Palan’s eyes shifted to glance around the room. After confirming his surroundings, he sat up stretched his arms. His right hand felt slightly stiff, but he couldn’t complain. The last time he lost his arm to a lion as a child, it took two months to regrow. He was lying in the same bed—that was somehow repaired—as before, but Raea’s bed on the other side of the room was empty. “Why are you hiding under my bed?” Palan asked out loud.
“Shut up and listen,” Tara’s voice said from below him.
Muffled voices entered his ears from beyond the door.
“Out of respect for your brother, I will not be reporting this to General Michael.”
“You should seriously consider replacing your demon, however. Any action he performs is directly reflected on you. If he kills a civilian, then the responsibility falls on you, the owner. You understand that, right?”
“The look you are giving me tells me you aren’t going to listen.” There was a pause followed by an exhale. “Honestly, how did you even contract with a pride demon? Every time someone summoned one, they would fight to the death and kill themselves if they were subdued.”
“It’s fine if you don’t want to answer. Just consider what I’ve told you. There is no place in Div’Nya for a demon to live as a peer. They’re tools that can’t be changed, only suppressed. You would’ve been taught that if you went through the natural channels of summoning a demon.” Clothes rustled. “There’s something I want to show you; come with me.”
Footsteps resounded through the room before fading away.
“And that’s how it is,” Tara said as she crawled out from underneath his bed, holding onto Cleo.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Palan said as he glared at the demon.
Tara yawned. “Does it matter? How’d you even know I was there? Are you psychic?”
“Then you should already know why. Stop asking useless questions,” Tara said as her eyes drooped. She blinked a few times and forced them open with her fingers. Cleo escaped from her grasp and hid behind Palan.
“What were you two listening to?” Cleo asked as she peeked her head out from above Palan’s shoulder.
“You couldn’t hear?” Palan asked, raising an eyebrow. Cleo shook her head. Palan stared at Tara who flashed him a smile, showing her two fangs.
Tara pushed her hair back, revealing two pointed ears. They twitched. “Do you know what a bat is?”
Palan didn’t respond.
“Understandable,” Tara said, taking his silence as a no. “They can only be found on Div’Nya. Isn’t it interesting how some demons resemble animals on a land so far away from where they were born?”
“What do you want?” Palan asked.
Tara chuckled. “Straight to the point,” she said. “I miss talking to demons. Angels have a habit of dancing around the topic until finally narrowing in on it right when you’re about to fall asleep.” She cleared her throat, and the smile on her face vanished. “I want you to kill Colonel Uzziel.”
“Then why’d you stop me before?”
“Obligations to my contract,” Tara said and waved her hand. “He can only command me to act one more time. Then, when he uses that up, I can just laugh in his face as he begs for me to save him.”
“And what do I get for killing him for you?”
“I’ll let you live,” Tara said and smiled. Palan’s face hardened, and his hand instinctively moved to his empty waist. “I’m joking of course. I believe in positive incentives, not negative ones. Having someone want to do something for you is so much better than forcing them to do something. The results are ten times better.” Tara drummed her fingers on the floor as Palan continued to stare at her. “Aren’t you curious about your powers?”
“You’re a pride demon?”
“No, but I’ve killed dozens of them in my time at Haalbeh,” Tara said. “They’re so fun to break. Every time you beat them and leave them alive, they come back just a little bit stronger. And that expression of anger and frustration they get when they think they’re finally about to win, and you crush their hopes by tearing them limb from limb.” She shivered and closed her eyes. “It almost feels as good as sleeping.”
Palan didn’t even bat an eye as Cleo dug her claws into his skin, her body trembling. “Tell me first,” Palan said.
Tara reached into her bosom and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. “You should know what this is,” she said and unfolded it. She took a yellow crystal out of her pocket and pressed it against the page. Letters formed on the paper as she spoke. “I, the sloth demon Tara, will tell the pride demon Palan everything I know about the abilities of a pride demon. In return, the pride demon Palan will kill Uzziel Desti within a year. The contract will be void if Uzziel Desti dies before Palan can kill him.” A drop of blood appeared on her thumb, as if an invisible needle pricked her, and she pressed the droplet onto the page. She passed the contract to Palan.
Palan hesitated before piercing his thumb with his teeth. “I was going to kill him anyway,” he said and pressed his thumb against the page. The page disappeared with a golden light. Palan’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Tara. He already decided that there were three people that had to die: Michael, Uzziel, and Tara.
“Won’t you be affected by his death due to the contract?” Palan asked.
“That’s not something you need to worry about, is it?” Tara asked. “I was the uncontested champion of Haalbeh for three years. Do you know what they call a one time winner of Haalbeh’s arena?”
“I’ve never been to Haalbeh.”
“The next archdemon,” Tara said. Her face was expressionless, but for a moment, Palan couldn’t help but think she was threatening him.
“Tell me about Haalbeh,” Palan said as he frowned. He felt irritation at his own sense of fear, no matter how brief.
“Equivalent exchange,” Tara said and smiled as she leaned back, propping herself up with her arms. “What are you going to give me?”
“I’ll let you live,” Palan said, smiling at her.
“Oh? You can tell jokes too?” Tara asked and raised an eyebrow. “You’re not in the position to even suggest something like that.”
Tara tilted her head before nodding. “Then sign a contract on it,” she said and pulled out another piece of paper. She smiled when Palan hesitated. “Thought so. As if a pride demon would exchange his pride for some knowledge, who are you kidding?”
“But I’ll tell you anyway,” Tara said and put the empty contract away. “I don’t believe a pride demon would leave himself indebted to someone either.”
Palan’s frown deepened.