As his eyes snapped open, Julius could do little else but cough up what felt like gallons of water in his lungs, before sucking in as much air as he could. His lungs burned like they were on fire and he reached out, grasping and clawing into the sand as he tried to grab onto something solid to anchor himself to.
“How is it that I’ve had to save you from choking to death twice in one month?” A hand pressed against his back as Julius kept gulping in air, panting and wheezing as he managed to finally breathe again.
That wasn’t to say he didn’t keep coughing for a good few minutes afterwards, even as he felt the burning in his lungs slowly subside from the healing magic Douglas–because it had to be Douglas–was pouring into him.
“I’ve-kah!…S-Saved your life…more times in less…before…”
“Yes, but not because I was a reckless idiot.” Douglas sat down fully next to Julius, continuing to soothe the pain in his chest. “Really, the only reason you’re still alive is cause that draconic prick took the brunt of the fall.” Huh. Douglas swore. That was rare. “If it were just a few seconds later, he could have crushed you in two.”
At the reminder, Julius winced and felt his side. There were more than a few patches of newly scarred skin. Seemed the damage was too significant to be completely repaired-…wait.
Julius blinked, and patted his bare side again, then looked down at himself. “Douglas…why am I only in my underwear?”
“Really? You almost die and that’s what you ask?”
“I feel like it’s important.”
“Well then, please, do forgive me for worrying about your safety and taking off your drenched clothes so you wouldn’t get sick or get even more salt water in your brutalized body.”
“…Fair enough.” Sitting up, Julius looked around and noted just how small the island they were currently on seemed to be. It wasn’t exactly a mound of sand with one palm tree on it, but it was close. It had two palm trees. And the nearest islands to them, from what he could see, were just small specks in the distance.“So…we’re stuck here?”
“Until someone comes to rescue us, most likely, and I doubt we’ll get any help from any merrows, as they probably swam deeper when our dear new frenemy Seth appeared and tried to murder and-or cripple all of us.”
“Hm. So where’d he go?”
“I don’t know. The fall almost certainly damaged his wings so he likely swam away.”
“Hm.” Julius nodded, grimacing slightly at how the sand was clinging onto him, then finally glanced at Douglas, who was sitting cross-legged beside him, looking out into the distance. “…So, were your clothes also wet?”
“And bloodstained, yes.” Huh. Douglas wasn’t looking at him. His glasses seemed clean, so he was definitely looking somewhere…
Julius frowned a little, then glanced at Douglas’s bare chest. His body was still that mix of slender and muscular, but his chest was completely covered in tattoos, like his face. Hell, from what Julius could see, every inch of him was covered in some kind of tattoo, but not like the fancier, full-back tattoos some people–Graves, for instance, or that asshole Dahsin–would get to display their strength, personal symbols, and authority. No, his was all that same runic stuff, curling all over his body in lines and spirals with the occasional small symbol representing one god or another in what were probably significant places. His arms were especially covered with them, and Julius definitely recognized some of the divine symbols curling around Douglas’s left arm.
Hm. There were three dots above where his heart was…Kind of like the ones on his forehead, but definitely different. One was pink, one indigo, and one…One…
“I don’t appreciate you leering at me, Jules.”
Julius snapped his gaze up, blinking the weird sense of…something out of his eyes as he looked away from the two dots. No, three, there’d… “What the hell was that??”
“…Really? Is that really what you want to focus on right now?”
“You have a weird symbol above your heart that is fucking with my sense of reality just by looking at it, yes I’d like to fucking focus on it.”
Douglas heaved a deep, exasperated sigh and Julius couldn’t help but grimace at the sound. “Jules, you just…you nearly died. Can’t we focus on that for a moment? Or the fact that our students are alone on a damaged airship while we can’t reach them?”
“I-SHIT!” Julius immediately stood, looking out towards the water. “Fuck fuck FUCK! We need to get to them!”
“…Are you just not listening to me at all by this point? You’re obviously hearing some of the words, but you might legitimately be going deaf by-”
Julius waved a hand, grimacing. “Yeah yeah, yell at me later. Can we start flying after them now or what?”
Julius blinked, then actually looked at Douglas as he stood too. He blinked again. He hadn’t seen Douglas look that desperate in…in decades. It was only when they’d gone back to Naloriva, to Corbrick, and Douglas had seen what happened to his hometown.
Fuck, focus. “What do you mean you can’t?”
And now there was disbelief and Douglas groaned loudly as he pressed his hands under his glasses, right against his eyes. “Are you seriously this fucking stupid…”
Okay what. “You…said fuck.”
“FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE JULIUS, DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT KIND OF SITUATION WE’RE IN!?” Douglas shouted, his eyes wide and afraid, “I AM EXHAUSTED! I HAD TO SPEND AN HOUR GETTING YOU FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN TO THIS ISLAND AND THEN EVEN LONGER TRYING TO KEEP YOU FROM OUTRIGHT DYING! YOU WERE AT THE BRINK OF DEATH! I COULD BARELY-GRAAAAGH!” The sheer frustration in his voice as he pressed his hands to his eyes again…what the fuck had happened out there?
“Douglas…” Okay, fuck it, pride wasn’t worth shit here. “Yes, I’m a complete fucking dumbass. So seriously, please, explain why the hell we can’t get after our students?”
Douglas shuddered and slowly exhaled a low, frustrated, exasperated breath. “Because, Julius, channeling magic is like working a muscle, UNDERSTAND?!” His voice actually cracked there as he pressed a hand to his heart, trying to make Julius understand something he seriously should’ve remembered before now. “It…Gods, I can’t just…It’s not an easy out! There’s no waving my hands to make things go simply, understand? I can…I can do fantastic, wonderful, amazing things, but they are draining.
“In less than two hours, I had to levitate myself and two other people up to the balloons while ensuring that the motion around us didn’t send us careening off into the ocean! I spent a conversation where my friend was held hostage focused on keeping a spell ready, then had to use more magic to keep myself from dying on impact when I dove after the DAMNED IDIOT AS HE JUMPED OFF AN AIRSHIP WITH A DRAGON! And then…And then I spent an hour splitting my focus between keeping you breathing, healing you enough that you didn’t bleed to death or go into shock or get an infection or any of the thousands of myriad things that can go wrong with healing lethal wounds, and using the waters around us to pull us to shore, because there was no way under the sun and moon that I could ever manage to carry you here while swimming and doing all of that!
A little desperate chuckle bubbled up out of his mouth. “I can’t do anything. I tried! I tried drying off our clothes and I could barely get a warm breeze! Imagine…Imagine sprinting, not simply jogging or running or even power walking but outright sprinting for miles! And then someone asks if you COULD LIFT THEIR PIANO UP THE STAIRS! ONLY THE PIANO IS AN AIRSHIP THAT IS POTENTIALLY CRASHING RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT AND THERE’S QUITE POSSIBLY A DRAGON IN THE WATER!”
“…Well shit.” Julius blinked again. Really, at this point, what else could he say? “…You know they’ll be fine, right?”
Julius shrugged, somewhat awkwardly brushing a hand through his wet hair. Good thing he got it cut recently or all the water would feel heavy… “Well, they’ve all done really amazing things so far, and Adrien came up with that plan. He probably had some idea for how to fix the ropes once they were cut…Sylsa could probably conjure new ones, right? She knows how ropes work.”
“…Heh. Heh, heh heh…GAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA-” And now he was laughing. That was either really good or really bad.
Julius scratched the back of his head as he watched Douglas laugh, idly glancing around the vacant island, then back to him. Still laughing. Hm-Huh. Douglas still wore trunks. Red ones too, with stripes-
“While I am a lot more amused right now, I still don’t want you leering at me, Jules.”
“Don’t call me that,” he replied immediately, looking back up aaaaand Douglas was frowning again, shit.
“…I feel like I should get that privilege by now, Jules.”
“Still saved your life more times than you did mine, so no.” No, bad Julius, stop digging the hole deeper.
Douglas took a breath, his nostrils flaring. “Why not? Why are you so set on just-! Why is this the one thing you’re stubborn on?! I’m your friend, aren’t I?!”
“…” Julius scratched the back of his head, frowning at himself. It really was stupid by this point, but… “Look…Fine. Fine, you can call me Jules.” He grinned a little. “Call this a clean slate, sure.”
“Oh no, it’s not.” Okay, why was Douglas still scowling? His tattooed arms were crossed over his bare chest. “While I certainly love that you’re finally opening up to me, before we call anything clean, you need to acknowledge-”
“And of course we’re fucking back to that.” Julius scowled, crossing his arms too. “You want an apology.”
“You went after a dragon without backup, so yes, I do think I’m owed-”
“Yeah, no, fuck this.” Julius sighed and pushed past him walking to the other end of the island. “I don’t know why the fuck I thought you’d ever change.”
“Wh-Change? What in the world is that supposed to mean?”
Julius growled, more than ready to just ignore Douglas until he dropped the stupid fucking subject, but…Fuck it! He turned, pointing at Douglas. “It means, jackass, that you always want apologies from me when it comes to the slightest fuck up, but you won’t acknowledge when you’ve done fucking wrong to me! Okay!?”
“What?? What have I done wrong in this situation??”
“Not this one! Tons of other ones! Pretty much every time I had a complaint or you screwed me over, it’s just business as fucking usual, but the slightest screw up on my part means I need to get on my fucking knees and suck your cock! And yes I realize that’s an incredibly awkward analogy considering our current clothing but fuck you!”
“I-Julius, I don’t…” Douglas worked his mouth, trying to form some response, then just stared at him in confusion. “…I don’t know what you mean, but…could you give me an example?”
Julius had to resist rolling his eyes. “Oh I don’t fucking know, how about the first time we met and you set me on fire?”
“What? I ap…” And then Douglas blinked, slowly frowning in thought. About a minute passed. “…I forgot to apologize. Hell’s light, I forgot to apologize…”
“I forgot. I meant to. I…Are you saying the entire reason…” Douglas blinked again, then reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. “…I am a complete and utter imbecile.”
“…Heh.” Julius chuckled, scratching his head again. “I guess that makes two of us.”
“Oh gods below, I must have seemed like such a hypocrite! How didn’t I notice this?! I can unlock the mysteries of the cosmos but I can’t figure out why one of my closest companions has been angry at me for twenty years?!”
“Ehh…Less anger, more resentment.” Julius shrugged as he took a seat under one of the palm trees. “Trust me, there were a lot of other factors going into that grudge. The fire thing was just kind of the inciting incident.”
“Still!” Douglas groaned as he sat down next to Julius, still massaging his forehead to stave off his own headache. “Gods, how different would things be if I hadn’t been an oblivious moron and just apologized?”
Julius shrugged again. “Probably not too different. There were a lot of factors, like I said. Though, hey, my first thought when I saw you was that you were cute, so who knows?”
And now Douglas was staring at him again. “O-Oh. Um…hm.” Wait, was he embarrassed? “…Thank you for the compliment.”
“Yeah, no problem…and, I mean, I never brought it up before now, so it’s not like it’s totally your fault,” Julius added as he scratched at his cheek.
“Right, true. Many factors go into many things, and we can’t exactly know how they’ll turn out until they do…” Douglas leaned back against the tree and put his hands on his knees, staring up at the leaves. “…If we’re admitting awkward things at the moment, I suppose I might as well share that I have the…dubious distinction of being one of Cyrus’s sexual partners.”
“Yeah. It was mainly to have the experience. Curiosity, we’ll call it, though the act did help me confirm my complete lack of interest in sex.”
“…I mean…that’s interesting? Kinda feel like that’s not really something to be shared right now.”
Douglas raised an eyebrow at him. “Why not?”
“Well, and this is just my thoughts, but if we were going to be coming clean about stuff, I kinda think it should be about stuff between us. Not…that.”
“Oh…true…well, now I’m back to feeling like an idiot.”
“Heh, yeah, I’d figure…” Julius huffed, leaning back too. “…Anything else you want to come clean about?”
“No. In fact, I just said something completely embarrassing, so now you should share something personal to make up for it.”
“Ah…hm…That’s a long list of stuff, actually…” And one he was in no hurry to pick from.
“Well, we have time, currently.”
“Uhhh…Okay, first royal party I went to, hosted by King Richard the second of Luceneva, I wound up…getting propositioned by this old couple.”
“Yeah, apparently it’s a ‘swingers’ thing that King Dick does at some of his parties. Didn’t tell me about it, but I picked it up pretty quick.” Julius huffed. “For a guy with three current wives and one ex-wife, Richard has some serious libido issues.”
“Huh…Did he ever proposition you?”
“Three separate times, yeah. Never said yes, and he stopped trying after a while.” He shrugged. “I guess he got used to me?”
“Hm. Quite possibly, yes…” Douglas suddenly sighed. “Is this all we’re going to do now? Wait around and tell inane stories until our clothes dry off or my magic comes back or whatever else could potentially happen?”
“…I guess? I mean, I doubt any rescue will swing by-”
And then there was a boom of thunder and a beaming angel made of lightning was standing in front of them. Basically the same as the fire and water ones, detailed like a typical mortal-folk but clearly made of lightning, but also what.
“Did anyone call for a divine intervention?” they asked in a ridiculously chipper voice, then crossed their bright yellow arms over their chest and frowned slightly, their golden eyes turning skyward. “No, that doesn’t work, I’m not technically divine despite my origins…Angelic intervention? What do you two think?”
“Personally speaking, I think angelic intervention sounds far better due to the near alliteration and increasing sequential syllable count,” Douglas calmly answered as Julius stared in complete shock at the literal divine intervention in front of him.
“Ohhh, good point there, very good points.” The angel pulled a small, yellow notebook from the inside pocket of their…robe thing. Kimono? He was pretty sure that was right-
“HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HERE?!”
The angel yelped, their long, lightning-y hair flashing up for a second, before they blinked at Julius. “Oh, er…Not…too long. Ah, a-ahem, pardon me, I got too caught up in my introduction to actually introduce myself.” They bowed at the waist, smiling again. “I am Kokriel of Ilekalaio, sworn servant to the Heavenly Lord Innominatum and estian aid of the Torahiko Clan, guardians of Koshima, the Rainfall Island.” They straightened, beaming wide and baring their lightning-teeth. “How may I be of aid to you two?”
“…We’re stuck on an island and would like to get off the island-”
“Specifically, we would very much appreciate it if you could, Kokriel of Ilekalaio, could please take us to Koshima, because we need to go there for a very serious quest that could very well mean the difference between whether or not the Light Lands as a whole remain as independent entities free from the tyranny of a foreign empress.”
“…” They blinked. “…Huh?”
“…To translate, take us to your island so we can stop the demon lord’s minions,” Julius explained, earning an annoyed grunt from Douglas.
“…Oh! Oh, you’re-You two are the heroes? But, wait, the heroes just land-AH!” Their head sparked up again. “You two are the mentors! The mentors they lost-Why are you both in your underwear-No, no, no time for that even if it is very distracting we need to go go go!”
Kokriel suddenly reached into their kimono again and pulled out a-…trumpet? They pressed it right to their lips and blew and a bizarrely melodic brass thunderclap sounded out as a gold-glowing vertical rift opened up by the island and an ornate boat with a smiling face for its figurehead rowed out. Without anyone on it to row it. Hm.
“…Not to sound ungrateful but can’t you just carry us?”
“E-Eh?” At his question, the angel blushed and looked away. “T-To think you’d ask an angel like me to hold onto your half-naked forms…”
Blankly staring at the blushing angel, Julius let out a deep, unamused sigh. One that was matched by Douglas, funny enough.
“Right…” Sighing again, Julius collected his clothes and sword from where Douglas had draped them on the tree. A few moments later, both of them were on the small ferry boat, ready to go.
Well, ready to leave. Their clothes were still pretty soaked and were hanging off a post in the middle of the boat’s aisle. He and Douglas were sitting on opposite sides of said aisle, and Kokriel was at the back of the boat, near a drum.
The lightning angel lifted two drum mallets and started pounding a rhythm, which seemed to be the signal for the boat’s oars to start rowing in that same rhythm.
Really, if Julius were in a better mood he’d ask how that worked, but he was a little too focused on other things.
“So our students are already on the island?” he asked, glancing back at Kokriel.
“Yes! They were the ones who came asking to help you! I’m not entirely clear on what happened, but it did appear as if their ship was heavily damaged.”
Julius sighed. “Joral’s not going to be happy about that…”
“Hopefully he doesn’t kick us off,” said Douglas.
“I’m sure whoever that is will be glad to see you well and alive. Though I will apologize. Rainfall doesn’t get much in terms of skyships, so while we know how to repair ships and such, we aren’t entirely sure on the parts that keep it flying.”
“Ah, good for you then that I know all about them! Though if it is badly damaged, it’ll certainly take some time to repair…”
“Great, just what we need, another detour.” Huffing, Julius placed his elbow on the railing.
“Yes, we do tend to run into a great deal of those, and no, don’t blame me for my ‘helping people thing’.” Julius grunted, well aware that Douglas was smirking at him again. “…Seth didn’t know about Ariel.
Wait, what? “Huh?”
Douglas looked at him, his eyes wide with both epiphany and panic. “When Seth saw Ariel, he was shocked, but you said that Valondrac specifically stated she was sending someone to rescue her, correct?”
Oh. Oh, shit. “There’s another general coming.”
“And we’re nowhere near close enough to help…”