Having clothes on again was nice. So was actually being with his students, especially since they were all mostly unharmed and Douglas easily patched up any injuries they might’ve had. Even nicer was the fact that they somehow met up with Tisma, of all people.
“Why ain’t I surprised he jumped off a skyship to tackle a dragon?”
Though it didn’t help that Douglas was telling her about all the idiotic things he’d done during the quest.
“Well it’s not like him slipping off the ship would be enough to stop him,” Julius grumbled, leaning on the square table.
“Whatever you say, Jules.” Smirking, Tisma drank from the giant tankard of ale she had ordered as they all sat in a relatively private area of a nice tavern located near the edge of the town, which was called Gensai. The town, not the tavern.
Oh, and the tavern was called The Rainwater Keg, and had an interesting interior style with water and lily pad designs painted along the walls, plus little painted fish and such. So that was nice.
The three of them–Julius, Douglas, and Tisma–had gotten their own booth off to the side of the tavern while their students had a larger table in the center of the room, mainly so the three old teammates could catch up properly while Maria regaled her friends with the story of the kitsune general she, Sylsa, and Sophia had fought. The crew of the Finja were also at the Keg, mainly just drowning their sorrows at the bar over the recent wrecking of their airship.
“Feh. So what brings you to Rainfall, Tisma?”
“Mostly the food. That and I was on a mission in the Sun Lands until recently, so I decided to take a break here before heading back home. Been a longer break than expected.”
“Really? What’d you do?”
“El, Yuli, and I were hired to bring some pilgrims from Bolero to Serinaro, and in case you can’t remember your geography, that’s from the northeast coast to the southwest desert.”
Julius blinked. “Damn. That must’ve been a long journey.”
Tisma shrugged. “It was interesting enough, sure. We dealt with some bandits, a few sandworms, and an ornery sun-lich stirring things up, but it wasn’t nearly as crazy as having to deal with another demon lord.”
“Well, it hasn’t been too much trouble so far.”
“Jules, you nearly died twice,” Douglas cut in, shooting him an annoyed glance.
“See, that’s another interesting thing, aside from apparently there being a demon lord I didn’t hear about because I guess news can’t travel for shit cross-continents,” Tisma continued, pointing at Julius, “Since when do you let Doug call you Jules?”
“Since we actually sat down and talked through all the stupid shit we had built up,” he replied.
“Hh. Ain’t it interesting how that works?”
Julius huffed as Douglas chuckled. “Yes yes, the power of communication wins out again, quite astounding, so how are Elly and Yuli?”
“Yuli’s doing well, they decided to take a vacation in Serinaro. Real beauty of a city thanks to the raised oasis and canals, so I get why they chose there.” Finishing off the ale, she signaled for a worker to come by for a refill. “El took up some other work. She partnered up with some of the other people hired for the escort. An outworlder named Erin, and a djinni named Awam.”
“Ellen, Erin, and Awam, I can certainly appreciate the alliteration,” Douglas replied with a grin, then took a sip of his own dark mug of some type of soda.
“Hm. Well, it’s good to hear that Ellen’s doing well. Thanks for looking out for her,” Julius said with a smile of his own. It really was nice to hear his younger sister was okay.
“It’s no trouble. Though you could fill me in some more about how things’ve been going.” She grinned at Julius. “I can tell you’re leaving things out.”
“…Was it that obvious?”
“It was, yeah.” She held up a finger. “You started from Lucene and went to Nalori. You ran into the Demon Lord and she didn’t kill you. You went to Chloraton, met up with Loren, fought a dryad named Autumn, and recruited Loren’s daughter.” She gestured to Maria with her free hand. “Then to Ebkai, met a dragon named Galinori, fought an orc named Leok, got an airship. To Orin, met up with Margrave, found Mask–” Pointed to them next. “–fought Hans the warlock. To Tramonta, met up with Doug and Syl–” One finger went to Douglas, the other towards Sylsa. “–fought werewolf Fergus. Then Rosia, punched a Dahsin governor and made up with Viokas, didn’t fight arachne Ariel because your students fought her instead, fixed your sword. Now you’re here in Gensai, you fought Seth the dragon on the way, and Syl over there fought Kiyoshi the kitsune.”
“…I mean, that is pretty much everything that-”
“Why didn’t the demon lord try to kill you, Jules?” Tisma’s flat gaze locked with his awkward one.
“…I might’ve…proposed to her.”
Tisma blinked, glanced to Douglas as he snickered, and lowered her hands. “Huh. Is she tall?”
“Why is that the first thing you ask!?”
“You have a type, Jules-”
“I KNOW! STILL NOT NECESSARY TO ASK!”
“He also had sex with a dragon,” Douglas, the absolute bastard, said with a blatant grin.
“Huh. It wasn’t Seth, right?”
“WHY WOULD YOU JUMP TO HIM?!”
“Galinori then.” Tisma nodded to herself, ignoring Julius for a moment before she leaned back, staring at him neutrally. “I’ve heard of facing your fears to get through them, but I don’t think they meant like that.”
Staring back, Julius grabbed his own tankard before finishing it off in one go.
“Though, depending on how it went, you probably didn’t face her head on. More so her back.” And that sent his ale right down the wrong pipe. Julius immediately coughed it up, dropping the tankard on the table as he kept on coughing.
“Tizzy, no, I just saved him from drowning,” Douglas chided, patting him on the back before the sound of someone clearing their throat caught all their attentions.
“Hello again, Miss Vlahos. Care to introduce me to your friends?” the new guy requested, his voice deep and commanding. He was about Julius’s height, maybe a bit shorter, had a very broad, muscular body with light tan skin, and seemed a great deal older based on how gray his short-cropped hair looked. It was definitely an aged gray, not a young gray, because Julius could still the slight hints of black around his very light mustache and goatee.
He was also wearing the same orange haori–over a yellow kimono and black hakama–that Shida had worn the last time Julius had visited the area, so that probably meant he was the new chief. The fancy staff topped with a gold lightning bolt definitely added to that impression.
“Sure. This’s Douglas Yew, he’s the former hero, and this’s Julius Goldforge, dragonfucker.” Tisma why.
“Oh…Good for him?” The man raised a dark eyebrow for a moment, then furrowed his brows. “It’s not the same dragon that’s been-”
“So hi! Julius Goldforge, blacksmith, mentor to young heroes, technically a raised noble or knight or whatever in Luceneva and many things other than guy who had sex with one dragon who happened to be female and not the one flying around here!” Julius interrupted, propping his head up on a fist as he tried to grin at the new chief. “And you’re the new…Shicho?”
“You can just call me the chief, Mister Goldforge,” he replied, “My full name is Torahiko Hiroto, though, so I would prefer you refer to me as such.”
“…So as Torahiko?”
“Yes. Sir Torahiko, if we use Eastern conventions. Would you mind if I sat down?”
“Uh, I’m fine with it.” Julius glanced to Tisma and Douglas, who shrugged and nodded with a grin, respectively.
“Thank you.” Instead of taking the unoccupied seat nearby Tisma though, Torahiko pulled a chair over and set it at the front of the table. Some kind of dominance thing? “Sorry if this is awkward, but it helps if I don’t have to crane my neck too much to address someone.” Oh. Or that.
“So what brings you our way, Shicho Torahiko?” Douglas asked, still grinning, if a little more politely. And hm.
There were two muscular guys standing by the door now, both wearing sleeveless, gilded plate armor with lightning designs on their chest plates, their muscular arms bared to show the black line markings common to tigrithropes. They didn’t seem to have any blades on them, though Julius did notice the tonfa they had looped into their belts. So they were definitely guards of some kind. Or martial arts enthusiasts. Probably both.
“I really don’t mind if you call me sir or chief,” Torahiko replied, letting his staff lean against the side of the booth as he placed his hands on his knees, “Though it is business that brings me to interrupt your reunion. Business that I’m sure you are well aware of.”
“The Lightning Temple?”
“Yes. Despite our best efforts, one of the darklander generals managed to enter it, and now that they have control of the creatures inside, it’s become increasingly dangerous.”
“Sorry for interrupting,” Douglas interrupted, “But as far as we know, myself mostly through secondhand information provided to me by Jules and his students, the generals are able to teleport inside the temples, or otherwise enter them via using miniaturized dungeon cores keyed to the Temple Cores, so I don’t understand what you mean by your best efforts.”
“Hmph. So that’s how they entered the other temples…Regardless, as the guardians of the Lightning Temple, we hold our sacred duty to the utmost importance. Unlike the other guardians of other temples, it seems.” To be fair, most people thought the temples were supposed to guard themselves. “As such, we consistently make sure to put several wards around the temple to prevent both physical and magical means of entry.”
“Huh.” Julius honestly had no idea these guys did any of that. Sure, a lot of the people in Gensai weren’t exactly in any shape to talk to them the last time Julius and his team had been around, but still, wow. That really was a lot more effort than most nations put into guarding their temples.
Rolling his shoulders, Torahiko frowned. “However, despite all our protections, the masked fellow who came to infiltrate the temple managed to do so by simply going in through the front door. Thanks to the…less than secure means of security Lord Innominatum placed one his temple, and the dragon covering him while he sang his way in.”
“You did your best.” Drinking from a new tankard, Tisma stared at him. “The fact that you faced off against a dragon and lived is proof enough of your strength.”
“Just surviving is not enough if it means failing my task. And I can’t help but feel ashamed of my own arrogance for not asking for your help when I had the chance, Miss Vlahos.”
For a moment, Julius had to hold himself back from asking why the leader hadn’t jumped at the chance to ask for the help of a hero. Now he could begrudgingly understand if it was Douglas or him, but Tisma was always one of their more serious members.
“So why didn’t you?” And there went Douglas proving his point.
Torahiko sighed, suddenly seeming a great deal older. “Truthfully, I was just too proud to ask. The darklander I mentioned, the masked fellow. It wasn’t his first attempt at gaining entrance. He and the many forces he’d brought with him had tried six times prior. He always evaded capture or death in our fights, but the demons and monsters he brought with him were always destroyed by our warriors long before they could enter the temple.” He sighed again. “It seems our foe learned the lesson we so ignored, and requested help from his ally…and once he did, things have changed far for the worse.”
“You said his name’s Seth, right Jules?” Tisma asked, then, at his nod, continued, “Ever since his fancy pal entered the temple, Seth’s been harrassing and attacking anyone that tries to get close. He can fly far and he can fly fast, so even when the Chief here swallowed his pride and sent a message to the Empress for help, they couldn’t get near enough without him swooping down and charbroiling their ships.”
“And that’s why they only had warships in the harbor,” Julius muttered, frowning.
“Yes. To make matters worse, the Shogun has outright advised our liege against helping us.” Torahiko scowled, his teeth looking sharper by the second. “We’ve had a tense relationship in the past, but now that bastard Kawajiri is saying we’re a lost cause and all focus should be put on defending Shiomi from attack! I know for a fact that the capital and its armies have over a hundred ways to fight off dragons, but one failure makes us worthless?!”
Julius grimaced as Torahiko seethed. Their people really were getting a raw deal here… “Hm. So, hey, weird idea here, but I stabbed and electrocuted Seth only a few hours ago. Might be a long shot, but he could still be down from that. Or at least a little fucked up.” He paused. “Uh, sorry for the language.”
“Worry not. Right now is not the time to worry about being chaste with language. And we did see the dragon fall from your ship, but hearing that he may be out of commission, even if just for a small time, is wonderful news.” Torahiko suddenly grinned wider. “In fact…how ‘down’ do you think he’ll be?”
“…Provided he doesn’t have a healer or knows healing magic? At least a day or two?”
“Excellent! In that case, we must take the chance to defeat the current villain within the temple, post haste!”
“Wait, like right now?” At his question, Torahiko looked over at Julius, a glare in his eyes. “…uh.”
“…” The chief glared at him for a few more seconds, then sighed. “No, you are right. It would be much too foolhardy to just rush in. You may take however long you need to prepare, and I shall provide an escort when you are good to go.”
“Thanks for that. We’ll be ready as soon as we can.”
Nodding, Torahiko stood up, before leaving the tavern, his guards following him.
“Well, at least we have a plan now.” Standing up too, Douglas stretched out his back. “Mmm…I’ll go get started with the supplies, are either of you coming along?”
“Eh…kinda feel like one of us needs to talk with Joral, so I’ll take that hit,” muttered Julius as he stared at the drunk crew.
“Gonna want to talk with the new team personally. See if they tell me anything you two haven’t brought up.” Finishing off her tankard, Tisma looked over at the kids. “Hopefully they’ll talk and not just stare this time.”
“Well not like you can blame them for staring. Even among minotaurs, I don’t think many can match up to you.”
“Heh, well I still keep up my training.” Bringing up her arm, she flexed to show off her impressive muscles. Her very, very impressive muscles. Hm.
“You know, I think Leok would love to fight you,” Julius suggested, “That or ask for your training regiment.”
“Hm. How good a fighter did you say she was?”
“She probably could’ve beaten me if I didn’t use cheat rules. Course, I did and I still have the tusk to prove it.”
“Oh… yeah… she kinda gave me her tusk after it broke. A trophy apparently.”
“…And you kept it?”
“Orc tusks don’t even have magical properties…” Douglas mumbled.
“Look. It feels weird keeping it, but I don’t want to be a dick and throw it away.”
“…Is that some kind of sex thing?”
“Douglas, I swear, one of these days, I’m going to stab you and you will deserve it.”
“To be fair, it probably would’ve been a sex thing if he hadn’t met Galinori just before her.”
“I’d threaten to stab you too, Tisma, but I feel like my dagger would break if I tried that.”
“It probably would.” Standing up as she smiled, Tisma ruffled Julius’s hair before walking away, leaving him with the somewhat awkward task of talking to Joral about his ruined ship. Well, hopefully not too ruined.
“And then there’s THISH ashhole!” shouted Kruger before he flopped backwards off his seat, drunkenly unconscious before he even hit the floor.
“Ah, ignore ‘im. He’s just drunk,” Pash muttered, waving a hand before going back to his own drink while Jancha snoozed beside him, the paler harpy currently cuddling a flagon as she rested on the bar.
“…I noticed,” Julius replied, then glanced at the actual captain of the ship, who was currently sitting beside his first mate and chatting with her. “Uh…Joral?”
“Hm? Oh, Goldforge.” Joral turned on his stool and raised a hand in greeting. “Do you need something?” Well, he didn’t seem too annoyed, so that was probably a good sign.
“Not exactly. I’m mostly just checking in.”
“Well, there’s not much to check.” He chuckled. “If you mean the Finja though, sorry to say she’s fairly well-fucked by this point.”
“To extend the metaphor, it’s the kind of fucking where you can’t get up the next morning,” Nadine added, then considered something. “Or maybe even for the rest of the week. Two weeks, maybe, which is awkward since she’s on the beach and all-”
“Think you’re losing track of the metaphor.”
“Probably. Point is, she’s not getting up. Not for a while.”
“Ah. Sorry to hear that,” Julius replied, a little sheepishly, “We didn’t think-”
“Don’t worry about it.” Joral waved his concerns away. “Trouble happens. Didn’t expect a dragon, sure, or a sabotaging fox-demon, but nobody died and the damages are fixable. They’ll just take time to fix. More sorry to say that it looks like we can’t get you to Zemava any time soon.” He shrugged. “Thinking you’ll have to go on without us at this point.”
“Yeah, metaphors aside it’ll take at least a few weeks to repair. And even if you’re willing to wait, I don’t think any of us are gonna be prepared for something like that again.” Staring at Joral a bit more intently he could see his hands shaking as he held his drink. “We’re used to dragons, sure, with Lord Galinori and all, but we’ve never run afoul of her or hers, so being under attack by one is something we’ve never dealt with.
“So we’re going to take it easy for a bit. A very needed vacation from the skies. But hey, after this odd war is over, we’re more than willing to take you on board. Provided you pay, of course.”
“If I make it out alive, I’ll take you up on that offer.” Julius smirked at Joral, earning a smile in return back up to him. However, before he said goodbye, a thought crossed his mind. “…Here.” Reaching into his pack, Julius brought out the bag of coins Bulinto had given him. “Think of this as payment for the next trip.”
If Julius could capture the exact moment when they opened the bag, it would have been well worth the price.
“I…Goldforge, this is too much-”
“Nope! Nope, that is definitely enough. Way enough.” Nadine was grinning wider than he’d ever seen her smile, her eyes almost sparkling as she took in all the gold in the bag.
“…Heh. Well, guess you’ve earned yourself a guaranteed ride on our ship any time you want, Goldforge.” Joral chuckled as he took the bag and handed it off to Nadine, who let out a happy little ‘eeeeeeee’ that he blatantly ignored. “It was nice meeting you. For what it’s worth, I hope everything works out between you and that Valondrac lady.”
“Yeah, I’m hoping the same.” With that, Julius shook Joral’s hand, and bid the captain of the Finja a fond farewell.