Interlude 14 – A Royal Meeting 2 (Aquatic Boogaloo)

Queenshill, the capital of Luceneva, was a massive city spreading out around the royal family’s castle: an enormous citadel of high, solid-white walls topped by bright red spires. Long bridges stretched between the four towers built into the curtain wall surrounding the central keep, itself topped with three towers spread across its sloped roof.

Known as Queenshill Castle–mainly because it was situated atop a large hill that made it quite the pain to actually get up to and was founded by a queen, hence the name–the castle had housed the royal family of Lucene for generations, standing proud and tall above their kingdom. Though that particular day, the mood of the castle was noticeably way more somber than usual.

While the throne room of Queenshill Castle was as grand as ever, consisting of an enormous hall flanked by grand columns stretching to its high ceiling, decorated with a massive fresco displaying the gods of the world–with three Matrons in particular getting a center position–while the walls were decorated with armors and weapons of heroes long past, the king atop his throne had his mouth set in a deep frown, resplendent as he was in his split red-and-blue doublet while a golden crown, inlaid with a rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, laid upon his well-trimmed white hair.

It was kinda crazy just how official he looked, and Sue honestly would’ve felt self-conscious if it wasn’t for all the other bullshit going on in her life. Such as the angel and weretiger that took over as the team’s “leaders” after their teachers went missing. 

“Young heroes, it does my heart well to see you and your new allies come back unharmed. Yet, at the same time, I can only fear the worst since Sir Julius is not with you. If I may, are those fears unfounded?” 

“Ah… it’s, just…kinda…” Oh, crap, Adrien was nervous. Well, he would be, considering they had to meet the king with only these two bozos for company; apparently “only the hero’s presence is necessary”, so Gabriel, like a prick, decided everyone else should go on a tour of Queenshill while they, Torahiko, and Adrien met with the king. Which was bullshit, so Sue was more than happy her boyfriend had backed her up on how she should come along too. Still, if he wasn’t going to talk, should she–

“Please, allow me,” Gabriel said as the angel walked to the front of the smaller group, taking the initiative from Sue, “It is a pleasure to meet you, your majesty. My name is Gabriel, Cardinal Guardian of Zemava.” At the mention of who they were, all the guards and attendants around the room visibly stiffened before immediately kneeling in reverence to the angel. 

“Ah, my apologies, I was unaware I was in the presence of an angel.” King Richard didn’t, but that was a given, considering his position. And the fact that he was on a throne.

“There is no need to apologize. My reason for being here is quite sudden, and it is not the best of occasions.” Standing straight, Gabriel stared up at King Richard. “It is with a heavy heart, that I must inform you, Julius Goldforge, Tisma Vlahos, and Douglas Yew have all gone rogue, and kidnapped the Pontiff of Light.” Bullshit.

“What?!” The King looked shocked, then shook his head with a scowl. “You can’t be serious!” 

“We cannot be certain, but it is our belief that Julius Goldforge may have been corrupted by demonic forces, and, further, may have swayed Tisma Vlahos and Douglas Yew to the demonic side.” Also bullshit. Sure, Teach had a crush, but that was probably a good thing! He was an old guy, his dating pool was shrinking by the day! Well, maybe not that old, but still.

“Th-That’s impossible! Julius might not be the most open of guys, but I can’t imagine he’d do something like that…” …Was it just her, or did the king’s speech get less formal there?

“If that were the case, then they would have no reason to run from Divica without informing any of us,” Torahiko said as he stepped forward, frowning seriously, “However, since they did run while the heroes and I were within the Temple of Light, I can only assume that they were responsible.”

Which was crap. If they all went missing at the same time, then wasn’t it more likely that something snatched up all of them? Why jump to “your teachers, who have been helping you for months now on this huge quest, suddenly decided kidnapping the Pontiff of Light sounds like a fantastic idea”? Didn’t they deserve some benefit of the doubt?

“Hm. This is most troubling.” King Richard stroked his short beard, frowning in thought as he looked over at Adrien. “Young hero, would you say these accusations are accurate?”

“…Uhh. That’s…Well that…Um…”

“What Adrien means to say, your majesty, is that we don’t know for a fact,” Sue spoke up, because screw it, someone needed to step up. And the thankful look Adrien gave her definitely helped bolster her courage there. “We were in the temple, like Chief Torahiko said, so we’re not sure. I think Cardinal Gabriel would know better, right?”

The angel turned their gaze to her for a moment, still smiling that same creepily calm smile, before looking back to the king. “Unfortunately, the matter seems to be obscured for us all. Certainly, powerful magics were used to cover the escape of the conspirators involved, and the exact circumstances remain unclear. However, as the hero and his companion know, we have a strong basis for our case.”

King Richard raised an eyebrow. “And that would be?” 

“Sir Goldforge had professed to a number of sources, your majesty, of having regained his connection to The Butcher, and even claimed to have shared dreams with the Demon Lord Valondrac. Indeed, we have good reason to believe he may be infatuated with our great enemy.”

He blinked, then glanced at Sue again. “Is this true?”

…Okay, crap…Stay honest. “Yeah. Ever since we were ambushed Valondrac in Naloriva, Teach has been crushing pretty hard on her, to the point that he actually proposed to her the second he saw her face.”

“Uh, Sue, why are you-”

“What??” Adrien paused mid-whisper and glanced back up at the king, who looked…pretty put out, actually. “You’re kidding! I spent how many years trying to set him up with someone nice and he just jumped for the first pretty face–Well, no, I’m not being fair there…Still! Julius of all people had a ‘love at first sight’ moment!?” Why did he sound so offended?

“Your majesty, I believe we are getting off topic,” Gabriel spoke up, still smiling.

“Oh, yes, my apologies. It’s just, I put so much time into that to make it up to him for inviting him to one of my ‘parties’–” Why did he say it like that. “–and I understand being put in an arranged marriage is not something most people enjoy, but I said from the start that they weren’t going to be arranged marriages and he still didn’t want to meet them!”

“Ehm…Your ma-” 

“I mean, I understand that it may have been awkward given that many of them were nobles and he may have been propositioned by their parents at previous swingers–” He what. “–but that was like a decade ago, and just meeting their children wouldn’t have been that bad! Does he even know how much I went through to make it up to those aristocrats because their adult kids got rejected!? I mean sure, they were younger than him, but it wasn’t like I was saying he should date anyone younger than twenty! He didn’t even need to date them, it was social obligations, and it wouldn’t even be a problem if he’d accepted those other marriage proposals when their parents were at his age-Well, maybe a few years older-Look, point is, he could’ve just accepted one and things wouldn’t be spiralling out of control now because he got lovesick!”

In less than a minute, whatever possible respect Sue had for the king disappeared in favor of total revulsion. She glanced at Ga–Oh wow, even they looked disgusted, though they immediately started smiling again when they noticed Sue was looking.

“A…A-Ahem, your majesty, if I may return us to the subject at hand?”

“What, the subject of how Julius, the man I let practically raise my kids–” Let? “–has spurned my every attempt of friendship in favor of trying to date some hot foreign chick?”

“…I…would not refer to the Demon Lord Valondrac as such, but–”

“Well of course you wouldn’t, you’re an angel, you have a whole ‘evil opposites’ thing going on with demons, right?” Wait, which one was the evil opposite in that situation?

Gabriel didn’t seem to know either, and it looked like they couldn’t figure out whether to be supportive, confused, or offended. “That is…accurate enough, your majesty. Still–”

“Hold on, take off your helmet.”

Gabriel visibly paused. “…Why?”

“So I can see what you look like. All I’m getting from here is your mouth, and while that’s a nice jawline–” What. “–it’s bugging me that I can’t see your face.”

“…” Gabriel stared up at the king for a few seconds, completely silent, before undoing whatever straps they had on their helmet and pulling it free, where it dissolved into motes of light and they let their hands drop back down to their sides. 

And honestly, they didn’t look half bad. Which was a little disappointing because Sue was vaguely expecting some kinda monstrosity…

Anyway, Gabriel still had the whole ‘marble skin’ thing going on the rest of their head, though they actually did have hair, cropped short in a military-style cut and noticeably a kinda…royal blue? Definitely blue, but sort of an even shade, a little like Sue’s own, but it had a weird quality to it, almost shimmering like water. 

Speaking of water, she’d heard people describe blue eyes as like “pools of water” before, but the angel seemed to take that literally: their irises and pupils looked like solid disks on a deep lake, almost like blue lily pads over dark waters. As for the rest of their face, they looked androgynous and…kinda handsome? But in a serious, severe way. Not too bad, but not her type.

“Oh wow, you’re a cutie.” And apparently the king didn’t agree. Sue had heard rumors about King Richard. They weren’t flattering rumors. And they seemed to be very true. “Are you doing anything after this?” Make that definitely true.

“…I am acting as the hero’s escort, King Richard.”

“Well I’m sure I can have someone take over that po-” 

“So about what we were talking about!” Sue shouted in a definitely not desperate attempt to steer the conversation back on track and away from whatever the fuck that was. Then Gabriel glanced at her and she could’ve sworn the look they gave her was a thankful one and now she just felt icky.

“Ah, yes, yes. We still need to discuss this more…perhaps over di-” 

“King Richard, as an emissary of the Holy Nation Zemava, I ask if you will be willing to provide aid in tracking down the former heroes. I will require the answer now, please.”

“Hm…” King Richard leaned back in his seat, stroking his beard. “I don’t know. You see, we’re already getting our troops together for the big march on the Dark Lands. We probably can’t spare people for that. Clarence, can we spare people for that?”

The bald, spectacled halfling in scribe robes taking notes on the meeting paused and glanced up from his desk, set off to one side of the throne. “Likely not, sire.”

“See? Likely not.”

“Any help shall be appreciated, your majesty. Even if it is as simple as informing us on any sightings.”

“Oh sure, I’m sure you’ll be very appreciative. Any chance you’ll want to show me any ‘appreciation’ later?”

“Your Majesty, you are speaking to an emissary of a foreign nation,” Torahiko suddenly spoke up, frowning seriously, “I ask your forgiveness if I seem rude, but this flirtation isn’t-”

“Yeah yeah, sure, why are you getting offended again? I’m talking with the pretty angel lady, not you.” He paused. “You two aren’t dating, are you? I don’t really mind if you are, but if this is some monogamous thing, I’m gonna need to know so no one tries to kill me in an honor duel again. Actually, on the subject, would you mind telling me what it’s like with her? I mean I’m making a lot of assumptions here, but you look like the type of guy to have a cute angel hanging off of him and I’m honestly curious what she’s packing.”

…Wow. Sue had never heard such a complete, dead silence like that before. She’d also never seen an angel’s jaw actually drop. Torahiko’s dropped too, but it was Gabriel’s complete break in composure that really stood out. What made it worse was that the king didn’t even seem to notice, just shrugging after a while and glancing at her and Adrien.

“So, kids, back on subject–” Oh thank the gods. “–I’m glad to see you’re not dead and hear that Julius isn’t dead, though my condolences for him running off with a beautiful lady, the lucky son of a bitch…” Were they supposed to hear that last part? “Anyway! Uh…so, normally we’d have a banquet held in your honor here. But with all the news here, it’s probably good to postpone things so you can rest up and see your families and all that.”

“O-Oh, uh, yeah! Yeah, we should, um, definitely do that, right Sue?”

Ohhhh, now there was a question…Did she want to head out and avoid the awkwardness, or stick around and see how big this house fire could get?

“…Whyyyy don’t you do that, and say hi to your folks for me, while I stick around and…make sure neither of these two decide to kill the king?”

King Richard blinked. “Wait, it’s going that bad?”

“You asked to know what Gabriel’s ‘packing’ and assumed they and Torahiko are, uh…” Crap, what’s a polite word to say in a royal’s presence? “…Boning.”

“Oh…Did I go too far there?” How was that a question.

“Typically, King Richard Lucene the Second, you are not supposed to make sexual advancements toward a foreign emissary, nor comment on their genitalia or relationships.” Gabriel visibly took a breath, which was kinda interesting since Sue really didn’t think the angel needed to breathe. “And to establish this very firmly, I am not, nor will I ever be in a relationship with Shicho Hiroto Torahiko.”

“Oh, so you’re available.” …Wow, it really did seem like she’d need to stick around to keep the king in check. Shouldn’t there be someone around doing that job? “Anyways, sorry, I was letting myself get too casual there.” He sighed, then sat up straighter, actually looking regal again, despite being him. “Now then, you were saying?”

“…I wasn’t, your majesty. You were saying that the hero and his companion should leave.” And Gabe really sounded like they were losing their patience there. 

“Unfortunately, I must contradict you, Lady Gabriel. Ah, is it Lady or Lord? I was assuming, sorry, you’re just very pretty.”

“…It is Cardinal, your majesty.” Well, they definitely weren’t getting any calmer– “Though Lady is an acceptable alternative, in my regard.” -Wait, huh? Huh. Okay, reevaluating.

“Ah, knew it, always had a sense for these things…Er, not in a weird way, I meant more…So, moving on, the young lady Sue–Clarence?”

“Orc-Kicker, your majesty.”

“The young lady–Wait, really?” At Clarence’s nod, King Richard blinked. “Huh. Well, the young lady–”

“My apologies for the interruption, your majesty,” Gabe interrupted, not sounding sorry at all,”But I am aware of what the young lady stated and, if I may, I would like to request Chief Torahiko then escort the hero to his destination.”

“You are forgiven for your interruption, dear Lady Gabriel–” That was a really flirty smile for someone trying to be professional. “–and I acquiesce to your request. Young Adrien, Chief Torahiko, you may leave my court at your leisure.”

“Uh, th-thank you, your majesty.” Adrien bowed, then leaned up close to Sue, his voice low. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah. Aside from the king thing, I do want to make sure that Gabby over there doesn’t try to spin some bullshit about how Teach is the worst traitor in the Light Lands’ history or some crap like that,” she whispered back, then gave him a smile, “Don’t worry. She didn’t start shit when Sergio needled her the entire way over, so I doubt she’ll lose it here.”

“Yeah, but Serge didn’t ask about what she’s ‘packing’. At least I don’t think he did…”

“Probably not.” Even he wasn’t that dumb. Which said a lot about their king… “Still, I’ll be good. See you at the Gold Forge.” She grinned, then leaned down and gave her boyfriend a little peck on the lips, then grinned at how adorably red he got. “Love you.”

“L-Love you too. See you soon.” Adrien gave her a peck back, then started walking towards the entrance, glancing back at her as Torahiko quickly fell in step alongside him. 

And as they walked, Sue noticed Torahiko lean towards Adrien and whisper something she just barely managed to hear: “-think there’s a particular reason why Cardinal Gabriel said they ‘wouldn’t ever’ be interested in a relationship with me? It’s not that I’m really interested, but they sounded so offended there…”

…Yeah, she wasn’t going anywhere near that. For a brief moment, Sue wondered if Adrien might wind up with the more awkward talk of the two of them. Then she glanced back at the king and quickly realized that couldn’t possibly be the case.

“Ahh, young love,” he sighed, actually sounded fond for a second, “What a wonderful sight, yet so often such a fleeting one. Be careful, young Orc-Kicker. One of these days, you just might find a woman you think you’ll love more than anything else in the world and then you’ll devote your every waking moment to thinking of her. You’ll write poetry, you’ll send presents, you’ll even begin to think the life of a royal is worth nothing without love and decide you should cast it all away, only for your oh so intelligent sister to suddenly decide to abdicate the damn throne and abruptly you wonder if your lover is fucking you because of who you are as a person or if it’s the crown you now hold and you can’t even give it up because your idiot of a brother decides to join the cult of a BUG GOD you’ve never even heard of! So your poetry begins to focus on your own issues and internal rages and she just seems so uninterested that you break it off in a big, grand gesture because you’re too fucking dramatic for your own good and she never wants to see you again!

“AND THEN YOU HAVE TO GET MARRIED FOR POLITICAL REASONS! Tie the knot, get hitched to a ducal house because of fucking course those people need to have a bone thrown to them and then you realize you’ve turned into your mother, just like YOU NEVER FUCKING WANTED!

“…”

“…”

Sue glanced at Gabriel. Gabriel glanced at Sue. And for the briefest moment, the two felt a strange sense of sisterhood. 

And then the moment passed and Gabriel cleared her throat. 

“Returning back to my request–” Okay, so they were just ignoring that. “–since I am certain you’ll be keeping guards and soldiers at certain posts within Luceneva, so as to avoid leaving your country entirely defenseless, I am certain it shall be possible that you inform Zemava in the event they see one of the former heroes.”

“…Huh? Oh, yeah, your thing.” King Richard frowned. “…What did you actually say there? It was a little wordy.”

“…Please have your troops, the ones that are remaining here, inform my nation if the heroes enter your country.”

“Ohhhhh, sure–Actually, wait. Can we do that?” The king glanced at his aide again. “Clarence, can we make reports to a foreign nation? Because that sounds like we’re acting like their subordinates and I’m pretty sure my ancestors would rise from their graves if they heard I was groveling up to the Zemmies.” 

“It’s not irregular to keep allied nations informed about criminals who enter our borders,” he replied–

“Ah, wait!” Sue spoke up, “Are they actually criminals at this point?”

“Eh?”

She shrugged as the king turned his gaze towards her, trying to seem casual even as Gabriel started staring at her again with a whole lot less positive feelings this time. “We don’t actually know that our teachers kidnapped the pontiff, right? If they all vanished at the same time, then isn’t it possible that someone else grabbed all of them?”

“That’s not possible, Sue.” Gabriel smiled again, apparently regaining her composure. “No outside force could enter the city without I or my siblings noticing.”

“Sure, but they still vanished, right? What’s more likely, that the formers heroes of the Light Lands all decided to turn traitor at once after helping us through almost every part of the temple quest, or that the Demon Lord somehow got someone into Divica? You know, like how they got a general into every other temple.” It probably wasn’t Valondrac, considering Teach seemed to be trying to date her, but that was the easiest excuse she could come up with.

“Divica is different, child. We take our sacred duties very seriously.”

“But all four of them still disappeared right at the exact same time, right? So something weird had to have happened.”

There was a flicker of something in Gabriel’s eyes before the king sighed. “Yeah, that’s a good point too…Okay, how about this? If any of our soldiers or guards see the three heroes and the pontiff around, they’ll…I dunno, arrest them. No, detain, detain sounds better. And then we can go from there and figure out who kidnapped who afterwards.”

Crap, should she argue that? It wasn’t as bad as Teach, Doug and Tiz all getting branded as criminals, right?

“I would say that is an acceptable compromise, your majesty.” Dammit, Gabe liked it, that probably meant she screwed up…

The king clapped his hands together, grinning. “Fantastic. I’m glad we’ve finally got that settled, it was dragging on a little long.” And whose fault was that?? “So, if that’s all, I think the young Orc-Kicker can go on and head off to do whatever she feels like now. And in the meantime, Lady Gabriel, would you care to discuss these political matters further, perhaps over dinner~?”

“…King Richard, do you not have a wife you could lavish these affections on?”

“Pft, I have three. Four if you count that thieving jackass Catalina, stole three of my fucking daughters…Granted, they were hers, but still!” …It felt like there was a story there, but Sue wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear it from such a creep.

And judging by the look on her face, Gabriel was thinking something similar. 

“I see…be that as it may, I have things I must accomplish. Duties of the gods are of the utmost importance.”

“Hm? Are you sure they can’t wait?” 

“…King Richard, I must state again that the orders of a god to an angel must be performed as soon as possible, as they are of the utmost importance.” 

“And what divine duties are those? If it’s guiding Sue there, she literally lives here, you don’t need to help her out.”

…Serge would probably mock her for this later, but- “Uh, actually, could Cardinal Gabriel come with me, your majesty?”

Gabe didn’t react, but the king did frown at Sue. “…Does she really need to?”

“Yeah, I think they do. After all, they’re like…duty-bound to be my bodyguard and stuff, right?” She glanced at Gabe, seriously hoping she picked up on what she was doing. 

“Yes, precisely. My orders are to follow the hero and his companions at all costs, your majesty, and being outside of Miss Orc-Kicker’s presence would be a violation of those orders.” Heh. Best part of picking up a last name was how ridiculous serious people sounded when they said it.

“Feehhh…fine, whatever, go have fun without me…” …Less fun was the ruler of her nation sounding like a petulant kid. Holding back an exhausted sigh, Sue bowed toward her dumbass king, and turned to leave along with Gabe. “Hm…shame that the armor of our world isn’t like those outworlder drawings…” 

If nothing else, Sue hoped she’d never have to deal with the old lech again. Whoever said the best ruler would be someone who didn’t want the job was a fucking moron…

Thankfully, she probably wouldn’t have to for the foreseeable future. It wasn’t like the king was going on the big fancy march thing with them, so no need to worry about that. Though, speaking of things she needed to worry about…

Sue glanced at Gabriel as they headed out of the throne room and into the main courtyard of the castle. “So…how are you doing?”

“Fine. While the Lucene King’s advancements were, admittedly, aggravating, he is too pathetic to be of any issue to me.” Wow, harsh. Deserved, but harsh. “I will admit though, I did not expect you to care.”

Sue blinked, frowning a little. Weirdly, she felt kinda offended. “Uh…why not?”

“You and your companions have made your distaste for my company quite clear, and it is increasingly obvious to me that you do not believe our explanation of the events that occurred with your mentors and Pontiff Vocula.”

“Well yeah. You’re accusing our teachers of crimes they didn’t commit, of course we’re going to be annoyed.”

“Indeed, that was to be expected.” Gabriel’s neutral expression dropped into a frown for a second. “I will admit, however, that I did not expect the sheer bevy of insults Mister Fin has thrown my way. Nor the admittedly creative variety.”

“Serge has always been very…imaginative. And even if he’d never admit it, he’s worried about our teachers.” 

“People as strong as them have nothing to worry about. There is little out in the world that would prove to be a challenge to them.” Hm…weirdly, she sounded comforting there. “Hence why we believe it is not possible for them to have been kidnapped.” And there it was. “Now then, I don’t suppose you can inform me of a dungeon nearby, can you?” 

“A dungeon? …Well there’s this one place about a half hour jog from the south gate that Teach used to take us to. Mainly used as a training dungeon. The monsters are pretty basic, mostly ‘giant vermin’ types, so people don’t mind it much.” 

“Thank you for the information. I pray that you do not mind, but I shall need to take off. I shall return as soon as I can.” Bowing to Sue once they exited the castle, Gabe suddenly extended her huge, blue wings, which had that same weirdly solid watery texture as her hair, before quickly taking to the air and flying southward. 

“…” Sue watched Gabe fly away, waiting for the angel to get small enough in the distance before she ran towards Julius’ shop to meet up with everyone. 

Thankfully, all her training made the distant sprint easy for her, and she soon barrelled into The Gold Forge, the smithing shop owned by her teacher. Panting as she caught her breath, Sue looked around and did indeed find not only her team, but Teach’s three workers also standing around.

“Wow, panting already? Did you sprint all the way here or are you just that out of shape?” Great to see Serge was still in perfect form.

“Says the guy who whines when we go up three flights of stairs,” Sue shot back, smirking at Serge as he scoffed, his own mouth turned up in a small grin.

“Seriously you two? Two seconds and you’re already insulting each other?” Martha–one of Teach’s apprentices who usually manned the counter and handled customers, and who happened to be a slender wingdrake with green scales and short brown feathers that swept back on top of her head, wearing a long-sleeved brown shirt and a long blue skirt–sighed in exasperation as she leaned across the counter. And Serge happened to be right beside her, sitting on top of the display cases that he probably should get off of before they broke again.

“It’s what we do,” Sue replied, shrugging and not warning him in the slightest. Not her fault if he got an ass full of glass.

To speed things along, Teach’s other two apprentices were Oliver, a well-built, dark-skinned human guy with coarse and very short blue hair–a couple shades darker than Sue’s, for comparison–who was wearing a yellow bandana and a brown apron over his work clothes, and Andrew, a very muscular city-elf guy with orange hair that went down to his shoulders–usually tied back in a ponytail or a bun when he was working–who was dressed similarly to his boyfriend, though minus the bandana and plus a gold earring in his left ear.

Andrew also just so happened to be Maria’s half-brother, which explained why the two of them were sitting by each other and chatting in the ring of chairs somebody had decided to set up in the center of the shop. And there was an unoccupied seat right by Adrien so Sue knew exactly where she was going.

“Alright, so, is everybody up to speed on what’s going on?” she asked as she sat beside her boyfriend, glancing around the room.

“Um, kind of? Mister Goldforge vanished along with two of his old teammates and that Pontiff guy,” Oliver said, a little hesitantly, “And you also have a bunch of new friends who are hanging around now.”

“Hiya!” Mask said, clearly grinning under their namesake as they waved to Oliver, who raised a hand back in greeting. Well, “grinning”. Glowing? Their body was weird, but cool.

“And there’s also some weird tiger guy who’s following you around,” he continued, lowering his hand and still looking confused.

“Oh yeah, where is Torahiko?” Sue asked, glancing at her boyfriend, “I thought he really was following you around.”

“He was, but my parents are talking with him,” Adrien replied, grinning, “I thought it’d be nice for him to meet my folks and all, and wouldn’t you know, but Serge’s parents were visiting too.”

“Yup, what a weird coincidence.” Serge smirked. “So he’ll probably be occupied for at least a couple hours there. After all, our folks will want to hear all about how our adventure went from our oh so wonderful ‘mentor’.”

Sue snorted, echoed by Sophia and Maria both giggling before Sylsa abruptly clapped her hands together. “All humor aside, could we get on topic?”

“Right, sorry.” Adrien straightened, a serious glint in his eyes that looked really good on him. “So, after leaving the meeting with the Pontiff, Douglas and Tisma walked with me down grab all of you guys and get to the actual temple-dungeon’s entrance at the base of the big upper temple. The old man stayed behind in order to talk with the Pontiff, and none of us saw him past that point, right?”

A chorus of “right”s echoed him. “And once we got at the ‘Gates of Light’, Douglas and Tisma waited until Gabriel said their big goodbye thing and left before sending us in with just Torahiko, so they definitely knew something was up.”

“Adding to that, I noticed Gabe had a weird reaction when I mentioned that Teach vanished along with the others all at the same time,” Sue added, sitting straight too.

“You noticed something on that weird statue face?” Serge asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“Yup, because I’m observant, Mister ‘Master Archer’.”

“Heh, sure. Though I get what you mean. It was their eyes, right?”

“Yup. Gabe’s good at hiding her feelings on her face, but her eyes will shift slightly whenever something actually catches her off guard or bothers her.”

“Um, her?” Soph asked.

“Oh, yeah, Gabriel’s a gal. The king was being pretty pushy with her about it, which was pretty stupid since I’m pretty sure she could cut him in half with her pinky.”

“Crown’s make people arrogant and stupid, so preaches the cleric to the angel,” Serge snarked, earning a snort from Martha.

“Uh, wait, aren’t angels supposed to be genderless?” Andrew asked with a raised hand, which, huh, was a lot like her group with Teach. Was that a habit they all had now?

“Nope, that’s a common misconception,” Maria said, grinning as she raised a finger, apparently trying out Teach’s lecturing pose, “Angels are most commonly known to be non-binary, but there are many who identify as either female or male, owing to the fact that their far less physical bodies allow them an ease with transitioning from whatever state they feel like being i–”

“Topic. Focus. Please.” 

Maria winced, giggling a little nervously as Sylsa frowned at her. “Right, sorry, leaving that for later! So, what’s the deal with the eye thing?”

“Well, I’m just running with a theory now, but I think the Pontiff might’ve done something to Teach,” Sue explained, crossing her arms over her chest, “Gabe definitely knows what it was, so maybe one of her siblings did something? She has three of them, yeah?”

“According to the figurines I bought, yes,” Mask replied, earning a couple odd looks from the people who weren’t used to their quirks, “Though there are rumors of a legendary fifth cardinal, secretly hidden at the center of the compass~!”

“…How the hell does that work? Cardinal refers to ‘cardinal points’, there can’t be a fifth–”

“Anyway,” Sue continued, interrupting Serge and earning an annoyed huff from him, “I think I might be on the right track, especially since the Pontiff probably went missing after Doug and Tiz went to him. So, Syl, what would Doug do if Vocula had Teach killed?”

“Kill him.” Wow, no hesitation. 

“Would he stop there?”

“Oh, no, he’d definitely burn the entire Temple to the ground too. One time a couple of those red mercenaries, the furies or something, broke the windows on a cafe he frequents. They were harassing the owners on behalf of someone with a grudge or something, so Mister Yew burned down all of their houses.”

“…Wait, like, the client’s house?”

“Yes. And also the mercenaries’ office. And their apartments.” Everyone stared at Syl. After a few seconds of silence, she shrugged. “Mister Yew has a very broad view of what acceptable damages are, and he can fix any collateral easily.”

“…Yeah, that makes a weird amount of sense, and kinda adds evidence to my theory.” She probably didn’t need to ask, but still. “So if Vocula had Teach arrested, what would Doug do?”

“Break Mister Goldforge out. And probably sink the prison he was kept in.”

So probably not that. “And what if he was kidnapped? Maybe brought out of the Light Lands or something?”

“…” Sylsa slowly sighed, putting both hands over her face and slowly dragging them down. “The complete moron would decide to kidnap the Pontiff in return…”

“Wait, that part was legit?” Serge blinked while Soph frowned.

“Um, wait, wouldn’t Miss Vlahos stop him? I thought she was supposed to be the most responsible member of their group.”

“…Y’know, considering how the old man is, and considering how Douglas is…” Adrien frowned thoughtfully, leaning back in his seat and staring up at the ceiling. “…She might actually just be responsible in comparison? So compared to those maniacs, she’s totally well-adjusted, but to a normal person…”

“…That makes way too much sense and I hate it.”

“Okay, I barely know who any of these people are, but it sounds like you have a good idea of what happened now, right?” Martha asked, glancing around at everyone, “So what next?”

“Easy. Doug’s crazy and kinda oblivious, but he’s not stupid, so he definitely has a plan,” Sue explained, grinning again, “So what do we need to do to make sure that plan goes alright?”

“Uh…I don’t know what the plan is, so-”

“Stall like a mother fucker,” Serge replied, grinning too.

Exactly. So congrats everybody, looks like we’re putting off the march for a while.” Sue’s smile widened as the rest of her team started to grin too. Or turned a happy yellow, in Mask’s case. “I think it’s about time we start getting those ‘festivals in our honor’ that jackass of a king promised us.”

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