Julius felt weird walking around without at least six other people following him. Eight nowadays, sure, but he was a little more used to the six.
He frowned a little, adjusting his grip on the box containing his wrecked sword and armor as he stepped around a wood elf walking with her dogs on the ‘sidewalk’. The streets of Rosiava were larger than a lot of cities, consisting of specific roads in the center for carts, carriages and other transports going through the city and actual defined paths on the sides, made for pedestrians. Apparently their ‘city planner’ got the idea from some outworlders. Still, that wasn’t exactly what he was frowning about.
No, weird as it was to admit it, he was actually a little worried about his students. Sure, Douglas was going to be with them, and Sylsa seemed capable enough, but he just didn’t feel right leaving them to deal with a temple without him. Even more so given there was probably going to be a general in there. Sure, they may have been able to deal with one, but still.
Sighing, he shook his head as he came up to a moderately sized building. Much like the other shops nearby, it had a large metallic sign over its doorway with the name of the building on it: ‘The Red Forge.’
Unlike most other shops around that had several trinkets on display in their windows to show off the quality of their work, all the Red Forge had was a plain wooden door with a sign that said ‘open’ on it. Taking a moment to ready himself, Julius opened the door.
“Hello and welcome to Redforge! Best blacksmith in th-… oh it’s an old guy.” Blinking, Julius turned to look towards a voice that sounded cheerful at first, but quickly turned disappointed as the guy noticed him.
Now, Julius wasn’t exactly the best at customer service, but he did have to admit that was a bit rude.
Looking over, Julius found a rather plain-looking human boy, who looked younger than his own students. A black, smithing apron was draped over his simple shirt and pants, matching his short, black hair.
“Yeah, yeah, feel free to look around, call me if you find something you want to buy,” the boy muttered, sounding bored as he walked from the racks on the wall to the store’s counter.
“…Uh, is Zari in? I have some business with her.”
“Oh…well, can you tell her Julius is here? I don’t mind waiting, but I would like her to know I’m out here.”
The boy sighed, grumbling under his breath, before leaning towards the heavy back curtain behind the counter. “Oi, granny, some geezer named Julius is here to see you!” He waited for a second then turned back towards Julius with a bored look. “Whoops, looks like she’s busy, guess you gotta-”
And then he was promptly shoved off his feet as a very familiar bearded face came rushing out of the back.
“Jules! About time you got here! Here I was, thinkin’ you left without even trying to visit little ol’ me!” Zari Redforge, a darkly-tanned dwarf with dark, greying red hair tied back in a bun, wearing a black apron of her own over her bright red shirt, walked right up to Julius and immediately pulled him into a tight hug.
“Gh-!” He actually felt something pop in his back.
“You blond bastard, did you get taller while you were gone?”
“E-Either that, or you’ve gotten shorter,” he replied, grinning back.
“Ha! Glad to see you still got your bark to you!”
“Uh…granny, do you know this guy?” the kid asked, now back on his feet and frowning.
“Of course I do! Issei, meet one of my old students, Julius. Julius, this scamp over here is someone I picked up, an outworlder from…what was it again, Takié?”
“No granny, it’s Tokyo. It’s the capital of Nihon,” Issei–his name actually sounded Gorokivan, weirdly enough–muttered. It sounded like this was a normal thing with them.
“I still don’t know what that is, but fine then.” Stroking her chin strap of a beard, Zari turned to Julius. “So, what brings you over after all this time?”
“Well, I was hoping to use your forge. My equipment got pretty messed up in the last fight I was in. So I needed to reforge it.”
“Ooh, and here I was, a poor ol’ woman thinkin’ you decided to stop by for ol’ time’s sake.”
“Well, I will be in Hulthemia for as long as it takes to fix. I’m sure we can catch up plenty.”
“That is true, yes. Well for now, lemme see your stuff. I needa see how bad the damage is.” Bracing himself slightly, Julius placed the box with his broken sword on the counter and opened it. “…Well shit, did you let some wackjob have at it?”
“Eh…kinda got ambushed by a werewolf.”
“Hm. Explains the claw marks. Hm…based on the damage…I’d say it’d take the better part of five days, at the very least.” Rubbing her beard, she glanced at his hip. “Guess you wasted money on that replacement for nothing.”
“Well, I didn’t really buy this. I wasn’t using it as a replacement either.” Julius grabbed the saber and lifted it up, sheath and all, onto the counter. “I was hoping to use this in the reforging process.”
Staring at the sword, Zari cautiously reached out and grabbed it, slowly pulling it out. As she did, the demonic blade began to crackle, small sparks coming off along its steel.
“U-Uh, what is that?” Issei asked, edging away from the blade. “It feels…bad.”
“…Julius, where in the fuck did you get this?”
“Kinda fought a bunch of demons. One of them left that behind and I got it to accept me.”
“…I should’ve expected this from you.” Letting out an amused huff, Zari picked up the box. “Issei, we’re closing up early today.”
“W-What? Already? Why?”
“Because we have work to do. Now get to it.”
“Ah, uh…okay.” Issei nodded hesitantly, then rushed to the door. He opened it, turned the sign around to ‘closed’, then closed and locked it while Julius followed Zari into the back of her shop.
Entering the backroom, Julius was greeted to the sight of a rather large forge. The place was big enough for around ten workers, but, at the moment, only two other people were in there, and only one of which actually seemed to be working.
“I’m sure you remember Bari, and this other lad is another outworlder I picked up. He’s Takeshi, also from that Tokyo place.”
The other black-haired young man, his hair a little more neatly trimmed and a pair of glasses over his eyes, glanced up from the book he was writing in while Issei wandered in, grumbling under his breath again. He seemed to be older than Issei, maybe a bit older than Julius’s students, and was wearing a black apron like everyone else, though he didn’t seem to be working at the moment.
The same couldn’t be said for the familiar halfling currently hammering away at some heated metal. Barital Redforge was a few inches shorter than her wife and had light skin and dirty-grey hair, which was currently covered by a black bandana. Another bandana covered her mouth and her eyes were covered by goggles, though she did pause and raise a hand in greeting when she noticed Julius.
Waving back, Julius sat down on one of the many stools in the forge. “So, mind if I ask what you’re working on?”
“Same thing as everyone else in this city,” Zari replied, gesturing at the steel frameworks around the shop as she pulled the broken sword out of its box, “The Roses started throwin’ around a buncha money for their project of theirs and hired every blacksmith they could. Not that we’re complaining, pay is good and all. ‘Course, it don’t look like it’ll matter much, since they can’t even get one workin’ properly.”
Glancing over, Bari stared at the shattered sword, before silently turning her gaze to Julius. Wincing slightly at the silent stare, Julius gave her an apologetic smile. Bari wordlessly shook her head, then went back to hammering away.
“So, you got any idea how that new fancy sword of yours works? Ain’t ever touched demonic steel.”
“Honestly, no, but given that the sword didn’t seem to mind being reforged, it should be okay.”
“Hn. In that case, you work on that one. Try not to shock yourself too much.”
“Hm…have any rubber gloves?”
“Desk left of ya, bottom shelf.”
Julius nodded, then got to work. Once he was properly outfitted in an apron and decent gloves, he pulled the saber from its sheath fully, and stared at the blade as it crackled with lightning, illuminating that part of the shop. It was excited again.
For a second, Julius winced. It felt like a shame to break apart a blade like this, but–And then the buzzing grew more intense as the blade noticed his hesitation. There was an irritation now. The saber didn’t think of itself as losing what it was, only gaining what it could become. He’d convinced it already, and if he wavered now, the blade would rush the other way and demand its wants be sated, one way or another.
It was temperamental, greedy, impulsive. Julius cracked a smile, staring at the electrified blade. That was fine. He could be impulsive too.
A short breath saw its lightning vanish in an instant as the steel went dormant. He pressed his gloved fingers against the steel, then inhaled again, his second breath drawing understanding. He knew where the tang fit its hilt, where the shoulders fit its guard and it took only a few short, quick motions to pull blade from its trappings.
“Woah…” Oh, so Issei was still watching.
He set the pieces down, then looked over the blade with a small frown. Even sealed, the steel’s demonic nature shone through. He could shatter it into pieces and every fragment would likely still hold that corruptive influence. Still, he’d already committed by this point.
“So you haven’t completely forgotten everythin’ I taught you.” Zari smirked at him as she placed the fragments of his old sword into a casting ladle. “You remember the important part now, don’t you?”
“I should probably get a crucible first, but yes.”
“Oh, yes, that. Don’t melt steel all over my tables.” Grabbing the necessary items, Julius drew another breath and folded the blade into a more compact form, before placing it inside his smelting pot. He covered the top to keep any air from getting in, then placed his hands on the side of the crucible.
He took another deep breath, pulling air into his lungs as he drew on the magic of Heat. It was a rawer, more wild element, born from a missing elder god, and it was tricky as all hell to keep that heat channeled through his hands without burning the gloves.
“So, how’s the hero business going nowadays?” Zari, meanwhile, didn’t need to focus. With a casual ease born from over two centuries of experience, she had the steel melted into liquid and was pouring it out into a mold, properly covered so no air bubbles would form in the steel.
“About as good as it can. All of my students are just as skilled as my team was back then,” he replied, bringing his own crucible over to her station. Whatever fragments were left clearly weren’t enough to form a full sword, but would they need a larger mold to fit all of the steel?-
“What was that about hero stuff?” Julius blinked, then looked up at Issei, who was-
“Hands off the table!” he snapped, and the kid stumbled back slightly, frowning as he awkwardly brushed his hands down his apron. “We’re working with molten metals here. Even if you have a heat shield up, it can sear straight through your skin in seconds.”
“Issei, stand back,” Zari ordered, glancing up at him. “I know you’re curious, that’s plenty fine. Just don’t stick your hands near our stuff, okay hon?”
“Uh…sure.” Issei subsided into silence as Julius focused harder on the heat, taking long, slow breaths- “So you’re a hero?”
“In a sense,” he replied, “More a former hero, but I’m training the current-”
“Training? Like you’re a mentor? Like those old wise senseis in-”
“Kaida-san,” Takeshi cut in, before speaking to Issei in some kind of outworlder language. The boy replied back with some obvious agitation, gesturing at Julius, who raised an eyebrow at the exchange. He couldn’t tell what exactly was said, but he knew enough to pick up some words. Something along the lines of ‘hero’ and ‘time’.
Really, he should try to learn more about the outworlder languages. Sure, he knew enough words from some of the more common ones in the event he stumbled upon a newly arrived outworlder, but it was rather awkward not knowing what they were saying when they were obviously referring to him. Maybe he should ask Sophia for some lessons the next time they had some free time?
“Goldforge-san, sorry for bothering you–” Julius glanced up and found Takeshi standing on the other side of the table, his book under his arm as he gestured towards Issei with his free hand. “–but Kaida-san would like to request something of you.” Quirking an eyebrow, Julius looked towards the other outworlder, who immediately bowed.
“Please let me join your group!”
The boy immediately looked up, complete confusion on his face. “H-Huh?! Why not!?”
“Look, I’m not trying to be rude, but the fact of the matter is, if you join us, you will die.” He held up a hand, keeping the other on the crucible. “Don’t interrupt. I’m not finished.
“You’ve only been in this world for what, four, maybe five months?” Taking the silence and awkward side glance as a yes, Julius continued. “You’re working at a blacksmith shop and you still don’t know everything about it, so you probably don’t have any training when it comes to fighting.
“The quest I’m on is dangerous enough for my students, who’ve all been training for years in their respective fields. Hell, one of my students and I nearly died at the last temple we were at. I don’t want to bring someone who I’d have to train from the ground up. Now, I’m not saying I won’t train you after I finish this quest, but that won’t be for some time.”
“B-But…But I…L-Look, I know this is my chance!” The kid straightened and put a hand over his heart. “I was brought to this world for a reason, right?! So I’ve gotta be the hero here to stop the…whatever evil thing is out there and save the world! Right? That’s how this is supposed to work!”
“…” Julius glanced at Takeshi, who gave him a little shrug back.
Issei glanced from Takeshi to Julius, then swallowed, honestly looking…pretty distraught.
“…” Julius…actually felt sorry for the kid, sighing a little. It probably wasn’t easy being separated from everything he ever knew. Gods knew Sophia had a rough time of it. “…Look, I’ll be in Hulthemia for a week. I can give you some lessons, but that’s it.”
And then the kid immediately brightened, grinning wide. “YES! I knew it! Ha, okay, I’ll show you how awesome I am and then you’ll definitely bring me along!” He paused for a moment, then frowned, starting to mutter to himself in that outworlder language again.
Whatever he said did get Takeshi to glare at him though and start chiding him the same language.
And then Zari smacked Julius on the back. “Ha, better get to it then!”
“What?” He glanced down at her. “What’s that-”
“Jules, how’d you like a profession’ly done Redforge sword of your very own?”
She smirked, patting the crucible he was using. “I’ll handle your sword craftin’, you train the kid. And ah, no-” She pointed a finger at him even as he opened his mouth. “I know I’ve said plenty of stuff about how you gotta forge your own blade and all’a that, but also I want to do this for you just like you wanna train Issei there.”
“…Because I look sad and you’re weak to sad kids?”
“Hey!” Issei was frowning again but Zari barked out a laugh.
“Nah, more because I do have enough confidence in your abilities that I want to do somethin’ nice for you. That, and workin’ with demon steel, now that it’s inert and all, seems way too interestin’ to pass up.”
“…” Julius sighed. “Okay, sure. Just don’t get corrupted by demon magic or something.”
“Don’t worry about it! Bari knows cleanse and purify, so I’ll be fine!” Letting out an almost amused huff, as Bari gave a quick thumbs up in agreement, pJulius stood up and began taking off his smithing gear. And with something that wasn’t quite a mental command, he told the demonic sword to not try anything on Zari. A faint chime of what felt like agreement sounded out of the crucible in return, so that was probably settled.
“Okay then, come on kid.” Waving at Issei to follow him, Julius headed out of the store.
“O-Oh, yeah!” Quickly discarding his own gear, Issei rushed after him. “So where are we going? Are you taking me to the rest of your team and having me train with them?”
“Maybe tomorrow. As is, they’re all in the Metal Temple right now. Also, just so you know, I know metal magic, and some of heat, but I’m not a skilled mage. If you want to learn magic, which, given how long you’ve been here, you probably can’t yet, you’ll need to ask one of my teammates.” Looking around the streets for a moment, Julius began to make his way to where the Rosvord Fort was.
“Oh? Are they here with you? Or with your students?”
“Yeah. He’s the only reason I let them go into the temple without me.”
“So there’s two senseis then…Well I’m only interested in learning how to use a sword! After all, the chosen hero of this world uses a sword, yeah?”
“Well, yes, the sacred blade Iginia is a sword, but that doesn’t mean whoever was chosen can only use it and nothing else. Douglas, my teammate, is a mage and he was chosen by it. Even now, he only knows basic stuff when it comes to swordplay.”
Issei blinked, lagging behind for a moment before he ran to catch up. “Huh?? Why would the sword choose someone who doesn’t know how to use a sword?”
“Godly magic,” Julius answered and continued towards the fort.
“Uh…weird, but fine then. So where are we going?”
“To the fort. It’s the only place I know around here that’ll probably let us use their training grounds at a moment’s notice.”
“Oh! We’re going to that hot pink-haired lady’s place?”
“…She is in charge of the Rosvord’s, so yes.”
“Awesome! Heh, if you’re not careful she might try to make me join her mercenaries after she sees how great I am!”
“…Well, you certainly have courage.”
“It’s what a hero should have!” he said. A slight pause followed, and then he glanced at Julius again. “…So, what exactly do you do when you’re not on this quest? Go around hunting dangerous monsters? Exploring dangerous dungeons? Saving damsels in distress?”
Was it weird that he actually had saved damsels in the past? “Well, sometimes I do go into dungeons when I need materials. But for the most part, I just work in my smithing shop.”
“Oh, I get it. Crafting weapons and armor for the next generation!”
“…Yeah. That’s the plan.” Or, well, was, since he barely sold stuff like that anymore. Most of the people who went to him nowadays were just nobles looking for a fancy trinket. Something to show off as a conversation piece…
It didn’t take too much longer to arrive at the fort, and once they did, Julius turned to Issei. “I’m going to ask to see if we get permission. You wait in the training yard, okay? Just head straight this way, get there, and wait for me.”
“Sure thing, Sensei!” Well, at least he knows how to listen. Rubbing the back of his head, Julius went on ahead to the office.
A part of him was worried about dropping in unannounced, especially since Rostel was probably already told his team went into the temple. But, given how he didn’t really see anyone nearby, he didn’t have much of a choice. And, with how he was distracted by his thoughts, that’s how he opened the door to her office without knocking.
“-ould’ve seen the look on his face after I offered him the money, bastard looked ready to get on his hands and knees for m-!”
Stopping in his tracks, Julius stared at Natalie Rostel, who paused mid-sentence and stared back at him, her expression frozen on her face. What was once the kind, smiling leader of one of Rosiava’s major factions now looked and sounded exactly like the complete assholes Julius had seen running the mercenary companies back in Orin. Sitting in two comfier looking chairs in front of her desk, which Rostel was sitting on, were two other people, most likely also leaders of Rosiava.
From what he could see-
And before he could react, the sound of a spear embedding itself halfway into a wall behind him sounded out, and Rostel was glaring at him.
“You heard something you shouldn’t have.”