Chapter 77

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“This doesn’t feel right, Ross,” an armored angel said. He was holding a shovel that had dirt on the tip. Next to him, an angel was leaning against a tree with a shovel by his side. Sweat dripped from his brow, and he used the back of his sleeve to wipe his forehead.

“That’s because it’s not, Kore,” the angel called Ross said. He sighed as he stared down at the mound in the earth between them. “This isn’t what we signed up for, but what can we do?”

“Why don’t we run away?”

Ross snorted. “And get captured by Solra’s dog?” he asked and shook his head. “Let’s just hope this all blows over peacefully. We can just say Captain Ishim forced us to fight for him once we lose the war.”

“But what if Captain Ishim wins against General Michael?” Kore asked and glanced at the end of his shovel. “Then everyone is going to be executed by the council. Let’s run, Ross. We can make it. The outpost isn’t that far from here. We can alert the general, maybe even—“

“Stop,” Ross said and threw his shovel onto the ground. “He’ll hear you and kill us both. The best thing we can do is wait for an opportunity.” He walked next to his friend and whispered into his ear. “The next time we go out for a skirmish, we’ll dive through the wind wall. It’ll hurt, but I don’t think it’ll kill us.” Kore nodded. Ross clapped him on the shoulder and walked around him. “I need to take a piss.”

Kore sighed and turned towards the makeshift camp in the distance that Ishim had set up. Dozens of severed heads—some had already become skulls, picked clean by the birds—lined the border on sticks. They belonged to the angels who had tried to desert Ishim’s command. Kore shook his head and squat next to the earthen mound, picking up a nearby stick. He wrote letters on the freshly pressed earth and mumbled, “Here lies Dave along with bits and pieces of Cathy and John. They died for no reason. May their souls find peace with the Creator.”

Kore stood up and tossed his stick to the side while lifting his shovel. He sighed as he stared up at the reddening sky. The second sun was about to set, and he would have to head back soon before the curfew. A twig snapped behind him. “Finally done?” he asked and turned around. “I need to—“

Kore stiffened. He threw his shovel forward and reached for the lance that was strapped to his back. A purple hand obscured his vision and pressed against his face. He was about the shout, but his head suddenly accelerated towards the ground like a block of lead falling through water. He bent over backwards, dropping his lance when the back of his head collided against the ground. The last thing he saw was a foot stepping down on his neck before his vision faded to black.

Palan picked up a clump of dirt from the mound next to the dead angel’s head and wiped the blood off of his foot. He grabbed the dead angel’s arm and dragged it off towards the direction Ross had gone earlier. “The length of time and area of effect,” Palan muttered as he sweat rolled down from his forehead onto his eye. His nictitating membrane flickered, removing the bead. “As well as the intensity.” He nodded to himself and sat down next to Ross’ dead body, the angel’s pants still around his thighs. Palan truly had no shame when it came to killing opponents effectively.

He stripped the two angels of their armor and frowned when he found that they didn’t fit his frame. He tossed the scraps of metal over his shoulder and placed his foot against Kore’s shoulder blade. A snapping and tearing sound echoed through the forest as Palan ripped the angel’s arm off. He bit down on its forearm and tore off a chunk of flesh. His nose wrinkled as he spat out a bloody chunk of meat. “Raea fed me way too much,” Palan said as he recalled Raea shoveling spoonfuls of stew into his mouth until his stomach bulged. Palan flinched as a spray of blood splashed against his face. He had squeezed Kore’s arm a bit too hard while he was lost in thought.

Palan sighed and tossed the mangled arm onto Kore’s body. If the bodies would improve his strength, then he’d eat them, but these angels were apparently too weak. Palan used Ross’ shirt to clean the blood off of his face and hands. In the middle of his actions, he froze. A smile spread on his face as he gently placed the bloody cloth next to him and stood up without making a sound. He picked up the lance that Ross hadn’t been able to use and climbed up a tree. The last remnants of sunlight were beginning to fade away as day turned to night.

A figure with glowing red eyes lumbered into Palan’s view from behind a tree. It was as large as a bear but primate-like in stature. It walked on two webbed feet, and its shoulders were hunched over like a gorilla. The tips of its fingers were sharp claws, and a pair of horns sprouted from its wolf-like face. It raised its snout into the air and sniffed before lumbering towards the two dead angels. “Madison?” the demon asked, its voice garbled like someone speaking through water. It lowered its head and sniffed the corpses. “Not her.”

It raised its head into the air and bellowed, “Demon! Ally to Solra?!” It stood with its feet spread apart and back straight, its claws dangling and scraping the ground in front. After a minute passed, it snorted and picked up one of the corpses, taking a bite out of its abdomen. It made a face and spat out a line of entrails. “Worthless trash.” It stomped on Kore’s corpse, flattening it into a meat paste. The demon raised his head into the air again and howled. After twenty seconds passed, a sharp bird cry pierced the air. The wolf-gorilla demon pounded its chest and shouted, “I ask one more time. Ally to Solra?!”

Palan remained silent as he shifted the lance in his hand to point towards the ground. The wolf-gorilla demon smashed its knuckles onto the ground. “Then I kill!” it said and brought its nose to the ground. It sniffed at the floor and traveled along the path Palan took to climb the tree. Palan tightened his grip on the lance and prepared to drop off the edge of the branch he was sitting on. His eyes widened when the demon stopped in front of the tree. He plunged downwards, aiming at the spot in between the demon’s shoulder blades, his body accelerating as he focused his powers on his body and lance.

The demon raised its head and dove to the side but not quick enough. Palan pierced through its left shoulder, pinning the demon to the ground. Palan opened his mouth and lunged towards the back of the wolf-gorilla’s neck. The demon rolled over, yanking a chunk of flesh out of its own body, and smacked Palan away with the back of its left hand. At the moment of impact, Palan activated his powers and lightened his body, causing him to soar over the treetops and off into the distance. He heard the demon howl and saw it clutch its dangling left arm, copious amounts of blood pouring from its open wound before his vision was obscured by the trees.

Palan’s flight was rudely interrupted by a boulder colliding with his lower back. He coughed out a mouthful of blood and groaned. “Why’s every demon so damn beefy?” he asked as he sat up and examined the damage to his body. He heard the wolf-gorilla yelling way off in the distance, but he ignored it as he put his hands on his ribs. He winced and sucked in a breath of air as he staggered to his feet. “A few broken ribs and a sprained or cracked hip. Just great.” He’d have to be content with the damage he already inflicted; there was no way he could continue the hunt with his body in this condition.

His chest burned, and his face flushed as he gritted his teeth. What had Tara said about pride demons and losses? That he’d get stronger with every loss? The burning feeling gradually went away as Palan cleared his head of thoughts and limped towards the direction of the outpost. His kill list was getting longer. When was the last time it was longer than three names? Perhaps ten years ago when he was still just a child. The bitter feeling bit at him, forcing him to walk faster as the moon shone down on his back. Palan sighed as the howling of the wolf-gorilla demon faded into nothing. His eyes narrowed. Next time, he wouldn’t fail his ambush.

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