her boar. “This is for your lizardman.” Raea’s brow furrowed as she glanced at Cleo who was glaring at the collar.
“She is not a slave,” Raea said and crossed her arms over her chest. Cleo nodded and puffed up her cheeks.
“Huh?” the soldier asked. “But lizardmen are not allowed inside the outposts without one of these; you should know what happens to those who lack a master.”
Raea’s brow furrowed, and she narrowed her eyes at the soldier. He gulped. Owen stepped forward and took the collar before Raea could say anything. He undid the clasp while turning to face Cleo and held it towards her. “Wear it,” he said. “Lady Raea may have promised not to enslave any lizardmen, but I have no qualms about it. You will be killed if you insist on living with angels without this.”
Cleo’s face blanched at the mention of death. “How do these work?” she asked as her brow furrowed. Her cheeks deflated as she glanced downwards.
“It is a slave collar,” Owen said and sighed. “The person who puts it on you becomes your master. If you disobey or attempt to hurt that person, then the collar will shock you. The name of your master will be printed on the collar to hold them accountable for your actions. Only your master can remove it.” Cleo bit her lip. Her body seemed to shrink as the surrounding angels stared at her, murmuring.
“What are you all staring at?” Raea asked as she glared at the soldiers, causing them to shut up. She faced Cleo and bowed her head. “I apologize. I thought I could avoid this with my status considering you are only a child.”
Palan’s eyes narrowed as Cleo pouted. “You angels really have a thing for enslaving people with lightning, huh?” he asked and snorted. He snatched the collar out of Owen’s hands and clasped it over Cleo’s neck in one motion. Her eyes widened as she looked up at Palan’s face. He was gritting his teeth with narrowed eyes. “You’re free to do what you want. Think of it as extra neck armor.”
“Palan…,” Raea said, her voice trailing off. She stared at her contracted demon with her soft-blue eyes before facing the soldier who gave her the collar. “With this, there are no more problems, correct?”
“Eh?” the soldier asked. He nodded and tipped his head downwards. “Ah, yeah. No problem at all.”
“Lieutenant Raea,” a voice said from beyond the idling soldiers. “You have really completed your task?” The soldiers parted and a figure wearing gray armor came walking through. One corner of his lip was quirked upwards as he sauntered towards Raea. His gaze rolled down her body before meeting her eyes again. “I applaud you.”
“Lieutenant Malak,” Raea said. She pursed her lips as her hands subconsciously clenched. “Why did you drive away my messenger?”
“Messenger?” Malak asked. “I am not quite sure what you are talking about.” He tapped his finger against his lips before glancing around at the surrounding soldiers. “Do any of you know what Lieutenant Raea is talking about?” The angels stayed silent as they stared at their feet. A few of them turned their backs and left. Malak smiled as he faced Raea. “I do not think we ever received a message. You will have to forgive me. That is what angels of patience do best, correct?”
Raea’s body stiffened before she exhaled and relaxed. She smiled back at him, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. “Yes,” Raea said. “And if someone happens to kill you in your sleep, I will forgive him too.” Palan raised an eyebrow as his lips quirked upwards. Owen’s eyes widened as he glanced at Raea’s smiling face before his own face hardened. It was hard to tell what he was thinking as the tips of his fingers touched his lance.
“Lieutenant Raea,” Malak said, his smile gone. “It almost sounds as if you are threatening me.”
“Words can be construed in many ways,” Raea said. “I was merely stating a fact. My squad will be spending the night in your outpost. I hope you do not mind.” Raea tilted her head to the side. Malak narrowed his eyes, but chose not to respond as he whirled around and marched away.
Gerome laughed as Malak disappeared from view. “I really didn’t think you had it in you,” he said as he walked up to Raea with a grin on his face. He faced Palan and stuck a thumb into the air. “Good job.”
“What?” Palan asked.
“You should not be praising him for something like that,” Carmella said and frowned at Gerome.
“What are you two talking about?” Palan asked.
Carmella sighed. “In some cases, angels and demons influence each other when they make a contract. Gerome was implying that Raea was influenced by you when she threatened Lieutenant Malak.”
“Is this true?” Palan asked Raea, narrowing his eyes.
Raea hesitated. “We have acknowledged that this occurs, but not often enough for it to be common. I highly doubt that you would be influenced by me in any significant manner; you don’t have to worry about that.”
“Is that so?” Palan said as he glanced at Cleo. He frowned as Cleo tilted her head at him.
“For now, you should head to our lodgings,” Owen said, killing the tension. His gaze lingered on Raea before he marched ahead, parting the idling soldiers as he led the six boars. He said, “I will have their stables prepare us horses. These boars are too slow.” Raea nodded and gestured for her group to follow after her, ignoring the murmurs of the crowd.
“Why does everyone just stand around?” Cleo asked as her head swiveled back and forth. She was still riding on Emergency Victuals while scratching at the skin near her collar.
“There’s nothing else for them to do,” Gerome said. “We’re always on standby in the outposts.”
“Huh,” Cleo said and yawned. “Angels are weird.”