Michael wasn’t quite sure what to do now. The day was far from done, and yet, it felt like it should be. The tournament, the talk with Naomi, the encounter with Redridge…again, they couldn’t help but curse the linearity of time and just how meandering mortal life could be. It was no wonder mortals came up with so many things to distract themselves; at the moment, Michael–and Seona by extension–were doing just that as they sat back and watched a magic show.
Or a magic battle? They weren’t entirely sure what the terminology was, though the conflict appeared more centered and rehearsed than any actual fight. Really, it seemed almost like a dance as the pair of performers moved around each other, their sleeveless vests baring the full tattoos that wound up their arms. As one might expect, the performer in red wove fire through the air, tracing a phoenix that swooped and spun, diving towards the hydra her partner in blue formed from swirling water. The great beast moved with a surprising grace at its creator’s directions, almost swimming through the air as its many heads bared their watery fangs under his guidance.
Really, the whole thing was giving Michael some…odd impressions. Almost like a portent…
“Lightland magic is pretty flashy,” commented Seona as she peeked through an opening in Michael’s cloak. Thankfully, the sound from the show, mixing in with the chatter from the crowd, let Seona speak without anyone hearing her.
“…Is darklander magic not as flashy?”
“Not really–Well, no, there is some flashy stuff, but anything flashy tends to be large ritual stuff. Not really something people do daily–Well unless they’re in a cult? Yeah, cults can do that easier, I think.”
Michael hummed in reply, adjusting their position to get more comfortable. “Tell me about it. The magic, not the cults.”
“Well there’s the ‘main’ trio I can start with: Drought, Rot, and Marrow–” Ugh, those three. “–who are in charge of thirst, plague, and blood magic,” Seona explained as she seemingly tilted her head, her hair brushing against their chest. “Not really something you can be flashy with, especially since it can end up backfiring on you. Like blood magic is more about keeping the blood in you, rather than making blood weapons.”
“Hm…yes, I remember fighting the priests of Marrow before. They did not bleed easily.” Rather, they were probably some of the most dangerous berserkers Michael had gone up against, and they’d fought wrath demons far more often.
“Exactly! There’s a lot more focus on staying alive with it, and on the self. Self-improvement, self-sufficiency, self-mutilation–That last one depends on the sect though, and it’s not really something the core faith practices all that much.” All that much? “I stayed with the Blood Church a while back, so I picked up some neat things from the blood monks. But yeah, no using blood like it’s water magic, otherwise you’d drain your body of way too much blood to survive losing.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Michael replied, having no intention to use blood magic at all. Or any real idea if they could. Do I even have the same type of blood that could be used? Does ichor count? Or would that be some type of sub-god…?
“As for the other two,” Seona continued, unaware of Michael’s musings, “Plague magic is about what you’d expect.”
“Infection and disease, horrific mutilation and mutation of the body, boils, bile, so on, so forth.”
“Yup! It’s dangerous stuff for mortals that don’t know what they’re doing, but pretty helpful if they do! Like, if I remember right, plague druids tend to act as doctors more often than not.”
Michael furrowed their brow, thinking back. “…The ones in the bird masks? Wait, how does plague magic translate to being doctors?”
“Well infection and cures are two sides of the same coin, right? At least I think that’s how that goes…anyhow, plague magic is surprisingly helpful for understanding how mortal bodies fight off infections and plague druids are usually the ones helping out if there’s an infection going around. I definitely see them a lot when I’m helping out on major assignments, usually helping with vaccinations or using pale leeches to drain the sickness.”
Michael didn’t know what most of that meant, so they just made a non-committal noise of vague understanding.
“As for dry monks, they’re a lot more ascetic. Lots of fasting, no indulgence, aiming for spiritual enlightenment and all that.”
“I recall asking about the magic, not the cults.”
“Eh? Oh, right, right, you did! Okay yeah, then plague magic is more about infection, pushing magic into the body and twisting it, usually in a negative way, but it can be positive if you’re doing something like bolstering someone’s immune system, while thirst magic is all about desiccation, the act of drying things. It’s more about depriving things of what they have, usually moisture, instead of adding anything in, so they’re sort of opposite sides of the spectrum.
“Hm, that’s actually a fun way to think of things…plague is about infection, blood is about preservation, and thirst is about deprivation. Oh, though thirst magic can be really handy for preserving things too, especially fruits and meats since you can just dry things out to make them last longer. If I remember right, one sect even made a business out of using Drought’s magic to sell jerky.”
They blinked. “Really? That’s…bizarrely mundane. Do darklanders usually use their magic for such small things?”
“Y’know, you could ask them yourself if you’re really curious,” a new voice spoke up as somebody abruptly sat down next to Michael, earning a confused glance from them. At least until they realized who it was.
“…Yeah, meeeeeeeeee,” the blue-haired young woman from Dro’s group replied, a blue eyebrow raised in a way that vaguely reminded Michael of Gabriel. Which, hm, hopefully she was doing well… “Do you…not know my name?”
“…I know it.”
Her gaze was remarkably skeptical. Also very Gabriel-esque. “Alright. What’s my name?”
“…It…is…” They kept their eyes on her face, searching for reactions. “Ay–…Bee–Ceeee–?”
“Are you seriously going through the alphabet?”
“No, of course not, S…Seee–…Saaaa–…Soooo–”
“You’re going through the vowels now.”
Well they had noticed by her reaction that it was something to do with the Suh sound. Now what names started with Suh? Or Cee, could still be Cee…No, probably Suh. Suh, suh…Sarah’s one, or Sophie or Sienna…Serezia is still popular, right? Or Summer…No, that doesn’t make sense for someone with blue hair, what’s a blue name? “…Of course I know your name…Seo–wait, sorry, that–…I was confused for a moment…Saahil?”
The woman who probably wasn’t Saahil pinched the bridge of her nose. “How the fuck did you of all people actually beat up Teach…”
Oh. She knows then. Michael worked their jaw, considering what to say. They were certain they could beat this human in a fight if it came to that, but they didn’t especially want to, what with Seona in their cloak. “…Your ‘Teach’ cut off my hand and cut open my chest. I wouldn’t say I ‘beat him up’.”
Not-Saahil glared at them, irritation obvious in her gaze, before she let out a slow sigh. “I guess that makes you even, huh? You took out his eye, after all.”
I did? Huh. “…I suppose. Do you intend to make things…uneven?”
From her continued glare, they were fairly certain they weren’t doing well at this “deescalation” thing. “Look, I didn’t come here to argue, we decided to look for you after we heard what happened. I just happened to be the one to find you.”
“Hm…if Mask was worried, you can tell them Noriko is doing okay. I was able to heal her after everything happened.” It seemed that did help as it visibly caught Not-Saahil a bit off guard.
“Oh, uh, thanks, I’ll make sure to tell them. Where are Nori and Anaya anyways?”
“…I needed some time to think. And this show was a nice distraction.”
“Well, sorry to interrupt your ‘distraction’–” For some reason, Michael didn’t think she was actually sorry. “–but after everything that happened, we really do need to talk about…what happened.”
“What is there to talk about? I defeated some demons and made sure no one died.”
“Yeah, sure, but that–Look, I know there was the whole ‘death knight’ thing the other day, but that was one round and you took care of him immediately. It’s not great that it happened, but it was over and done with before any of us even knew it was going on. Sure, you handled things again, but–Ugh, I’m repeating myself a lot…but, my point is, things escalated. People got hurt. It went bad. So what happens if it goes wrong again?”
Michael’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll handle it. As I have before. You weren’t there.”
“I know I wasn’t! Believe me, I’m not happy about that. I was tempted to try my hand at the melee, see what I could do, but I wound up going for a date with my boyfriend instead and now apparently people nearly died! So you can understand why I’m agitated here, right?”
They didn’t appreciate her tone. It wasn’t as though her presence would have made much difference, not when they were having trouble–They shook their head, scowling–
“What, you don’t?”
“That–I wasn’t responding to you, I was–Never mind.” They sighed, irritated. “What happened, happened, it doesn’t matter now.”
“Yeah, it does, because we need to know what we’re doing going forward here, especially with you in the mix, cardinal.” Michael bristled at Not-Saahil’s emphasis, especially with how the human was glaring at them. “Whatever all that leviathan stuff is, whatever all this demon stuff is, we need to be on the same page or else we’re going to have to assume you and yours are trying to do something stupid again because you care more about ‘the light’ or whatever instead of actual people!”
Michael stiffened, affronted, and was about to snap back that arrogant heroes shouldn’t speak on matters they knew nothing about when they heard an angry noise from in their cloak. “Hey, back off! Misha might be sort of testy, but they’re not that bad!”
Not-Saahil paused, blinking, before looking at Michael’s chest. “…Did…did your chest just talk to me?”
“…” Michael tried not to glance at Seona. “…Yes. Angels can do that.”
“They can?” Seona asked, not really helping with Michael’s lie. As such Michael used their free hand to cover her mouth. Shame it didn’t help much when the confused noise she let out made Not-Saahil reach over and pull the cloak open.
Thankfully, the show reached a climactic conclusion right at that moment as both the Phoenix and Hydra crashed into one another, the loud noise drowning out Not-Saahil’s startled gasp as she backed up at the sight of the severed head.
“W-What-!” Reaching up, Michael covered her mouth before she could shout and catch everyone’s attention.
“Shhhhh! Yes, I have a severed head in my cloak, she’s alive, it’s not an issue!” they hissed, trying to keep quiet too.
“Hi there! I’m Seona! You should be nicer to people,” Seona greeted, still not helping.
Not-Saahil looked from the head to the angel, blatantly baffled.
“It’s not an issue,” Michael reiterated, before slowly lowering their hand and closing their cloak, concealing Seona again.
“…okay.” The human slowly nodded. “Okay! That’s…what the fuck?”
“You’re one of the heroes, a severed head really shouldn’t be new to you.”
“Who in the fuck is used to severed heads?!” At least she was trying to keep her voice quiet too.
“You’re a hero?” Seona piped up, her voice slightly muffled by the fabric, “Do you know Julius Goldforge?”
“I–…yeah? Uh. He’s my mentor?”
“Really?? Oh wow, small world! Well, no, big world, very big and lonely, but what a funny coincidence! I’m Seona, like I said, She Who Guides The Lost, and your mentor’s a friend of mine! We killed a chimera together, it was rad.”
“…okay, this is officially the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had.”
Michael huffed. “Then you have very little life experience.”
“Oh, you agree then. Good.”
Not-Saahil stared at them, then pinched the bridge of her nose again, muttering something. “…can’t believe she’s this stupid.”
“Hey.” The human paused, looking up at Michael’s irritated gaze. “Don’t be rude to Seona.”
“Yeah, don’t be rude to me!” Seona chimed in, her voice still muffled.
“…I don’t know why I expected anything else,” Not-Saahil grumbled, “Should we just…find somewhere private to talk?”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “What else is there to talk about? You dislike me, I don’t particularly like you, you’re aware of the demons and leviathans, and you have the chosen hero at your side. If you want to get involved, you have the full ability to.” Even if I really would rather you didn’t…
“We are getting involved. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s better if we at least talk things out. Even if we don’t work together, we can at least make sure we don’t get in each other’s way.”
“Just don’t get in my way, it’s as simple as that. I don’t see any benefit of talking beyond that.”
“…” Letting out a sigh, Not-Saahil crossed her arms. “You think the leviathan’s are going to get involved in Orindaco, yeah?”
“Yes. It’s the most obvious place they’ll strike.”
“Julius’s sister is in charge of Orindaco. What makes you think she’ll want to work with the angel that almost killed her brother?”
“…” Michael…hadn’t considered that. What was her name again…Margrave Brascul? Do people still use the Margrave title? Never mind that, if the ruler of the city decides I can’t be there…Well obviously I could push the issue, I’m a cardinal, but that might tip my hand far too early. And that was leaving aside the extremely remote possibility that Goldforge’s sister could be on his level and thus an actual physical threat to them…Still. “If I have tickets to the wedding, she won’t be able to deny my access.”
“Right, the tickets you won in the last two events. No, wait, you didn’t win either one! Oh noooo, looks like that’s a bust.”
Michael frowned at her sarcasm. “There’s still the archery competition.”
“Which Sergio is going to participate in.”
They blinked. “…the archer?”
“That’s the one, yeah. I mean, we do need tickets, so why wouldn’t he join up?”
“You’re the chosen heroes, you should be able to get into a wedding!”
“We’d prefer not to abuse our power like that.” A second later, Not-Saahil huffed in amusement. “No, that’s a lie, we just need the tickets to get on the skyship heading to Orin or else it might take too long to get there.”
Right, travel times…Blast, I didn’t consider that either, every day wasted here could mean we miss the wedding entirely!
Michael stood, earning a startled look from Not-Saahil. “You’re right, I can’t waste time here then–”
“The competition isn’t until tomorrow.” Her words cut through their thoughts, aided by the very flat look she was giving them. “Look, just…I’m looking for a way that we work together here, without being at each other’s throats or getting in each other’s ways. Are you up for that, or does your ego matter more than saving lives?”
Michael stiffened, before glaring down at the human. “I don’t have an ego.”
“Then stop acting like an ass and ask me what my damn name is! Seriously! It’s not that hard!”
“…What is your name?”
“Sue Orc-Kicker, thank you for asking.”
“I got it from kicking an orc–” That didn’t explain anything at all to Michael. “–now come on, we have things to discuss.”
“Fine,” Michaell grumbled, before following the blue-haired hero away from the stage until the two of them–well, three, counting Seona–reached a section of the fairgrounds where tables were set up for eating nearby a number of food tents. And where the other three heroes–Dro, Fin, and Mask–were all seated, the former on one side of the table while the other two flanked him. “…Is this your attempt at intimidating me?”
“That depends. Is it working?” Fin drawled, before batting Dro’s elbow away from his side.
“Well well well–”
Dro paused, blinking at Michael’s interruption. “Uh…no?”
“No, it didn’t work. I was answering Fin.”
There was the vague noise of Orc-Kicker’s palm meeting her face from behind Michael, but the angel elected not to pay attention to that.
“…Right, yeah, uh…well…fuck, that threw me off…”
“Told you you can’t do villain speeches,” Fin commented. That time, the elbow connected.
“It’s not a villain speech, it’s just–Mask, stop drinking, we’re doing a bit!”
“Mm? Oh, sorry.”
…These are the heroes of the Light Lands. Michael felt an all too familiar headache coming on. The Idiot Hero Migraine, Gabriel once called it. Unfortunately common when dealing with the wielder of the Chosen Sword and/or their companions.
“Hi!” Seona greeted, cutting through Michael’s memories of impassioned speeches and reckless tactics, “So you guys are the rest of Jules’s students! It’s nice to meet you all!”
“…Hey angel, why are your tits talking?” Fin asked.
“I think that’s her belly?” Mask said, tilting their head in curious interest.
Michael just sighed, then took Seona out from their cloak and set her on the table. “This is–”
“GAH FUCK!” They blinked as Fin fell out of his seat, took note of Dro’s hand going right for the hilt of his sword, and then glanced at Mask, whose head was tilting their other way now.
“Huh. Why do you have a severed demon head? Is it a trophy?”
“Guys, that’s Seona, she’s a friend of Teach’s,” Orc-Kicker explained, gesturing to the smiling dullahead, “She’s also a dullahan, so the decapitation is…natural-ish. I guess. Seona, these are the guys. Adrien, Sergio, and Mask.”
“Well like I said, it’s nice to meet you all!” Seona chirped, still smiling brightly.
“…Yeah, okay,” Dro said, easing back down, “Uh…hi Seona. It’s nice to meet you too, I guess.”
“Hi again! Like I said, it’s nice to–”
“Moving along,” Michael said as they took a seat beside Seona. Well, somewhat beside, the dullahead wasn’t sitting beside them, she was technically next to them on the table–It felt rude to sit behind her. “Orc-Kick…Sue has filled me in on the basis of your…plan, such that it is, in that you intend to win tickets to the wedding. Or, more specifically, the tickets to the airship that will get you to the wedding. It is my understanding then that you wish to…work together. Correct?”
“…In a sense, sure.” Dro folded his hands in front of his face, as though he were a deep-thinking schemer instead of an idiot teenager. “If you want to be more formal about it, we could call it a ‘non-aggression pact against a mutual enemy’. There’s demons and also leviathans, apparently, trying to cause problems across the Light Lands. One of the places that they’re pretty much guaranteed to hit is the wedding of King Richard and Molly Seaside–”
“Molly what?” Michael interrupted, incredulous.
“Molly Seaside? She’s from Shioneri–Okay, your face is in your hands, why?”
Michael had no response. They just…couldn’t, for a good few seconds. “…they’re not even hiding it. I just…Why?”
“…Y’know, Seaside is a really common name up north–”
“OH IS IT. IS IT REALLY?”
“…The angelic asshole has a point,” Fin pointed out from his place still on the ground, because apparently he was just comfortable there, “That’s super on the nose.”
“Okay, well, look, maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t!” Dro said, “Maybe she actually is a completely average woman from an island who just has a weirdly applicable last name if she happened to be a leviathan! We don’t know! And that’s part of the whole…talking right now thing. We both want this whole infiltration-invasion thing to stop, so it’s better we work together now and keep it from getting as out of control as a pair of giant demons trying to kill people in the middle of a tourney, yeah? Can we agree on that?”
Michael frowned. “…I am…surprised you are willing to. I would have thought you would hold a stronger grudge from my encounters with your mentor.”
“Oh believe me, we all think you suck,” Fin said, which prompted Dro to shove his foot off the bench.
“Serge isn’t wrong, you do suck, but we’ve turned enemies into friends before. Like with the darklanders.”
“To be fair, we’re not really friends with most of them,” Mask decided to point out, “I still think that werewolf guy is a jerk for fisting me.”
Fin abruptly laughed while Sue rolled her eyes and Dro made a revolted face. “That’s not what that word–you did that deliberately.”
“Maybe.” Mask took a sip of their drink–Is that orange juice? I thought it was alcoholic–No, never mind, it’s better it isn’t. I doubt that slime is old enough to drink…wait, what are alcohol laws around here anyway?
“Right, well…yeah, that’s our pitch. What do you think?” Dro asked, turning back to Michael, “If we work together on this, we’ll make sure to get tickets for you and your group too. Then we can head to Orin together no problem.”
“…” Michael…wasn’t sure how to respond. They weren’t. They should have said yes. Intellectually, there was an understanding that they should have, because that was the better move. It would help the most, working with the heroes. But a part of them…the idea rankled. “I…can see the benefits to your offer.”
“Then you agree, yeah?”
“…May I have some time to think about this?”
“What’s there to think about?” Fin asked, “I’ll win the archery competition and you’ll get a free ride. You’re getting the most out of this.”
“I still need to think about it. I should talk with Anaya and Noriko on the subject as well. And I may still find a way to arrive there quicker than taking the route you are offering, so I want to keep my options open.”
Dro sighed. “Could you at least agree to the non-aggression thing? I don’t think any of us want to fight you.”
“I do,” Fin commented.
“Shut up, Serge.
“Bet I could kick her ass.”
Considering the human was still laying on the ground after being startled by a severed head, Michael had their doubts. Speaking of, they lifted up Seona–earning a surprised “Oh, we’re going?” from her–and placed her back in their cloak as they stood. “I will not intend to seek conflict with you. As for other matters, we can decide them as needed. I…just need time to think about it. Alright?”
“…Yeah, alright, I guess I’m good with that,” Dro agreed.
“Take it easy, Redwing.” Sue waved them off, and Michael began making their way back to the inn, ignoring Seona’s reply of “Bye junior heroes!” as their mind whirled with thoughts and concerns once more.
Logically, reasonably, working with the heroes was a better option. Combining forces, aiding them. Equally reasonably, heroes were unreliable. Past experience had shown that mortal efforts often amounted to nothing in the grand span of a thousand years, no matter the individual. Even the greatest of kings would still die in the end, never once reaching the peak of godhood or even the valley of the angelic…But that wasn’t their reason for disliking the idea. The nature of mortals didn’t factor into why they found spending time with the heroes to be unpleasant. Their moral character…how much did it matter?
They took a slow breath, centering themself amid the crowds as the sounds of the festival faded away. Michael pulled the hood of their cloak tighter to hide what glow there may be as they Spoke. <O Heavenly Father, I beseech of thee, grace me with thine wisdom.>
And unto them, their Father did answer. <OH HELLO MICHAEL. YOU’RE BEING VERY FORMAL. IS SOMETHING WRONG?>
Michael grimaced slightly, not quite sure how to phrase things. <I am well. There was some trouble with demons, but I handled it without casualties. I ask for your wisdom in a matter of great importance.>
<THEN ASK, MY CARDINAL, AND I SHALL ANSWER.>
<…So you remember those heroes that caused problems a few months ago? Not the older generation with the traitor and his ilk, the heroes he mentored–The simple point of it is that the current Chosen Hero wielding the Chosen Sword and his party are intending to aid in the matter of the leviathans and I wanted to know what your thoughts were on the prospect of…working with them.>
<OH, THAT SOUNDS FINE TO ME. IF IT IS FOR THE GOOD OF THE LIGHT LANDS, THEN THERE IS NO ISSUE IN WORKING WITH SUCH INDIVIDUALS.>
Michael nearly stumbled. <Wait, really? But they–Their mentor betrayed us, he sided with the Ouza!>
<YES, BUT THE SINS OF THE TEACHER ARE NOT THE SINS OF THE STUDENT.>
<…Yes?? They are?? That–A student learns of evil from a teacher, right? So thus they are corrupted?>
<IS THAT PART OF THE DOCTRINE? I DON’T RECALL ADDING ANYTHING LIKE THAT. REGARDLESS, THE UTILITY THEY BEAR MATTERS MORE THAN THE FOOLISH LOYALTIES THEY MAY HAVE HELD. THEY ARE YOUNG, THEY CAN LEARN, AND THEY SHALL IN TIME. AS A CARDINAL, YOU ARE ONE WHO COULD OFFER SUCH GUIDANCE.>
Michael immediately hated that idea. Immediately, earnestly, absolutely hated the idea of guiding another bunch of idiot heroes floundering around with speeches of friendship and reckless loyalties–<I do not believe I would be suited to guide them.>
<OF COURSE YOU ARE, MY CARDINAL. FOR YOU ARE THE GUIDE OF HEROES AND THE DEFENDER OF PEACE. I KNOW YOU CAN HANDLE ANYTHING THAT MAY COME.>
They held back the urge to contradict their Father, to tell him that wasn’t the point! That it didn’t matter that they could handle it, they didn’t want to!
But they didn’t.
<I understand, my Heavenly Father. Thank you for your guidance.>
<ANY TIME. GO WITH GRACE, MY CARDINAL.>
Michael released the connection once more, then bit back the urge to scream because that didn’t help in the slightest. They weren’t sure what they were hoping for–No, they were, they wanted their Father to tell them to have nothing to do with the blasted heroes. The angel didn’t like heroes, the heroes clearly didn’t like the angel, so why did they have to keep interacting??
“–it too tightly there, ow, ow, ow–” Was what greeted Michael as they focused once more on their surroundings. Realizing what exactly Seona was saying, they immediately loosened their tight grip on her head.
“Ah, are you okay?”
“Y-Yeah, I’m good. Though, ow…guessing that call didn’t go well?”
“Hm.” Not wanting to go into detail, Michael just made a non-committal noise as they began to walk again. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem, just, uh, set me down next time? Getting crushed hurts a lot more than I thought it would…”
Well, at least Seona was easy to deal with despite being a demon–
Pausing in their movement, it slowly dawned on Michael that they had just apologized to a demon.
They, a Cardinal of Judgment, found it easier to apologize and work with a demon than ally with the chosen heroes. They could almost hear Apollyon’s laughter. What were they even doing on this journey…?
…Should Gabriel have been the one to embark on this quest?
They shook their head the instant the thought came to them, trying to deny the idea. Gabriel was better with mortals, sure, Michael could admit that, but would she have handled the crises they dealt with nearly as well? No, of course not–
She would’ve acted more cautiously. She wouldn’t have struck at Borzla unprepared, she would have the forethought to avoid Garoti’s secession, she wouldn’t have fallen for the Shogun’s words or Daigo’s lies–
They forced their body to relax. They weren’t going to crush Seona again. They wouldn’t.
But why do I care? She’s a demon. She reaps the souls of the dying, steals them away to false paradises and cruel hells. She…They took another breath, calming their whirling thoughts. They needed to focus. There was no point in dwelling. Not when they had work to do.
But do I? All I’m doing is waiting for the heroes. Again. And again, and again, and again–Always the cardinal, never the hero. An angel is not meant to change the world, they are meant to support those that would.
Just like Michael was meant to support Anaya, so they would. They just had to make it back to her. Then…What next? What would happen? Another demon attack? More reacting, never acting. More chances for the few mortals they liked to get killed.
They could feel an itch at their back, an urge to spread their wings and fly to Orin, and damn the consequences.
But they didn’t. They just walked, heading to the inn and whatever they would find there.
They weren’t expecting logs. “What.”
“Oh, hey Misha!” Noriko waved a hand once she noticed them, the human currently sitting on the ground outside the inn with a number of logs spread across the grass in front of her. And not small logs, like the type meant for firewood, no, they were large logs, about the size of Noriko’s torso, which she seemed to be carving things into as Anaya idly drank lemonade at the inn’s patio table. “You took a while.”
“…I was busy–What’s with the logs??”
“Oh, they’re for kawarimi.” For what? “This gal figures since she had trouble with those demons at the melee, she should prep for fights ahead of time some more, so she’s getting all these ready to substitute in as needed, like if someone attacks her. Or if she just wants to get out of an awkward conversation.”
Noriko sighed, like Michael was the one being ridiculous. “This gal can swap with objects that are about the same size as her, it’s a substitution ninjutsu thing.”
“I…have no idea how that could possibly work, but fine, if it helps.”
“It should, probably! It’s good to have just in case, at least.”
“Well…if it helps,” Michael repeated as they sat down at the table with Anaya, earning a little wave from the cheery elf, “I also have some news. The heroes have offered to work with us.”
“Wait, really?” Noriko asked as she stopped in her carving, “Well, it’ll be cool hanging out with Mask some more.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Anaya’s response was even more positive, a bright smile coming to her face. “I imagine they’ll be participating in the archery tournament, so that’ll make getting into the wedding easy!”
Right, so both of them were okay with working with the heroes. That was…good.
“Yes, now we just have to…wait,” Michael said, grimacing for a moment before they schooled their features.
“…Misha, is everything okay?” Anaya asked, a bit of worry evident in her voice.
“Of course, this is the best plan to ensure everything goes well. The heroes will get the tickets, we’ll travel with the heroes, everything will be fine.” They could almost believe it too.
Anaya seemed oddly skeptical though. “Hey, Misha…do you have a problem with the heroes?”
“Why would I? They’ll do what is necessary, as will we–”
“That’s not an answer, Misha.” She reached a hand across the table with a reassuring smile. “You can talk to me. I promise I’ll listen.”
For the briefest moment, Michael considered coming clean. They considered explaining the problem with Goldforge, the treachery he’d committed, the actions Michael took against him. And then they wondered how Anaya would take those revelations. She…clearly had some fondness there. It was impossible not to see. She didn’t seem to care that Goldforge had left for the Dark Lands, aside from a disappointment she wouldn’t meet him; what would she think of his betrayals? Of his exile?
…What would she think of me for trying to kill him?
“I don’t like how long we have to wait,” Michael decided to say. It wasn’t a lie, it was true, it was just half of their reasoning. Not the entire thing. And besides, angels could lie for the good of mortals. That was fine. Wasn’t it? “We don’t know what plans the leviathans may have, nor do we know when exactly the wedding is planned to take place, only when we’ll get there. All we know is that there is a threat coming up and we’re not there handling it.”
“Isn’t patience a virtue?” Noriko piped up, earning a scowl from the angel.
“It is when it actually accomplishes something. Diligence is also a virtue, and acting quickly is just as important as waiting for an opportunity.”
“So you’re impatient, got it.”
Their scowl deepened, though they paused when Anaya cleared her throat to get their attention. “So the big issue is that it’ll take too long to get to Orindaco?”
“Essentially, yes. We’ll have to wait a day for the archery competition, then the ship itself will only be leaving the day after, so we’ll be wasting two days at least that we could be using to reach Orindaco and start investigating properly.”
“Right, okay, I see what you mean, and I can understand why you might be feeling anxious about this, especially after how bad things got in Gorokiva.” Noriko winced there, earning an apologetic look from Anaya before she continued. “But, the thing is, we don’t really have a way to get there quickly enough. From Queenshill to Orin, it’s about a five to six day journey walking, maybe two days if we take a carriage or a horse, and that’s assuming it’s a straight journey without interruptions. Now if we assume Charlie’s going to be in the second category, we’re still probably losing two days either way. And from what I’m hearing, if we do go with the skyship, the trip’s barely five hours.”
Michael blinked. That was…actually impressively fast for a mortal-made vehicle. “…The people you heard that from could be exaggerating.”
“They could be, sure; it is still a new technology and people like to talk those things up, but the fact remains that we’re probably going to spend the same amount of time waiting or traveling either way. It’s rough, but it’s true.”
Michael was about to respond when Seona cut them off. “Ah, hi, sorry to interrupt, but who’s Charlie?”
“Oh, hi Seona, I didn’t realize you were still in there. Would you like some lemonade?” Anaya offered, already pouring her a glass, “I’d offer Michael some but they prefer hot liquids.”
“I could handle cold liquids,” they retorted while setting Seona on the table so the dullahead could participate in the conversation.
“Mm, if you say so.” I did. “To answer your question though, Charlie’s our motor carriage. Well, they started as a temple core, but then they fused with our carriage, some things happened, and, well, now they can drive without horses.”
“Ooohhh, you have a car!” Seona said, “Wow, I didn’t realize mortals could get those.”
“Eh? You know what a car is?” Noriko asked, deciding to participate in the conversation again.
“Oh for sure, we have them all over the place in the Sixth Circle.” Wait, what? “But, more importantly, if you have one of those, I can help you get to that Orin place!”
“You can? How?” Michael inquired, disregarding the mention of hellcars for the moment.
“Just bring me to the car, I’ll handle the rest!”
“Okay, that’s the last log in!” Noriko said as she shut Charlie’s trunk. The nearby stablehands who had brought Charlie out were watching with some visible confusion while one talked with Anaya.
“Yeah, Charlie was fine. You might wanna feed them more often though, the poor guy seemed famished.”
“…I…didn’t know they could eat, but alright, thanks for the heads up. What would be good?”
“Well they seem to like oats just fine.”
Michael, meanwhile, examined their motor carriage with a slightly more suspicious eye–they’d already had their concerns after the core possessed the carriage to begin with; now knowing cars were hellish in nature just raised their hackles again–before glancing down at the dullahead in their arms. “So…what do you need to do here, exactly?”
“Oh it’s super simple! Just get in and let me focus, I can handle the rest! Oh, but first, get everyone coming along inside, alright?”
“…Alright then. Anaya, Noriko, we’re going now.”
“Okay, coming!” Anaya said, making her way to the driver’s seat.
“Alright, let’s get going~!” Noriko chirped as she slid into the passenger’s seat beside Anaya.
And Michael completed things by climbing into the backseats. They kept Seona’s head in their lap as they settled in, before glancing down at the dullahead. “So what now?”
She didn’t reply though, her eyes closed as she seemed to focus.
“…Seona? What are you–” Michael was about to ask just what the dullahan had planned when a blue flame poured from her head and suddenly enveloped the entire car, earning a startled yelp from Anaya and an equally startled laugh from Noriko.
If any of the group had been outside the car at that moment, they would have seen it suddenly shift, its surface becoming a glossy shade of black emblazoned with silver skull and bone decorations all across its surface, including a large skull with sapphires for eyes now affixed to the hood as an ornament and silver spines and spikes of bone stretching across its surface. They also would have noticed the moment the tires on the car suddenly burst into blue flame, gleaming with otherworldly light, before the hood ornament suddenly started laughing maniacally and the entire vehicle seemed to stretch, before rocketing off into the distance in a sudden burst of blue flames and elemental darkness, leaving two trails of sapphire flame and some deeply confused stablehands in its wake.
And one that was pretty happy to know he was right about the carriage being demonic.