Chapter 78

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“What are you staring at?” Palan asked as he bared his teeth at the guards standing on the watchtowers of the outpost walls. Palan wondered why Ishim’s army abandoned the fortified area for a glade in the middle of the wilderness but shook his head and inhaled as his ribs throbbed.

“Should we let him in?” one guard asked the other. “Wasn’t Jeb supposed to be looking for him?” The guard leaned over the railing and shouted down at Palan, “Where’s Jeb?”

“What kind of name is Jeb?” Palan said and snarled. “Open the gates, or I’ll open them myself!”

“I think we should open the gate,” the other guard said and readjusted the handkerchief hanging around his neck. “He’s the mini-tyrant’s demon after all.”

“Mini-tyrant?”

“Yeah,” the handkerchiefed angel said. “You know, the Tyrant’s little sister. People are calling her the mini-tyrant now. I heard that she got into a fight with Uzziel over the quality of the food and killed his demon.”

“Over food? Just what I expect from that man’s little sister,” the guard said and clicked his tongue. He shouted towards Palan. “We’re opening the gate right now.”

The gates swung open, and Palan limped through with his arms at his sides and his back straight. The majority of the soldiers were sitting down and reading or meditating. The contrast between Michael’s army and Ishim’s was striking. No one turned to stare at Palan as he staggered along the streets and rounded a corner before arriving at his lodgings. He placed his hand on the doorknob and hesitated. He could hear Raea speaking within the house. “Can I really play it?”

“Please do.” That was Pyre’s voice.

“It looks so strange.” The high-pitched voice clearly belonged to Cleo.

Palan’s face blanched. What strange contraption had Pyre introduced to Raea this time? The last time Cleo said something was strange, Pyre had taken out a catheter and explained its uses. Palan had seriously considered killing himself after hearing the explanation, but luckily for him, Raea was just as opposed to using it as he was. Palan took in a deep breath and turned the doorknob. He froze.

A thrumming sound pierced through the air, followed by another higher pitched one, then a lower pitched one. A chill ran down Palan’s back as the sounds floated through his body, entering through his forehead, down along his spine, and out the tips of his toes. The hair on the nape of his neck rose, and goosebumps sprouted along his arms as a cascade of notes flowed past him, whirling and dancing. His burning ribs cooled down, and his chest relaxed while his fingers slowly slid off of the doorknob. The sounds washed over him like waves lapping on the shores of a beach, crashing and falling with a steady rhythm.

Palan didn’t know how long he stood there for, but the soothing sounds disappeared just as suddenly as they came, leaving behind the slightest traces of an echo in his head.

“How was it?” Raea’s voice broke him out of his trance. Palan shuddered and ran his palms along the goosebumps on his arms. He couldn’t help but wonder what manner of sorcery that was.

“Exactly what I’d expect from a Caelum.”

“Thank you.” Palan could imagine Raea lowering her head towards the blindfolded angel.

“But don’t get too conceited. You’re still far from a Caelum in nearly every other aspect.” There was a clunking sound followed by a squeak. “You’re proficient with the harp, now let me hear you play the bagpipes.”

“D-do I have to?”

“Of course! Didn’t you agree to play whatever I wanted to listen to as long as Palan was gone? I want to listen to bagpipes.”

Raea sighed. “Alright.”

Palan stood outside the door, wondering if he should announce his presence. His burning ribs and throbbing pelvis were telling him yes. Somehow, he got the feeling that Pyre was humiliating her, causing him to slightly wrinkle his brow. He pushed open the door and stepped inside the house. Just because he wasn’t around didn’t mean Raea could abandon her pride, no matter how miniscule the amount she was born with. Well, at the very least, he had to be there to witness her humiliation. Palan slammed the door behind him and walked down the hallway, his back straight and limp gone. An orange scaly head popped appeared in the lit doorway at the end of the hall. “Palan!”

“I’m back,” Palan said as he walked into the room and collapsed on his bed.

“Are you alright?” Raea asked and furrowed her brow. She dropped the bagpipes onto Pyre’s lap and rushed to Palan’s side. “Why did you run off like that?”

“All the events of this previous week never happened,” Palan said and turned his head to face Raea. “Understand?”

Raea bit her lower lip as her face turned redder than usual. She recalled Pyre’s words and glanced towards Palan’s lower body before closing her eyes and nodding. “I may have gone too far,” she said in a whisper.

“Couldn’t you have realized that a week ago?” Palan asked and snorted. He winced from the action and exhaled with a shaky breath.

“Are you hurt?” Raea asked. Her forehead crinkled as she reached towards him with a glowing hand. The light on her hand snaked along Palan’s body before settling on his ribs, pulsing with a dark-red light. It continued to travel down his torso until it reached his pelvis where it pulsed with a lighter shade of red. “What happened?” Raea placed her hands on Palan’s ribs. He didn’t stop her.

“I ran into a demon,” Palan said, not mentioning the two angels he killed. “Do you know someone named Solra? I remember that bald bastard mentioning that name before.”

Pyre exhaled violently through his nose. “Very apt description of Michael,” he said and chuckled. He inhaled through his nose and stopped his body from shaking. “Solra was one of the archangels that partook in the great betrayal. After Anidun was routed, Solra disappeared along with Meffi and Abaddon.” Pyre took out his pipe and lit it, biting its end. He seemed to be lost in thought as he inhaled before coughing out a lung full of smoke.

“I see,” Palan said. He sighed as his ribs twisted underneath his skin and melded back together. He was tempted to scratch the region, but Raea’s hands were still pressed against it.

“I assume Michael was right?” Pyre asked. “Solra is really involved in this rebellion?”

Palan didn’t bother to shrug because he knew Pyre couldn’t see. “Who knows?” he asked. His eyes narrowed as Raea’s hands moved towards his fractured hip. He didn’t care if Michael’s army suffered losses because he withheld information; that wolf-gorilla demon was his prey. His hands clenched, his nails drawing blood from his palms.

“Palan,” Raea said and sighed. “Are you purposely making this harder for me?” After she finished healing his hip, she took his hands in hers and closed her eyes. A chill ran down Palan’s forearms as the skin on his palms knit together. “I won’t ask what you’ve been doing, but please take better care of your body.” She gazed into his eyes. “Sometimes, I really worry about you.”

“You should be more worried about yourself,” Palan said and snorted as he sat up. “You’re a hundred times more fragile than I am.” He crossed his legs and placed his hands in his lap. The familiar blue wings formed along his back, causing Raea to gasp as her chest shone. Raea frowned but didn’t say anything as she took in a deep breath, sweat rolling down her back from her neck. She couldn’t help but wonder what happened to her contracted demon this time. The last time he seemed so determined was after he got toyed with by Tara.


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