Chapter 23 – Avoiding Politics

Julius was having a weird day. Granted, that wasn’t saying much given that every other day was weird for him. Really, weirdness was becoming normal to him. 

Anyways. As he stood in the Rosvord Fort, Julius stayed silent as he stared at Rostel and what he assumed were two other leaders of Hulthemia’s major factions. The former was glaring at him, her arm still extended after the spear throw. 

“…So, can I borrow your training grounds?” 

“…Huh?” 

“I kinda need to train someone, so I need a proper training space.”

Silence fell over them all while Julius stared at Rostel. He took a moment to glance at the two others in the room, one a woman about Rostel’s age, maybe a little older, with white hair tied back in a bun. She had a monocle over her right eye and was wearing a gold jacket, while the man in the chair next to her was blatantly a wood elf. A pale wood elf with narrow antlers extending from his bald head, which was a little disconcerting since Julius could actually see the guy’s skin extend where the antlers connected to his skull. Said elf had a short, dark beard that looked a little like green moss, and wore an emerald green vest over his black undershirt. 

“…Huh?” Rostel repeated. Seemed she was confused.

“Well, it’s been a long time since I lived here, so as far as I know, this is the best place to train around.” Julius paused, considering some things. “I also really don’t feel like paying someone to rent a field, and you seemed fine with me asking for anything, so…here I am.” 

He shrugged. Rostel was just staring at him with an odd expression, like she’d been expecting a completely different reaction. Which she probably was? Julius wasn’t too sure, but he also didn’t care.

Before the awkward silence could stretch on for too long, a sudden burst of laughter caught their attention. 

“Ahahahahahaha! Oh my gods Natty, you fucking idiot! You look like a complete fucking dumbass!” Clutching at his stomach, the wood elf fell into a fit of laughter, pretty much sliding down his chair as he cackled.

“Er, Evrard? Perhaps you shouldn’t upset her,” the other woman spoke up, looking more than a little awkward too. After a few more seconds of laughter, she glanced at Julius and stood up, brushing down her long black skirt. “Ah, hello Sir Goldforge. I am Anita Bulinto. Here, my card.”

She slipped a small card of her sleeve and handed it to Julius. It said ‘Anita Bulinto, Vice-President of the Golden Rose Conglomerate, Head of Public Relations’. It was also gold colored and some vine patterns on it.

“…Thanks?” Was he supposed to keep it? Give it back? He slowly started moving it towards his pocket. She wasn’t reacting negatively, so…good?

Once it was in his pocket, he…stood there. “…So yeah, about that training yard? Am I allowed to do that, or no?”

Rostel narrowed her eyes. “…Evrard, stop laughing. Goldforge, take a seat.”

“I’d rather not.”

Her frown deepened. “That wasn’t a request.”

“And you’re in no position to order me around. I’m not one of your soldiers, or even one of your citizens.”

“Yet.” The wood elf–Evrard, apparently–sat up in his seat, still smirking.

“…Sure, that wasn’t threatening. Anyways, I promised a kid I’d train him and having some weird talk over how I apparently ‘saw through your deceptions’ or something really isn’t anything I’m interested in going through.”

“I could force you.”

“…Rostel, Miss, you threw your spear at me. It’s in the wall here. It’s closer to me, than to you.” All three of them paused, Evrard’s smile dropping into a frown while Rostel glared right at him and Bulinto started edging away from the door. “I’m not about to try anything if you don’t. I just want to use your training yard. It’s not like I heard anything significant either. I already knew you weren’t genuine, and all I heard was you bragging. Nothing about whatever secret plans you people probably have.”

“How do you know we have plans?” Oh for fuck’s sake.

Julius sighed, rubbing his temples as he stared at Evrard, who was standing up. Guy was probably a Dahsin…Wait, right, he was wearing green. Wow, how did that not click yet? Now he just felt kinda stupid. “Because of course you have secret plans. The Dahsins want to rule the continent almost as much as Valondrac does.”

“Ouch, now that comparison hurts. Right here.” Dahsin patted his chest, looking comically sad for a moment.

“Why would you assume the three of us are involved in any conspiracy?” …Really? Were they doing this deliberately?

 He pointed to Rostel. “Faction leader.” Then to Bulinto.  “Vice-President.” And last to the Dahsin. “Probably important. Either the three of you are involved in some plotting together, or you’re just good friends. You, Rostel, were being pretty casual, so I’d bet on either, but even being good friends says you don’t care about the Dahsin’s imperialist policies or actively support them.”

“Ah, I wouldn’t say it’s full support,” Bulinto denied, waving a hand a little anxiously, “I can see the benefits, certainly, but I prefer not to let politics get in the way of friendships.”

“So the former.”

“Huh?”

“You don’t care, so–Okay, look, I don’t really care either. Unless you guys want to use your fancy earthships to, I dunno, sink cities or something, I’m not going to get involved. Okay? Don’t try to conquer people and we don’t have problems.”

“Wouldn’t work even if we tried,” Dahsin drawled, smirking again. “As soon as we took one down, they’d know something is up, and it’d take way too long to sink a capital city.” 

“…See, it’s saying stuff like that that makes me think we’ll have a problem.” 

“Eh. We have to consider these kinds of things.”

“It’s also just not feasible because of how much we’d lose in the attempt,” Bulinto spoke up, “It’s too hazardous to attempt without a high likelihood that our ships would be destroyed and crews crushed in the attempts, and destroying cities in that manner would leave us entirely bereft of the resources and benefits that would come with taking them.”

“…Right. Sure. So. Training ground?” 

“Just…go already,” Rostel muttered, slumping in her seat. She wasn’t looking at him. Probably not a good sign. Still, at least he got what he wanted.

“Thanks.” Nodding to the three, Julius headed out of the room, making sure not to walk into the spear jutting out of the wall. 

It didn’t take him long to reach the otherwise empty training yard, where he was greeted by the sight of Issei with some armor on him. Just a simple breastplate, shin guards and vambraces, but it was something. “Hey! What took you so long, geezer?”

…Why did people keep calling him old? He was middle-aged, at most. Even normal humans could live three times his age! 

Rather than complain out loud, he just sighed. “Right. Where’d you get that gear?”

“Over there.” He pointed to some racks of armor and training weapons over at the side of the yard. “No one was around, so I just helped myself.”

“…Yeah, okay, fuck it, let’s just do this.” The complete lack of people was weird though. It was a little after noon. Even if they were working on some project, they shouldn’t have the entire building empty, right?-

No. No, no, no getting dragged into some stupid conspiracy. No. That’s the kind of thing Douglas did. Julius was not doing that. He was ignoring that. He was focusing on the actual important corruption of the temples and invasion by the Dark Lands and not getting bogged down by a bunch of oligarchs that thought they were the cleverest assholes on the continent. No solving conspiracies! No massive bullshit with assassins and those violet pricks! None of that! Not this time!

He walked right over to the rack of weapons, pulled a wooden sword free, and walked right back to Issei, who, to his immense satisfaction, was starting to look nervous. “Let’s get started.”

Though, much to his admitted and slightly guilty disappointment, he wasn’t the type of person to take out his anger on some kid looking for actual help from him, so his next few hours weren’t spent beating up Issei. Instead, he actually did train him properly, which was slightly difficult because the kid, for all his bravado, had clearly never properly used a sword in his life.

Still, Julius was a stubborn bastard, so he really did put in the effort to show him the tricks of swordplay. Things like properly maintaining grip and moving his feet without looking were tricky enough to get down, and it took at least two hours before Julius was satisfied enough to actually start lightly ‘sparring’ with the kid. Though it was less actively battling the brat and more like acting like a living dummy for the kid to swing at. 

The wooden sword Issei picked out was a saber more suited for cuts than thrusts, so that’s what Julius mainly focused on. The kid wasn’t about to become a master anytime soon, but he could still show him plenty of basics and keep him from just spinning like a top. Funny thing was, Julius had actually seen people who used that kind of spinning style effectively. 

Issei was not one of them.

Still, the training did progress smoothly enough. The kid complained at the slow pace, sure, but all kids did. The only thing that really irritated Julius was when he noticed Team RDB wander onto his field, but he kept his focus on the lesson, not on whatever the fuck they thought they were doing. He did glance at them when possible though.

Rostel was just sitting cross-legged in the dirt, her eyes narrowed and her hands folded in front of her face. Bulinto was sitting kneeled on a towel she’d laid out, her skirt under her legs and a slight, tired, frown on her face. Dahsin brought his chair out with him and was smirking like a pompous jackass.

Thankfully, it seemed like they were just watching him for now. However, as clear as it was to him that the olig-trio were keeping their eyes on him specifically, it wasn’t so clear to his trainee. 

“Pst, hey, geezer.” Leaning towards him, Issei spoke quietly, a hand by his mouth. “Since those two pretty ladies are watching, can you help me show off?” 

“…Uh.” He should’ve seen this coming. He didn’t, but he should’ve.

“C’mon, just stand there and take this attack, okay?” 

…This wouldn’t end well. 

As Issei took his stance around ten feet away from him, Julius could do little else but prepare himself for whatever happened. He steadied his stance and waited, worried, but willing to give Issei his shot.

The kid took a deep breath and glanced over at the three onlookers, before charging at Julius. As he rushed forward, he seemed to bring his sword up for a clearly telegraphed downward slash, before he suddenly spun in place, going in for a slash at Julius’s side. 

But then Issei tripped. His feet caught on each other and he went crashing down into the dirt with a pained grunt.

“…”

“…” 

“BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” A harsh string of laughter echoed out as Dahsin nearly fell out of his chair, barely holding himself in place. Julius felt his hand twitch at the sight, before he looked over to Issei. The kid was trembling, his face completely red with humiliation. 

“Did you see that shit!? Stupid kid tripped over his o-” The training sword cut a deep line straight through Dahsin’s cheek as it flew past, bursting into the splinters as it smashed into the wall.

Julius brushed a hand through his hair, trying not to grit his teeth too much as he smiled at the wide-eyed royal. Or governor or whatever the fuck. “Sorry about that! Meant to return it. Guess I threw it too hard.” He tried his sunniest smile, tilting his head like Graves and Ellen would when they wanted to seem innocent. “Sorry~!”

His smile immediately dropped as he turned to Issei, crouching down by the wide-eyed kid. “You okay? We can leave if you want.”

“…U-Uh…N-No, no, I’m…I-I’m a-all fine. Plenty fine, very…fine. How did you do that all of sudden?”

Julius blinked, raising an eyebrow at the odd phrasing. “Training, mainly. Ah, but don’t actually throw your sword when it comes to fighting. They’re not meant for throwing and won’t be weight properly. Though, I guess you could if you’re skilled enough with wind magic to get the trajectory right…” He paused. “You can’t channel magic yet, right?”

“…No sensei.”

“Okay, we’ll hold off on fight magic then-”

“Fight magic??”

Julius sighed, scratching his cheek a little as the kid pulled himself into a sitting position, staring at him with obvious interest. “It’s just a way of describing how physical fighters channel magical energy through their bodies. It lets them move faster, take harder hits, hit harder, so on. I don’t think there’s a god for it, so it’s not like it’s an actual branch of magic. Just something people do.”

“But I can learn it?”

“When you’ve been around here long enough, sure.” He held up a finger to interrupt the next question. “But that probably won’t be for a while. On average, it takes about half a year for an outworlder to start developing a talent for magic. It can vary on the person, but you do need to live in our world a little longer before-”

“HEY!” Right, this asshole. Julius pushed himself to his feet and stared back at Dahsin. The royal was holding a hand to his cheek, the soft green glow of healing magic mending his wound. “You just assaulted the Gov-”

“Don’t give a shit. Mock my student again and I’ll break your fucking teeth.”

“Sir Goldforge.” Rostel was smirking as she stood. “You did commit a very serious crime just now.”

“Interesting. Let me rephrase. I’m sincerely sorry I just barely missed smashing through the vaunted head of Mister Dahsin over there. I tried returning that training sword, and I missed. Much like how you missed handing over that spear of yours, right?” He was smiling way too hard back at them, and nearly laughed at the disturbed looks on their faces. “Nobody tried killing anyone. Nobody tried ‘assaulting’ anyone. We all just missed. You missed your spear, I missed my sword, and Dahsin there missed his laughter. Aimed it at the wrong thing. 

“And I know he had to have missed, because I missed.” Julius placed a hand on his chest, mimicking Rostel, who was frowning now. “And we both know, if he hadn’t missed, I wouldn’t.”

“…You can’t threaten me like this,” Dahsin growled, glaring right at him.

“You certainly cannot. Assault, intimidation…” Rostel smirked. “You’re certainly making things worse for yourself, Goldforge.”

He felt his eye twitch. “…And what do you plan to do about it?”

“Hmph. Well, for assaulting the leader of the Dahsin family-”

“Is that the issue? His family? Or his connections? Because I personally know the king of Luceneva, I’m related to the Archduke of Orindaco, I also know the king of Tramontava, quite close to his husband and all, and I’m pretty sure, if I lean on King Richard, I can get your Kalavichos on my side.” He smirked. “You could maybe get the Viokas to swing for you after Douglas fucked up their plotting all those years ago, but I’m pretty sure they hate the Green and Pink Roses at least as much as the ludicrously powerful mage who you want on your good side for your projects.

“And, even if it’s an issue of them not having much power here, aside from the Kalavichos that is, I’m sure it would hamper any relations you may have with the other countries within the Light Lands. Not to mention, I don’t think my team would be inclined to give you the temple core if you do anything to me.” 

“We already pa-!” 

“And it’d be a simple matter of returning the money. I’m sure you and yours would much prefer having the money back rather than the core, right~?” Julius smiled, trying to look gentle. Dahsin cringed, so maybe it didn’t work. “Of course, this is all hypothetical. After all, we all missed, right?” 

Rostel frowned sourly while Dahsin seethed, his eyes narrowed in obvious rage. Still, neither of them replied to him, and Bulinto didn’t seem to want to get involved, so it looked like it was his win.

“Perfect. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my student and I are gonna leave. Don’t worry, we won’t ask to use your training grounds again.” Julius grinned and gestured for Issei to stand. It took the kid a second, but he scrambled to his feet, trying to grin too, though he looked even more awkward than Julius felt. “Thank you for your time. Let’s hope we don’t have to deal with each other anymore.”

“Yes, let’s,” Rostel replied, clearly irritated.

“I’m sure someone will deal with you soon enough,” Dahsin muttered, still glaring right at Julius, whose smile immediately dropped.

“…Dahsin, let me give you some advice. If you try anything against me, or anyone even loosely connected to me, you will bleed.”

“Y-”

“No. No threats. We’re done with this argument. I’m just telling you what’s going to happen. If I see any fuckers in black around, I will make assumptions. If said fuckers hurt anyone I care about, I will act on said assumptions. And you and I both know what those assumptions will be. All I’m telling you is the result. Now calm down, and go back to hanging out with your friends.” He sighed, trying to rein in his temper. “I’m sorry I started this by walking in at the wrong time. But now I’m trying to walk away. I implore you, do the same.”

Julius ran a hand through his hair as he walked past the royal. His muscles felt way too tense. He wanted to hit that damn idiot and keep on hitting until he’d never be a problem again, but he knew he shouldn’t.

“That was really badass,” Issei tried to whisper as he walked up alongside him.

“It really wasn’t,” Julius muttered back. “He’s just some noble whose only experience fighting was with some personal trainer when he was a kid.” 

“Oh…well, he is still a noble. I doubt most people would talk like that to them.” 

“You’d be surprised.” Julius sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Just leave the equipment you have on, and then I’ll drop you off at Zari’s.” 

“Ah, um, okay.” Fumbling to take off the armor, Issei seemed to glance at Julius nervously. “…Actually. I was wondering if I could meet your team.”

“Hm?” 

“Well, it’s just, even if you’re only going to train me for a small time, I still want to meet your other students. It’s only right, right?”

“Hm…yeah, okay. Hopefully they’re done with the temple by now, so we don’t have to wait long.” 

At least things should be simple once they handed over the core.

A long while later, as sun started to set over the horizon, Julius Goldforge deeply regretted his absolutely stupid thoughts. “Why in the ever loving grace of all that is good in the world did you bring a fucking demon general back with you!?

Adrien chuckled a little nervously, rubbing the back of his head while Douglas beamed, neither of them apparently acknowledging the fact that Sue had a seven foot tall, unconscious demonblood of some type slung over her shoulder right outside the inn they’d rented some rooms at for the week.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. She won’t be a problem and I’m sure no one will even notice!” Douglas continued smiling obliviously as a number of passersby stopped or slowed in their tracks to stare at the odd collection of adventurers. “Oh, and who’s this?”

“…Uh…my name is Kaida Issei, sir.” Issei was just staring, his eyes focused on-

Julius held a hand over his trainee’s eyes, earning a little ‘hey!’ in protest. “Dammit Douglas, why is her dress sheer?” 

“Hm? Oh, I suppose it hasn’t dried yet. Odd, though I suppose the boss room did get incredibly humid, made my glasses fog up something terrible,” he mumbled, then shrugged, “So, where do you think we can keep her? I’d suggest the Finja’s brig, but Joral did say he wanted to restock everything, so it may be out of use for the moment.”

“Does it really count as a brig if it’s just a closet with wooden bars instead of a door?” Sergio asked, occasionally eyeing their prisoner. Julius decided to be optimistic and assume his student was just keeping an eye on her so she wouldn’t escape….Or maybe he just felt like lying to himself.

“Look. Just. Even if she’s tied up, she’s way too dangerous to keep in the middle of a city.” 

“I think it’ll be okay. It’d certainly be better than just leaving her somewhere we can’t keep an eye on her. Not to mention, I already placed several magical suppressing seals on her, which may not prevent her from spitting webs but will at least ensure that she can’t use magic or go into her full arachne form.” 

“…Her what!?” 

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