“Lieutenant Raea has returned.” Wooden gates swung open as a crowd of angels stood behind it. They had poured out of the nearby buildings, looking for some kind of entertainment to relieve their boredom.
Murmurs broke out through the crowd as Raea rode through the wooden gates with Palan on her left and Owen on her right. Carmella, Gerome, and Cleo rode behind them. On Gerome’s horse, a wrapped up lizardman corpse was riding with the angel, black splotches staining the bandages.
“That few?” a soldier asked. “I thought they left with close to fifty people.”
“But they went to the lizardmen camp—the marked one,” the soldier next to him said. “And Lieutenant Malak would not have let them come back if they failed.”
“Seriously? She looks too young to be a lieutenant, and why is that person wearing black armor?”
Raea ignored the whispers of the crowd as her group dismounted. Carmella led the horses to the stables while Cleo yawned and rubbed her eyes. A soldier approached them and saluted Raea. “Lieutenant Raea,” he said. “Captain Ishim wishes to see you immediately.”
Raea nodded. Palan thought he saw her body tremble but didn’t say anything as he followed after her. The messenger guided them towards Ishim’s residence, the crowd clearing a path. The first sun was shining directly overhead when they arrived. The messenger attempted to stop Raea’s entourage from following after her, but Palan tossed him aside with one hand. Cleo followed after her master, sticking her tongue out at the baffled soldier. Owen and Gerome chose to stay outside while Carmella was left wondering where they all went after returning from the stables.
Ishim was sitting on a couch with a cup of tea placed on the table in front of him. “Lieutenant Raea,” he said and crossed his legs. He gestured towards the couch opposite himself. “Have a seat. Did you bring back proof of your conquest?”
Raea nodded as she took a seat and folded her hands in her lap. Palan stood behind her and crossed his arms, his visor obscuring his face. “Yes, Captain Ishim,” Raea said and nodded. “My subordinate is carrying it. He is right outside the building.”
Ishim’s expression didn’t change as he drummed his fingers on his seat. “John,” he said. “Bring it here.” His demon butler nodded and left the room. Moments later, he came back carrying the lizardman corpse. Ishim’s face wrinkled at the smell. “I told you to bring back his head. Not the whole thing.”
“The tattoos are the main distinguishing factor between a chieftain and an ordinary lizardman,” Raea said as her hands turned white from squeezing too tightly. “I figured it would be easier to identify than just the head alone.”
“I see,” Ishim said as John undid the bandages on the lizardman’s body. The black tattoos were easily identifiable even though the corpse was in the process of decaying. “Get rid of it.” John nodded and tossed it out the window into the garden. Ishim faced Raea. “Tell me everything that happened.”
Raea frowned as she stared at the open window. “I was going to write a report,” she said, turning her head back towards Ishim.
“There are some things better left off of paper,” Ishim said as he leaned forward and narrowed his eyes at her. “Tell me. What did the city look like? I need to be sure you subjugated the right place.”
Raea bit her lip. “The city was circular in nature and surrounded by wooden spike walls. At the center was a large boulder with a cave that the lizardmen called the forbidden region. Then ther—”
“That is enough,” Ishim said and raised his hand. His face hardened. “I will cut straight to the point. Did you see Sir Anidun?”
Raea’s eyes widened. “You knew about his existence?”
Ishim leaned back in his chair and exhaled. “So he approved of you? Is that why you were able to come back alive?” he asked. His voice was lower as he stroked his chin. “It has been many years, huh?”
“Did you intend for me to die?” Raea asked, narrowing her eyes at him. She reached behind her back but realized she left her halberd with Owen before entering. John took a step forward with his hands behind his back, stepping just ahead of Ishim’s couch.
“Tell me,” Ishim said, ignoring Raea’s hostile gaze. “Where is Sir Anidun now?”
“Dead,” Raea said. Ishim froze, his mouth slightly parted. “I buried his body in a glade near the lizardmen’s city.”
“Impossible,” Ishim said and shook his head. “You must be jok—” His gaze fell onto the red dagger that Palan was holding up in his hand. The armored demon slowly moved it back and forth, causing Ishim’s eyes to shift from side to side, before resheathing it with a snapping sound. The sound seemed to bring Ishim out of his stupor. He roared as he leapt to his feet. “Where did you get that dagger!?” Flickers of flames danced around Ishim’s hands.
Raea’s eyes widened as she stood up, emitting a white light. Glowing chains shot out of her back, instantly binding everyone in the room. “What are you doing?” she asked. The chains forced Ishim’s hands towards the ground and turned his head towards John.
“Did you have to bind me too?” Palan asked. Seconds later, the white chains entangling his body disappeared. Palan lifted his visor and smirked at Ishim before lowering it again. He stepped forward and dangled the dagger in front of Ishim’s face. The word Anidun seemed to be burned into Ishim’s vision. “You mean this? I found it on the floor.”
“Nonsense!” Ishim said. Flames puffed out of his eyes and hands, but he was unable to target Palan due to the chains holding him down. Palan smiled at the struggling angel even though no one could see it underneath his helmet. He raised the dagger into the air above Ishim. Before he could bring it down, a chain branched off from one of the ones on Ishim’s body and ensnared Palan’s wrist.
“Don’t hurt him,” Raea said and frowned. A bead of sweat rolled down her face as she sat back down. “There are too many questions that we need answers to. Do you think we can settle this peacefully?” Her question was directed at Ishim.
The flames dancing around Ishim’s body disappeared as he took in a deep breath. “Yes,” he said. “I lost myself for a moment. I was not expecting your chains of patience to be so … strong.” The chains of light disappeared and Ishim straightened his back. He glared at Palan before returning to his seat. Palan snorted and sheathed his dagger. It was true that Ishim could answer their questions and killing him here would be detrimental to his goal. With those thoughts in mind, he returned to Raea’s side, standing in front of her instead of behind her this time.