Interlude 6 – Back in the West

“‘Fortunately, through the efforts of the Gororan loyalists in tandem with foreign aid, the curse was broken and the coup was resolved’,” Gabriel recited, report in hand as they stood in front of the desk of the Pontiff, “In other words, Michael and their companion, or perhaps companions, handled the issue.”

“I thought the Shogun handled matters?” Sandalphon replied, their tone as polite as ever as the pink, pure angel pretended like they weren’t arguing against her, again.

“With Michael’s assistance, yes.” And apparently a dragon’s. How Michael managed to befriend a dragon was a question to be asked later; the fact her eldest sibling considered him “acceptable” was at least a good sign. Regardless, Gabriel turned back to the Pontiff at his desk. “It should also be noted that your cousin and her angelic companion appear to have participated in the defense of Gorokiva.”

“Hm? What was that?” Pontiff Popola looked up from the model he was painting, confusion present before her words caught up with his thoughts. “Oh, Vivian did? Well good, it’s about time someone showed those Gororan Imperials what for.”

“She was defending the Gororans Imperials, your holiness.”

“…Well, good, it’s about time someone showed those Gororan rebels what for. What were they rebelling over anyway? Taxes? It’s usually taxes.”

“Six of the twelve Daimyo rebelled because they disagreed with the Shogun’s policies.”

“Taxes then, as I thought. It’s always something about taxes with humans.” A significant portion of the Gororan population wasn’t human and only one of the involved daimyo counted as a human before the disaster that altered them all into beastfolk. “I swear, they’re more obsessed with money than dwarves, and those people worship the god of wealth.” 

The Faith of Wealth, following the Elder God Elion, was practiced by a majority of the population on the Sun Lands continent. Not only that, but there was also a significant dwarvish population in the Frost Lands, where worship of the Elder Khioni was far more common. Not to mention the smaller dwarvish populations that could be found in the Light Lands.

Gabriel didn’t bring any of that up though, because they weren’t petty. “Speaking of, Deacon Vocula sent a message stating he has no intention of paying the ‘back-taxes’ your holiness claims his order owes for the leniency shown during Pontiff Caius Veritas’s reign.” Maybe just a little petty.

“What?! How dare they! Don’t they understand the needs of the country!? They got away with not paying their taxes for far too long!”

“The province didn’t stop paying taxes just because Pontiff Caius Veritas was in power,” Gabriel noted.

“Well he definitely lowered their taxes!” Yes, but every Pontiff did that. Nepotism was an annoying yet fundamental part of society, and the intended lack of blood relation among the paladin orders of Zemava did little to prevent favoritism. “So it’s only natural they pay the difference back!”

“No, your holiness, it isn’t, because no other pontiff has done so.” The temptation to say “had been that petty” was strong, but not insurmountable.

“I’ll set the precedent then!” Maybe she should have. “What are they going to do anyways? Rebel? Good luck with that!” 

“Your holiness, considering the Aurum Province, the one the Order Vocula happens to oversee, directly borders Divica, meaning they could easily move troops to begin sieging the capital long before anyone else, besides, perhaps, the Order Bosio, which had the majority of its forces arrested a month ago, meaning it’s exceptionally weak at the moment, could even get close to stop them, perhaps it would be a better idea to not encourage their rebellion.”

“…Hmph.” Popola set his figurine on the desk and clasped his hands in an attempt to look professional. Or perhaps to hide his frown. “Speaking of rebellions, how is that Sollamavan thing going?”

“The situation in Sollamava is at a stalemate, your holiness,” Gabriel reported, “The Archduke Siromo Garoti is holding to the idea that his fiefdom is now an independent nation and Luceneva still continues to recognize his claim.”

“Meaning?”

She tried not to sigh. “Queen Beratia Molgari has declared ‘Garotiva’ to be a rebel state. Luceneva argues it is a legitimate nation. If Sollamava attempts to suppress Garotiva and return its territories to its own, Luceneva is obligated to defend the self-proclaimed archon and his forces, lest their king’s honor be called into question.”

Sandalphon had no such reservations, sighing openly while resting their masked cheek on one hand. “These mortals truly do fight for the most absurd of reasons. And your fellow cardinals have not done anything to resolve this situation, Cardinal Gabriel~? What could they be doing down there~? Our holiness didn’t give them leave to take a vacation.”

“That I didn’t!” Popola agreed.

“You need not worry, your holiness,” Gabriel replied, bowing her head to the Pontiff and utterly ignoring her annoying cousin, “Uriel and Sariel take their duties very seriously. By now, they have most certainly arrived at the capital. It is more than likely the two of them will handle the issues Sollamava faces without any of us needing to involve ourselves any further.”


“Justice is a strange virtue. Of all of them, it is perhaps the most ill-defined and inscrutable. Justice as a term, a practice, and a way of life, carries a weight that could crush most folk under its sheer weight. Fortitude is strength of will; Prudence is wisdom in bearing; Temperance is restraint under temptation. Judgement is conviction. To hold truest to what you decide. What then is Justice?

“Is Justice equity? Equality? Could it be meant as a balance between selfish and selfless desire? To be selfish is unfair to others, for it takes without care, yet to be selfless is to be unfair to one’s self, to lack care for one’s own condition. Is balance righteous? What then of good and evil? Evil thrives through injustice so no, justice cannot thrive in balance between such, but then, what is held on the scales in my soul? In everyone’s soul? Should evil be done for the sake of good? Then, too, should good be done for the sake of evil? Or is that the mere fallacy of those who believe evil to be equal and opposite to good, instead of a corruption of balance? By what moral imperative does Justice operate? By law, by instinct, by a sense of fairness? What does it mean to be morally upright when all others have different definitions of moral uprightness?”

Queen Beratia Molgari stared at the yellow-winged angel as they talked to–or maybe just at–Throne, asking question after question to the bronze core embedded in the wall. They’d been at it since the moment they entered the meeting room, basically just monologuing. 

The queen glanced over at the second angel, sitting politely at the table with her and drinking the tea provided to them. “Mm. Thank you for your courtesy, your majesty.”

Polite little thing. “It’s no trouble, Cardinal.”

Their wings fluttered there, even as they tried to keep their expression neutral. “My thanks for your courtesy, though I am merely a temporary Cardinal, your majesty.”

“Still makes you a cardinal, doesn’t it?”

“…t-technically, yes, it does, your majesty. Still, thank you for your courtesy, your majesty.”

She kinda wanted to pet them. It’d be rude, but they were small and polite in some cute ways so the temptation was there. “So, you plannin’ to ask philosophical questions to our core?”

“Eh? Ah, not especially, your majesty. My virtue is kindness and that’s far simpler than justice, your majesty. You just be nice to people.” They smiled, then added. “Your majesty.”

“Heh, so you say. Cardinal Uriel!”

“–on the cosmological ramifications–Yes?” The taur-sized angel turned, looking at the queen.

“Are you going to take a seat? I was plannin’ to talk with you two about the whole, y’know, rebellion in my borders.”

“Oh, sure.” They finally walked over and sat on one of the provided pillows, crossing their legs and sitting upright. “So, how is that rebellion going? Are you winning?”

“‘Winning’ ain’t on the table right now. I assume you know about the trouble with Luceneva?”

“Nope! Please explain!”

Beratia paused, raising an eyebrow, before the smaller one–Sariel–nudged their older sibling. Neither of them spoke–well, no, that wasn’t right. They were clearly speaking in some way, but the only sign anything was even happening was the slight flashing of light around their halos. 

“Yep, we know everything!” Uriel eventually said, contradicting themself with a guileless smile.

Beratia let it go though. No need to antagonize a potential ally. Even if she weren’t sure if the big angel would even see it as antagonizing. “That’s good t’hear. I was hopin’ then, with you two understandin’ the situation, that you might be inclined to aid us in our time of need. This rebellion is creatin’ somethin’ of a refugee crisis for us, and while we’re not about to turn people away in need, we’d prefer our people weren’t put in that need to begin with. Unfortunately for all of us, it’s real unlikely Siromo Garoti will give up power without a fight.”

“Rebelling lords rarely do. Really, they tend to double down, a lot.” Uriel nodded to themself, their arms crossed over their broad chest. “Sunk cost fallacy is a big problem among nobles in general, but especially the rebelling type, probably because they think they need to keep escalating or else it’ll become a weakness.”

“They might also be afraid of being executed for rebelling?” Sariel pointed out.

“They might, true, and that’s an especially present danger for ringleaders since while a monarch might be willing to offer clemency to lesser members, any leader of a rebellion needs to be punished on principle to keep the rest of the vassals from getting funny ideas. It’s a tough thing, balancing justice and mercy, to the point that you could say the nature of justice as punishment could make it completely antithetical to mercy–”

Beratia cleared her throat. “So, as I was sayin’, I’ve already reached out to certain folks to put things together, so we can take down Siromo Garoti and all of his forces. What I want to ask you two is if you’re willin’ to chip in. The taur’s a danger to everyone and a traitor besides, so we of Sollamava would appreciate any aid our friends in Zemava could give us.”

“Oh of course we will. Beating bad guys is our job, and he sounds terrible. Just to check though, he doesn’t have any secretly good motives for this, does he?”

The queen raised an eyebrow. “Meanin’?”

“You know, like some type of dark betrayal in his past or a social problem he’s trying to solve in a bad way.”

“The man’s an arms smuggler and drug peddler who’s usin’ his position to try to escape the law. Pardon me for sayin’ so, but whatever other motives he’s got can rot.”

“Fair enough! Actions speak louder than motivations! At least until the villains begin their motivational rants, describing all of their reasons and such, then the motives tend to speak louder and louder until everyone’s just kind of sick of hearing from them.”

“…Right.” Beratia nodded to…whatever that meant, before deciding to ask just a bit further, mostly outta curiosity. “What kinda social problems would he even be tryin’ to solve in this case?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe fighting for satyr rights or something?”

She snorted. “And how’s that? Satyrs have rights, same as everyone else.”

“Ehhhhhhhhhh…in the basic sense, yes, in the grander sense, no. Do satyrs have the same rights to owning land and property as minotaurs in Sollamava? Yup, says so on the law books. Do satyrs have the same opportunities for employment as minotaurs? Legally, yes, practically, no. Are satyrs equal citizens to minotaurs? It’s genuinely arguable.”

“…” Beratia felt a headache coming from this line of thinking, but curiosity spurred her on. “Alright, so you’re sayin’, but I’m not sure I’m gettin’ your meanin’.”

“Well you would say Sollamava’s generally a meritocratic society, right?” At her tentative nod, Uriel continued, “Meritocracy is a fun idea, everyone’s position depending on their ability to achieve it, but it stumbles super easily when you put it up against the simple fact that not everyone is born equal. Take the average minotaur and put them against the average satyr, you’d say the minotaur is the more physically strong of the two, right?”

“Yeah, but that’s biology. Taurs grow bigger naturally.”

“Sure! Averagely speaking, a minotaur’s going to be stronger than a satyr, so for a physical task, you’d want a minotaur over a satyr. So what would you want a satyr for? An intellectual task? Nope, a well-educated minotaur’s just as smart as a well-educated satyr. What about a dexterity-based task? Nope again, a well-trained minotaur can do that too. Minotaurs are ‘naturally’ bigger, stronger, and anything they’re not inherently capable of, they can train to get better, right? So the average minotaur is better than the average satyr, according to conventional wisdom and this idea of biology. So what place does a satyr have in a minotaur led society?”

“That…But, hold on, you’re sayin’ it’s bad to decide things on merit?”

“Nope! Meritocracy is a fun idea, like I said. More fair than heraldic systems, though you do still have that, don’t you? A Sollamavan archducal family decides its descendants based on suitability, also called merit, but, realistically, their direct family is going to be given advantages from birth since their parents will want to educate them, train them, all that. No one’s born equal, like I said, and there are no noble satyr families in Sollamava’s borders. There’re no noble human families either, or elvish or drakish, but is that an issue you want to worry about?”

“…” Beratia’s eyes narrowed. “Why’re you bringin’ it up if it’s nothin’ to worry about?”

“I didn’t say it’s nothing to worry about, I said it’s up to you if you want to worry about it. Or, well, I didn’t exactly say that, but I’m elaborating now. A social problem in Sollamava is that satyrs don’t have the opportunities minotaurs do. Do minotaurs have inherent physical advantages over satyrs? Definitely! Same could be said for elves and humans or humans and halflings. So in a meritocracy, it means some people have to lose for the strongest to win. And since minotaurs run everything, they’re biased for their own people. Ask a minotaur who’s better for a job, another minotaur or a satyr, they’ll probably say a minotaur, and that means satyrs get pretty much only the menial jobs no taur wants, or so the logic tracks. Maybe there are exceptions, maybe I’m wrong because I’m a foreigner who’s just been hanging around for a while instead of a native, but it’s a thing to consider as the nation’s ruler, isn’t it?”

“…It is. But…what, I just handout things to satyrs then? Give ‘em advantages to make up for it?”

“Eh, maybe? It’s not an easy question, especially when people are used to things being one way. Sariel, what do you think?”

“Eh?” The smaller angel glanced up, then fidgeted a little. “U-Um…I guess giving things out would be nicer, but it might make the minotaurs think they’re being slighted by not getting advantages, or they might start saying satyrs can only get anywhere with advantages, so, um…ah, maybe ask the core? They’re technically the real king, right?”

“…” Beratia blinked. “Say what now?”

“Eh? Ah, the core? Throne? They run the trials to decide the monarch, and they can get rid of the monarch at any time, so it’s kinda more like they’re the ruler and you’re their representative, right? Like, ah, a pontiff with their god? Oh, wait, th-that’s blasphemous, I shouldn’t say that…”

Beratia stared at the somewhat distressed angel, mumbling to themself as their elder sibling patted them on the head, before slowly looking over at Throne. The core in the wall was glistening oddly as she stared. And was that a flinch? “…I didn’t know cores could sweat.”

Yeah, definitely a flinch.

“…hey, I have a question,” Beratia said, turning to face the angels again, her mind going back to the last time she’d interacted with an angel. One somehow both more and less subtle than these two. 

“Hm? What would that be, your majesty?” Sariel asked, their distress at their slip up melting away in favor of a desire to help. 

So it was only nice for Beratia in turn to start with something easy for the angel. “Cores like Throne, that is to say cores made by the gods, are pretty different from natural ones, yeah?” 

“Of course, your majesty, the ones that spawn naturally in the world can be more… instinctual and reactive in comparison to one like Throne.” Ah ha. So Throne is the same as a temple core. Michael hadn’t mentioned that. Had they known? “Being able to run a trial is much harder to do than, say, making a bunch of monsters to defend themselves.” 

Beratia nodded, moving along. “Right, and if the core were to break, would that mean an elemental would form like it did with the lightning one?” 

“If under enough stress, the elemental imprisoned inside would–” 

And Sariel was quickly cut off as the two angels’ halo began to glow again, the pair definitely having another conversation she couldn’t hear. “Imprisoned” was a real interesting word to use though. Implied a whole lot of things.

“What Cardinal Sariel meant to say was: we cannot be certain if such a thing were to occur, as the event with the lightning core has never been seen before.” 

Right. So they were definitely hiding something. Poorly at that. The queen stared into the yellow angel’s eyes, her annoyed frown meeting their placid smile, and she was a bit surprised to see that smile turn more wry for a moment. 

Just a second, really. So fast Beratia could almost call it a trick of the light. “Thanks for informin’ me. I actually talked with your older sister on the subject when she came to visit. They didn’t bring up anythin’ about our core bein’ our real king though, even if we got to talkin’ about elementals and that whole tale about folks losin’ themselves to magic. You’ve heard that, right? The stories about how an elemental is made when a person gets completely consumed by the magic they wield.”

“I have,” Uriel answered, earning a brief glance from Sariel.

“U-Uh, I also have, your majesty.” Okay that one was definitely a lie. Seems the youngest cardinal really was sheltered.

“Thought so. Michael and I didn’t fully talk about it, they were more focused on things like how I met them at Shioneri, same place I met that lightning elemental I mentioned, but they did confirm for me that a core, a Temple Core specifically, is formed from divine magic and an elemental mixin’ together. I think their specific words were ‘imbued with the power of the divine and the spirit of an elemental’.”

“That sounds right to me,” Uriel confirmed.

“And Throne here is that type of core. Not a ‘Temple’ core, exactly, but the exact same type of thing.”

“And that doesn’t sound completely right, I’m sorry to say. It does sound really close though. It’s not exact, but it is really close. You don’t live in a temple, after all.”

“Hm. See, that raises an interestin’ question for me. I was taught that the ‘trial dungeon’ was a natural occurrence, and our ancestors built on top of it some thousand years ago. That’s how we got Sona Komottos, the capital of Sollamava. But temples are constructed on behalf of the gods. 

At Uriel’s nod, Beratia allowed herself a smile. “That reminds me. Back when I met your sister, it was comin’ off a problem we had, where some folks, workin’ with a leviathan, wanted to plant dungeon cores around Zemava, to unleash monsters on their people. It’s the whole reason we’re havin’ this rebellion right now with Garoti, since he was part of it. And it’s not the same circumstances, no, but I just gotta wonder now…what would happen if a temple core, or at least the type we’re talkin’ about, was planted somewhere? What kinda structure would it form?

She gestured around the room, her gaze lingering on the heavily sweating bronze core. “Something like this, maybe?”

“Something like it, definitely,” Uriel answered.

“…How much do you know about our history?”

“Plenty! I was just over in Zemava for a lot of it, though I was definitely here about a thousand years ago when the first archons declared this land was chosen by our Father for your ancestors, His most devout followers, to settle. Though it’s less ‘most devout followers’ and more minotaurs in general, since our Father thought it was better for the taurs to settle in a kingdom instead of continuing to be all tribal like they were. It helped some taurs had already settled these lands before, having been rewarded with land and title for valiance against the forces of darkness and all that.

The angel chuckled. “It’s funny, actually. The people rewarded with land and title wound up outlasting most of the nations that awarded them in the first place. The only real exception is the ones awarded by Zemava, which I wanna say were the ancestors of the Rodalli and the Elitsi.”

Beratia nodded, slowly. “A thought just came to me. All of our castles are built on dungeons. Similar ‘trial dungeons’ to the one here.”

“That’s true.”

“…I have to ask. Did Michael know about any of this?”

“If they did, they forgot about it. I was the one who planted the cores at our Father’s request. As I said, He wanted a nation for the people He favored, and thought this was the best way to select the rulers. And…well, only three major secessions isn’t too bad, historically speaking.” Psamathe, Tsambika, and now Garoti. Not actually a good track record, all things considered…

“You still feel bad though.” That much was obvious from the angel’s tone, even if they kept their face surprisingly steady. “You feel like this was some kind of…deception. And the fact that our nation isn’t fair, despite bein’ based on merit, rankles at you.”

“Basically, yeah.”

“Ah, wait, that’s what’s going on?” Sariel asked, sounding half-confused, half-worried, “Uriel, you founded this country?”

“Not exactly, little sib, not quite, but, well, it’s thoughts. Can’t help what your brain thinks of sometimes, when you’re visiting somewhere you haven’t been for a long while.”

Beratia nodded to that, idly wondering if Uriel actually was having a conversation with the core earlier, instead of monologuing. As for the rest of it…On the one hand, knowing their nation was founded on a bias did, in fact, rankle at the sense of fairness the queen had. On the other hand, divine right to rule was the justification most monarchs had, and there was the argument to be made that this meant the archdukes and monarch were all chosen by the gods. But back on the first, could they really call themselves a nation of merit if there was an inherent inequality? But then, how to even begin making things equal?

“…This got a lot more philosophical than I thought it would,” Beratia murmured, “And that all doesn’t change the fact that Garoti’s a problem..Hang on, why’d he get to be a ruler if he’s such an ass? The core should’ve picked someone better.”

“Well that’s the issue, isn’t it?” Uriel replied, “Garoti’s evidence that it doesn’t work. Maybe the core became biased in one way or the other at some point, but him holding power proves there’s something wrong with the system as it is.”

“Decent point…gods, I didn’t expect to go into all my nation’s problems going into this conversation.”

“Well not all of them, there’s probably more on smaller levels all throughout the different territories.”

Beratia fixed the angel with an annoyed stare. “I see your point, but I still take offense, especially since I doubt Zemava is much better.”

“Oh no, it’s absolutely worse. Major positions in the faith of light have age restrictions on them that can only be attained with an elvish lifespan and the faith as a whole has a ban on those ‘touched by demons or darkness’ from even entering its ranks, so basically no dark elves or darklanders allowed. Even being half-orc disqualifies you, and that’s not even getting into all the corruption with the Vermillion Furies Adventuring Guild, otherwise known as the largest racket in the country.”

“…You, uh…have a lot sharper opinions than I thought.”

“Yup! It honestly eats away at me a whole lot! So I just don’t think about these things when I’m in Zemava.”

“…That’s heavy.”

“I’m three thousand years old, I’ve performed morally ambiguous executions, I’ve seen nations die, and I have an innate sense of fairness that compels me to try to justify these things. A lot of stuff is heavy. You just learn to ignore things until they become a problem.”

“…This explains a lot about Michael and how they act.”

“Oh for sure, they’re a mess. Still love ‘em though. Anyways, you have a rebelling lord you want us to kill for you, right?”

“That’s the gist of it, yeah. Hey Throne!” The core flinched as Beratia turned her gaze towards it, earning a snort from the queen. “Relax, I’m not about to break you, especially when I don’t know what’s up with you to begin with. Actually, Uriel, you know anything?”

“On the specific components of the trial cores, no, I don’t, sorry.”

“Well thanks for bein’ honest. Anyways, Throne, we’re goin’ back up. We can figure out…all that other stuff later. Be good, alright?”

The core didn’t respond for a moment, but then it let out a positive sounding chime so Beratia nodded to it before heading back up top with the pair of angels. “Now, I don’t have the full time to unpack…well, every single thing that we just discussed, from the inequalities to the ‘founded on a lie’ thing, so…alright, I’ll be honest, why even lie about that? Like most folk already consider beatin’ the trials bein’ proof we have the gods’ favor, so why not say it outright?”

Uriel shrugged. “I don’t know all the thoughts of my Divine Father, though I would maybe kinda guess he was thinking it would count too much as interfering with mortal affairs. We need plausible deniability or the demons will take it as an excuse to be more overt.”

“And how’s that worked out for you?”

“Historically? Pretty poorly. So, where are you leading us?”

“Just to a meetin’ room. I figured since we needed to deal with a traitor, it was best to call on a hero to help us out,” Beratia explained as she led the way into the simple room where Tisma Vlahos awaited, sitting on one of the couches while studying a map of Garoti’s territory, “Cardinal Uriel, Cardinal Sariel, I’d like you to meet the hero of Sollamava, Tisma Vlahos.” The queen paused, then gestured to the other two people with the hero, a satyr and a human. “And these two’re also here.”

“Good afternoon, your majesty,” Tisma greeted, standing and nodding to her queen while the satyr scrambled to his hooves, fully dropping the puzzle cube he’d been fidgeting with.

“A-A-Ah, u-uh, um…G-GLORY TO SOLLAMAVA!” he declared, before taking a knee and bowing his head so low Beratia thought he might start prostrating–No, wait, he actually was fully prostrating, he was just getting low first.

“Good tidings to you, wise queen of Sollamava,” the human said, standing and bowing in Gororan fashion, before he bowed again to Uriel and Sariel, greeting them both and getting a polite curtsy from Sariel in return.

“Fair greetings to all of you!” Uriel greeted with a wide smile, which Sariel echoed nervously a moment later.

“M-May the Light be with you.”

“Yeah, hi,” Tisma said, before looking at Beratia again and gesturing to the satyr and the human, “This’s Sheriff Varno from Nassato and Robin the ronin from Gorokiva, Varno’s deputy. Figured it’d be good to get some extra help on our journey and these two have been buildin’ up a good reputation for handlin’ monsters ‘n other problems. Even tamed a tyndarid, from what I heard.”

“This deputy apologizes, but he has to correct you, Miss Vlahos. Kuroken is a valued deputy of the Drysun Sheriff’s Department, so calling him ‘tamed’ is a little rude,” Robin said, like that was all perfectly natural things to say.

“Ah, right, my bad…You gonna get up, Varno?”

“…I-I’m not sure if I’m allowed to…?”

Well the decision was taken out of his hands as Uriel walked over and hoisted him up, before smoothing out his clothes and patting him on the head. “No need to worry! We appreciate your devotion to your nation, and I guarantee to you, you shall be known forever more as a hero for your valiant aid in this time of crisis!”

“…h-hh…” 

Beratia raised an eyebrow as the satyr teared up, then glanced away as he started full on weeping, feeling more than a little awkward as the sheriff seemed to be overwhelmed by gratitude. Thinking about it, while he definitely wasn’t the first satyr she’d hosted up at the palace, he definitely was the first satyr sheriff she’d ever heard of…maybe things in her nation did need to change?

“Shh, shh, there there, it’s okay. Let it out,” Sariel soothed, walking right over and giving the sobbing sheriff a hug. There was a faint shimmer of silver light, like some kind of blessing as the angel continued to comfort him.

And, in the meantime, Beratia couldn’t help but notice Uriel and Tisma sizing each other up.

“So, you’re the esteemed hero, Tisma Vlahos,” Uriel began, smiling pleasantly and speaking evenly. Of the two, the angel was actually taller. Being shorter than anyone–other than other taurs–was usually a weird experience for any minotaur, but Tisma showed no sign of being even slightly thrown off.

“And you’re the Cardinal of Justice, Uriel. Think we’ve actually met before.”

“Really? Where?”

“Shioneri Island. Y’know, the peace conference, the one where skylanders attacked.”

“Oh right, that one. I don’t remember you at all.”

Tisma’s grin twitched. “Really now? I’ll try to leave a better impression on you then.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard. I know how fragile mortals can be.”

“I can handle myself fine. Oh, and I’d say your sister said hi, but you didn’t come up the last time we talked.”

“Oh, so you did meet with Michael, how nice. I hope you were nice to them.”

“I gave them a fair shake, yeah, and they weren’t bad company. Course, you can’t make assumptions on folks just because part of their family is decent enough, especially if they’re still pretty rough.”

Uriel tilted their head. “Miss Vlahos, should I be making thinly veiled threats regarding your intentions towards my eldest sibling? I realize it’s usually the older one being protective, but we’re practically quintuplets, so I think it’s fine if I warn you off, right?”

Tisma snorted. “I don’t have intentions like that, cardinal. Already have enough on my plate in regards to winged suitors.”

“Hmm…yup, alright, you’ll work.”

Her eyebrow raised. “How’s that?”

“You’ll work as the maverick of our team. The rebel who plays by her own rules and bucks authority, only to gain a newfound respect for her more straight-laced partner, that being me. I’ve read books, I know how these things go.”

“Uh…”

“Though I’m not sure I’ll ever ‘play by my own rules’, I’m sure I’ll begin to respect you as well. Oh, not that I don’t respect you, but we’ll definitely grow closer by the end of this. That being said, do not assume this will end in a romantic way, that only happens in a few of the books.” 

“…I’ll keep that in mind?”

“You should! In fact, considering the usual structure of such stories–”

Beratia scratched her head, watching the yellow-winged angel launch into a full spiel about the general structure of what she was pretty sure were “buddy cop” books–a term coined by outlanders despite the protagonists of such books usually not being constables–before looking back over at the gray-winged angel still comforting and reassuring the blubbering satyr.

“Hm.” She glanced over at the human present, Robin the Ronin. Who seemed amused, judging by his small half-grin. “This, uh…happen often?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Mm. Gotcha.”

Maybe Sollamava was doomed after all…


Meanwhile, back in Zemava, which was slightly less doomed.

“Hmph. If you think they have things handled, fine,” Popola groused, turning his eyes back to his figurines, “If the rebellion does spread further though, we should look into, ah, attempting to keep the peace or whatever euphemisms we use these days.”

“That won’t happen, your holiness. Uriel and Sariel are quite competent and I have full confidence they’ll handle things without any further issues.” At the very least, she was positive they wouldn’t somehow destabilize the entire nation. They weren’t Michael, after all.

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