Chapter 42 – Returning Heroes

“Well hi,” Adrien Dro, chosen hero of the Light Lands and student of the traitor Julius Goldforge, greeted, acting perfectly normal as though Michael wasn’t–Wait, no, still disguised. He wouldn’t know. Right. Right, right, and even then I didn’t actually meet this brat–No, calm, no disparaging, act natural.

“Right, I gotta ask. Mask, why’d you bring over a random cursed elf and why’s she carrying her girlfriend in her arms?” the second man asked, completely dashing Michael’s attempt before it could begin.

“Ease off, Serge. A lady likes to be carried every now and then,” the blue-haired woman brought up, earning a raised eyebrow from “Serge”.

“Yeah, I didn’t need to know that about your love life. Hell, would’ve thought you’d be the one carrying Adrien.” His response got him a jab to the ribs. “Ow. I was joking, but I guess that confirms it–” He blocked the second one. “Hey! Don’t hit twice!”

“Don’t be a dick twice.”

While the two of them–What did Gabriel say their names were? Sergio…something with an f. Fish? Fin? Probably Fin. And…Light, I should know this one…–bickered, Michael set Anaya down.

“Heh, ah, thanks–”

“Oh great, it’s you three again,” Ophelia the leviathan complained, nursing a flagon of some drink.

“Oh great, it’s the tall bitchy leviathan again,” Noriko replied, equally annoyed.

“Sup, shortstack. Well, no, you’d have to be way more stacked to count as one–”

“Hi again!” Tanya the hellhound greeted, waving cheerfully as Noriko audibly seethed. The pair of darklanders had removed their helmets so both their faces were visible, confirming Ophelia was a pale blue leviathan with mossy-green freckles and loose tendrils that partially hung over her eyes while Tanya was a pitch-black demonblood with short, fiery orange hair and teeth like solid flame. 

Also, her pointed ears were fluffy. Something to be noted.

“You know these ladies?” Fin asked. 

“The Centola tried to sucker punch me, so yeah,” Ophelia answered as Michael grimaced.

“I–…never mind, there’s no point getting into it again. Just, look. Heroes. Your companion, Mask–” They gestured to the humanoid slime, who headed over and took one of the flagons on the table to start imbibing, earning an annoyed “hey” from Fin. “–said you could…” This is a terrible idea. 

They paused, glancing at Anaya as she laid a hand on their shoulder, before sighing and continuing.

“…aid me in breaking a curse laid upon me.”

Ophelia snorted. “What, can’t you do it yourself? I thought you were a paladin.”

“And I thought you two were participating in the joust.”

“Yeah, and it’s intermission, dumbass. We didn’t get our asses kicked in the second round, so we’re just hanging out until it’s time to head back.”

“Definitely sensing a lot of tension here,” Fin noted.

Michael frowned, glancing over at Naomi, who didn’t pause in her playing or singing, but did briefly flip them off. Rude.

“Okay, okay, clearly we missed something that happened earlier,” Dro said as he stood, “But! As the hero, I do have an obligation to help out, at least assuming you’re not secretly evil. You’re not secretly evil, right Pally?”

“Pally?? No, never mind. No, I am not evil. I’m surprised that’s even a requirement, given the company you’re keeping.” They paused as Anaya sighed. “Er–”

“Being demonic doesn’t mean you’re evil,” Ophelia retorted, her tone bored and gaze annoyed.

“I realize that it doesn’t necessarily mean as such, but you also realize you have several Hells worth of demons that are evidence to the contrary.”

“Like angels have their hands clean?” What? Why would she bring up–Oh, right, paladins associate with angels, she didn’t figure me out–or did she…?

Fin snorted. “Yeah, we can definitely argue on the whole ‘angels being clean’ thing.”

“This gal’s pretty sure angels are cleaner on average, considering she’s met both,” Noriko said, a flagon in her hand now, obtained from…somewhere.

“Small world, so have I, and while plenty of demonic people could be pricks, I’ve met some angels that were real assholes.”

“Gotta back Serge on that one,” the blue-haired one–I really need to learn her name.–said, “And so far, you’re not really impressing on us why you weren’t the bad guys in trying to attack Ophelia here.”

“Right, yeah, that part. Why’d you attack Fifi anyway?”

Oh gods, I have to explain this all again… “Fine. Starting from the top then, Anaya and I–”

“WAIT!!!” Tanya suddenly yelled, pushing herself up from the table where Mask was casually drinking, their gelatinous surface noticeably turning a pale amber where they were imbibing, “You have to sing it!”

“What.”

“It’s the festival! You have to do exposition in song! Or at least poetry! It’s the rules!”

“…What??”

“Yeah that’s legit,” Fin said, “In the bylaws and everything.”

“Yup.” “Yeah, sounds about right,” agreed blue-hair and Dro.

“Huh, really? Well nice, sounds good!” Mask said, before giving them a thumbs up, “Do your best!”

“…” Michael was positive that wasn’t true, but they were getting quite a few expectant looks. They glanced at Noriko, but she’d just moved over to the table and sat down, also waiting expectantly. “Noriko.”

“What? This gal wasn’t here for the whole thing, so she can’t be the gal explaining.”

“I could do it if you want?” Anaya offered.

“Mmh…fine, I’d prefer that.” Michael’s response earned some disappointed grumbling from, well, just about everyone at the table, but they weren’t interested in humiliating themself. 

Anaya, apparently, was, as she went over to Corsaro and talked with her for a moment, getting the human to start playing a tune before she cleared her throat and began:

“From the land of trees on Summer’s breeze

Lady Greenfall did arrive!

With the love of her god above

To the halidom she did strive!

In the city of light so bright

A paladin she did meet.

Graced with red atop her head

Dear Misha is always sweet.

The daring pair did roam down south

To the lands of minotaurs.

Under the morningstar they came quite far

And opened many doors.

Secrets they told to the brave and bold

And monsters they did reap.

But though they strived to save many lives

Still lurked the leviathans from the deep.

And now we come for days of fun

With new friends we have made.

And though our foes remain quite bold

We’ll make sure their evil shall be slayed!”

Michael couldn’t help but stare as Anaya bowed to the scattered applause, a bright, beautiful smile on her face as she beamed happily.

“…okay, A for effort, little clunky though and could use some work on the rhymes–”

“Don’t be a dick, Sir Fin,” Naomi chided, before grinning up at Anaya, “That wasn’t bad! Was that your first time singing?”

“Ah, well, not quite, I’ve sung at times. Mostly for either druidic practices, which tend to oscillate between more low and guttural and so high and airy you can’t really hear it, or tavern songs, which I’m a bit better at.”

“Funny enough, I actually studied under some shroom druids for a bit when I was younger. They’re definitely on the more rustic side, at least the ones that I met–”

“Ah, sorry to cut in here,” Dro spoke up, raising a hand, “But that actually didn’t really explain anything.”

Michael sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of their nose. “…” Well, I might as well give it a try? “My name is Misha, I come from Zemava, I..want to…wisha? For…no, hold on. Right, there are leviathans from the deep who want to make the people weep. I thought Ophelia was one such, I acted before, uh…acted on a hunch? No, acted…such, clutch, much–Acted rashly too much?”

“Don’t quit your day job,” Ophelia said, unimpressed by their efforts.

Noriko patted their shoulder. “This gal has to agree, don’t try poetry.”

“Mnh. I could do poetry,” they insisted, “I’m perfectly capable of artistic endeavors.”

“You’re not proving it,” Fin added, entirely unreasonably.

“Alright everybody, no being mean to Misha,” Anaya insisted, coming over to the table, “So, for a shortened version, hi, I’m Anaya Greenfall and this is Misha. Whether she’s a Centola or not is currently up in the air, but we met in Zemava and have been traveling together as a part of the whole ‘divine tour’ thing, and along the way, we happened to come across a plot…”

Anaya continued the story for a time, explaining the basics of the leviathan plot, their adventures in Sollamava and Gorokiva, the very recent encounter with Morien the death knight–earning some impressed congratulations from the heroes that definitely did not feel nice and Michael did not appreciate them in the slightest–and a few of their concerns for what could be occurring in Luceneva, which earned an irritated groan from Fin.

“Gods, we’re going to have to go to that stupid wedding now…” he complained, pressing a hand over his eyes and groaning as he leaned back in his seat, somehow not falling off the bench.

“…Maybe we don’t have to? We could just say we’re staying at the capital to guard it,” Mask offered, actually sounding remarkably reluctant too.

Dro frowned. “We don’t have a legal obligation to go to his majesty’s wedding, right?”

“We have a moral obligation if there’s some evil conspiracy,” blue-hair pointed out.

“But do we? The whole death knight thing means we should probably stick around here to help and, I mean, the king’s pretty terrible, right? So the moral obligation–”

“Yes yes, your king is terrible, can you break my curse or not?” Michael asked.

“Oh, what exactly is the curse?” 

“Ah…” Right, these were still Goldforge’s students, and even if they weren’t evil, Michael still didn’t want to show Naomi and her friends. Grabbing the bundle on their back, Michael held it in front of them. “The demon we mentioned cursed me with this object, while it is not… inherently harmful, I don’t want this with me anymore.” 

“Uh…can you remove the-” 

“No.”

Their response really didn’t warrant the suspicious stares they immediately received from the hero’s party. “…so, Misha, right?”

“That is the name I go by, yes.”

“You realize that’s the weirdest way to say that, right?” Fin pointed out, unnecessarily.

“Look, just stab it through the wrappings or whatever you do to break curses.”

“…” Dro’s gaze just became all the more skeptical. “…this isn’t a trap where there’s actually a person in there–?”

“What?? No!”

Blue-hair also looked far too skeptical. “I dunno, it’s a pretty human-sized bundle–”

“It’s a pillow!”

“You’ve been cursed by a pillow?” Ophelia asked, smiling wide without even an attempt at hiding it.

“…Yes,” they admitted.

“That’s amazing.”

“So why’d you bind it up?” Mask asked, leaning over to poke at the bundle, “Does it eat people?”

Michael tried not to sigh. Their face was too red already. “No.”

“Really? So what’s the problem?”

“…It won’t leave me alone.”

“You’re being stalked by a pillow.” She might not necessarily be an evil leviathan, but Light above, I want her to shut up.

“Having a magic pillow sounds like the opposite of a problem,” Fin commented.

“It’s an unpleasant pillow.”

Blue-hair raised a blue eyebrow. “Is it uncomfortable?”

“Deeply.”

“It actually is pretty comfy–”

“Stop helping, Noriko.”

“Wait, Nori, why do you know it’s comfortable?” Anaya asked.

“This gal doesn’t have to answer that.”

“That actually says more than you think.” 

“Once again, this gal doesn’t have to answer that.” 

Michael sighed. “Look, the pillow is uncomfortable for specifically me, and the demon who cursed it put enough power that I can’t break it. Your sword is something blessed by the Triarchy, so it should be able to handle it.” 

“…Right. Well, I’ve never stabbed a cursed pillow before, but hopefully it works.” Lifting his sword up, Dro aimed it at the pillow and plunged his blade into it. Or he would have if the bundled pillow didn’t suddenly sway to the side, a fist made of cushioned fabric punching through the wrappings and hitting Dro with all the strength and force of a pillow. So none at all. “…uh, was that supposed to hurt?”

“I…maybe. It hasn’t done that before.”

“Yeah, and we tried to murder it in a bunch of ways,” Noriko added.

“You can’t murder a pillow, stop saying that.”

“Hmm…well, in my humble, expert opinion,” Naomi suddenly said as she came over, studying the pillow with a curious eye, “You’re not dealing with the ordinary cursed pillow here.”

“What in the world does an ordinary cursed pillow look like?”

“For you see,” she continued, ignoring Michael’s valid question, “a curse is a tricky bit of magic. More malevolent than a jinx, more complex than a hex, practically a school of magic unto itself if it weren’t for the pretty rigid definitions of what a school of magic can be–”

“Could you get to the point?”

She shot a glare at Michael, but continued with her lecture, “A curse is a malevolent form of magic that, most importantly, has conditions attached to it. A jinx is a brief flash of ill-fortune and easily rectified problems, a hex is a more targeted and deliberate jab of bad experience, and a curse is woven in with conditions and bylaws, almost like a contract. You can’t kill someone with a curse without giving them a way out of it, for instance, and the more malicious it is, the bigger the way out has to be. Like being able to break a death curse with true love’s kiss or a transformative curse only taking place at a specific hour.

“And this, oh paladin of the judgy light, is a nuisance of a curse. Not actively malicious, not actively harmful, just extremely annoying. A jinx in curse form, in other words, and that means the way out of it can be whatever obscure thing the caster wants it to be. Tell me, did the demon that cursed you explain what the curse was?”

“She had one of her minions give us a pamphlet,” Noriko answered.

“Oh, that actually makes this way easier. Can I see it?”

“Misha burned it.”

Michael fidgeted slightly at the annoyed look Corsaro gave them. “It…I was annoyed.”

“Then congrats, you’re probably screwed. The more specific a curse is, the stronger it is, and from the look of things, the curse here is purely attaching this object to you, making it follow you around. It’s not dangerous, but that just contributes to it being stronger.”

“So the more petty and childish a curse is, the stronger it is?” Anaya asked.

“Petty’s the right word, yeah, though I’d use spiteful instead of childish. Curses are almost always fueled by spite, since they’re usually all about wishing harm on someone else. Or inconvenience, in this case.”

“So…I can’t get rid of it,” Michael said, resigned.

“You can, for sure, because there’s always a way out of a curse. You’re just going to have a tricky time getting out of it.” Corsaro shrugged. “Sucks for you.”

They scowled, but the bard looked unrepentant. “Fine. I’ll deal with it then.”

“Hold on,” Dro interrupted, raising a hand, “Do you think you could give me another try at it? Kinda pokes at my pride to get beaten by a pillow.”

“…Fine. Do whatever you want with it.” 

And the heroes did, in so far as whatever they wanted seemed to be trying whatever came to mind as a method of “killing the pillow”. Dro’s attempts were a mix of cutting and piercing, aiming with swings and jabs in some attempt to split the blasted thing open with the chosen sword, only for the pillow to display a stunning talent at dodging that it never once used when it came to the other weapons present. Even when it came to blue-hair’s enchanted gauntlets or the various elemental arrows and fancy knives possessed by Fin and Mask, the pillow chose to take the hits, only to pop back up no worse for wear no matter what happened to it.

Really, it seemed to have turned from an attempt at curse-breaking to more of a party game as Tanya joined in, her axes wreathed in hellfire doing little besides burning away the coverings Michael had put in place, which meant the images of Seeker were visible. Not the result they wanted, and they could feel their face warm as Ophelia whistled.

“You didn’t say the demon was interested in you like that, paladin. It does explain a lot–”

“We should find a place to rest for the night, it’s getting late,” Michael said, ignoring the amused leviathan and the odd…eyebrow waggle Corsaro gave them in favor of collecting Noriko and Anaya so they could leave.

Though they didn’t expect that collecting to involve Noriko jumping on their back. “Gh-Hey!”

“What~? It’s only fair if this gal gets carried this time!”

“You–Ugh, fine, whatever.” They got a good grip of her legs as they sighed in annoyance, fixing Anaya with an unamused stare as the elf clearly tried not to laugh. “I blame you for this.”

“Hey, you chose to carry me, remember?”

They did, but they still grumbled as they left the band of heroes–plus the trio of darklanders/whatever Corsaro was–behind to continue with their potentially curse-breaking game or whatever it was that heroes did in their spare time.


“So Anaya and Misha are definitely dating, but I’m pretty sure Nori has a crush on Misha,” Mask explained as they sat atop the cursed pillow, aiming to keep it in place so it didn’t vanish on them. The darklander knights and their bardic friend had headed back to their tourney, so it was just the heroes hanging out now.

“Ah, a love triangle.” Adrien nodded sagely, sitting atop the table and letting his feet rest on the bench–because he liked to be tall like that–before tilting his head in thought. “Or love point, I guess, since it’s just directed at one person.”

“I think it could still be triangular,” Sue noted, standing, “Like an isosceles.”

“Love isosceles sounds weird.”

“I’m honestly surprised you two know that much about geometry,” Sergio commented, earning himself a hit on the shoulder from both his friends, “Ow, pricks!”

“Don’t be a baby, that was barely a tap,” Adrien said.

“You kicked me!”

“You’re sitting lower than me, I’d have to lean for a punch–Ow, dick!” he complained as Serge jabbed him in the side.

“Alright, triangles aside, I’m really wondering why, exactly, the demon pillow is so…” Sue motioned with her hands, trying to find the word. “…provocative.”

“Oh that’s easy, that pillow’s definitely from an ex.”

“You say that with a lot of confidence for someone not dating anyone, Serge.”

The archer held up a finger. “I say it with a lot of confidence for someone who met a cute succubus in the Dark Lands. Provocation is demon courtship one oh one, they always poke at each other like that, it’s a dominance thing.”

“You’re not an expert on demons because you flirted with a succubus maid.”

“But I know better than you guys do, so that makes me more right than you. Right Mask?”

“…eh?” The slime glanced up from their thinking pose. “Oh, yes! Whatever you said! Ah, quick question though.”

“What’s up?”

“What’s an isosceles?”


It took a while for the pillow to appear again. Michael wasn’t quite sure what triggered its abrupt return, though they nearly tripped over it when it did. Which was already annoying, but the fact they’d had hot cocoa at the time–complimentary at the only available yet still overcrowded inn they’d managed to find–made it doubly annoying.

“This gal’s pretty sure you’re not supposed to drink that through your chest,” Noriko noted.

“And I’m fairly certain you shouldn’t be drinking soup in bed,” the angel retorted, before stomping on the stupid pillow and grimacing at their now stained tomato shirt. Well, I needed to change anyway… “Is Anaya still in the baths?”

“Think so. You know, she really takes to water for a wood elf. This gal thought that was more of a nereid thing.”

“She could have some naiad in her,” they suggested, picking through the bags Anaya brought to see if they could find another shirt.

“Nai-what?”

“Naiad. River elves.” They frowned in thought. “They have tails with tufts on the end, like high and dark elves, instead of antlers like wood and snow elves.”

“Oh, so they’re not like nereids then? Because they’re definitely more fishy.”

Michael waved a dismissive hand. “No, they’re more like wood elves in that regard. They do tend to have gills, at least that I remember. They also have more humanoid skin tones, more on the paler spectrum though.”

“Huh. Weird that this gal hasn’t heard of them.”

They shrugged, picking out a thankfully plain white shirt. “If they still live in Naloriva, it could be a matter of just not traveling that far west. You Gororans have odd people too, don’t you? Like the tanuki and those snowfolk.”

“Ehh, tanuki are more like supernatural animals, though yeah, this gal can kinda see your point about the yukijin. Oh, that reminds her! They’re called ipotane!”

“What are?”

“Horsefolk! Not those weird ‘centaur’ things Naya was talking about before, normal two-legged horsefolk like satyrs are called ipotanes. There’s some up north apparently, mostly around the steppes in the Frost Lands.”

“Huh. Well, congratulations on solving that mystery,” Michael said as they finished changing, before they idly picked up the pillow and tossed it to Noriko’s bed, “Keep watch of that. I’m going to get another hot chocolate.”

“Eh? Wait, why does this gal have to guard your sexy pillow?”

“Because you call it a sexy pillow and you’ve apparently cuddled it before, so presumably it’s not cursed enough to cause harm if you hold it. Just keep watch of it.”

“Mmff…fine, but you’ve gotta get this gal something in return.”

“I’ll bring you a hot chocolate–”

“It’s the middle of summer, the only reason you can handle that is because you’re made of fire. Something cool! Please!”

Michael rolled their eyes, but acquiesced, heading out of their shared room and into the halls of the well-furnished inn. Though maybe this is another ‘hotel’, technically? It does seem more…wait, what did the tomato place count as? Was that an inn or a hotel? How tall does it have to even be to be a hotel??

Those thoughts and other musings filled their head as they idly stepped around a somewhat inebriated human attempting to get into his room, though after a moment, they turned back, took his key, and unlocked the door for him. 

“Eh…oh, hey, thanks,” the man said, nodding to them, before promptly falling on his face as he stepped inside.

“You’re welcome,” they replied, setting the key on his back and closing the door behind him before heading downstairs to the open lower area of the inn. There was a dining area with a bar which was currently occupied by some more rowdy individuals, presumably drunk too. The angel raised an eyebrow at the sight, taking in the group–some type of team, judging by their matching red tunics and jerkins–and their eyebrow raised further upon noticing there were high elves among the group, before dismissing the revelers from consideration as they headed to the bar. “Pardon, but I spilled my drink. I’m willing to pay for a second, if necessary.”

“Oh not to worry dear!” the barkeep, a rotund and cheery halfling woman, greeted with a smile, “There’s no charge to replace a non-alcoholic drink. Especially considering you asked for a hot chocolate! Heh, not many ask for something warm for these summer nights.”

They shrugged. “I like hot foods. Though my friend requested a cold drink. Preferably something non-alcoholic too.”

“Heh, would a lemonade do then? Or maybe a ginger or root beer?”

“Those aren’t alcoholic?”

“Nope, they’re soft drinks, rather than hard drinks. Soft, it tends to bubble, hard, it makes you see bubbles. Easy to keep track of it like that!”

“Hm, I suppose so. Thank you.”

“Oh it’s no trouble at all, dear! Heh, it’s nice to see a polite high elf around here. I swear, the Furies around here, well…I won’t say nothing rude about a paying customer, but then they don’t exactly pay well, let me tell you.”

Michael glanced back at the crimson clad revelers, whom the waitstaff seemed to be actively avoiding. “Hmph. I’m not particularly fond of their type either. Would you want them removed?”

“Oh, there’s no need to trouble yourself on that account! So long as they don’t cause a hassle, there’s no reason to bother them back.”

“Hm.” They could understand the logic of that. Inviting trouble could cause more complications for the weaker individuals present, particularly when dealing with drunken mercenaries. It was strange though, even having that understanding. Before, they would have considered the halflings craven for not taking action, and a part of them still did, but it was a smaller part. So they were going to just wait for their cocoa and head back–

“Well hey there pretty lady.” Light, give me strength…

“What do you want?” they asked, barely sparing the elf leaning on the bar a glance.

“Aw, that’s no way to talk to someone trying to be friendly. Our type oughta stick together, don’t you agree?”

“You and I are not of the same type.”

“Really~? So you’re not a high elf then? And you didn’t come here all the way from Zemava?”

They weren’t, though they admittedly did, respectively. “Do you want something or not?”

“Just to chat! It’s rare to see a high elf lady around here, especially one that participated in the joust! A regular hero, from what I heard, who took down a death knight and everything!”

A second man in red took a seat to their opposite side. Michael raised an eyebrow, before turning their attention back to the first man. “Is that why you’re speaking to me? The incident with Morien?”

“Oh no no, that’s just to confirm that we know who we’re talking to. It’s funny, you started off that whole joust with such a bang, then went down so damn easy just one round after.”

Their eye twitched. “Yes, I recall. So, for a third time, what do you want?”

“To confirm that you’re Misha Redwing. They announced your name and everything at the end of the jousts, giving you an honorable mention and all, but you didn’t show. We only managed to find you by luck. That, and asking around for any high elf ladies wandering around. A redhead with gold skin, who happened to cross paths with a guy by the name of Scapha. Not that great a guy, sure, kind of an ass, but a decent jouster, one we had set up to participate. One who just so happened to never make it to the joust.” The copper-haired elf regarded them curiously, his green eyes glinting in the light. “It’s interesting, don’t you think? All we managed to find out is that he went up to a high elf. One who was talking with one of the judges later. Even got a horse from him.”

“Is there a point to this?”

“Just some questions in the air. No need to be testy.” A third man was standing behind them now, smirking slightly as Michael gave him a glance. “I don’t know if there was some kind of deal you made with the judge or what, I just want to know what you did to our boy. You cost us a lot of pretty copper when Scarpha didn’t show, so really, I’d say you owe us that at least.”

“Oh, alright. He groped my rear so I punched him into the sky.”

“…” A copper eyebrow raised, very skeptically. “See, I can believe him playing grabass, but do you really expect us to think you kicked his ass into the stratosphere?”

“I punched him in the face, I didn’t touch his ‘ass’.”

“Fair enough.” He shrugged, then Michael heard a click behind them. They raised an eyebrow at the strange feeling of something pressing against the back of their head. Something metal? “So you admit to offing him, fair enough, as I said, but–”

“He probably lived. I did infuse the punch with life magic–”

The green-eyed elf quite casually backhanded them across the face…then stared incredulously at the broken fingers on his mangled hand. “Ah–W-Wha–What th-the f-fu–”

“Ah, you want a demonstration then.” 

The mercenary had a brief moment to realize he’d drastically misread the situation, then Michael’s fist crashed into his nose, crushing it in a spray of blood, before they whirled around, driving that same fist into the temple of the man behind them in their own brutal backhand that fully sent the surprised man spinning, before they turned to the last fury, who had a brief moment of his own to consider that he should be pulling a weapon out before Michael drove the heel of their palm into his sternum.

The sharp crack that echoed out was probably his broken ribs, though it could’ve been the air itself as the idiot high elf vanished from view entirely. 

The rest of the mercenaries gathered in the bar took a slow moment to glance at the calm “elf” by the bar–plus the wide-eyed halfling behind her–as she stood and brushed herself off before turning as one to stare at their comrade. Or, more accurately, to stare at the trail of splintered wood and glass–from a mix of table and mugs, with some of the mercenaries still holding the handles of their drinks–to the hole in the bar’s wall.

“Hm. I didn’t mean to break that.” Michael turned back to the barkeep, ignoring the other two idiots they’d beaten. “I’m sorry about that. I can pay for the damages–”

“HEY!” They tried not to sigh, then turned towards another mercenary, a silver-haired elf this time, as he pointed a finger straight at them.

“Yes?”

“You–You bastard! Do you know who–”

“I’ll stop you there. I know who the Vermillion Furies are. I do not care that you’re a large mercenary company. I do not care that you have ‘connections’ or ‘influence’. I genuinely do not care that you’re upset with me.” A bit of movement out of the corner of their eye prompted them to slam their foot into the back of the second mercenary’s head, smashing him down against the floor before he could grab–Huh. Is that a…what were they called…gons? Those mini cannon things–Investigate later, focus now. “So, if you understand my position, and understand your position, then do be smart and enjoy the rest of your night without inconveniencing me further.”

Silver-hair sputtered, trying to find the words to retort, but Michael had stopped paying attention, turning back to the barkeep. “My apologies, again. I can pay to have whatever was broken repaired–”

They blinked at the sensation of something breaking against their head, then turned towards the mercenary behind them, noting the broken bottle in his hand and the unpleasant sensation of wine dripping through their hair.

“Uh–” was about as far as Silver-hair got before Michael drove their fist into his jaw and sent the elf flying out of his boots.

“Alright, do the rest of you really want to continue–” Apparently the furies did, considering a pair of them charged in next, one swinging a chair for their head while the other ducked in low with a knife in hand. The escalation to potentially lethal–were Michael mortal–attacks was unexpected and somewhat annoying, so as the angel caught the chair in hand and casually kicked the wielder hard enough in the gut that he fully crumpled around their foot, they moved out of the way of the ineffectual stab and slammed the chair down on the mercenary’s head.

Though they did pause when they heard a scream come from the barkeep. “Oh. Ah, sorry about the chair, I’ll replace that one too–”

They caught the knife flung at their face and casually set it on the counter before striding forward–taking care to stomp hard on the groin of the attempted stabber on the way–towards the remaining eight or so “furies”. Who, judging by the weaponry they were grabbing–improvised or otherwise–planned to make this altercation a full fight. And, well, Michael did have some tension to burn off.

The first Fury to swing for their head with a drawn saber–definitely something he shouldn’t have had on him; didn’t most establishments have a weapons check?–had his sword broken before his ribs as Michael drove their fist into his sternum, noting the slight presence of padding even in what seemed to be basic uniforms before they caught another chair and set it down.

The next pair of furies looked to have brass knuckles, attempting to drive their fists into the angel from opposite sides, though one instead succeeded in punching his ally in the face when Michael ducked. Under the spray of spittle, the angel reached up, grabbed the puncher’s extended arm and threw him straight into his reeling comrade.

Both men went down in a tangle of limbs as another Fury tried to drive a mace into the angel’s head–His arm jarred as they caught the blow on their wrist instead, then their fist was crushing his jaw right as three furies as one tried to skewer the angel with their sabers. They didn’t expect Michael to fully leap over them though, turning with visible alarm as the angel idly cracked their knuckles.

“…Fuck this,” one snarled, grabbing a holstered weapon at his belt–Ah, yes, another gon. I thought those were all destroyed? Weird.–though not quickly enough to draw it before Michael grabbed it from his hand, further confiscated his saber, and punched him–once, twice, thrice–in the chest then the head, before moving onto the remaining swordsmen, who still tried to use their miniscule numbers to their advantage in attacking as one, paying little heed to their comrade dropping.

It couldn’t be called a valiant effort, because that ascribed some type of valiance to the band of near-brigands. Neither swordsman even managed to get the sabers close before Michael had flung them away, and then the angel was far too close for either man–one human, one elf–to keep them from gripping the pair by their heads and slamming them together. 

That didn’t drop them, annoyingly, so Michael punched the elf in the throat and kicked the human in the groin, before catching a plate flung at their head and setting it down. More plates followed, as did a few knives and even a fork, which the angel made sure to all set properly before approaching the panicking fury.

“W-W-Wait!” He pulled a round object from a pouch, holding his thumb up to its wick as said thumb flared with fire. “Y-You come any closer and I’ll blow this whole place sky–!”

Michael tossed the bomb outside, their gaze flat as they frowned at the attempted bomber.

“…Not the face, please–” They acquiesced, kicking his legs out from under him before punching him in the back of the head. He bounced slightly on the floor; hopefully the hardwood wouldn’t stain too much–

Michael actually had to maneuver slightly to catch the table properly as a Fury tried to ram it into them, their knee lifting to catch part of it while they held the top in place. “Ah, you’re one of the ones with the brass knuckles, the puncher.”

“Gh–how in the fuck are you–Woah!” the fury yelped, stumbling as Michael hoisted the table up before they kicked him straight in the face, knocking him straight off his feet. Then they set the table back down, brushing it off slightly.

They took a moment to glance around, noting that the band of furies seemed unlikely to get up anytime soon–They were certainly weak for a group of mercenaries–and returned to the counter where the barkeep was. “So that was one hot chocolate, one-no, make it two lemonades, and however much I need to pay for the damages. I do have diamonds, if those would help.”

“A-Ah, n-no it’s okay! I’ll get your order right away!” The barkeep scurried away, leaving Michael alone to wait for their drinks. 

Hm, best leave a diamond regardless. 

As they waited, Michael looked over the gon they had confiscated, examining it with some curiosity. It looked what they vaguely remembered from the sunlander invasion thousands of years ago, if a bit higher quality, with a wide, cannon-esque tube at its top and a wooden handle with a trigger attached to it, akin to a crossbow. The interior of the tube appeared to have runes carved inside of it–wind runes, if the angel deciphered them correctly–potentially to allow the metal ball inside to fly correctly? And they could vaguely make out the crimson shine of a firestone inside it; if they remembered how cannons worked correctly, then that was probably what launched the metal ball.

There was no wick on the back though, instead some kind of…lever? Strange. How did that contribute to the firing mechanism?

“Aah! M-Miss, what are you doing!?” cried out the barkeep as she came back with the drinks. “D-Don’t point that at yourself!” 

“Hm? Ah…yes, fair point, these gons are akin to small cannons.” That would probably hurt if they set it off inadvertently.

“Er…I think it’s pronounced gun, miss?”

“…I said that. You know what these are?”

“Er, a little? Um, there’s a lot of them in outworlder fiction. Firearms, thunderarms, those kinds of things. Like in the Prosperity Schotts series, the main character is a gunslinger fighting against corruption in the Old West!”

“Ahh. I don’t know what that is.” They held up a hand before the halfling could launch into an explanation. “I should get my drinks now.”

“Ooo, is that hot cocoa? Can I have some?” a voice asked and Michael felt another sigh coming on as they turned to the new–DEATH.

Michael couldn’t stop their natural flinch backwards, instinct prompting them to step away from the woman with blue skin with a bob of dark red hair–they kept steady though, kept still, and scowled at the demon…reaching for their hot chocolate. “…Hey!”

“Hm?” The burgundy-haired demon paused, glancing over at them with demonic blue eyes. She was dressed like some type of darklander aristocrat, wearing a high-collared, buttoned-up blouse and blue waistcoat under a dark overcoat and overly tight pants with black riding boots. “Oh, is it yours? Sorry, my bad…but, ah, do you think I could have it–”

“No, get your own–Why are you here, dullahan?

“Oh hey, you know what I am! That’s actually kinda rare, weirdly enough, at least in this region of Inra. Most people just think I’m some weird blue elf or something, which is strange since my ears aren’t pointy.” She tapped said ears, each pierced with a single dark stud. “Weird, huh? I guess people just default to whatever makes the most sense to them.”

“…” Given their previous issues with attempting to attack the demonic without ascertaining if they were an actual threat or not, they elected not to punch the dullahan. Even if it was somewhat tempting. “I’ll ask again. Why is a dullahan in the Light Lands?”

“I’m where?” She blinked. “Wait, no, I should still be in the Dark Lands, right? I’m like…near Capitalia, I think.”

“…What.”

“Er…pardon?” the bartender spoke up, “Not to…get involved in whatever this is, but, ah, this is Queenshill, ma’am.” …Why is she “ma’am” while I’m “miss”?

“Queenshill? Where’s that?”

“…Luceneva, ma’am.”

“Oh. Ohhhh, I way overshot things then, wow. Wait, did they mention…” She suddenly pulled a notepad from her coat and started flipping through it, frowning to herself. “Dah dah dah…’Capitalia is west’–No, not that part. Assignments, assignments, recently deceased, dah dah dah…oh, here we go, Morien of Valonda, son of dah dah, father of blah blah, retainer to Artoria the Great of Drenate, now Drenland, fought in the blah blah, revenant type death knight…”

Michael waited as the dullahan continued to mumble and mouth words to herself. They decided to take their cocoa and drink some in the meantime, savoring the extra marshmallows provided. The mention of Morien was…maybe important, though they were somewhat bemused by the situation in general.

“…Okay, okay, I think I see where I messed up, Dispatch just said the job was ‘West’ and I made some silly assumptions, that’s my bad. In fairness to me though, you have a lot of demons around for a Light Land country.”

“We’re rectifying that,” Michael stated, “Why are you looking for Morien?”

“Eh? Oh! Do you know him?” At their nod, the demon of death smiled brightly. “Great, that makes things much easier! Alright, essentially, I’m looking for a wayward undead, that being Morien, who’s a good twelve hundred or so years old by now, and just recently re-died out over here. Now he did die already, it’s just that his soul was claimed by an Avaritian firm so there’s some finicky stuff going on, but his false-resurrection and incarnation into this world again has ended, so I’m here to collect his soul! I just can’t find it for some reason!”

Oh, that’s all then. “I sent him onward already.”

“…” Her smile remained, though she tilted her head in some confusion. “Huh?”

“I sent him onward. He wished an end to his torment under the heel of Seeker and her ilk, so I purified him of sin and sent him to his next life, whatever that may be.”

The dullahan blinked. “Eh? Eh??? Wait, you–Eep!” Before she leaned too far and her head slipped off, smacking to the ground and startling the halfling still watching into a sudden scream. Which, right, mortals were present. Albeit mostly several unconscious mortals.

“We should find somewhere better to talk.” Michael turned to the barkeep, ignoring the dullahan as she attempted to retrieve her fallen head. “Could you bring the lemonades up to my room? I am somewhat busy at the moment and I can pay extra if needed.”

“…y-yeah, um, sure. Sure, sure, why not? Probably less crazy than staying down here…” the halfling mumbled before busying herself.

The dullahan, meanwhile, had managed to retrieve her wayward head and was in the process of twisting it back into place while grumbling to herself. “Hmph. You know, it’s really rude to poach someone’s assignment.”

“Fascinating.” They took a sip of their cocoa, then considered matters further. “Actually, I’ll take the drinks. We can just talk in my room.”

The halfling, who was already gathering up the lemonades, let out a tired sigh. So Michael left another diamond for her troubles. Best to be nice to the serving staff, after all.

And so, with drinks in hand and gun in pocket, the angel made their way back upstairs with their guest in tow. “Noriko, Anaya, I brought drinks, a gift, and a guest.”

“Oh sweet, what did–Wha…” Noriko paused right as she was getting up from the bed, one hand still on the sheets as she stared past Michael, presumably at the dullahan, while Anaya–who really should be wearing more than a towel–went…oddly rigid.

“Anaya? Are you okay?” Michael asked, setting the drinks down on the table and heading over to the paling elf, whose eyes flicked at them for a moment before she let out a very slow breath.

“…M-Misha. Mish. Misha. Why…what’s with…” Anaya cleared her throat, apparently having trouble finding the words.

“Mishi, what’s the headless corpse in the doorway?” Noriko asked.

The angel blinked, then glanced back at the doorway where the dullahan stood, currently sans head. “Oh. She had one a second ago.”

That’s not reassuring!” Anaya hissed, clutching onto their arm. Which was somewhat distracting but also the dullahan’s head was missing, something her body just seemed to notice by its sudden jolt of surprise before it began…“looking” around in obvious confusion–

“Back here! Sorry, I didn’t get my head back on tight enough,” the dullahan’s head explained from behind her body, which turned and picked her back up again, before fixing her head back into place. “Mm hm hm…there we go! Hi there!”

“…Misha. What the fuck?” Anaya asked.

“I encountered a dullahan downstairs and brought her up to discuss why she’s in the Light Lands,” Michael explained.

“…Okay, okay, sweetie, I know you’ve been doing a lot better with people lately and gradually learning when to not punch others, but that is a corpse demon who I honestly think you should be punching right now.

“I understand where you’re coming from, Anaya, and fully agree under most circumstances, but recent events with that annoying bard and her group have shown me that leaping into action without considering the consequences–”

“I KNOW! I WAS THERE!” Anaya said, trying very hard not to shout as she spoke through her strained smile and clenched teeth.

“…” They sat on the bed, wrapping an arm around Anaya’s shoulders and giving her a slight hug. “Everything is okay. If she turns out to be a problem, I promise you, I will immediately kill her.”

“Uh…you know she’s still right there, right?” Noriko pointed out.

“Oh it’s fine, that’s totally reasonable,” the dullahan agreed, “It’s always good to find out if someone’s a problem before killing them, otherwise there’s a lot of paperwork.”

“That’s…sure, okay.”

“Anyhow, hi everyone, I’m Seona! I’m a dullahan from the Sixth Circle, my blood type is black, I was born under the sign of the reaper, and my favorite season is Winter!”

“…So we’re just doing this now? Okay, uh…this gal is Noriko, a shinobi of Gorokiva. Her blood type is…red? Her and her twin sister were born under the sign of the dragon king, and…she kinda likes Autumn best? Something about the leaves is nice.”

Anaya let out a slow sigh, leaning against Michael. “…I’m Anaya.”

When no further information was incoming, Michael spoke up. “And I am Misha Redwing, paladin of Judg–no, paladin of–wait, which one…”

“Mishi…did you seriously forget which–”

“Paladin? Aren’t you an angel though?” Seona asked, tilting her–then catching her head before it could fall.

“Oh, you can just tell then…yes, I am,” Michael confirmed, “Cardinal Michael, angel of Iudex.”

“Great, nice to meet you!” The dullahan was strangely smiley for someone interacting with a sworn enemy of her kind.

“So why’s she in our room again?” Anaya asked, still pressing close to Michael, who elected to drape one of the blankets over her shoulders since she seemed uncomfortable.

“Oh, Michael wanted to know…uh, what did you want to know again?”

“You came here for Morien, correct?” At the dullahan’s nod–which nearly sent her head falling again–Michael continued, “I was the one who sent him to his next life. I wanted to know why that would bring you to the Light Lands and what you may know about the demons involved with him.”

“Well, I don’t know the exact specifics of why Lady Thrillseeker had him, as her business isn’t really one to tell others the specific of their contracts, but I do know she often tricks the recently departed to sell their souls to her,” Seona said, closing her eyes as she began to think, “It can make things very difficult for me, and, well, dullahans in general, since it’s our job to help the dead pass on.” 

“If it’s your job or something, can’t you just make Seeker give them over?” Noriko asked, while raising her hand as if she was in a classroom.

“Well, short answer, no. Long answer is that it’s difficult. Generally speaking, if a no name mortal necromancer started raising the dead–specifically if it involves using the souls of the dead and not just puppeting corpses–then we can deal with them no problem. We dullahans practically exist to make sure mortals aren’t messing with dead souls so they can move on properly. The problem comes from if whoever is keeping the souls is actually someone of importance, which, as a prince of hell, Thrillseeker is definitely important. And that’s not even getting into her being a daughter of Mordant and a demigod in her own right. So while there is paperwork and laws of reality that we can use to make her hand them over, Thrillseeker herself knows this and began to work around it sometime ago.

“Namely, by tricking the dead into handing over their souls. Regardless of the method she uses, if they willingly give her their soul, then we have no claim unto them until the contract breaks.” With that she pointed over at Michael. “Which you apparently were able to do.” 

“Yes, I did. So there is no problem then. Morien has peacefully passed on and Seeker cannot reclaim him.” 

“…eeeehhhhh. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that he’s free, but the problem for me is because you did it and not me.” 

“And why’s that?” Anaya asked, sounding uncharacteristically suspicious. The fact that she’d formed a little mound with her blanket and was glaring at Seona through it contributed to her unusual aura of distrust.

“Oh, because the domains of the gods work differently. You know, the Rakuli are the gods of life so their followers reincarnate, the Ouza are the gods of death so their followers pass into the realms of the dead, the Laut are the gods of order so their followers fade into the void, that kind of thing. My people, the dullahans, bring the deceased that qualify as followers of the Ouza, or at least those who seek entrance into an afterlife, into the realms of the dead, while Michael–Actually, do you prefer Michael or Misha?”

“Misha is fine,” Michael answered.

“Good to know! But yeah Misha, as an angel, would cause a soul to reenter the cycle of reincarnation, the samsara or whatever you would like to call it, and since she poked Morien down that path, he’s reincarnated now, not back in the realms of the dead. Which is good for him, but weird for me, since that means I need to do a lot of extra work now to settle up with the broken contracts and all that. Oh, and I should probably warn you, but Thrillseeker is probably going to want your head on a pike. Avaritians are notorious for handling loss badly, especially when it comes to gold or souls.”

Michael shrugged. “She already causes problems for me.” 

“Yeah we already know how she can be.” Noriko said as she lifted up the cursed pillow. 

“…O-Oh, I was not aware you had a relationship with Lady Thrillseeker.” 

“I don’t,” Michael said, highly annoyed, “She enjoys messing with me and that’s just one way she’s doing it. You wouldn’t happen to know how to break a curse would you?” 

“Sorry, not my area of expertise. Hm…maybe…there was Julius’s friend, what’s his face…” Julius?

“Julius…Goldforge?” Anaya asked, slightly peeking out from her blanket cover, “You know Julius Goldforge?”

“Oh yeah, he’s my buddy! I’ve been trying to visit him for a while, but Capitalia’s weirdly hard to find…”

“That’s why you thought you were near Capitalia?” Michael inquired, their opinion of the dullahan lowering somewhat, “You were attempting to reach Goldforge?”

“Yep! Like I said, he’s my buddy. Let’s see…yeah, we met back in Maleficaba, with all those volcanoes, and he nearly got killed by this chimera–” Michael winced slightly, largely because they were the one who dropped Goldforge in that region to begin with. “–and I wound up saving him, so we traveled together for a while but he took the wrong boat and I never saw him again…well, aside from one time in the swamplands, but that was a different story, sort of a side thing. Anyhow, he’s friends with the bard guy who knows magic, so that might be helpful?”

Anaya made a strange little amused noise. “Wouldn’t his friend who’s, you know, a master arcanist be the better one to recommend to us?”

“He’s friends with a master arcanist?? Wow, that’s wild. The world is weird, huh?” Seona giggled, before grinning over at Michael. “Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, you sort of remind me of him.”

“…It was nice to meet  you Seona, I think it would be best if you left now,” Michael said, standing–Then Anaya pulled them back down by their shirt, earning a huff from the angel.

“Eh? Oh, ah, okay? I guess if that’s all you needed–”

“You don’t have to head out if you don’t want to,” Anaya offered, “We did get a room with three beds, so you can feel free to stay if you want.”

“What? Then where am I supposed to sleep?” Michael asked, frowning. Though that frown wavered rather quickly as they felt Anaya snake her arm around their waist.

“I think mine’s big enough for two~ Don’t you?”

“…ah…I, er…There are chairs–” 

Her grip tightened as she smiled. “I insist~”

“…You know this gal’s still in here, right?” Noriko spoke up.

“Well we could probably fit three if you want, I wouldn’t mind.”

Michael stiffened. “W-What?”

“Ooo, or we could push all the beds together so it’s one big bed!” Seona offered, smiling brightly, “It would be like a sleepover!”

“Good point!” Anaya agreed, grinning even wider.

“Hm…yeah, that could work,” Noriko also agreed. Which…hm.

And with no chance to argue against this course of action, the three beds were put together, with Michael ending up in the middle. 

“…is there a reason you two are so close to me?” 

“Seona’s cold, so I need a bit more warmth!” Noriko said, with Seona sitting up on her other side, the latter now dressed in a modest nightgown, also with a high collar.

“Yeah sorry about that, comes with being a dullahan.” 

“Right.” Michael then looked over at Anaya, who wasn’t anywhere near Seona but still pressed very close to them. 

“I’m cold too.” 

“…Wearing clothing would mitigate that.”

“Nah.”

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