Palan sat on a wooden chair, hunched over a desk with a quill in his hands. Papers lay scattered over the tabletop, their pages filled to the edges with ink. Raea stood beside Palan, observing his work as he muttered while writing the same letter over and over. Raea asked, “And what sound does this letter make?”
“I’ll seriously kill you if you ask me that one more time,” Palan said as the quill snapped in his hand.
Raea pouted. “Can’t you just let me have my fun? It’s not every day that I get to be better than you at something,” she said. Palan glared at her, causing her to sigh. “Fine, fine.” She passed him a thin book. “This is a beginner level book that I found for you. It is unbelievably difficult to find reading material in this outpost.”
Palan looked at the cover. “The Little Dog That Couldn’t,” he said and frowned. “I’m not sure if you’re genuinely trying to help me or insulting my intelligence.”
“Is it too easy?” Raea asked and scratched her head. “I thought it’d be better to build a foundation first.”
The door to the room swung open before Palan could respond. Cleo walked into the room carrying a bundle of food wrapped in leaves. “I’m back,” she said and placed the bundle onto Palan’s lap. “It was really crowded outside. There were lots of people coming in from the gates. I saw a lot of lizardmen and goblins.” Her cheeks puffed up. “They were really rude too.”
“They must be the subordinates Captain Ishim wanted to gather,” Raea said. “It’s odd that he hasn’t returned yet. It shouldn’t take more than a week to go to the lizardmen’s city and back.”
“We should leave before Ishim comes back,” Palan said as he unwrapped the leaves and took a bite out of the meat inside.
“Leave?” Raea asked.
Raea’s brow furrowed. “Why?”
Palan shrugged as he took another bite and swallowed without chewing. “Just a feeling,” he said. “And I’m feeling restless from staying indoors for over a week.”
“We cannot leave,” Raea said. “Not without Captain Ishim’s permission or else we’ll be treated as deserters.”
“The punishment for desertion is death,” Raea said. “It’ll be impossible to even get close to the capital if you’re a deserter. We’ll be killed at the checkpoints. And even if we somehow manage to make it to the capital, my family would instantly turn me in.”
“You angels really have a thing for killing people, huh? What happened to forgiveness?” Cleo asked as she climbed up the back of Palan’s chair and rested her chin on his head. “We just brand our deserters and exile them from the tribe.”
Raea sighed. “I didn’t make the rules,” she said. “I do not approve of death penalties. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
There was a knock on the door. Raea raised an eyebrow and looked at Palan, but he was busy discarding the leaves in his lap. She pursed her lips before walking to the door and opened it. An angel who was a head shorter than her held out a letter. He asked, “Are you Lieutenant Raea Caelum? There is a letter for her.”
Raea nodded and took the rolled up parchment. Binding it was a wax seal with two crossing wings which were similar to the ones on her badge. “Thank you,” she said and closed the door as the angel saluted and ran away. She hesitated before breaking the seal and unfurling the paper. Her brow furrowed as she read the letter. She sighed after she finished reading.
“What happened?” Cleo asked as Raea walked back towards the desk.
“Let me see,” Palan said and snatched the letter out of Raea’s hands. His eyes slowly but steadily traced the lines on the paper. Seconds turned into minutes as Raea and Cleo stared at him, waiting expectantly. “Who’s the Stormbringer?”
“One of the strongest angels on the council even though he has aged a lot,” Raea said. “He’s the one who forced the frost giants back north when they invaded over thirty years ago. Did you understand everything on the letter?”
“Is that your pride speaking?”
“Tell me what’s happening!” Cleo said and pouted as her tail swished behind her.
“The Stormbringer is leading an army of one thousand people over here, and he wants to meet with Raea,” Palan said. “Whether he takes action or not against Ishim and his people depends on how the conversation with Raea goes. Am I right?” He turned his head towards Raea.
“I guess I really did do you an injustice by buying you that book,” Raea said and sighed. “You’re correct.”
“And that part about earning enough merits to move up a sector?” Palan asked.
“If things go well, we should end up in the third sector by the end of this month,” Raea said and nodded. “One step closer to the capital.”
“Good,” Palan said and smiled. His eyes narrowed. “Who’s stronger? The Stormbringer or Sariel?”
“Probably the Stormbringer? Sariel has never fought publicly,” Raea said. “But strength isn’t everything. Sariel plays a more vital role to the capital’s well-being.”
“I see,” Palan said as he leaned back, balancing on the hind legs of his chair. The room was oddly silent. The noisy atmosphere outside of the building had disappeared. Raea frowned and looked out the window. The angels were standing at attention and a figure could be seen approaching them from the distance.
“It seems like Captain Ishim is back,” Raea said. She bit her lip as she continued to watch Ishim walk towards the building. A crowd of angels and halflings followed behind him. “And it looks like he’s coming this way?” Ishim met her eyes through the window. His eyes were completely red with no traces of white. Raea frowned as he mouthed something.
The door to the room exploded with a bang as a scaled foot pierced through from outside. Raea stiffened and Palan sighed as he got off his chair, unsheathing Anidun’s dagger. He said, “I told you we should’ve left. My gut feelings are never wrong.”
A flood of angels and halflings poured into the room as Raea retreated behind Palan. Cleo frowned as she scampered behind the duo. “What is the meaning of this?” Raea asked.
Ishim walked into the room, standing behind his crowd of subordinates. “We’re doing some housecleaning,” he said. “You have two options: swear loyalty to me or die. I hope you’re smarter than those fools by the barracks.” Blood dripped from the soldiers’ unsheathed weapons.
“Bind them,” Palan whispered to Raea. She nodded and chains flew out of her back, rushing towards the crowd in front of them.
“Emil,” Ishim said. A fully armored figure stepped forward and stretched out its hand. A white light flashed and the chains vanished. Ishim smiled. “Did you really think I would come unprepared?”
“Charity nullification?” Raea asked and furrowed her brow.
Ishim ignored her question. He narrowed his eyes and said, “Seize her. It doesn’t matter if she loses a few limbs. A Caelum is a great hostage, even if she’s a disgrace.”