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The empress yelped and pulled back, clawing at the flames covering the black aura on her face. Within seconds, they dissipated as if she had covered her head with water. She glared at Tafel and lowered her hand, grabbing the hilt of her sword. Before she could draw it, Vur said, “Hah! I win.”

“You didn’t,” the empress said, whipping her head around to face Vur. “The devil interfered. There was no victor.”

“Nope,” Vur said, shaking his head. “I pushed you back first. I’m stronger. The end.”

“Again,” the empress said. “That time didn’t count.”

“Nope,” Vur said, shaking his head again. “It counted. I’m stronger.”

The empress stamped her foot against the ground, causing a web of cracks to appear in the earth. “It wasn’t fair. You’re not stronger than me.”

“If I’m not stronger than you, then how come I pushed you back?” Vur asked, puffing his chest out and pointing his chin upwards. “I wouldn’t have been pushed back if Tafel threw flames at me.”

“It didn’t count,” the empress said. She charged at Vur, stretching out her hand like before, but Vur ducked to the side and avoided her. “Why are you dodging?”

Vur yawned and patted his mouth a few times before crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m a very busy person. I don’t have time to play around with people I’ve already beat.”

The empress stared at Vur with a blank expression, her fingers twitching on her sword’s hilt. “You didn’t beat me.”

“Are you two children?” Alora asked, her gaze shifting from Vur to Mary. “You’re starting to sound like the annoying trio, gosh. I won; no, I did; no, I did! You shut up; no, you shut up! Jeez.” She stood up and picked up the plates of food that had fallen to the ground but not spilled, placing them into Vur’s and Mary’s hands. “Eat your snacks and behave.”

Vur and Mary stared at the plates of fruit. Mary pushed her plate of sliced apples towards Vur. “I want the mangoes.”

Vur pulled his plate of mangoes back and to the side, shielding it with his body. “They’re my mangoes.”

“I thought you hated mangoes,” Alice said.

“I want her to not have mangoes more than I dislike mangoes,” Vur said. He grabbed a handful off his plate and stuffed it into his mouth, making a face before swallowing.

The empress glared at Vur and threw her plate away like a frisbee. She tackled Vur, bringing him to the ground. “Give me my mangoes!”

“I had them first!”

Tafel sighed, planting her forehead into her palm. She shuffled over to Apollonia. “I see what you mean by the empress is oddly pure like a child.” The two watched as Vur and Mary pulled each other’s hair while biting each other’s arms. “There’s nothing adultlike about her.”

“I could say the same for your companion,” Apollonia said, placing her hands on her hips. “Look at what those two did to my mansion. It’s destroyed. I’ll have to remove all the debris and start from scratch.” She sighed as she surveyed the wreckage before her gaze landed on Tafel. “But how did you arrive here in less than a day? Don’t tell me it’s because you walk fast.” Her eyes lit up. “You rode the dragons, didn’t you? Where are they?”

Tafel pointed at Alora; then she pointed at Vur. “Those are the dragons.”

The empress stopped biting Vur’s arm and raised her head. She followed Tafel’s finger and blinked at Vur. “This person is a dragon? That’s impossible. He’s just a mango thief.”

“You’re the one trying to steal from me,” Vur said with a growl. He widened his mouth and inhaled, sucking up all the mango slices before chomping down. His neck bulged as he swallowed with chewing, ignoring Mary’s aggrieved cry. “See? They’re mine. I won again.”

“I was distracted by the devil again,” Mary said, biting her lower lip. “That doesn’t count.”

“Oh, more excuses,” Vur said, rolling his eyes. “You know only losers make excuses, right?”

“…I don’t like you very much,” Mary said as she got up and took a step back, placing her hands on her hips. “Are you here to kill me too?”

Vur tilted his head as he stood up. “Why would I do that?”

“You came with the devil,” Mary said. “A devil alone isn’t enough to kill me. You must be one of Apollonia’s elite knights that she’s kept hidden.”

“No,” Apollonia said, “he’s absolutely not related to me.”

Mary’s brow furrowed before relaxing. “You’re right. You couldn’t control someone this strong. Then who is he?”

Apollonia shrugged. “I honestly have no clue. He just appeared to watch the summoning ritual.”

Mary turned her gaze onto Vur. “Well?”

“We’re adventurers,” Tafel said. “We—”

“I wasn’t talking to you, weak devil,” Mary said, cutting Tafel off without even looking away from Vur. “Speak out of line again and your head will roll on the floor.”

“Don’t threaten my wife,” Vur said, narrowing his eyes at the empress.

Mary blinked and turned around. Tafel was glaring at her. Mary pointed at Tafel and turned back to face Vur, her finger still in the air. “She’s your wife? Are you a devil too? Or maybe you’re a person with an odd fetish?”

Tafel stepped towards the empress. “I’m not a devil!” Her eyes widened as she reached into a portal and drew her sword, barely blocking the empress’ sudden swing. Tafel grunted as she flew off the ground and crashed into the wall, leaving a web of cracks behind as she slid down to the floor.

“She’s not as weak as she looks,” Mary said, speaking down towards ground.

Her sword lit up with a blue light. “You couldn’t behead her in one stroke because you didn’t train hard enough. Train harder!”

Mary sighed and leapt back, avoiding a column of frost filled with icicles that had shot out of Vur’s mouth. “You’re a mage?”

“I’m a dragon,” Vur said as his eyes glowed golden. Scales sprouted from his skin as wings extended out of his shoulder blades. His body grew in size as claws covered his fingertips, his tail growing from above his butt. He fell onto all fours as his neck elongated, stretching towards what remained of the ceiling.

Mary took a step back and froze upon seeing Alora undergoing the same transformation. After a brief moment of hesitation, she brought her sword up to her neck, pressing the black metal against her pale skin. A droplet of blood ran down the length of her blade as she took in a deep breath. She gritted her teeth and—“Stop!”—paused.

Tafel climbed to her feet, dusting off her clothes. She coughed into her hand a few times before glaring at Vur and Alora, wiping her bloody palm on her robe. “Don’t attack her.”

Vur tilted his head. “But she—”

“She’s mine,” Tafel said, a golden rune shining on her forehead. Blood-red flames erupted from Tafel’s skin as she raised her sword and let out a clear phoenix cry.

Alice sighed as she stepped to the side, avoiding a stray flame that appeared as Tafel charged towards the empress. “Who’s the child now?” she asked as she pulled Mr. Skelly away. “My party members are a bunch of barbarians, I swear.”

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Virlyce

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