“Ah, I was wondering what she’d become,” Kozloi said, watching as black smoke curled from Noriko’s hunched form, “That’s the empress’s sister, right? I didn’t recall the imperial family having a proper animal symbol, so I’m curious.”
Michael stared. Noriko wasn’t screaming, not anymore, but there were still noises, pained ones, as her body twisted. Her mouth was uncovered, the cloth torn away so she could breathe, and her fangs were even larger. Her hair was turning white as her face was distorting, becoming something red and bestial with long whiskers; her gloves ripped open, fingers turned to claws, and the sound of bones breaking echoed as her spine stretched.
Then they heard Kozloi’s giggle. “Aw, how terrible. I wonder, how many of them do you think are transforming that painfully? There has to be at least some losing complete control, especially as those animal instincts assert themselves. I wonder how long it’ll be until they start eating–”
Kozloi was expecting the hit. It’s very important to note that she was fully expecting Michael to try to charge at her. Her hand was on her sword’s hilt, ready to draw it and split the angel in two the instant they tried to fly at her. The ritual would make it even easier, the circle on the table acting as a barrier that the angel would futilely slam against, making it all the easier to cut them down.
So, even expecting it, Kozloi was not at all expecting Michael’s fist to crash into her face far faster than she could see it. Nor was she expecting just how hard the hit would be; she could feel her teeth break under their knuckles and her feet left the table. No barrier stopped it, and no barrier caught her as she went straight across the room and smashed straight into the dragon painting hard enough to send blood bursting from her mouth.
Michael snarled as the leviathan dropped to the floor, then turned to Noriko, watching as their companion continued to shudder in bone-breaking agony. They needed to break the curse. They looked down to the table, raised their hand and gathered flame–Then jerked back as a sudden slice split the table in half.
“Did you really think that would stop it?” Kozloi spat out a tooth before giving Michael a wide, bloody smile, resting her cutlass on her shoulder, “Stupid. This is a countrywide ritual, you think it’ll go down with just one array destroyed?”
They scowled. “End it then. Or will I have to take your life to stop it!?”
She laughed. “Ahahahahaha! Ahh, you moron! You think my life’s the key here?! This isn’t some single point of failure bullshit I’m running here, I planned this out! Do you really think I’d leave holes open to bring it all crashing down!?”
“You planned it? Really? Or are you just–” They formed a staff to block the next overhead cut, glaring into Kozloi’s cruel grin.
“For all intents and purposes, yeah, this is my project. But sure, if you want to be technical, I guess it was a joint venture. Are you hoping I’ll tell all so you can fix things? Because I want you to know something, I didn’t add a way to stop this. I don’t want it to stop. I want this country to die!”
Michael wrenched their staff to the side and swung for her head, then countered several more slashes as the giddy leviathan retaliated. Each cut met solid flame, sending sparks but never breaking through.
“Ahahaha! Ah, come on birdy! Let’s see which is better! The flames of heaven, or the waters of hell!” she yelled, swinging faster, her eyes shining with bloodlust. So Michael batted her blade aside and punched her in the face again, their knuckles driving straight into her mouth.
There was a sharper crack that time as Kozloi tumbled then rolled to her feet, more teeth missing as she shook off the blow, before she rushed in again. Michael adjusted their grip, shifting their staff into something more like a truncheon, and moved to meet her, clashing solid flame against gleaming steel.
They didn’t just move to block though, taking opportunities in clashes and deflections to add in more direct blows. A bat away turned into a hook across Kozloi’s jaw, a deflection was followed by a boot to the gut, and a clash that brought them in close turned to Michael driving their forehead into the leviathan’s skull.
Though that one just resulted in Kozloi slamming her head into theirs in turn, her smile still wide and–Michael didn’t pause, not in battle, but Kozloi had some of her teeth back. How was that–?
They sprung back, their wings flapping for distance as Kozloi let out a half laugh, half snarl. “What is that!? You’re a coward now, birdy?!”
Michael sneered, but they didn’t rise to the bait. Well, they did fling the staff into Kozloi’s face–earning a startled yelp and pained “AGH! FUCKER!”–but the more important thing was seeing that Kozloi was not immune to the magic she was unleashing.
Half her face had already started shifting, pale skin becoming blue scales that were spreading down her neck.
“What?! What are you…” Kozloi stopped, stared at her left hand. She flexed it, confusion entering her eyes, before her tentacles squirmed, some kind of black fur spreading over half of them. “What the–What did...ah. Ah ha ha, ah, that...it’s…”
Her face started to twitch, one of her eyes visibly turning from its natural green to a bright yellow. “You birdy bitch, you just screwed me…”
“I thought your plan couldn’t fail?” They formed another staff, watching as the leviathan laughed again, madder this time. Not quite unhinged, but certainly angry.
“It can’t! But you, you you you...I’m not becoming a dragon. I’m not.”
“You look like you are.”
“BUT I’M NOT!” she shouted, snarling with a full mouth of sharp teeth. Half her tentacles had become shaggy black hair and a mix of smoke and steam pushed from her nostrils as she breathed.
“Is becoming a dragon so bad to a leviathan? Does this transformation mean something to your people?” Their eyes narrowed. “Can you go home as you are?”
She stumbled in place. “...fuck you. Fuck you, you can’t say that! I can–I-I can…”
“Can you fix this?”
“...” She stared down at her hand again...then snarled in furious outrage, before closing the distance, steam emanating from her body as she swung for Michael’s head. The swing was blocked and Michael closed in too, driving their fist into her stomach.
The blow broke armor and drove the air from her lungs, before Michael followed it up, smashing their fist into her chin. She flew, like Cleaver, and landed hard, her sword clattering to the floor nearby.
Michael regarded her for a moment, then turned their gaze to the paintings, the table, something to give them some kind of hint on how to break the curse–
Then they heard a growl.
They turned, and saw Noriko.
She was on all fours, her face contorted into a vicious snarl showing far sharper teeth. A mane of white hair covered her red face, and her jaws jutted forward, somewhere between a cat and an ape. Her hands and feet were clawed, and she moved like a tiger, stripes across the orange fur on her arms and legs, while her chest was a mix of shaggy black and brown hair. Her yellow eyes looked predatory, and something between a vicious growl and a monstrous hiss echoed through the air.
She stalked forward, her long, serpentine and scaled tail trailing behind her as she began to circle Michael.
“...” They fought back the instinct to charge forward. They didn’t attack their ally. They wouldn’t attack their...friend. “...Noriko. It’s Michael. Misha. I’m not your enemy.”
Another hissing growl, her hackles raising, black smoke still leaking from her body.
They raised their hands, palms out, fingers splayed. Showing no intention of harm. “I know you’re still you. This was a painful change, I know. But it’s not you.”
Her eyes gleamed. The air felt heavy.
“...Please.” They moved to one knee. “I swear, I mean you no harm.”
She didn’t relax. She tensed, another growl, another hiss, echoing through the oppressive air.
Michael knelt, fully, on both knees. “I promise. You’re...I care about you. I’ll fix this. I’m sorry I didn’t help you. I don’t fear you. I want you to be okay.”
They did nothing as she leapt.
They turned their head, some surprise shooting through them as they saw Noriko’s jaws around Kozloi’s throat, bringing the leviathan to the ground and sending her sword falling to the floor, her swing for Michael’s neck abruptly aborted.
Kozloi screeched, a pained, furious sound as she wriggled and twisted, her clawed hand trying to wrench Noriko off of her as her legs kicked, twisted, and shifted. There was a bursting of fabric and steel as Noriko had to let go and leap back, Kozloi’s throat suddenly too big for Noriko’s jaws as the leviathan–No, the dragon changed.
Or maybe she was something in between? Half her elongated, serpentine body was still a mix of pale white and speckled orange, but the rest was all blue scales. She screeched again, twisting her massive tail and smashing through much of the room as Michael pushed Noriko down, ducking under the wild flailing.
Kozloi twisted and turned, before breaking straight through the top of the room, surrounded by blue and orange clouds, rising into the sky as Michael spread their wings, blocking Noriko from the rubble.
They let out a breath, checked to see Noriko was okay, then gave her a pat on the back. “Protect the Shogun.”
Noriko gave them a confused look, then glanced at the miraculously unhurt snake, still hiding in his trousers. She chuffed, apparently less than impressed with her previous employer, before going over to him and moving her head under him to pick him up on her back.
Michael nodded to the sight, then took flight after the dragon-leviathan, who whirled in the air and let out a furious screech the second she saw them. Michael hadn’t seen a fully transformed leviathan before, so they weren’t completely certain how much of her was draconic and how much was natural, but the crooked antler jutting from one side of her head seemed unnatural. Her tendrils seemed to all hair now too, forming a flowing mane of black and orange, while most of her body was fully serpentine, though she kept her forelegs in the form of sharp claws.
“One chance, Kozloi Banguani mar Zyafol. I give you one chance to surrender now–”
The immediate blast of orange and blue flame from the dragon-leviathan’s mouth put an end to that negotiation.
Michael frowned, their hand outstretched as they blocked the blast. They sighed. “I need to stop asking….but is asking better?”
They shook their head, deciding to save the question for later as storm clouds began to gather in the air. They had a monster to defeat.
“Why in the world didn’t he do that earlier?” Vivian asked, frowning at the asshole dragon still roaring triumphantly towards the increasingly cloudy sky.
“Maybe he couldn’t?” Polina suggested, holding onto a small, yellow cat that seemed less than pleased to be pressed against her breastplate.
Hiroto made what might’ve been an agreeing noise, though it was a bit hard to tell. Vivian idly scratched behind his head, earning a more surprised sounding noise, before the large tiger leaned into the scritches. Ah, to be more accurate, the large sabertooth tiger. Apparently the curse afflicting all the people in the capital doubled up when it came to someone who was already a beastfolk, turning the tigrin into a far larger sabertooth instead of just a regular tiger.
The fact that he was a natural tigrin might also be why he was more in control of himself than a lot of the transformed Gororans around, though Vivian couldn’t be sure. The mechanics of the curse weren’t immediately obvious, but at least she could tell that people were turning into animals and apparently weren’t happy about it, judging by all the screeching and screaming and flying pheasants. And apparently those transformations counted for dragons too, at least in one case, which brought her back to Polina’s question.
“Do you think so? Wouldn’t it be strange for the head of the Dragon Clan to be...not a dragon?”
“I’m sure he was still draconic enough to count, but it might’ve been he couldn’t go full-formed like this.”
“That would make some sense…” Vivian nodded, then started strolling forward, out from the overhang they’d climbed out from. Polina’s shield came in handy in avoiding being buried under a ton of rubble. Vivian was in no hurry to relive that type of experience… “Well, dragon or no, we still need to take him down.”
“Yeah, we do. Hey Tora, you can hold onto Neko here, right?”
Hiroto rumbled as Nekotani made a displeased hiss. She tried to scamper away when Polina set her down, but she was pretty easily pinned under the tiger’s large paw.
“So, do you have somethin’ that can take down a dragon?” Polina asked, already forming a new mace in her hand.
“It’s been a while, but I think I can.” Vivian, meanwhile, clapped her hands together, catching Rokuhara’s attention as she pulled her palms apart, forming a bow out of light that she easily took into her hand, the familiar weight feeling just fine in her grip. “Dragons aren’t too hard. You just need to hit them in the squishy bits.”
“HA! YOU FOOLISH FOREIGNERS! YOU THINK YOU CAN STAND UP TO MY MIGHT?!” Rokuhara roared, planting his claws into the ground as flames licked all across his scaly body. “THIS DRAGON HAS ACHIEVED THE PINNACLE OF HIS RACE! NONE IN THIS WORTHLESS COUNTRY CAN POSSIBLE STAND TO HIS MIGHT!”
“I’ve seen bigger,” Vivian replied. She formed an arrow and drew back a string of pure light, the soothing, peaceful sensation of utter certainty and clarity settling over her mind as she took aim.
Rokuhara roared again, all rage and fury and no real substance, before the flames gathered in his maw, burning a bright, vivid orange as he reared back–
Then the sky boomed and a bolt slammed straight into Rokuhara’s head and drove him straight into the ground, smashing his skull deep into the stone.
“...Oh, I see. Divine intervention.” Vivian lowered her bow, smirking and raising a hand in greeting to the angel planting her foot straight into Rokuhara’s skull. “Hey Amitiel! I’m glad you’re not dead.”
“Honestly, same.” Amitiel smiled, raising her hand in a returned greeting as she stepped off Rokuhara’s head and started walking to them. The angel looked good, if a little water-logged. Despite being composed of pure lightning, she was pretty clearly wet and dripping, causing little sparks where she walked, and there was a patch of her face that was far more purple than her normal yellow electricity, kind of like a bruise or a crack. Now that she considered it, it was a bit like Michael’s scar. “Being alive does feel better than being dead, at least as far as I can tell. Most demons I meet don’t seem to be very happy, so I may be making some assumptions.”
“Huh. Uh, it’s nice to see you’re alright too, Ami,” Polina said, “Though, er, not to be impolite, just...where were you durin’, well, everythin’?”
“I was still at the bottom of the bay, unfortunately.” She smiled, but winced a tad as she felt her patches of purple. “I did have several cannonballs and an entire ship explode in my face, so I was as close to unconscious as one of my people can get.”
“Ah, sorry to hear. Uh, so what brought you back?”
“I heard people praying for safety. That’s all I needed. Though the fact that they were somewhat muffled did draw my attention.” Her eyes turned skyward there, looking off towards something unseen as her gaze narrowed into a glare. Vivian heard something like an embarrassed giggle echo in the air, but her attention was soon diverted by the ground rumbling.
A look over showed that Rokuhara was stubborn enough to get back up after a blow like that. “Mnh, f-fools…This dragon...will never bow! Not to any petty messenger!”
“Ah, hm. I suppose mortal problems require mortal solutions,” Amitiel mumbled as the dragon roared his defiance to the sky, before she patted Polina on the back, “Polina, would you mind if I gave you my blessing?”
“Huh? Uh...sure, I guess.” She nodded, then went rigid as a golden, crackling glow started emanating from her body. “Woah…”
“Angels tend to be more supporters than fighters, so please, if you would?”
Polina gave her a sharp nod, then lowered herself, electricity crackling up her body and adding a glow to her mace.
Rokuhara stopped his roar in favor of suddenly charging them, his jaws opening wide as flame erupted from his maw and broke on Polina’s shield. And then her mace slammed into the bottom of his mouth, smashing it shut, before she swung hard and shattered most of his teeth in a boom of thunder that brought the dragon down, his massive body crashing to the ground as he went slack, his tongue hanging out of his broken jaws.
Still, the dragon was stubborn and strong, and he began to raise–Then Polina brought her mace down on his head again. And then again when he tried to raise it. And then a few more times for good measure.
Still. Still! Daigo managed to twitch, to shift, to ever so slightly raise his head...then his eyes rolled up in their sockets and down went the red dragon of Rokuhara.
Vivian whistled, impressed. “Wow. So that’s the blessing of thunder for you. And I guess the power of just whacking someone repeatedly? Which probably still counts...” She glanced at Amitiel, who was beaming happily again. “Do you think there’s anything else you could do here?”
“Oh, certainly. I could clear away a certain demon if she doesn’t feel like leaving–” There wasn’t an obvious noise, but Vivian’s ear still twitched as the air seemed to change, becoming less...capricious, maybe. “Good. Now then, you still have your bow, yes?”
“Then if you wouldn’t mind, could I lend my power one more time?”
“I’m sure no one will mind if you do. I know I won’t.”
“Great! Now if you would please, aim for the sky!”
Vivian nodded, pulling the string back and aiming. “Do I have to hit the clouds?”
“If you could, please.”
“Hm.” She pulled back further, until her arms started to strain and her tattoos started to glow with the effort of keeping the bow from snapping. “...I won’t miss.”
It was a statement, but it felt more like a prayer. Amitiel smiled, utterly confident as lightning struck and the glowing arrowhead began to crackle. “I know you won’t.”
And the arrow was let loose.
The sky was rumbling with thunder as Michael clashed with Kozloi one more time. The angel wasn’t bothering with anything fancy this time. No spears, no staves, just their fists wreathed in gauntlets of flame as they flew at their foe.
For a normally seabound being, Kozloi was remarkably fluid in the air. She moved as though she was swimming, the blazing clouds surrounding her somehow contributing to her sustained flight. It was magic, in other words, which was fairly par for the course with any creature that could fly despite being too dense to normally do so, but it was a form Michael hadn’t seen before.
Well, whatever. They could figure it out after dealing with the coiling sky serpent that kept trying to blast them out of the air.
Not with fire anymore though; the dragon-leviathan had figured out that was ineffective quickly enough when her first torrent of blue flames just washed right over Michael. Instead, she breathed torrents of high pressure water that cut through the air. They weren’t too hard to disperse with returning blasts of fire, but the clashes were filling the air with steam, and Kozloi was adept enough at moving that Michael actually lost track of her through it.
The first time they did, their mistake was rewarded by a set of claws suddenly raking across their back, sudden and sharp enough to tear their clothes, disperse their wings, and draw some blood, though they easily reformed their wings before they could drop. The second, Michael turned and unleashed a blast of fire before the trick could be repeated, and Kozloi snapped at them in return, trying to crush them between her jaws.
So Michael punched her in the nose and tried to grab the dragon-leviathan by the snout, though that just earned them a blast of water straight to the chest. They spun through the air, righted themself, and returned fire against the water–They dropped the stream of flame and crossed their arms, blocked a heavy blow from Kozloi’s tail that nearly sent them out of the sky, then caught the limb when she tried to whip it into their side.
Her body was all heavy, thick muscle, and catching one part of it didn’t seem to help as she dove in with her claws instead, necessitating a quick turn and throw. Kozloi had too much control over the air around her though–those clouds were keeping her aloft–and as she turned again, her jaws opened for yet another blast.
Michael gathered flame in their hands, ready for the stream, only for Kozloi to suddenly let loose a massive burst of steam and smoke instead, completely blinding them. They flung the flame still, trying to catch sight of her–
And the third time Michael lost track of Kozloi, the dragon-leviathan coiled around them, her massive body suddenly wrapping all the way around theirs and squeezing tight.
“Gh–” Their arms were pinned and their wings dispersed again. Kozloi’s head was above them, her draconic maw curled into another cruel grin, her mismatched eyes bright as she squeezed tighter, her coils wrapping around them with bone-breaking force.
Michael wasn’t mortal though. And as they brought out all four wings again, they proved that by erupting in pure flame. The heat started climbing rapidly in seconds, enough to elicit a pained growl from Kozloi. But the stubborn leviathan squeezed tighter, wrapping her coils more and more around the angel, trying to smother that fire, to crush it out, even as it got hot enough to start scorching her skin.
Michael grit their teeth and pushed their flames further, hotter, trying to burn through whatever newfound defenses the leviathan may have gained to heat. It wasn’t enough though, just not enough to bring her down. It was an endurance match, and Michael could already feel their back beginning to bleed as they pushed their flames higher and hotter.
Darkness swam in their vision, spots forming in their eyes. But they didn’t need to see the arrow that flew into clouds that covered the country, flying straight and true with the blessing of storms upon it.
They felt it. The charge of divine power. And then they heard the countrywide boom of thunder that split the sky like a blade across the heavens.
And they felt the rain that started to fall. The water rushed down over them, over the country, and over Kozloi, who whipped her head towards the sound, shock widening her eyes and, for only a second, loosening her grip.
The second was all Michael needed. They burst upward in steaming flames and slammed their fist straight into Kozloi’s jaw, before suddenly whirling and bringing their heel straight down on her head, driving the leviathan downwards, a pained shriek sounding out as she began to fall.
Kozloi twisted, trying to turn, to move through the air again, but her clouds wouldn’t respond, washing away in the rain. She wriggled, turning, shifting back to a humanoid shape, trying to find something, to shape the water, to draw some sort of power in before she hit the ground. Then she caught sight of Michael flying towards her.
Confusion filled her mind, a sensation of complete bafflement at the idea that her foe might be trying to rescue her...and then she saw Michael rearing their fist back.
Thankfully for a number of scribes and samurai turned into bewildered serpents and frightened pheasants, Michael and Kozloi didn’t hit Castle Fujimi in their descent. The two did, however, cause an enormous plume of dirt and splinters to erupt from the forest next to the mountain with their impact. To the point that the eruption in question could be seen going above said mountain.
Michael stood slowly and glanced around the crater they’d formed. The falling rain was already starting to collect in it and steam emanated from their skin wherever the water touched.
They glanced down at Kozloi, who was completely smashed into the center of the crater. The leviathan was still half dragon; the entire left side of her body was fully covered in blue scales, so the “half-dragon” part was very literal. She was also completely out of it with the imprint of Michael’s fist fully visible in her face.
They watched for a few seconds, checking to see if the leviathan would get up...then let out a slow sigh as she stayed unconscious.
“Finally. You were too much hassle for one leviathan.” They let out another breath, then turned their eyes skyward, watching it rain. There was no visible sign of the gods in the clouds up above, but in the downpour, they felt...soothed, even as blood dripped down their back.
They really should be getting back to the others, but as the exhaustion hit them, Michael felt their legs give out as they fell backwards onto the ground. The mud soaking into their back felt wet and cold…but oddly soothing.