Palan stood in front of a building with an open door and wrapped his tail around his torso. Sounds of chewing drifted through the doorway, and Palan smelled the scent of blood, causing his pulse to quicken. He stepped inside of the building, his back straight and chest out. The room was filled with circular tables that held chunks of raw animal flesh and armored demons who were occupying the seats. A few demons raised their heads to look at Palan, but most of them continued to eat with their heads lowered. There were no angels.
Palan cleared his throat. The demons carried on eating in silence. Palan frowned and slammed the door shut with a booming noise that rattled the walls of the cafeteria. The demons stopped eating and turned towards Palan with their eyes narrowed, blood dripping from their teeth. “Alright, you miserable champions of Haalbeh,” Palan said and nodded. “That’s better. Who here is happy being a slave to the angels?” He looked around at the hostile glares. “None of you? So why are you still contracted to them?”
“Are you new?” a demon with eight eyes asked through clacking mandibles. Its body was covered with a black carapace that had a red design on the back. Four spindly legs stuck out of the lower part of its body, and it had two arms holding onto a chunk of meat. Palan couldn’t tell whether it was a female or male. “You think none of us tried to get free?”
“Isn’t it simple?” Palan asked and crossed his arms over his chest. Every instinct in his body was telling him to run as all the demons focused their gazes on him, but his voice was level. “Kill your contractor.”
The insect-demon snorted and resumed eating. “Another stupidity demon,” it said and shook its head. “You should keep your mouth shut.” It swallowed the chunk of meat in its hands. “Some of us like it here.”
Palan frowned. “Well,” he said and shrugged. “When you’re tired of being dogs, come find me.” He turned around and opened the door.
“Wait,” a deep voice said. Palan turned around with a raised eyebrow. A shiver went down his spine as a fat demon stood up. It was humanoid except for the four pairs of octopus-like tentacles protruding out of its back. It opened its mouth, revealing four pointed tongues. It had no teeth. “You come here and insult all of us, then think you can leave just like that?”
“Yes,” Palan said and nodded before turning around and walking out of the door. The fat demon stared at the open doorway and blinked. The other demons turned back to their food, chewing silently. A light gleamed in a few of their eyes.
Palan exhaled as he stepped outside of the building into the street. The suns were down and there was no moon in the sky, but the place was well-lit from crystal towers that Michael had erected to make it difficult for spies to wander around at night. “How long were you there?” he asked as he looked down and to the side. Cleo was staring up at him with her mouth gaping.
“Are you going to kill Raea?” Cleo asked and blinked three times in less than a second.
“No,” Palan said. “I forbid you from mentioning any part of what you heard tonight.” He flicked her forehead, causing her to grumble. She touched the metal collar around her neck and puffed her cheeks out.
“You said you wouldn’t order me around,” Cleo said.
“I can silence you in other ways,” Palan said as Danger Noodle’s eyes opened and tongue flickered.
Cleo shuddered. “What were we talking about?” she asked. “I can’t seem to remember anything.” Danger Noodle closed its eyes. Palan patted Cleo’s head and returned one of her bags. Cleo stared at Palan’s back as he began to walk down the street. She scrambled after him and opened her mouth. “Why didn’t you beat that demon up?”
Palan narrowed his eyes and glared at Cleo. “Too many variables,” he said. “I know nothing about him, and close combat isn’t my thing.”
“But aren’t you good at fighting?” Cleo asked in a whisper as she climbed up his back, using Danger Noodle as a foothold. Without Palan noticing, a second bag had appeared by Cleo’s waist.
“I’m good at hunting,” Palan said. “There’s a difference.”
“Then learn to fight,” Cleo said. She puffed her chest out, nearly falling off Palan’s back. “I can teach you.”
Palan snorted. “What do you know about fighting?” he asked.
“I used to watch the warriors in my town train,” Cleo said. “And I won my share of fights on the streets.” She nodded and looked up at the sky, reminiscing. “It was a vicious time for me.” She sighed. “I can’t even count the number of children I had to beat up.” She snorted. “They shouldn’t have tried to take my food.”
Palan continued to walk down the street. Cleo poked him. “Why aren’t you saying anything?”
“I can probably learn more from watching the angels do their drills,” Palan said.
“But they don’t have tails!” Cleo said. “Tails are essential to fighting for lizardmen! What kind of lizardman are you!?”
“I’m a demon.”
“Oh,” Cleo said and tapped the crocodile-like skin on Palan’s back. “I think you’re closer to a lizardman than an angel though.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned past his shoulder, turning her head to stare at him with wide eyes. “Let me teach you. I ca—blagh.”
Palan covered her face with his hand. “Fine,” he said. “It can’t hurt, I guess.”
“Really?” Cleo asked. She blinked twice and smiled. “You won’t be disappointed!”
“Of course,” Palan said and nodded. “I can’t be disappointed if I expect the worse.”
“Rude,” Cleo said. “But we need to get you a sparring partner.” She tilted her head. “How about Raea? There’ll be lots of grappling too. Maybe you two could kis—ow!”
Palan flicked her forehead.
“I’m just trying to help,” Cleo said and grumbled while rubbing her head.