The ride from Akino to Natsuno was…frustrating. Very frustrating.
“We need better transportation,” Michael stated, ignoring the immediately offended looks Gauri and Sadja gave them.
“Eh? Why?” Polina asked, apparently unbothered by the almost glacial pace they’d been taking through the provinces of Autumn and Summer. “We’ve been makin’ good time for cross-country travel.”
“No we haven’t. Just driving has been far too slow and no, it’s not your fault,” they snapped at the still offended-looking unicorns, “If anything, it’s the blasted carriage slowing us down!”
The unicorns whinnied, apparently mollified, but the carriage itself shook for a moment in sudden offense. Why are we traveling with things that get so easily offended?! “Hey now, don’t be mean to Charlie. He’s doin’ his best. The roads round here just ain’t that good.”
“Which is another problem! Why are the roads this bad outside of the cities?! They barely have gravel, much less actual stones!”
“…Misha, we’ve been goin’ along main roads for the most part before now. Roads around cities are always gonna be better than country roads cause the cities are invested in makin’ travel easy. Rural areas ain’t gonna have that unless people bother, and if they ain’t botherin’, well…you see the result.”
“Well why aren’t they bothering then?” They gestured towards the rice fields on either side of the road, where farmers could be seen working in the wet ditches. Most had threadbare clothes, at best, on as they worked. “They have a need for roads, don’t they?”
“Not as much as merchants, traders, and adventurers comin’ to and from the bigger cities. So long as the roads they need more immediately stay stable enough, they’re not gonna go out of their way to fix up every route. Hell, if any of them have any talent with earth magic, then all they gotta do is smooth things over when it gets too bad.”
“But that just means there will be trouble for someone else!”
“Sure, but most people don’t feel all that accommodatin’ to folks that ain’t in their community. So long as it ain’t an obvious problem, folks ain’t gonna care.”
Michael scowled. Even the warmer weather wasn’t helping their mood, if just because the Gorokivan standards of modesty were…different than they were used to.
“Gotta say though, it’s interestin’ bein’ back around farmland. Even if it’s wetter than what I’m used to.” Polina, on the other hand, had little issue with looking out at the farmers working in the heat. Which, considering her siblings’ attire back at the Vlahos Ranch, wasn’t entirely surprising–And Michael stopped thinking about that because it would take her down the route of picturing the large minotaur in denim and they were trying to focus.
“Certainly, enjoy the sights. We’ll be experiencing them for long enough.”
“You’re more annoyed that we had to make stops along the way, huh? Y’know you gotta sleep, eat, and shit like the rest of us, right?” They didn’t, and they didn’t appreciate the crassness either.
“…So what was your home life like? You’ve met my sisters, seen my old home, why not share some of yours?”
Because they were trying not to let Polina know that they were an angel. Though…I suppose I could tell some of the truth. “It was fine. I’ve lived at the Temple of Light for most of my life. My father…resides elsewhere, with the youngest of my siblings, whereas the other three work with me.”
“Huh. A family of paladins then?”
“Yes,” they lied, “All except for…Sarah. Though she’s joining. Has joined. She’s with…Yuri.”
“Right, alright…And Yuri’s which one?”
“Second youngest. Or…fourth oldest? They’re the fourth child.”
“Right, so there’s you, two more, and then Yuri and Sarah?”
“Yes. Gabrielle and Rayfa are the second oldest and middle child, I am the eldest overall, and we work at the temple. Simple.”
“Guess so, yeah. Misha, Gabrielle, Rayfa, Yuri…did you dad name you after the four cardinals or I’m just makin’ weird connections?”
Her lips twitched. “Alright, I deserved that one.”
“You two both have large families, huh?” Michael did not flinch at Masami’s voice, though they did give her a glare.
“Eavesdropping is rude.”
The possibly-human shrugged. She’d changed into a looser yellow shirt, blue pants, and a white cloth mask, apparently better suited for the hotter, humid climate, and put her hair up into a topknot. “If you are speaking out in the open, anyone can listen, can’t they? Besides, this gal’s riding with you, so she’s allowed to join in on conversations.”
“Inside riders stay inside the carriage while it’s in motion.”
“That’s awful hypocritical,” Polina noted, but Michael was an angel so clearly the rules were different for them and they ignored her as such.
“Rules are different for ninja,” Masami said, completely unreasonably, “When one may use the shadows of all things to travel by, they-”
“No dark magic on the carriage either.”
“…Reasonably speaking, shadow magic should count as a form of light magic, since shadows are just caused by the absence of light in places.”
“I can and will throw you off of this carriage.”
“You won’t,” Polina stated.
Michael grumbled, but let it be. “Didn’t you want to ride inside to avoid the heat?”
“Oh sure, this gal does sunburn easily, but she’s also getting bored with dressing Mister Core, even if he does look beautiful with ribbons.” The carriage let out a pleased noise at her words, which was…something. “Besides, you need her to navigate, since the road is coming up.”
“Every time you’ve ‘navigated’, it’s led us to another distraction.”
“Hmm? Inns and eateries count as distractions? This gal will remember that the next time she spots a ramen shop that a certain paladin most definitely won’t want to have multiple bowls at.”
“…I only had three and it was a challenge for a free meal, which saved money.”
“Misha, you carry around diamonds. Also, you could just get larger servings,” Polina suggested.
“I cannot get different types in the same bowl–Can I?”
“Maybe? Probably depends on where you eat.”
Michael considered those words, lapsing into silence as they wondered about the ramifications of having multiple types of meats in one bowl and whether going down that road was leading to gluttony…Wait, have I been gluttonous? No, it’s the food’s fault for being delicious–
“This gal also wants to point out that she hasn’t seen Miss Misha wear anything other than that dress in the time she’s traveled with her,” Masami added. Even with the mask, it was clear she was smiling as Michael frowned at her. “Just to bring it up.”
“My fashion choices are not up for discussion.”
“It’s less your fashion choices and more this gal wondering if you ever change. Or bathe.”
“I keep myself clean!”
“That doesn’t answer her question.”
“Well she’s definitely doin’ somethin’ to keep clean,” Polina noted, “Otherwise I’d notice somethin’, considerin’ how I’m usually at the front here.”
“Yes, so the subject should be dropped,” Michael stated, “We have better things to focus on. Like where this blasted town is…”
“Oh, it’s over there.” Masami said as she leaned over Michael’s shoulder, which was distracting. Then they actually noticed the town in the distance she was pointing to.
Michael had some expectations for what Kyora would look like. Buildings barely holding together, filth and rot in the street, half-starved peasantry meagerly going about with what little scraps they could subsist on while being menaced by swaggering thugs. The archetypical “poor, dying town ruled by criminals”, essentially.
They didn’t expect somewhere the shogun called a slum to be bustling with life. It almost reminded them of a smaller Rodoa, in some ways, though without any ostentatious statues on top of the buildings to denote services.
“Ooo, the water looks great!” Anaya chirped as their group walked across the path leading into town. The streets were too narrow to bring the carriage in, again, so it was once again left behind at a roadside stable while the quartet traveled a stone road leading under the main gate, where surprisingly large springs of water sat on either side.
“Huh. You said this was a small town, yeah?” Polina asked Masami as she stared at the pools. Hopefully at the waters, rather than the various bathers in it.
“Hm? This gal didn’t say anything like that, though it is small compared to cities. That’s why it’s called a town, after all.”
“…Cute. I swear, we saw worse lookin’ places on the way here…Anyways, was just curious why it’d be so small if it has water stones growin’ here.” It was a good question. The large, blue stones sticking out of the pools were quite conspicuous; out of all the elemental stones, water stones weren’t particularly rare, but their utility for mortals was unquestionable, considering how easily thirst could grip them.
“Oh, they didn’t grow here, so it’s said. They were imported.”
Michael paused, glancing back at Polina, who’d stopped right in the middle of the path. They looked at Masami, who seemed amused, then back at the still startled Polina. “What’s the issue?”
“I…alright, more evidence you’re rich…” She trailed into unintelligible muttering, then shook her head. “Right, Mish, importin’ stones of that size–Where was it imported from anyways?”
Masami shrugged. “This gal knows not of the movements of big rocks. She’s not a geologist. A rock scholar,” she clarified for Michael’s benefit, who was pretty sure they knew what a geologist was already so they felt somewhat offended.
“Well, either way, it ain’t cheap to do something like that. Especially since it seems they ain’t even usin’ it for drinkin’ water. Least, I hope they ain’t,” she said, glancing at the bathers, who were at least somewhat covered as they swam and floated in the surprisingly clean waters. They wore thin coverings, but still some covering, which meant there had to be at least some laws regarding decency here, even if the standards of modesty were clearly different.
“They would have to be idiots or degenerates if they did so, though this gal believes if you were to ask Kawajiri he would say they were both,” Masami said, speaking quietly after mentioning Kawajiri, “He would also say they were smuggled rather than imported.”
“If that was the case then why make it public use instead of just for whoever smuggled it in?” Another shrug was Masami’s only response.
“It doesn’t matter, we just need to find this Katsuro so we can get this over with.” Michael, meanwhile, didn’t lower their voice, which got some glances from some nearby people.
“Mish, let’s not let everyone know we’re tryin’ to find the local crimelord, alright?” Polina requested in a far more quiet tone. Which was somewhat reasonable, admittedly.
“Fine, I will be discreet.”
“I don’t believe that.”
They frowned, offended. “I can be discreet.” I’ve disguised myself as mortals plenty of times.
“Off topic, but you girls did notice those aren’t just water stones, right?” Anaya pointed out, drawing their attention back to the water, “See the smaller, teal stones attached in the grooves there? Those would be purification stones.”
Now those Michael knew about. “What? Those only form in Proluo.”
“Yep, so it’s said, which makes this interesting. How do you think a ‘crimelord’ managed to get elemental stones imported from the ‘Pure’ province of Zemava? I’m not super familiar with them, but Purus worshippers would be pretty leery of selling to a criminal, right?”
“…So you’re saying these were stolen, not smuggled?”
They weren’t sure why Anaya sighed, but they felt fairly confident in their theory.
“Hm. A buncha Zeman paladins were implicated in the big Rodoa incident too, right?” Polina brought up as their group entered the town proper, “What if, ah, the guy was connected to that? He could import what he wants through his connections.”
“…Light above, you’re right!” Michael exclaimed, beaming as the pieces fell into place, “And how would he move such materials, hm? How else but through the same methods through which he, or perhaps his leviathan accomplice, is selling illicit and cursed materials to the unsuspecting populace!”
“Oh no,” Anaya muttered as Polina blinked.
“Wait, you think Ro–ah, the guy is behind the mystery shop too?”
“Of course! The pieces are all falling into place!” Michael nodded sharply, absolutely positive in their course of action. “Now let’s go find Katsuro Rokuhara and bring him to justice!”
They strode off through the streets of the corrupt town, resolute in their mission! Now they just had to find where the draconic crimelord was and bring him to his scaly knees!
As soon as they found out where he was! Which was…trickier than expected. Largely because the streets were still filled with people, and also there wasn’t a conveniently tall, massive building that they could look to.
Hm. Why is it that the leviathan decided to hide herself in a huge, obvious tower while the dragon clearly didn’t? Michael wondered as they continued to push through the crowds, ignoring the irritated noises and complaints of the passersby, One would think the arrogant dragon would want to lord over his people more obviously…
It wasn’t as though they could just look for the building decorated with dragons either, since that was most of the buildings around. Mostly taverns, from the look of them; really, the town seemed to have an abundance of bars, with some having…individuals wearing less clothing than they should be hanging around outside of them. Mainly looser, skimpier kimonos, somewhat like what Anaya was wearing, just designed to emphasize…chests. And thighs. And–
Then an arm went around their shoulder and it was only Masami’s voice that kept Michael from breaking the offending limb in half. “Oh, looking at the brothels?”
“Brothels. Sex parlors, prostitution halls, bordellos–”
“I know what those are!” Michael snapped, their face heating as they scowled at the shorter woman, “What do you mean those are…that.”
“Cute! As for what you are asking, you do remember this is the ‘criminal’ town, yes? They do illegal things in such a place, like gambling, sexing–”
They pried her arm off their shoulder, still scowling– “Are you standing on a stool?”
“Yup!” Masami hopped off said stool, clearly smiling under her mask. “This gal needs advantages if she wants to be on an even level with you tall types.”
“Polina is far taller than me.”
“Which is why this gal needs to work on you first! She must learn to surmount her obstacles!”
Michael huffed, annoyed, when a thought occurred to them. “Where is Polina? Even in a crowd, she should be obvious around here.”
“Hm? Probably with Miss Anaya.”
“What? Then where’s Anaya?”
“Hmm, probably still by the springs? After you ran off so suddenly, Miss Anaya just sighed and said you do that a lot. At least enough for her to notice a trend, and so she also asked this gal to keep an eye on you while she got a drink, and she also also said that she can find you easily enough if anything happens because she’ll just look for the explosion.”
“…I don’t…I’ve only exploded one building.” On this journey.
“Only one in your whole life? Really?” The skepticism was more annoying than the fact that Anaya had wandered off to relax, again, when there was a potential draconic and leviathanic threat out there. Is leviathanic even a word? Levian…levianic? …Leviathanic works fine.
“She shouldn’t be letting her guard down that easily. We’re in a potentially dangerous place.”
Masami nodded. “Right, which is why this gal caught you staring at cute ladies instead of paying attention to potential dangers.”
“I-I wasn’t!” They ignored her giggle in favor of looking back through the crowds. “And what do you mean by potential dangers?”
“Well you’re not exactly being discreet~ Aside from your declaration earlier, it’s quite obvious you’re looking for someone, which is putting people on guard here~.” Chuckling to herself, she continued. “Though this gal supposes we should be thankful for that declaration so people won’t think you’re an easy mark~.”
“Mark? Do you mean someone is planning on attacking us?” How dastardly! To think they would attack us out in the open like this!
“You did hear this gal say ‘won’t’, right? She was pretty sure she said that properly. Didn’t she?”
“Oh totally,” said one of the…brothel workers. Who was apparently listening to them.
Michael frowned. “Were you eavesdropping on us?”
“Nope.” “Definitely wasn’t.” “Didn’t hear a thing.” answered several of the workers all at once.
“…” Michael grabbed the back of Masami’s shirt and tugged her further away from the apparent brothel, earning a noise of protest from the shorter woman. “Right, we should find somewhere more private to discuss matters.”
“Oh Misha~! Really~? Th-This pure maiden didn’t realize you thought of her like–”
They flicked her forehead. “Shush.”
“Ah-Ow, alright, rude, no teasing then.” Finally. “As for your desire for privacy, this town isn’t a great place for that.” Masami gestured at the bustle around them, the buildings marked with golden, serpentine dragons, and–most significantly now that Michael actually spotted them too–the individuals in yellow shirts and pants, with studded iron clubs hanging from their belts and bronze half-masks displaying draconic maws over their mouths. “The crowds make it hard to be alone, especially when you’re standing out so much. The businesses clearly owe allegiance to or are under the protection of Sir Rokuhara, or they wouldn’t be displaying his mark, so the chances of them reporting any conversation is high. And lastly, the people in yellow definitely work for him. Maybe they’re the town guard, maybe they’re not, this gal has heard the name ‘Shugosha Alliance’ spoken around when referring to them, so they definitely have some authority here, understand?”
“…So you think those people are the threats to us?”
Masami rolled her eyes, for some reason. “This gal is saying you’re not taking the time to stop and think. She’s also saying you’re obviously unfamiliar with underground dealings or you’d pay attention to the sash hanging over the door frames.”
Masami gestured for them to lean down, which they did, then directed their attention back at the brothel with the amused workers, gesturing at the doorway where the was, indeed, a pink sash hanging over the entry. “Officially, these places are taverns, so they may serve food, alcohol, and have bedrooms. Unofficially, the sashes signal other services. Pink for sex work, yellow for gambling, and orange for illegal alcohols.”
“What? They actively mark their criminal ent–Wait, you said they could serve alcohol.”
“Yes, but only rice-based alcohols. The shogun signed a law banning non-rice alcohols because they’re inherently more harmful and immoral, so he says.”
“…Why? Alcohol is alcohol and all of it is terrible.”
“And you as a Zeman are fine in thinking that, but people like what they like, and Shogun Kawajiri doesn’t like importing from Sollamava and Luceneva because Gorokiva must stand on its own, so he says, and so the business is more restricted and an underground formed because sometimes people want beer instead of sake.”
“I…see. That does lend credence to Rokuhara being a smuggler then,” Michael mused.
“Hmm, that is true. And do you want to know something else about Gororan law?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Look back to the ladies there.” Michael frowned, but did as asked, looking towards the workers in their flowery kimonos that bared far too much cleavage. “You see how they are dressed, right?”
“And you see how they keep their chests wrapped, right?”
“…I do. With bandages?”
“Technically it’s called a ‘sarashi’, but yep. Now, look at the drake woman, there.”
Michael did so, looking at the green-scaled drake with small black feathers, who noticed their staring and gave them a cheery wave, which they politely returned. “…Oh. She isn’t wearing one.”
“Exactly, you get it! Now, the thing there is, in order to promote more public decency and good morals, the shogun outlawed the display of mammaries within public spaces, though it was amended to give an exception to public baths after complaints. However, drakes, being reptilian, don’t actually have ‘mammaries’, or even really breasts at all! So many of them ignore the law entirely, which has made an interesting niche within certain circles where actually wearing chest coverings is outright erotic!”
Michael nodded thoughtfully. “I see…WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD I NEED TO KNOW THAT?!”
“Because more knowledge is always good!” Masami said with an obvious smile, “And I wanted to see you blush again.”
Michael’s eye twitched. They weren’t about to inflict violence on the far too cheery kunoichi, but they were highly considering pitching her into one of those springs back by the front of the city when a throat being cleared behind them caught their attention. “Scuse this guy, loud Miss, but he heard it said y’were looking for Boss Katsuro.”
“Did you hear it said or did you hear her say it?” Masami asked as Michael sized up the admittedly large thunderdrake.
“Both. Do ya really wanna meet him?”
“Oh? A large man with an iron club comes up to two frail maidens–” Frail?? “–and asks if they want to follow him? Does that sound like a wise idea if you were in our place?”
The drake quirked a feathered eyebrow. “Haaaah? You’re the one lookin’ for the boss here, lady. It’s no trouble to this guy if you decide to run on home-”
Then he yelped as Michael gripped the front of his shirt and dragged him to eye level with them, glaring straight into his eyes with the fury of the heavens. “Where does your master reside, thug?”
“Koryujin, ma’am, it’s just down the main street, not hard to find at all, got a sign up on top and all that.”
“Good. Rethink your life choices and repent.” They released the thug, letting him flop on the ground, then stepped around him as they walked to the building in question with a smiling Masami in tow. And said building was…actually less impressive than expected.
In all honesty, it looked like a very ordinary bar. Modest, almost. In other words, not at all what Michael expected a dragon’s lair to…No, wait, most of them live in caves or abandoned castles. This is almost luxurious compared to most.
“This is probably a trap,” Masami pointed out, “A hardened criminal wouldn’t so easily give up their–And you’re entering, alright.”
Indeed, Michael took one moment to note the two sashes hanging over the door frame–one orange and one yellow–then entered straight away into the tavern/gambling hall, walking past empty tables to the elf operating the bar, his prominent antlers marking him as a wood elf and the tag on his shirt displaying his name was “Genta”.
“Sorry Miss, the bar’s closed-”
“Where is Katsuro Rokuhara?” Michael interrupted.
The elf blinked, then sighed. “Oh it’s another one…you’re oddly cutely dressed for an adventurer.”
“I’m not an adventurer, and thank you, here’s the tailor.”
He stared at the card they handed over, then looked back up at them. “…Right. Well, the fee is a hundred.”
“Fee? What fee?”
“You can’t just expect us to let everyone who comes in to see the boss. Besides in case you break anything the fee will pay for it.” Letting out a chuckle, Genta continued to get the bar set up for when he opened. “Well, not like anyone actually tries to fight him.”
“This gal simply wishes to speak to-” And before Masumi could finish, Michael reached across the bar to grab Genta by the shirt collar.
“Where is he.”
“…Been awhile since this worker had anyone this aggressive come by. Look, the rules are the rules. You either pay up or you leave.”
“…” With a quick slam, Michael left a diamond on the bar.
“…Well that’ll help pay for the crack you just left.” Genta sighed and picked up the diamond. Or, well, tried to. “…This is wedged-”
Michael ripped out the diamond and handed it over.
“And now there’s a hole…this worker shouldn’t have said anything…” He sighed again, before nodding to them. “Follow.”
He pushed through a door by the bar, which led to a set of stairs going downwards at least two floors to a…well, a dragon’s lair. The fact that the dragon in question had a full on cavern constructed under his bar was somewhat baffling.
“This gal must say, she is quite surprised how easily we’re able to come down here,” Masami said, “Aren’t you worried we might tell the shogun how to find Rokuhara~?”
“Hmph. Adventurers like you sure are cocky, but all their dreams of grandeur fade away once they actually see a great dragon up close,” Genta replied as he led the way down to the massive, circular cavern, “Besides, do you really think ‘Lord’ Kawajiri doesn’t know where Boss Katsuro is? That so-called Shogun could’ve gone after the Boss anytime, he simply chooses not to because he doesn’t actually care. And don’t try to tell this man he’s lying.”
“This gal wouldn’t say he doesn’t care. She would say…he cares about the wrong things.”
I’ll say. Any lord who refuses to hunt a criminal he knows is a problem has his priorities deeply wrong. Michael shook their head, ignoring the rest of the conversation in favor of examining the enormous golden dragon sleeping atop a combination of enormous pillows and gathered weapons, which far outnumbered the glittery golden coins that sprinkled across the floor.
Katsuro Rokuhara had his own wings draped over him like a blanket and his frilled tail curled around to meet his dozing head. A dark-gray mane of hair that reminded them of storm clouds flowed from his scaly head, matched by a full beard and a long, drooping mustache curling over his jaw. His horns stood tall and sharp, jutting similarly to antlers, and spikes stabbed upward across his back, where they could see faint patterns tracing across his scales. Spots of black and blue that looked almost like the sky, and more of those outworlder symbols.
“Hey boss! A couple’a ladies are here to see you!” Genta called out, and one amber eye opened, the black pupil narrowing into a slit.
Then the dragon shifted and let out a yawn that boomed through the room like a crack of thunder and Michael felt their body freeze in place at the sound, the boom, the shock of electric power splitting through their chest deep enough to–
“Mmf.” Katsuro yawned again, blinking sleepily as he glanced down at the two ladies in his den, glancing from the shorter, nervous looking one to the taller, clearly terrified redhead, her eyes wide and her breath held. He felt a slight annoyance at Gen–his barkeep got way too many kicks out of showing him off to passersby that pissed the elf off–then shook it off. Better to just check on the poor gal. “Hey, you-”
Michael’s fist smashed hard into his jaw in a new boom of sound and flame, accompanied by the roaring fires of their fully spread wings.
Genta’s jaw dropped. Masami’s eyes went wide and she just barely kept from choking on her shock as the naive noble girl revealed herself as an actual cardinal angel.
And Katsuro stared in interest, his head completely unmoved from the impact. “Huh. An angel–?”
The next punch collided with his nose, which didn’t feel too great, and more came after that in a rapid barrage that Katsuro put to an end by smacking the angel down into the floor.
Michael snarled, about to blast back upward, when a massive palm slammed down over their chest and pinned them to the floor. They almost burst with a full on inferno when they remembered Masami–and to a lesser extent, the elf–was still present. “…”
“You gonna settle down now?” Rokuhara asked, his voice deep and rumbling. Enough like thunder that they felt–not afraid, never afraid, but unpleasant.
“K-…Katsuro Rokuhara, on behalf of the Shogun Shingo Kawajiri, you are charged with the abduction of the Lady Kogetsu, the unlawful harassment of Gorokivan citizens, and the sale of illicit services. Surrender now, or face my judgement.”
“…” The dragon studied them. “…Alright, sure.”
“What.” “What??” “”WHAT!?”
Michael glanced at Masami and the bartender, the former of whom looked as baffled as they felt and the latter of whom looked downright flabbergasted.
“B-Boss, what?! What do you-”
“Gen, grab me a robe. This guy’s not gonna show himself off in front of two ladies.”
Michael blinked in some confusion, then felt a twist of displeasure as his meaning registered and looked away for the sake of the criminal’s modesty. Though they were unamused to see Masami blatantly staring. The woman even had the gall to wave a hand dismissively when she noticed their glare before continuing to watch as Katsuro shrunk down from a massive dragon to a still extremely tall man.
Around the height of a goliath, possibly, and very broad-chested, with a tangle of long hair that he was tying back into a ponytail as he stood in…very bright pink robe, lined with dark blue. His shifted form looked like a mix between human and drake, with darkly tanned skin lined with golden scales and blatantly covered in tattoos through the open next of his yukata. His mustache and beard were still very present, also.
“Mmrrhuaaaaahhh,” he yawned, still blinking sleepily, before he looked down at Michael as they sprung up to their feet. “That’s a cute dress. Where’d you get it?”
They flicked him a card, which he caught. “That is the business. You may visit it once you serve whatever sentence is deemed fit for your crimes.”
“Nah. My wife’s the one that’d like a dress like that, not me. Not my thing.”
“…You don’t seem like the type, true.”
“And nah to the arrest thing.”
“What? But you said you’d surrender-”
“Nope. I said sure to facing you. Not to surrendering.” He gave them a lazy grin. “It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good scrap. Not here though. I’m not looking to wreck my town.”
Michael bristled. “And why shouldn’t I attack you here and now!?”
“Cuz you’re decent. C’mon, I know a good place.” He turned and started walking, clearly expecting them to follow.
And, as irritating as it was, Michael did, because they could see the logic in it. There was no reason to disrupt the lives of the people here, especially since the angel was still hiding their true na-…
They glanced at Masami, who was still staring at…Rokuhara’s rear. They cleared their throat and she jolted in place, before looking over.
“…This gal was…just…not doing what you think she was doing.”
“…I imagine you have questions.”
“Eh? Ehm, a-ah, eh…sh-she really shouldn’t, s-since, well, M-Mister Katsuro did just say he is married-”
“Never mind.” They turned their gaze to Genta instead, who stiffened at the attention. “Say nothing about this. You may keep the fee.” They paused, remembering they should be staying discreet. “Tell no one of my angelic nature.”
They nodded. At least some people can be reasonable around here.
Now they just had to take down a great dragon and their tour could continue without any further issue.
Though they did have a vague concern as to what Anaya would be getting up to in the meantime. They were meant to protect her, and this was a town of criminals…
No, don’t get distracted. She’s with Polina. Further, she doesn’t seek out conflict at all and is largely polite. She should be fine.
“–’nd I’m saying that’s a bullshit law!” Anaya retorted, jabbing her finger into the yellow shirt of a guard who deeply wished he was elsewhere, “The hell’s wrong with just going for a swim, huh!?”
“It’s not the swimmin’ that’s the problem, Miss, ya just need to wear a bathing suit-”
“Pff, bathing suit? Those things are scams! Clothing is a racket the tailors came up with to keep down the free spirits of the world! It’s no better than putting collars on our throats!”
Nari sighed, really wishing he’d taken the hint earlier and just called off for the rest of the day. What was with him and running into belligerent elves?? It didn’t help that this one was dripping wet and wearing only a towel, or that his fellow Shugosha were just watching and snickering instead of trying to help. “Sure, whatever, but it still draws more heat than-”
“Heat?? Are you a town of criminals or what?! You buncha cravens, letting that stupid snake guy push you around!”
“Stupid snake-…d…d’ya mean the shogun?”
“Yeah, that asshole!”
“…Miss, that’s one’a the leaders of our country.”
“And he’s an asshole! All smug and snakey…”
“…” He glanced at the minotaur sitting at a stand nearby, who was watching the proceedings with visible amusement. She raised her sake cup to him and he felt like sighing. “…Miss, are ya drunk?”
“Pff, like your rice stuff could make me drunk. I’m over three hundred years old, I’ve drunk…drank…I’ve had more alcohol than you’ve dreamed of in your life, kid!”
“…” It was days like these that Nari really didn’t know why people thought the criminal lifestyle was cool. Maybe he should’ve just been a doctor like his mom wanted? Doctors didn’t have to deal with this shit. “…Why don’t ya just go sit with your friend, Miss? Take a break from swimmin’, maybe put on clothes?”
“Feh.” Anaya turned and wandered over to Polina as the guard let out a sigh of relief, slumping at the minotaur’s side. It was a shame she wasn’t as easily flustered as Misha. The angel would’ve been bright red if she did this with her. “Hey…where’d Misha go again?”
“Eh? Oh, uh, out with Masami-”
“To pick a fight, right.” Anaya huffed. “I wish she’d relax. I know, I know, it’s bad to leave stuff be. It is! Gotta…get rid of the bad guys. But there’s…she’s…”
“You’re just worried.”
“Yep. ‘s dumb, but she’s cute and sweet and intense…Part of me wants to keep her safe. She’s trying, y’know?” She sighed. “I’m rambling. This stuff’s stronger than I thought.”
“Yeah, I noticed-” Polina paused as Anaya stole her cup and downed its contents in one gulp. “…See, I don’t think that’s helpin’ none.”
“Mmh. Maybe, maybe not. Let’s go see the town, maybe see if Misha got in a fight already.”
“I haven’t heard any explosions yet. Maybe she’s doin’ fine?”
“Mm. Yet is an important word there.” She grabbed the sake jug and nodded to the stall owner. “This’s mine now.”
Polina sighed and paid for the jug, then stood and gave Anaya a pat on the head. “Why not save that, huh? Maybe see if Misha’ll share a drink later.”
“…Hm. Good point. Bet she’d be a funny drunk…no pressuring her though, you got it?” She gave Polina a warning look, earning a chuckle from the minotaur.
“Yeah, I gotcha. I’ll be on my best behavior ‘round poor, innocent Misha.”
“Pff. You say that like a joke, but she’s super innocent. It’s the cutest. Betcha one of her diamonds she’ll start steaming if I show up in front of her like this~.”
“Oh so you do know what you’re doin’ there.”
“Course I do~! But clothes’re still bullshit, seriously fuckin’ sucks after spending most my early life in nature, like people oughta be. Though I guess I did wear furs when it got cold…”
“Furs? Not, like, a leaf dress?”
“Pff, nope! Leaf dresses are pretty handy, but you gotta be a decent druid to maintain it properly so they don’t get all crumbly. Sides, furs are warmer. Leaves can be decent insulation, but fur’s cozy.”
“Huh. Learn somethin’ new everyday, I guess…” Polina hummed in thought, rubbing her chin as she walked along with Anaya. Then paused when she noticed all the stares Anaya was getting. “A-Ah, right, yeah, you probably should be gettin’ dressed now, right?”
“Nah, this’s better. In fact, why shouldn’t I just go around like this more often, hm?”
“Misha would combust.”
“…She would, yeah. Literally. Hm.”
Polina glanced at Anaya, a little worried that the elf sounded a lot more thoughtful and contemplative than she should be there, then went stiff as a boom like thunder echoed out. Not in town, somewhere out in the distance, but she couldn’t help notice how Anaya immediately brightened.
“Ah ha! There’s the explosion!”