Chapter 16 – Wind Temple

Somehow, Julius was able to get enough rest to actually make the journey into the Wind Temple without collapsing. Granted, he had to deal with the stares from his students, but he was able to deal with that. Namely by ignoring them.

Thankfully, he didn’t need to deal with Douglas since he and Sylsa stayed behind, claiming that he wouldn’t ‘rob’ Adrien and his friends of the experience. That, and apparently some new book was being released today that he really wanted. 

Glancing backwards at his team as they walked up the seemingly endless stairs that led up to the temple guardian room, Julius checked up on all of them. From what he could see, none of them were doing bad or even seemed tired, which was great since the Wind Temple was a complete pain in the ass. Even better, none of them were staring at him at the moment. 

Well, he said they were all staring at him before, but there was one that didn’t do that. Said person was, of course, the ever mysterious Mask, who was walking next to Julius. For some reason, they either didn’t care or didn’t understand what everybody had been talking about yesterday. 

Not that he minded, really, but it did make him wonder more about who was under the mask. Or the Mask. Wordplay.

Oh well, no sense in trying to force info out of them. If they wanted to tell, they would. 

“Okay then, everyone ready?” Julius asked once they reached the top of the steps. 

“Oh thank gods, I thought we’d never reach the end,” was the immediate response from Sergio as he sat down on the steps. 

“Really? It wasn’t even that long,” Sue said as she looked down at him, frowned, and crossed her arms over her chest. 

“It was long enough!” 

“Heh. Well, feel free to rest up if you need it, since we’re going to be facing someone strong.” If there was one benefit to his dream last night, it was that Julius at least knew for certain there was a general here. Granted, he had no idea who Fergus was, so he had no clue on how to fight them. So hm.

“Yeah, already on that.” Sergio groaned dramatically as he stretched his arms out and flopped back against the stair behind him.

“…Doesn’t that hurt?” Sophia asked.

“Nope. It’s a pleasant poking.”

“Is that what they call it now?” Maria grinned, earning a halfhearted glare from Sergio.

Julius smirked, then leaned against the wall at the top of the stairs. It was good that they were still so lively. The Wind Temple really was a pain in the ass as far as temples went. It was a little similar to the Water Temple, in that there was a central area that they had to properly ‘unlock’ in order to get into the Guardian’s room, but it involved tracking down four crystals and placing them in the hands of a statue in the center instead of just completing challenges. 

One crystal each for the north, west, east, and south. Each had puzzles and traps surrounding it as Julius and his group made their way up to the top of each cardinal area, all before they could reach the central tower. From the outside, the temple was like a large square with a long cylinder at its top, and Julius was currently in that cylinder, thinking about what awaited inside the boss room, mainly because the other option was thinking about…

“Uh, hey old man,” Adrien suddenly spoke up, his voice surprisingly quiet as he leaned against the wall by Julius, looking up at him. “…Are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He winced the instant he said it.

“Yeah, uh…you’re really obviously not. You know you get really focused sometimes, right?”

“…Yes? I do know.”

“Well you get worse at it when you’re stressed. Or upset. It’s like things get drowned out.”

He frowned. “Kid, I’m not…I’m fine. I haven’t caused you any problems, have I?”

“No, you don’t. I mean, you don’t cause problems when you’re like…” Adrien sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “This is harder than I thought…You get intense, but not exactly a bad intense? It’s like…okay, idea. Who’s Kruger?”

Julius blinked. “…Who?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“…Kid, I don’t know a Kruger.”

“No, see, you do. He’s one of Joral’s crew. He’s a tall wingdrake with yellow feathers, which he inherited from his dad’s side of the family.” Adrien looked up at him again with a worried frown. “You don’t talk to him at all. You don’t talk to a lot of people. It’s like…you get very set on specific things, and everything that doesn’t have to do with it just doesn’t matter.”

“…Just because I didn’t remember one name-”

“Who are his other crew members?”

“Ah…Nadine. I know Nadine.”

“Do you know how she has a thing for Joral? Do you know how she’s scary good at five finger fillet, but also good at raising oranges?”

Julius blinked again there. “Oranges?”

“Yep. Lemons and limes too. You noticed how we have a lot of those on the ship, right?”

“…Hm.” He…sort of did. He had some for breakfast at times. “Okay, so…I disregard some things. Is it a problem?”

“I’m…not sure. It’s just…when we were doing this, going through the temple and all, you were ignoring a lot of our questions and just going right through things. Sometimes you’d hang back and let us fight monsters or do puzzles, but for the whole temple you just seemed to be going on automatic.”

“…When you go through a temple once, you tend to ignore things. They’re familiar. Adrien, is there an actual problem here, or are you just worried?”

Adrien sighed. “I’m worried it’s going to become a problem. I was listening to that stuff in the meeting with the king, and, I mean…” He sighed again and stood straighter, steadying himself as he looked straight at Julius. “I’m the chosen hero.”

“…And?”

“And…I’m really glad you’re still around. I’ve had some nights where I’m just panicking over how the ‘fate of the world’ is something I have to deal with, and you make it seem so easy! You’re an asshole, sure-” Hey. “-but you really know your stuff. I feel like I can handle things way better with you around. But…I don’t want you to have to…I mean…the stuff with Valondrac-”

“Kid.” Julius scowled, then noticed his other students had stopped chatting and were clearly looking up at him. “…Adrien. I appreciate what you’re doing here. I can handle it though. I’m the veteran here.” He smiled. “Whatever comes, I’m going to help you get through it.”

Adrien frowned again and opened his mouth, but Julius had already turned for the door. “Now, let’s handle Fergus.”

“…Wait, who?” Mask asked. 

“Doesn’t matter, c’mon.” And with that, he pushed open the double doors and strode through. 

Julius stepped into a wide, circular room–

And something hit straight into his side, slammed him against, through the door, against the floor and knocked the breath from his lungs. He barely moved out of the way of an armored, clawed hand slamming right next to his head–he twisted and kicked up, his feet slamming into more armor as he rolled to his feet and pulled his broadsword free just in time to block a strike at his face that became a rapid blow after blow. 

“TEACH!” someone shouted, maybe multiple–

The man in armor–some kind of brown plate that contorted and held tight to his muscles–moved damn fast and each hit jarred and shook his arms, forcing him back further as two voices starting cackling from the center of the room–the damn statue, made of four large, armored knights carved from their torsos up on a spiral base, had great swords, sharp kite shields and spun like a damn cyclone–AND WHY THE FUCK WAS THE NORMAL TEMPLE BOSS ACTIVE?!

No, different cackling, different monster? Two, both, guardian here, possession–he was about to hit one of the stained glass windows around the room when an arrow slammed into the man’s–Fergus, he had to be Fergus–back, electricity crackling over his body and his slight stumble gave Julius the opportunity to pivot and swing back and Fergus’s hands went up quick and he fucking caught the blade in his palms in a brief spurt of blood but he was already pushing back and snarling loud, the pointed face of his bascinet starting to ripple and deform.

As it did, Julius quickly realized just what he was facing. Standing in front of him was an armored werewolf, a lycanthrope, probably one of the most dangerous beastfolk to face. While not as naturally destructive as some other races, their near-limitless stamina, high physical power, and nearly-infinite regeneration made them a powerful foe.

Bringing his foot up, Julius kicked Fergus backwards with enough force to send him back several feet, giving him time to mentally regroup. Knowing how dangerous werewolves could be made it easy for Julius to think up his plan of attack:

Attack. Attack hard and fast and don’t let him get his footing.

Julius immediately put his thoughts into action, swinging hard and fast at the lycan. Fergus was fighting barehanded–granted said hands were armored and clawed–which put him at a lot of disadvantages. Shorter reach, lack of defense, but the fucker made up for that with brutal endurance, practically shoving his arms in the way of the blade to block it. 

His armor was decent, blocked and deflected well enough but Julius could swing hard and his blade was sharp–dammit he should’ve sprung for some silver alloy to mix into the steel but he hadn’t thought he’d need it–enough to cut into–not deep, might have defensive enchantments–at least enough to draw blood.

Fergus was starting to hit back though as he got his rhythm back and suddenly it was a dance of dodging and striking where Julius had to avoid swipes and jabs aiming to take his head off or rip through his throat while Fergus took cuts that should’ve left his arms crippled and came back for more, all while that damn cackling sounded out through the room.

The lycan had back-up, that much was obvious, and they were probably keeping his students busy while he had to deal with this fucker on his own but he’d be damned before some snarling bastard put him in the ground.

“No interference~!” an airy voice called out in sing-song and Julius grimaced as he noticed the knight–trick to the thing was that the crystals powered it, giving each torso its own elemental abilities: fire, ice, lightning, wind–trying to rush past his frontline students to get at Sergio and Sophia as some cloaked thing–a borei? Wind demons, tricky fucks–rained lightning and flames and frost down on them–

“FOCUS!” Fergus shouted, smashing his sword down and trying to leap for Julius’s face as he leaned back, “YOUR FIGHT IS WITH ME!

Julius ducked the swipe, brought his sword back up and swung again–Fergus caught the blade between his hands, pressed hard enough to crack the steel before Julius yanked it back but he was on the backfoot now, blocking as the bastard hit harder and harder, each hit rattling his blade and driving him backward–

And then one hard punch snapped straight into the blade and it splintered, the fist burying itself in his stomach as it tore through his armor–Julius stumbled back as the claws went for his face but they missed when Mask slammed their dagger home into the small of Fergus’s back. The lycan straightened and howled in pain and fury as Julius shook his head, splinters of steel poking into his armor, and–

In one fluid motion, Fergus twisted around and shoved a clawed arm straight through Mask’s chest. There was a brief spray of blue as Mask gasped and then the dead man tossed his student aside like trash and turned right to get his dirk straight in his throat.

Red bled into his vision as he kept stabbing, pushing deep into the bastard’s guard as he ripped the blade free and dug his free thumb into the wound and started strangling the bastard and stabbed deep into its belly over and over as it tried to claw and he felt it getting furrier as he twisted the blade, ripped upward and stabbed precisely through the tendons in its shoulders but it would heal too quick so he stabbed the broken blade’s hilt into one wound and a shard of steel in the other and stabbed and ripped and stabbed and ripped and stabbed and–

His muscles seized as electricity flowed through him and he nearly dropped everything but the bastard was still struggling and he twisted around it and gripped it around the bleeding throat–it was bigger, face was longer, sharper teeth–and blocked the next bolt with its body then chucked a bomb into the demon’s eyes so it squealed then grabbed the bastard by the snout and started to twist

He twisted around, not the neck, but moved and shoved and darted back as the bastard was stabbed straight through its chest by a shocked knight with one head smashed into fragments and another with an arrow in it and–

In his eyes he saw the depths of a bloody sea. A red moon nestled in a rusted sky shone pale light across his fleshless form. Atop a throne of yellow bone caked in gristle, Mother greeted him with a most lovely smile.

“Welcome home, Julius.”

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