Raea frowned as she sat on her bed with her chest glowing blue, staring at Palan who was meditating across from her. By the door, Uzziel was standing guard with a lance and kiteshield, glaring at Palan. Even though Raea had assured him that nothing would happen, he wanted to be ready. Tara was sleeping on Palan’s bed, occasionally letting out soft snores while holding onto the depressed-looking Cleo.
“Palan,” Raea mumbled and furrowed her brow. Palan raised his head and stared at her. She brought her hand to her mouth and shook her head. “It’s nothing.” She lowered her hand and clutched the hem of her robes as she brought her knees to her chest. Her face hardened as she recalled the trip she just took with Uzziel.
After lecturing her, the colonel had brought her to the checkpoint’s lodgings for the army. The demons had been segregated from the angels, and their living conditions were noticeably worse than the angels. Their food consisted of the raw and unpleasant parts of the animals hunted for dinner: the intestines and organs. The angels, on the other hand, were left with the best parts which were in the process of being cooked and seasoned. She had asked, “Why is there such a disparity between the two groups?”
“Demons are just animals that can speak,” was the reply that Uzziel had given her. “They are incapable of feeling, always acting on their base instincts.”
“That’s not true,” Raea had said and shook her head. “Palan is capable of experiencing all the feelings we can.”
“He’s faking them in order to live more comfortably,” Uzziel had said. “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. You must be more firm when controlling your demon. They should be glad we take them away from their hellish environment.”
Raea bit her lip and shook her head again, letting her hair fall over her face. Palan wasn’t like that. His feelings for his sister were genuine. And wasn’t there that time he used kindness to heal her? That would’ve been impossible with fake emotions. But then, why would Uzziel lie to her? She sighed and raised her head to stare at Palan. Her chest tightened when she saw Tara curled up behind him, and she furrowed her brow.
There was a knock on the door, causing Uzziel to flinch. He stepped to the side and opened it. A young looking angel was waiting on the other side. He saluted when he saw the badge on Uzziel’s chest. “I am here to inform you that dinner is ready to be served,” the boy said. “Would you like to eat at the cafeteria or would you like me to bring your meal here?”
“We will eat in the cafeteria,” Uzziel said as he began to close the door. “You are dismissed.” He faced Raea. “Do you need to get dressed or will you be going like that?”
Raea shook her head. “I’m not hungry,” she said. “Go without me.”
Uzziel frowned. “Tonight is the last night we will be spending here before marching,” he said. “We already delayed a few days because of your report to make ample preparations. If you don’t eat now, you may not have the chance until the next time we make camp.”
Raea sighed. “Very well then,” she said. “Are you coming, Palan?” Uzziel’s face hardened.
“Yes,” Palan said as the blue light surrounding his body faded away. “It would be unfortunate for me if you died. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened”—he shot a glare at Uzziel—”knowing how these angels behave.” He wrinkled his nose as he started to stand. Before he could leave the bed, a pair of arms latched onto his shoulders, and cold metal touched his back.
“Carry me, thanks,” Tara mumbled, her body clinging onto him. Cleo smiled and stretched out her arms and legs before hopping off the bed. Tara’s voice was barely audible as she spoke into Palan’s ear. “The one the angels will want to kill is you. I’m not letting you die before you kill Uzziel.”
Palan gritted his teeth as he channeled his power. The floor splintered underneath him, but Tara’s body remained glued to his back, completely unmoving. Any motions he made to throw her off were stopped midway. Uzziel and Raea stared at the twitching Palan until he exhaled and spat out a tooth. Palan walked towards Raea while speaking under his breath, “You’re really trying to provoke me, aren’t you?” Tara only giggled in response.
“We can drop the two of them off at the demons’ stables while heading towards the cafeteria,” Uzziel said and rubbed his chin. “It would be a slight detour.”
“There is no need for that,” Raea said. “Palan will eat in the cafeteria with me.”
“Miss Caelum,” Uzziel said as his eyes narrowed. “Have you already forgotten what I showed you?”
“No,” Raea said and stared into Uzziel’s eyes. “I read the rulebook for the army before I was dispatched to the borderland. There are no rules against bringing a demon into the cafeteria.”
“There are unwritten rules that everyone follows,” Uzziel said. “Segregated—”
“If it is not in the rulebook,” Raea said, her voice raising, “then I am not doing anything wrong. I will have my dinner with Palan, or I will not have any dinner at all.”
Uzziel stared at Raea before sighing. “You’re as stubborn as Elrith,” he said before shaking his head. “Very well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He turned his gaze towards Tara. “And what is with you? Are you really that enamored by this regular demon? Waking you up to eat was worse than pulling teeth.” There was no response. Uzziel snorted before opening the door.
The group traveled to the cafeteria. It was within the walls of the checkpoint. The room was windowless and lit up by blue crystals hanging from the ceiling. Hundreds of tables that could easily fit ten people were lined up along one side of the room. On the other side, stands filled with food were manned by goblins and lizardmen. Cleo’s mouth fell open at the sheer size of the place, and she tugged on Raea’s arm. “There’s so much food here! You could feed my city for weeks with this amount of food.”
A few soldiers turned to stare at Raea. They started to whisper. “Weren’t there rumors about General Elrith’s little sister accompanying our army?”
“Yeah. Is that her? I’ve never seen Colonel Uzziel accompany anyone here.”
“The Tyrant had a little sister? Seriously?”
Gradually, a wave of silence washed over the room. People in the back noticed that the front was becoming less noisy and they turned their heads to observe, causing the people behind them to fall silent as well. Uzziel let out a sigh as he addressed Raea. “I was in the same class as Elrith, you know? These people don’t bat an eye when I walk in, but the instant Elrith’s little sister, who they’ve never seen before, walks in, the room falls silent. How is this even fair?”
The room was completely silent except for the footsteps of Raea’s group as they walked past a few tables before approaching a food stand. The soldiers were all standing and saluting in silence. Raea was flabbergasted. “What did Elly do to these people?” she asked, turning towards Uzziel. “And you say I act similarly to him?”
Uzziel nodded. “What are you all saluting for!” he shouted towards the room. “She’s only a lieutenant. All of you were at least captains before being promoted to this army!” The soldiers looked at each other before putting their arms down. They took their seats and gradually, the din began to rise.
Raea took a seat with Palan, and the surrounding soldiers cleared out of the area. Uzziel sighed. “I told you that you’d be isolated because of your demon,” he said.
Raea raised an eyebrow. “I have a feeling that no one would want to sit with me regardless of whether or not Palan was here.” She stared up at the ceiling and recalled her oldest brother who would entertain her with hand puppets and funny faces. She wanted to ask him, “Did you become this terrifying while I was gone, or did I just never notice who you truly were?” She sighed and bit into her sandwich. She found that it was only after seeing more of the world, that she realized how little she actually knew. She glanced at Palan who was sniffing his food for poison like he always did and couldn’t help but smile.