Chapter 8 – The Morningstar Salamandar

Michael learned two things upon stepping inside the massive building known to them as “The Salamander”. First, the full name was–according to the large sign over the front desk in the lobby–“The Morningstar Salamander Hotel & Casino”. Second was that the establishment was apparently a hotel.

“…what’s a hotel?” Michael asked, speaking quietly to Anaya as they followed Kostas and Ludano inside.

“It’s like an inn, but bigger.”

“Why not call it an inn then?”

“To convey that they’re different?”

“Yes, but if it’s just a matter of size, they could have called it something simpler, like a biggerinn.”

“…” Anaya patted them on the shoulder, for some reason, before Michael’s attention was diverted by a greeter approaching them, who was wearing an immensely inappropriate outfit.

For a moment, Michael briefly wondered what a largothrope was doing in Sollamava, until they realized it was simply an elf wearing fake ears and skintight leotard that looked as though someone had attached fishnets to the ends of it to cover the legs. In retrospect, it should have been obvious the slender woman wasn’t one of the rabbitfolk given how she had normal legs and arms, but the ears were odd. Perhaps it’s an outfit from the East?

“Why is she dressed like a largo?” Michael asked, quietly speaking to Anaya as the greeter pointed out various amenities to a curious Ludano and a skeptical Kostas.

“Oh, I believe some people find the species cute, at least enough to dress up like them. Well, at least in terms of wearing bunny ears.”

“…But largothropes are a demonic species. Why would they do that?” 

“Aren’t tigrithropes also demonic by nature?” 

“That was before they swore fealty to Innominatum.” Who, for some reason, accepted the tigerfolk and their demonic originator as an actual member of his court…

“Right, well, just chalk it up to personal preferences.”

“…Is that why all the employees have stockings with holes in them?” Michael asked as they moved into the main lounge, nearly recoiling from the unpleasant reek of tobacco and champagne hitting their nose as they did. They weren’t even in the casino proper, yet the air was thick with the scent of hedonism.

“…Those are fishnet stockings.” 

“Why would anyone wear fishnets on their legs?” 

“It’s an outworlder thing, I’ll explain later.” 

Anaya would have to explain many things Michael saw within the hotel, as it appeared that aside from the first outfit–which, additionally, apparently featured a puffy rabbit tail placed above the rear of the greeter–there were a great many types of such uniforms worn within, all just as revealing as the last, and they had a feeling there were some even worse in specific parts of the hotel as they could sense large quantities of lust in specific areas. Areas that Michael intended to avoid unless necessary. However, there were also some confusing outfits, as they saw at least one minotaur also wearing bunny ears. The contrast between the fluffy ears and the way the minotaur’s firm, broad, muscular body fit inside a small leotard was bizarre, to say the least.

Regardless, Michael closed their eyes and once again focused their senses, letting the tension feed into their inner flame as they searched for strong energies. As was expected, their sense was certainly muddled with all the sin surrounding them, but some essences stood out even more in this hedonistic place. Gluttony and Lust were certainly coming from every direction, while there was Wrath below them, and, for a brief moment, Michael sensed a rather sharp Pride mixed within the swirling, excited Violence.

“Found them.” 

Anaya paused, glancing away from the waitress she had been studying, who was currently bending over a table to speak to a customer. An odd choice on her part, considering it would be much easier to just walk around the table, but no matter. “Found who? Oh, right, mastermind. Oh, really?”

“Yes. They’re downstairs. Come along.”

“Uh, alright, sure. Hey Lu, Kos, Misha and I are checking out the downstairs!” Right, those two are still here.

“Kay! Have fun down there!” Ludano replied, waving back as he looked with obvious interest at a hookah pipe, before Kostas tugged him away by the pack of his shirt. “Aw…”

“See you. We’ll be over at the dining room if you need us.”

“Oh right, seafood! Yeah, we’ll be over there!”

“Enjoy your date!” Anaya called back, beaming, “Ah, those two are cute. So, stairs look like they’re over there, are you good to go?”

Michael blinked, following Anaya’s pointing finger to the set of staircases blocked off by a velvet rope. Which they certainly noticed because they knew exactly what they were doing here. “Yes. Come on.”

The staircases appeared to be guarded by another employee of the establishment, who further displayed the clothing standards of the hotel, or lack thereof. Where the waitresses and greeters wore leotards, the large, tanned, and muscular minotaur wore nothing but an uncomfortably tight-looking set of black briefs and a bowtie. “Afternoon.”

“…Yes? It is. I want to go downstairs.”

“Sure. Have you paid the entry fee?”

Ah, payment. Luckily, Michael knew how to handle such matters. “Here.”

The bouncer’s eyes went wide at the offered diamond in Michael’s hand. “…You serious?”

Anaya made an amused noise, likely at the guard’s immensely impractical outfit for his profession. “She always is.”

The guard muttered something about “high rollers with no sense”, whatever that meant, then unhooked the rope as he took the diamond. “Well, not the worst tip I’ve ever gotten…go ahead. Just try to keep your girlfriend close, things get rowdy down there.”

“Oh, I’ll try~” Anaya giggled, looping her arm through Michael’s as the angel nearly stumbled. Not out of…whatever it was they were currently feeling, just because they weren’t expecting her grip and anyways, the stairs led down into a dark, crowded room. There was an excited buzz in the air, chatter and jeers filling the air as people milled around a boxing ring set in the center.

The brightest lights in the room were focused solely on the ring, leaving the outside dimly lit under the blue and purple glows of dimmer lanterns around the walls. There were some tables around, where some spectators sat and drank or smoked, but the majority of the crowd were watching one of the fighters–a redheaded minotaur in a skimpy brown top and bottoms–be helped from the ring, her face bloodied and her body bruised. She seemed in good spirit though, if annoyed at her loss, chatting to the onlookers as her opponent jeered and boasted, playing up the crowd’s Lust for violence in preparation for the next battle.

“Wow. I haven’t been to one of these in ages.” That raised questions. “So, how do we find our mysterious culprit in this sea of people?”

“I can detect individuals of interest through the vices they indulge in. Emotions attributed to sinful desire. As such, I looked for an individual displaying undue Pride.”

Anaya paused, then looked at them with a raised eyebrow. “…Like the lady getting hyped at winning her fight?”

“No. It wasn’t pride at winning a fight. It was a different, stronger pride.” Looking around, Michael tried to pinpoint where that poisonous reek of ego came from. “Sins come in different forms. For example, while most people assume the term ‘Lust’ means carnal pleasure, it’s more accurate to say it means a strong desire, such as this crowds strong desire for violence. Physical pleasure is a component, but Lust is more closely linked to yearning than fornication.

“Of course, even their lust for violence is drowned out by the Wrath that fills this place. The anger felt by those losing money and of the two stubborn fighters refusing to give in. Their pride relies on victory, and even a good loser feels the sting of a lost match. Violence carries rage in it by nature, and this place thrives on violence. Truly disgusting…” 

“Right, I think I get it,” Anaya muttered, looking away from them, “So, any idea who we should be looking for?” 

“If I were to guess, not someone near the ring, and also not someone who’s focusing on the matches. They may potentially be talking ‘business’ with someone else.” Without waiting, Michael immediately began to walk around the room, keeping an eye on everyone that could potentially be their target. There wasn’t much. Sure, there were many who talked up their accomplishments and crowed about their wealth, but their pride was different. 

“-should’ve seen the size of the scorp I brought down-”

“-used to wrassle plenty of varmints, so it weren’t nothin’-”

“-own a house right out on the lakeside, beautiful view-”

The arrogance they felt was insecure, tied to materials and past victories. Underneath, there was a fear of what they owned failing to impress. The pride Michael had detected was more smug, in many ways. As though the individual was experiencing a consistent victory. 

“Misha, I don’t think it’s a good idea to just walk around this place,” Anaya pointed out as they moved through the crowd. Michael easily pushed through the people around, ignoring the minute flares of anger they felt, while Anaya weaved through them far more easily, not even touching those she passed. “We kinda stick out if that’s all we’re doing.” 

“Even if they notice us, they won’t be able to get far if they run.” 

“They won’t need to run if they see us coming early enough. We don’t know who we’re looking for, right? We just know that they feel proud of something.”

“It’s a consistent pride. The mastermind is accomplishing something, or succeeding in a plan. That means we can’t afford to wait.”

“What? Wait, hold on, you didn’t say that. What would they be succeeding at?”

Michael shrugged, scowling as they looked around the room, their view blocked by the excited crowd. A new match was starting as a thunderdrake–a yellow variant of the common lizardfolk that was equal in size to the minotaurs around–stepped into the arena, throwing taunts to the previously victorious minotaur, who seemed rested and ready to fight. She seemed to be wearing some type of snakeskin bikini, one modified to allow her tail to-

“Uh, Misha? You didn’t answer my question.” Oh. Right- “If you want to watch the fight, we could just find a table and sit-”

“What? I don’t.”

Anaya was smiling for some reason, visible even in the dim lighting. “You were staring at the fighters though. Unless one of them is the mastermind?”

“No. They don’t feel right for-” Michael paused, then looked upwards, where they felt that same pulse of Pride, though somehow…smugger. “They moved, come on.”

“Eh? Ah, wait, don’t shove people!” 

Michael wasn’t listening. They were busy moving straight through the crowd to get back up to the lobby because there was no way they were going to let some arrogant sinner get away from–This isn’t the lobby.

They weren’t in the lobby. They were in a casino. Which the hotel was mentioned as partially being, yes, but it seemed the staircase Michael had taken led up to the casino portion of the building, rather than the lobby. But that prideful sensation was still coming from this new and far more brightly lit room, so that meant they needed to get moving.

Gods, this place is gaudy though. No room needed so many lights at once in it. Bright yellow and orange lights that shone over rows and rows of strange devices with levers attached to them and more open areas where roulette and poker tables were set up. And where there weren’t lights, there were coin and cup symbols, because apparently all gambling dens needed to emblazon themselves with card suits.

“There you are!” Oh, Anaya caught up. “Jeez, warn me next time. I don’t run well on this.” She patted her wooden leg for emphasis, then paused and stared at one of the avaricious devices. “Oh hey, they have slot machines here.”

“You know what they are?”

“Sure do! Right, how long ago was it…forty years, maybe? This guy I know, a human named Silvio, was starting up a bar and set up one of these to draw in customers. I think he found his in a dungeon? Old adventurer, you know how it is.”

They didn’t, but that didn’t matter. “Did you see anyone suspicious on your way over here?”

“Other than you? Nope.”

Michael blinked. “…how am I suspicious?”

“Pft. It’s a joke, Misha. Meesh? Mimi?”


“Not that one then, gotcha. Anyways, sorry, haven’t seen any dark cloaked cultists or mustachioed ne’er-do-wells.”

“…” Their eyes narrowed. “You’re mocking me.”

“No, I’m teasing, trying for some camaraderie and all that. I just–Hey! Would you stop running off?!”

Michael ignored Anaya, because clearly she was going to be of no help at all. Besides, she was old enough to take care of herself, even if she wasn’t taking this very important matter seriously. 

Regardless, they chased down their target, which was getting a tad more difficult as the smell of alcohol filled the room, as it seemed everyone at the devices was imbibing while playing. The smell was absolutely grating, sending a pounding through their head that nearly smothered their senses as they moved. 

Even so, the level of pride this person was displaying was a beacon to them–


Before they could tell what was happening, a sharp pang of Pride ran out near them, and almost as if in response to that, a wave of Envy crashed into them, making them stumble as they grabbed their head. 

Every“–Aw come on!”one suddenly bega“–was just there!”n to spe“Guess that means–”ak at once and Michael nearly vomited, their mortal form completely failing to handle the sheer onslaught of acidic envy eating through–

“Hey hey, I’ve got you.” There was a firm arm around their waist and Michael blinked, trying to focus as they were half-carried outside the casino, a wave of clear air hitting their nostrils and cutting through the reek of smoke they’d inhaled. Then they blinked again, realizing they actually were outside. On some type of back patio to the hotel, with guests relaxing on chairs and–

“Is that a pool?”

“…” Anaya poked their forehead.


“You nearly fainted, and you’re interested in the pool?”

“I didn’t faint, and yes, why is there a pool? There’s a lake right there!” Michael gestured to the lake in question–which was literally only ten feet away from the pool–for emphasis. Anaya didn’t seem impressed by their emphasizing, so they gestured again. “It’s wasteful!”


“I don’t understand you mortals at all. Why can’t you simply enjoy what’s right in front of you? Why waste time constructing stupid frivolities and make things that are completely unnecessary?? Desires like these are how people like Ausilio become corrupted and fall under the sway of those who wish harm to the Light Lands!” 

“…Misha, it’s a pool. It’s a pool next to a lake. It’s dumb, sure, but is that really something to get angry about?”

“Yes! It encourages indolence! There’s a lake right there, and yet they would rather make a blasted pool, and for what reason!? Because it’s closer??”

“Probably also because there’s less rocks and fish and all the things a lake normally contains.”

“And that’s a problem! They can just deal with those things! Instead, they make a useless source of water no one can drink that has to be cleaned, refilled, and maintained because apparently lake water is just too dangerous! It’s stupid!”

“Yeah. And?”

“…What do you mean ‘and’?”

“And what do you want to do about it?”

Michael paused, then frowned. “…I would…I don’t understand the question.”

“No, see, I think you do, and you’re trying to deflect. Do you want to drain the pool and fill it up with soil to use it for something else? Maybe make a nice garden? Or would you leave it a dry hole in the ground and move on?”

“I…the garden sounds…better.”

“Cool. So, should we go talk to the manager of this hotel and tell them to drain their pool and fill it up with soil to make it into a garden right now? Or do you still want to look for your mastermind? You know, the one who you only think is here because this place feels sinful and someone around here is really smug.”

“…If you’re not going to take this seriously-”

Anaya rolled her eyes, then took a seat on an unoccupied chair. “Misha, I’m taking this as seriously as I should be. If you want to actually investigate around this city, we can, but you’re running around half-cocked because you’re more focused on the things making you angry than the real problem you wanted to check out.”

Michael scowled, affronted. “I am performing an investigation-”

“You’re running around a hotel. And I’m fine with that, it’s honestly a nice place and it’s been fun looking around, but if you don’t have a plan, there’s no real point to it, y’know?” She shrugged, then moved her legs up onto the chair and leaned back, letting out a little sigh as she basked in the late afternoon sun. “I’ll be here if you need me. Though you might want to give the investigation a rest, you nearly hurt yourself back there.”

“I-! I did not hurt myself! That was just–I don’t need your help anyway! I can handle this fine!”

“Yeah, alright. Hey, tell me if you see a place that sells swimsuits. I’d probably get in trouble if I jumped in as is.”

Michael felt a sudden rush of blood to their face, which…definitely was due to their building fury–which they were definitely still feeling–and not to any thoughts that the irritating elf may have put inside their mind because it certainly wasn’t their own brain that conjured the image of her getting out of the pool–

They spun on their heel and walked away at a perfectly reasonable pace, not looking anywhere near Anaya or her distracting figure–

Then they bumped into someone and nearly fell, blinking up at the tall, dark-skinned minotaur, wearing a pair of red swimming shorts, facing away from them. 

“Oh, sorry about that,” he started, “I didn’t mean to get in your way, was just talkin’ to the manager here.”

Michael was about to reply that they didn’t care and that he should get out of their way, before they registered a sudden flare of shock right in front of them, then looked to the manager. Who looked perfectly unflustered, smiling with ease back at them.

“Hello there. You must be a new guest at our establishment,” the violet-haired high elf began. She was slim and quite pale for someone working at a resort town, and wore a short-sleeved, magenta dress shirt decorated with violet flowers, matching one she had in her long hair, along with beige shorts and sandals. Despite the friendly, close-eyed smile she was giving Michael, the angel couldn’t help but detect a hint of…smug. “I hope you’re enjoying–”

Their fist crashed straight into the manager’s nose and she went skidding back across the floor, her feet digging into the tiles as she tried to stop her sudden momentum and carving furrows into the ground before she finally stopped, clutching the ruined wreck on her face.

Found you,” Michael snarled, pushing past the gaping minotaur as the manager straightened.

“Argh, bitch! Who the fuck jumps to punching–” Her eyes went wide and she snarled as the white of said eyes flashed black, the irises burning a bright violet as she stared at Michael’s fiery halo.

“Someone who knows what they’re dealing with,” they retorted, letting their natural flames loose around their body in a burning aura.

“Hh, you got a lucky shot, jackass,” the manager growled back, pulling away the burnt flesh of her false nose and letting it drop to the floor, baring the natural slit-nostrils she had in its place as her skin shifted from a pale white-gold to a vibrant magenta and she stood far taller, now equal in height to the minotaurs around while her violet hair twisted into purple tentacles that spilled down her back, “Shame you ain’t getting a second one–”

And Michael rocketed forward, punching her straight in the mouth and sending her crashing through the center wall of the lobby. “No wonder this place is such a den of filth if one of your rotten kind is skulking here, leviathan!

It’d been over a hundred years since they last encountered one of the demonic children of the Ancient Depths, but that reek of tainted seawater, sharp and salty, was more than familiar to the long-lived cardinal, and it was all too easy to piece together why such a beast would–

Then they stiffened as a familiar voice sounded out. “Misha!? What the hell did you just do?!”

“I found the mastermind, Anaya!” Michael shouted back over the crumbling of stone and tinkling of glass. And also the screams of panicked guests and staff. “Right, civilians…Anaya! Evacuate the civi-”

Michael had a moment to cross their arms in a block as the leviathan suddenly appeared in front of them, but they weren’t expecting her to roundhouse kick them straight in the head with enough force to launch them straight across the lobby and through the windows of the hotel’s restaurant. Why they had windows on the inside of the hotel, Michael had no idea, but they conceded it was better than being launched through a wall. Or a table, which they did wind up crashing into, so the point was moot.

“…Huh. Hey Misha,” Ludano greeted, holding a plate in one hand. It seemed his reflexes were good enough to save his food, so that was fortunate. “Why’d you just get chucked through a window?” Standing up, Michael looked at Kostas. 

“Get everyone out of here.” 

“Uh, what are you-” Blocking a downward kick, Michael was able to keep themselves standing as the ground below them cracked.

“Tougher than I expected, but you really shouldn’t be so single minded~!” Feeling a tentacle wrap around their leg, Michael crashed to the floor as it was tugged out from under them, before a strong punt to the stomach sent them flying back, over the rapidly emptying tables.

“W-Woah, who are you!?” Ludano shouted out as his plates crashed to the ground. 

“My apologies dear guest, but we are now closed~” Bringing up her hand, the leviathan stopped Kostas’s punch. “Hm…Kostas was it? My apologies, but you’re fired.” And in the next moment, the minotaur crashed into a wall, holding his stomach as he crumbled to the ground. “Heh~ Ah well. Shame I have to drop this project, but now I finally get to beat down these bullish meatheads–”

Then Michael’s fist slammed straight into the leviathan’s stomach, sending a torrent of water spilling from her gasping mouth as the angel’s wings flared out from their back. “Kostas doesn’t work for you, he’s a contractor working on behalf of a guild!”

“…” The leviathan wheezed as she looked up at Michael, pure confusion in her eyes. “…Wha-”

Then a blast of pure flame erupted from Michael’s fist and sent the leviathan slamming straight up and through the ceiling in a rain of plaster. “And I will not stand for you lording your false authority over these people!”

“You’re a cardinal. Ohhhh, you’re a cardinal,” Ludano said with clear awe in his voice.

Ah. Right, disguises. Michael looked down at him. “Sorry for ruining your meal, go tend to your boyfriend-” Then looked to all the other gawkers around. “-AND EVACUATE THE BUILDING! THERE’S A DEMONIC THREAT PRESENT AND I WILL BE HANDLING IT!”

That got the civilians to snap into action–which wasn’t actually what they wanted–or begin running towards the exits–which was–and Michael was gratified to see Ludano head to Kostas’s side, before they flew up into the hole they left in the ceiling and into one of the hotel’s many rooms. Then they had to duck a knife thrown at their head. “Why are there hunting knives in a hotel room??”

“THEY’RE COMPLIMENTARY!” the leviathan snapped back, before her tentacles started pitching more at them.

Regardless, Michael batted the thrown knives away with a conjured spear, twirling the instrument of flame in their hands before remembering Anaya requested they not kill their target, and dismissing the spearhead. So now it was more of a staff, and they could use it to whack the leviathan instead of stabbing her.

Which they promptly did when there was a slight lull in the barrage of knives, sending the manager straight through multiple walls. “Surrender–” Wait, what did that nametag say…oh, right. “-Cathleen! You cannot beat me!”

The leviathan popped up from the rubble of what was once a bed–along with a great deal of brick from all the walls–pulling a tattered pillowcase from her head in a burst of feathers. “Wha-Oh, right, fake name–My name’s Borzla, you fucking moron!”

“I had no way of knowing that!”

“You’re still a fucking–Wait, wait, one sec, this is stupid.” She stood up from the bed, dusting herself off, then left the destroyed room she was in. 

Michael waited for a moment, listening as Borzla walked through the hallway towards the room they were in, paused, then abruptly began sprinting in the opposite dire– “That coward!”

They rushed out of the room, saw Borzla running away, and growled furiously as they started pursuing her. Which meant flying straight for the leviathan because Michael had wings, could go intangible, and wasn’t an idiot.

So they aimed to spear tackle Borzla, only for the leviathan to twist and kick them in the side of the head, again, and send them slamming through a wall. Which did, indeed, hurt worse than going through a window. If with more a blunt damage than a piercing damage though.

Regardless, ow, and also– “STOP DOING THAT!” Michael shouted as they picked themself up under the lights of an, admittedly nice, bathroom. 



“I DON’T CARE-Wait, really?” Their reply got Borzla to stop stalking towards them, the fury making her tendrils curl with murderous intent dropping in an instant of confusion. “…You punched me in the face!”

“Yes! You’re a leviathan!”

“I-You punched me because of my race!?”

“In a sense, yes! You’re a demonic entity managing a den of sin! Therefore, you have entirely earned multiple punches!”

“Yeah but-Hold on, how did you even know to look here if you didn’t know I even had plans??” Borzla paused, then looked oddly offended. “Did you even know who I was before you punched me!?”

“No, I did not, but my decision was clearly right! If you truly were not evil then you would have had no reason to try and evade me while radiating pride as you did so!” 

“Geh-That still doesn’t give you the right to attack me!” 

“For the sake of protecting the Light Lands, I shall strike down any that are deemed a threat!” Michael declared, pointing their finger straight towards their foe, “And you are nothing more than a wretched invader, here to disrupt the peaceful lives of innocent lightlanders on behalf of your master, the Demon Lord Valondrac!” 

“…” Borzla stared at them, then tilted her head. Well, less tilted, it looked more like she just stopped herself from falling over completely. “Are you fucking stupid.”

“Wh-No! I’m not stupid! I found you out!”

But Borzla wasn’t listening to them, instead pressing both her hands to her face and groaning. “Two years here, setting up a perfect fucking lure to every horny elf and taur up in your stupid churches, and I fucking out myself because a dumbass angel thinks I’m working for the usurper…”

“…Usurper?” Michael couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. Well there goes my easy excuse to tear up that damnable treaty…

“Twoooooo fucking years of work…depths below, it was even more than that, I was fucking working at this for ages getting all my damn connections set up so I could even build this place and you just…” She dragged her hands down her face, staring at Michael with demonic blue eyes, the sclerae as dark as the depths of the sea. “Do you have any idea how many elves I had to fuck for this??”

Michael stiffened, feeling their face heat. “W-What does that have to do with this?!”

“EVERYTHING! Fuck, gods, I had a fucking system here! Did you even pay attention to how much entertainment and indulgences I provided for the fucking rubes I lured in?? I could’ve called this place the fucking anglerfish! I was that good at it! I got such a good rep too!”

“I…what does that have to do with elves?”

Borzla groaned, pressing her hands to her face again. “You’re so fucking stupid. How are you this stupid. How did you even know I was doing anything…”

“…” I’m not going to get mad. I am not. She’s the stupid one, and I am getting information from her. So they took a breath and explained. “Your ‘rube’, Ausilio, told me about the job you had for him.”

“What? Ausilio?? Who the fuck is Ausilio!?”

“…A high elf. Male, average height, green-haired, a paladin?” There was absolutely no recognition on her face. “…Member of the Order Bosio?”

Ah, that got a reaction. “Wh-Gods-Fuck, wait, he’s from–FUCK, you know about the cores!? Are you-mh…”

“…Yes. I do. I know all about your plot to…plant dungeon cores across Zemava in order to…disrupt our way of life,” they guessed. Wait, did I remember to turn over that core I found? I…no, I’m sure I–

“Was gonna do more than disrupt it, you-Bleh, fuck, I didn’t even get most of them out there…”

Something to deal with later. “Right. Yes, so you’ve been seducing members of the Faith of Light’s clergy in order to plant dungeon cores across our country. A relatively simple plot that was entirely easy to figure out.”

“Heh. Wasn’t just the dungeon cores, Feathers, and they weren’t just nobodies I ‘seduced’.” Borzla smirked, picking the flower from her tendrils and spinning it between her fingers. “Have you ever thought about all those restrictions your religion foists on its people? Some people can handle things like that, knowing they can’t have certain things for the good of themselves and those around them, but others just can’t. Lack of freedom just pisses them off, because they’re not getting what they want.

She traced a hand down to the burn on her shirt, left by Michael’s fist, and pulled at the fabric, bearing her abdomen. “And those types of people will look for any opportunity to get what they want~ Even if it means doing things their community won’t approve of. Hell, especially, in plenty of cases. Have you ever heard about Zemava’s underground alcohol trade, angel? How about the monster-trophy smugglers? Or even the underground swimsuit magazine circuit?

And as Michael stiffened in moral outrage at such trespasses, Borzla let out an annoyed sigh. “Though, seriously, those are what you people obsess over? Wine and monster horns? Like, who actually wants a taxidermied wyrm head? Is it just a conversation piece? You didn’t even hunt it, it’s not a fucking accomplishment, but apparently there’s such a huge market it’s-And what’s with the wine thing?? It’s the worst alcohol! I can’t even get most paladins to try a beer because they don’t trust it! ‘But why is it made of yeast? Yeast is for bread!’ What the fuck does that even mean?!”

“It means you are a corruptive blight on not only this country, but all lands of the Light Lands!” Michael shouted, forming their spear again and pointing it at Borzla. Then dismissing the spearhead again because they were still trying to be nonlethal. “And thus it falls to me to bring your evil schemes to their rightful end!”

“…Sure. Anyhow, I just fucked up two years of work and I’m extremely angry at that fact, so I’m just going to go with Plan B.” Borzla crushed the flower in her hand, another smirk creeping up her face as the sink and bath beside Michael suddenly began running.

“…And what did that do?”

“Let me give you a hint.” Borzla turned and walked to a nearby window as an odd rumbling noise sounded through the hotel. Is the building shaking? How did turning on the water do-

And as Borzla threw open the curtains, Michael was greeted with the source of that shaking, and came to the very sudden realization that the massive stone salamander that was perched over the hotel’s entrance was, in fact, alive. Which was a concern, particularly as it leaned up close to the window, its stone eye now burning magenta with demonic life.

Also of concern was the fact that the running faucets had filled up their basins, and now a great deal of water was spilling onto the floor and forming up into watery figures, also with glowing eyes.

“Lucky for you, the rooms are empty this time of day. Everyone’s out enjoying the city, so I don’t get any hostages to use.” Borzla shrugged, then smirked. “But I’m willing to let that go, along with the rest of this place. Ta ta, angel! Enjoy your last stay at The Morningstar!”

Borzla started sprinting again, heading for the staircase as the colossus outside reared back and slammed its fist straight through the wall, which Michael met with a swing of their staff, and then a snarl when they were still forced back, because they still weren’t strong enough to take–

No, ignore that. Your target’s getting away. The sheer Pride radiating off of Borzla was a beacon to Michael, even as the watery clones leaped for them–easily dispatched with two swings that cleaved through one and burst the other’s head into steam–and the fist pulled back for another punch, which they certainly needed to avoid so on they went, moving through the walls and towards the staircase–Then a hiss of pain slipped through as they tried to pass through a soaked wall, the demonically tainted water acting as a natural barrier to their intangibility, which was aggravating–

Ignore it, where is she going? She was going up, not down, for what reason– There’s too many people at the bottom? The local guard and paladins may be congregating? She needs something upstairs? Too many reasons, not enough explanations, and Michael had to jerk back as watery hands stretched through the leaking walls, so another obstacle in the way.

That was fine. They’d dealt with worse.

So Michael crouched low, took a breath, then started sprinting out and through the halls, staff in hand. More and more clones formed from the walls, the ceilings, the soaked carpets, and they ducked attempts to grab and lashed out as they went, slamming their instrument of pure flame through flimsy bodies as they reached the stairs and went up, aiming to catch–

A stone fist slammed through the stairs right above them, smashing it to splinters as Michael diverted their course, running through the third floor instead. There were multiple staircases, on opposite sides of each other, so as long as Michael had one route up, they had a way of reaching their target, no matter how many flimsy copies tried to wear them down. 

The salamander clearly had trouble tracking Michael through the hotel, and while it did attempt to smash its appendages through the building to get at them, it wasn’t destroying the entire thing–Its master is still inside, it won’t do anything to obstruct her–and Michael could use that, much like they just used its extended arm to vault over swarming clones and get to the next staircase, making it up two floors before a tail speared through the stairwell and they had to divert course again.

Nine floors total and they’d just hit the fifth. Depending on how fast Borzla was moving–and based on Michael’s past experience, the leviathan would be about the same level of power as a dragon or an angel of light–she may be at the top already, though–They glanced upward, trying to sense that same smug pride and finding it stopped, up somewhere on the ninth when they noticed an open window and a gaping maw, glowing with pink flame–

Michael dove into a nearby room as a fiery beam roared past them, searing straight through the hallway and bursting out the opposite wall before they immediately went right back out, sprinting for the salamander, which had twisted to look inside and they took that opportunity to form a spearhead again and pitch their weapon like a javelin straight into and through the salamander’s eye.

The creature was more a golem than a living demon though, so it didn’t show any pain at spear sinking into its stone eye and blowing it apart in a burst of fire, leaving a molten mess, but its vision was reduced and that was good enough for Michael, who took a turn and went for the stairs again, thankful the sudden heat killed off the clones that once filled the hall and ignoring the slight pain in their metal hand.

Two more floors, then came the fist, and back to sprinting, ducking, weaving, and cleaving around and through more and more watery clones, which were filling the upper halls in even greater numbers than the lower ones. Which made little sense, since water should be flowing downwards–Do the upper floors have more sinks?–but also didn’t matter because they were getting closer–

Then one gripped at the angel’s wings and a hiss slipped from their mouth at the unpleasant sensation, flaring their wings out to blast heat over the obstacles in their way. The air was turning humid, and the ceiling above was dripping with heavy water–Parts of the ceiling were outright collapsing, sending torrents spilling down through the halls in unending streams and that was a genuine problem. 

Not one Michael couldn’t handle though. They just needed to think, and the salamander wasn’t giving them that time, now outright shoving its massive head through the walls without any head for structural integrity–Which means Borzla finished whatever she needed to do!

Michael growled in frustration, stepping back as the water filled to their ankles and–and hands erupted up from it, clutching straight at their body and aiming to pull them down as the stone salamander, wreathed in pink flames in ugly mimicry of its living counterparts, opened its mouth wide again–

And Michael snarled, and pushed a second set of wings straight from their back in an eruption of heat and flame that evaporated the clones around them in one swift burst of steam before they rocketed forward, aiming right for the open maw, burning with its own unholy fire, and ripping straight through it, bursting out the back of the salamander’s head in a spray of molten stone. 

It hurt, having four wings out, a burning pain that reminded them of a blond man with steel gray eyes and a blade like cracking thunder, but that fury was twisted to better uses as they looked to the roof of the hotel and heard a call in the air, a horn at Borzla’s lips.

“Come on, come on, come when you’re fucking called,” the leviathan snarled, clutching at the bone white horn with one hand and holding tight to the satchel over her shoulders, before going stiff as a pair of strong, burning arms suddenly wrapped around her waist, “What the–How did you–?!”

Michael didn’t answer, because they needed to end this fight right at this moment or they would black out from the pain of keeping their flames out but not consuming, which was why they expended a massive amount of flame suddenly rocketing up in the air, keeping a tight grip of their screaming quarry before they turned in the air and dove straight down, rocketing down and through the ceiling of The Morningstar Salamander, along with all nine of its floors and straight into the empty basement ring, blasting out every window that wasn’t already broken and sending the massive structure alight with flame, before it settled into a hollow quiet.

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