Why the fuck was Torahiko here.
Julius shook his head, trying to focus. Which was kind of awkward because, again, Hiroto Torahiko was apparently one of the few people allowed in on this super special meeting with Pontiff Vocula. And he was also sitting right next to him.
Which totally wasn’t making Julius feel awkward.
Well, Torahiko was a pretty important figure. And Gabriel there, the fancy “Second Cardinal”, had insisted only Julius, Douglas, Tisma, and Adrien be present at the meeting, out of their whole group. So while Sylsa led the rest on a tour of the city, they and Torahiko all got to wait in some dumb, overly fancy, circular meeting room with actual stained glass windows lining the walls.
Honestly, Julius never really got stained glass, but that was a conversation for another time.
All of them were currently seated at a round table–marble, of course–in some high-backed chairs, spaced out pretty evenly. Aside from Gabriel, who was standing.
He briefly glanced at the smiling angel, who had barely moved since they got there, then stood as the room’s only door opened and turned his gaze over to the man entering.
Pontiff Vocula was one of those rare sights in the world: An actually elderly elf. A high elf, to be specific, so his weathered, wrinkled face was a pale, golden shade. Dressed in white vestments that matched his short beard and wearing a tall, yellow-jeweled mitre, he looked exactly the same that Julius last saw him. Which was when they tried to purify him of the Butcher’s influence. So there was that fun memory…
“Greetings saviours of the Light Lands. I see Lucere had blessed you all on your travels. I sincerely apologize for our lack of proper greetings. If I had know you were arriving, I would have prepared a feast.” Despite his words being for all of them, it was clear he was directly addressing Adrien, given who he was looking at.
And after several moments of silence, Julius nudged the nervous hero to get him to speak.
“O-Oh! I-It’s no problem at all. I’m sorry for taking you away from whatever you were working on!”
“It is of little importance compared to the fate of the Light Lands,” he replied with a smile just nice enough to look kind before he turned towards Hiroto, “Now, if I may ask, why are you here, Sir Torahiko?”
“Pontiff Vocula…it is with a heavy heart that I must say that the cause of my being here is not one of pleasant tidings,” Hiroto began, his head bowed and his hands in his lap, “Because of my incompetence as a guardian the Lightning Core has been stolen from its temple! So it is my sincerest hope that by assisting the heroes, I can make up for my error!” What. Assisting how? How long was this going to go on for??
“I…see. That is very troubling news indeed. But take comfort, Sir Torahiko, in knowing Innominatum does not blame you for this, since, from where I’m standing, he has not yet cast his divine judgment upon you.”
Torahiko sighed, then raised his head and stared straight at the Pontiff. “Be that as it may, I can’t forgive myself until I have properly helped them on their journey.” Oh. So the boat ride really wasn’t enough. Great.
“Hm…that is good to know.” Turning away from him, Vocula stared at Adrien again, smiling once more. “Now, while retrieving the core is important, please, do not rush yourselves. It would be quite the poor outcome if you were to be badly injured because you tried to hurry through the Temple of Light.”
“Heh, no need to worry about that!” Adrien said, smiling back at Vocula, “Even if Teach dealt with most of the generals we faced, us new heroes were able to hold our own against a dragon!”
“Oh? That is wonderful news. Such a feat is impressive for someone your age.”
“Heh, thanks.” He grinned and scratched at the back of his head, apparently taken in by the old guy’s flattery.
“Now then, I’m sure all of you have things you much rather do than sit here listening to an old man’s ramblings. So this meeting will come to an end, and dear Gabriel here will show you to your lodgings when you wish to rest.” Out of the corner of his eyes, Julius noticed said angel bowing slightly at the attention. And then Vocula’s blue eyes were on him. “Ah, but before you go, Sir Julius Goldforge, there is something I must speak with you about.”
“Just him?” asked Douglas.
“Yeah, shouldn’t we be there too?” Tisma added, frowning.
“Oh no, that is not necessary. I would much prefer you enjoy the hospitality of our city while I discuss matters with Sir Goldforge.” Vocula suddenly sighed with a small, sad frown of his own. “I will admit, I doubt the topic in question will be a particularly pleasant thing to discuss, but I must insist you allow Sir Goldforge his privacy in this matter. If there are problems, I am certain he can discuss them with you afterwards.”
“…Sure,” Julius said. He shrugged and stood up. “If it’s what I think it is…this probably isn’t going to be pleasant, huh?”
“Sir Goldforge, you have my solemn oath as a faithful adherent of Lucere that I shall do no harm to you.” Vocula smiled. “I realize you all may have concerns, but I am a humble servant. All I do is at the behest of my god.”
Douglas and Tisma glanced at each other, frowning, while Adrien seemed increasingly awkward, not quite sure what was going on, but pretty obviously aware of the tension in the air.
Hiroto was there too.
“…Well, like I said, sure.” Julius shrugged again. “So are we doing this here or…?”
Vocula smiled again, the gesture reaching his eyes. “We may retire to my office. I hope you won’t mind escorting an old man?”
“Uh…no, I think I can handle that.” He scratched the back of his head a bit awkwardly and glanced back at the rest of his group. “So what should they be doing in the meantime?”
“I will handle that issue,” Gabriel spoke up, smiling too. It was all smiles with these people, huh? “I am certain my skills as a tour guide will come into sufficient use here.”
“…You could just say they’d ‘come in handy’,” Douglas muttered, then sighed, “Well…I suppose a tour would be nice. In fact, I do have a number of questions I would like to ask you, Cardinal Gabriel, in regards to the many-”
And so they were off. Douglas, Adrien, and Hiroto followed after Gabriel down one hall–Douglas was, of course, chatting with, or more like at, the angel the entire time while Adrien was clearly trying to relax, though he did give Julius another nervous glance. Hiroto was also there.–while Tisma hung back for a moment, glancing at Julius.
“You sure you’ll be fine?”
Julius shrugged again. He was doing that a lot. “I should be. Worst case, they’ll decide I need to be purified again, right? You just enjoy the tour. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Hm…See ya.” Tisma nodded to him, then walked off to catch up with the rest of the group.
“Heh. You certainly have wonderful friends, Sir Goldforge,” Vocula began as he started walking down the opposite hall, clearly expecting Julius to follow him. And, well, Julius did.
“Yeah, they’re great. Is that all you wanted to talk about?” He tried to avoid sounding too hopeful.
Vocula chuckled. “Unfortunately not.” He smiled fondly as they passed by some more stained glass windows.
There were a whole lot of them, stretching across the whole hallway. Julius and Vocula were near the top of the temple, so they had a good view of the whole city, though the stained glass wasn’t exactly great to look through. It kinda distorted the view, actually.
“Enjoying the decorations?” Vocula suddenly asked.
“Uh…yeah, sure.” No reason to be rude. “They’re…pretty.”
“That is a word to describe them, yes. I would personally use ‘beautiful’, but I do have a bias there…” Vocula chuckled again. “I quite love my city here, good sir. The Temple has been my home for most of my very long life, and I am very fond of it all. The sights, the sounds, the scents of the sea breeze…It’s all so gorgeous, isn’t it?”
“…Yeah. It definitely is.”
They both went quiet after that, walking in silence until they reached the big, double doors leading into Vocula’s office.
“Pardon me, sir.” There were two guards standing in front of the door, both as still as statues until one leaned towards Julius, staring at him through the thin lines in their great helm. “I must ask for your weapons. They are not allowed within the Pontiff’s presence.”
“…Hm.” Well, that was pretty standard. Julius did kinda wish they’d mentioned it earlier though, so he could’ve left his stuff with Adrien… “Don’t mess with them, alright?”
“Of course, sir.” Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to give over his demonic sword to a guard that was probably some kind of angelic creature, but Tisma did the wards on it, so there it went. There was no reaction from the big, armored goon, so his trust definitely wasn’t unfounded.
Now bereft of both sword and dirk, Julius headed into the Pontiff’s gaudy office, filled with statues and paintings of angels and light and all those fun stuff Zemavans were obsessed with.
“So… what is it that you needed to speak to me about?” Julius asked, standing there in front of the huge, white desk as Vocula took his seat in the large chair behind it. It was more like a throne, actually. A comfy looking one with gold pillows and nice armrests, but still the kind of seat a person used when they wanted to seem big and important.
“Julius, my child-” Oh, so it was ‘Julius’ now. “-I have heard some rather…troubling things about you.” And immediately Julius wanted to leave the room. “I trust you know what I’m talking about.”
“Look, I acted without thinking. But I’m good now, and I won’t let it hamper me when I face off against Claire.”
“…Claire now, is it?”
“I admit, I am curious, Julius,” Vocula continued as he sat straighter with a small smile still on his face, “Which of your transgressions are you referring to when you say you ‘acted without thinking’? You understand, I am a very old man and I do have trouble keeping up with the mischief you and your friends tend to get into.”
Do not get mad, do not get mad. Even if he’s being condescending, do not get mad and make things worse.
“…I believe you’re talking about my initial meeting with Valondrac.”
“Oh? My child, that is but a minor transgression. You are human, so to be guided by your base desires is to be expected.” Do not punch him, do not punch him. “But let’s list all you have done. Spared the generals of our enemy even though they desired rob our nations of their most holy treasures, gave away one of said treasures to a dragon, brought some form of sapient monster into our borders, along with that demonic sword of yours, and you even allowed one of the cores to be stolen.”
“That-!” And before he could even try to protest, Julius felt a firm hand on his shoulder, all of his movements stopping as he felt his body go numb.
“And last but not least, you’ve given into the Butcher. Despite the fact that I personally purified you so many years ago, you went back to her to take that demonic power as your own, of your own volition. Why, my child, I believe that you have run out of chances.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Julius could see another angel standing next to him. They were tall and broad-shouldered and they had that same marble skin as Gabriel, though their face was uncovered, showing off their bright, fiery eyes and everywhere Gabriel was blue, this new golden-armored angel–glaring right at him–was red.
“Now, take heed. I won’t harm you, and neither will Michael here. But, you do need to be punished for your many sins. And a simple purification will not be enough.” Vocula sighed, almost looking sad. “Fortunately for you, the God of Light is a benevolent being, and all the gods of the Light Lands have agreed, you will not die for these sins. But neither can you remain within their borders.”
What. What–No, no, no no no–
Julius actually lurched forward, his mouth feeling like it was tearing open as he tried to speak, “No you can’t-!”
Suddenly, he fell to his knees, gasping as a crushing weight settled over his whole body, just barely keeping himself upright.
“The decision is out of my hands, I’m afraid. Really, it was made quite some time ago.” What?! “If you didn’t desire this outcome, then you should have ceased committing these sins you knew were wrong.” Vocula actually had the gall to shrug. “I am merely an instrument of my God’s will here. Though, if you will allow me to say, I do take some satisfaction in exiling you entirely.” His lips quirked up in a small smirk. “You always were an irritating brat.”
Vocula glanced up at the angel, still smirking. “Michael, if you would? I have no interest in hearing the last words of such a worthless wretch.”
“What you are interested in does not matter,” the angel, Michael, responded in a low, angry tone as their fingers dug into Julius’s shoulder–He tried to blink the tears from his eyes at the horrible burning, but his body wouldn’t respond. “Only the will of our Glorious God of Light.”
“Ah, yes yes. Then I pray that Lucere’s light blesses you on your journey.”
Suddenly, Julius felt himself get yanked up and off his feet, dragged straight towards the ceiling as the angel’s wings spread wide and they both rocketed upwards in a flash of fire. Somehow, they passed straight through the painted ceiling and up into the sky without any damage or resistance, and for a moment, Julius could actually feel his body again, no numbness or weight holding him down.
And with a single motion–a vast beat of massive, fiery wings–Michael was flying, taking the helpless warrior away through the clear sky, a red streak across the boundless blue.