Julius was honestly really damn thankful that he’d had the forethought to bring some cloth to put the temple core in. Sure, he might look a bit odd carrying a huge, cloth-covered ball on one shoulder, but at least he wouldn’t have to explain why he had taken the temple core to anybody. He did get a few odd glances from the fire priests up around the temple, but being a veteran hero got him a lot of leeway when it came to doing weird stuff.
Granted, it was still difficult since the core was heating itself up, making him sweat a fair amount. Even with the fire resistant armor, being in such close proximity to the core was a pain.
Thankfully, he would soon be rid of this one headache, even if he would most likely have to deal with another one soon after. Either way, the sooner he dropped it off, the better. Hence why he didn’t even bother waiting in the front lounge of the palace this time, and just marched past Bonifaci, despite the dragon’s protest.
“S-Sir Goldforge, you can’t just walk in without an appointment!” the draconic bureaucrat shouted, hurrying after him.
“And yet I seem to be doing exactly that. Funny how that works, huh?” he replied, walking through the red-carpeted halls. Arancoda’s ‘palace’ pretty sparse on decorations; most of the walls were bare, but that actually seemed to work better for the place, since it let all of the patterns in the rock show themselves clearly.
“S-Still, I must insist, sir, for the sake of propriety-”
“Relax Vercoda. I’m just heading to the meeting room you had us wait in last time. Just contact Arancoda and tell her I’ll be waiting there for her,” Julius requested, which turned out to be pointless when he actually got there, since Arancoda was already in the room.
The dragon lord was reclining in her chair and reading a book as he entered, her bare and clawed feet up on the table. “Hey there, good timing.”
“…You were waiting for me.”
“Obviously. Odds were, you’d be frustrated enough to come right here after your big fancy temple battle.” She glanced up at him, smirking. “You seem like the easily frustrated type. Boni, I’ve got it from here. You’re dismissed.”
“Ah, yes milord.” Vercoda promptly bowed, then headed right back out of the room. Once the door clicked shut behind him, Julius sighed.
“I’m starting to think I have issues with powerful women in my life.”
“Ha! You’re living in the wrong kinda world if that’s a problem for you.” Arancoda chuckled, then abruptly jumped up onto the table, tossing her book over her shoulder and striding across the table towards him. She sat down at the edge, smiling widely and eagerly. “Now, you’ve got my core, right~?”
“…I’ve got the temple core, sure.” He sighed again, moving the orb off his shoulder and holding it with both hands in front of his chest. It was still radiating heat. “Do you seriously want it this badly? It-”
“Yes, duh. Gimme.”
“…You’ve actually considered-”
“Goldforge, I’m a damn dragon. The blood of elder and ancient deities run in my veins. Do you seriously think I give any sort of damn about tweaking a lesser god’s nose?”
“…Fine. Just don’t let this come back to bite my students. I don’t give a damn if Foco’s pissed at me, but they’re not involved in this, got it?”
“Sure sure, I swear it on the Eternal Eruption, may the Miser take me if I break my oath, whatever! Just gimme!”
Julius sighed yet again, feeling a dull throbbing in his temple as he handed the core over the giddily grinning great dragon. She immediately tore the cloth off like it was a wrapped present and beamed at the large core in her hands.
“Eheheheheh~! Oh, this is perfect~! Such luster, such a shine, such warmth~!”
“…Please wait until I leave before you start rubbing your face on it.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever. Eheh~! Ah, just leave me with my new treasure~.”
“It’s not your treasure, ma’am.” Both of them blinked and looked at the source of the new, melodious voice.
Standing there, directly to Julius’s right side, was an angel. Maybe an archangel, actually, based on their wing size. They were a few inches taller than Julius, and had a generally humanoid shape, though their entire body seemed to be composed of fire. Very solid fire, that formed their flesh with a startling definition, to the point that Julius could actually make out miniscule freckles on their cheeks and little wrinkles around their burning, fireball eyes.
Their wings were the same in that regard. The flames that made them up were so solid and well-defined that he could nearly make out every individual feather on them. Same went for every curly hair on their head and the folds of their orange robes.
“Oh hey, you showed up quicker than I thought you would,” Arancoda commented, apparently completely calm even as Julius felt himself start to sweat. An actual angel getting sent down to deal with something was…well, in short, Julius was probably fucked.
“Calm yourself, noble hero,” the angel murmured, turning their gaze towards him. “Fear not, for Mother does not seek recompense for your actions. She is well aware that you were led into sin by the dragon Galinori.”
The angel didn’t show any hint of annoyance at the correction. “By the dragon lord Galinori.”
“You are welcome.”
Julius blinked at the back and forth. “…Uh…and that means?”
“You do not need to fear Mother’s retribution, hero. You are forgiven for your trespass. Though She is somewhat disappointed that you didn’t attempt to find some other way out of it,” they explained, all in that same melodious tone.
Huh. “…So I’m good here?”
“Yes, you are good here,” they answered, now sounding a little annoyed. So, probably not best to keep pushing there. The angel turned towards Arancoda. “Your tempter, however, is not.”
Arancoda just smirked and held out her hand. “Hi there! I’m Lord Galinori Aloisia Osanna Hascimagni Arancoda di Ebkai. And you are?”
“I am Ithuriel of Conflagra, servant of the Divine Flame.” They pressed their hands together and bowed to Galinori. “I sincerely apologize for entering your home without permission-”
“Oh, no need for that. You’ve got my permission.”
Ithuriel straightened, their expression still neutral. “My thanks, Lord Galinori. Now, I humbly request for the return of the Divine Temple Core. It is not yours to take.”
“Hm? What temple core?”
“The one in your arms, Lord Galinori.”
“This? This isn’t a temple core.”
Julius could almost see the flat ‘what’ on the angel’s face. “Lord Galinori, that is the Temple Core.”
“No it’s not. It’s a dungeon core.”
“Lord, that is the Temple Core, and I wish for its prompt return. I ask that you do not continue to attempt this inane deception.”
Arancoda shrugged. “It’s not a deception. This isn’t the temple core. It’s just a fancier, bigger core that Julius there got for me.”
“Please do not lie to me, particularly so blatantly.” Oh, that was definitely annoyance in Ithuriel’s tone. Arancoda had a damn good poker face though.
“I’m not lying. I asked Julius to get me this core, and he did it. So it’s all good.”
“You requested that Mr. Goldforge would retrieve the Temple Core for you.”
“Nope, didn’t. See, I even have the contract for the request.” She pulled a rolled up piece of paper out of her tunic and handed it to the angel, who immediately looked it over and frowned.
They held it up and pointed to one line. “It says ‘Temple Core’ right there.”
“No? No, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.”
“It does, you just crossed it out and scribbled ‘a really big core’ over it.”
“Because stealing a Temple Core would be wrong. I couldn’t do something like that, so I just went for the next best thing. Which is this guy here.” She patted the core.
“Hey, woah, no involving him in this. You already forgave him.”
Ithuriel immediately turned their gaze back on her, their lips twitching in the ghost of smile. “I forgave him for stealing a Temple Core, which means that is the Temple Core which you had him steal for you.”
“See, I don’t get how you’re thinking that. This clearly isn’t the Temple Core.”
“It is! I forgave him for the theft of the Temple Core, which means that is the Temple Core!”
“Nope. It just means you forgave him for doing something. If he didn’t do that thing, then you could still forgive him for it. It’d just be pointless.”
Arancoda grinned, baring her teeth. “See, there’s two ways I see this whole thing right now. One, Julius didn’t steal the core, brought this dungeon core to me, and then you forgave him for something he didn’t do. Two, Julius did steal the core, brought an entirely unrelated core to me, and then you forgave him for the theft. Either way, he has nothing to do with it at this point.”
“…That doesn’t make any sense at all! Why would he steal the core and bring a completely unrelated one to you?!”
“I dunno, ask him. Oh, wait, you can’t. Because you forgave him. Which means he’s not involved anymore.”
Julius was starting to get the distinct feeling he should leave, but, on the other hand, he was kind of curious to see how this would play out.
“That-You-Being forgiven doesn’t erase the sin!”
“Pretty sure it does, especially when a literal angel forgives the mortal in question. See, you guys only forgive people once you’re sure they’ve been redeemed, right? And you forgave him, so that means he’s been totally redeemed and is now free of sin.”
Ithuriel’s eye twitched, their hair twisting for a moment as their burning tips flared blue. “…That is the temple core, and you are going to give it back.”
“It’s not, so I can’t.”
“Nope. Though, if your Temple is suddenly missing a core for some reason, and you need a new one, I guess I could be persuaded to give up this dear family heirloom of mine in exchange for something of equal value.”
“…F-Family heirloom?! You just obtained it today!”
“And now it’s a part of my family. I was planning to pass it down to my children and everything. Are you really so intent on robbing my children of their birthright?”
“You don’t have children!”
“I might, at some point. Hell, I might adopt. You don’t know the future.”
“That-You can’t just steal a temple core and sell it back!”
“But I didn’t steal it. I don’t think I had anything to do with any sort of theft of anything. I was sold this core in a legitimate transaction, so I haven’t stolen anything. Oh, speaking of-”
She suddenly tossed a small bag past the fuming angel at to Julius, who caught it easily. It felt weirdly heavy, despite the size, so it was probably a coinpurse.
“See? Legitimate transaction, featuring full payment!”
Julius glanced inside the bag. Yeah, there were definitely a lot of coins in there. About 50 of them, from what he could see. Shame they were all copper, literally the smallest denomination of currency in the continent…Maybe he could buy a sandwich with it?
“And any ‘thief’ that might exist was just pardoned, right?” Arancoda continued, leaning towards the angel with a wide smirk, using her height to loom over them, “You know, that whole forgiveness thing?”
Yeah, their eye was definitely twitching by this point. It even looked a little blue. For a moment, Julius had a deep feeling of sympathy and kinship towards the angel. Not enough to get involved, but enough to feel pity for them.
“…That is the temple core, and you need to return it.”
“Nope. It’s a big dungeon core, and I own it legitimately. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna have a bath. I recently got something that would make a great heater for my bathwater, and I’d love to try it out.” She stood up, grinning down at Ithuriel. “Though, if you’re that interested in my shiny new dungeon core, I guess I could talk to one of your superiors about a trade. For something of equal value, of course.”
Ithuriel stared up at her for a moment before their entire body flared a bright, fiery blue for a moment, until it all subsided into their normal orange-yellow-red colors. “…I will be speaking with Mother on what to do with you, Lord Galinori.”
And with that, their wings curled around their body and they vanished in a burst of flame.
“Well that was dramatic,” Arancoda muttered, then glanced at Julius. “Oh, you’re still here.”
“…Yeah. Uh…are you going to be okay with that whole, uh…pissing off a god thing?”
“Of course I will. Gods can’t come down on Estus without someone doing a ton of ludicrously difficult stuff to summon them, so it’s not like I’m going to deal with her directly. I might have to punch out a seraph or two, but I’m into that, so I think I win all around here.”
“…Why is fighting Kigalori starting to become one of the least stressful things I’ve ever had happen to me?”
“Because you clearly take everything way too seriously.”
“Says the dragon who just swindled an angel.”
“Says the dragon lord that saved your ass.”
“The dragon lord that saved me from a situation she herself put me in.”
“Exactly, glad we agree on that. Anyways-” Arancoda smirked at him, moving the core into the crook of her arm. “-I think I am gonna go take that bath. Wanna join? You do stink and it sure sounds like you wanna blow off some steam.”
“……You know what, sure. I might as well get something out of this.”
“Aw, and here I thought I paid you just fine already.” Arancoda pouted, then smirked, suddenly looping an arm around his shoulders. “Then how about we consider this a bonus~?”
…Yup, he definitely had a problem with powerful women in his life…though maybe it was less a problem and more a weakness…
Still, as he was pulled along by the far taller woman, Julius had to admit, that weakness wasn’t exactly a bad thing.