Owen squinted his eyes as he followed Malak out of the tunnel, stepping into a glade illuminated by the yellow moonlight. Malak lowered the body he was carrying onto the ground underneath a tree and turned back to look at Owen who repeated the same action. Malak crossed his arms and smiled. “Is this secluded enough for you?”
“We should go a little deeper into the forest,” Owen said and glanced at the tunnel exit. Brushes and tree roots kept a majority of it concealed. It was nearly impossible to see without standing in the right spot. “There may be crystals by the exit.”
“You really are paranoid, huh?” Malak asked and sighed. “Very well. You lead the way. Don’t go too far; I don’t want to get lost in the forest at night.” Owen nodded and walked into a cluster of trees, his figure disappearing into the shadows. Malak narrowed his eyes as he adjusted the shields on his arms and followed after him.
Owen held his breath as his hands clenched. His body was tense as leaves crunched underneath his armored feet. He ducked his head and avoided a low-hanging branch. In his pupils, small orange flames flickered and danced as he stared straight ahead. It was impossible to tell underneath the scattered moonlight, but his face was flushed and goosebumps ran down his arms. He past by a rotting tree and stopped. He heard Malak’s footsteps come to a halt behind him.
“We’re far enough,” Owen said and whirled around. He let out a low shout and stomped his foot. A hand formed from the earth shot out of the ground and slammed into Malak’s side, smashing him into the tree. The lieutenant coughed as the air was knocked out of him. Bright flashes of light danced in his vision as he winced and tried to touch his head but found his arms immobile. The earthen hand pinned him to the tree, his head in between the index and middle fingers.
Malak’s breath was labored as he spoke, “What is the meaning of this?” He glared at Owen, but the angel was staring at the ground, avoiding eye contact. Malak tried to wiggle, but his ribs creaked as the earthen hand squeezed down, and he let out a cry.
“Karl. Max. James. Talin. Micah,” Owen said, his voice quavering. His body trembled as he tightened his fists and stared at a sprouting weed. With each name, the hand around Malak’s body squeezed tighter and tighter, causing him to cough out a mouthful of blood. A faint rivulet of blood ran down the forearm of the hand, causing the ground to turn black by its base. Owen clenched his jaw. “Because of you, they died.”
Malak smirked. His face was pale, and a trail of blood leaked from the corner of his mouth, running under his chin and along his throat. His adam’s apple bobbed and he closed his eyes. A vertical blade of wind formed in the air in front of his face and shot towards Owen who was still staring downwards. The wind roared and Owen raised his head at the noise. His eyes widened and he leapt towards the side, but he didn’t manage to completely avoid the strike. The blade of wind collided with the metal armor, causing a line to appear from his left shoulder down to his right hip. Moments later, pools of blood started to spread along the gash. Owen’s brow furrowed as he stared at Malak’s face. “Humility? You?”
Malak chuckled, causing himself to wince as he raised his head. “I was never one to brag about my achievements,” he said. His vision turned pink as he stared into Owen’s eyes and smiled. “Enjoy yourself before you die.” Malak’s vision returned to normal as his face paled and sweat rolled down his forehead. His temples throbbed as Owen fell to the floor, head enveloped in a pink bubble of light. Malak’s breath was ragged as he hung his head, chin resting against his chest. His vision turned light-orange around the edges, and he closed his eyes. Before he passed out, he mumbled, “You’ll regret this. I’ll kill your little lady.”
Owen opened his eyes. Sunlight streamed in through the window beside him as he furrowed his brow and blinked. He stared at the white ceiling above his head and frowned. “What was I … doing?”
Owen turned his head to the side, his short hair rubbing against the pillow behind his head. Raea stared at him as she lay on her side with her right arm underneath the pillow. Her left arm clutched at the thin blanket in front of her chest. Her shoulders and collarbone were bare as she blinked at him, her white hair disheveled and framing her face.
“L-lady Raea?” Owen asked as he sat up in the bed. The blanket slid off of his chest, revealing his bare torso. “What—, why … no. Are—”
“Hush,” Raea said and giggled as she pressed a finger to his lips. She tilted her head as she sat up. “You didn’t enjoy last night? Shall we try again?” She pouted as her eyes shifted downwards. The mattress rustled as she inched closer and reached out to touch him with her hand. Owen scooted away from her and grabbed her wrist as his brow furrowed.
“Something is wrong,” Owen said as he gripped Raea’s wrist tighter. She gasped and winced before trying to retract her hand. “Where is Palan?”
“You’re acting really scary right now,” Raea said, quivering her lips. “What’s the matter?” She let out a cry and arched her back as Owen’s nails dug into her skin, causing the blanket to slide down her body. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. “Owen…”
“Your father assigned me as your bodyguard on the day you were born,” Owen said and narrowed his eyes. “He took me in and raised me as one of his own. I would never betray his trust and do something like this, even if I was drugged. And when I accidently hurt you with wrath …” Owen’s eyes widened as he stared at Raea, comprehension dawning on his face. A black crack formed on her forehead and spread down along her body as if he was looking into a shattered mirror. The image in front of his face faded away, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he was back in the forest, lying with his back on the ground. He groaned as he sat up, the cut along his body burning with every movement.
Owen glanced at Malak who was still pinned to the tree, careful not to make eye contact. Malak’s body was still, and his face was pointed at the ground. Blood ran down his face, dripping onto the hand holding him up. Owen frowned as he walked next to Malak and placed his hand on the trapped angel’s neck. He couldn’t find a pulse. Owen swore and punched the earthen hand, causing it to disintegrate. Malak’s body fell to the ground, lifeless. His body was twisted and the metal armor was scrunched up, digging into the angel’s flesh. “Did I tighten my grip on him because of the illusion?” Owen asked as he furrowed his brow. He sighed and shook his head before lifting up Malak’s corpse.
Owen walked through the forest, lost in thought as he returned to the glade. He placed Malak’s body next to the two dead guards and sighed as he knelt beside them. He clasped his hands together and said a prayer before placing his palms against the ground. A fissure opened up underneath the bodies and swallowed them. They disappeared into the earth without a sound and the fissure closed. Owen stood up and sighed again as he stared at the yellow moon. The two orange flames in his pupils were gone.