Chapter 35 – Thrillseeker

Michael slammed the door shut, dropping every bag in their arms as their hands erupted in flames–

“Ah ah ha~!” the demon chided, wagging a gloved finger with a cheeky grin, her black teeth standing out against her purple flesh. A pair of golden eyes shone as she sat up, resting her hands on her knee as her gleaming gold hair fell loosely over her shoulders, only slightly parted by the twin horns sticking up from her head. “Don’t go trying anything hasty, Cardinal~ I know you’re not the type to hesitate, but you don’t want to kill the entire town, right~?”

Their flames burned brighter. “WHAT!?

“You heard me~ I dressed up nicely, all for you, and I’d hate to spoil the evening just yet~” She leaned back again, her hands drifting to the black lace of her corset– “Though the fact that you actually listened to a word I said probably means I’ve already hooked you, right~? Riiiiight~?”

“…” They took a breath and unclenched their fists, letting the flames die down. “Say your piece, demon.”

Her eyes widened and a laugh echoed out. “Holy shit, I did! Oh, oh wow, wow wow wow, this is a crazy feeling! Am I blushing? I feel like I’m blushing…” She held her face, giggling, before she slapped both cheeks. “Ah, focus! Focusing now, on you, who…wow, that’s an outfit.”

“What do you want?” Annoying. And why does she feel familiar?

“You, but we’ll get to that. Actually, let me relax a little, it’ll get annoying if I have to keep up the presence the whole time.” She grinned, before reaching behind herself and adjusting the pillows, laying them so she could recline properly. “Actually, before we start, why the hells did you go to a tomato town?”

“…What? Why is that relevant?”

“Because I was considering eating something seductively when you got in here, but the only really thematically appropriate things would be tomatoes or potatoes and those aren’t sexy to eat.”

Ah. So she’s insane. And also wrong, Michael was pretty sure. “Tomatoes could be seductive. They’re red and juicy.”

“…Of all the things I think you could’ve said to me, that genuinely caught me off guard, so congratulations. And, seriously, would I just bite into it? Is that what you’re thinking? Weird idea in general, but also specifically to me since I don’t like tomatoes, so shut up and let me get back on track here!”

“You were the one who wanted to talk about seductive eating–”

“Shhh! Sh sh, c’mon Mikey, let me talk! My turn to talk, alright? Talking time is mine!” She huffed, blowing a strand of hair from her face, and settled back again, folding her hands over her slim abdomen. “What was I even saying…Oh, right, of course, my big presentation~

She smirked, taking one of the pillows and placing down, before laying horizontally across the bed, her hand propped up on one hand while the other rested on her mostly bare hip, teasing the strap of her garter as she very deliberately emphasized her stocking-clad legs and barely covered chest. “Well hello, good Cardinal~ You have bested the horrid knights three that barred your way to the princess~! Now claim your prize~”

Michael raised an eyebrow. “…What do you actually want?”

And immediately her sultry smirk turned to a pout. “Aw c’mon, what’s with that?? I got dressed up in my good lingerie and everything! Isn’t it hypnotizing~?”

“Why would it be?”

“…Well it has spirals, and those are typically hypnotizing.”

Said spirals were in places Michael was studiously ignoring, so it wasn’t particularly effective. Spirals, purple, demonic…was there a Superbian like this? Though the golden eyes… They Looked deeper, their frown growing as they saw a rosy-golden aura, primarily of Greed but mixed with Lust and, indeed, tinges of Pride, but to a far lesser degree than any true Superbian. Avarician? Light, I fought this one before, what was her name?

“Ooo, peeking deeper at me now~? I didn’t take you for a voyeur, Mikey~” Ah, that was it.

“And I was under the impression I killed you, Leerer.”

“Oh you might’ve, just a little, but not enough–What.” Her tone went flat, her smile dropping as she sat up. “Who the fuck is ‘Leerer’ supposed to be?! Here I am, getting all dressed up for you, and you don’t even remember my title?! What, did you get me confused with another eternal nemesis?!?”

“I don’t have an eternal nemesis,” they retorted, then paused. The idea that sprung to mind was one they knew they probably shouldn’t say, because it would almost definitely enrage the demon. But also they wanted to do that, so. “Aside from Goldforge.”

For the briefest moment, there was a twitch in the demon’s expression, a brief flash of actual outrage that made it very obvious her previous anger was an act, before the demon settled back down. “Okay, fine, you called my bluff. It’s still super rude of you not to know who your nemesis is, meaning me, but fine, I might as well illuminate you.”

Michael caught the card the demon flicked at them and gave it a look. “‘Thrillseeker, Devil Prince of the Fourth Hell, see-oh of Mortal Acquisition…ilk? Tertiary President of Ibovei-Solum.’” They looked from the card to the demon. “You’re a daughter of Mordant.”

“Oh so that’s how you know me, huh? Ughhh, eesh, all you heroic types are the same, you only want me for my momma…” She sighed, then smirked. “Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure to remind you of all the fun times we had~”

“I don’t need reminding. I do remember you. You introduced yourself to me by nearly killing the hero party I was guiding.”

Immediately, she brightened, beaming. “Aw, you do remember~! Ah, that was a fun time~ One of my first jobs, my first real outing being summoned by a demon lord! And there I was, wild and ready to rip the skin from people!”

“So you were called Flayer then.”

Seeker paused, then clapped her hands together. “Right! Ah, fuck, no wonder you got confused! I changed my fancy name back when I decided seeking a life of fun was a better way to define myself~ I mean hey, I had a lot to live up to, especially since my older siblings already defined themselves so strongly, I mean seriously, how do you live up to Breaker and Crafter, the godmakers, hm? No wonder I jumped into a full edge…Could you imagine if I decided to call myself something like Ripper? It would’ve stuck and I would be sooo pissed about it.”

They nodded, not really paying attention to the more rambling parts of her speech. “Breaker and Crafter, then you, Seeker. And a fourth?”

“Hey now, we’re talking about me, remember? Though if you’re wondering about the set, yes, little Keeper’s still around too, and I’m pretty sure she still wants to kill your yellow sibling for that business in the Necropolis Maxima.”

“The walking corpse city was an abomination and even you demons should know it!”

Crawling corpse city, it crawled, come on, you need to remember these things. Even so, I will remind you we’re talking about me, not my siblings or crawling corpses.” 

“Hmph, fine then. Tell me what you have planned for this town.” 

“Aw, looking to ruin the surprise~? Well you’re gonna have to wait for that~ Well–” Smirking, she stretched out on the bed. “–unless you force me~.” 

A burst of flame wrapping around Michael’s arm was their only response. 

Seeker’s smirk widened. “You could at least wrap that around my throat~”

Michael grimaced. This was why they never liked dealing with Luxurians. Even if this one’s mostly Avarician. “So you’re working for the leviathans then.”

“Not playing along~? Shame, shame, but yes, I am~ You already met my Tangerine, right~?”

They raised an eyebrow. “Why would I meet a fruit?”

“Because she’s good company? Very fun to mess with, though all my Eights are. Anyhow, she’s the one that was working for Kozzy, the one who punched the daimyo’s daughter, abducted her, all those fun things. And then you let her go! You, the angel, the cardinal, grand protector of mortals and defender of the light, let a filthy demonic kidnapper go, right on your watch! You remember that, right~?”

Their hand went around her throat. “If you say any variation of ‘harder’, I will burn you alive here and now. Tell. Me. Everything.

“Don’t threaten me with a good time~” She still smiled, a gleam of excitement and desire in her eyes. “Seriously, I’ve had fantasies that went exactly like this, though you weren’t dressed like an idiot, so-”

Their grip tightened as their flames burned hotter. “If the next words out of your mouth–”

“Honey, honey, don’t try to play this game, I’ll always win at it~ Did you know torture’s no good for getting information~? It’s only for the sake of the torturer, for their pleasure and enjoyment, and if they don’t enjoy it, it’s completely pointless~ You can’t trust any information given under duress and pain breaks, it doesn’t bend, so either you deal with wills of iron that will never crack or sloppy glass that’ll sooner cut you than help you~” Michael caught her hand as it drifted to their side, their scowl deepening as she smiled. “And it really won’t work if your victim loves the position they’re in~ There’s a reason Violence and Lust are shades of the same color~ 

“But if you really want to know, it’s destiny, Mikey~ To have this job come to me while you’re out here, righting wrongs and wronging the rightful, it’s all fate at work~” She licked her lips, even as they pinned her hand to the bed, and they could feel her other hand start to stroke their unprotected side. “Same as when we first met, you’re out to destroy my employers, and I’m here to fuck with you~ So squeeze harder, darling, because I’m going to love every moment~”

Her voice drifted into a soft purr, her eyes bright, somehow reminding the angel of a whirlpool, twisting and turning as it pulled them–

“MISHI, WE’RE BACK! AND WE BRING SNACK–” Noriko’s mouth audibly clicked shut as Michael felt their flames cut out completely.

For some reason, they could feel their face heating up as they turned to look at Noriko and Anaya, the former staring wide-eyed while the latter looked like she was trying not to laugh. “…This is a demon.”

“…yeah, uh, this gal can see that. Most people aren’t purple. She’s…more kinda curious why you’re straddling her instead of doing your usual thing.”

“I was interrogating her.”

“…” Noriko nodded, slowly, then lowered her mask and took a bite of the fried potato she was holding. She chewed, then made a little gesture with the hand holding her bag of snacks. “You can keep going.”

“…th…th-thank you?” For some reason, they were feeling even more awkward…

Anaya set her bags down then clapped her hands, not at all hiding her smile now. “Right! Misha, you should introduce us to the demon, please.”

“…Anaya, Noriko, this is Seeker–”

“Thrillseeker for full, but friends of Mikey’s can call me Seeker if they want~” Seeker said, smiling back even with Michael’s hand still around her neck, “Though, hang on, I distinctly hear a different name here! Mikey goes by Misha now? Since when? Why didn’t you tell me, your demonic lover?”

“WHAT!? Y-You are not–”

“Holy shit you actually blushed, ha!” Michael blinked as they suddenly lost their grip, a rush of wind passing them before they turned to see Seeker standing and facing Noriko and Anaya, her demonic tail swaying as she smirked back at them. “Did you forget I could do that~? Because I can do that~”

They scowled, their hand balling into a fist, before Anaya cleared her throat. “So, just so I’m sure I’m getting this right, you’re an old enemy of Misha’s here to cause trouble.”

Seeker paused, before chuckling as she faced the druid. “Oh cute, you’re actually paying attention~ How fun! Yes, I’m Michael’s nemesis, their archenemy, the Demonic Winds of Fortune, she who grants and takes with the breeze, Thrillseeker~!”

Anaya quirked an eyebrow, still smiling. “Her nemesis, who shows up in her bedroom, wearing a thong?”

“Hey, I’m wearing a good amount more than just that, but yes, duh. Haven’t you ever had a nemesis?”

“Well there was that one…not really.”

“This gal hasn’t either,” Noriko chimed in.

“That’s super sad for both of you and I might decide to help you out with that now, but for now, you two should shoo, because I’m pretty sure I was getting that tension to turn sexual–”

“You were not,” Michael immediately denied.

“Semantics, my point being–”

“So you’re working for the leviathans, and you sent the knights, right?” Anaya asked.

“So many people interrupting me today, so so so rude, really, but yes to both of those, I am employed by the Cult of the Deep or whatever they want to call themselves, and I am very responsible for the trio of knights that gave you trouble. Why, you may ask?” She bent back, grinning straight at Michael. “To fuck with Mikey~”

The angel scowled at the demon, whose smile went even wider before she snapped back into place.

“That, and it helps advertising.”

“Advertising?”

“I’m glad you asked~!” And in an instant she was back on the bed, cross-legged and posing with one arm holding the forearm of the other. She flicked her free hand, bringing a card out, and turned it to show a familiar knight in all black printed on it. “Behold, the first print of Woeful Workshop’s new Devil’s Deck series, now with printed souls for any aspiring malefactor looking to summon their own monsters on the go, no extra steps needed, no muss or fuss, just sling the card and bring the monstrosity!” Her hand flicked again, bringing out two more cards showing images of Percel and Gale. “Now including the Knight & Knaves starter pack!”

“…You’re selling monsters in card form?” Anaya asked as Michael’s glare deepened. They were tempted to set the demonic cards ablaze–

“Not just me, it’s a big project all around, very big, but don’t go thinking it’s an easy problem either, my cute foes~! Because there’s copies~” She flicked her hand a third time, and now there were three of each card in her hand. “So you can’t just off my monstrosities permanently anymore like poor Gutter and Cleaver~ Shame those two went into early production, but Kozzy did provide a good test ground, so all’s good~! But wait, what’s that I see? Could that be skepticism on the faces of my foes? Scorn? Contempt~? Maybe, might be, could be but not to worry, my fearless foes, because I do have a plan, a plot, and a fun way to spend the night ready for all of you~”

Michael snarled, their fists bursting into flames again. “Don’t you dare–!”

“Ah ah ah, now now Mikey Mishy, you missed the shot you didn’t take, but don’t worry, I’m not in this to kill any hapless halflings or halfwit heroes! I’m just in it for some fun~” Seeker flicked her hand one more time and placed the hat she formed atop her head. She had a playful smirk on her face as spirals wove their way across her skin. “Call it a game, one everyone interested gets to play! Though I doubt very few won’t be interested in it, especially with all the many, many prizes~.” 

“Spare us the theatrics!” 

“Hmph, never one for foreplay are you, Mikey?” With an overdramatic pout, Seeker stood up, before bringing out a card, a robed figure upon it and a glowing red moon printed behind them. “As I said, it’s a competition of sorts, where you three and anyone who wishes to involve themselves score points by defeating the horrid undead horde, with prizes and fame galore, and trust me Mikey–” With a grin, she winked at the angel. “–you’ll definitely want the grand prize~”

“And what’s stopping me from just killing you here?!” 

“I thought I said don’t threaten me with a good time~ And well, I’m sure you could, buuuut~” Smirking, she gestured around her. “How many people will be able to escape before our battle destroys this town~?” 

“…You can’t seriously expect for me to let you unleash an undead horde upon these people.” 

“Mikey, Mikey, I told you, it’s all a game~! Any and all curses that will spread with the game will be reversed once it ends, no permanent consequences for something meant to be fun~! Well, provided you win of course, if you somehow end up losing and become an undead yourself, well, I’m sure an Undead Angel card will prove quite the sale~.” Smirking, she put away the card. “Oh, and don’t try and ask for backup, I have no interest in your siblings. If you do, well, it’ll only be right that I call for backup as well~.”

A bluff no doubt. An Avarician like her would never want to share. Yet, even though Michael knew that for certain, they could feel themself…hesitating. …It’s because this is my mission. There’s no need to involve my siblings.

“Just to check though,” Anaya spoke up, making Seeker grimace at the interruption, “You’re saying all of us can be involved, right? There’s no penalties or harm being done if someone interferes with your ‘game’?”

“Interference is part of the game, babe, no need to worry your elfy head about it!”

“I see, thank you for being so candid.” And in an instant, several vines erupted from the floor and wrapped tight around Seeker as Noriko lunged forward, her silvered blade gleaming as it went straight for–

“Nnnhhh~ Oh, that’s a good feeling~ No wonder you like this one, Mikey, I always knew you were the kinky type~” Seeker chuckled, her voice echoing through the room as she held the blade in between her teeth. Her smile was all too evident as she stared down into Noriko’s wide eyes. “Nice effort, but I gotta ask, do you really think I would’ve been monologuing this whole time if there was any way in the slightest that you could’ve stopped me~?”

A sudden shriek sounded out from outside, startled and fearful, and Seeker’s laughter echoed in the room as she melted into the wind. 

“…Okay, this gal thought silver was supposed to hurt demons,” Noriko muttered, but Michael didn’t reply as they immediately phased through the building to the outside, their wings unfurling as they–Wait, should I be hiding that? Augh, blast it, hide them for now, if things get worse you need to bring them out!

They dropped to the ground, acting as though they hadn’t just flown, and looked around. Charlie was parked by the inn, but more significantly, the sky was completely black, the moon was gleaming an orangish-red, and there were human-sized zombies shambling through the streets so they formed a spear and threw it straight through the head of one lunging for a fearful halfing.

Even as the undead monster exploded into ash, Michael was already turning, their eyes scanning the area as festivalgoers were caught unawares by the sudden surge of undead threats. 

“Everyone, do not panic! All civilians should retreat to the safety of their homes or the inns! Anyone who can fight, arm yourselves and focus on defending!” Their voice cut through the panic, steadying people who may have otherwise broken and run. More voices filled the air as people started calling out to one another and the adventurers who played defender earlier that day rallied, gathering up weapons and moving to protect the civilians while Michael rushed through the crowd, decapitating and blasting any undead they saw. 

Fortunately, the wretched monsters seemed surprisingly weak. Their rotten, green flesh barely clung to their yellow bones and their eyes were like black pits with green lights peering out of their bald heads. A hard enough strike saw them falling to pieces and crumbling into dirt and mold, the torn clothes hanging from their frames blowing away in loose scraps.

And before Michael knew it, the town actually looked clear. They frowned as cheers rose up, right after the last zombie was blasted to pieces by a bolt of thunder, before their gaze turned towards the darkened sky and the gleaming moon overhead. And the trio of figures standing in front of its glowing surface.

“Good evening, good people of Rikfield!” Seeker’s voice echoed through the town, carrying on the breeze and amplified so it could be heard by every listener, “Great work on your victory there! I knew you awesome adventurers could handle yourselves, but don’t worry, there’s more to come~!

The grinning demon thankfully dressed herself, though her choice of clothes was a strange one. A shoulderless purple ballgown draped over her thin frame, darker than the hue of her spiral-covered skin, and her simple black gloves had lengthened past her elbows. A dark crown sat on her head, nestled between her horns, and she held a dark masquerade mask to cover the upper half of her face, her eyes shielded from view. “Now you may be wondering, what in the world is going on? Were those actual undead attacking us? Are we in danger? And the answers to those are mostly positive, but the first one’s an easy one: You’re all playing a game tonight! 

“For you see, I learned of the fun tradition this town has, bringing in adventurers to fight simple foes, and I thought I should add to it! So here we are, playing the game of survival and victory against all odds on the Night of Blight! Sponsored by the Wondrous Workshop and put on by us at Many Acquisitions~!” She gestured and the two figures at her sides–both dressed similarly in suits and helms, and one of whom Michael recognized as the demon in orange that abducted Shiho–stepped forward, unfurling demonic scrolls that floated upward and expanded, shining crimson in the night.

“Hey, what did we miss?” Noriko asked as she appeared at Michael’s side, followed by a slightly winded Anaya, who muttered something about needing to run more.

“Seeker is hosting some kind of game.” They frowned, staring up at the scrolls. One read “Leaderboard” and showed a number of names with numbers listed beside them, with Michael’s name–specifically “Misha”, rather than “Michael”–up at the top, while the other read “Point Totals” and showed more names with numbers, though for some reason it began with “Round 1” and “Shamblers – 1pt”.

“Huh. And you’re not punching her in the face right now because…?”

It was a good question. One Anaya answered for them. “Let’s not launch straight into a fight with a demon prince, especially one that’s been open so far about how willing she is to kill everyone around here if she’s pushed.” She put a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I’m sure you could beat her, but I think she’s strong enough that a lot of people could die if we don’t play this right.”

“…You’re right. If things escalate though, and people start dying–”

“Then go wild.”

They nodded, then turned towards Seeker’s speech, where the demon had just explained that only those on the “field of battle” would be targeted by the undead. “And don’t worry if you get bit! Blight might bite, but we’re taking precautions here! No one stays infected, and anyone harmed will regain their halfinity, humanity, and general mortality once the game’s won!” 

“Meaning we’re screwed if we lose the game,” Noriko noted, though few of the people around seemed to notice that caveat, judging by the excited chatter. Especially as the orange demon–Tangerine, Seeker called her–unfurled a third scroll that displayed the words “Prize List”. “…hm. This gal kinda wants to know what the ‘Mystery Prize’ for first place is though…”

“And for some added fun, we have a special monster in the mix!” Seeker flicked a card out, summoning a robed figure in a skull mask. There were some gasps at the sudden summoning, though more people sounded excited than properly wary. “If ever you want to end a round early and get things moving along, go after the necromancer here! There’s always one per round, and our cute skully buddy here is worth a whopping one hundred points! So keep on the lookout!”

In a flash, the monster vanished, and Seeker let go of her mask, letting it float in place as she clapped her hands together. “Now, let the game begin!”

A burst of green sparks like fireworks erupted up in the air, and instantly the town was filled by the sounds of groans and tearing stone as zombies began to rip their way out of the streets, though what holes they made sealed themselves up right after the monsters got to their feet.

And immediately, the second round showed far less leniency than the first as a second type of zombies joined the first, a blue variant that were far faster and more vicious, while the first type–the “Shamblers”–appeared in far greater numbers than before.

Thankfully, with everyone more prepared, they managed to deal with the second round with relative ease, as Anaya began to form barriers made of vines to funnel the undead, and Noriko was able to swiftly dispatch the sprinters as she dashed through them. It also seemed like most if not all the adventurers there knew how to deal with the undead, as they made sure to cover their limbs as best as they could while using longer weapons to keep them at a distance. 

“In case anyone gets bitten, restrain them immediately! Even if the curse gets reversed once this ends, any damage they might receive if we fight them will likely be permanent!” As they said that, Michael began to subtly shift their skin back into their natural marble form to provide defense against the bites. A shirt and shorts weren’t exactly conducive to defense.

“Make sure to stay in groups!” Noriko chimed in, slicing the head off a Sprinter–marked on the point list as worth two points–as they rushed her. “Weak or not, you don’t want to be surrounded by these!” 

And as the last of the Shamblers fell, the boom of the fireworks echoed again, followed by a declaration from the more purple one of Seeker’s assistants, “Round Three!”

In an instant, more monsters appeared, ripping their way out of the ground, and the green Shamblers and blue Sprinters were joined by jaundiced yellow Leapers, which, as the name implied, leapt straight from the ground at whoever they saw as the easiest target.

One adventurer actually fell then, pinned to the ground under a Leaper that bit into his shoulder before another fighter took its head off with an axe swing. The adventurer clutched his bitten shoulder, hissing in pain, before a cleric pressed a hand to his wound and sealed it up. Michael watched for a moment, checking to see if the man would be overcome, but the sickly gleam of Blight spread slowly, enough for the man to accept being restrained and brought away from the other defenders so he wouldn’t be a threat.

It was a softer touch than Michael expected, though, really, this entire business was strange for a demon. That Seeker would actually let civilians stay inside, away from the danger, and hold to that rule…some demons had an odd sense of fairplay and the more arrogant ones often did add rules and limitations to themselves to keep things interesting, so maybe it was just that. But Michael couldn’t help feel like there was something more to this “game”–

“Round four!” the assistant called out as a stumbling Shambler was crushed under hammer by a rather large, partially armored individual, and Michael had to focus as the next batch of monstrosities erupted from the earth.

More this time; there were three new variants entering the fray, each varying in colors, though where the “Bleeders” bled from every orifice and charged with clawed hands and sharper teeth and the “Spitters” spat globs of corrosive slime while leaking more acid from their distended bellies, the “Weepers” presented a unique problem by wailing loudly to draw other monsters to them, their howls almost coordinating the increasingly large masses of undead. 

“Target their leaders!” “Find the necromancer!” some adventurers called out. It wasn’t a bad idea; killing the necromancer would end the round, but people were starting to split off instead of staying together, trying to find the monster that could end things more easily.

Noriko was still doing well, leaving a trail of heads in her wake, and Anaya was hanging back, staying as support, healing those who needed it and blocking off the zombies with sprouting plants. Michael almost smiled to see they were fine, but they had to keep their focus as they unleashed more and more flames upon the undead horde.

Then the announcement of “Necromancer slain! Round Five!” ruined that plan, because the monstrosities that erupted from the ground next were wreathed in flames. Not only that, but far larger zombies had joined the fray too, hulking brutes quite literally called Hulkers.

“Fire mages to the back!” another adventurer called out, armored in all white like a–and Michael felt their eye twitch to see this–gallant knight as they blocked back the hordes with a heavy shield and stabbed at them with a spear, “Grab a different weapon if your stuff won’t work! Ice mages, water mages, up front!”

“So this isn’t going great, huh?” Anaya asked as Michael–entirely of their own volition and not on the advice of anyone–moved to the backline. 

“The rounds are progressing. That they’re adapting to our tactics is worrying though. There’s also far more of these creatures than any intact corpses that could have been buried on these lands, so they’re summoning them, somehow.”

“With those cards?”

“Maybe. There’s something more here…” They looked up at the sky, frowning. “It shouldn’t have turned this dark this quickly, it’s summer…”

“Hm…could it be some kind of effect? Something Seeker could be doing?”

“She can’t turn day to night, she’s not that powerful.” At least they were fairly certain she wasn’t. But there was definitely something–

“Necromancer slain! Round Six!” Light above, it’s like she’s timing it specifically to ruin my line of thought…

It seemed the adaptations were continuing though, as the next batch of the dead continued the countering theme by now including lines of iced over undead that cracked with each step and electrified zombies that twitched with crackling lightning. Almost reminds me of Amitiel–no, that’s mean…Almost reminds me of Kokriel.

Oh, and there were more very large zombies too, now in a bluer variant. More bulky than hulky, or so the “Bulker” name implied, and adding into that mix were some truly unpleasant crawling zombies that scrambled under defenses and bit at ankles. Not too hard to crush down with a well-placed stomp, but another added pain to an increasingly hectic situation. 

More adventurers were going down, some convulsing as blight wracked their bodies, but the ones that still fought did so with obvious experience. 

“Hey Mishi!” Ah, Noriko’s here now. The human seemed pretty happy as she dove in, impaling a Bulker straight through the head with her katana and riding the monstrosity down as it dissolved into soil. “How’s it been on the defending line?”

“Annoying. The ‘Scorchers’ are difficult for me to affect.” They’d picked up an actual physical spear to compensate after one of their normal ones crumbled into embers when they tried to impale one of the blazing zombies.

“Oh yeah, they probably would. Dang, that sucks, but hey, this gal met some fun people! Like this one sunlander who’s apparently a werelion–” She ducked and Michael impaled the lunging Bleeder straight through its open mouth. “–and I think her boyfriend’s an orc? Not sure if he’s sunlander or darklander, but this gal knows they’re touring or something like that.” 

She drove her blade backwards, catching a Scrambler through the skull as Michael nodded. “Right. Good for you?”

“Yeah, pretty good! Oh, and this gal killed the necromancer one of those times, my new buddy got the round fiver, so this gal’s pretty sure she’s doing good on the top list! Probably better than you~”

Michael frowned as they launched a bolt of flame straight through a Hulker’s head, burning it to ash on the spot. “It’s not a competition.”

“Nah, pretty sure it is, your demon girlfriend said so.”

“She’s not–!”

“Necromancer slain! Round Seven!”

Michael scowled, then gripped a long, pink–Is that a tongue?

It was. The new pink skinned zombies pulling their way out of the ground were apparently called Lickers, and Michael noticed Noriko immediately shuddering at the sight. “Oh ew ew ew, fuck no, that’s the worst–”

“I thought it was a game?”

“It being a game doesn’t mean those things aren’t gross!” They were fairly disgusting, especially with the extra tongues protruding from mouths on their palms and torsos, but Michael still smirked at Noriko’s visible shudder. “Euuugh, I don’t even want to get near those…”

“You have magic–”

“Yeah and this gal’s gonna use it to end the round early!” she shouted, before leaping up, using a Bulker for a footstool–while making sure to drive her sword into the demon’s head on the way–and getting up to the rooftops. She sprinted forward, aiming for a cloaked figure floating above one house, then yelped as Michael casually blasted the necromancer to pieces. “YOU CHEAP KILL-STEALER!”

“Heh.” Michael smiled to themself as the zombies around crumbled into ash, then frowned when the assistant spoke again.

“Necromancer slain! Round Eight begins! Bosses inbound!” Bosses? What does she mean–

Thousands of years of reflexes brought the spear they held up just in time to catch the metal claws being driven towards their face by a new monstrosity. Each one of its fingers was a sharp, steel blade and they could hear it giggling even as it tried to force its claws forward. A mask of stitched leather covered its face, with a single hole showing its gleaming red eye. 

As best as Michael could tell, it might’ve been a human woman at some point, though its body was completely covered in deep burn scars that gave it a ghastly, mottled, pinkish hue. Dark hair spilled from its head, though it gleamed almost reddish in the lantern light, while a scarlet tabard looked to be the only thing covering its charred body. 

Then it vanished in a burst of smoke and Michael twisted, smashing the creature in the head with the butt of their spear. Stupid teleporters always warp in from behind–

A looming shadow was their one warning before a hammer smashed down where they were. If they hadn’t moved, the mass of steel wielded by the enormous undead would have crushed them on the spot. 

The new monster looked like one of the other larger zombies, broad-shouldered and muscular, though its skin was a mottled mix of pale blue and mossy green, torn in some places and visibly waterlogged in others. It wore a sack over its head with a single blue eye visible through a torn hole on the left side and only a pair of torn pants covered its rotted modesty. The monster didn’t care for that though, instead drawing its hammer back up to its shoulder with a vicious snarl, its gloved hands clutching the wood tight enough to crack before a booted foot slammed on the ground heavy enough to shake it. And to break it open, for more zombies to start crawling from the depths beneath it.

“So those would be the bosses then,” the knight from earlier muttered, sounding about as annoyed as Michael felt, “Slasher and Splatter, according to the scroll. Have any ideas for how to deal with them, tomato girl?”

“I’m not–” Michael frowned. “That is not my name, annoying knight.”

Sir annoying knight, thank you very much. Big guy seems watery, the flashy gal seems fiery, which would you handle better?”

Their frown lightened somewhat at the professional tone, if not the casual words, before they looked at “Splatter”. “That one–”

Then an arrow went straight into Splatter’s eye and the knight laughed as the monster howled. “Ah, right, active battlefield, not really the place for planning.”

“Then shut up and get to fighting!” With its vision now impaired, Splatter began to swing wildly–hitting more undead than those alive, fortunately–leaving itself open for Michael to charge forward to attack. Ducking under its hammer, they stabbed its leg, cleaving the limb off and making it fall forward, before they turned and–And frowned as Noriko landed atop the undead monster. More specifically, landed on her sword as it pierced through Splatter’s skull. “…Hypocrite.”

“What? Turnabout is fair play~!” she teased, before flinging a ringed knife past Michael’s head and through Slasher’s skull. The clawed zombie twitched in place, before dropping and exploding into ash. “And this gal’s pretty sure she’s ahead of you~!”

“You already said that.”

“Yeah but now she’s got a super big lead, soooo–”

“Round Nine.”

Noriko blinked, then frowned at the sudden silence. She looked around, then up, the same time as Michael. And even with her mask, it was obvious that Noriko’s jaw dropped. “…oh that’s not fair.”

Staring down at them from the rooftops were several Slashers. Dozens, at least, all leering down at the remaining defenders, their claws gleaming in the moonlight. Then every single one of them vanished in puffs of smoke and Michael swung, decapitating three with one heavy swipe as the ground around them erupted and the largest of the zombies yet ripped its way out. Of all of the hulking brutes, it was a massive beast, a patchwork of flesh and fur with a bear’s head, joined by hideous parodies of lycans, crafted from a mix of rotting human and wolfish bodies. 

They howled hideously right before Michael’s flames washed over all of them, a snarl on the angel’s lips as they seared the monstrosities down to crumbling bones, but the largest beast stood steady, instead charging forward and smashing its palm through the spear Michael stabbed upwards.

They scowled as it snarled, holding the beast back through sheer force of rage before the knight from before pierced into its chest and Noriko lopped its head off. For good measure though, Michael shoved their hand into the open wound as the knight pulled back and burnt the monstrosity to embers before it could even fall.

“This gal would ask who gets that one, but–” Noriko turned, cutting another Slasher in half as two more got arrows through their crimson eyes. “Oh hey, thanks Vonne!”

“No trouble, Nori! Keep your eyes out though!” shouted back some woman Michael didn’t know.

“That’s Yvonne,” Noriko answered to Michael’s questioning gaze, “The lion lady this gal mentioned earlier, she’s nice, this gal can introduce you later–”

Pushing Noriko to the side, Michael was able to deflect a Slasher’s attack before a pain of vines wrapped around it, tossing the undead back towards the others.

“Pleasantries later, focus on the fight!” Michael said as Anaya came up, the three of them pressing their backs to one another. But before the horde could descend upon them, a mass of vines sprouted up, shielding the three, if but for a minute or two. 

“Hey Misha, your nemesis didn’t happen to say how many rounds there are, did she?” Noriko asked, wiping down her blade during the reprieve.

“No, and I have a feeling this isn’t going to stop until she’s satisfied.” 

“Well this gal’s still good and raring to go! What about you, Anaya?” 

“Well that halfling from before was nice enough to hand me a crossbow, so I’ll be able to fight for a bit longer at least.” Sighing as she loaded it up, Anaya glanced up at the streams of red light coming through the vines that were quickly being torn apart by the more vicious zombies. “…Hey Misha, do you remember that undead card Seeker showed us?”

“What about it?”

“Well, I think I have an idea, so please cover me for a bit.” And as a Slasher broke through the defenses, Noriko and Michael stabbed straight into it, pushing the body back as Anaya aimed high and true. The bolt gleamed with a green light as the faint scent of grass filled the air, brighter and more natural than the rotten glimmer of the undead.

Though before she could fire, the zombies around them burst into dust. Confusion filled the trio, before the attendant’s voice spoke once more. “Necromancer slain. Round Ten Begins. Boss incoming.”

There was a rush of wind as lanterns and candles went out. Every last one of them swept dark in an instant, casting the entire street into pitch darkness. A stale, cloying reek of long-progressed decay filled the air before a crimson light shone down from the moon, illuminating a figure.

She stood tall, looming over the gathered defenders. Her hands and feet were bare, raw, and red, exposed muscle showing clearly in the moonlight. A cloak covered her, one woven from dozens of animal furs, stitched together in a patchwork of skin. A yellow-toothed smile graced her skinless face, the lower half of which showed through her furred hood. 

Of all the creatures thus far, she exuded genuine evil to a degree that Michael couldn’t help but step forward, their hands lighting with a holy flame. And the monster’s smile only widened as shimmering blight began to course over her flayed hands and formed into wicked carving knives, her expression showing nothing more than eager anticipation.

The slight twang of a crossbow going off cut through the still air, along with the sound of breaking glass. Then a piece of red stone dropped in front of Michael and they blinked, whatever atmosphere there completely broken as the monster’s smile visibly faltered. Then a chunk of moon slammed straight through said monster’s head, crushing her into the ground in an instant as the entire sky seemed to shudder and twitch. 

A look upward showed that the gleaming moon overhead had a bolt sticking right into it. Deep into it, causing cracks and geysers to spread across its surface, though, instead of exploding into a massive eruption of stone or something, it started crumpling in on itself, making a rather sad deflating noise as it seemed to slump, before the deep blackness of the false night abruptly popped. Really, that was the only way to describe it; it just popped, pieces of night fluttering down like strips of fabric as the sky turned back to the natural shades of early evening. The sun hadn’t even set yet…

Michael paused as they heard an alarmed noise, then looked back towards the crushed, twitching “boss” zombie, who, as it turned out, was standing at the front of a genuine army of the undead stretching far through the streets of the town. And which were visibly starting to crumble and dissolve where they stood, all the magic animating them vanishing without the moonlight to maintain it.

“…huh.” Noriko slapped a surprised looking Anaya on the back, earning a yelp from the elf. “Nice work, Naya!”

That seemed to be the signal for the defenders to break out of their stunned silence and start cheering. Really, there was a lot of cheering, especially as the townsfolk started pouring out of their houses to join in the festivities, freeing those that were once blighted but now cured and celebrating loudly as Anaya was hoisted up on the knight’s shoulders.

Michael almost smiled at the sight, especially at Anaya’s startled laughter and the pink tinge to her face, though their expression turned sour as one set of applause echoed far louder than all others.

“CONGRATULATIONS, BRAVE DEFENDERS!” Seeker announced, stepping down from the air as though walking down a staircase before striding straight past Michael, though not without the angel noticing how strained the masked demon’s smile looked, “You’ve really done it! You beat my challenge! Earlier than I expected, even! Which is great! Super good! So good for all of you! Just the best! But you don’t want to hear me ramble on about disrupted ideas and congratulatory grandstandings, you want your prizes!” 

With a clap of her hands, the leaderboard came down, letting everyone see the rankings. Though only the top five were apparent.

  1. Anaya 
  2. Noriko
  3. Misha
  4. Ortrux
  5. Morthru

“Will our five brave winners please step forward!” 

Michael found themselves quite happy that they weren’t the only one still keeping their guard up as no one approached her. 

“…Honestly, it’s like you don’t even want your prizes. Regardless, here they are!” With a flick of her wrist, four cards were thrown out as the second to fifth place winners received their rewards. Looking at the card they received, Michael was able to see a finely crafted spear made of bone, an aura of Blight surrounding it. They then set the card ablaze. “As for six through ten, all of you shall receive a card, that you are not allowed to choose or trade or you will suffer the consequences. As for the rest, here.” 

With a wave of her hand, the Seeker’s two demonic assistants held out a large conjured box, before tossing it to the crowd. As it spilled over, a pile of shirts fell out, letting Michael see what was lazily scrawled on them.

‘I survived an undead apocalypse and all I got was this shirt.’ …Somehow worse than the novelty shirts Anaya bought.

“Now then, with that done, I shall allow you to return to your–” 

“Excuse me, I do believe there was a mystery prize I haven’t received,” Anaya spoke up, earning an alarmed look from a confounded Michael, who genuinely had no idea why the elf would even want anything from a demon. 

And Seeker seemed to agree, judging by the immensely displeased look she didn’t even bother to hide.

“…Fiiiiiiine, fine, fine fine fine, I’ll get to it…” For some reason, she shot a glare at Michael. “Honestly, why couldn’t you have won Mikey?” 

It’s your fault for setting up such an asinine game in the first place, Michael internally grumbled as they watched the demon walking towards Anaya, before the demon grabbed her hand and pulled her in close–

Feeling their face flush with heat, Michael quickly pulled Anaya away from Seeker. “W-What was that!?”

“The mystery prize, Mikey~ Why, jealous~?” Seeker smirked–

“Was that it?” 

Michael paused, then glanced at Anaya, who looked extremely unimpressed. “I had more passionate kisses when I was a teenager, what was that weak shit?”

“…” On the one hand, Michael wasn’t exactly pleased by Anaya’s response, especially with how casually she was taking the demon kissing her. On the cheek, admittedly, but still! On the other, it was kinda funny seeing Seeker’s smile twitching in an enraged rictus. “…well it wasn’t intended for you, now was it?”

“So you didn’t plan at all for someone else to take first prize.” Anaya sniffed dismissively, glancing away in an uncharacteristic haughtiness. “Half-ass.”

Part of Seeker’s mask cracked. “…Half what now?”

“Hey!” Noriko suddenly shouted, catching their attention, “You didn’t include the big lady!”

Wait, what are those cards– “Wh-Noriko! Don’t start looking through the demon deck!”

“It’s my prize, this gal should get to look at it! Now c’mon, where’s the big skinless lady??”

“Oh, that.” Seeker’s twitching smile smoothed to a more natural smirk as she brought up the prize list. “Well, if you look here, you might notice a little something you should’ve seen earlier~”

“Hmph.” Noriko walked on up, looked at the asterisk beside the words “2nd Prize – Deck of the Undead!”, and bent to study the tiny print at the bottom. “…’of the undead only contains the undead defeated during the contest’–Hey! We beat her though!”

“Nope, round ended before then, so fuck off. Take it up with complaints if you want to whine,” the demon replied while gesturing towards her own upraised middle finger, “‘Hi, I’m the complaint’s department, go fuck yourself you mortal shits!’”

“…Misha, your girlfriend sucks.”

“SHE IS NOT–No. No, I am not doing that.” Michael simply took a breath, steadied herself, then nodded to Seeker. “The orange one is Tangerine, right?”

“Eh? Yeah, why–”

And they promptly stepped past her and punched the helmeted devil straight in the face, smashing said helmet into pieces as they sent “Tangerine” blasting off into the sky. Michael watched for the faint twinkle in the distance before they turned back towards the demon prince, allowing themself a smirk. “There. You did say I ‘let her go’ earlier.”

“…gods you’re hot.”

“What.”

“What? Nothing. Bye.” And thus the demon vanished, the day was saved, and a great deal of people were just kind of staring at Michael.

“…What? Go back to celebrating. Day was won or whatever.”

Anaya sighed, for some reason, before clapping her hands and grinning as she turned to the crowds. 

“So, are there still some of those tato’s and mato’s from earlier? Cause I’m starving!” 

As much as they hated to admit it, Michael was hungry as well. Apparently slaying undead hordes worked up an appetite. Who knew?

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