Raea stood in the center of a square with her eyes closed and hands clasped together in front of her chest. Her four guards stood in a square formation around her. A few angels gave the group odd looks before continuing on their way. The first sun had already risen and the second one was beginning to rise.
“Lady Raea!” a voice called out, accompanied by the sound of hooves clattering against stone. Raea’s eyes shot open and she saw her head guard walking towards her with six horses in tow. Behind him were twenty people on horses, the majority of them being men. They all wore undecorated white armor with lances by their sides. “We are ready to depart at any time.”
“Thank you, Owen,” Raea said and nodded towards the head guard.
The head guard saluted and gestured behind him. “These soldiers are all willing to aid you in the hunt for the forest king. They volunteered when they heard about the circumstances regarding Lady Menyel’s death.”
Raea smiled at the soldiers behind Owen. “I thank all of you,” she said and walked towards one of the free horses. She stepped on its stirrup and swung on top of the saddle. Owen handed her a halberd, which she strapped across her back. “We set out immediately. After eating so much, the king of the forest must be preparing to rest.” Her personal guards mounted the other horses and sped off towards the gate followed by the twenty soldiers in white.
The gate opened as the riders approached, letting them through unimpeded. Owen rode next to Raea and turned his head to face her. “Do you have a method to locate the beast?”
Raea shook her head and directed her horse down the road, towards the wolf corpses.
Owen furrowed his brow. “You seemed awfully sure about yourself, I just assumed you did,” he said and sighed. “The best thing we can do is return to the battlefield and try to locate which direction the beast went.”
“I know,” Raea said. The group rode in silence until they reached the bloody road. Raea pulled on her reins, causing her horse to neigh and trot to a halt.
“Lady Menyel’s men fought well,” one of the soldiers said as he took off his helmet and scanned the surroundings. “Five of them were able to defeat this many direwolves.”
“There is a path leading towards the forest,” another soldier said and gestured with her spear. “Should we split up into groups?”
Raea shook her head. “The king was able to defeat six angels, even if they were weakened by wolves. I do not want to see any unnecessary loss of life in this excursion. We move as one.”
The soldier who asked the question smiled. “Understood,” she said. “I feel glad knowing that Lady Raea cares about our wellbeing.”
Raea tilted her head. “Is that not normal?” she asked. “No one wants to see their subordinates die.”
A few soldiers chuckled, but no one said anything.
“Lady Raea asked a question,” Owen said and glared at the people who laughed.
The soldiers glanced at each other. “There are some captains who believe we should die to accomplish our duty,” one of them said as he smiled and looked down. “They prioritize the mission over our lives.”
“Were you not expecting this when you were sent to the borderland?” the soldier asked. “Everyone who is sent here has been deemed broken by Lady Sariel, including you. I mean no disrespect when I say that.” He fidgeted in his seat.
“I see,” Raea said as she tightened her grip on the reins. “Rest assured; I am not like the other leaders. Your safety is more important to me than the mission.” She nodded and turned around, directing her horse towards the forest.
The soldiers raised their eyebrows and glanced at each other before following after Raea. One of them murmured, “Makes you wonder why she was assigned here, huh?”
Twenty minutes later, the group was trudging through the forest on foot, with the horses walking in the center of the group. Raea bit her lip as she cut down a swath of tall grass in front of her with a sweep of her halberd. Sweat rolled down the back of her neck, seeping into her cloth under-armour. She sighed and said, “This is not what I was expecting.”
“Were you expecting the king of the forest to announce its presence and attack us as soon as we entered?” one of the soldiers muttered under his breath.
An ear-splitting roar rang through the forest, causing the birds to scatter and fly into the air. A wolf’s howl followed after and snarls pierced through the air.
“That must be it!” Raea said and swiveled her head in the direction of the roar, oblivious to her subordinate’s murmurs. She swung her halberd and cleared a path through the brush. Armor clanked as her soldiers followed after her.
After minutes of travel, Raea stepped past a tree and entered a clearing. A pale-purple-skinned man stood with a dagger in his hands, dripping green liquid onto the ground. A wolf lay against a tree behind him with a bloody bone sticking out of its front leg. In front of the demon was a bear-sized honey badger. Its teeth were bared, and the white fur on its back was sticking straight up into the air. There were a few wounds on its neck, but only a few drops of blood fell onto the ground.
“It’s the king of the forest,” Raea said and sucked in her breath. Her subordinates stopped behind her as the honey badger and demon circled each other. The demon had four gashes on his chest with black blood pouring out of them. His left arm hung limp at his side, with a chunk of flesh torn out of his bicep. Raea stepped forward. “We have to help him.”
“Wait,” Owen said and grabbed her shoulder. “The beast may run if we all appear at once. We should let the demon weaken it some more and strike when it shows an opening.”
Raea shook her head and brushed Owen’s hand off her shoulder. She gazed into Owen’s eyes and said, “Lead half the men and circle around the beast. Cut off its escape route. I will charge it with the remaining soldiers. The demon is about to lose; we have to strike now.”
Owen sighed. “What happened to me leading the charge?” he asked and shook his head. “I will do as you say.” He relayed his orders to the soldiers and mounted his horse. They charged around the two combatants, sticking to the tree line. The demon’s bright-red eyes widened and the honey badger let out a growl as it turned its head to the side, distracted by the sound of hooves. The demon stepped forward and slashed his dagger downward while the beast’s head was turned. It cut the fur on the badger’s neck, but the blade shattered when it encountered its flesh.
The honey badger let out a roar and smacked the demon with the back of its paw, flinging him into a tree. Before it could follow up, a horse neighed and a lance pierced into the badger’s side. The rider let go of the lance as the horse sprinted away, narrowly avoiding the badger’s retaliatory claws. Another rider approached from the other side of the beast and thrust his lance into the beast’s side.
The demon coughed out a mouthful of black blood and his vision blurred. A cold hand touched his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Raea frowned as the demon’s head lolled forwards. The injured wolf barked and dragged itself towards the fallen demon, snarling at Raea. It whimpered every time its broken foot touched the ground, but it continued to crawl towards the two. The demon coughed out another mouthful of blood and murmured, “Stupid dog. Get out of here.”
“Hey,” Raea said as the demon collapsed and fell forwards. Behind her, the soldiers were following Owen’s orders and wearing down the honey badger with hit-and-run tactics. Multiple spears decorated its body, making it look more like a porcupine than a badger. Raea flipped the demon onto his back and sucked in her breath when she saw his wounds. She removed her silver gauntlets and placed her hands on his chest. She closed her eyes.
The honey badger let out a feeble roar as it fell to the ground. It snarled at the group of angels surrounding it and struggled to raise its head. Owen dismounted and walked up to the badger with his spear in hand. He pointed it at the beast’s face. “This is for Lady Menyel,” he said as the spear pierced through the beast’s eye.
Owen turned around and saw Raea kneeling on the ground next to the demon’s body. Her eyes were closed and sweat dripped from her brow. The wounds on the demon’s chest wriggled as if they were alive. The torn flesh joined together and after ten minutes, the bleeding stopped. Raea opened her eyes and gasped for breath while wiping her brow with the back of her hand, leaving a streak of blood in her white hair. She wobbled to her feet and walked next to the wolf, ignoring the alarmed cries of her subordinates. She reached for the wolf’s leg with her right hand, but it bit her arm. She gritted her teeth and ignored it, while grabbing its broken leg with her left hand. It released her and yelped, while Owen stepped forward and took the chance to restrain its muzzle with his hands.
Five minutes passed as Raea healed the wolf, its body held down by her subordinates. They released the wolf and it sprang to its feet, running over to the demon’s body. It stood over it with its teeth bared and hackles raised as it snarled at the angels. Owen sighed. “Maybe we should have left it alone.”
Raea’s face was completely pale and rivulets of sweat rolled down her armor. “Take the demon back with us,” she said while panting. “Let the wolf do what it wants.” She staggered to her horse and hopped onto its saddle before collapsing on top of it.
“The lady is too kind,” Owen said and shook his head while he nudged the wolf away with the butt of his spear. He lifted the demon and placed him onto the back of his horse before mounting it himself. He grabbed onto Raea’s horse’s reins and led it out of the forest followed by the rest of the soldiers. The wolf followed behind, snarling the whole way.