Among the many things Michael learned during their time in the mortal realms–most of it completely useless and trivial–one of the more helpful was the fact that all mortals needed rest. Or at least most of the ones they met.
Something about mortal bodies just meant that they could get tired, exhausted, weary, etc. and that weariness meant they needed time to rest. This universal experience led to a certain idea amongst mortal populations that an individual who required rest should have their need politely respected, depending on the social situation. So when Michael stated that, rather than spend their time engaging in all the reveries of a town that had just survived a zombie attack, they felt tired and required sleep, they felt they should be allowed to head off and get that rest.
It seemed in a town that worshipped tomato and potatoes, manners weren’t high up in things of importance.
With the celebrations going on around them, Michael found themself unable to go to the room they rented, as anytime they tried to stand up, someone made them sit right back down with an offering of new foods. Sighing as they munched on cooked tomato slices with cheese on top, the angel deeply wished there was more variety to the food here.
“Hey Mish, this is who this gal was talking about!” Noriko shouted as she came up with an orc and someone Michael assumed was the werelion–or leothrope–she mentioned before. “Yvonne, Ortrux, this is Misha, the paladin on that quest this gal was talking about.”
“Nice to meet you!” began the grinning dark-skinned woman, her coarse, sandy-blonde hair cropped close to her head. Her sharp teeth showed clearly in her easy smile and she stood about height with Michael. Or, well, sat, at the moment. Other than that, she was wearing a furred vest–maybe lionskin from the color–with an undershirt, beaded armbands at her solid biceps, and loose, cream-colored pants. “Nori’s a nice girl, it’s good to meet her friends!”
“…Yes, er…likewise,” Michael mumbled, their eyes drifting from Yvonne to her partner, a large, broad orc wearing mostly chainmail and a few armor pieces. He nodded at their gaze, before reaching up and removing his helm to show the visage of a clean-shaven, green-skinned orc with his receding copper hair tied back in a short tail.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he greeted in turn, his voice deep and rumbling, “Noriko introduced us, but for clarity, my name is Monqua Ortrux, and this is my partner, Yvonne Kalonji.”
“I can introduce myself, Orti,” Yvonne chided with a smile.
“Oh, you were the one who was in fourth place,” Michael mentioned, remembering the rankings. Hm…was that annoying knight named Morthru?
“Egh, don’t remind us.” Yvonne said, clearly dismayed. “I did so much work and I didn’t even get in the top five! What type of bullshit is that?”
“…You wanted to rank higher in a game run by a demon?”
“It’s a matter of pride, dammit!”
“Pride is a sin-” Pausing, Michael looked over at Noriko, who had copied them as they spoke. The human just gave them a cheery wave. “…The prize you won is likely cursed, I would recommend destroying it.”
“Do not worry, I plan on doing so after studying it,” Ortrux explained, “As dangerous as these cards may be, we may learn something from it, including how their storing method works.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Michael muttered, far too tired to argue.
“You doing okay, Misha? You’re less preachy than usual.”
“I’m not preachy,” they grumbled, frowning at Noriko, “As I’ve mentioned to these people who insist on plying me with food and drink, I’m tired and would like to rest.”
“Huh. Wait, you’re actually tired? Like, ‘tired’ tired?”
“Repeating a word doesn’t emphasize its meaning.”
Noriko rolled her eyes. “You get my point. You’re actually exhausted?”
“Somewhat. Mostly I want to sleep instead of interacting with others.” They paused, looking over at Yvonne and Ortrux. “No offense.”
“None taken! A girl needs her beauty sleep, eh?”
“…yes?” She’s agreeing with me, don’t question it. So they didn’t, instead electing to pick up one of the reddish tomato drinks the townsfolk provided. One with a celery stick sticking out of it, that tasted oddly spicy as they took a sip. Some kind of garnish in it? Not unpleasant, admittedly.
“Ah–Mishi, uh, maybe not that one?”
They paused, raising their eyebrow at Noriko’s somewhat alarmed tone.
“It’s just…you’re not big on alcohol, right?” What. “This gal doesn’t know if it’s a cultural thing or you’re just-” She paused as they pitched the glass across the street. “Okay so that doesn’t answer the question, but it is a bad sign.”
Michael let out a slow breath, scowling. “Right. Right, it’s…fine. Unintended.” They felt their skin crawl, like they could only now taste the wicked spirits concealed by concoction.
“‘Deeply adverse to alcohol’,” Ortrux muttered, apparently taking notes, while Yvonne casually took another one of the deceptive drinks.
“Well, it’s not that bad, right?” Noriko asked, giving them a pat on the shoulder, “This gal’s pretty sure the Red Snappers are just made with gin, so…hm, how strong is gin anyways…?”
Her attempts at being reassuring weren’t reassuring. So Michael just grabbed a different glass, this one of a clear liquid, and downed it instead, intending to get the taste out of their mouth.
“Ah, wait-” Noriko winced as Michael spat the drink across the table. “Yeah, that’s the vodka. Made with potatoes and all.”
“…I’m going to find Anaya,” Michael stated as they stood and walked away, wiping their mouth to try to get the taste out. Light, that one didn’t even taste good. Why do mortals insist on drinking these things?
Their question went unanswered, yet it was reinforced when they found Anaya, currently downing the contents of one of those tiny glasses opposite a red-faced halfling doing the same as a crowd cheered the two of them on.
It took Michael a moment, but they actually did recognize this. It was the same type of drinking competition Vivian had back in that Meran factory. Albeit with much smaller cups.
They watched for a moment as Anaya handily won, as signaled by her competitor falling out of his seat, then approached amidst the cheers for the “reigning champ”. “Anaya.”
“Wooo-Eh? Oh, hey Misha!” Anaya beamed up at them, actually looking…more composed than the last time they’d seen her indulging in such drinks. “How goes it?”
“…Why do you like drinking these?” they asked, gesturing to the glasses and bottles. The halfling was being helped up by his fellows, who were all laughing and cheery over his loss.
“Hmm…I guess it depends? Some stuff, I like drinking because it tastes good, but generally, I just like the feeling the buzz gives me. Vodka’s not to my taste, but it has a strong kick, one I can really feel in my chest, so it gives this kind of…I don’t know, accomplished feeling that I can handle it?”
“And then your inhibitions lower and you strip naked.”
“Pff-!” Anaya’s face went a rare shade of bright red, one that looked cute with all her freckles. Hm. Odd thought.
She shook off her surprise though, laughing a little. “Eh heh, ah, yeah, guess I do. Don’t worry too much though, I’m handling it tonight. My buddies here said they wanted a good match, so I’m not letting as loose as I usually do.”
Said buddies were also staring at Anaya more now with some interest that Michael found entirely too distasteful, so they stepped in front of Anaya to break said line of sight.
Anaya blinked up at them, looking confused for some reason. “Er…Misha? Are you feeling okay?”
“Fine. I’m doing quite fine.” They did feel oddly warm, but they were an angel of fire, so some warmth was expected. “I still don’t get it though. It tastes bad.”
“Uh…well, some people like the taste? Like I said, part of it’s the fun of showing you can handle it.”
Anaya snorted. “Yeah, a little bit. Are you doing okay? You seem a little…huh. Blue?”
They frowned. “I’m red, not blue.”
“…Misha, did you drink anything earlier?”
“A terrible deceptive tomato concoction, yes.” They paused, considering. “And one of those potato ones. I spat it out though, it tastes awful.”
“Ahh.” Anaya slowly nodded, before putting a hand to Michael’s forehead, which immediately felt that much hotter. “…see, knowing what I know, I can’t tell if this is a normal temperature for you, but you also have blue flames flickering around your hair, so I think you should get some rest.”
“I do? Why?” They pat their head, frowning as they tried to smooth down the flames in question. Then Anaya was holding their hand and they felt those thoughts stutter somewhat.
“Not sure, but let’s get you to bed, alright?”
“…y’kay,” they mumbled, letting Anaya lead them along as they felt…increasingly warm. Maybe Anaya has a point about removing clothing? Not in public though, modesty is important.
They nodded to themself, content in their logic as Anaya led them through the crowds of noisy people, their attention soon drifting as they noticed things. Like how the knight from earlier wasn’t there anymore, which was strange, and that there was another tall person, a hooded figure in a thick coat, not good for the weather in the slightest. Their curiosity almost led them that way, but Anaya kept her grip firm as she brought them up to their room. Though, as they entered, another thought struck them. One they decided to act on, promptly.
“Alright, let’s just-” Anaya paused, before pressing a hand to her cheek, where Michael just kissed her. “…huh?”
“Did it better than Seeker,” Michael stated, feeling an odd sense of pride through the heat. Though pride was a sin, wasn’t it? So…not pride. Accomplishment?
“…Heh. Yeah, you did. Let’s get you to bed, alright?”
“Sure. Love you.”
“…” She gave them a pat on the head. “Tell me that again when you feel better.”
Tell her what? Whatever that thought was, they shook it off. They had other things to focus on, like how stupidly hot it felt.
“Yeah, I’m not letting you drink again,” Anaya muttered, for some reason.
The morning light brought with it an immediate sense of pain and discomfort the likes of which Michael hadn’t felt before. Immediately, they clasped a hand over their eyes, letting out an exhausted and irritated groan as their head pulsed with some kind of aggravation. It took them a second to realize what it had to be. Ah. This is my punishment for drinking alcohol. Of course. Father, I beg forgiveness for my sins–
“OH HEY, YOU’RE UP!” Loud loud far too loud, ow. “WOAH, YOU DOING OKAY THERE?”
They were not. They were deeply not and the pillow they were using as a shield to block out the evils of noise was barely helping. “S-Stop shouting…”
“I’M NOT-Hm…hey, is this better?” It took them a second to notice Noriko’s voice. No, they noticed, it was a second to recognize, not notice. Light above, what is with my head today? “Woo, you’ve really got it rough. Hangovers are worse for angels, huh?”
Even her whispering felt grating. “Angels don’t drink.”
“This gal has seen you drink.”
“Angels don’t drink alcohol.”
“But you did.”
“…shut up.” They reached down, grabbing the loose blankets they’d apparently kicked off in their fitful rest, and pulled them up, wrapping themself in the comforting fabric. “Mmn…where’s Anaya?”
“She went down to grab breakfast. This gal’s pretty sure she’s getting you something too, so make sure to thank her!”
“Mnh…is this what being sick feels like?”
“Then I curse the Plague and all her ilk…”
“Isn’t the wine god a different god?”
“Then I curse that one too.”
Noriko laughed, another far too loud sound as Michael snuggled into their cocoon of blankets, better to block out the sounds of the…They frowned, feeling around their legs. Then upward, their face heating up again. “…Noriko.”
“…w-why am I only wearing a shirt?”
“Oh, that. Apparently you were really hot last night and started stripping when you got back to our room, so Naya made you put your shirt back on.” I did what. “Personally think she should’ve let you leave it, but she said you’d be freaked out if you woke up naked, so eh.”
They were plenty “freaked out” at the moment. Though…yes, they likely would have been even more alarmed to wake up without any clothing, especially if–I undressed in front of Anaya.
“…” Michael slowly drew the blankets over their head, retreating completely into their cocoon of shame.
“Wow, you’re getting seriously blushy. You’ve been naked in front of her before, remember?”
In very different contexts, in Michael’s correct opinion. Unclothed in a bath and unclothed in a bedroom were very, very different, though also they just wanted to be alone with their shame, so rather than explain fully, they just said, “Sh-Shut up. Leave.”
“Heh, alright, this gal can see when she’s not wanted. Anaya folded your stuff up by the bedside, if you wanna get outta bed.” Michael allowed themself to peek out of the blankets in order to watch Noriko–who was wearing another potato-themed set of clothing–head out of the room, whereupon they slowly extricated themself from their shelter with all far more aching in their back and limbs than they were used to.
“Mnhgh…note to self, find out who the god of alcohol is and stop their malicious influence…” Michael muttered as they stretched, grimacing at the sweat-soaked status of their stupid tomato shirt. They weren’t about to head outside for one of the showers, so they looked around and smiled as they found one of those washing pitchers Polina mentioned previously.
And while they did remember that Polina stated the washcloth with the pitcher was what was meant to help them clean up, they also decided to just pour water some straight on their head. It felt nice, letting the cool liquid cascade over them, before they shook it off and finally removed the stupid shirt.
Just in time for Anaya to enter the room.
“Hey Misha, I brought breakfast!” She smiled brightly, carrying over a plate laden with eggs in some kind of tomato sauce. “As you might expect, they’re really sticking with the tomato theme. We could get something more potato-y if we go out, but I figured you’d want to stay in bed for a bit.”
“…y-you…were c-correct.” They tried to ignore the heat at their face and the way they were clutching the shirt almost like a shield. “Er…”
“Hm? Oh, sorry, did you want some privacy? I’ll come back in a bit then.” She smiled again and headed out without even a hint of pause or embarrassment.
“…th-thank you?” they mumbled, before glancing at the plate. They felt their stomach rumble. “…clothing first, then food.”
Later, upon being fed and clothed–admittedly in another stupid shirt, this one titled “mater masher”, because Anaya had bought a lot of those–Michael quite promptly gathered Anaya and Noriko, went to Charlie, and drove away from Rikfield, fully intending to never have to interact with that town again. Well, more specifically, they had Anaya drive. They still didn’t trust the blasted thing.
“Well at least we got some cool stuff,” Noriko commented as she relaxed in the passenger seat, her feet propped up as she looked through her set of cards again.
“You do realize those are all cursed and contain monsters within them?” Michael asked as they launched a firebolt at a charging shrubbie.
“And I can unleash upon my enemies now. Besides, if it becomes dangerous I trust you enough to do something.”
“…I’m not sure if you’re saying that to be lazy or not.”
“You know me so well~.”
“Hm.” They leaned over the top of the carriage, examining the cards in question and seeing familiar, if stylized, creatures portrayed on their surfaces. “These are bound to be a problem. Giving people the ability to instantly summon monsters never turns out well.”
“This gal’s guessing you have experience with that.”
“I do. It never turns out well.”
“So you say….feh, this gal’s still mad she didn’t get the giant final monster…”
“Why would you even want it?”
“Powerful, coolness, bragging rights. Oh, and completing the set.”
“Mh. We should still destroy these.”
“Nope! This gal’s not getting rid of her cool prize!” She folded her cards back up and slipped them into a sleeve, before pulling a knife and tossing it through an approaching slime. “Besides, we have more monsters to focus on aside from demons in cards. Like that Seeker lady.”
“Hm…that is true, the fact that she’s doing this of her own volition, just to ‘screw with me’, is worrying.” They raised a hand to stop Noriko from teasing. “Don’t.”
“…you know me too well.”
“Hmph, now then, we’ll have to stay extra vigilant for any tricks she might pull. Did you notice anything unusual during the revelries last night?”
“You mean aside from the lower ranked winners summoning their zombies to show off?”
“They did what.”
Noriko giggled, despite this situation clearly not being a laughing matter. “This gal doesn’t know how you get your voice so flat yet so offended sometimes, but also yeah, they were showing off, especially the guy that managed to score the big bear guy.”
“Yep!” Noriko flicked the card in question out of her sleeve, showing off the grotesque monstrosity roaring against the background of a darkened forest. “It was the guy right after Yvonne in the ranks. This gal thinks there was probably a random element to it, since Vonne got an icy one instead.”
To demonstrate, she flicked out another card, one of a frozen corpse standing in a frosty tundra, its eyes gleaming an icy blue. Michael frowned, idly blasting another attacking shrubbie. “Hm. Could you describe the ‘winners’ that obtained their own cards? They might become issues further down the line.”
“This gal can do you one better!” She grinned, tapping her head. “She used to be a spy, remember? So she can totally put together dossiers!”
“Or you could just describe what you remember.”
“…Yeah, she could. But also…”
Michael waited, blasted a trio of charging boars, then sighed. “You can do the dossier thing.”
“Yes! Oh, though to start off, top winners were Naya, me, you, then Ortrux and some guy named Morthru. You already met Ortrux and this gal clocked Morthru at the party. Some tall guy, wearing a hooded coat, one of those frostlander-style trenchcoats, though this gal doesn’t know if he’s actually a frostlander or not, because he definitely wasn’t goliath height.”
“Hm…tall relative to you, or relative to me?”
“It’s a valid question.”
“It is.” She huffed, flicking another knife through a leaping cyder. “This gal should’ve brought her crossbow up…anyways, this gal wants to say…taller than Ortrux, but narrower. Shorter than Polina, for sure.”
“So between six and seven feet tall…that doesn’t especially narrow things down. Even humans can get to that height naturally…”
“Is that another short joke?”
“Hm? No, not intentionally.” They paused, considering matters as they sent a blast of fire to clear out an approaching armada of shrubbies. “I apologize if I’ve been making too many. Your height is fine, you are appreciated.”
She snorted, for some reason. “Great to know this gal’s ‘appreciated’. But thank you anyways. So, moving away from the regular or not-so-regular folk we should be looking into, what’s the story with you and Seeker?”
They shrugged. “There’s not much of one. At least, not one I thought was significant…Seeker is a demon prince of greed, a direct child of the demon god ‘The Miser’ and one of the more powerful devils from Ibovei, the Fourth Hell of Greed and Sloth. Apparently extremely powerful, since she’s a ‘See-Oh’ now.”
Michael shrugged again. “I’m not completely sure, but it’s probably evil. Aside from that, I suppose she was a recurring foe back when I was a guide to heroes.”
“Oh yeah, you mentioned that, what exactly did you do? Was it like what we’re doing now?”
“No. As a ‘guide’ my duty was to train the chosen hero and their companions, while ensuring they did not perish. Simply put, I helped heroes, she helped demon lords, conflict was inevitable. In hindsight, maybe it is strange that we encountered each other so often, but she was a demon, one among many, so I had no reason to suspect there was some significance to it.”
“And now it turns out she has a huge demon crush on you.”
“It’s not a ‘crush’. Demons are beings of sin, and given a look I had towards her nature, at most I would say she wants to possess me. Not in the spiritual sense, in the…”
They poked Noriko’s forehead, earning a startled noise from the human. “It’s not romantic. She’s a dangerous monster working for our enemies. The fact that she has a personal grudge against me means she’ll likely remain a problem until she can be dealt with without civilian fatalities.”
“Eesh…yeah, alright, this gal gets it.” She clapped her hands together, grinning again. “So how about we pool our knowledge? What do you know for sure about her?”
“She’s a demon prince primarily composed of Greed, mixed with Lust and Pride. Her powers relate to wind and her sigil is a spiral.”
“Okay, good starting point! Meanwhile, from this gal’s observations, she can tell Seeker’s definitely trying to get a rise out of you, if not flirt with you, because there’s no way a lady shows up in fancy lingerie without trying to be provocative.” Michael grumbled some agreement to that, though they didn’t like it. “She also likes to dress up and act dramatic, hence the princess outfit and the competition, she has a sense of fairplay since she didn’t cheat Naya out of the prize she definitely wanted to give you–”
“You can skip the unnecessary additions.”
“They’re super necessary! We need to understand her mind!” Michael disagreed, but whatever. “She also doesn’t seem to really respect her subordinates, since she let you punch that one without stopping you and didn’t get mad at all, so that’s maybe a point we can work with, and there’s something up with her eyes, considering she keeps hiding them.”
They blinked. “What? What do you mean ‘hiding them’?”
“Hm? You didn’t notice? Whenever she talked to us, her eyes were covered. In the bedroom with you, her hair was covering them, then outside, she was wearing a mask. You couldn’t see her eyes at all.”
“I could though. In the-…In the bedroom, don’t smile-” She didn’t listen to them. “-I could see her eyes fine. The irises are golden, like an Avarician’s.”
“Avaracians being the standard greed demon, right?” At their nod, she tilted her head, thinking. “Hm. Maybe it’s some kind of demon quality? Or something specific to her? Some monsters can kill you if you look in their eyes, like basilisks, though this gal has also heard they’re more like ‘eye beams’ they have to focus, so…”
“It depends on the type,” Michael muttered, frowning to themself. Maybe it’s something akin to gorgon eyes? Petrification is a magic some Avarician’s study, though would that make sense for a demon of wind? But then, Luxurians are the more common wind demons, so there’s no real guarantee–Then something bounced off their head and they frowned, looking out towards the fields. “…Does that shrubbie have a cannon for a mouth?”
“Oh hey, you’re calling them shrubbies too now!” Noriko brightened, before glancing over at the indicated creature. “Oh, no, that’s a shrubbet, different subspecies. It’s more like a snout than a cannon, though it does shoot seeds, so-” She ducked another shot, before flicking a knife through the shrub monster’s head. Body? It’s mostly head, so…wait, what was I thinking of?
They frowned, trying to regain their trail of thought, before sighing. “No matter. I doubt there’s anything more we can glean from what information we have.”
“True! You know what this calls for?” Noriko’s smile went quite wide, to a degree Michael felt would be concerning to one who could feel fear. “Reconnaissance!”
Reconnaissance apparently meant “going to towns and asking random people for information”. Raphael usually handled such things when Michael was on missions, so they could be forgiven for thinking it would be something mildly more interesting.
At least Anaya seemed to be taking their summary well. “So in addition to the leviathans causing trouble, there’s a demon prince who has a specific grudge against you in the mix? And she’s also the one supporting those leviathans?”
“To a degree. As I mentioned, the Skin-Weaver stated the Miser was supporting the leviathans, so it does make sense that her daughter would be involved. Possibly as the intermediary, or just as the support that was mentioned.”
“Right right, and you can also talk to demon gods if you have a link to them.” Anaya huffed in some amusement. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, you’re an angel after all.”
“You shouldn’t, no.”
The town they were in was smaller than Rikfield and more mixed into the hills than the comparatively open town out on the plains. Some houses were even outright built into the hills; Michael was pretty sure they heard something about that before, something like “halfling hills”? Regardless, it was fairly open, rustic, and cozy; about the same as most of the towns they’d passed along their way through “Halfling Country”, as they’d heard the local region described. Presumably different from “Satyr Country”, which was apparently more northward towards the mountains, and whatever other “countries” might be around within the country itself.
How that worked, Michael didn’t quite understand, but they were willing to accept that humans just had weird ways of referring to things, and it was a mostly human-run country, so that weirdness would naturally spread around.
Speaking of humans, they spotted Noriko, who appeared to be busy with information gathering, as she described. Or, in other words, gossiping with some old folks playing croquet.
“–it’s what I always say,” said one of the old men, a portly halfling with thinning gray hair and a bushy mustache, his voice carrying with elderly indignation, “Things would be better if we had a proper queen!”
“A queen isn’t going to do everything, we have to take care of ourselves before we worry about who’s in charge,” countered an elderly drake–bald and lanky in contrast to his…friend?–as he hit the ball through a hoop.
“Bah, you just don’t want to face the facts. Every time we have a blasted king, the country goes to the dogs! Every single time! It’s a historical fact!”
“Speaking as someone who’s actually studied history, Monty, it’s not a fact. We’ve had fine kings-”
“But have they been finer than our queens? No, no, a man’s place is in the fields, either farming or fighting, not managing things! A royal needs to run their country like a household, and women are best for that!”
“Monty, you don’t even farm, you’re a potter.”
The halfling harrumphed. “And what of it? I still know my place in the hierarchy just fine! I haven’t done my own taxes in sixty years, not since I was married!”
“You being bad at math doesn’t prove social roles, Monty,” the drake chided, before he noticed Michael and Anaya, “Oh, hello, you must be Nori’s friends. Nori, these are your friends, right?”
“Yep!” Noriko waved to them, watching from a bench on the side, though she hopped up and headed over to introduce them, “Monty, Simon, these are my friends, Misha Centola and Anaya Greenfall. Mishi, Naya, this is Monty Pottam and Simon Fielder.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Anaya greeted, earning a smile from the halfling.
“Well isn’t that nice to see? You have very polite friends, Nori.” Though he then raised a bushy eyebrow at Michael. “Well, at least one of them.”
“…Hello?” Michael said, before looking at Noriko, “Noriko, I thought you were asking around?”
“This gal is! And she met these two nice men who know plenty about politics, so she’s asking them!”
“Bah, politics,” Monty spat, grimacing, “In the old days, we just called it the rules of conduct, none of this politicizing nonsense.”
“In the old days, they called it politicking,” Simon retorted, “The word has been in use for thousands of years, coming all the way from the initial idea of civics.”
“Hmph, so you say, but it wasn’t like we had commonfolk trying to get involved back then! Back in the day, people knew their place!”
Michael furrowed their brow. “Are you…not a commoner?”
“Of course I am, miss! And proud of it! A common man is a working man, born of clay and soil!”
“You were born of Monty Senior and Maribelle,” Simon stated, “And I doubt either of them were made of clay. Would’ve known if you were part golem, that’s for sure.”
“It’s an expression!”
“So, wait, commoners are involving themselves in politics?” Michael asked, trying to remain on topic.
“Hmph, you bet they are! With all these ‘town halls’ and ‘associations’ and those stupid yellow badges! Talking about the rights of serfdom or some rot. We aren’t even serfs!” He paused, then glanced at his taller friend. “Are we?”
“…Ehhhh…no, not at the moment, though our ancestors were, so I think that’s where the rhetoric’s coming from.”
“Hmph, well, respecting the ancestors is all well and good, but respecting your betters is better! Commonfolk getting loud about things like ‘having a voice’ or whatever rot they’re speaking of is just annoying! If we were meant to lead, we would’ve been born into leadership!”
“…So…you’re against having rights?” Michael asked. They glanced at Noriko and Anaya, but the two of them had moved over to the bench, so it seemed the angel was on their own.
“No no, not like that, I’m against people trying to move out of their natural position,” Monty explained, “People have a place, and the only reason people are getting so uppity these days is because of that blasted king making a complete hash of everything!”
“He’s not wrong on that part,” Simon added, “Much as I don’t agree with Monty’s philosophy–”
“Bah, philosophizing is for idiots with too much time that think they’re smart! Like a certain someone I could-”
“–King Richard, not to say anything against him, is…incompetent.”
“Feh, incompetent’s generous. You know the man has three wives, right? And that’s only because he lost one of them, there would be four otherwise.”
“Well the third was a literal succubus, so losing in that circumstance is understandable.” The drake sighed, leaning on his mallet. “That one was a huge mess too, happened just after the demon lord attacks back in the day. Quarter of a century now, if you can believe it.”
“I can.” Right, Irascagan, the demon lord Goldforge’s group dealt with… Michael shook their head, focusing. “So what’s been happening?”
“Lately, or in the past years since Richard took power? Because both are a decent question. Of course, if you mean the latter, we are talking about over thirty years now of his reign.”
“Certainly. Why, he took power back when he was twenty, didn’t he?”
“Gods, it can’t be that early,” Monty muttered.
“Well, let me think. He was ruling when Irascagan and his dragon came around, and that was twenty-five years ago…King Richard is fifty-seven now–”
“And the man barely grew at all in that time!”
“He’s human, they stop growing around twenty. Or thirty? Halfings certainly stop growing earlier.”
“Oh shut it with that! Not our fault the rest of you folk insist on being so blasted tall!”
Michael clapped their hands, catching both mens’ attention. “Richard has been ruling for thirty years. Explain more on what horrors he has wrought.”
Simon snorted, grinning as he adjusted his leaning. “Ah, not quite horrors, aside from the horrors of mismanagement. And I really do think it’s more like thirty-seven, now that I’m thinking it, because the good queen had him later than her first daughter, there was a bit of a gap in ages–”
“Ah, how things would’ve been different if Queen Cornelia had been succeeded by Princess Constance, as intended.” Monty sighed wistfully. “We’d be in a golden age by this point, mark me on that.”
“You say that, but she did literally abandon the throne to her unqualified younger brother so she could chase dreams of exploring the world. Qualified or not, when it came down to it, she decided she’d rather have freedom than care for her people. Then Prince Martin went and joined a cult, so it’s not like he would’ve been any better.”
“So why is the king bad?” Michael interrupted, trying not to sound too irritated.
“Oh, that, yes, well, you’d have a few arguments on why-”
“Why do you think he’s bad?”
“Ah, good question! Well, realistically, his lackadaisical approach to ruling in which he’s left most matters of governance to his three queens, none of whom particularly like each other and all have separate political alignments, hasn’t done well for general stability, especially because the four dukedoms and even some of the earldoms have taken to setting their own legislation without input from the royal family. Not to mention his refusal to actually name a successor after completely ruining the line of succession really hasn’t helped.”
“Don’t forget how he keeps raising taxes!” Monty chimed in.
“Not exactly my point, but yes, there has been an incremental increase in taxes over the course of his reign. And largely for vanity projects and royal entertainment instead of public utilities.”
“Bah, higher taxes are never any good, no matter what ‘utilities’ there are supposed to be. And that’s not even getting into how he’s completely ruined the traditions of knighthood!”
“Nobles have been able to knight commoners for centuries, Monty.”
“Not that part! The part where we don’t even have a standing army anymore! Even regular monster hunting, city guarding, and demon slaying is done by those blasted mercenaries now!”
“Ah, yes, that one is problematic, though I’d argue it’s less the ‘lack of army’ that’s an issue and more the ‘paying mercenaries to be law enforcement’. Though technically speaking, I’ve heard they’re only really deputies instead of full constables–”
Michael pinched the bridge of their nose and tried not to groan. Why can’t anything ever be easy? A king’s corruption should be raising monsters across the country through ambient evil, not mildly inconveniencing elders…Though the lack of organization does explain how I was able to be get in as that idiot’s bodyguard at Shioneri. And here I thought Raphael was just really clever about it…
“–and really, he’s only compounding all those issues with this new marriage of his.” Wait, what?
“Marriage? What marriage?” Michael interrupted.
“Hm? Oh, you didn’t hear?”
“She’s a Zem, Simon, they barely pay attention to anything outside staring at lights,” Monty griped, completely–…largely inaccurately. Some of those clerics do get strange with their ‘enlightenments’. “It’s just another example of why you can’t put a man in charge of a country! They think with their lower heads, not their brains!”
“Monty, don’t be crass in front of the young lady,” Simon chided.
“I am almost certainly older than both of you,” Michael retorted, “Now what is this about a new marriage?”
“Apparently during those peace meetings he became quite smitten with a young worker there on the island.” Simon shrugged. “I don’t know all the details, but he apparently decided to have the wedding ceremony in Orindaco, for some bizarre reason.”
“…what?” The pirate city??
Monty scoffed. “If you ask me–” Michael didn’t. “–I think that lady is a spy from the Dark Lands.” …Okay, maybe Michael was almost curious enough to ask. “He just so happens to decide to get hitched during a meeting with darklanders? Probably a ploy to have another succubus try and gain some power here. Maybe even trick the daft man into selling our entire nation to the darklanders!”
“While I will admit it is a bit odd, everyone knows how King Richard is,” Simon said, “So it’s just as likely she’s just someone he finds pretty, and our king decided to bring her back here. He’s never had much of a head for consequences”
“Bah, either way, he should know better than to try and marry a commoner! He already has three queen consorts, and having another, especially someone who doesn’t know how a kingdom is run, will only make things worse!”
“Well, I can agree with you on that at least. Poor girl is probably being tossed to the wolves if the marriage does go through.”
“Exactly! Finally, you understand my meaning about staying in your place!”
“No, not really, I can just recognize someone’s going to have immense difficulty adjusting to entirely different social rules.”
“And those social rules are different because the people are different! We have social classes for a reason, and our daft king is ruining that with his commoner fetish!” His what??
Simon didn’t seem surprised by the phrase, though his nostrils flared in some disgust. “Don’t call it that.”
“What would you call it then!? He nearly threw away his fiance over some common girl, and then had the audacity to get her pregnant out of wedlock!”
Michael blinked. “He did what? When was this??”
“Oh, maybe about…thirty-seven years ago now, give or take?” Simon began, rubbing his chin in thought, “His majesty the king was still at the royal academy, there was a ball, some declarations of something or other. My memory isn’t perfect, though there was quite the one two punch back then, what with the crown princess abdicating and the elder prince humiliating his betrothed in front of all high society by declaring his intention to marry a commoner. Terrible ordeal, absolutely rocked high society, nearly set back commoner rights by centuries because of the sudden idea that they would aim to steal everyone’s fiancés-”
“And it killed Queen Cornelia!” Monty chimed in.
“Eh, a lot of things killed Queen Cornelia. High stress mostly, yes, though plenty of other health factors were involved, enough that it would be unfair to declare only the abdication or the humiliation caused her lethal heart attack. It was likely both.”
“…” Michael had no idea what to do with that information, but they did know what to do about the blatant problem they were just told of. “Thank you for your time and information, goodbye.”
“Eh? Oh, alright.” Simon waved them off as Monty grumbled.
“Young people these days, never stick around to properly end a conversation.”
I said goodbye though, Michael internally complained, before speaking to Anaya and Noriko, who’d apparently spent that entire conversation going over the particulars of Noriko’s new card collection, “The king is getting married to an unknown commoner woman. Were either of you aware of this?”
“Yep,” Noriko replied, popping the word, which was actually somewhat impressive considering her lack of lips. Actually, how does she form most words that involve using lips? “It wasn’t really relevant to this gal’s job back in Goroki, so she didn’t put too much stock in it, but a king having a new mistress gets some attention, and the fact that he’s trying to marry her? This gal’s actually kinda surprised you two haven’t heard of it.”
“Did I say I didn’t hear about it?” Anaya asked, “Because I did.”
“…So only I didn’t know?” Michael frowned. Why am I always the last to know things?
“Aw, don’t worry about it, Misha. You were in Zemava and they don’t really pay attention to foreign affairs. Besides, the marriage part is most definitely a recent thing.”
“Yep, but it is interesting, isn’t it?” Despite her mask being back in place, Noriko’s smile was incredibly obvious. “A mysterious beauty from the far north–well, pretty close north–manages to entice a king, to the point that he decides to marry her. Romantic story straight out of a novel, or horrible plot by leviathans?”
“Horrible plot,” Michael immediately replied. Anaya looked thoughtful though.
“Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but we don’t really have a guarantee this is a plot. We don’t really want to go charging into the capital and punching a king’s betrothed, right?”
“Well when you describe it like that, this gal kinda does.” Noriko had the right idea.
“That’s fair, but also don’t. You especially don’t, you’re a foreign dignitary.”
“You’re royalty, you’re automatically a foreign dignitary.”
“We’re all foreign dignitaries,” Michael stated, only to receive a noncommittal noise from Anaya, who made a vague hand gesture.
“Technically, kinda, but also not completely…my point is, maybe we shouldn’t punch a young woman until we know more about the situation. Such as how young she is in relation to the king, because while I’m not entirely sure on how human age dynamics work, I have some concerns about the power dynamic here.”
“If she’s a leviathan, she’s far more powerful than him.”
“And if she isn’t, she’s a commoner with a king. I’m not saying we should look into this, in fact I’m actually really into the idea and think it’s a good one, I’m just worried. There are potential dangers here and I’m not sure where they’re pointed exactly, but I don’t like it either way.”
“So it’s decided!” Noriko clapped her hands together. “We’re gonna crash a wedding!”
“…hmm, yeah, yeah, basically.”
Michael nodded sharply. “Then it’s decided. Also, one moment, Noriko.”
“How do you vocalize words that require lips to make the proper sounds?”
“Same way this gal talks normally.”
Michael blinked, then frowned. “…I don’t know what that is.”
“And now we’ve got another thing to talk about on our roof chats!