Palan frowned, the smell of metal entering his nose. Faint sounds and discontented grumbles entered his ears. “Can’t we just give up, Jeb?”
“We’re not going back until we catch that demon. I’ve never failed a mission before, and I don’t plan on failing one now.”
Palan turned around to glance at Madison who was still hopping after him. She didn’t seem to notice or care about the group of angels ahead, preening her feathers. She raised her head and stared back at Palan. He sighed and asked, “Just how long do you plan on following me?”
“I’m not following you,” Madison said and tilted her head. “You’re following me.” Palan took a step backwards. Madison hopped one step forwards. She let out a chirp. “See?”
Palan sighed and shook his head. The voices and crunching of boots became louder. Madison narrowed her eyes and crouched down, touching her palms to the floor. She jumped into the air, spreading her wings, and easily ascended over the treetops. Palan watched her as she dove downwards, and surprised shouts echoed through the forest. He headed towards the direction of the screams and screeches. A rush of air came at him from above, and he took a step backwards while looking up. He saw the body of a soldier fall to the ground and land on its back, the angel’s helmet and greaves flying off its body from the impact.
“Rhine!” an angel shouted. The angel’s helmeted face stared at Palan. “You’re—“
Madison swooped down from the sky and stretched her talons out, aiming for the slit in the angel’s helmet. The angel raised his lance and thrust his lance towards her, sparks of lightning dancing along its length. A thin translucent film appeared on Madison’s talons, her course unwavering. Her right wings tilted downwards, causing her body to slant. Her talons touched the lance, and she slid along its edge, the lightning eroding the thin film. The angel tried to shake her off, but it was futile. She stretched her left leg towards the angel’s face, keeping the lance at bay with her right.
“Jeb!” another angel shouted from the side. She made a throwing motion with her arm, causing a wall of wind to rush at Madison. Another translucent film appeared in front of Madison. The wind wall collided with it, pausing momentarily but broke through without losing much momentum. The momentary interruption brought enough time for Madison to sink her talons into Jeb’s shoulders through the slits in his armor. He had dropped his lance and shielded his head with his hands. She was buffeted by the wind wall, but she oriented herself and flew into the air, still holding onto Jeb. Lightning attacked Madison, but she blocked all the bolts with just enough film to have both the lightning and her shields disperse.
“What the hell are you!?” Jeb shouted as he summoned more and more lightning bolts. He couldn’t help but look down at the ground; it looked awfully far away. He saw both the outpost he came from and Ishim’s army moving like a snake towards the checkpoint in the distance.
“I’m the scatterbrained fool,” Madison said and smiled while looking down at Jeb. “I was the champion of Haalbeh eight years ago.” Her beak stretched unnaturally as her smile widened. Jeb had fallen silent. “Don’t you have anything to say? Like praise? It’s okay to worship someone who’s amazing.” The two’s surroundings turned white as Madison flew into a cloud.
“O Creator who watches over us, please forgive me my—“
“Boring,” Madison said and released the praying angel. She wrapped her wings around her body and dove headfirst towards the ground, falling faster than the screaming Jeb.
Meanwhile, on the ground, two angels were staring up helplessly at the two dots in the sky. The female soldier who threw the wind wall directed her gaze towards Palan while readying her weapon. She asked, “Are you an ally?” Her eyes couldn’t help but shift towards Rhine, the angel who had fallen from the sky earlier. He was dead.
“I’ve never thought of anyone as an ally before,” Palan said. Raea’s image appeared in his head for an instant, causing him to scowl. He kicked Rhine’s body out of his way and walked towards a tree trunk. He leaned against it and smiled at the two angels. Although their faces were hidden by their helmets, he could tell that they weren’t happy with him. Their heartbeats had quickened when he kicked their dead companion away.
“Watch over him,” the female soldier said. The other soldier nodded, and the female raised her head towards the sky. The two dots were growing larger in size. “I can catch him.” Metal screeched as her armored hands clenched. “I can.”
Palan and the other soldier stared at each other while the female soldier inhaled through her nose. She let out a short shout and violently raised her arms up towards the sky. Leaves rustled and flew into the air as a cushion of wind formed above the trio’s heads, extending hundreds of feet into the sky. The closer dot, Madison, veered off to the side and avoided the wall of wind while circling around with her wings spread. The female soldier didn’t pay any attention to the bird-demon; instead, she was staring at Jeb with sweat pouring out of the slits in her armor. Jeb was falling closer and closer to the cushion of wind. Before his body could make contact with the cushion, a screech came from behind the two angels on the ground. Madison appeared from the sky, using all the momentum gained from freefalling to pierce through the napes of their necks with her talons.
Luckily for Jeb, the cushion of wind didn’t disperse immediately after the female angel’s death. He drastically slowed down before landing on the ground, the impact barely warranting a bruise. “Is this heaven?” he asked as he sat up. His eyes had been closed the whole time. His body froze as his gaze landed on his two subordinates’ bodies which were in a tree where Madison had left them. Madison was wiping the blood off her talons, standing closer to Palan than she was before. Palan approached Jeb.
“You’re with her?” Jeb asked, gazing at Palan’s feet. His shoulders were hunched over, and his hands remained motionless in his lap. “Does this mean the Caelum’s have betrayed us?”
“Who the hell would want to be with this birdbrained idiot?” Palan asked.
“Scatterbrained fool,” a melodious voice said from behind, correcting him. “Would you do yourself the honor of killing him for me? I just cleaned up.”
“Kill him yourself,” Palan said and snorted.
“Are you sure?” Madison asked. “Wouldn’t it please you to accomplish my wishes? It’s very rare of me to think of someone else, you know?” She preened her feathers that had been ruffled during her flight.
Palan sighed and hung his head. “Do you see what I have to deal with?” he asked Jeb. Palan shook his head and sat down next to Rhine’s corpse. Madison frowned at his inaction and hopped over to Jeb’s fallen lance. She picked it up and flapped her wings.
“Aww,” Madison said as she barely rose a foot into the air. “Too heavy.” She dropped the lance and shook her head. She blinked at Jeb. “You can go.” Jeb’s mouth fell open behind his visor.
“Huh?” he asked.
“How’s that lance too heavy?” Palan asked as he stood up and walked over to Madison. He picked up the lance as she hopped away, maintaining an equal distance from him. “You picked up two angels. You can’t pick up this stick?”
“It’s aerodynamics, silly,” Madison said and tilted her head. “I can pick up a lot if I’m already in flight with a lot of momentum. Starting flight with extra weight is a lot harder.” She clicked her tongue at Palan and sighed while shaking her head. Palan’s eye twitched, and Jeb scrambled to his feet and started to run away.
Palan gritted his teeth and threw the lance as hard as he could at Jeb’s retreating figure. It impaled the angel’s chest, knocking him to the ground. Jeb coughed out a mouthful of blood. “Why?” he asked, straining his neck and raising his head to look behind himself towards Palan.
“Because if I threw this at her, I’d miss,” Palan said and snorted. Jeb’s eyes slowly dulled as his head dropped to the ground. “And it’d be problematic if rumors spread.”
“Didn’t it feel good to do something for me?” Madison asked and stared at Palan with her big red eyes.
“I hope you die in a fire.”