Michael, Elrith, Elrith’s attendant, and Pyre stood around Raea’s bed with Cleo hiding underneath it. The golden cocoon was still pulsating on top of the covers. Elrith had arrived at the outpost, and berated Michael for providing false information. Michael got into an argument with him, calling him a young whippersnapper that needed to learn how to respect his elders. Pyre had walked in on them and informed them of the anomaly happening to Raea which led to the current situation.
“You walking corpse,” Elrith said, glaring at Michael. “My baby sister was under your care and this happens? First you come back and beg for my help, and then you provide me false information about the rebel army. Was that not enough? Are you that bitter that I surpassed you?”
“I’m not bitter about anything, you little brat,” Michael said and pointed at Raea’s cocoon. “I didn’t do anything to cause that. Don’t pin the blame on me when everyone knows she has two deadly sins.”
Elrith’s face darkened as he clenched his fists. He narrowed his eyes, staring at Michael like a starving lion. Pyre cleared his throat and tapped his pipe onto Elrith’s shoulder, getting ashes on his shoulder-length hair. Elrith whirled around, looking at the blindfolded angel with a blank expression. “What?”
Pyre smiled and sat down, crossing his legs while leaning back into the seat. He dusted a crumb off of his robe and brought his pipe to his lips. Elrith waited, but Pyre didn’t say anything as he sucked on his pipe. After Pyre finished inhaling, he blew a cloud of smoke into Elrith’s face, causing the general to cough. “Miss Raea probably isn’t in any danger,” Pyre said. A faint smile danced on Michael’s lips as Elrith batted the smoke away from his face with his palms. “As archangels, you two know about the unwritten rule, right? The one that says you can’t form a contract with a demon.”
“Of course,” Elrith said and frowned. The smell of burning plants lingered in his hair. He ran his finger through his curls, leaving behind a trace of purple on his skin.
“Do you know why that rule exists?” Pyre asked and grinned. Michael raised an eyebrow.
“Isn’t it to stop the appearance of archdemons?” Elrith asked. “Greater demons would evolve under our contracts.”
“But they’d still be contracted to you,” Pyre said. “Why does it matter if they evolve? Archdemons under contracts are no greater threats than greater demons under contracts.”
“But if we die—“
“Then a group of archangels can subdue the demon,” Pyre said and coughed. “It’s not your fault your reasoning is wrong since that’s the common belief. Guess again.”
“Who is he?” Elrith asked and turned towards Michael.
Michael rubbed his hand against his bald head. “He’s Pyre Khondra, a genius researcher,” he said and added with a whisper, “but he’s a little bit”—Michael traced circles around his temple with his finger—“if you know what I mean.”
Pyre chuckled. “Let me tell you my theory,” he said, “then you can judge whether I’m crazy or not.” Michael grinned and scratched his cheek. “The few incidents of golden cocoons recorded in writing always happened to archangels. After breaking free from the cocoons, the angels were blessed with … features that distinguished them from other angels. You’ve probably heard of a few of them: Raphael with his hawk-like eyes, Uriel with her twin horns, Camael with his scorpion tail.” Pyre paused and cleared the ashes out of his pipe. “Do you know what they all had in common other than being archangels?”
Elrith and Michael remained silent. Pyre smiled. “They all had life and death contracts with the demons under them and those demons evolved.”
“But Ray doesn’t have a demon,” Elrith said and furrowed his brow. Pyre raised his eyebrow and tilted his head towards Michael.
“But she does?” Michael said, forming his statement as a question.
Elrith’s face hardened. “Who the hell approved of my sister getting a demon?” he asked. “What institute, in their right mind, would give a Caelum a demon without seeking approval first? Was it Hailing Academy? Or was it one of those slimy backwater summoning centers?”
“I asked her where she found her demon,” Michael said as he took a step back. “She said she found him on the road and formed a contract with him.”
“Are you stupid?!” Elrith asked, practically shouting at Michael. “Demons aren’t stray dogs! You have a greater chance of being eaten by a shark on land than finding an uncontracted demon on the road.”
“Is he always this loud?” Pyre asked, turning his head towards Elrith’s attendant who was standing in the corner looking miserable.
“Only when it comes to his baby sister and animal abuse,” the attendant said. “He’s usually a very levelheaded person.” She shook her head and sighed.
“Well,” Michael said and took a step forward, bumping his chest against Elrith’s, “that’s what your sister told me. She wouldn’t lie to me, right?” He glared at Elrith.
“My sister would never lie,” Elrith said, not backing down as he took a step forward, forcing Michael back. “But I wouldn’t put it past your senile brain to forget what she said. You’re pushing triple digits, old man. You can’t blame me for suspecting your memory.”
Michael snorted, and his face turned a deeper shade of red as he tried to push Elrith back. A cracking sound drew both of the general’s attentions. They turned their heads to see a black line forming on the cocoon in the bed. The generals stepped away from each other: Elrith took a step towards the bed, Michael retreated a step away. A red hand reached through the black crack in the cocoon, the fingers curling around the edge. Another hand appeared and tore the cocoon open. Raea emerged, naked as the day she was born, covered in a layer of golden goop.
The first thing Elrith noticed was her eyes. They were no longer the sky-blue color he used to adore; instead, they were golden with black diamond-shaped pupils that reached from the top of her irises to the bottoms. Elrith opened his mouth, “Rayray.”
Raea’s eyes blinked as her brow furrowed. “Elly?” she asked. “Am I still dreaming?” She glanced down at her naked body. She froze. Black scales grew on the back of her forearms to the top of her shoulders, stopping before her collarbone. Michael cleared his throat and turned around. Elrith did the same. Raea wrapped the cocoon around her body, revealing only her head. “What’s going on?”
“That’s what I want to ask you,” Elrith said, his body still facing away.