Chapter 15 – Suspicious Occurrences

Michael didn’t expect much from Nassato. It was a province on their way southward towards Gorokiva, and even that wasn’t a stop they especially wanted to make on their trip. 

Yes, they were aware that the whole matter of their tour was to visit all of the Light Lands, but their underlying mission was to go to four very specific temples, and all detours away from that goal were, ultimately, unnecessary. So in that vein, they fully expected the journey through Nassato to simply be more travel through an arid and dusty land of marble buildings and scattered farmlands.

They hadn’t expected the rain. They really hadn’t expected the pouring rain and thunderstorms that met them almost immediately as their group crossed through the checkpoint town that separated Titormo from Nassato. Thick, warm, almost hot rain that fell hard and heavy and unrelenting as the natural dust of the region clumped into mud and made even the naturally clean and shiny coats of their unicorns look sodden and filthy.

For a moment, Michael almost envied the bandits they’d left back at that checkpoint. They didn’t, because they were an angel and an angel felt no such things, but still. Even if the former deputies were prison bound, at least they would be traveling through a drier region. 

Though Michael did take some humor in the thought of what the constables would do with the snakebearer. Maybe they would put it in the same prison with its cohorts?

“You can never really predict summer rains,” Polina noted as she stared up at the clouded sky. The fully armored paladin was riding alongside Michael at the front while Anaya rode inside the carriage, which was only natural. While her druidic nature may make her more in tune with the natural world, it was the duty of paladins–and cardinals–to bear the brunt of unpleasant things for the sake of those needing protection. That, and Anaya would be…deeply distracting if she was still up here… “Most summer’s are dry round here, but every so often some clouds slip through the mountains down south ‘n up north and you wind up gettin’ showers.”

“Hm. I can’t say it’s pleasant.”

“Nah, never is. Southern rains are always too hot, northern rains are always too cold, it’s a real pain. The mountains usually block it off, so we get by through rivers, lakes, springs, all that.”

“Aren’t you open to the coast?”

“Sure, from the west. Winds don’t blow rain often that way, and when it does it still tends to be thunderin’. There’s some old stories on the subject, about how the storms come from arguments between Iudex and Innominatum.”

Well, Father did have to correct Lord Innominatum often, and they could get quite loud. 

“Hm…Have you traveled through Gorokiva before?” 

“Back when I was young, but I remember some things well enough. Like, you know how Gorokiva’s culture is based on that one outworld place?” 

“…Yes.” Why would they copy outworlders? 

“Well they have their own ways of doin’ things, like how they speak, and how their adventurers are like. It’s a little hard to explain it all, considerin’ it’s a whole other country ‘n all, but the way I’ve heard it, a lotta adventurers down there do the job to get famous enough to join up with the noble households as official retainers.”

“Gorokivan nobility takes in untrained commoners as vassals?”

“Not exactly? The smart ones definitely get someone to train them, but it’s kinda a romantic ideal type thin’? ‘The lone wanderer’ is a popular character type for a reason, though I think they usually have an animal companion?” Or an angelic one that never gets mentioned. “Point is, there’s a different culture there. Ah, around adventurers, specifically, I mean, since I don’t think most nobles will take on adventurers as retainers. I know the archdukes don’t, though I think the Lucens might knight some of theirs?”

Was Goldforge a knight? People addressed him as “sir” at times… Michael shook their head, scattering some raindrops as they tried to focus back on driving. I need to focus. The rain should clear soon enough, so they thought. 

They were wrong. Very wrong.

In the days it took for the group to get through Nassato, the endless and irritating summer showers utterly refused to abate, leaving the entire region with an almost perpetual feeling of unpleasant, muggy, humid wetness. The dusty roads turned muddy, the normally calm rivers were flowing heavy and fat with added water, and the distant boom of thunder…Michael made a point of disallowing any metal on the top of their carriage for the duration of their journey.

They certainly weren’t happy that they had to keep making stops either. The main roads were paved, but mud had a tendency to leak and the carriage got stuck more than once, until the wheels suddenly grew and gained an odd, shimmering quality to them that let it move through the muck without issue. Perhaps there is some use in keeping the core around after all…

Speaking of the core, it seemed like Anaya had decided to decorate it, judging by the straw hat currently lying on its top.

“Why?” Michael asked as they helped Anaya down from the carriage, at yet another stop along their journey through Sollamava. There were some stables alongside the major roads that served a dual purpose as inns, thankfully with decent beds to sleep on. Not that Michael needed to sleep, it was just a good thing for Anaya and Polina, certainly.

“Because I thought he’d look cute. And he does! Might add some bows and tassels to him too as we keep on going,” Anaya cheerfully replied, before she started heading in, “Now come on, I can’t dry off my clothes easy in this weather and I’d rather go naked than have to deal with wet cloth on my skin.”

“…” Michael felt that information was unnecessary, and attempted to ignore it. And, much like the rain, that thought lingered in their head for far longer than it should’ve, but whatever. There were other things to focus on, like how the road traffic from Gorokiva meant there were more horses in this region alongside the rhinos the minotaurs commonly used for transportation, or how said rhinos weren’t usually ridden, but instead used to drive carriages and chariots. 

Of course, with the rain, it was somewhat rare to see the charioteers that typically kept watch over the roads. Granted, they weren’t the kind of military force Michael had dim memories of Sollamavan charioteers being; more like simple deputies that were told to keep on the lookout for bandits and monsters.

Michael was still annoyed to find a group of those deputies sitting around and drinking in a tavern they had to stop at for one night, but their previous encounter with the “deputy bandits” really hadn’t given them a positive impression of these types to begin with, so they had little reason to care.

“–the way things are goin’, Garoti might full on secede.” They did, however, gain a reason to eavesdrop.

“You’re jokin’! That’s insane!”

“Sure is, but they ain’t lettin’ officials from other provinces in. They’ve practically closed the borders there, which yeah, is fuckin’ crazy, but Archduke Siromo’s sayin’ the queen ‘overreached’ or some shit–”

“Now hold on, how’s that track? She’s the queen, she can’t overreach!”

“I know that, you know that, but apparently no one told that dumb shit nothin’ on the subject, so now folks are sayin’ he’s gonna try to leave the country and take his whole province with ‘im.”

“And go where??”

“Luceneva, maybe? Ain’t the queen there his sister or somethin’?”

“One of the queens, sure, but that’d be stupid. Sides, there’s no guarantee it’ll even go that far. Last noble house that seceded was, what, three hundred years ago?”

“Less than that, I think? With the Tsambi’s, yeah?” The who?

“Does that count? I thought it was a thing of nobles marryin’ and movin’ or somethin’.”

“No no, I remember my history class, had an old paladin teachin’, and she said it was a secession thing. I think there was almost a war over it? But then, y’know, demon lord started shit and that went nowhere, same as always.”

“Amen there. Shit, you think it might escalate with the treaty up? Like, we ain’t at war with the darklanders right now, so maybe the nobles are gettin’ antsy, gettin’ their blood up?”

“Gods I hope not. I signed up to wear a fancy badge and drive a chariot on sunny days, not be a damn soldier.”

“Well we ain’t doin’ that last part, that’s for sure. The hell is even with all this damn rain? I swear, it ain’t natural–what?”

“No no, don’t look, just…there’s an elf, over there, been starin’ at us for a while.”

“What? Are they listenin’ to us?”

“Better question, are they cute?” And that was Michael’s cue to leave, which they promptly did. Their opinion of Sollamavan law enforcement was still as low as ever, and it only got lower as they passed through yet another town on the way through Nassato and met the local sheriff.

“OH THANK GODS YOU’RE HERE!” said the sheriff in question, who looked to be a mixture of panicked and relieved as he ran straight to a very confused Polina. It also took Michael a moment to realize he wasn’t a short minotaur, but indeed a satyr. So that was interesting. “I was starting to think my replacement would never come!” 

“…Er, replacement?” 

“…Please tell me you’re not just a traveler.”

“Sorry?” 

The supposed sheriff sank his head into his hands with a groan. “Great. Great! Of course no one’s coming, why would anyone…”

“Hey, are you ok-”

“What are you whining about?” Michael asked, cutting off Polina. They had no interest in wasting time sympathizing with some random town sheriff, so it was better to cut to the point.

“Oh, just the complete mess my life has turned into,” the satyr sheriff answered, looking back up at them. He sighed, running a hand through his short, coarse, wet hair. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude. I’m Varno, the interim sheriff round here.” 

“Misha Centola, paladin pilgrim. This is Polina Vlahos, paladin of Judgment. We have a third companion but she is staying in the carriage because the last time she stepped out onto a muddy street, her leg became stuck.”

“…I mean, that does happen-”

“It came off. The leg is prosthetic.”

“Oh.”

“You swore not to tell anyone!” came an annoyed shout from the carriage.

“Polina swore, I did not,” Michael corrected, then looked towards Sheriff Varno again, “Do you have an issue here?”

“Ah…I mean, kinda, yeah.” Varno shrugged. “My former boss was one of the corrupt sheriffs that the queen is arresting. Well, I mean, I think he actually ran to Gorokiva, so there’s that-”

“So you’re worried he’ll come back for revenge. I see.”

“Wha-? No, I wasn’t-Wait, would he…no, no, that’s not the trouble, the trouble is that I’m the sheriff!”

“Why is that an issue?”

“Oh I have no idea, maybe it’s cause I’m the first satyr sheriff in fuck knows how long, maybe the first time in history, and I live in a country where everyone’s all about being strong above everything? Maybe that’s the issue!”

Michael frowned. “I would ask that you cease the sarcasm or I will plant you like a radish.”

“So, uh, are you havin’ troubles with specists or somethin’?” Polina asked.

Varno slumped. “Oh gods I wish that was the problem. I’d still feel like crap but at least I’d know people actually hated me, but no! They fucking love me for some reason!”

“…What?”

“I don’t get it either! For some reason, because my asshole coworkers always put the paperwork on me because ‘oh we can’t go havin’ a taur wastin’ time with the small stuff, better have the tyr do it’, everyone assumes I was the one that told the queen about the corruption! And then I wound up knocking out the one asshole in town who didn’t believe it, accidentally mind and he was trying to bully me into giving him favors so he really deserved it anyway but now people think I’m some kind of hidden badass and things just keep going right for me!

“…Uh.”

“I don’t get it! I’m a satyr! I’m a foot smaller than most of these people! Sure, most people would be polite enough, but even then they thought I was still weaker than them! But now apparently I’m a fucking folk hero?! And it just keeps happening! A fucking bagua beetle comes down from the mountains and gets crushed by a grain silo, it must’ve been my plan! Oh, there’s a rampaging tyndarid barrelling down the street, better have the sheriff sacrifice his lunch for it! How was I supposed to know the damn things love onions?! They don’t even have mouths most of the time! And now, oh now there’s an issue with the well drying up, the sun’s too hot, we might need to ration water, and IT STARTS FUCKING RAINING! HOW?! WHY!?

He clutched the front of Polina’s shirt, desperation in his eyes. “You’re a paladin, right?! So please, tell me, WHY ARE THE GODS FUCKING WITH ME!?”

Michael put their hand on Varno’s face and very slowly pushed him off of Polina. They put their hand on his head, between his horns, and leaned to stare into his eyes. “I can and will push downward until you are buried within these muddy streets. Calm. Down.”

“…” Varno visibly swallowed. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good. My advice for you is simple: Embrace your lie, quit your job, or let it go and allow the rumors to starve. You have many options in this situation and I do not care how you solve it to your satisfaction. Stop bothering us. Goodbye.”

They moved past him and went back to the carriage. Polina stayed for a minute or so to check the sheriff and ask if he needed help, though he waved her off with a simple “It’s fine, I can handle things.” Whether he could remained to be seen, though Michael had no intention of sticking around to see it.

“Did you have to be that mean to him? He just seemed stressed,” Polina said as they drove the carriage through the town once more.

“I spoke to him as I would anyone who is attempting to make their problems our own,” Michael replied, “His issue is one of fortune favoring him. All he has to do is be bold enough to accept it.” 

“Pretty sure he’s more worried about what’ll happen when that fortune runs out. High expectations can make folks angry when they aren’t met.” 

“Then he will deal with that ire when it comes. The matter does not relate to us.”

Polina sighed. “I guess. Still, weird to think people assumed Varno’s the one who leaked all that info about the corrupt sheriffs. I was hearin’ it was a cardinal that did it, though I’m not sure why they would. They only stay up in Zemava.”

“…This land worships the God of Judgment, the cardinals are angels of Judgment. Of course they would elect to aid their followers. They wouldn’t just ignore them,” Michael muttered, trying to ignore the fact that that was exactly what they had done for thousands of years.

“Hm…yeah, y’know what, you’re right. We have faith in them, so it makes sense they’d help us. Maybe they’re just subtler about it around here? Could be they’re even helpin’ Varno right now, guidin’ him along a path that’ll be good for him.”

“…” Michael did not fidget. They did not feel any sort of sense of guilt or concern. They were a cardinal, they were better than that. 

“Uh, Misha, yer grippin’ the reins too tightly.” 

“We should stop for the night.” 

“Eh? It’s still early.” 

“The roads are slick with mud, and it seems like it might start raining again, better safe than sorry.” Ignoring Polina’s gaze, Michael was able to soon find a small cave–well, large enough to bring the carriage into–outside of town for them to stop at. Just in time too, as it did indeed start raining again. 

“Oh, hello there.” And now they had to deal with someone else. Great. Looking at where the voice came from, Michael could see a light-skinned human man wearing some kind of robe, a long thin sword at his side, and his black hair tied into a ponytail. “This humble ronin did not think he would have company here.”  

“Oh? Are you Gorokivan?” Anaya asked as she poked her head out of the carriage window. 

“Indeed.” Standing up, he began to dust himself off. “The name this ronin carries is Robin. It is a pleasure.” 

“I’m Anaya! The nice looking minotaur is Polina, and the grumpy looking half-elf is Misha.” 

…Grumpy? Why am I “grumpy”??

“Nice to meet you, not often we see any ronin travel up this way.” Raising her hand in greeting, Polina moved off the carriage too.

“This young ronin wishes to better himself. As such seeing the world shall help with that.” He smiled. “Much like the wise masters of years gone by, this young ronin seeks to better himself through the exploration of distant lands…though Sollamava would also suffice. This noble land does have many mighty monsters.”

“Yeah, true on that. Is that why you holed up at a dungeon entrance?”

“This is a dungeon?” Michael asked, their mind finally breaking past its initial confusion.

“…Misha, it had a sign outside that said ‘Warnin’, Dungeon Ahead’.”

“So what is a ronin anyway?” they asked, ignoring that useless path of discussion. “You keep mentioning it.” 

“Basically an adventurer who’s lookin’ to join up with a noble house, particularly of a Gororan type. Think somethin’ like a knight errant, if you’re more familiar with that.”

“Ah, so you also know of the tales of Master Bushido and Master Kishido, noble miss?”

“Uh…the name’s sound familiar? Wait, ain’t that a play?”

Robin grinned. “A very good set of comedy plays, noble miss. If it is polite, might this humble ronin inquire as to your surname? It is customary to refer to a respected other by the name of their family.”

“Oh right, I forgot that detail,” Anaya muttered as she sat down on the cave floor near Robin, adjusting her leg so she could sit cross-legged, “Let me try again! I’m Anaya Greenfall, the nice minotaur is Polina Vlahos, and the grumpy half-elf is Misha Centola!” Why am I still “grumpy”??

Robin bowed, then sat back down again on the cave floor. “This ronin offers his sincere greetings to you, Miss Greenfall, Miss Vlahos, and Miss Centola. He hopes you enjoy the meager hospitality he is able to offer to your esteemed selves in this shelter from the rain.”

And so, the group spent some time in a cave. Well, most of the group spent their time in the cave portion of their impromptu shelter; Michael felt a need to burn off some…odd, unpleasant feelings, so while Anaya and Polina spoke with Robin about his homeland, their homelands, and the various goings-ons of the lands they traveled, Michael traveled down into the dark depths of the dungeon.

Which weren’t really all that dark, in all honesty. The interior corridors were brightly lit, all the better for Michael to see what creatures lurked in a Sollamavan dungeon. And they were mostly crabs and scorpions. Very large crabs and scorpions, which could vary from the size of a housecat to outright gigantic, but still, mostly crabs and scorpions.

They were starting to feel somewhat cheated, though they did run into a tyndarid in its “land” form. The 7ft gorilla-esque monster was certainly more of an actual match than the shelled monsters it shared a home with. Its four amber eyes stared blankly as it swung its massive fists at Michael, aiming to crush their body into paste. It would feel genuinely threatening if the pitch-black beast could actually move fast enough to hit them; as it was, Michael had a bit of fun bobbing and weaving around the monster’s thick, black-furred arms before delivering a hard strike with their conjured staff–staff, not spear, because they were pretty sure the tyndarid was on the Nassatan flag and they still remembered Polina’s warnings about bad luck–to the second face on the back of the monster’s head, driving it straight into the ground in a crumpled heap.

They stood back and smiled, feeling lighter now that they got in a good fight, before they went right back to frowning as the tyndarid’s skin shifted and it swapped from its “landform” to its “skyform”. Its thick arms folded into feathered wings, its feet twisted into talons, and its neck extended upward as the white face blinked its amber eyes, then glared straight at Michael. The also massive, swan-like monster let out an ominous hiss and the fight was on again. 

And this time around it was much faster, actually catching Michael off guard as they expected it to attack with its talons, as it launched forward, its sharp, needle-like beak nearly piercing through their shoulder as they twisted out of the way. Which, considering the sharp beak and talons–Don’t swans have webbed feet?–they were starting to think the skyform tyndarid was more crane-like than swan-like.

No matter. I can figure out biology after I defeat this stupid beast– Was their thought before the far more aggressive form of the tyndarid outright rushed them with a far greater ferocity and viciousness than they had expected.

Suffice to say, the fight took a while.


“–seems to be true. The province of Garoti has indeed seceded from the nation of Sollamava,” Robin explained as Michael returned to the group.

“Seriously? That’s insane. They can’t really–…” Polina blinked, staring at Michael as they walked over to the sitting circle everyone had formed and took a seat. “Uh…what happened to you?”

“Fought a tyndarid,” Michael explained. They paused for a second, then brushed some of the feathers off of their somewhat torn shirt. Well, their badly torn shirt. “I didn’t kill it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I…um, I-I guess that’s fine? I just…are you okay?”

“Indeed. I did far better than the tyndarid. On the subject, why are skyform tyndarids referred to as ‘swan-like’? They have talons.”

“…um…I…guess it’s on account of their white wings? They also look a lot like swans when they’re roostin’? So…yeah.” She was staring at their collar for some reason.

“Hm. I suppose that explanation suffices. Thank you.” Michael glanced away from Polina, then blinked as they noticed Robin was averting his eyes and Anaya was very visibly staring at their chest. “…Is there an issue?”

“This ronin apologizes, but he intends to never stare at the form of another in a state of undress without their consent,” Robin explained. 

Michael frowned. “I’m not indecent. If it bothers you, I’ll get a new shirt.” They stood and went to get one, choosing not to look at how Anaya and Polina looked towards each other, as though sharing a secret opinion about Michael’s body. “I would like to know why these tears drew such attention though.”

“O-Oh, u-uh, s-sorry, just…I didn’t realize your scar was that bad,” Polina explained.

Michael felt a twinge from the scar carving across their chest. The blasted thing always pulses when it’s mentioned… “It is. Do not ask about it.” They changed shirts and returned to the group. “What were you talking about before?”

“The province directly to the east of the one we’re in just decided to secede from Sollamava,” Anaya explained without hesitation. It was good she chose to move on from the previous discussion so quickly.

“I heard similar. Polina, how do you think Queen Molgari will respond to this open rebellion?”

“Well, that’s the question, yeah? We haven’t had a province secede in two hundred and seventy-three years, so it’s a little strange to think. I guess the last time went alright?” Polina shrugged, glancing at Robin. “The Tsambika were already mostly in the mountains on the border, so it didn’t matter too much when they became the…?”

“Tsubakimoto, Miss Vlahos. The Tsambika chose to marry into the Tsuchiya and formed a greater house through uniting their lineages with the blessings of the Emperor and the King of the era.”

“Yeesh, is that what they teach you kids these days?” Anaya asked, earning confused looks from Polina and Robin.

“Pardon, Miss Greenfall?”

“Eh…yeah alright, let’s not let misinformation stand. So, this is something I remember pretty strongly back in the halcyon days of my youth, where I was but a mere child of fifty-four,” she began in a dramatic tone, “Even then, as a simple village girl learning the ways of the druids, the Tsambika secession was the talk of the continent. For centuries, the lands of the Tamoi Mountain Range were something of a volatile topic between Sollamava, who had their borders set by treaty with the Faith of Light declaring all lands between the mountains Etena and Tamoi to be theirs, and Gorokiva, a younger nation who had spread their influence through culture and renown. The valleys of Tamoi are verdant and lush, and there’d been a lot of arguments for a long time about who actually owned them and whether ‘between’ actually constituted the lands of the mountains being theirs. All this to say, it was a touchy subject that became a lot touchier when the archducal house of Tsambika decided they would rather hold power in Gorokiva than languish in Sollamava.

“Now, I don’t know the specifics about the promises made between groups, I just know a few things from this being, well, a majorly huge deal back then because it was easily the biggest event that almost provoked a war between two Light Land nations, which would’ve really gone against the doctrine of peace the Concord of the Rakuli had promoted for thousands of years. Anyways, the Tsambika were apparently resentful because they hadn’t held the Sollan throne in ages by that point and had a lot of feelings of lacking importance since they were just another house of minotaurs in a full nation of minotaurs, like average fish in a big lake. So, based on some promises from the Shogun of the time, they chose to secede so they could stand tall as the only minotaur-led house in Gorokiva, earning significance, honors, be the big fish in a new pond, all that. Sollamavans didn’t like one of their own deciding to up and run off though, especially since the Tsambika wanted to take their lands with them, so things escalated up to the brink of genuine war when, you’ve probably guessed it, a Demon Lord from the east started sweeping west again.

Anaya sighed, her smile looking tired. “Morsagon’s invasion cut all the arguments short, and when it was peaceful enough to talk again, the compromise people came to was that the Tsambika could do what they want, move to Gorokiva, whatever, but they had to relinquish all their claims of territory north of the mountain border. So…yeah.”

“…huh. That’s…a lot more than I thought went on. I guess it really wouldn’t’ve been all that peaceful, huh?” Polina said. She leaned back against the wall of the cave and stared at the ceiling, thinking to herself.

Robin, meanwhile, smiled and gave Anaya a short bow. “This ronin thanks you for the lesson you have imparted, Elder Greenfall.”

“Aw, c’mon, I’m not that old. Three hundred’s still plenty spry!” Anaya complained, pouting.

“Heh. Thanks are still owed. The wisdom of the elves should always be valued, for their long lives give them insight into events we younger people can never experience.”

“Did you learn that one from a play too?”

“No, honored elder.” He smirked. “It was a self-help book, actually.”

“Pff-Take it from me, oh young learner, ‘just listen to elves’ is pretty crappy life advice.”

“This ronin shall listen and heed your words, oh honored elven elder.”

Michael listened to the back and forth between Anaya and Robin for a while longer. The two seemed to talk easily. Michael, meanwhile, was thinking. 

They were thinking a few things. Such as how they were meant to be an angel of Judgment. How they were meant to guide the faithful of their Father. How Sollamava was the center of their Father’s faith. And how they had never once paid mind to the country they now traveled. How, for all their years of life, for all the knowledge they should have, they had no idea a secession had ever happened until they overheard a few drunks in a bar…

How little do I actually know?

The thought plagued them through the night. When morning came, the rain still fell, but lighter than before.

“Well, this ronin is quite grateful for your company, but it is time for him to travel,” Robin said as he prepared to leave in the morning, “He hopes we can meet again.” 

“…there’s a town up the road. The sheriff there can use a hand.” Looking from where they came, Michael continued. “If you’re as skilled as you hold yourself, then I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

He immediately smiled. “This ronin sincerely thanks you, Miss Centola. Your guidance is gratefully accepted.” Reaching into one of his bags, Robin began to pull something out. “As a token of this ronin’s esteem, please, have th-” 

Michael grabbed his wrist, staring down at the small…amulet? Bag? Whatever it was that he was handing to them. “What is this?”

“Er…a lucky charm? An omamori, specifically.”

“How is this meant to be lucky? It’s cursed.” They took the charm and held it up, letting the red fabric bleed into a vivid purple, the ink symbols twisting into…different symbols. Michael didn’t actually know what they meant, but Robin visibly blanched.

“…Well that’s horrifying.”

“What’s horrifying?” Anaya asked, peeking over while Polina readied the carriage. 

“A cursed charm,” Michael explained.

“Oh, so more like a jinx then?”

“…sure.”

“Hm, and a pretty mean one too. Looks like it was set so good fortune would come your way, only for it to backlash on you.”

“Huh. And yet, due to his good fortune, this ronin met the three of you before the ill-luck could strike,” Robin noted with a thoughtful look, “So the charm’s curse was less than effective.”

Hm, if he hadn’t brought out the charm, he might have faced the backlash upon arriving further in Nassato, given how potent the curse has become… “Where did you get this?” 

“This gracious ronin purchased this charm from a traveling peddler. While he cannot say where she is, he can say the peddler appeared to be a young woman, one with blonde hair. Oh, and her shop was quite bright and colorful, very welcoming.” Rubbing his chin, he seemed deep in thought. “She sold many ‘mysterious wares’, as she put it. Though this ronin did not take the time to inspect any of them.” 

Michael nodded slowly, absorbing this new information, then paused when they noticed Anaya was staring at them. “…What?”

“I know what you’re thinking, and yes we should investigate this, but also don’t blow up another building.”

“The hotel was already damaged by the water and the salamander was heavy enough that it would have fallen anyway,” they retorted, then glanced at Robin, “…ignore everything just said there, I have never set fire to any hotels.”

“Hm? This ronin apologizes, but he appears to have misheard whatever was said in the past few seconds, most certainly due to the very loud rain.”

What is it with mortals and not hearing properly? “I said-“

Then Anaya patted them on the shoulder and a great deal of their thoughts were distracted. “Misha, it’s okay, he’s not going to say anything.” 

Michael didn’t fully understand, but they were willing to accept her words if it meant the conversation was over. 

And so, the pilgrims went their separate ways from the traveling ronin and continued southward, through the still raining fields of Nassato towards the Tamoi Mountain Range, which bordered the nations. Along the way, Michael gained a full confirmation that tyndarids really were the local “monster of importance”, meaning it was both on the province’s flag, and surprisingly popular as a tamed beat.

They were honestly baffled the first time they spotted a land tyndarid follow its apparent owner, carrying a pack on its broad back and wearing a wide-brimmed hat to keep the rain out of its eyes. They were even more surprised when they reached the border and saw a number of nesting sky tyndarids across the walls of the checkpoint, some sleeping soundly under the alcoves meant for them while others kept a full watch of the area, their amber eyes scanning the nearby plains with intent to maim any potential threats.

Almost all of them started staring at Michael as they drove the carriage closer, which was annoying.

“Probably shouldn’t’ve fought one of them before comin’ here,” Polina commented in an amused tone, “Could be they smell the violent intentions.”

“Tyndarids don’t have noses, they don’t smell things in general, and especially not intentions,” Michael retorted, annoyed. Though they did take a moment to check they’d sufficiently removed the feathers from their clothes.

Polina just rolled her eyes, still smiling. She kept up the smile as she spoke with the border guards–a mix of Sollamavan soldiers and Gorokivan samurai whose main jobs were to make sure nothing illegal was transported across country lines, to ensure no travelers were being brought across the border against their will, and to check that no one on their wall of bounty posters was trying to pass through, among whom Michael noticed a number of minotaurs who were marked as “former law enforcement”–and her smile brightened further as the gate swung open and their carriage rolled its way through into the Valley of Autumn.

The Valley of Autumn was–according to the information provided at the checkpoint–one of the major passes through the Tamoi Mountains, the other two being the Valley of Winter and the Leafy Pass, apparently denoted by their proximities to Fuyuno and Akino, the northernmost provinces of Gorokiva. All very fascinating and important, surely, but Michael was somewhat more focused on the immediate greenery all around them in the valley.

The flowers here were in full bloom, bright and vibrant and full of life. They could hear Anaya making various impressed noises as she leaned out of the carriage window, but they elected to let the druid be for the moment. They were in a new country, after all, and there would be plenty of sights to see.

Particularly since Michael now had another objective in their travels. Whatever this mysterious curse-selling shop was, it had nearly harmed a pleasant young man and likely had caused harm to others before him. So, much like all evils they came across, Michael would put a stop to the shop, though they would try to avoid burning the building down this time, if just to keep Anaya from teasing them about it.

Either way, their trip through Gorokiva seemed like it would be an eventful one.

…Now if only the blasted rain would stop.

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