Chapter 40 – A Knight’s Lament

“Misha Redwing…gods below, that’s soooooo cute~!” Seeker giggled cheerfully as she studied the sign-up sheet, a wide smile splitting her cheeks as she lounged in her own special observation room. Fitting for the most VIP of VIPs that could possibly grace the gilded shithole of a kingdom her beloved nemesis seemed to be insisting on traipsing through.

The demonic demigod was stretched across a lounge chair, dressed in her most princessy attire for the delightful show about to take place on the big screen in front of her. A knightly clash, a duel between random nobodies and her Cardinal of Fortitude, all for the sake of some stupid tickets to a dumbass’s wedding.

“Hmm…no, probably shouldn’t crash it myself, the clients do have some dumb plan for that,” the demon princess murmured to herself, leaning back and letting Pine feed her a grape while Coco was on fan duty. She had a decadent image to go for, after all. “So how long until the stupid show starts, hm?”

“It shouldn’t be long, your highness,” Pine answered, “Less than an hour, at least.”

“Mmn.” Seeker watched the mortals onscreen scramble about, finishing whatever touches were necessary for their tourney’s opening. Lots of faffing about on the jousting grounds and gathering up the participants, making sure people were actually equipped with arms and armor and checking the supplies of lances and healing potions. “Boring…where’s Mikey at? Or should I call them Mishy? Hmm, Mikey or Mishy, Mikey or Mishy…Mishy, mushy, milly–Should I get Melons on this? She could tear things up, get Michael’s attention.”

“Isn’t Watermelon still on an assignment, boss?” Coco asked.

“Shit, is she? Ugh, where’s Grape? She keeps track of these things.”

“You told her to leave you alone since these are your relaxing hours, not working hours, boss.”

“Shit, I did, didn’t I? Fuck a duck, that’s annoying…” Seeker groaned, getting bored, then paused as things seemed to get started. “Oh sweet sweet sweet! The knightly knights are getting gathered! Ha, Mishy’s gotta be in that bunch!”

Except they weren’t. Sure, there were a bunch of ostentatious assholes in decorative armor and fancy helms, but no red-winged angel in the bunch gathering up. Just idiots wearing lions and dogs on their heads, prancing around with fancier plumage than the damned prideful. Though Seeker wouldn’t mention that to any superbians she knew; the dumbasses would take it as a challenge.

“Hngh, where are they?” Seeker groused, scanning the crowd of popinjays and peacocks.

“Maybe they’re just late?” Pine offered, “The event hasn’t started yet, so they still have time.” 

“Hmph, Mikey better have a good reason for being late.” 

“Could be they’re still trying to find a horse,” Coco suggested.

“Pft, how hard is it to find a horse?” 

It was surprisingly difficult to find a horse. Far more difficult than Michael would’ve expected, even factoring in their previous difficulties in finding stables.

“Okay, that’s the third stable we were blacklisted from. I guess Geraldine’s threats did actually have some bite to them,” Anaya commented as she walked with them from yet another stable that wasn’t offering them service.

“Bah, one arrogant halfling deciding we deserve a bounty of all things shouldn’t cause this many problems…And just for refusing to fill out paperwork!”

“That’s bureaucracy for you. They get very huffy if you don’t play along with whatever arcane rules they come up with.”

Sounds like the Faith of Light. I can usually just bull through those though…I suppose being an angel does have its privileges. They sighed in some annoyance, prompting Anaya to give them a pat on the shoulder.

“Alright, well…okay, so, I’m not completely onboard with the idea, but if Noriko doesn’t find anything either, I guess we can still go to Redridge to take him up on his offer.”

“Is there a reason why you distrust him?”

“It’s….Honestly, he gives me bad vibes. And anyone who asks for a non-specific ‘favor’ in exchange for something is sketchy at best.”

“Understood. The point is moot though if Noriko comes through–”

Michael and Anaya paused as Noriko landed on her feet beside them, apparently hopping off one of the nearby structures or stands. “Hey, so, this gal had no luck. Apparently everything’s either already reserved, rented out, or the place has actually banned us, which is weird since this gal doesn’t think she did anything to piss off the stables…”

“…” Michael raised a hand. “I was the one who upset them.”

“Ohhhh, that explains it then.” …No further questions? Hm.

“Right. We’ll have to talk to Redridge. Or, well, I will. You two should go to the stands.”

Noriko saluted. “Understood! Captain Noriko, ready and willing for Operation: Watch a Joust!”

“You’re a captain?” Anaya asked.

“Ehhh, kinda, sorta, it’s an honorary thing. Technically this gal would probably be a general, actually, considering she’s a princess, but shinobi-wise, she’s a jonin, so…yeah, captain works.”

“…Gorokiva’s hierarchy aside, Noriko, keep Anaya safe. Anaya, be safe,” Michael ordered.

And with their friends’ affirmative–and somewhat amused–replies, the cardinal of fortitude headed to the tourney grounds, passing by several ornately dressed and decorated knights. It seemed ostentatiousness was common amongst Lucenevan knights, as nearly every knight present had overly fancy armor ranging from a fully golden suit with a roaring lion attached to the helm to a deep indigo platemail painted with shimmering stars. That wasn’t even getting into the garishly striped or checkered-print armor.

Some of these people look more like clowns than warriors… Michael mused as they strode past the gathered warriors. Or perhaps sportsmen was a better term? Jousting was a sporting event, and these people did seem more focused on display than practicality. They even saw one knight having an argument with a tourney official over the gaping, heart-shaped hole in the chest of his armor.

“You know boob windows are against regulation! That shit is completely unsafe!”

“I have a charm ready, it’s fine, I can take a hit! 

“Even if you can, the precedent it would create–“

“You’re actively interfering with my ability to get a noble patron! Don’t you think the ladies would want to see some skin?!”

Michael didn’t, and they kept walking, their gaze turning towards the large stands surrounding the jousting field. Redridge had to be around here somewhere…maybe they should have taken his offer earlier than this? They still needed to get their armor and they had no practice in jousting–

Then one of the knights grabbed their butt. “Well hey there, hottie~ Been a long time since I’ve seen a proper elven lady out here–”

The crack of their fist punching through metal was drowned out by the boom as Michael drove their knuckles hard through the knight’s crimson, winged helm and into his nose, breaking it entirely before he went soaring into the distance to become a tiny red speck in the sky. 

Then an impressed whistle snapped the angel out of their anger as they glanced over and up at the familiar face of Lonnie Redridge. “Daaaaamn, you made that Fury soar! What a punch! Good of you to teach ‘em how to actually use those wings of theirs.”

“Ah, hello Redridge, I was looking for you.” None of the knights around seemed anything more than bewildered, looking around for whatever caused the loud noise, so they shouldn’t have to deal with any further issues at the moment.

“Were you now? Good thing I found you then, even if it’s after seein’ you do somethin’ I really should be throwin’ you outta the tournament for.” Ah…that was one of the participating knights…hm, maybe I can get out of this if I play dumb? “But hey, I’ll do you a favor.”

They paused in their ruminations, glancing up at him. “You will? In that case, I would like the horse you offered previously.”

He blinked. “…Ah, no, I’m doin’ you a favor in the sense that I’m lettin’ the thing slide.”

“What thing?”

“The–You just punched a guy.”

Yes? What does that have to do with the horse?”

“…I’m sayin’ I’m not gonna disqualify you. That’s the favor.”

“Oh. Are you sure I can’t get the horse instead?”

“Wha–You wouldn’t even need the horse if I disqualified you!”

“True, but you have no reason to disqualify me.”

“Y…Yes?? I do?? You punched a participant??”

“Did I? He didn’t announce himself as such before attempting to grope me. Speaking of, that should level a penalty onto him then, yes? Meaning he is disqualified, and therefore I didn’t punch a participant, so I would like the horse now, please.”

“…Alright alright alright, I’m gonna admit, that was some stupid negotiatin’, but in a way that I can actually see the logic. Back home, you’d probably be quartered if you tried to pull that in a court, but you might also get the, ah, judge to laugh, so fair enough.” 

People get quartered in Sollamavan courts? That’s a harsher punishment than I remembered there being…or maybe that’s just a Garoti thing? Either way, that was off topic. “So…I can have a horse?”

“Yeah sure, screw it, why not? So long as you remember the bet we’ve got set up in exchange.” Blast.

“Fine. You wanted a favor from me, but only if I fail to win the tournament.”

“Exactly, though it’s the joust specifically. We’re tryin’ to have a fair deal here, after all.” Is there a difference? No matter, it’s fine. I’ll just have to win.

“As I said, fine.” They held out their hand. “Is it a deal?”

That made him laugh, for some reason, before he took their hand and gave them a firm shake. “I knew I liked you for a reason. Now c’mon! Let’s get you set up!”

Michael nodded and followed the strange taur, not quite wary, but…curious, as to where this could go. They were confident they could handle anything if he decided to turn on them, but it shouldn’t come to that. He did still have the aura of a holy man.

And it did turn out that he came through for them just fine. The armor provided by the tournament organizers was…somewhat ramshackle as it was a simple gray platemail layered over chainmail, all lacking in decoration and appearing to actually take pieces from different sets of armor and mix them together, but the horse provided by Redridge was…maybe impressive? Michael didn’t really know about horses, but it seemed big. And red. With a somewhat fiery mane?

What were those firesteeds the Nakazono had? En-something…they had some vaguely reptilian qualities though, so maybe these are different? “Er…hello.”

The horse regarded them with a bored eye, then chuffed. Perhaps that was a positive reaction?

“Hey, don’t I know you?” 

Michael paused and glanced over at the approaching voice, then blinked in some surprise at the approaching woman. “Ah…aren’t you Noriko’s friend?”

“Ha! Well so are you, right?” Yvonne Kalonji beamed, her dark face bared as she held her helmet under her arm. And she was dressed in armor, mostly in a warm, brass color. Not really in a sunlander style, which Michael vaguely remembered as being pointed towards the top with scaled armor that rang like bells when struck. Lots of gold, aside from the ones that were more akin to lapis lazuli in style… “So you’re jousting too?”

“That is the plan, yes. Judging by the ‘too’, you intend to joust then.”

“I do indeed! It felt like a fun thing to try for, and I actually did participate in a couple jousts back home. On raptor-back, admittedly, but I’m sure it’s not too different. Horses are basically camels, right?”

Michael didn’t have much experience with camels. “That sounds right.”

“Ha! Ah, I like that confidence of yours! Do you need help with that armor?”

“…why would I?”

“Putting on plate armor is more of a two-person task! Why do you think knights keep around squires?”

Oh, so that’s what they’re for. I thought they just did odd jobs, like traveling servants. Or minor clerics. “If you’re offering, sure.”

“I am! So let’s get to it!” And dressing in their ramshackle armor did go far faster with aid than without. Maybe I should get a squire? Or just have Noriko be mine.

Potential jobs for Noriko to do aside, Michael found themself pausing again as they exited their tent, another unexpected individual appearing in front of them. And speaking in a soft voice to their horse as he brushed its mane. “You’re a beautiful beast, aren’t you? How does the sunshine feel?”

“Ah…you. The knight.” What was his name? “Morthru.”

“Hm?” The knight in all white armor from back in Rikfield looked back at them, apparently still busy petting their steed, who seemed positively inclined towards him. So…good sign, perhaps? “Oh, well hello! It’s been some time! Glad to see you’re well! As to your address, yes, I am a knight, but no, that is not my name in the slightest, tomato girl!”

“Wh–I’m not–Tomato girl??”

“Tomato girl!”

“I…I’m not even wearing a tomato shirt right now!”

“Well you knew me as a knight, I knew you as a tomato girl, you can see how the associations would stick, yes? Regardless, greetings to you, tomato girl. I see you’re joining in the joust, same as me!”

“…My name isn’t tomato girl, it’s Misha.”

“Fascinating! And my name isn’t Morthru, it’s Morien! Morien the Morkessi, a pleasure to formally meet you! And to your companion too!”

“Hello!” Yvonne greeted, grinning as she stepped past Michael and offered her hand to the knight in white, “Yvonne Kalonji, traveler from Qerango! Have to say, it’s funny to see a chainer this far out north!”

“Chainer?” Michael asked, unfamiliar with the term.

“A man of the Virchester Chain,” she explained, “A set of big islands out in the Sea Lands, from Lobra to Gishin! Morkessar is the second biggest, next to Catessard, which is quite the big name down south!” She turned a curious eye to Morien. “On that topic, most Morkessi wouldn’t be calling themselves that these days, not unless they were rebelling against Catessard.”

“Call me a man proud of his heritage then,” Morien replied, sounding amused, “But talks of heritage and homelands can come later, can’t they? We have an opening ceremony to attend!”

“Ah, there they are!” Seeker sat up, a grin curling up her face as she saw her eternal foe standing among all the colorful rabble lining up on the jousting field. It didn’t deserve much description; if you’ve seen one jousting field, you’ve seen them all: long field, lots of dirt and sand to make impacts less painful, fence set up in the middle and stands along the sides. 

Sure, it looked fancy with all the blues and greens and reds–Luceneva’s colors or whatever–but Seeker didn’t give a shit about that! Even if she did find it funny the dumbass Lucene’s actually used a crown of all things for their heraldry, acting like they were the “eternal monarchs” or some shit, the much more important thing was seeing Michael, her nemesis, her hate-crush, decked out in some truly shitty armor.

“HA! Bwahahahahahaha! That’s a good look for you, Mishy~! Not such a shiny angel now, huh!?”

“…Uh, they can’t hear you–” Coco blinked as she pelted him with a grape.

“I know that! Ugh, bring me some more grapes. Or wine. Or gold, actually, I’m feeling thirsty, not just indulgent.” As her servant scurried to fulfill her wishes, Seeker turned back to the vision of her immortal enemy and the bunch of extras that didn’t matter. Including one going on about the pageant for the gallant and morally unbalanced about to take place. Some type of announcer? Bald, light-skinned, dressed in bright, attention-grabbing orange as he explained, elaborated, and exposited on the rules and regulations of the joust about to take place.

[Gallant heroes and noble knights one and all, thank you for coming to participate–!]

“Blah blah blah, can’t we get to the blood already? Is there blood in this one?”

“There should be if Morien does his job correctly, boss,” Pine said as he fed her another grape.

“Not likely,” Seeker groused as she chewed, speaking out of the side of her mouth.

[For those out there joining us for the first time, the rules of the joust are simple! Two knights, gallant and mighty, shall face each other on opposite sides of the tiltyard then charge with the full force of their mighty steeds! Three courses for one match, that’s one, two, three, and each time, the opposing knights shall aim their lances straight at each other’s shields! Strikes may aim only above the waist and nowhere near the horse, for if the horse falls, then no glory awaits the striker, only disqualification!]

“Laaaaaaame. What good are horses for if you can’t kill them?”

“Riding, boss?”

Seeker stuck her tongue out. “Like I said, lame.”

[The true goal of our gallant competition is spectacle! Break the lance upon your opponent’s shield in a spray of wood and show the force and skill that drives your dreams!]

“Dream drives don’t go that well, idiot.” Seeker huffed, taking the goblet offered by Coco and downing the molten gold within it, the burning warmth soothing some of her building headache. “Ugh…well, at least I know Michael should be as annoyed as I am…”

Jousting was more interesting than Michael expected. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple charge of violent lunatics aiming to break impale each other with impractical spears, but the “joust of peace”–named so in contrast to the “joust of war” type of duels that involved actual sharpened steel–focused a lot more on precision. The goal wasn’t to strike down the opponent, though knocking them from their seat was a valid way of winning, but to break the blunt spear on the opponent’s shield, with points being awarded based on how completely the tip was broken.

A hit on the shield without breaking was worth only 1 point, snapping the tip was worth 2 points, and splintering the tip into fragments was worth 3, so there was a strong focus on hitting with enough force and precision to do just the right amount of damage. Missing the opponent and breaking the haft instead of the tip didn’t count for anything, knocking the opponent off their saddle won the round, and knocking their helmet off was possible, but only counted for two points, so it was safer and smarter to aim for the center mass.

“Bah, these Lucenes, completely ruining the spirit of the tilt,” groused a knight beside them, his gray armor tinged with green from the spiraling symbols etched into it. His great helm was winged, though in a different style than the Fury’s helmet.

“…” Is he talking to me? “…meaning?”

“Meaning they’re turning the sport of the gallant into a pageant. These fools didn’t even uphold the traditions of knighthood for centuries, letting it fall by the wayside for the sake of music and art, of all things!”

Hm. Considering the attitude and the accent… “You’re Tramontavan?”

“Hrmph, of course, a proud member of the Pegasi Knights! Or, well, the Winged Knights, these days. Technically pegasi are extinct, but still!” He harrumphed, sounding very disapproving. “Really, what are they thinking? Events like these, hosted in their king’s own territory, should be spectacles that any noble would be proud to be a part of! There should be entry fees, rewards put up by the houses to display their wealth and grandeur, and representatives from every territory! Instead, random fools can enter just because they want to, and the greatest reward is to visit a king who isn’t even bothering to attend the tournament! It’s a disgrace to the tradition! And besides, a tilt has four courses, not three! And why aren’t there two judges for each team, hm?”

“…We…are not divided into teams? Are they divided as such in Tramontava?”

“Of course! Pegasi on one side, wyverns on the other, just as it’s always been! Even if we don’t…technically have pegasi or rideable wyverns these days…bah, regardless.”

“You jousted on winged creatures?”

Tilted, yah.”

“Wouldn’t you fall far further in that case?”

“Of course! And even then, we didn’t break bones when we fell, unlike these lackarms!”

“…” Michael just nodded, then walked away from the oddly angry man when the speech ended, idly wondering why he was even participating in a Lucene tournament if he disliked them so much.

“Mishi! Over here!” Ah, there’s Noriko. The human was waving them over from her place on the stands where she was seated with Anaya, so Michael headed over, nodding to the pair as they did.

“Hello Anaya, Noriko, I see you found decent seats.”

“That we did! And I see you found some…decent armor?” Anaya said, studying their not particularly decent armor.

“Not really.”

“Yeah that looks bad. Aw, this gal just realized, we should’ve dressed you like a samurai! You would’ve stood out so much!” Noriko sighed, pouting at her failure to offer that idea earlier.

Michael felt some temptation to pat her, but they ignored it. Though it did remind them of an earlier thought. “Noriko, would you like to be my squire?”


“Pf–Kind of a non-sequitur there, Misha,” Anaya chided, but Noriko held up a hand, staring at Michael with a strange seriousness.

“Mishi, to confirm, for this gal is a Gororan without much knowledge in the ways of these Eastern lands–” Luceneva isn’t that far east in the slightest… “–are you referring to the servants of knights that always follow at their side?”

I think they’re technically a form of apprentice? Not that it matters. “Yes, I am.”

And it was immediately obvious when she started smiling again, despite her mask. “So you always want me by your side~?”

“…I withdraw the offer. Enjoy the spectacle.”

“Aw! Come on, at least blush!”

They ignored Noriko’s pouting and Anaya’s giggling in favor of heading to the sidelines for the matches. There were a number of knights participating that day, some as free agents like Yvonne or that irritating leviathan, while others were representing noble houses or mercenary guilds, so it would probably take a while for them to be called–

“And now for our first match, we have Misha Redwing versus Morien of Morkessar!” the announcer called out, immediately dampening their idea to scout out the competition. And also bringing up the very concerning fact that they hadn’t practiced with their mount in the slightest.

Still, they had a commitment to uphold, and it wouldn’t do for the cardinal of fortitude to grow nervous. They shouldn’t even be able to feel nervous, and they didn’t, so the point was moot anyway.

It was with a steady gait that Michael brought their horse out onto the field, a lance in the metal grip of their right hand and a shield fastened to their left arm. They kept their left hand on the reins, but the horse seemed to know what it was doing as it moved into position at one end of the field. They didn’t know the exact distance, but they could see Morien at the other end, the picture of confidence as he waved to the crowd.

The two of them couldn’t look more different. Morien was the picture of a pure white knight; everything, from the plume on his helm to the straps of his saddle were that same shade of glimmering alabaster. Even his horse was a pure white stallion.

In contrast, Michael wore ramshackle armor and rode a horse that wouldn’t look too out of place on the fields of Hell. Which…maybe they should have asked more questions of Redridge before accepting his offer of a steed. 

Speaking of, the taur sat with two other judges–the headmaster of the knight’s academy and some kind of duke, from what they’d heard–in a booth towards the center of the stands, reclining with a goblet of wine in hand, which he raised towards them in an amused toast.

Michael took a breath, focusing on their opponent.

Morien lowered his hand and took up his shield. White, of course, like the rest of him, with the faint design of a tower in pale gray. What his heraldry meant, the angel had no idea, though the image felt…strange.

They shook it off. The voice of the announcer echoed out, declaring the match, asking for fairness and good sportsmanship between the two, and counting down to the start. And with a blare of a trumpet, the two were off.

Michael’s horse moved far faster than they expected. The beast burst forward in a reckless yet controlled charge and they couldn’t hold onto the reins as they went. They needed to keep their shield raised, their lance raised–Only their legs were keeping them in place and though they kept a tight grip, the whipping wind and rhythmic motion hit harder than they expected, pushing and jolting them as they came closer and closer–

And then impact.

Michael rocked backwards, the blunt tip of Morien’s spear smashing straight into their shield and nearly sending them out of the saddle in just one blow. Their own strike missed completely and they dropped the lance to grab their saddle before the momentum could send them out of the seat and crashing to the ground. Even then, their stirrups did little to hold them in place–Their leg had slipped free of one and the angel could feel themself nearly sliding free before they managed to right themself.

And all the while, Morien rode confidently to the cheers of the ground, raising his fractured lance to show the tip had completely splintered. A glance revealed pieces of the tip were littering Michael’s shield and seat. A 3 point start, already putting him far ahead.

The angel and the knight passed one another as they returned to their original positions. The knight waved, amusement radiating from his posture.

Michael scowled, then took a slow breath. Better to stay focused. Their opponent obviously knew what he was doing. He rode with the skill of an experienced cavalryman. Did he lean as we closed? If he judged the right timing, he would have hit my shield with that force…How difficult would that be?

The angel took another breath as they returned to their position, listening to the crowd cheer for the knight in white. They could make out Noriko trying to cheer louder, to be heard amid it all. “YOU’VE GOT THIS, MISHI!”

Well. They very well couldn’t let her down.

New lance in hand, they waited for the signal…then charged once more. 

They were expecting the motion now, the air whipping past, the bounce of a full gallop. They kept their grip steadier, aimed it better. Center mass, towards the shield. Break the tower, beat the knight.

The lance broke, not the tower, but that was good too. The impact was still hard, but they’d moved too, as much as they were able when they saw the barest motion he made and it was all the difference. The sharp crack of their lance snapping echoed with the roar of the crowd, but they still felt his lance hit. It skidded across their shield, not catching properly, and his lance was left unbroken while theirs was plainly cracked.

Michael held their lance high, showing the points they’d earned, compared to Morien. A difference of 4 to 2, his advantage bolstered by 1 point from his landed hit, but the difference was not an insurmountable one. If they could knock him from his horse, or at least keep him from scoring while breaking their lance…there would be a tiebreaker, but that still gave them a chance.

Back into position. His gaze was more measured as they passed. They could see a hint of pale eyes through the slits of his helm.

One more chance. A chance to win a chance. I will win.

They faced one another once more. The signal came, a blare of trumpets to herald the pounding of hoofs into the dirt.

This time, Michael was ready. This time, they would plunge straight to his chest and knock him free or shatter on that shield. No hesitation, no wavering. Just a steady plunge towards the end. Is this really just the first round?

His strike hit the top of their shield with far more force than they’d expected. He’d thrust right at the moment and for the briefest second, they could have sworn he was aiming for their throat instead–

There was a clang as brittle metal shattered against steel and a plumed helm flew through the air, crashing to the ground as the jousters passed one another. There were exclamations, shock and glee at the rare event that fell into a hushed quiet as Morien the Morkessi blinked his pale, white eyes, glimmering with the faint blue pallor of undeath.

“Heh. Hehehehehahahahaha, ahh…I believe that’s two points for you, tomato girl.”

Michael stared at the shriveled visage of the grinning knight, his ashen gray skin clinging tight to his skull like a thin fabric before blue flames burst around it, wreathing his skinned skull in a veil of ghostly fire. Then a clamor went up from the stands, shouts of alarm and startled screams from those who recognized the sight of an unhelmed death knight, along with an odd complaint that sounded vaguely like “oh come on, you should’ve dodged that!”. Strange thing to think about at the moment, but maybe the complainer was betting on him.

“…You’re a death knight.”

“I am.” His voice echoed now, bringing a cold silence to the field.

They had questions. Why was he here? Who was he working for? Did Seeker send him? But what they asked was– “Why did you help me?”

“Not for chivalry, miss, nor for nobility. It was at the behest of my employer, she whom I would never call my liege.”

An irritated noise echoed, and Michael’s frown deepened as they raised the visor of their helm, just to look at him better. To see the monster in the guise of a man. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means what it means. And I do apologize, Dame Misha Redwing, for my deceptions. I was under orders, as you can imagine.”

“And as for now?” 

“Orders, of course. As you would imagine I have little freedom to do as I wish.” Cries for guards began to ring out, and even some of the other competitors came out onto the field, armed and ready to fight the undead knight. “You and yours have certainly had no trouble against my employer’s other knights, but I imagine the people here won’t fare as well if they try anything.” 

“…” Closing their eyes, Michael took in a deep breath, before tossing the lance to the side. “They won’t need to.” 

And in their metal hand fire began to grow, taking the form of the lance. 

“Ooh? Playing for keeps I see. But I shall give you fair warning. Unlike those other knights, the one you see before you is the only me, so I won’t go down as easily as those mass produced knaves.” 

“Then I’ll just have to–”

“HARK, VILLAIN!” one of the knights cried out, pointing his sword at Morien, “I KNOW NOT WHAT HAS BROUGHT YOU TO THIS FIELD OF NOBLE COMBAT, BUT KNOW THIS! YOU SHALL NOT–”

Then Morien’s lance smashed into him and he went flying out of his saddle with a crash that made the other knights flinch back. 

“None of that now. A duel is between two combatants. And I won’t have this ripped away from me.” And in his hand, a new lance formed from blue flame, crackling with unholy cold. A similar blue flame began to spread across the field, surging up to wall off the other knights and hold back any aid.

A glance showed that Anaya and Noriko were fine, if looking more concerned with the proceedings. Noriko was leaning, her hands gripping the bannister, while Anaya had her hands clasped, almost in prayer. “I know you can win this.

Michael’s lips twitched, almost into a smile, before they lowered their visor and turned back to their opponent. Their steed moved with little urging, bringing them back to the end of the field. Morien moved too, facing them, though the two of them were now on the same side of the fence. No barrier to keep them from harm.

There was no signal this time. The audience was watching with bated breath, struck by the sight of what would undoubtedly be a lethal match…

And then they were off. Their steeds charged, hooves pounding across the dirt in full gallops.

Michael leaned forward, then stood in their stirrups, their hand clasped to the reins and rode, their grip tight on their lance. There was no need to aim for points, only to tear the monster down from his saddle. Their flames burned brighter and brighter as the rode closer and closer–

Then contact!

Their lance shattered as he slammed his shield into it, breaking the solid flame in a strong swing before he drove his own straight towards their chest–A quick move and they caught the point on their shield–He hit so much harder though, thrusting with a force that saw the lance stabbing straight through the shield–So they moved with the force that time and landed, crashing to the ground and rolling to their feet as he rode past, though he turned rapidly and Michael learned firsthand why cavalry was considered king when it came to melee combat as the large beast barreled down at them.

Morien didn’t even attempt to stab at them, instead aiming to trample the angel on his second charge, and they had no chance to move in time–So they took their first option and slammed their fist into the horse’s face. 

The beast’s head burst into blue flames with a shrieking cry, momentum still sending it crashing, nearly crushing Michael if they hadn’t moved, and once it fell, they looked for Morien–He wasn’t there, where was he–

The point of spear cut a line through their cheek as they jerked their head aside, the shining light of the morning sun overhead somehow hiding his white armor for just the briefest moment, just enough time for him to start stabbing, using his range and reach to stay at a distance–But then, Michael preferred a spear too, and in a moment of motion, they had a new one in hand, batting a sharp blow up.

His lance pointed to the sky, his eyes as wide as the smile on his face as they caught him mid-stumble and punched their spear straight through his breastplate and out his back.

“So this is what dying on the battlefield feels like…” Morien said, letting out a cough as flames began to lick up his body. Metal dripped from the searing wound, all his armor broken through in just one plunge. “Gotta say, not as great as people make it out to be.”

“Make sure to stay dead then.” 

“Don’t worry, I have no plans on coming back. Especially since it would disrespect you if I did.” As the angelic fire continued to spread, the blue flame Morien created began to dissipate. Looking down at his hands, Morien smiled. “Ah, it has been such a long time that I’ve felt such warmth. Thank you, Misha Redwing. It was an honor to meet you.” 

Michael nodded to the burning knight, the warm orange flames searing through his deathly visage. His skin darkened to a dark, healthy brown, his eyes warm and his smile bright, before he lifted his head and let the flames consume him, dreaming of a countryside home and his mother’s cooking, of comrades in colorful armor congratulating his victories, of kneeling to the future queen he chose to follow…and of a warm bedroom, rocking the child in his arms to sleep.

Embers drifted away in the air, the end of the knight named Morien.

Then came the cheering and applause, the whole field erupting with noise and celebration as the duel was won! Sure, barely any of the crowd actually knew what just happened or understood the context, but they could tell good had triumphed over evil, so that was cause for celebration!

For Michael though, their attention lay elsewhere. Not towards the vanishing embers of their former foe, no, but towards his horse. Which was still there. Because it hadn’t vanished with him.

The stallion in question was just laying on the ground, it’s head intact, looking for all the world like a normal horse. Albeit one that seemed to be looking around slightly, as though checking–It spotted Michael looking at it.

There was a pause. Then the horse opened its mouth and let its tongue hang out over the side of its jaw while making its eyes look as blank as possible. …Is it trying to play dead??

Michael moved towards the horse, then nearly stumbled as a firm hand clapped to their back. 

“Nice work, Redwing! That was an amazing match!” Yvonne praised, her helmet off and her smile wide.

“Ah…thank you?” No, wait, accept the praise. “Thank you. It…wasn’t what I expected.”

“Cha, I can believe that! That was really something! You seem to keep running into undead though, that’s twice I meet you and there are living corpses around!”

“I have a very persistent nemesis. Noriko could tell you about it–”

“Sure, I’m not on for a while, let’s have a storytime! Stories are meant to be shared!” Her smile still wide, the sunlander started pulling Michael along, heading towards the stands and their friends. Which…Well, I suppose this is happening now.

They chanced a look back, but instead of focusing on the horse, they instead noticed the leviathan, Ophelia. The hellhound, Tanya, was also there, and seemed to be poking the horse with a stick, but the angel and the leviathan locked eyes as Ophelia noticed their gaze.

She stared at them for a moment, then let out a visible huff and turned away. Maybe disappointed in the demon’s failure, or maybe just dismissive of their accomplishment. Either way, Michael felt a slight smile come to their face, one that spread as they reached the stands and heard Anaya and Noriko applauding and cheering the loudest of all the onlookers.

They had a good feeling about this tournament going forward. They’d beaten a skilled death knight in deadly combat; what mortal knight could even come close to defeating them now?

Seeker sighed in audible annoyance at all the sappy bullshit in front of her. “Oh yaaaaay, the day is saved, evil is defeated forever, blah blah fucking blah, fuck me those cheers are grating…”

“Would you like us to deal with it, boss?” Pine offered.

“I can press mute myself, dumbass, just give me a second. It’s whatever. Mishy gets their victory, round one is won, the tournament’s clearly just a roll over now, who gives a shit? Not my problem anymore, though we could probably slip in something extra along the way? Maybe, mayhaps, they still have my gift, so maybe maybe…”

“Does the pillow do something?”

“Not really, didn’t get that whole thing hooked up on time. Which is a shame, because I’d love to show up in that unsleeping idiot’s dreams, maybe convince them I really am their dream girl~? But no, no, nope, it’s not up, and I’m not bothering with that. Just like I’m not bothering to get mad, because in the end, what did they really do?”

“Destroy one of your knights?” Coco said, tilting his head in such cute confusion that Seeker couldn’t help but ruffle it.

“Ha! Nope~! As grand as Morry tried to make his finale there, a contract’s a contract, and burning up doesn’t get him out of it. Stupid bastard really thought that gallant send off meant anything, but in the end, I’m the one holding the card~” She flicked her hand, bringing out the white knight’s card, the symbol of his contract and the holder of his soul. “And now that I know for sure he’s trying to wriggle free, there’s no way I’m…letting him…out…what?”

The card was blank. Why was the card blank!?

“What. What. What what what what what WHAT!?!?” 

Seeker clutched the card, staring straight at it, but the stupid thing wasn’t showing her what it was supposed to show her! That asshole was supposed to be printed on it! White Knight! Full armor! Spear in hand! WHY WAS IT BLANK!?!

“No…No no no no no, no that fucker…that ABSOLUTE–HE SOLD OUT!? THAT PIECE OF SHIT MOVED ON!?!?”

“Uh…what’s that mean, boss?” 

Coco didn’t flinch as his boss whirled on him, her eyes gleaming a furious gold, burning molten and searing the violet flesh around it. “It means Cardinal fucking Michael ROBBED ME! ME!!!”

The view screen cracked and Seeker’s head snapped around at the noise, a snarl of rage echoing as wind began to whip up all around her.

“Huh. But I thought you didn’t like that guy?” Coco said as Pine did the far smarter thing and crept out of sight of his lady’s increasing rage.

“If I ever find his reincarnation, I’ll feed him his own fucking spine, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was MINE. And so’s Michael. Even if they don’t know it yet, they’re mine, and one of mine does NOT STEAL FROM ME!”

She stood, seething with rage so hot her face was starting to char, before crumpling the card in hand, crushing it down into a broken ball. And then she pitched it, smashing straight through her view screen, through the wall behind it, and through six skyscrapers behind it in a supersonic boom.

“Mm, alright. So do you want them dead, boss?” her Coconut offered, and for a moment, Seeker quite honestly considered the offer.

“…No. No, that’s not happening. I don’t break what’s mine. But transgression deserves retribution. You know what they say.” Her smile was back, curling and spiraling as her eyes burned. “If they take one eye, you take two.”

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