Michael was beginning to wonder if they were cursed. It was a strange thought, but not an unreasonable one, due to the constant rain that seemed to follow them through Nassato and into Akino, the northeastern province of Gorokiva. They did handle that cursed charm, so there may have been some type of hidden retaliatory curse within the curse. Curses on curses, and yet, even in the heavy, pouring rain, all of the bright, colorful flowers through the valley seemed perfectly fine, as though mocking the angel with their constant presence and glistening petals.
They weren’t entirely sure why there were so many flowers around though. According to all the information provided to them, the provinces of Gorokiva were established around a type of mystical/cultural thing referring to the four seasons–except there were six of them, so that raised questions about what the extra “seasons” could even be–and Akino was supposed to be the Province of Autumn, so there were some expectations that weren’t being met here.
Certainly, flowers could exist in Autumn, but they were expecting more warm oranges and reds, not so much the immense greenery they were currently experiencing. If there was going to be a thematic thing, the landscape could at least stick to the theme. As such, Michael thought it best they simply speed through the contrasting landscape and leave its nonsense far behind them.
If only Anaya felt the same. Then maybe they wouldn’t be traipsing through yet another city to “see the sights”.
“To be fair, Misha, we could probably find some info on that ‘mysterious vendor’ of yours if we go through the cities,” Polina pointed out, holding the umbrella over both their heads while Anaya walked ahead. The druid was perusing the storefronts under her own pink and green flower-patterned umbrella, which at least made it easy to keep track of her through the streets of Hana, one of the larger cities in the province. Which was also utterly filled with flowers, planted just about everywhere; in beds on every street, in pots set by buildings, even in planters hanging from posts. There were even small lotuses floating in the streams the rain was making in the streets… “It’s better to go slow and keep our eyes out, right?”
“No, not at all. Slow progress may as well be no progress,” Michael retorted as they kept their eyes on Anaya. Which was made somewhat difficult because there were apparently flying flower buds in this city, for some reason, and the stupid things kept getting in the way. “It’s better to keep moving because we’re bound to find something once we arrive at our destinations.”
She grinned down at them. “That just sounds like you’re bein’ impatient.”
Michael shot her a small glare, then returned their gaze towards Anaya. Polina’s growing openness was not unpleasant, but Michael was starting to think she didn’t take them seriously. She clearly needed to fix her sense of urgency too. It’s not as though we’ll discover this curse seller through exploring every random town in our way–
They paused as Anaya stopped in her tracks and audibly squealed up ahead. “Ooo~! What an adorable shop!”
Internally sighing at being interrupted, Michael watched as Anaya ran into a store that was far too brightly colored in comparison to the others around. And considering the other shops were covered in autumn flowers, that really said something about this…whatever it was.
“Huh, ‘Outworlder Apparel’. Seems kinda interestin’. You goin’ in?” Polina asked as she looked in the windows of the store.
“I already have enough clothes. And what matters is-”
Their eyes went wide. Michael immediately bolted into the store, nearly breaking down the door as they burst in. At least two workers were inside, staring with wide eyes at the angel as Michael shoved their way past mannequins and clothes racks towards the back of the store, where they felt that intense pulse of what was most definitely demonic magic.
“H-Hey, you can’t go back there!” shouted one of the workers as he grabbed a rack before it could fall over.
Not stopping to explain, Michael broke down a door at the back of the store, the demonic magic coming to a stop as they did.
“What the fuck!?” shouted a dark-skinned, blonde-haired woman who stood in the center of the room, cloth falling all around her, quite obviously the source of the magic, and most likely a leviathan in disguise. So Michael did what was obvious.
Rearing back their fist, Michael launched themselves at her.
Or they would have if Polina didn’t grab their arm. Which somehow managed to stop them in their tracks. Huh.
“Misha, what are you doin’?! You can’t just go attacking people!”
“Who the fuck are you two!? And why did you bust down my door!?” shouted the apparent seamstress, who despite her aggressive tone, had backed up from them. The strips of fabric across the floor tensed, still potentially empowered by the magic that was animating them.
“Polina, she was radiating demonic energy, so she is our target. She even matches the description.” And as soon as Michael mentioned demonic energy, the seamstress stiffened. So Michael was clearly right.
“What? Her?” Polina looked from Michael to the seamstress in her pink blouse and checkered skirt, then back again. “Your kiddin’, right?”
“Why would I be joking in this situation? She’s the leviathan–Would you let go of my arm already?”
“Uh, what? What’s a leviathan?” the seamstress asked, blatantly lying even if she did look remarkably confused.
“Wait, leviathan? No, hold on, this’s gettin’–”
“Customers really aren’t meant to go back there–”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, I’m a druid, we do these things,” Anaya said as she moved past the audibly confused workers and into the backroom, where she let out a whistle as she looked at the pictures set up around the room, which Michael just then noticed were sketches of various outfits, some marked with notes in some odd symbols, “Ooo, these are nice. Are those shoe designs for satyrs?”
The blonde blinked. “…Er…yeah? Um, I noticed that they don’t really wear shoes, which I think kinda sucks for them since you can have lots of really cool shoes, so I’ve been trying to come up with some but the closest I can figure out are maybe spats? Since they’re more based around the ankle–Okay wait, what the fuck is actually happening right now?”
“Yeah sorry about that, Misha can be a little enthusiastic sometimes.” Anaya clapped her hands together, smiling. “Hi there, my name’s Anaya Greenfall. Do you have somewhere we can sit down? I can make tea!”
Michael scowled and attempted to wrench their arm from Polina’s grasp. The key word being “attempted” because the minotaur was still shockingly sturdy. “I will not simply sit and have tea with a wielder of demonic magic!”
They were honestly shocked to find the clothing shop had a tea room in the back, through a different door than the storeroom. “Why do you have a tea room?”
The blonde shrugged, looking incredibly bewildered as she sat on her knees at the opposite side of the table. “I don’t. This is my living room.” She glanced towards the kitchen, where Anaya was humming to herself as she made tea. “…”
Then she glanced to the opposite side, where her two workers–possibly her evil minions–were simply peeking in through the doorway. Her home decor was surprisingly cute; there were a great deal of plush animals and bright colors. Michael themself was currently sitting on a remarkably comfy cushion, which they were increasingly convinced was some type of demonic invention of…sloth or some such. Seats shouldn’t be this comfy…
“…I feel like we got off on the wrong hoof here,” Polina started. She was sitting beside Michael, also sitting on her knees. Which they felt must be far less comfortable than simply sitting cross-legged, yet the minotaur was doing so with ease. “My name is Polina Vlahos, I’m a paladin of Iudex, and this is Misha Centola, a paladin of Lucere.”
“…Kay? Um…that’s the Justice god and the Light god, right?”
“Judgment god,” Michael corrected.
“Yeah sure, that.” They felt their eye twitch at her dismissive tone. “Well, I’m Matsuzaki Keiko, the owner and tailor here at Outworlder Apparel. So…are you girls like the cops here? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve met the local cops and they’re way different.”
“Nope, they’re not law enforcement,” Anaya said as she came in, setting down a set of tea cups around the table for each of them before returning to get the teapot, “It’s kind of like…you’ve met adventurers before, right?”
“Wait, so it does work like that?”
“Like, you know, RPG rules and all that. Oh, hey, does that mean you two can cast Holy?”
Michael frowned. “Of course we cannot. Do not ascribe your bizarre leviathan magics to our ways.”
“Yeah I’m still not that thing,” Matsuzaki denied as Anaya started to pour the tea, “Isn’t a leviathan like a sea serpent? I’m human, one hundred percent. And I’m also pretty sure I should be doing that since I’m the host here?”
“Mm, sure, you could, but I’m doing it right now so oops,” Anaya said, entirely unrepentant, “So, you’re an outworlder?”
“What? No she’s not,” Michael denied, “She’s clearly a leviathan. She’s running a strange shop, she’s wielding demonic magic, and she…is female. So, yes, leviathan.”
Matsuzaki raised an eyebrow. “Are all leviathans ladies in this world?”
“I’ve only met female members of your kind, so I am assuming yes. They’re like gorgons in that regard.”
“There’re male gorgons,” Polina contradicted, “They’re called ladons.”
“…” Michael took a sip of their tea. Then set it down because it tasted terrible. “…Regardless of all entirely unnecessary information that I already knew about and did not need to be corrected on, the fact remains that you are still the most likely suspect in the case of the cursed items.”
“Wait, so paladins are detectives?” Matsuzaki asked, still feigning bewilderment.
“Paladins are more like the martial members of a clerical faith,” Anaya explained as she sat at a third side of the square table, also on her knees in that same position. Michael was starting to wonder if there was something they were missing in regards to seating position… “Clerics are the generally helpful and healing type, knowing how to use life magic and all that, while paladins are more like the fighty, monster hunting type, and neither of them are like druids, which I am, which are the members of druidic faiths. We’re more about nature and communing, but we can also do the healing or the fighting stuff if we need to. And what would your faith be?”
“Oh, uh…I mean, I don’t think it’s really a faith? I do sorta leave out offerings for Madam Weaver, so I guess it’s like that…but is it really worship when you’re just sorta mooching for fancy magic?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s all religion, Miss Matsuzaki. Can I call you Keiko?”
“Oh, uh, sure? Well, ‘Miss Keiko’ is how I think you’re supposed to say it, since honorifics are weird around here…”
Polina cleared her throat. “Ah…to be clear, so you do worship a demon god?” Wait, is that what she implied?!
Michael nearly stood, only for Polina’s hand on their shoulder to keep them in place. They shot her a glare, then blinked when she actually glared straight back. So Michael elected to settle for the moment to promote a greater sense of peace and unity amidst the group.
“Now you were sayin’, Miss Keiko?” Polina asked, still keeping a firm grip on Michael’s shoulder for whatever reason.
“…Uh, I mean, of course not? Demon god? Who in their right mind would worship someone like that, haha…” If she was trying to lie, she could at least try to keep eye contact with them.
“Miss Keiko, despite how my companion may act, you have nothing to worry about,” Anaya cut in with a gentle smile, “Was the demonic energy Misha felt coming from you?”
“…W-What if it was, huh? I haven’t done anything illegal!”
Michael scowled. “Consorting with a demonic god is certainly–”
“Not illegal,” interrupted Polina. “Thanks to the new peace, it’s not exactly illegal to worship them. Even if they’re a warlock of an Ouzan god.”
Michael went rigid. She’s a warlock?!
“W-Well, hey, if I haven’t done anything bad, I guess that settles that then, right?” the warlock in their midst said. The very blonde warlock. “And if that’s settled, I won’t even ask for you to pay for any damages! Well, if you maybe try on a dress or two, I could definitely see some of my stuff looking nice on you girls.”
“Not yet! Even if you aren’t a leviathan, that doesn’t mean you are innocent.” Reaching into their pocket, Michael brought out the charm they took from Robin. “Tell us about this.”
“Uh…that’s a charm? I don’t really sell those here, if you wanted to find more of those.”
“This business does have other accessories if you want,” chimed in one of the workers, who immediately hid as Michael looked over at them.
“I don’t want accessories, I want to know who sold this charm!” Michael demanded, “And on the topic, why don’t you speak like they do?”
“Eh? Oh, because I learned Common from some adventurers when I first got here. I was rescued from a cult and stuff, though…well, the long and short of it was that I was summoned by cultists to be a sacrifice but they just made the god they were trying to invoke mad, so she turned them into flesh potatoes and some adventurers that were there to stop the cultists unstrapped me from the table. But yeah, like, I just learned a different dialect first. Though I do speak a lot more nicely for customers.” Matsuzaki suddenly beamed and winked while putting two fingers up near her eye in some type of salute. “Ohayo~! Welcome to this gal’s cute and adorable shop~! How can she help you~? Like that.”
“…” Michael cleared their throat and ignored the small part of them that suddenly found the blonde distressingly cute. “I see. But you didn’t answer my question! Who sells cursed charms like this!?”
“Oh, if it’s a cursed thing, you’re looking for the Mystery Shop.”
“Wait, that’s real?” Polina asked, earning another glare from Michael.
“Of course it’s real, clearly! So what is it?”
“Okay so like, you know those spooky scary shops in stories?” Matsuzaki asked, “Like the ones that suddenly show up one day, out of nowhere, and nobody knows how it got there or what’s up with it, but then you go inside and there’s this really spooky hunched over person in a big dark cloak that speaks in a raspy voice and has glowing yellow eyes and when you ask them ‘hey what’s up with all the spooky scary stuff’ they offer to sell you your heart’s desire or whatever? Like that.”
“…So where is it?”
“I dunno. It was in Hana back when I first moved here, but the shop vanished. You hear all kinds of rumors about it these days, but no one actually knows what’s up with it.”
“Some people say the shop does not ever show up in certain places, like Horo,” one of the workers offered, before she hid behind the doorframe again.
Matsuzaki giggled at her minion’s antics, before continuing, “I only know it’s real because the shopkeep sold me this.” She tapped the pink and purple butterfly hairclip she was wearing. That…Michael somehow hadn’t noticed she was wearing this entire time. Odd. Very odd.
“Hold on, you actually went in the shop?” Polina asked as Anaya leaned towards Matsuzaki, looking curiously at the clip.
“Oh wow, this is interesting…so the shopkeep sold you a conduit to ‘Madam Weaver’, as you call her?”
“Yes and yes, to both of those,” Matsuzaki answered, “The shopkeep recommended it to me, and, well…I mean, I kinda wanted to do magic, and here was a way to do that and also actually continue my fashion career even in a new world, so I took it. Then it turned out that Madam Weaver was tied to this little butterfly somehow and she offered me a gig since she already liked me.” She grinned. “Something about cursing out the cultists that grabbed me made her like me, I guess, and she’s been chill ever since so I thought ‘hey, why not leave out a rice bowl for her at a shrine’, be nice, all that, ‘cept there weren’t any shrines around so I just set one up in my cupboard.”
Michael felt a headache coming on. “You set up a shrine to a demon god in your domicile. You set up a shrine to Tisserand Skin-Weaver, the FLESH GOD, in your home.”
“…Well it’s more for the ‘god of thread’ part than the ‘god of flesh’ part. Oh, though her magic is actually super great for clearing up my roots, so that part’s handy too.”
“The Ouza are gods of death, warlock. If I am understanding things correctly, you are completely and utterly ignorant of this fact. Do your workers even know what forces you’re collaborating with?”
“This man actually thought it was just an outworlder magic,” one of the workers commented, earning an elbow and a frown from his colleague before they went back to skulking.
“You can come inside the room.” No reply. Michael rolled their eyes then focused back on the warlock. “Understand, you meddle with powers behind your reckoning, warlock, and I will not have you harming these people.”
“Cool, because I haven’t, and also I got it checked out with the local shrine workers a while ago and they cleared me, and I’m even officially licensed, so how bout you fuck right off my magically grown dick with this self-righteous shit?”
Anaya took a sip of tea, somehow enjoying it. “Ahh. You have some lovely blends, Miss Keiko. And Misha, while we’re on the subject, could you answer a quick question there? What is Madam Weaver the death of?”
Michael paused, their anger bleeding into confusion. “What?”
“Well the usual suspects are pretty easy. The Plague is the Death of Sickness, dying through disease and all that. The Butcher is the Death of Violence, dying by violent means, and the Hunger is the Death of Thirst, dying by deprivation. So how does the God of Flesh and Threads fit into that?”
“…Death by skin?” Polina offered, sounding confused herself.
“No, shush, I know this. Just as the Rakuli are the gods of life in all things, the demon gods are the deaths, so…death by…” They glanced at the hairclip, in case it would offer them a clue. They even checked it with their sight, and just saw…purple. No, wait, now it was a vaguely peach-ish aura, mixed with brown, orange, yellow, green, blue–Right, the colors are just kaleidoscoping. No backing down, best guess is… “Strangulation.”
“Nope,” Matsuzaki denied, looking smug and punchable.
“Oh? And you would know, ‘moocher’?”
“Better than you, ‘asshole’.” She even did the finger quotes. How dare she!
“Well I guess I’ll need to ask around if I want to know for sure,” Anaya said, unphased and clearly amused, “Do you have any recommendations, Miss Keiko?”
“Horo, like Akiko mentioned, is apparently pretty decent for it? That might sound confusing with how it’s where the Mystery Shop is guaranteed not to show up, but that’s because that’s where most of the occult research goes on. You know, because practicing ‘demon magic’ isn’t illegal here.” The number of smirks Matsuzaki was presenting to Michael was getting far too high.
“Oh that sounds fun! And where would that be?”
“Out west, in Genkino. It’s this little peninsula over by Akino, kinda famous around here–”
“Unfortunately we will not be able to visit,” Michael contradicted, as they were getting quite certain allowing Matsuzaki to speak for longer would result in them taking an entire side trip to this peninsula, “Our current journey is towards the capital, so we can’t go.”
“The nation’s capital.”
“Yeah. Which one?”
Michael paused. Right, I know this one, the Gorokivans have some strange thing going on with their capitals, what was it Gabriel said? Some type of mnemonic to remember it by, something something by the sea…blah blah, in the mountains, waiting for me? Gods, I knew this one, what was it–
“Is she okay?” Matsuzaki asked, cutting through Michael’s thoughts.
“Yep! Misha just gets like this when she’s confused,” Anaya explained, “It’s honestly pretty cute.”
Michael’s annoyed retort died on their lips and they cleared their throat again, ignoring the heat at their face–They decided to take another sip of the tea to cover for it, and found that it was worse the second time. Ew. Why do mortals drink leaves like this, what even is that taste…?
“We’re plannin’ to go to Fujimi,” Polina answered, and she instantly rose in Michael’s estimation again for covering for them.
“Well good luck with that then, is there anything else you need, aside from trying to accuse me of crimes I didn’t do?”
Michael bristled. “Listen here-“
“I would actually like to know more about this Tisserand if you’re willing to tell me.” Anaya why.
“Eh? Well, I don’t know alot about the, what’s the word…lore? I mean I talked to her, but I really only wanted to learn how to use magic. Not to mention the only other people I could have asked where the cultists, and well, flesh potatoes aside, they were dicks.”
Standing up, Michael turned to leave. “We don’t have time for this.”
“But we had time for you to attack someone innocent?”
And that nearly caused Michael to trip. They whirled back around to glare at Polina, who was calmly sipping her tea as though she hadn’t just insulted–
“By the laws of this land, Miss Keiko hasn’t done anythin’ wrong,” Polina stated as she lowered the cup, “As such, you’re the one causin’ trouble here, Misha. So make it right between you two.”
“…” Mouth set into a frown, Michael looked back at Matsuzaki, marched up to her as she dug into her pocket, and certainly did not slam a diamond onto the table in front of her. “Compensation for the door.”
“…Uh, do all paladins keep diamonds in their pockets?” Matsuzaki stared wide eyed, seemingly stunned by the jewel.
“Well, Misha is a bit of a unique case.”
“Right, um, apology acce-”
“This is not an apology. I am merely paying for damages.”
Matsazaki’s mouth twitched towards a frown, before she smiled. “Alright, then your payment is accepted. Oh, but whoops, it’s way too much for just a door! I guess I’ll just have to pay you back!”
“What? No, that’s completely unnecessary–”
“No, this gal insists, on her honor as a store owner!” Her smirk turned devious and Michael felt a sudden surety that this woman was indeed a worshipper of the demonic. “So what would you say your sizes are?”
“I…don’t know?” Apparently that was the wrong answer, as Matsuzaki’s smirk widened further.
Through the course of their entire life, Michael had always been one to easily make decisions that would normally cause any mortal intense, indecisive agony and take these nameless mortals countless days to decide. Such decisiveness was expected of an angel, particularly the Cardinal of Fortitude. Even so, even the Cardinal of Fortitude could do little but hesitate at the two choices presented before them by a truly diabolical tailor
For the Angel of Judgement, choosing between a crop top and shorts and a very cutesy dress was perhaps the hardest decision they ever had to make.
They scowled as they studied the two papers held up by animated mannequins, then glanced back at Matsuzaki as the tailor wound a tape around their chest. “Are these really my only options here?”
“Do you really need more than two options?” Matsuzaki retorted, lowering as she continued her measurements, “Those are the styles I work with here, cuz when people come to me, they’re either looking for something casual or something cute, and while my definition of casual is pretty different from some people’s, if they’re coming to this gal here, it’s because they want something outworldly to show off. Or just try a new style, but either way my clients tend to be people looking to be adventurous.
“Besides, you know you don’t actually need to stick around, right? As fun as it is messing with you, because you were a total bitch earlier–ah, wait, should’ve said jerk, shouldn’t swear in front of the customers…anyways, I’m not the type to force anyone into stuff, so if you’re really not interested–”
“You put your honor as a shopkeep on the line. It’s only right that I therefore reciprocate,” Michael stated. They hadn’t expected to spend this much time in a clothing store, but at least the back area they were in had sufficient curtains for privacy. At least this way Anaya can enjoy her shopping while I keep an eye on this demon worshipper. And the dress doesn’t look bad–
They closed their eyes for a moment, centering themself to avoid temptation. Though, really, if they were only offered two choices–
“Yeah alright. But still, I could bring out more examples pictures if you want to try–”
“I only need two options.”
Matsuzaki made some type of amused noise there, but Michael chose to disregard it as the measurements and fitting continued. For all her obvious faults as a demon worshipper, Matsuzaki was at least quite professional in her bearing when it came to her work.
And the finished dress was admittedly very comfortable–apparently thread magic made weaving immensely easy; that, and Matsuzaki clearly already had most of the materials on hand already–and it did fit their general preferences rather well. The frilled skirt was shorter than they’d prefer, given it only went down to their knees, though the paired socks did help with that. The red and white stripes did work well with the rest of the ensemble too, which featured long sleeves with red as the primary color and white as the secondary–something of an inverse of their typical style–with a ribbon at their neck.
“Hm…is this something of a noble girl’s dress?” Michael inquired as they examined themself in the mirror, turning and swaying the skirt. It does fit my frame quite nicely, and the embroidered roses are nice…
“Eh, not exactly? It’s just more of a fashion movement back home. Cute is justice! That type of thing.”
“Cute is Justice”? I wonder if Uriel’s heard of that before… “Regardless, thank you for your work, Miss Matsuzaki. Your faith is wrong and you should distance yourself from all demons as soon as you can. You deserve to live a life free of those dark influences.”
“…Uh…thanks? I think.”
“You’re welcome.” And with that, Michael felt ready to leave the tailor’s far, far behind them. Though they did have to deal with the reactions of their companions first.
“Oh you look so cute~!” was Anaya’s immediate, beaming reaction as she cheerfully clapped her hands together, causing her long sleeves to flutter somewhat. Apparently, she also chose to change her clothing, though her choice was more…regional was perhaps the right word, because “appropriate” felt…not exactly right. Not when the hem of her green kimono–lined with pink and embroidered with flowers–was that short. Thankfully, she also had paired socks as well, so she wasn’t baring her legs to the world.
“I have to say, she does good work,” commented Polina, still in her own clothes albeit with a rather comfy looking jacket over it, patterned with those outworlder symbols and made with zippers. The most bizarre of all outworlder inventions… “Not too often I find clothes that fit me outside of Sollamava.”
“Thank you~ You’re actually my first minotaur customer so I’m glad I did it right~!” Matsuzaki said, beaming as she looked everyone over. “Now then, I hope you don’t mind if I ask for one simple favor~”
“You already had us–”
“What exactly did you need?” Anaya asked, cutting Michael off. Very rudely, though it was forgivable.
Grinning, Matsuzaki presented a stack of cards to the trio. “If anyone seems interested in the clothes, please give them these!” Each one of them received a number of cards, and once finished, Matsuzaki gave a slight bow.
“Why do you want us to give these out?” Michael asked, glancing over the…oddly adorable card design. Very pink and yellow, lots of flowers, a little stylized kitten on the back. “…This isn’t some–”
“No, it’s not a Tisserand thing. If I’m being honest, I’m giving these to you because of who you are. While my work can speak for themselves, having such distinguished people like you three showing them off will help my reputation skyrocket~!”
“Distinguished?” Anaya asked, because apparently that was the more pressing matter in her mind.
“Sky-what now?” Polina asked, her mind clearly on the far stranger and thus more important part of the sentence.
“Rocket. You know, like fireworks? Or, like, it could also mean ‘to launch forward’, I think. I’m pretty sure you guys have a word for rocket, I said it in your language,” Matsuzaki replied.
“You said it strangely. The ‘sky’ part made it weird.” Michael shook their head. “It doesn’t matter–”
“No, hold on, you said like fireworks?” Polina interrupted, “You want your business to blow up?”
Now Matsuzaki looked confused. “…uh…metaphorically? In the good sense?”
“What? What kinda metaphor involves somethin’ blowin’ up?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard one involving-”
“Thank you for your time, Miss Matsuzaki,” Michael interrupted, speaking over Anaya because the other option was spending another hour in this annoyingly adorable clothing shop, “Despite your affiliations, your work is commendable, and I will endeavor to properly advertise your business in recompense, though if I find out you’re responsible for inflicting people with curses or any other type of demonic–”
“You’re right Misha, we should definitely be leaving now!” Anaya agreed, though at a remarkably inopportune time–And now Michael was getting pushed out of the shop, okay then. “See you around Keiko, hope your day goes well, bye other two tailors whose names I never got!”
“Oh, this man just works here, he isn’t a tai-” And the clerk’s voice cut off along with Matsuzaki’s amused giggles, shut out by the door being politely closed by Polina.
“Well, that could’ve gone worse,” Polina noted for no apparent reason. She wasn’t incorrect, it was just an odd thing to say, though Michael wasn’t entirely paying attention to her regardless, as they had more immediate, pressing matters on the mind.
Namely, that it had stopped raining.
“Oh wow…” Anaya murmured as they all took in the flowery capital under the right, golden rays of noonday sunshine. Water still glistened on the grassy rooftops, the little raindrops adding shine to the flowers like each and every one of them was a gleaming jewel, from the smallest chrysanthemum to the largest of the floating blossoms.
And more importantly than that, the lack of downpour meant the tall hills that the Daimyo’s castle sat upon were fully visible, with bridges and pathways stretching like vines from the grand fortress, whose tallest roof had an open, blooming lotus atop it, glistening a vibrant pink under the sunlight.
“We’re not going up there,” Michael stated.
“…huh? Aw, what? But we-”
“No. You saw the castle, the city has been seen, we are moving along.”
Anaya pouted. Michael remained unmoved. Polina cleared her throat. “We probably should get lunch though, right?”
“…We may make one stop. Then we travel.”
They ignored Anaya’s smug grin. She was allowed one petty victory.
The restaurant they went to–a somewhat small stand with seating–served some type of noodle soup. It was delicious. Though the odd wooden sticks used for eating utensils were difficult to use for them and Anaya.
Anaya was therefore allowed to keep her victory, though Michael was still insistent on not visiting any castles, no matter how beautiful they were, especially when they weren’t open to the public in the first place due to the fact that the daimyo’s family still lived there.
Though the Daimyo himself wasn’t present at the moment, according to the chatty chef who overheard their perfectly reasonable argument.
“According to this chef’s friend in the guard, Lord Masahiko traveled to Mera just the other day, out by skyship, in the pouring rain no less!” The tanned human tutted, shaking his head. “Now this chef is not a regressive man, new methods of travel are fine by him, but in the rain? It seems a terrible idea to him, especially when the rain is said to be demonic.”
“Would it not be because it is demonic that Lord Masahiko went out in skyship? If he went by land he would simply be in the rain for longer, and would possibly be in even more danger,” Michael said, quite matter-of-fact–Then the chef’s word’s fully registered. “THE RAIN WAS DEMONIC?!”
The chef nodded, ignoring Polina’s surprised yelp and immediate admonition of “Don’t just yell outta nowhere!” in favor of explaining further, “Indeed, though it was not too much of a surprise to hear such. The rain lasted too long to be natural, and this chef doesn’t think the water priests have any reason to call for rain right now. Maybe when the heat is worse? Drought is a god to be avoided, as they say.”
“Yes, she is, and what else do you know? Who stopped the rain if it wasn’t natural?”
“Oh, this chef knows this one, it was…ah, she is a ronin–no, samurai, she’s in service to the Rokuhara Daimyo…Yumin, that was it! Yumin the ronin–no, samurai, yes, that was it.”
“I see. And what would a ronin no samurai be?”
“Hm? Ah, this chef sees, very funny!” What? “But yes, the problem was solved, so it’s not a problem anymore, which is how problems tend to work.”
“Scuse me sir, could I get some extra carrots to go?” Polina asked as Michael elected to give up on this fruitless–and annoying–conversation and work towards a more expedient solution.
“Anaya, you speak to him.”
And Anaya did so, making the conversation far less taxing for Michael as they focused instead on enjoying their broth.
“Okay, so, the gist of it is that some farmer out near a smaller village by the mountains apparently found an old pendant of some kind,” Anaya explained after the conversation and meal, while the trio made their way back to where the carriage was parked, “Either she did or her son did, the rumors aren’t completely clear yet, but it actually contained some type of rain demon that possessed the farmer and started causing the storms, because it was ‘granting her wish’ for more water for her crops. She doesn’t remember anything from before the samurai freed her though, so it’s being chalked up to just a moment of bad luck.”
“Bad luck resulting in a woman being possessed,” Michael noted.
“Yup. Which does sound pretty suspicious. Maybe we should head on up there, see what’s what? Maybe investigate the son? He might’ve bought the ‘rain pendant’ from someone shady and is just lying about finding it.”
“Or the farmer bought it and the lack of memory is a lie.”
“Or she could really not remember because the pendant robbed her of that memory when the curse was broken.”
“So are we changin’ course then?” Polina asked as they reached the carriage. She started patting one of the unicorns, giving it a carrot as thanks for waiting before turning back to the conversation. “If it’s up north here, it might not be too far–”
“No. Speaking to the victims at this point won’t gain us anything.” Michael moved up to the reins, untying them from the hitching post. “The shopkeep has already moved on. She did after selling to Matsuzaki, and she’s bound to be seeking a new victim at this point. A better option would be looking for records on her previous victims and searching out some type of pattern for her targets, and such records will almost certainly be held at the ‘Shogun’s Capital’, as it is called.”
“…You were just lookin’ for an excuse to stick to your original plan, huh?”
“No.” Yes. “My logic is sound.”
Polina huffed in amusement as she finished feeding the other unicorn and moved up to the reins. Michael joined her, while Anaya went to the back again, where she would undoubtedly be sprawling out over the cushions and playing with whatever she’d brought along or bought while in previous towns to entertain herself as Polina urged their steeds into a trot through and out of the flowery city. “Sure it is. Your parents didn’t say no to you often, huh?”
“Parent, singular. My father.”
That earned a pause. “O-Oh, uh, I-I’m sorry for your loss?”
“What? I never had a mother, it’s not a loss.”
“Huh. Uh, I…yeah, alright. Um…you…wanna talk about it?”
“What is there to talk about? I have a father and four siblings. A secondary parent was never necessary.”
“That feels like a way ruder way to phrase that then it needed to be.” There was a moment of quiet as the bustle of the city started up again, free of the rain that plagued it. Laughing children were already jumping in puddles, making messes. Thankfully away from the carriage. “You have siblings?”
“Four, yes. I am the eldest.”
“Wait, really?” Why does that invite skepticism? “…No, wait, yeah, I can see it. You’re definitely the oldest child in your family.” And why does that sound insulting??
Michael decided not to ask those questions though. They felt the answer would be even more insulting.
And Polina spoke up later on anyways, as she drove the carriage along the road and through some more aesthetically proper forests of orange-leaved trees. “Also, why were you so stuck on Miss Keiko bein’ a leviathan?”
“Because she ob-…well, no, she wasn’t, but it was because I thought she was the proprietor of the ‘mystery’ shop, and thus a leviathan.”
“Right, but why would a leviathan be in charge of the Mystery Shop?”
“Because they’re trying to undermine the political structures of the Light Lands for their own nefarious purposes, such as the one in Rodoa that was seducing paladins and officials for a diabolical plot involving the planting of dungeon cores in Zemava.”
Michael glanced at Polina, who was still keeping her eyes on the road, as she should, but who also looked extremely confused–”Oh right, we never told you that…you did know about the Rodoa incident though, so…yes. Leviathans are attempting to destroy the Light Lands. Oh, and they claim not to be affiliated with the Dark Lands, though I don’t entirely believe–”
“Misha what the genuine fuck?!”