“So Ishim is really intending on rebelling?” Michael asked as he rubbed his chin. His eyebrows were slightly creased as he made eye contact with Raea. “And everything you say is true? There are no embellishments or hyperbole?”
“Yes. I swear that everything I just told you occurred exactly as it happened,” Raea said and nodded, turning her head towards Palan as if seeking his confirmation. The demon seemed relaxed, standing next to the couch with his right hand dangling loosely by his dagger, but Cleo knew that the muscles in his calves and hamstrings had been tensed ever since Michael stepped into the room. Palan chose to stay silent as he stared at Michael, ignoring Raea’s gaze.
Likewise, Michael didn’t even seem to acknowledge Palan’s existence, keeping his line of sight on Raea at all times. He asked her, “Do you have any proof of Ishim’s collaboration with Anidun? Just the word of a single angel is not enough to proclaim him guilty, even if your old man thinks it is.”
“I am an angel of kindness,” Raea said, creasing her brow. “I do not lie.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Michael said as he crossed his arms. “But at the same time, you were exiled to the borderland for a reason. You should realize that this fact alone brings your credentials down. The world would be in chaos if people were punished because of the single accusation of a child.”
“But Captain Ishim is gathering all of the lieutenants and forcing the soldiers to join them,” Raea said and clenched her hands, wrinkling the robe’s cloth at her lap. “You will see that I am not lying when you go there to confront him.”
“That may indeed be the case,” Michael said and nodded, “but I have to see it for myself first. Of course, I will proceed keeping your words in mind. I am not conceited enough to believe that I am invincible just because I have the support of the army; despite my old age, I am very keen and mindful of things like ambushes. I have been sent here as the judge, jury, and executioner, but before I can do any of that, I must know all the details from both sides of the story.”
Raea lowered her head. “I understand,” she said. “I have said what I needed to say.” She turned towards Palan. “Do you have anything you wish to add?”
“Do you consult with your demon often?” Michael asked before Palan could say anything.
“What do you mean?” Raea asked and turned towards Michael, a slight frown on her face.
“You shouldn’t let your demon speak lest he start to influence you,” Michael said. “Dogs are meant to be commanded—not placed in charge. We are the ones using them. Do not forget that.”
Palan narrowed his eyes and gripped the handle of his dagger. “Wh—”
The room seemed to explode as a bolt of red thunder snaked out of Michael’s eyes and slammed into Palan’s solar plexus, launching him off his feet into the wall behind him. A series of cracks formed in a web-like pattern around Palan’s torso on the stone wall before he slid to the floor, leaving a trail of blood. His chest and abdomen were torn open, his organs visible through the mangled flesh, and the splintered fragments of his sternum littered the floor.
“Palan!” Raea shouted as she jumped off the couch and ran to his side. She could see the bloody flesh in his chest, pulsing up and down in time with his heart. She pressed her hands against his shoulders and closed her eyes. Her hands started to glow, the intensity of the light increasing as her grasp tightened. Cleo had to close her eyes and turn her head away to prevent herself from being blinded. A groan escaped from Palan’s lips along with a mouthful of black blood. The edges of his wounds squirmed and wriggled as new flesh grew in strands, twisting around each other.
Five minutes passed, and Raea opened her eyes. The wounds on Palan’s body were completely healed. Raea tried to stand, but wobbled and fell over onto Palan. Her body trembled and sweat seemed to leak from every part of her body, drenching her robe. She noticed Michael’s feet behind her, but couldn’t raise her head to look up at him. “Impressive,” the general said. “Although it seems like you won’t be able to move for a while, you were almost able to heal on an archangel’s level. You focused on mending him too much and disregarded the toll it would take on his body. He probably feels more exhausted than you right now.”
“I’ll kill you,” Palan said, blood dripping from his mouth. His bright-red eyes seemed to glow as he glared at Michael, unable to even raise his hands to push Raea off of his body. A visible green ball of wind flowed from Michael’s right hand. It rushed towards Palan’s face, slamming the back of his head into the wall with a cracking sound.
“Who said you could speak?” the archangel said as he stared into Palan’s dimming eyes. “If it weren’t for the little Caelum’s contract with you, I would have killed you four times over.” Michael directed his gaze at Raea. “I know you were envious of your siblings and wanted a demon for yourself, but there’s a reason why that old man wouldn’t let you make a contract. You should get rid of this thing as soon as possible. He’s not a good fit for you; a sloth would suit you the best.” He frowned when Raea didn’t reply, but shrugged it off. “I’ll send someone to keep watch over you. Until I figure out the facts of the case, you will be treated as a potential deserter. Personally, I don’t think that would be necessary, but protocols are protocols.” He turned around and walked out of the room, leaving behind two people collapsed in a heap and a shivering orange lizardman.
A frown was plastered on Michael’s face as he walked back through the pair of double doors, towards the lodgings for his army. The white light that Raea emitted was replaying in his mind. In order to heal someone on that level at such a young age, the number of lies she must’ve told would have to be no greater than two throughout her whole life. It seemed like he really had to prepare himself for a war. He arrived at a building and pushed open the door. “Uzziel,” he said, staring at the room’s occupant. “I need you to watch over a lieutenant for me.”
Uzziel raised an eyebrow. The blanket string was still attached to his hand as Tara floated in the air beside him. “I will do as you ask,” he said and saluted, “but why me?” Everyone in the Stormbringer’s army was capable of watching over a lieutenant.
“She made a contract with a troublesome demon,” Michael said. “I do not think anything will happen, but I believe you are capable of managing if worse comes to worst.”
“Troublesome demon, huh?” Uzziel muttered as his gaze drifted towards the softly snoring Tara. “I think I can relate. Leave it to me, General.”