Julius was bored. Really bored.
He let out a low sigh and leaned back in his chair while he propped his feet up on the dining table. He was very bored.
Apparently, the price he had to pay for streaking, assaulting several people, and causing a lot of property damage was being confined to the Finja for the rest of their stay in Hulthemia. His “hero status” and the fact that he’d been provoked from the near-assassination helped lighten the sentence.
It was better than being jailed, sure, and the only guards around were staying outside the ship just to make sure he didn’t leave the premises, but he was really starting to get annoyed at the sheer lack of nothing going on around him.
It’d been funny at first, actually. Douglas had actually been caught off guard by just how over the top things had gotten, and his students were all totally baffled when he’d explained what he’d done. Sergio couldn’t even come up with a snarky comment. Just kind of gaped.
He wasn’t even sure if his students entirely believed them, though the broken knives on the floor did lend some credence to his story. Mask wound up collecting them, funny enough, and asked Sylsa to fix them up. So some benefits.
Mostly downside though, especially since his students all decided they’d rather explore the city and see the sights than stick around. And Douglas had to go to court for some reason, so he wasn’t around. And then the crew of the ship left too for whatever reasons…Hm. He should’ve asked.
Didn’t help that Issei was only able to train with him for an hour a day.
Whatever. He needed to find a deck of cards or something…Douglas should still have that old set in his stuff.
“Hm.” Julius blinked and glanced up, his hand currently in Douglas’s backpack. Oh. Right, Leicester. The arachne was staring at him through the bars of her cell.
“…Hi? Can I help you with something?”
“…One moment.” She abruptly cracked her neck and stood up, rolling her shoulders and continuing to stretched out her neck and back, her hands still chained in front of her. “Mmgkh…SO!”
Julius blinked as she threw her head back, her hair falling loosely around her back. “…So.”
“…I am unsure of how to proceed here,” she abruptly admitted, still with a vaguely haughty expression. It didn’t really work considering she was standing there in a white nightgown, but hm.
Standing up, Julius walked over to grab a blanket and tossed it at her.
Leicester blinked. The blanket draped over her like a hooded cloak, covering her body and leaving a little room for her to still stare at him. “…What.”
“It’s hard to take you seriously with just the nightgown.”
“…So…You wanted to say something?”
“…I… am going to put aside my rage for now.” Taking in a deep breath, she glared at Julius. “Why didn’t you let them kill me?”
“When those assassins came, you could have just let them kill me, or even just killed me yourself and claimed they did it. Why didn’t you?” Julius just stared at her. Her lips curled down in a snarl. “Answer me!”
“…I’m tired of killing.” And as he finally spoke the truth, Julius could only feel the weight of his words crashing down on him.
“What?” Leicester just seemed confused though.
He let out a slow sigh as he stared up at her. She was damn tall. “It’s the same reason I haven’t tried killing any of you generals. Despite what I tell myself about not wanting to risk anyone, it’s just because I’m tired.”
Her eyes narrowed. “…That reluctance did not appear to hold you back last night.”
“What can I say? I got anger issues.”
“Demonically influenced anger issues. I recognized the Butcher’s scent the instant you snapped the second assassin’s legs in twain.”
“Yeah. That too.” Julius sighed heavily and sat on a hammock. Leicester stayed standing. “It’s kinda the reason I got tired…you know Kigalori, right?”
“Hmph. I am not ignorant, wretch. The Great Earth Dragon was the last of Irascagan’s generals, slain in battle by your group, correct?”
“Close. We didn’t take her out. If anything, she had us at death’s door.”
Leicester blinked. “…Then how are you alive?”
“Heh. I wonder sometimes…Basically, I finally gave in. Accepted the Butcher’s offer of power. Slaughtered that vicious monster with all the anger I had built up in me. It was like…everything boiled over, all at once, and erupted into a kind of pain and fury I couldn’t hold back.”
“And when it was over, when I was standing over everyone…I don’t remember ever feeling that tired before. So I walked away from the Butcher, made sure everyone was still alive, beat the demon lord, and retired as a blacksmith.”
“…Hm. You had such power, and yet you left it.”
“Of course I did. Why the hell would I want to hang onto it?” He grimaced. “I had my revenge. I gave in after hearing her whispers over and over again. I fucked myself over for vengeance. Why wouldn’t I give it up afterward?”
“…Gods below, what does my master see in you? You’re an idiot.”
Julius raised an eyebrow at her. “…Okay, asshole. Unnecessary and rude. I don’t give a shit about power, so why the fuck would I want to hold onto something I jumped into for revenge I already got?”
She rolled her eyes and tried to lift her hands like she wanted to gesture with them, then realized her arms were still bound up and settled for just pointing at him. “Marrow isn’t the god of vengeance, idiot.”
….Huh? “…I…where are you going with this?”
She rolled her eyes again. All of her eyes, all at once, rolled at him. “Mother Marrow, the Butcher, is the god of blood and war. Lord Mordant, the Miser, is the god of debts and vengeance. You would want the latter if you sought vengeance above all else.”
“…I don’t…get what you mean.”
That time she sighed. “Mother Marrow is also regarded as a protector. Mother Rot is the god of conquest, Mother Marrow is the god of war. The warrior protects their charges from the conqueror, when they are opposed.”
“Like chess?” he blurted.
“…Well yes. I’m surprised you actually knew the significance…But if you gave yourself over to Mother Marrow, Goldforge, then it was not for vengeance. You sought her power to protect your fallen friends, and she gave it to you. And then you proceeded to squander her gift because you are, as so I have stated, an idiot.”
“…Okay, but, wait, what about all the shit about ‘embrace your wrath’, ‘let hatred guide you’, ‘become slaughter’, all that shit?”
She shrugged. “She was likely appealing to your drives in the moment. That, and she is also the patron god of the wrathful. Berserkers seek her blessings above all else in battle. Mordant, and vengeance, in contrast, is a much more…single-minded, driven aspect. There’s wrath in it, but less in the desire to protect and more in the desire to hurt. If you sought vengeance, then you would have given up your allies to kill your enemy. If you sought protection, then you would have killed anyone to keep your allies safe. Which fits you better?”
“…” Julius…didn’t know what to say. It all made a very weird amount of sense. But he definitely wanted to kill Kigalori back in the moment. He wanted to kill her so much, but…was that really for some idea of ‘she hurt me, I need to hurt her’, or was it a desire to keep his friends and family safe?
Blake died because of her. He wanted her dead for that, but…but was it because she took him away, or because he couldn’t stand the thought of losing anyone else? Couldn’t it be both? Why did one have to matter more to him?
…What if he had heard the Miser instead? What if the demonic god of debts had come to him, instead of the god of war? How different would he be?
“Huh. Huh…You’ve…given me something to think about.”
“Good. Having once been ignorant, I loathe the idea of others allowing themselves to wallow similarly.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You were ignorant?”
“Ah, but of course! Do you think the marvelous being you see before you could exist without the gracious intervention of our loveliest of lords~?” She smiled wide, cheerfully baring her sharp teeth.
“…So Claire helped you out?”
And her expression immediately soured. “Do not be so familiar with my master’s name, wretch. She is beauty and grace personified and I will not have her personage sullied by your revolting tongue.”
“And here I thought were were getting along…” He sighed and laid back in the hammock. “So do you want to tell me all about your life story now?”
“Why would I do that?”
“I dunno. It seems to work for Douglas.”
“Hm…I suppose I may as well. My tale begins-” And that’s when the door opened and a familiar face peeked through.
“Hello?” Anita Bulinto looked curiously at Julius, then fully entered the hull, her eyes roaming around the room. She was dressed in a similar outfit to what he first saw her in, though she had a white skirt today. “Ah, interesting. Quite a charming transport ship…And hello again to you, Sir Goldforge. Please, pardon my intrusion, but I wished to speak with you.”
Julius stared at her, then glanced at Leicester, who sunk back onto her cushion with an annoyed pout. “…Yeah, okay. What do you want?”
“Merely to talk. Though, it will likely be a long discussion.” She sighed a little as she walked over to the table, turned a seat to face Julius, and sat down. “First and foremost, I would like to apologize for your multiple negative experiences within our fair nation.”
“…Sure, apology accepted.”
She blinked. “…Just like that?”
“What? Did you want me to ask for something?”
“I suppose I shouldn’t have expected you to…Hm. Well, then allow me to speak more candidly, Sir Goldforge.” She leaned back in her seat and steepled her fingers together. “I wish to ask that you never return to Hulthemia.”
Oh. Well, shit. Did this count as getting banned from the country? Because if so, he just lost a bet. “…Can I ask why?”
“Simply put, every time you come here, the head of a major family gets arrested and large amounts of property damage are done.”
“…I can get the second part, but with the first one, they’re criminals who did terrible things and deserved to be arrested.”
“That is indeed true. However, it does cause quite the turmoil here, especially since there is always an immediate rush to name the next family head, familial infighting and similar such issues.” Reaching into a pouch, she produced a decently-sized bag. “Regardless, since Sir Yew handed over the core, we must uphold our end of the bargain and shall pay what we owe.”
Oh shit, he almost forgot. Trying not to appear too eager, Julius accepted the bag, his lips twitching into a small smile, and then blinked in some surprise when she handed over a second smaller bag.
“Think of this as my apology for asking that you never return to Hulthemia.”
“So a bribe.”
“I prefer ‘apology’.”
She chuckled slightly, then nodded to him. “I do wish you luck on your journey, Sir Goldforge, and I’ll pray that your young half-elf mage chooses to stay with you rather than remain here. After all, you’ll need all the help you can get.” Bulinto stood, bowed slightly, and turned to leave-
Wait. “Wait. What did you say?”
“…That I wish you luck and will pray for you?”
“No.” He frowned. “How did you know Maria might be staying here?”
“…Hm. It appears I have misspoken.”
“Yeah, you might’ve. Because that actually slipped my mind. I didn’t mention it to Maria yet. Douglas might’ve, but he’s also oblivious and forgetful, so I doubt it.” He stood too as she stared impassively back at him. “So how did you hear about it?”
“The Viokas wouldn’t tell you. I didn’t speak to you.” Wait… “…That card.” Shit, where did he put it?
Julius turned to his bags when Bulinto sighed again. “Well. You are far more intuitive than I realized, Sir Goldforge. I suppose I must give you some credit-”
“Ahem.” And then both of them blinked and looked towards Leicester, who was frowning. “I am entirely lost and would like an explanation for your conversation.”
“…Bulinto gave me a magic card that I’m pretty sure has been letting her listen into my conversations.”
“And Bulinto is the woman there then?”
Bulinto tilted her head curiously. “Ah, so this must be the ‘snow elf’ Dahsin fell for…”
“Fell for? In what regard?” Leicester raised an…raised multiple eyebrows at Bulinto, then immediately grimaced when it clicked. “Ugh, gods, don’t tell me that revolting creature is lusting for me!”
And Bulinto actually giggled. What? “Unfortunately so, Miss…?”
“Leicester. Ariel Leicester, Lady of Bleakclaw Manor and Mountain,” Leicester announced in her usual haughty tone.
“Ah. It’s a pleasure, Lady Leicester.” She bowed. Not too deep, but politely enough. Which was weird. “I am Anita Bulinto, Vice-President of the Golden Rose Conglomerate.”
“Hmph. A pleasure indeed.” Leicester eyed her suspiciously, then huffed. “I would bow in turn, but my restraints make that difficult, so my apologies for any breaches in etiquette.”
“Your apology is accepted, Lady Leicester.” …Okay, Julius had no idea what was going on right then. They were being weirdly cordial and it was messing with his head.
“Shouldn’t you two hate each other?” Both of them were staring at him now. Probably a dumb thing to say, but still. “Bulinto, you’re Rosian. Leicester, you’re a darklander. Considering the centuries of cultural stuff going on here, shouldn’t you two be more…angry?”
“Hmph. You continue to be an ignorant wretch, wretch.” So someone clearly needed more insults. “Etiquette must be followed at all times and aside from that, I and my people have no quarrel with the Rosians. They are merely enemies of circumstance, and my master has commanded they be treated as future citizens of her empire.”
“Oh, that is a surprising generosity…” Bulinto paused, considering things. “Lady Leicester, may I ask what your intentions were with Governor Dahsin?”
“Hm? He was helping me enter the country in exchange for my support in his future endeavors. I had posed as a Frost Lands boyar, though he discerned my true allegiances. However, rather than attempt to arrest me, he decided to go through with the alliance.”
“I see. So he wanted your support so he could attain more power then?” Why did Bulinto have a notepad out? Why was she taking notes?
“Indeed. He seemed to believe he could secure his own position as the most powerful faction in an independent, allied nation to my master’s empire.” She sneered. “As if my master would ever entrust even the barest plot of land to that lackwit.” Oh, that was a new one.
“Ah. Yes, that does fit with what I know of him…Thank you, Lady Leicester. Your testimony should make it far easier to ensure his removal.”
“Wait, what?” Julius blinked. “His removal? I thought you’d want to support him.”
“Not at all.” Bulinto closed her notepad and stored it back in her jacket as she turned to Julius. “I always intended to ensure Governor Dahsin’s removal. It’s part of why I was investigating him.”
She nodded. “Governor Dahsin has been in a position of power for around eighteen years now. In that time, he has had an estimated fifty-seven people assassinated for his own benefit, with further deaths loosely suspected of relating to his actions. Further, his policies were aggressively expansionist and, under his control, his faction moved from subtle calls for the ‘improvement of the unfortunate’ to open claims that the people of other nations did not deserve the land they lived upon.
“Were he not the head of the Green Faction, he could have been quietly moved out of the public eye by a more moderate leader. As it were, he amassed power through his alliance with the Black Roses and began pursuing further alliances with the Rosvords and the Conglomerate.” She grimaced. “My Natalie-my friend Natalie, who I had befriended during our late teenage years, had become quite taken with him. As you may have noticed, she is not nearly as moral a person as she pretends-”
“I definitely noticed.”
“-and Dahsin’s lack of restraint appealed to her desire to be more open about her vices,” Bulinto continued, ignoring Julius, “Suffice to say, that was an issue, so I acted along to gain evidence in order to remove him.”
“Entirely understandable. Such a rival to your beloved’s affections could never be tolerated!” Leicester…agreed? All while glaring at Julius.
Hm–And Bulinto was blushing slightly, her pale cheeks visibly pink. Well. Seemed that hit the mark.
“…Well, you see my point. Dahsin could not be toler–could not remain in power for a number of reasons, and I sought to bring him down. I spent a number of years working at it. Gaining his trust. Intercepting his communications. Bribing and turning his guards.” She stared flatly at Julius. “And then a moron in his underwear jumped through his window and punched him out.”
“…I’m not gonna say I was wrong, but sorry all that effort went to waste.”
She sighed. “And I was so looking forward to the look of shock and despair on his face when I ruined him…” Good to confirm they were all lunatics. He was starting to get worried at how sane Bulinto seemed. “Though I suppose the look on his face at my ‘betrayal’ will suffice…”
“…Okay then. Uh…glad you’ve got…that,” Julius muttered as Leicester…sighed fondly. So she was apparently a romantic. A very bizarre kind of romantic. Honestly, he was feeling ridiculously awkward at the moment.
“Now then, I must leave, business to run and all that. And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone what I heard through my card. Provided you stay out of Hulthemia. Feel free to take my silence as a bribe.” Bowing again, she turned around before leaving the ship.
“…Seriously, can’t anyone in charge be normal for once.”
“Hmph! An uncultured swine like you would have no idea what normal is.”
“Right.” Well, at least that was a new one. Sighing, Julius sat on the floor. “…I don’t suppose you want to play cards or something?”
“…My hands are still shackled.”
“Right.” Rubbing the back of his head, he settled in once again for the long wait.
Really, for what would only be a few days, they seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Probably because he knew that just outside the ship was plenty to do. And, of course, Leicester being the only consistent person to speak with only made it worse. She definitely didn’t like him, and any time he seemed to make some progress with learning more about her or Claire, someone inevitably wound up interrupting them. Thankfully, he found a minor distraction when he was able to talk with Maria.
“So what’d you need?” asked the half-elf as she set down a number of brand new bags on her bed. Seemed she was putting her newfound wealth to good use.
“So…thoughts on Dario,” Julius began, a number of cards currently on the table in front of him. He’d basically been playing solitaire and other card games on his own for a while now. Leicester occasionally offered ‘advice’, but it was usually crap. She was currently napping at the moment, so there was that.
“Huh? You mean Gramps?” Well that was either a good sign, or a really bad one.
“Well he’s…okayish.” Leaning more towards good now. “I can appreciate how much he cares about his family, but he’s definitely…over eccentric.”
“Right. So you don’t want to get to know the Viokas more?”
“Hm. Well, I mean, it’d be nice to try to get along with one of my half brothers, even if he doesn’t seem to care, and Sova’s nice enough. Not to mention Gramps seems to want to get all of my siblings together for a reunion.”
“That he does.” Julius took a breath to steady himself. Best to be calm for this. “Okay, so, when I talked with him at his manor, he wanted you to stay. Stay in Rosiava, I mean. Teach you about the Viokas and all that.”
“…Pfffft, really??” Okay, she was grinning. Good? “He wants me to stay here? Heh, not to be rude to Gramps, but I’m not really interested in learning about ‘familial traditions’. I’ve already learned more than enough ‘cultural traditions’ from mom. If I go for too many, I won’t have enough room in my head for magic!” She giggled. “And hey, even if I was interesting, we’re still in the middle of this quest and all. So that’s a big no from me. For now, anyways.”
“Right, good, that’s good. We’ll have to go tell him that so he knows. But everything should be good.”
Maria was grinning at him. Why was she grinning at him? “You were really worried about this, huh?”
“…A little.” He shrugged and scratched at the back of his head. “I don’t know what to say, exactly, but I care about you kids a lot. Vioka’s…not the worst guy out there, but I’m not exactly happy with the idea of leaving any of you with him. Plus, it’d make the rest of them sad, so…yeah.”
“Awwww! Careful Teach, you’re ruining your scary strict image.”
“Don’t push it.”
Julius huffed as Maria just kept smirking smugly at him and sat back down to play solitaire again. After a few seconds, Maria sat down to join her mentor, and they played cards for a little while.
Thankfully, due to his current ‘boat arrest’ situation, he couldn’t go with her when she went to tell Dario the news. Interestingly enough, when she returned much later in the day, she was dressed in some rather fancy and expensive looking purple clothing and she had a few more bags being carried onboard by a Vioka guard. Seemed Dario really liked to spoil his family, much to everyone else’s obvious amusement.
And, finally, the day before their departure, Zari and Issei arrived at the ship. The teenager was carrying a long object, bundled in cloth, and he grinned when he saw Julius leaning on one of the railings.
“Hey there Teach!” Oh dammit, they got him to say it too.
“Ha! I caught that wince there!” Zari smirked. “Ya can blame yourself for that, Jules. Ya let my boy hang around with those youngsters of yours and it’s no wonder he picked up bad habits!”
Issei worked his mouth for a moment, trying to form a protest. “…That’s mean, granny.”
“Ha, fair ‘nough! Now, Julius.” Zari grinned wider and put her hands on her hips, practically radiating pride. “Ya gave me a real difficult challenge this time ‘round, and I can say without exaggeratin’ that this’s one’a my best works out there, so ya better appreciate it!”
“I already do,” Julius replied with a grin of his own, then looked to Issei. “I’m guessing that’s it there?”
“Ah no, nah, I just had the boy bring somethin’ completely unrelated to ya as a conversation piece.” Both of them stared at Zari as she raised an eyebrow at Julius. “Don’t ask stupid questions, Jules.”
“…Could I have the sword now?”
“…” Julius sighed as Issei glanced between him and Zari. “…Thank you for the sword, Master Redforge.”
“Oh so now ya show respect-”
“Uh, granny?” Issei waved a hand slightly to get her attention. “Can I give him the sword now?”
“Sure ya can. Question is, can he take it?”
Julius frowned at the smirking smith, then took the wrapped bundle from Issei, who visibly stepped back once he had it.
“Hm.” He slowly unwrapped the cloth and a solid blade of pure, vibrant yellow steel soon came into view. More and more of the thick cloth dropped off of it and he took ahold of its crimson hilt, feeling a thrum of electricity jolt through his entire body. The blade crackled as he freed it completely, and held it up in the sunlight.
It was easily one of the most gorgeous sights he’d ever seen.
Slowly, he walked over to a clear section of the deck, then abruptly swung his newly improved broadsword out. It moved easily in his hand, the perfect size and weight for him, and he quickly moved into a few sets, moving with it, cutting and stabbing at the air until he turned and swung, letting a smirk of satisfaction cross his face as the sound of thunder echoed through the air.
It was his sword again, and he could feel its newfound eagerness–And then he paused. See, he’d been more than aware enough to avoid swinging towards anyone or anything on the ship. That was just smart. But, uh…There was a warehouse nearby the airfield.
He, Zari, and Issei stared with wide eyes and dropped jaws as the top half of the building very slowly slid off the bottom, diagonally split in half. “………….Oh shit.”
“Well it was great to see ya Jules and all, see ya around!” Wait Zari no-And she was already running-
“DAMMIT ISSEI DON’T FOLLOW HER! DON’T LEAVE ME WITH THIS!”