Raea stopped the carriage in front of a metal gate with stone walls on either side. She stood up and exited the carriage as her guards approached from behind. A man dressed in blue armor squinted at the group of people below from the top of the wall. “Lady Raea? I was expecting you.”
“Yes,” Raea said and nodded. “On the way here, we encountered Lady Menyel’s carriage and I took the liberty to bring it here.”
“Just her carriage?”
“She is no longer with us.”
“I see,” the man said and nodded. “That is unfortunate.” He signaled behind him with his arm and the metal gate creaked as it rose. He turned around and walked down a set of stairs. Raea and her group entered the city with their carriages in tow.
“This way,” the man dressed in blue armor said and gestured with his arm. “You can tell me all the details over tea.”
“I appreciate the hospitality, Captain Ishim,” Raea said and smiled as she walked next to the captain. Her guards glanced at each other before following behind the two. The group arrived at a two-story wooden building and was greeted by a purple-skinned butler. Raea sat down on a wooden chair with animal furs draped over it while Ishim sat across from her. The guards waited by the door and the demon butler disappeared before coming back with seven cups of tea on a platter.
“Thank you,” Raea said as she accepted a cup. She turned towards Ishim. “Is he your contracted demon?”
Ishim nodded as he took a sip of his tea. “I named him John,” Ishim said as he watched John pass out tea to Raea’s guards who stood by the door. “Care to guess what his sin is?”
Raea raised an eyebrow and turned around to face the butler. “He does not seem to have any special attributes,” Raea said as her eyes scanned John’s body from head to toe. “A minor sin then, cowardice or kleptomania?”
Ishim smiled as he placed his teacup on the table in front of him. “His sin is envy,” Ishim said. Raea’s face blanched and her eyes shifted towards her tea. “Interesting, right? He has no animalistic attributes, yet his sin is a major one.”
Raea bit the inside of her lip. “Interesting,” she said and nodded. “Yes.” She took a sip of her tea and raised her head to look into Ishim’s eyes.
“I wonder what your sin is,” Ishim said and smiled while clasping his hands together.
“Nonsense!” the head guard shouted and stepped forward, causing his tea to spill. Raea raised her hand, cutting the head guard off.
Ishim chuckled and turned towards the guard. “I was merely joking,” he said and leaned back into the animal furs. He directed his gaze towards Raea. “Tell me, what happened to Lady Menyel?”
“She was eaten, organs and all,” Raea said and sighed. “Her carriage was stopped in the middle of the road, surrounded by a pack of dead wolves. All that remained of Lady Menyel and her guards were bloody skeletons left by the road.”
Ishim frowned. “Eaten,” he said and furrowed his brow. “The king of the forest? Why now?”
“Perhaps it disapproves of us erecting a fort in the middle of its lands,” Raea said. “It may feel threatened and is lashing out to express its anger.”
“Stupid beast,” Ishim said and shook his head. “This fort was built to stop the halflings from invading. It also benefits if we keep them out.”
“It most likely does not realize this,” Raea said. “We are the intruders in this situation; it must be frightened by us.”
“As it should,” Ishim said and nodded. “Lady Raea, to prove your worth, I ask you to lead an expedition against the king of the forest. Bring me back its head. You may take twenty of my men.”
Raea furrowed her brow. “There must be better ways to deal with it,” she said and bit her lip. “We can capture it and relocate it or placate it with gifts.”
“It has already killed Lady Menyel and her guards. In the future, there may be even more casualties. We have our orders to follow and if upholding our duty requires us to eliminate a savage beast, then so be it,” Ishim said. “I understand that your virtues are kindness and forgiveness, but there are some creatures in this world that deserve neither. Do not disappoint me unless you want your father to hear about your disloyalty.”
Raea gritted her teeth. “I understand,” she said with quivering lips. “I will set off immediately.” She stood up and whirled around, not allowing Ishim to see the tears forming in her eyes. She nodded at John and her men before she walked past them and exited the building. The head guard narrowed his eyes at Ishim before following after Raea.
“You do not have to be so obedient,” the head guard said as he walked alongside Raea on the brick road. “Your statuses are equal.”
“Yeah,” one of her guard’s said and nodded. “His attitude really irked me. Who does he think he is to order around our lady like that?”
Raea sighed. “Forget it,” she said. “My father sent me here to be a subordinate of his. Even if our ranks may be equal, my status is lower than Captain Ishim’s in this fort. We are no longer in the capital.”
“I will not allow your hands to be dirtied,” the head guard said and crossed his arms over his chest. “When the time comes, I will be the one to give the orders that end the beast’s life.”
Raea wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Thank you,” she said and tilted her chin up, “I thank all of you.”
The head guard nodded. “The barracks are this way,” he said. “I will gather the men. You should rest for now. Driving Lady Menyel’s carriage without the key must have exhausted you.”
“Then I will leave you to it,” Raea said while nodding. She turned around and gazed at Ishim’s building. She saw him standing by the second floor’s window, staring at her group. He smirked. Raea murmured, “So this is the borderland, where the sinners roam free.”