Palan stared up at the sky with his back on the ground. He only wore a pair of leather pants, putting on armor was too difficult for him in his current state. Raea and Cleo were packing the tent. After some fussing and arguing, the two managed to roll it up although it was larger than the rest of the soldiers’. Cleo lifted the bundle above her head and trotted off to the elephants, placing it inside their mobile storage chests. Raea approached Palan, casting a shadow over his face. “I never realized how difficult it was to pack a tent,” she said. “Thank you for always doing it.” She offered Palan her hand.
Palan snorted. “Pitching the tent is ten times harder,” he said and made no motion to grab Raea’s hand. She didn’t seem to mind and placed her arms at her sides while sitting down next to him. Palan stared at the first sun. “The sun is almost at its peak.”
“You can still rest for a few minutes,” Raea said, glancing at the suns’ positions in the sky. Palan grunted. “Do you need me to heal you?”
“No,” Palan said, his voice raspy. “I’ll get used to this soon enough. I’ve been through worse.”
“Really?” Raea asked. “I’m curious, but I’m also afraid of what I’d hear.” She pursed her lips. “It’s probably better if you didn’t tell me.” The two sat in silence, staring up at the sky while waiting for Cleo to return. “What are you thinking about?”
“The suns,” Palan said. A breeze washed over him and tousled his hair. “They’re the same. There were days when Andrea couldn’t fall asleep and would watch the suns rise with me.”
Raea gazed at Palan. She placed her hand on his, taking advantage of the fact that he was exhausted. “I’m sure Andrea is perfectly well,” she said. “If she’s anything like you, then everyone else should be worried.”
“I know she’s fine,” Palan said and snorted. “I was just wondering why the suns are so much nicer here. They aren’t as hot.”
“I don’t know,” Raea said and tilted her head.
“My theory is that the composition of the air is different on Eljiam,” a voice said from behind them. A wooden staff made tapping sounds as Pyre approached the two. Raea turned her head towards the blindfolded angel. “Of course, I have never been to Eljiam to verify my theory.”
“Didn’t you once tell me eavesdropping was rude?” Palan asked Raea.
“I am sure he means well,” Raea said in return. “How are you doing”—Raea bit her lip—“err, Colonel?”
Pyre laughed. “I am not a soldier. At least not anymore,” he said and placed both his hands on the top of his staff while leaning forward. He gestured towards the starred badge hanging on his robe. “Michael let me keep this after I retired. I was quite surprised when he requested for me to join this mission. Just call me Pyre.” He grinned at Palan. “Or blind guy.”
Palan frowned. “I don’t like you,” he said.
“Forgive his attitude,” Raea said with a crooked smile while standing and lowering her head.
Pyre waved his hand. “You do not have to like everyone you meet,” he said to Raea. “I imagine he hates most angels.” He raised his head towards the sky and let the sun bathe his face in light. “Which part of Eljiam are you from?”
“I don’t know,” Palan said. “Step aside, you’re blocking my sunlight.”
Pyre shuffled over to the side, causing his shadow to cover even more of Palan’s body. “What was the region like? Frozen? Dry?” the old angel asked.
“Aren’t angels supposed to ignore demons?” Palan asked. “Why are you so damn talkative?” Raea creased her brow as she examined Pyre’s expression. There was a faint smile on his lips.
“I grew up in the third sector when the wall was just being built,” Pyre said. “The army frequently patrolled the area and lived in our lodgings. It was just me and my mother, who was exiled from the capital for her sins. The third sector, back then, was what you would call the borderlands now.” Raea sat down and made herself comfortable while the soldiers around the trio started to move and form ranks. Michael cast his gaze on the group, but he pretended not to see them as he watched the soldiers line up. Pyre sighed. “Are we starting to march?”
“The soldiers are lining up, yes,” Raea said. Cleo returned and tilted her head at the blindfolded angel.
Pyre nodded. “Come, march with me,” he said.
“I don’t trust you,” Palan said, making no motion to stand whatsoever.
Raea sighed. “You don’t trust anyone,” she said and stood up. She placed her arm underneath Palan’s back and lifted his torso.
“I trust you enough to let you sleep near me,” Palan said. Raea blinked a few times. “But your decision making and judgment really needs to be reworked.”
“You can’t compliment me without bringing me down again, can you?” Raea asked and shook her head. She placed his arm around her shoulder and attempted to get him to stand. “Will you really be okay like this?”
“Didn’t I tell you that I’d walk by myself,” Palan said as he tried to slide his arm out of Raea’s grip. She didn’t let go.
“What happened?” Pyre asked. He placed his hand on Cleo’s head. “Guide me please, little one.” Cleo hissed and shook his hand off, her tail pointing straight into the air. Pyre chuckled and said to Raea, “You sure keep strange company.”
“I guess I am weird,” Raea said. “My values seem to differ greatly from everyone else’s.” She sighed. “Palan is unable to walk because he overused his powers, so I am helping him.”
Pyre nodded. “I see,” he said and followed after Raea and Palan. Raea was practically dragging Palan, his feet leaving two lines in the ground behind him. Cleo tried to lift his legs, but gave up after she tripped on a rock. “I actually know that feeling pretty well. I can only use my sight ability once every three days. Any more than that and I would be feeling like you are now.”
“Do you have anything that can help?” Raea asked. She paused and wrapped Palan’s arms around her neck and lifted him by his thighs, giving him a piggyback ride despite his protests. The group walked towards the end of the ranks. Even though the soldiers were disciplined, they couldn’t help but turn their heads to stare.
“There really is not much you can do,” Pyre said and stopped after tapping a soldier’s foot with his staff. “And the feeling gets worse every time it happens. Would you like to ride in the storage chests with me?”
“But the general says everyone needs to march,” Raea said and furrowed her brow.
Pyre chuckled. “You are not even part of his elite army,” he said. “Why should his rules concern you?”
“I am still a lieutenant,” Raea said. “I have to follow the rules of a general.”
“It will be fine,” Pyre said and waved his hand. “I will tell him that I have taken you as my guide. What do you think, demon? I don’t believe I know your name yet.”
“Let’s ride the damn storage chests,” Palan said. “My pride is seriously being damaged right now.” He glared at the angels who occasionally shot glances at him while marching. “The hell are you guys staring at?” He paused. “My name’s Palan, old man.”
“Palan,” Pyre said and nodded. The ground started to tremble as the elephants started to catch up from behind. “With that, I know the names of every angel and demon here.”
“I’m Cleo!” the orange lizardman said.
“Cleo. A nice name indeed. Is that your first or second name?”
Cleo’s eyes widened. “You know about that?” she asked and tilted her head. “It’s my first name. I’m twelve but haven’t grown up yet.” Her tail dragged along the floor as she lowered her head and sighed.
“Really?” Pyre asked, unconcerned by the approaching elephants. Raea started to walk faster while gritting her teeth. “There are a few reasons why lizardmen don’t get their growth spurts. Are you a shaman?”
“I don’t think so,” Cleo said and raised her head. “I just didn’t get much to eat when I was … well, all my life until I decided to worship Palan.” She glanced behind herself and tugged on Pyre’s hand. “The big things are going to step on us if we don’t hurry.”
“We will be fine. Miss Raea, wait here with me,” Pyre said. Raea hesitated and bit her lip, glancing between the approaching elephants and the leaving army.
“Let’s wait,” Palan said. “You obviously can’t do this. Why did you even try?”
Raea knit her eyebrows together. “For you,” she said. “I wasn’t going to leave you behind. And just because I can’t do something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.”
“This is why I said I didn’t trust your decision making,” Palan said as Raea brought him over to Pyre. Palan raised his head to observe the elephants. “These things are pretty big up close. I wonder what they taste like.”
The lead elephant lifted its trunk into the air and trumpeted out of it. It stomped its foot in front of Palan and glared at him before walking past the group. Raea frowned and turned her head towards Palan who was resting his head on her shoulder. Their noses touched, causing Raea to flinch and jerk her head away. “What?” Palan asked.
Raea sighed. “Please don’t talk about eating animals in front of them when they can understand you,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right.”
Palan was about to respond, but Pyre interrupted him. “Grab onto the handle and pull yourself up,” he said, stretching out his hand. It caught a wooden protrusion on the storage chest, and he pulled himself towards it, climbing up the side until he reached the top. Cleo scrambled up after him. Raea stretched out her arm and caught the protrusion. She got halfway up the side before stopping and locking her arms. She gritted her teeth and held tight.
Palan felt her body tremble underneath his, causing his face to harden. “Once again you try to do something you can’t,” he said and stretched his arm out. He pulled himself up the storage chest before leaning over the edge and grabbing Raea’s arm. He pulled her up and fell over backwards, his face contorting as sweat poured from his face.
“Thank you,” Raea said and placed her glowing hands on Palan’s chest.
Palan mumbled. “Stupid.”
“What was that?” Raea asked, leaning her head closer to Palan’s mouth. “I couldn’t hear you.”
“I called you stupid.”
Raea rolled her eyes. “Thanks, I guess.”