“Colonel Simon still has not returned, but he is close to catching the cook,” an angel said, approaching Michael and saluting. “Squads eight and four have suffered some casualties, while a quarter of the troops are still poisoned. The angels who ambushed us have already fled the area.” The angel had no armor and had a white blindfold covering his eyes. He wore brown robes and wielded a simple wooden staff. The angel’s voice deepened. “But there was two people I could not see through—excluding you of course.”
Palan tilted his head at the angel and waved his hand in front of the angel’s face. There was no reaction. Palan turned to Raea with an eyebrow raised. “Who’s the blind guy?” he asked. Raea scratched her head and shrugged, turning towards Michael.
“This is Pyre,” Michael said, gesturing towards the blindfolded angel. Pyre nodded his head. The general’s gaze was distant as he ruminated on the blindfolded angel’s words.
Pyre turned towards Palan. “You must be General Elrith’s little sister. The glow around you is as resplendent as his, maybe even greater. The Caelum’s are truly blessed,” Pyre said and smiled. “It is a pleasure to meet you.” Palan didn’t bother correcting him. Pyre turned towards Raea before she could speak. “And you must be her demon. I saw something very interesting in you. You are like a burning candle in a large cave; there is still much that cannot be seen.”
“You got them confused,” Cleo said from Palan’s back. “Can’t really fault a blind person though.”
“Oh?” Pyre asked. He frowned, causing wrinkles to appear on his forehead. “I am sorry about that. And you must be the little lizardman. It is quite odd that you haven’t matured yet.” Cleo’s cheeks puffed out.
“No need to apologize,” Raea said, nodding at Pyre before pausing awkwardly when she realized it was a futile gesture.
“Pyre is a greater angel of knowledge and self-sacrifice,” Michael said. “By combining the two, he is able to “see” the condition of everything around him. He’s one of the greatest strengths of my army. It’s a pity about the self-sacrifice part though.” The corner of the general’s lips turned downwards as Pyre chuckled.
“Please,” Pyre said and tapped his staff against the floor, “you rate me too highly. My skill is nothing compared to Sariel’s.” He coughed into the crook of his elbow, staining his robe red. “If you will excuse me.” His head turned towards the direction he came from.
“Of course,” Michael said as he waved towards a soldier standing nearby. The soldier ran towards Pyre and helped him walk away. Michael inhaled while closing his eyes. He hadn’t wanted to use Pyre’s ability so early, but he did find the cook’s behavior too odd. “Bury the dead. Heal the wounded. Get some rest. I will personally keep watch tonight and every night after if I have to.”
“Yes, sir!” Soldiers bustled about as the wounded were carried towards the medics. The dead were lifted and brought to the edge of the forest as a few angels split the earth and created tombs with the power of diligence. Palan wanted to dig up the corpses and feast on them, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling of being stalked. It seemed like every time he turned to look at Michael, the archangel was gazing at him. In the end, he abandoned the plan but mentally marked the graves in his head.
“What are you thinking about?” Raea whispered into Palan’s ear. He looked constipated while staring at the tent wall across from him. The two of them sat on the same blanket with Cleo sprawled out in front of them. Uzziel was sitting by the tent’s exit, his face wrinkling because he was unable to decipher what his tentmates were saying.
“There’s a lot of powers that I don’t know about,” Palan said, whispering in return just to annoy Uzziel, “and that really pisses me off.”
“Well,” Raea said and hesitated, “it is understandable. You didn’t exactly receive the greatest education. And I do not know many of them myself; there was never a need for me to know. I was only taught the basics of the seven heavenly virtues in case I developed them later on. The others that I knew were from hearsay.”
Palan snorted. “I already know all seven of those by now,” he said. “I’ve personally experienced six of them, and I saw your abilities get canceled by the seventh. It would’ve helped if you told me about them a lot earlier.”
“You never asked,” Raea said and smiled. “Although I guess I am partly to blame for expecting a pride demon to ask questions.” Raea paused and brought her finger to her lip. “But you’ve asked me many questions before, so it’s actually all your fault.”
“Did you just absolve yourself of all blame?”
“Of course,” Raea said. “I can forgive myself quite easily for a minor matter.” Her face hardened. “It’s only for the larger burdens that I can’t.” Palan’s forehead slightly creased as he looked at Raea. A sudden impulse to reach out and place his hand on her shoulder attacked his mind, but he quickly suppressed it. He rested his weight on the hand that had lifted itself a millimeter off the blanket and frowned. Uzziel’s eyes glinted as he watched Palan react to Raea’s dejected face.
“What do you think you’re staring at?” Palan asked, glaring at Uzziel. The blanket balled up beneath Palan’s hand as it closed into a fist. To Palan, it seemed like it had been far too long since he last went out to hunt by himself, even though only less than a week had passed. Uzziel smirked at him before focusing his gaze on Raea.
“Bearing burdens is something a Caelum must do,” the colonel said. “Those are the words of your brother. I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, and I still don’t understand now, but I hope those words can help you.” Raea frowned. “You can ask him what he meant the next time you see him.”
“Thank you,” Raea said and dipped her head downwards. “I will do that.” She seemed a little less troubled. Palan furrowed his brow and crossed his legs before clearing his mind. His face relaxed as his back started to glow blue. As a person hell-bent on survival, he had things he naturally worried about: his low strength, how he was going to kill Sariel, potential threats, Raea’s physical health. There was no time or need for him to worry about Raea’s emotional state. Just when did he actually start to care? He had forced her—even though she technically consented—on a hellish march through the forest without any remorse just a few days ago. Palan shook his head and inhaled through his nose. The blue light on his back became brighter as Raea winced and panted. Uzziel frowned at the scene and crossed his arms over his chest, staring at Palan as if trying to see through him.