Chapter 8 – Familiar Faces, Familiar Places

Julius wasn’t a stranger to waking up somewhere that he wasn’t familiar with. Blake, his own former mentor, often dropped Ellen and him in the middle of a random place while they were asleep for training. And, in some cases, he’d just go a bit overboard when partying. 

However, this was the first time he woke up in what appeared to be a castle. Which was even odder, given the fact that he was in an airship the night before, in a hammock in the hull of the ship. Definitely not a fancy bed with red sheets. 

Getting up off the bed, he looked down at himself and noticed that his clothes had also been changed from what he’d fallen asleep in. Instead of just his boxers, he was wearing his armor and his weapons were missing. 

“…” Julius slowly made his way out of the room, trying to ignore how tense he felt, and found himself in a lavish looking hallway, one that seemed to stretch out further than any he’d seen in Queenshill Castle. The hallway, like the room before, had an odd reddish tint to everything. The bricks in the walls, the glass in the windows, the tapestries and empty paintings on the walls and the suits of armor against them…It all had this odd red coloring to it.

Remaining vigilant, Julius slowly made his way down the hallway, peeking out of every window he could on the way, only to be met with a gray void stretching out in every direction. With each passing window, Julius could only feel his frustration grow. Even as he tried to remain calm, he couldn’t help but feel irritated. There was just a persistent feeling of aggravation around him, one that felt…almost familiar.

Soon enough, he arrived at a spiral staircase that went down. So, with no other option, he walked down. Like the hallways before it, there was an odd red tint to everything in the staircase. And, for some reason, this only further served to anger him. All of it was just grating. Whoever fucking designed this place was going to get their ass kicked. 

After a rather long walk down, Julius found himself in another hallway, the red tint finally, thankfully, gone. Instead, the walls were a more normal gray and the decorations were a good deal more colorful. Or, at least, more various in their colors. And..he could hear something. 

Vaguely, further down the hallway, he could hear a voice. He couldn’t make out any words, but they sounded very loud and very annoyed. Well, it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go, so off he was, towards the yelling. Which, honestly, was his typical reaction to hearing someone shouting. It was just an impulse at this point.

Soon enough, he was actually in earshot of the yelling, the vague sound of crashing sounding out from inside some room near the very end of the hallway. 

“-GET OUT HERE ALREADY!”

Well. That was as good an invitation as any. He frowned and pushed the door open, leading to some kind of a living room.

Or, well, what used to be a living room, given that the current occupant had taken to swinging around a chair and breaking everything. And, of course, the moment Julius opened the door, said occupant turned around and tossed the chair at him, which he managed to duck.

“ABOUT FUCKING TI-…” 

Staring back in silence, Julius realized the screaming person was, in fact, the Demon Lord Claire Valondrac. Who was wearing pajamas. A button up top and pants, both black, with red lining. Hm.

“W-Why the fuck are you here!?” “Why did you bring me here?” 

At their simultaneous questions, both of them stared at one another in an increasingly awkward silence.

“…Didn’t you bring me here?” Julius broke that silence, keeping still as he stared at her, ready to act in case she attacked. 

“Why in the name of all the Ouza would I bring you of all people here!?” 

“Because someone would have to, since I have no idea what this place is or how I wound up here.” 

“It’s my castle, jackass, and I don’t know why you’re still in my damn dreams but I want you out right now!”

“I’m not here on purpose!” he protested, “I don’t know why I’m-Wait, ‘still’?”

That was not the right thing to say. 

“SH-SHUT UP!” Grabbing a broken piece of a table, Valondrac chucked it straight at him. Julius immediately dodged to the side but tripped when he stepped on another broken chair leg. Before he could react, Claire aimed her hand at him, a ball of crackling red energy formed at her palm. The next thing Julius felt was a searing pain and-

And then he fell off his hammock, gasping in pain as he fell on the cool wood. 

Julius sat up and clutched at his chest as he looked around. He was inside the airship’s hull again. Huh. 

He couldn’t really tell what time it was, but he could hear Sergio and Maria still snoring, so it was probably still nighttime, or, at least, about to become morning. Slowly standing up, Julius grabbed his pack to put on some clothes. 

Even if he wasn’t sure just what had happened, it probably wasn’t a good idea to run up in just his underwear. Once he was dressed, he went up onto the deck, making sure to tie himself with the rope once he arrived up top.

The sun was slowly rising up in the distance while Joral and his small crew seemed to be making sure everything was going well. Walking over to the captain, he noticed a harpy, Nadine, if he remembered right, fly towards the captain from below the ship and give him a thumbs up as she landed on the railing. 

“We got the all clear, folks! Prepare for landing!” shouted Joral, getting the rest of his crew to start moving, two wingdrakes in specific moving towards the balloons keeping them afloat while another harpy flitted over to the helm. 

“We’re already here?” Julius asked.

“Of course! The Finja might not be the biggest, but going from Xelsha to Orin in three days flat is no problem.” Joral smiled at Julius, then walked over to the railing and gestured down. Following his lead, Julius looked over the railing, and found the dock city of Orindaco underneath them, the city slowly becoming bigger as they lowered the skyship. 

It was odd seeing his hometown from so high up, though it was easier to see why the city-state was often referred to as ‘The River’s Hand’. It really did look like one, with the round Ducal District forming the palm and the six dock districts forming the ‘fingers’ as they stretched out into the sea.

Julius wasn’t the best with distances, but he was fairly sure each dock was at least a few miles long, and each was a large mix of urban areas and harbors, all packed together in their own smaller districts.

From what he could tell, they were heading down to Dock 4, which, assuming it hadn’t changed in the years he’d been gone, mainly contained shipbuilders and fisheries, give or take a few trading companies. Hm…it wouldn’t be the worst place to land. While he would have preferred to be as far away from Dock 5 as they could be, he couldn’t exactly complain to Joral about it. 

“If you don’t mind me asking, how long should we be docked?” asked the wingdrake in question. 

“If all goes well, just a few days. I’d ask you to take us to the Water Temple too, but it doesn’t really have a place to dock for skyships.” 

“Eh, no problem. Might as well take the time to resupply on stones. Feel free to leave anything important on the ship you don’t wanna risk getting taken.” 

“I’ll make sure to tell my students that.” Smiling down at his hometown, a part of him wished that he had more time to visit the city. See some people, maybe. Though, because of their current quest, he couldn’t exactly just drop everything just to check out his old haunts.

Still, it would be nice to meet up with Margrave again. 

Julius spent the rest his time on the descent staring down at Orindaco, and didn’t notice everyone else waking up until they landed as a result. Looking to his side, he found the rest of his team also leaning against the railing and looking out at the city.

“So you grew up here, huh?” Adrien asked as he looked around the dock. 

“That I did, and this place is as busy at ever,” answered Julius as he stared at the bustling dock, people of all types coming and going as they went about their business. He felt a little pang of…not quite sadness, but nostalgia.

“Well, we don’t have to do the temple immediately. You could show us around,” offered Sue. 

“As nice as that sounds, that isn’t the best idea at the moment. But, once we do finish this quest of ours, I’ll show all of you around…Aside from Dock Five, none of you are allowed there.” 

“Um…can I ask why, sir?” 

“…There’s a lot of scammers there.” He wasn’t exactly lying, per se. He just didn’t want to explain that Orindaco let businesses freely advertise as they wished, so the sex workers, who congregated in the aptly named Courtesan District, often dressed in rather interesting outfits outside of their brothels. 

“…Okay?” 

“Hm. Okay, first off, a few rules: leave everything valuable on the ship, don’t interact with anyone who is wearing a solid color uniform, and if you’re in Dock One for some reason, don’t mess around. That place is full of rich pricks.” Thinking for a moment, Julius let out a small hum. “…Oh yeah, if you bump into anyone with a brown uniform, or if they just get to close, tell them ‘Brown Hares shouldn’t take from those who shed their coats’.” 

“And why do we need to do that?” Sergio asked.

“Because it’ll keep things from getting tricky around here. Like I said, we’re not getting involved with any of the groups around. I’m not about to let us get bogged down in some grand conspiracy or some territory dispute because some moron took offense to our presence or something.”

“…Is that really something we need to worry about?”

Julius considered it for a moment. “Yes. Again, I know what Orindaco is like. You don’t. Follow my rules and stay close to me until we find my sister, okay?”

A chorus of nods and ‘yes’s’ followed his words. “Okay, good. Now, any questions before we go?”

And then all of them raised their hands. Well, he did kind of ask for it.

“Okay then. I’ll answer while walking.” Heading off the ship, he began to lead the group through the port. “Adrien, you first.”

“What with the solid color thing?” 

“Well, long story short, there’s a bunch of major mercenary guilds with bases in the city and the solid color ones are some of the strongest around. Now, that’s not that bad, but given Orindaco’s seediness, a lot of the mercenaries here are pretty horrible people.” Hell, one of them was an unofficial ‘Assassin’s Guild’. 

“…I see.” 

Why did they look like they didn’t believe him… “…Anyways. Your question, Maria?” 

“What’s up with all the docks?” 

“Well, they’re all generally divided into districts based what happens in them, like what sorts of services they provide. Dock One has the rich folk, Dock Two has the mercenary guilds and adventurer halls, Three is where you can do general shopping for just about anything, Four, as you can see, is generally fisheries, shipbuilding companies, and warehouses, Five is full of scammers and con artists, and, lastly, you go to Six if you want to visit the shrines or find any other magic related items and books.” Continuing to walk past the crowds, carefully avoiding going directly into any large groups of people, Julius led the group to one of the canals that traveled into the ‘palm’ of the city, following the walkways along its sides. “Next question, Sophia.” 

“O-Oh, um, I was going to ask where we could find places to shop for spells, but, um, you already answered that…” 

“Ahh, okay. Well, if you do plan on heading there, make sure to follow the canals that have a six alongside them.” Julius stopped and pointed at a ‘4’ carved into the stone of the walkway. “The numbers here tell you what dock the canal leads to.” 

“Oh! Thank you for the information, sir.”

“No problem. Sergio, you look like you have something important to ask, so what is it?” 

“Are there any beaches and or places where you can see hot people in swimsuits?”

“…” For a moment, Julius almost blurted out Dock Five. While it wasn’t a guarantee, there was a very good chance that at least one group of workers there wore some things loosely resembling swimsuits. “…Sorry, the beach towns are a fair distance from here, more along the coast. And no, we’re not stopping there after the Water Temple.” Julius tried to ignore how Sergio and Maria both let out small grumbles of disappointment as he glanced at Sue. “So, Sue, any other questions?” 

“Yeah. Can you tell us about your sister?” 

Pausing for a moment, Julius almost missed the immediately interested look the team had at the question. 

“Hm…” Scratching his head, Julius tried to think it over. “She’s…” Turning to look at them, he shrugged. “Crafty?” 

The group all glanced at each other. For some reason, they were starting to look nervous. 

“So, uh…is she a lot like you, old man?” Adrien asked after a moment, grinning awkwardly.

“Well…she’s blonde. Well, she’s probably still blonde. It has been a while since I saw her…”

“Um, how long?” Sophia asked.

He shrugged, starting to walk again. It was kind of funny hearing them scramble to try to catch up to him. “The last time I saw her was around… five years ago? She came by Luceneva to visit me.” 

“Wait, five years? Are you sure she’s still here?” 

“That I am. Even if we don’t visit often we do try to keep in contact.” 

“Huh… so what does she do anyways?” 

“She’s in charge of stuff.” 

“…What exactly.” 

“A variety of stuff.” 

“…You’re doing this on purpose aren’t you?” 

“Doing what?” 

“…” 

After that, the team then descended into silence, seemingly out of questions. Well, Julius would have been okay with either or, but at least this way he was able to focus more on the walk. It had been quite some time since he’d been in Orindaco, so it took a bit to remember the route to where his sister lived. 

Soon enough, the group reached the center of the city, marked by all the canals meeting up into a moat surrounding a rather large mansion, itself at the center of far too many extra buildings for one family to live in, a large wall covered in carvings of whales, krakens and megalodons, and a circular street that formed the exterior ring of the ‘palace’. There weren’t any gates on the bridges nowadays though, so that was an interesting change.

Humming to himself, Julius stared up at the Ducal Manor. Back when he still lived in Orindaco, the walled-off palace always seemed like an unattainable goal for him. Honestly, it still kinda was, but at least he’d be able to enter it without anyone getting stabbed. Hopefully.

“Hey, teach, why did you lie to us?” Breaking him out of his thoughts, Sergio seemed to stare at something in the moat. 

“Yeah, that’s clearly someone hot in a swimsuit,” muttered Maria as they both stared at the figure in a pale blue one-piece climbing out of the moat. Before them was a rather tan and muscular woman, a myriad of tattoos and scars on the visible parts of her body, namely her arms and a bit of her upper back. A few more than the last time Julius had seen her, actually. Long blonde hair stuck to her head as the water slicked it back, revealing her startlingly bright teal eyes. 

As she shook her head to get water off of her, the young novices couldn’t help but stare at her. That is, until Julius spoke up. 

“Hey there Sis!” 

“Hm?” Looking over at them, her eyes widened slightly in surprise before fading back into her usual, seemingly bored expression. “What, you couldn’t send a message ahead to tell me you were coming.” 

“I thought you’d appreciate the surprise,” he replied, smiling as he heard a few gasps around him. 

It seemed like things clicked for his students all at once as they realized that the woman standing in front of them was, indeed, Archduchess Margrave Brascul, elder sister of Julius Goldforge and ruler of Orindaco.

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