The boom of thunder woke Michael with a start, their eyes shooting open under the…completely dry ceiling. The fact that there was a ceiling to begin with was confusing. As was the fact that they were now wearing a nightgown. Especially since they last remembered–
“This gal hasn’t brought it up before, but you snore a lot in your sleep,” Noriko said from where she sat beside Michael’s bed. Which, again, many questions. Lightstone lamps illuminated the rather extravagantly decorated room; there were no windows to see outside, but it didn’t feel like it was morning. It felt very late.
“…Where am I?”
“The Shogun’s bed.” She grinned, her sharp teeth gleaming in the light. “Lucky you~ Plenty of ladies would like to be in that position~”
“…” They felt too tired to feel annoyed. “I see you’re doing fine.”
“For the most part, yep! Notice anything different?” She brushed her hair over her shoulder, still smiling brightly. Her white hair.
“Ah. Your hair changed. From the curse?”
“Right again! Yeah, it’s different, but not too bad, and it’s not the weirdest change this gal had happen to her today. Yesterday? One or the other.” Noriko rolled up the sleeve of the kimono she was wearing–a rather bright yellow garment lined with blue–to show the black lines–the stripes curling up her arm. “She’s not a tigrin, that’s for sure, but she’s kinda like one now? As far as this gal can tell, she’s kinda like a nue now, so like a chimera but with an ape and a tiger instead of a lion and a goat.”
“There’s some snake in it too. You had a tail.”
“Yep, she remembers. The tail though, not the snake head that a chimera would normally have.” She glanced at her backside. “Maybe she could form one? But she’s not super sure.”
“Don’t form a snake head from your lower back.”
“Aw, why not? This gal thinks it’d be neat.”
They frowned. Not only would it not be neat, it’s almost certainly demonic to do so. But that’s not an effective argument…what would Gabriel say? “It could be sapient, and then you’ll be killing it every time you let it recede into your body. That, or you’ll gain a second brain above your backside.”
“…Hm. Yeah, giving this gal’s ass a brain probably wouldn’t be a good move.”
They nodded, then just…laid back, letting themself settle. There were an extravagant amount of pillows on the royal blue bed. It had an overhang. Why it had an overhang, they didn’t know, but it did. “Truly, you’ve brought me to the den of sloth.”
Noriko snorted. “Does that exist?”
“Presumably. What would the embodiment of sloth be besides an unfortunately comfortable bed?”
They frowned, giving her another look. “Why a bathtub?”
“Well, a bed’s just for resting in general, right? While a bath’s more for relaxing in. You can get clean easier with a shower or bucket, so extending it out through a bath is just so you can take it easy, making it more slothful. Ah, but this gal specifically means a bathtub, not a natural spring, since that’s more communal and she’s pretty sure most of us were being really active the last time we were all in one of those.”
“…” Michael stared suspiciously at Noriko, parsing her words for potential innuendo, then decided to let it lie. “I’m at Fujimi, correct?”
“You are, yup. In the Shogun’s bed, as this gal said. She just got you settled, so you waking up all of a sudden came as a surprise.”
“And the Shogun is fine?”
“Better than fine, thanks to you.” She grinned again. “Bringing down Kozzy was exactly the victory he needed to make it out of this disaster without it being a complete disgrace to his entire clan for generations.”
“What? He’s taking credit for what I did?!” They felt a raw anger they’d thought they had left behind surge up, their face twisting into a scowl before a shock of pain went through them and they hissed, clutching at their back on reflex.
“Woah, hold on!” Then Noriko was there, putting a hand on their forehead. They blinked, but let her push them back down, the concern in her eyes cutting through their fury. “Jeez, if she knew you’d get that mad…Yes, Kawajiri is going to the capital right now with Kozzy chained up a hundred times over in the most heavily guarded room on his skyship, and yes, this lady is pretty sure he’s going to pass off at least part of the victory here as his win since he has the leviathan captured and he has the chest wound to prove he actually fought her, as much as his fighting was worth.
She held up a finger. “But! But but but, the important thing is, there’s no way he’s keeping his job after all this, no matter what he does. Half of the Daimyo turned traitor under his watch and a countrywide curse was set off without him stopping it. The only reason things didn’t go worse is because of actual, literal divine intervention twice over, and you count for one of those. This might let him save some face, but it’s the difference between having to leave behind a finger versus cutting open your belly. He’s not getting out of this unscathed.”
“…Good.” They let out a slow breath, then looked up at Noriko again. Their back was still aching. They’d barely blacked out after the fight at the hotel, but now they were unconscious for…at least several hours? It was hard to tell, with the storm outside. How long would it take for Kawajiri to head to the capital? He would need to get his skyship ready, unless he just had it prepped to go… “How long was I unconscious?”
“Two thousand years. This gal is actually Noriko’s great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, also named Noriko because the family isn’t creative.”
“That’s far too little greats,” they deadpanned, unwilling to even humor the claim.
“Some of them lived long and had kids later.”
“Really. So you’re Noriko, daughter of Noriko, daughter of Noriko?”
“Mm hm! Something like that!”
“Sure. What’s your father’s name?”
“…” They didn’t expect her to let out a slow sigh. “…Akinori. It’s where part of her name comes from. Nori, Nori. She doesn’t remember him all that well. She was…maybe six when he died.”
“…” They sat up, adjusting the pillows to lay against. The honesty was unexpected, but… “Would you like to tell me about him?”
“Ha. Like she said, she doesn’t remember much. He had glasses and he liked to sing songs and garden. She wasn’t there when he died. It was poison, back when the invasion was on.”
“Twenty-five years ago. Which would make you…thirty-one now?”
“Thirty-two in Nefta, but yep, that’s about right. There was a lot of death back then. Lots and lots of it, though this gal was protected, even if she wasn’t the heir. Even if she wasn’t…”
They waited for her to speak. When she didn’t, they did. “‘Wasn’t’?”
“…This gal’s never tried to find out whether or not she was born first. She’s not gonna pretend she never resented her sister, it’s hard not to when you miss out on the chance to be an empress, but she always knew if she checked, and it turned out this gal was born first, and the only reason she didn’t inherit was because…” She pressed a thumb to her mouth, to where her teeth remained permanently bared. “…Yeah. She would’ve gone down a bad path, if she knew.”
“…You’re a skilled combatant and infiltrator. I am glad you were on my side during this conflict.”
A giggle slipped out and Noriko covered her mouth, trying to hide her smile. “Gods, you’re a mess.” They frowned, a little…bothered, but she kept up her obvious smile even as she let her hand drop. “Strangely, this gal doesn’t mind it though. It’s kinda cute. And she’d definitely kiss you if she had lips.”
They blinked. “…What?”
“Well if she tried as is, she’d just be knocking her teeth against your mouth, so-”
“Th-That is immensely inappropriate.”
“How so? Is it an age issue? Because this gal doesn’t mind~” She kept on grinning and Michael felt their face heat. “How old are you anyway, angelface~?”
“Angelface–No, never mind that.” They shook their head, trying to clear the…whatever was going on there. “I’m three thousand, mortal.”
“Eh? Really? But if you cut out two zeroes there, that would make you thirty, wouldn’t it? So you’d be younger than me!”
“That’s not how age works!”
Noriko waved a hand. “Semantics. That aside, do you have any more questions? If it’s personal stuff, then simple things are that this gal started being trained by the Three Shades ninja guild when she was eightish, traveled around a lot, her mom died when she was thirteen, she couldn’t go to the funeral which was also a traumatizing thing, and her favorite sweet is mochi!”
Unsure of what to say, Michael reached over and rested their hand on her head, which did seem to surprise Noriko. “…There there.”
“…Heh. Are you trying to be comforting again?”
“The offer for a hug is open again.”
“…Ah, fuck it.” And then she was against their chest, nuzzling in.
So they wrapped their arms around her and held her there. Her hair was…fluffier. It was only right to pet it. “There there…you’re a good person.”
“…Fuck me–” What. “–you feel warm…” Oh. Euphemism. Right. “‘S nice…”
“I am an angel of holy flame. Warmth comes with the–” They paused, then let out a small huff of breath as they laid back, still holding onto their friend.
Norik snored in her sleep too.
Even so, Michael had work to do. They just had to make sure they were quiet as they did so. While also preventing Noriko from awakening. So…laying still was fine, but once the drake called Basho entered the room to check on the two, Michael made sure to begin collecting information. Such as the fact that it was apparently 4 in the morning and Noriko had been assembling and then leading the group to find Michael and Kozloi the entire time.
She hadn’t slept once, so it was only right to let the human rest. Mortals needed that kind of thing. As such, Michael talked quietly with the aides who came in, all the while Noriko slept against them.
It was surprising how much one could learn from a bed, with the right connections. While full details weren’t available in the middle of the night, the scribes and samurai of Fujimi were apparently working in shifts to fix what had been damaged in the invasion, or at least patch things up enough that they could be handled when things weren’t as hectic. A message from the capital did soothe some worries, as it appeared as if the major conflicts across the country had been resolved. At the very least, the coup was at an end.
The letter in question did also contain an order for Kawajiri to travel to the capital. It seemed he had been called upon to discuss the future of Gorokiva, and Michael felt it was safe to assume that if such an order hadn’t been drafted, the soon to be ex-Shogun would have burrowed himself in Fujimi and refused to come out. If just so he could pretend he hadn’t screwed up immensely.
And as the hours went on and night turned to dawn, more information arrived with sent messages, including a letter coming from Polina, which talked about how she and Vivian “kicked Daigo’s ass”, with some help from Amitiel, which was pleasant to read for Michael. Both in that Daigo was defeated and that Amitiel was okay.
The letter also added that Polina was going to be “hitting the hay” right after writing it, so Michael decided to assume the situation at the capital was fully resolved. The fact that the paladin felt it safe to sleep was as good a proof as any.
“Thank you, Basho,” they whispered, one arm still around Noriko while the other held the letter.
“This official should be thanking you, noble Cardinal. You saved his life.”
They shrugged. “I do that on occasion. Did you get around to delivering the card I gave you?”
His lips twitched. “This official couldn’t leave his duties, but he did send the advertisement along in the mail. He thanks you again for your generosity.”
“Generosity is a virtue, so it’s only right.” They turned their gaze back to the letter, then paused and looked back at Basho. “You can go now.”
“Very well then. This official shall not disturb your nor Noriko’s rest any further.” He stood, gave them a bow, and was about to walk from the room when a boom of thunder echoed out, far closer than before. “Hm. This man appreciates his god’s care, but the Nameless One could afford to be less loud about it.”
“Why do you call him that?” Michael asked, feeling curious, “He has a name. Innominatum.”
Basho waved a hand in dismissal. “That means the same thing. It translates to ‘Unnamed’, though legends differ on why he is called such.”
“So tell me about them. I’m not going anywhere.” Not until my back stops aching, at least.
He glanced back at them, then huffed as he took his seat again. “While this man doesn’t mind resting his feet, he does wish you’d ask these things before he started leaving.” He held up a hand to stop their protest. “Not that you need to apologize, noble Cardinal. Just some forethought would be good.”
They grumbled, but settled in to listen.
“This man isn’t the best storyteller, so he’ll just say what he knows as far it goes. The tale of the Nameless God ties to a few stories, but most agree that he, in some way or another, chose to give up his original name. Perhaps in a trade or a sacrifice, but his name was given, not taken.”
“To surrender something means more than having it stolen,” they mumbled, remembering an old lesson, “A stolen thing carries the taint of that theft and will never truly belong to the thief, but something given freely must be given freely in turn if you ever want it back.”
“Yes, very astute interruption, noble Cardinal.”
They felt their face heat. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. What was this man saying…one version of the tale that this man knows of was the trade of Tiger, where the child of The Beast chose to leave their mother. However, wherever the Tiger went they were rejected, finding no home open to them. Angered by this, they went on a rampage, until the Nameless God appeared before them. That is to say, they didn’t stop rampaging, and even tried to go against the god.”
Michael had to stop themselves from interrupting at the thought that someone would dare fight against a god. That’s just pure blasphemy…or apostasy, or something like that.
“However the Nameless One took it all, every bit of fury and loneliness, and once their rage began to subside, he offered them a home. Of course, Tiger did not trust easily, and here’s where the story differs, at least partially. Most say the Nameless One offered a gift to Tiger to show his sincerity. A peach from a holy tree, a roar like thunder, even the stripes that adorn all tigers’ backs. There are even some that say this is where he offered his name, but it’s difficult to know for certain, and the story changes with the ages.
“Complicating matters is the second part of the story, where The Beast came looking for her wayward child. All versions agree that at this point, Tiger had accepted the gift and joined with the Nameless One, taking shelter in his home, but a child’s acceptance does not mean the parent will do the same, and though The Beast was a fickle mother prone to ignoring her offspring, she would not stand for such a snub to her pride.
“There are some versions of the tale that say this is where thunder was first born. When the roar of The Beast’s fury echoed through all the heavens.”
“I thought Innominatum gave Tiger her roar? You said that earlier,” Michael pointed out.
“This man said some versions said as such,” Basho corrected, “Tales change with the ages, and this tale has existed for millennia by this point. But more to the point, this is where the major conflict of the story occurs, where the Nameless One and the Beast clash for custody of Tiger. Whether the argument is more verbal or physical also varies, as does the violence that occurs with it. There’s at least one version this man recalls where it’s said that in the fighting, the Beast tore out the Nameless One’s eye, while the Nameless One cut off the Beast’s nose.”
“That doesn’t sound right,” Michael muttered. The Gods of Death are all naturally mutilated, aren’t they? It’s in their nature as beings of destruction.
Basho didn’t pay any heed to their interruption this time. “The more peaceful version of the tale, however, instead states that the Nameless One had to give up something if Tiger would be allowed to stay with him. All versions of the tale agree it was one of two things: either his eye, or his name. And that is how Tiger joined the Court of Lightning and thunder gained its sound.”
“Wait, thunder is the tiger’s roar?”
“Precisely. Lightning falls with Tiger’s roar to herald it. That, or it’s formed by angels drumming in the clouds, that tale also tends to vary.”
Michael frowned. “You mortals are really bad at keeping track of basic facets of reality.”
“Such is what happens when the tales get passed through the ages. But if we are really that bad, perhaps you could tell this one the truth as surely a Cardinal would know?”
“…The business of a god is one an angel shouldn’t divulge,” Michael said, doing their best to not let Basho know they had no idea either.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, now then, thank you for the tale, you may leave now.” Though before he could, both of them noticed Noriko sitting up, rubbing her eyes as she let out a yawn.
“Good morning Lady Noriko, this man hopes you slept well.”
“Mn, mornin’…why’s m’ face feel warm…” She blinked slowly, then glanced over at Michael. Then at their chest.
As the silence stretched, Michael felt an odd impulse to hide their chest from Noriko’s gaze. Which was then diverted by another boom of thunder that made them stiffen. A second later, Michael huffed, frowning up at the ceiling. “Tiger could do with roaring less.”
“Oh, you know that old story?” Noriko asked, finally looking away from their chest. Which did make Michael wonder if there was something there that they weren’t noticing…
“Of course I do, an angel must know of these things.”
Basho made an amused noise as he turned away, reminding Michael that he was still there. They carefully did not look at him even as they felt their face heat again, before their attention was drawn to the opening door–Wait, Amitiel?
No, no it definitely wasn’t Amitiel. The angel peeking in looked younger, with shorter–yet still sparky–hair. They also lacked glasses and were far less endowed–Michael shook their head, avoiding that line of thought as the angel stepped in. “Hello! Would this be the room Princess Noriko and the cardinal are resting in?”
“…” Michael gestured at Noriko, who gave a wave, then flicked a hand over their head, showing their fiery halo.
“Great!” The angel beamed, completely guileless, before they bowed. “My greetings to you, Cardinal of Lord Iudex! I am Kokriel of Ilekalaio, sworn servant to the Heavenly Lord Innominatum and a volunteer emissary of the Gororan Empress!” They straightened, beaming brightly. “It is my humble duty and honor to guide you to her majesty!”
Michael blinked. “You’re what?”
“Huh. How did Eiko get an angel to help her out?” Noriko asked.
“Pretty easily! Senior Sister Amitiel called upon us, and thus we answered!” Kokriel explained, still beaming.
“Is that how that works?” …Why are you looking at me? I don’t know, I just worked for the Pontiffs, I have no idea how angels are normally summoned.
Well they did work to aid the heroes back in the day, but it wasn’t like the heroes actually summoned them from the heavens. Michael just hung around out of view and waited for the idiots to call on them after that one irritant said they were creepy for following him around. Wretched bastard. No one even remembers your name anymore, so guess who had the last laugh–
“Mishaaaaa? Anyone home?” Right. Noriko.
“Clearly it is. Otherwise Kokriel wouldn’t be here.” There, simple answer.
“Well actually–” Kokriel paused as Michael’s gaze turned towards them. It definitely wasn’t a glare, so there was no need for the lightning angel to feel intimidated, though they still cleared their throat before continuing. “Ah…what was I saying? Oh, right, ah, technically just being called down by a superior angel isn’t enough to allow us to come into the mortal realms. We do need mortals to ‘open the door’, as it were.” They held up a finger. “And before you make the comparison, no it’s not like vampires!”
“So people made that comparison before?” Noriko asked, sounding amused.
“Yes! And it’s rude! We’re not being invited in as a deceptive thing! It’s just really rude to show up uninvited! Anyways, some higher clerics have been calling us down.”
“So more like demons then?”
Noriko earned the flick on the back Michael gave her, though they didn’t quite expect her to squeak that loudly. “It’s different. Demons demand payment, and no angel would ever ask for such a thing.”
“…” The sheepish laugh Kokriel gave severely undermined their statement. “Ahh…that’s mostly true, yeah! Angels don’t require payment, but it’s nice to get stuff, sometimes. Gifts! Not payment, it’s different!”
Michael felt their eye twitch.
“R-Really though, you just need to call on us to come help and we will!” Kokriel continued, still trying to smile brightly, “We’re definitely up to help mortals, no matter what! Especially if they follow our gods! Ah, not that it’s required, it’s just nicer if we’re helping out people who appreciate our–uh, not that we wouldn’t help apostates–non-followers! Not necessarily apostates just because they’re not worshipping the right–Anyways!” They gave a thumbs up. “We’re better than demons!”
Noriko physically could not hide the smile she had, so she just smiled wider as she returned the thumb’s up. “Well, this lady’s convinced! How about you, Basho? Misha?”
“Yes, this man is very convinced,” Basho replied, his voice drier than the entire country. Not that it was hard with the countrywide rain, but still. “He’s also curious why angels aren’t around as often if it’s that easy to summon them.”
“Ah, call us, more like,” Kokriel explained, “It’s more like we’re coming when a request is made for us, not like we’re just popping up in a magic circle. So the calls actually have to reach us, kind of like sending a letter to a friend living in a different city. Sometimes the messages get lost or eaten by voidfish, so we don’t hear every single prayer for intervention! We also have discretion on whether or not to answer, and we always contact our Heavenly Lord for a second opinion!”
Michael nodded along to their explanation. Good to hear these angels have at least some sense.
“So you’re helpful once you get here, but you’re slow and inconvenient before that?” Noriko didn’t seem to get it though.
“We’re angels,” Michael pointed out, quite helpfully in their opinion, “Of course we use discretion in answering prayers and consulting our gods is only natural.”
Kokriel pumped their fists, grinning with a sharp nod. “Yeah exactly! And it’s super inconvenient to fly to the mortal realms too since you’re super far from the heavens and have all these really dumb physical laws going on!”
“Precisely! Ah, it’s nice to speak to an angel that isn’t enamored with the mortal realms. Amitiel is nice, but she’s definitely gone native here.” They paused after a second, glancing at Noriko. “No offense.”
“Some taken,” she replied, shrugging, “So, Kokri, are you going to be flying us back to the…are you okay?”
The lightning angel was holding their face and looking away, their body visibly sparking more. “Ah, my name has been shortened, by a mortal no less…no, it’s fine, such things are casual things!” They turned, giving another thumbs up, one hand still on their cheek. “You are partially correct, Princess Noriko! Flight shall be how you return to the capital, but first, outside we must go!”
“Eh? You can’t just phase through things like Misha?”
“I can! But there are important things outside! Which must be addressed! So follow, please!”
Noriko raised an eyebrow, then glanced at Michael. “Are you good to–Okay you’re already standing, never mind.”
Michael gave her a short nod of acknowledgement, ignoring the sting from their back and looking towards Kokriel. “Lead the way.”
They smiled wide again, showing crackling teeth. “The way shall be led!”
And thus it was. Whereupon the Cardinal Michael came to a very quick conclusion as they exited the main building into the courtyard, that being that a nightgown was a deeply terrible garment to wear out in a rainstorm. The appreciative whistle from Noriko did little too assuage their annoyance, though a second later they realized the whistle was likely not directed at them, and more likely directed towards the 20ft tall tiger woman aiding in clearing the ground of debris.
Namely by picking up chunks of rubble, as directed, and pitching them off into the distance.
“Aaaaaand…ah, outer ring! That one got close, damn,” she muttered, earning some disappointed groans and amused applause from the watching scribes, all under umbrellas as they exchanged what looked like betting slips.
The giant looked like a cross between a half-transformed tigrin and a lightning angel. There were unmistakably feline features in her otherwise humanoid face and her smile showed sharp, golden teeth that matched the somehow gleaming breastplate she wore. A notably sleeveless breastplate that bared muscular arms covered in black-striped orange fur which ended in golden claws that sparked in the rain. The same as the spikes of solid lightning that extended up from her head, almost like the trail of a comet.
“Wow,” Noriko muttered, still staring. Her eyes focused on the giant’s still quite impressively muscular arms, then began to drift down towards the giant’s partially exposed and no less muscular legs, as shown by a black split skirt that bared more skin–Or would that be fur?– than Michael believed decent, so it was only natural to flick Noriko’s head. “Ow! Dick!”
Her reaction drew the giant’s attention, and Michael felt themself pause at the sight of the giant’s eyes. They were a warm, amber shade with unmistakable lightning bolts stretching out from their golden pupils. In them, Michael could see the unmistakable shine of the Nameless–…of Innominatum, and the Beast.
And the daughter of those two deities saw something there too. “So that’s it…”
“…So what’s it?” Michael asked, frowning.
“Ah, nothing, just some musings. You made quite the crater out in the woods. Consider me impressed!” She grinned, showing those golden teeth. “You would be the cardinal then, right?”
“And you would be Tiger.”
“Tigress, actually. It sounds more royal, don’t you think?”
“Isn’t that just the word for a female tiger?” Noriko chimed in.
“It is, little cousin, but it has a nicer feel to it, don’t you think? Tiger, Princess, Tigress!” She tapped her temple. “It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“Eh, ah, this gal…thinks? But, uh, cousin?”
“You’re a nue, aren’t you? Or a hybrid of one, which is even more chimeric than the usual type, but I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Sure? Sure.” Noriko glanced at Michael, clearly less prepared for this conversation than she thought, so the angel took the lead, as they naturally should.
“Why are you here and what do you want?”
“Misha no…” What?
Tigress’s grin widened. “Yup, definitely the case.” Wait, that wasn’t directed at me. “I wanted to meet you, cardinal. And help out Ami too, that was also a factor, which means I’m here to bring you over to her majesty the mortal Empress, do you understand?”
Their eyes narrowed. “Why would a demigod need to meet with me?”
“Because she wants to,” Tigress replied, before she looked towards Kokriel, “Little gold, can you take my little cousin?”
“This gal still doesn’t totally understand that one,” Noriko piped up.
“You can count on me!” Kokriel said, saluting sharply and ignoring Noriko. So Michael clapped a hand to their shoulder.
“Answer her question.”
“E-Eh? Ah, o-oh, um…”
“You’re asking the wrong person, cardinal,” Tigress noted. A boom of thunder echoed out and Michael’s eyes immediately went to the demigod–The demigod of Thunder, companion to Lightning, of course–who was still smiling. “I’m calling her ‘little cousin’ because she’s small and nue are just one of the mismatched monsters my mother’s magic mercurially manifests.” …Was that deliberate? “So just consider it a turn of endearment. It’s not too difficult, is it?”
“Not really. Hm. Well, Bashy, this gal–this lady supposes this is gonna be goodbye for now!” Noriko said, turning back to Basho, “Take care of yourself, okay?”
“This official…this man will do his best to do so. Be good, Princess.” He bowed deeply, ignoring the startled noises from the scholars that hadn’t noticed Noriko was royalty yet. Which, hm.
“How did you know Noriko was the Empress’s sister?” Michael asked.
“Noble Kokriel was quite obvious about that fact, so this man has had time to process it and prevent a strong reaction,” Basho explained as he straightened, before he went back into a bow, this time towards Michael, “And he thanks you again, noble cardinal, for your aid in the insurrection. He would also like to thank you for the card you gave to him on your first visit. He made sure to send the advertisement along to his daughter.”
“Oh, good. How is she doing?”
“He has no idea, because he’s been busy with the current crisis, and he’s trying not to think of the potential problems.”
Michael blinked. Then frowned. “Where does she live?”
“…” He straightened. “Noble cardinal, please do not go visit this man’s daughter to make sure she’s okay. While he appreciates the thought, he also thinks it’s a terrible idea.”
“Fine. Tell Kokriel then.”
The other angel straightened. “E-Eh?”
“You’re now officially deputized. Help these people.”
“Ah-Wait, but I was already-”
“You’re deputized twice over, now get to it.” They looked at the rest of the officials. The ones that were gambling–Ignore it. They’re still trying to do good. “Kokriel will be taking any and all requests to contact family and friends as needed, so prepare whatever messages you may wish to convey.”
The officials stared, then there was a flurry of motion as some either clamored right for Kokriel to ask for help, while others rushed inside to start penning letters. Kokriel, as an angel, could of course handle all of it, so Michael felt confident in turning to Tigress once again. “Now then, you were going to be taking the two of us to Shiomi, correct?”
Tigress considered their question, her smile still present. “I have one question first, do you want to go while wearing that?”
Michael glanced down at their soaked nightgown, then shrugged and burnt it away in favor of forming their typical armored robes, earning a gasp and then a disappointed sigh from Noriko. Hm, it’s been a while since I’ve worn these. Still comfortable. “Better?”
“Sure is. Are you good to go now?”
“I have questions first.” Her eyebrow raised. “First, what did you take? His eye or his name?”
Tigress blinked. She chuckled, then crouched down. She was still far, far taller than Michael, so it didn’t exactly help talk more evenly. Really, it feels somehow more condescending. “Not telling.”
“What? Why not?”
“Ask again when you’re sure you know the answer, and what’s your second question?”
They frowned, but continued. “Can we stop at Kyora first? I should reunite with Anaya.”
“Oh sure, I can do that, that’s no trouble at all.” She leaned forward, and then there was a gargantuan tiger where there was once a giant, albeit one still with golden teeth and claws and fur that crackled electric under the rain. “Climb aboard!”
And so they did. And then they got off to help Noriko on, because she was still very short– “Shut up, this gal’s average height! You’re just tall!”
“I said nothing.”
Her glower was well-earned and very amusing.
On some level, Michael had expected Kyora to still be rather destroyed as they returned. They knew it wasn’t a complete wreck of blackened ruins–just mostly one–but they weren’t expecting the blooming colors that now covered the wrecked town.
Or perhaps it was better to say “once-wrecked town”?
“Wow, that’s a lot of trees,” Noriko mumbled. Quite rightly, because there were a lot of trees. Large, building-esque trees, which appeared to be shaped from the ruins of the buildings that once stood there.
As Tigress touched down–because of course a demigod could fly; really, it would be weird if a heavenly being couldn’t fly–Michael spotted a familiar face. “You!”
“Wh-Aw for fuck’s sake,” Nari the guard groused as Michael hopped off of Tigress’s back and strode over to him. He stared plaintively up at the sky, ignoring their approach in favor of turning his pitiable gaze to the heavens. “Why, gods? Is my life a runnin’ gag to you??”
“Yes, now explain what’s happening here,” Michael insisted.
“…” Nari just sighed. His head dropped back down to stare at the dirt. “…confirmed by an angel…”
“Have your existential crisis later, information now.”
“Eesh, can’t a guy wallow for a sec?” The guard sighed and raised his head, then stared as Noriko tried to get off of Tigress, failed, and flopped in the mud. Both of them stared at that for a few seconds, then elected to ignore Noriko’s irritated cursing and Tigress’s obvious amusement. “So hey, you remember your nudist druid?”
“…Anaya did not strike me as having nudist tendencies in the time I’ve–”
“Y’can lie to your god but don’t lie to this guy, especially when y’can’t even keep a straight face.” I can keep a perfectly straight face. I’m doing so, right now. “…Okay go back to the awkward sheepishness, that glare’s actually kinda intimidatin’.”
“Good. Be intimidated and tell me what is happening here.”
“The druid started helping with construction after you left, growing and shaping the wood to make things easier and all that, then the weird curse thing happened, this guy turned into gecko for some reason, then came the divine rain, and this guy guesses that helps somehow? Probably somethin’ t’do with water helpin’ plants grow? Anyways, once the curse dropped, she’s been convertin’ the dead wood into livin’ wood and showing some of the more architectural types how treehouses work–ah, not like the small ones that kids make, but like actual houses made from trees.”
Kids do what now? “I see. Where is she now? And how are Katsuro and Shiho doing?”
“Lady Shiho’s been doing fine since you dropped her off and flew off pretty much immediately without saying anything to anyone–”
“I was saving the Shogun, there was very little time.”
“…Did you have to?”
“Yes. Answer the questions.”
“Lady Shiho’s back at her workshop, probably waiting for Boss Katsuro to get back, since he went with this other angel that showed up, a lightning angel, not a fiery one, and even though Lady Shiho didn’t want him to head off so soon, Boss said he needed to handle business.” He glanced from side to side, then leaned in close. “Between you and him, this guy bets Boss Katsuro’s gonna try to get control of Mera, since the Nakas turned traitor ‘n all.”
“…Hm.” Michael considered the potential ramifications of giving a dragon full control of a city and a palace to rule, then thought of what they knew of Katsuro’s character and decided to disregard that for now. “So where’s Anaya?”
“Oh, probably somewhere around here. This guy doesn’t know.” Then why am I talking to you?? “Maybe by the bar? She might be guarding Lady Shiho, or just getting drinks or somethin’.”
“…You’ve been partially helpful. May your fortunes turn for the better.” They gave him a pat on the head, conveying a blessing onto the unfortunate mortal, then turned to their companions. “Noriko, stop lying in that mud puddle! It wasn’t that bad a fall.”
“Nnnnn…it’s not this gal’s body that’s injured, it’s her pride.”
“Disregard that! It’s a sin anyway!”
“Oh yeah, what’s with the giant tiger that feels like a god in mortal form?” Nari asked.
“She’s a demigod, it’s not that impressive,” Michael replied, before heading over to Noriko and hoisting her up on their shoulder, then looked over to Tigress, “Wait here.” They paused. “Please.”
“Sure, since you asked nicely,” she replied, settling in under the rain as Michael turned and started walking towards the bar, ignoring Nari’s muttering about “giant talking tigers”. In all the guard’s rambling, he’d suggested that was the most likely place for Anaya to be, so onward Michael went.
“You could let this gal down.” With Noriko still over their shoulder.
“You could fall in another mud puddle. This is easier.”
“This gal is dripping mud all over your nice robes.”
“My robes are magic. Stains are not a problem.”
“What if it’s magical mud?”
“It could be! The rain is magic, so the mud could be magic! You won’t know unless you let this gal down!”
They had the distinct impression that Noriko was glowering at them. Clearly she was just being petulant in the face of Michael’s undeniable logic, so the angel allowed themself what was most definitely a normal smile and not a smirk at the human’s expense.
Though their very normal smile faltered rather quickly as they entered Katsuro’s bar. Because, yes, Anaya was indeed in there, and while Michael was gratified to see her fine and safe…
“Wow, Naya has a nice ass–Ah!” Noriko yelped as Michael dropped her straight on the floor.
She does– Michael also very quietly smothered that thought as deep into the recesses of their mind as they possibly could. Because Anaya, from the look of it, was wearing a flower necklace. And nothing else.
It wasn’t an issue. They’d seen her…undressed, previously. In the baths at Mera. When they’d done their best to not look at anything and when they were far more focused on trying to win stupid water contests– “You’re thirty-one, why are you so immature? Isn’t that old for humans?”
“…” Noriko pushed herself up off the floor, and gave a sharp poke to Michael’s side that made the angel jerk, shooting a glare at the human. “Enjoying life isn’t being immature, and also so those spots are new, right?”
She pointed over at– “Would you cut it out!?”
“What? They are, aren’t they? See, they’re kinda faint, but there’s totally some white speckles up her hips.”
“…” They weren’t going to look. They were not going to look, they were not that type of–They stiffened again at the sudden snorting noise Anaya made, then paused as they realized the elf was giggling.
“Aaaah, it was soooo stupid at the time, but we were girls! It was summer, like now, but less animals, y’know? Less animals for sure, for sure, unless you count fish!” She giggled again, before poking at the bartender–Ah, Genta’s here. I didn’t notice.–with a cheery grin. “You were a fish!”
“Yeah, this guy was a fish, that did happen.” The bartender/underling looked up at Michael and Noriko and gave them a wave, before looking back at Anaya. “Hey, looks like your friends are here to pick you up.”
“My friends? Nah nah nah, my friends’re all over the place now, all over, friends all around! I gots plenty, maybe less than I did, but still! ‘You wanna know the secret to immortality, young elf?’” she said, sounding like she was quoting someone as she leaned closer, “Never die!”
She laughed loudly and got off the seat, turning and blinking as she noticed Michael and Noriko. “MISHA!”
And then Michael was being hugged–Then they weren’t because they weren’t and they ignored the disappointed squawk Anaya let out as they stepped away.
“H-Hey! You phased! Cheater!” Anaya said, pointing at Michael, who kept their eyes very averted.
“…So you’re just hiding behind this gal now?” They were also not hiding behind Noriko. They’d stepped away, and now Noriko just happened to be between Michael and Anaya. No hiding was involved. “Hey Anaya–whmf!”
“Heya Noriiiii~! Misha won’t hug me…” Anaya pouted over at Michael, who felt it a little easier to look at the elf now that Noriko was partially covering her. Not really intentionally, the human was just being hugged…very closely. A tightly. While pressed against–Focus.
“Yeah, this gal noticed. And you’re being very huggy.”
“She’s drunk,” Michael muttered, earning a giggle from Anaya.
“Yup! Hey, I fixed a bunch of houses, made them into nice trees, so I deserve a little buzz! So no getting snippy, kay?”
“…I don’t get ‘snippy’.”
“Mm, yeah, you do.”
Their frown deepened, then they paused. “What happened to your antlers?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah, those fell out when I turned into a deer. Not sure why?” She rubbed her head where the antlers once were, frowning a little more thoughtfully. “Probably some beast magic thing. It might’ve also rearranged some stuff, though it didn’t screw up my leg, so that’s nice! Maybe because I used plant magic on it? Something like that, probably, maybe.”
They blinked, then shook their head, focusing on the important part. “You were affected by the Beast curse?”
“Yup! Turned into a deer in everything! Might be able to do it again, I think? Ah, that’s an important part! I think! The…ah, I had it…” She frowned, still holding onto Noriko, who gave her a slight pat on the shoulder.
“This gal’s sure you’ll figure it out when you’re not as drunk.”
“Pff, please, I can handle my alcohol just fine!”
“Yeah cuz clothes suck. Why do people put up with them?”
“Modesty,” Michael answered as Noriko replied with “Protection from the elements?”
“Mmm…Nori’s point is better. And she lets me hug her so that’s two points in her favor.” She smirked over at Michael. “Someone needs to catch up or she’s gonna lose~”
“…” It’s not a real competition. You don’t need to compete for it. You have more important things to do anyways, you should be checking in with Shiho or checking on the carriage or even finding out where the unicorns got off to–Then they saw the very obvious and deliberately smug smirk Noriko gave them as she leaned into Anaya’s hug and that line of thought was pushed off a cliff. “Anaya, would you like to meet a demigod?”
Her confused expression rapidly morphed into genuine shock, then giddy glee as Michael brought her over to Tigress, who had attracted a fair bit of attention, being a giant tiger with wings of lightning–”FLUFFY!”
Then Anaya was pressing herself into Tigress’s side and Michael had the brief moment to consider they may have made a mistake before the demigod glanced at Anaya, then raised an eyebrow at them.
“And you brought a drunk, cuddly nudist over to me…why?”
“…” They glanced at Noriko.
“…What? This gal’s not gonna say it, she knows how to keep secrets.”
“When it’s convenient.”
“You mean when it’s funny.” She gave Michael a thumbs up. “Don’t worry though, this gal bets you just scored a ton of points with Anaya! Unless they all went to Tigress. Which they might’ve, Anaya’s really getting in there.”
“…” Michael sighed, glancing over at Anaya. Who definitely was nuzzling into Tigress’s side, though the demigod fortunately seemed more amused than annoyed by her forwardness. “…Noriko, I mean no offense when I say this, but I take solace in the fact that I will finally be leaving your country very soon.”
“Mm, some taken, but this gal’s also gonna point out you’re still taking Anaya with you when you leave.”
At least she should be better once she’s sober. Even if it wasn’t all bad, at least we can finally leave this blasted country. Goodbye Gorokiva! May I never have to deal with your problems again!