The second sun was beginning to set, and the army was starting to slow to a crawl. Tents were being pitched along the road, and giant bonfires were lit. Raea groaned as she stretched out her feet before falling over backwards onto a soft mattress. The elephants had been dragging the army’s supplies behind them in wooden containers with wheels. Uzziel, who sat on the other side of the tent, grinned at Raea. “You aren’t too used to marching, huh?”
Raea shook her head. “Palan’s pace was a lot … harsher than this when we were traveling towards the checkpoint,” she said. “But I’m still not used to it. The only traveling I did back in the capital was taking a stroll through our garden.” She glanced at Palan who was staring outside the tent with his brows creased. “Why do you look so apprehensive?”
“They’re building fires,” Palan said. He returned Raea’s gaze and relaxed the muscles in his face.
Raea couldn’t help but remember being ambushed by the greater demon and his lizardman army. She bit her lip and shuddered. Uzziel frowned. “What’s wrong with fires?” he asked Raea, ignoring Palan.
“Won’t we be attacked?” Raea asked in response.
Uzziel laughed . “By what? Nothing’s stupid enough to attack an army of this size.”
Palan smirked but didn’t say anything as he closed the tent flap. Raea brought her knees to her chest. “Aren’t we giving our location away?”
“Does it matter?” Uzziel asked. “Chances are Captain Ishim already knows we’re on the way. If a war does break out, then it’ll be fought honorably. They wouldn’t resort to some petty tactics like those disgusting halflings.” Cleo’s cheeks puffed up as she squirmed in Tara’s grasp, the two of them floating in the air.
Palan snorted. “Didn’t we come to give your general a warning? You even claimed that he took an extra day to make precautions,” he said. “Where are those precautions now?”
“Shut your mouth, demon,” Uzziel said. “I wasn’t speaking to you.”
Palan glared at him as his mouth snapped shut. Before he could even finish unsheathing his dagger, Raea spoke up, “Please don’t do that, Palan. I know he’s hurting your pride, but could you forgive him just this once? For me?” Palan shot her a glance. She sighed because she could tell—even though he couldn’t speak—that he was saying no.
Palan frowned as he tried to finish unsheathing his dagger but found that he couldn’t move his arm. He turned his head towards Tara. Even though it seemed like she was asleep, Palan thought he saw her shake her head ever so slightly. He exhaled through his nose before giving up and sitting down next to Raea with a scowl on his face. Raea looked pleasantly surprised and turned to face Uzziel. “What precautions did General Michael take?”
“He sent out scouts to check the roads and woods for ambushes,” Uzziel said and crossed his arms. He opened his mouth to speak again, but a voice interrupted him.
“Excuse me,” the voice said from outside the tent. “Dinner is ready. Would you like me to bring it here, Colonel Uzziel?”
“Yes. Bring two servings,” Uzziel said.
“Bring five servings,” Raea said, furrowing her brow at Uzziel.
“Colonel?” the voice asked.
“Five servings,” Uzziel said. He shook his head and muttered, “If you weren’t Elrith’s baby sister.”
“Understood. I’ll be back soon,” the voice said. Sounds of metal clinking on stone reached their ears and faded away.
“You know,” Uzziel said, staring at Raea, “most demons can last for two weeks without eating. It’s fine if you refuse to feed them for a few days. It’ll teach them who the master in the relationship is if you dictate when they get to eat.”
“I mean no offense to you, but it seems like Tara is the master between the two of you,” Raea said. Uzziel’s face cramped. “What I’ve been doing has worked out well for me so far, but I will keep your advice in mind.”
“Tara’s a special case,” Uzziel said and looked down. “If I knew then what I know now, things wouldn’t be like this. I don’t want to see you making the same mistakes I made with your demon.” He sighed and turned his head to look at the floating blanket in the air. “I shouldn’t have made a level one contract with her. A level three or four would’ve been best. I’m guessing you made a level two contract with your demon?”
“Contracts should be kept confidential,” Raea said and pursed her lips.
Uzziel rolled his eyes. “Here I was thinking you didn’t care about unwritten rules.”
Footsteps approached the tent. “I have brought you your meals,” the voice said. Raea opened the tent flap and found a tray with five bowls of stew by the entrance. She saw a figure walking away from the tent, heading towards the nearest bonfire.
“Odd,” Raea said as she took the tray in. “He left so quickly.”
“He has to deliver dinner to more people,” Uzziel said as he walked over and picked up a bowl before sitting back down across the tent. Raea shrugged and passed a bowl to Palan. He sniffed it and dipped his finger in it, pressing a drop against his closed lips. Uzziel rolled his eyes and drank deeply from his own bowl.
“Taraaaa,” Cleo said and wriggled while pouting. “I’m hungry. Let me down.” A bowl of soup levitated into the air and flew towards Cleo. She reached towards it, but found that it was just outside her reach. “You’re a bully.”
“It tastes better than usual today,” Uzziel said as he placed his empty bowl onto the ground. Palan’s eyes glittered, and a smile danced on his lips. Raea returned to her seat next to Palan with a bowl of stew in her hands. She was about to take a sip, but Palan grabbed the edge of the bowl and stared at her. Raea tilted her head at him. He shook his head.
“Let him speak,” Raea said, facing Uzziel. The colonel sighed before waving his hand dismissively.
“Now he’s dictating when you eat,” the colonel said under his breath.
“I think it’s poisoned,” Palan said. Cleo stopped reaching for the floating bowl as her face paled. “I smelled hints of my stop powder.”
“Don’t talk nonsense!” Uzziel said. “I’m perfectly fine. If it was poisoned, why didn’t you try and stop me from drinking it?”
“I couldn’t speak,” Palan said and smirked. “You may be fine for now. Just wait until you finish digesting it.”
“You’re being serious right now?” Raea asked.
“Yes,” Palan said and nodded. “I want to meet this poison user. My own supplies have been far too low for far too long.”