“Um, a-are you sure you can stand okay?” Sophia asked, frowning worried as Julius buttoned up the shirt Douglas set out. It was the next morning and there was no way he was spending anymore time in that stupid, if comfy, bed.
“Yeah, it’s fine. You did good work.” He grinned at her. “Thank you.”
“…W-Well, tell me if anything happens, or you feel bad, or just if you get a headache or something! I’m the team’s healer, and I need to know if something’s wrong!”
“…You’ve been talking to Douglas, huh?”
“Um…m-more Sylsa than Mr. Yew…” Julius blinked, staring at Sophia as she fidgeted a little, staring off to the side. So someone clearly had a crush.
“Well, why don’t you go talk to her some more then? I can yell if I need anything.”
“E-Eh? A-Ah, w-w-well, u-u-um-” Julius chuckled, before heading out past her. Best to leave while she was distracted.
However, as he walked out of the bedroom, he was met with a heartbreaking sight. Set in one of the corners of the main foyer, all in one crate, was his broken sword and damaged armor.
The armor, for the most part, was in a repairable condition. A majority of the damage were scratches from when Fergus attacked him, but there were a few deeper gashes and holes from when his sword broke and the shards stabbed into him.
His sword, of course, was in a far worse state.
The blade had been broken in half and there were several cracks on both halves, leaving them in fragmented chunks. It also seemed that while someone had tried to pick up every piece of steel, it was clear that several were gone entirely, lost in the temple. It was going to take time to repair, that much he knew.
Time he didn’t have. Even if he focused entirely on repairs, they would take several days. As much as he didn’t want to, he’d have to put any and all repairs on hold.
Julius sighed and squatted down by the damaged equipment, then placed a hand on the fragmented blade. “Thank you for all your help. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Hells bells, are you talking to your sword?”
…Right. This was his place, so of course he’d be around.
Julius sighed, and glanced up at him. “Douglas, can you not right now?”
Douglas blinked. “What? What are you talking about? I’m just surprised your sword has an awakened spirit in it. If I’d known, I’d have studied it while you were out.”
“…Your sword does have a spirit in it, yes?”
“…Not yet, but it’s almost there.”
After a few moments of silence, Julius felt a hand on his shoulder. Douglas was trying to console him from his embarrassment.
That just made it so much worse.
“Right.” Julius stood, brushing off his pants. “Douglas, do you know any good forges around Stenistrata?”
“Ah, so you’re looking to fix your sword already! That sounds quite right for you.” What was that supposed to mean? “But I have a different idea in my own mind.”
“I’m not going to fix my sword, I need a replacement.”
“Alright, I should have thought of that, but also no, you’re not doing that. I’m proposing you postpone your replacement so you can repair your sword when we’re all in Rosiava!”
Julius’s immediate first instinct was to bluntly deny him and find a decent forge to fix his sword as soon and as quickly possible. However, “‘We’re all’?”
“Of course! I’m coming along, and if I’m coming along, so is Sylsa. It will be a good learning opportunity for her, since I don’t think she’s been that far south before.”
“…She’s nearly a hundred. How hasn’t she been to Rosiava?”
“Julius, all people are different, some don’t travel for quite some time while others have the kind of wanderlust that drives them all across the world. Why, there are even elves who have died of old age without even setting foot outside their home countries, and do you know how long it takes for an elf to die of old age?”
“…I think they have a natural lifespan of five hundred, right?”
Douglas shrugged. “Give or take, and it depends on the race, but about that, sure. My point is, she hasn’t gone, so she’s coming along, and I’m going with you because you need to fix your sword and not succumb to Ouzan influence.”
Julius frowned, turning to face Douglas fully. “Douglas, I’ve been meaning to ask, but what do the tattoos on your forehead mean?”
He blinked, glancing up at his hand as he raised it over his head. “These? Well, the central five represent the five elders, of course. Elion, Surodus, Khioni, Lucere, and Caligori.” He pointed to each of the dots in turn as he explained.
“I meant the extra dots.”
“Oh, well, that would be the ancients: Rupture, Fathom, Tempest, and Stygian.”
Julius slowly nodded. “Okay then. Douglas, are you a demon worshipper?”
“Not at all,” he promptly answered, grinning, “I simply find demons and the Ouzan fascinating, and it’s easier to channel their domains of magic if I have markings referring to them. I believe I have one for the Demonic Matriarchs on my right shoulder too-” He poked a finger at that spot, then paused. “Come to think of it, I think my entire right arm is dedicated to Ouzan magics, while the left is largely for Rakuli magic, while the rest of my skin is a mix of both, with a few spaces for the Laut. It’s tricky to find information on them, really, mostly due to a simple lack of understanding in the unaligned, though the Lady of Seven Hearts in quite well known in the Sun–Er, where are you going?”
Julius just kept walking. “I’m feeling hungry. Where’s your dining room?”
“Oh, I’ll go with you, I haven’t broken my fast yet, and also you’re going in the opposite direction.”
Julius pivoted on his heel and promptly went the other way, glancing at Douglas as he fell into step with him. “So, you can use that knowledge of yours to keep the Butcher from getting in my head?”
“Oh no, not at all. Once a connection is formed between patron and vassal, it can only truly be severed on the part of the vassal by a complete rejection of all the deity stands for.”
“Which I did.”
Douglas chuckled as they walked into a wide room with large windows, a red carpet and a round table taking up its center. “Yes, and then you started fighting again. You act with violence very easily, my friend, particularly when those you care for are threatened. The Red Mother is defined by both her brutality and her protective nature. War is often driven by a desire for safety, after all.”
“Hm.” He thought back to Valondrac’s ambition. “And what about when people start a war just because they want something?”
“That would be the White Mother’s domain.” Douglas grinned, showing his white teeth. “Conquest.”
He seemed really happy to be teaching him something. Julius still frowned though. “And which god is that?”
“We call her the Plague, though the Conquering Plague is a more common descriptor, and her true name is Rot, which is curious because there’s a Rakuli god known as the God of Rot, though Malnata is technically more commonly known as the God of Decay or even more commonly the God of Fungus–Oh you’re sitting now…you do know I don’t have servants, so no one is goin–and off to the kitchen we go.”
It didn’t take long of Douglas to catch up with him again. “…Would dreams be something that’s under the ‘demonic domain’?”
“Odd that you’d ask, but yes. Dream magic is one of their common aspects. It’s often used to peek into one’s inner desires, and even influence them to a certain degree. At a particular level it could even be used to share dreams between people, though my readings tell me this would be difficult, but if they were to share something in common, it should be far easier.”
“Hm…I see.” So, what? He and Valondrac were connected through the Butcher? That was the only thing that made sense…
“That being said, all of this is just based on what I’ve read. It could be entirely off for what I know.”
Julius grunted in agreement as they entered the kitchen.
“Thankfully for you, we’re nearly fully stocked right now. I trust you still know how to cook?”
“I’ll never cook at a palace, but I can make do.” Julius walked towards the coldbox, opened up its door, and started searching around the inside. Hm. That was a big cut of steak…
“Who knows? Given our connections, you probably could. Also, I must say I’m glad you seem fine with me joining up on your grand adventure.”
“Eh. Short of just knocking you out and running, I really can’t stop you. And even if I can kick your ass, I’d rather not get on your bad side. It’d take too much time.” He headed over to the stove and grabbed a few heat stones from its lower drawer. He placed them under its burners, then grabbed a skillet from the hooks above the stove. After brushing the pan down with vegetable oil, and letting it heat enough to steam, he set the steak in the skillet and grinned at the pleasant sizzle.
“So you say, but as I recall, I’ve been continuing my training while you’ve been toiling away at a shop.”
“And I’ve been able to win against four generals despite that. You got anything else to say?”
“Oh yes, I do, who’s Fergus?”
“Hm? He’s the general we just fought against.” Julius paused, frowning. His memories were a little fuzzy, but… “Who told you his name?”
“Well you did, though Adrien also did before you did. Odd thing though, according to him, Fergus never said his name. Far too busy trying to murder you, yet you somehow knew it.”
“Well you see, Julius, Adrien and I had a talk a few nights ago, a very nice talk since we both had a common point of reference in being the chosen heroes and all, and one of the things he mentioned amid general anxieties and more concrete worries of if he’ll even be able to fight Valondrac if you’re in love with her-” What. “-and other such fears for those he cares about, he brought up that lycanthrope’s name, and how you knew it before you could have possibly met him. Further, if he were someone you’ve met beforehand, you would have no reason to think he was waiting in the Wind Temple.
Julius looked back at Douglas. He wasn’t smiling. “You were asking about dream magic. The Ancient Stygian, God of Dreams, is said to have had many daughters, and three of them are known as the Demonic Matriarchs. One is Marrow, the Red Mother.” His eyes narrowed. “Julius, how long have you been talking to her?”
“What? No, that’s not-” He turned to face him, scowling. “I haven’t been talking with her! The Wind Temple was the first time in decades I’ve had anything like that happen!”
“So it’s Valondrac then.” Julius stiffened as Douglas sighed. “That complicates things, but not as much as you’d think.”
“What the hell does-”
“Julius, I trust you,” Douglas interrupted, his arms crossed over his chest. For once, he sounded completely serious. Though, no, that wasn’t fair to- “I don’t think you’d do a thing to hurt your students, you’re far too protective for that. I have concerns, but I’m not about to burden you with them. Consider this more of me satisfying my curiosity, for better or worse.”
Julius grimaced. “Why bring it up then? Why drag it out of me?”
“I was just confirming it. I needed to know, and now I know, and you know I know. You also know, or should know, that I trust your judgment and am entirely fine with leaving the resolution of your conflict up to you. I’m just here to help if you need it.”
Like he could help! Dammit, why did his life have to get so complicated?!
Gritting his teeth, Julius took a deep, agitated breath, his best effort to keep himself collected. Turning back to his food, he focused on cooking.
It didn’t even smell good anymore…