Chapter 46 – A New Morning

Julius felt warm. Really warm, and comfortable. Cozy was a good word. 

Part of that had to go with where he was, but most of it had to do with who he was with. Well, that and the incredibly comfortable blankets he was currently resting under, his arms wrapped around Claire. Up until she started to get up, which jostled him fully awake instead of the cozy, half-asleep state he’d been in. 

Feeling his drowsiness slip away, Julius watched Claire as she sat up, stretching her arms over her head. 

“Hm~” Stretching until her shoulders let out a satisfying pop, Claire looked down at Julius with a fond smile on her face. “Enjoying the view~?”

“It’s a breathtaking one~.” 

“Heh, such a charmer~.” Laying back down, she wrapped her tattooed arm around him. Hm. He didn’t really pay that much attention before, but now that he wasn’t occupied, he could really see how intricately done the tattoos were. 

All three lines of white, black, and red runes were spiraling with one another, but not touching or overlapping. As if they all had equal claim and none were better than the other. And, as they went down her arm, they all wrapped around the sideways crescent she had marked on the back of her hand, forming a sort of cradle and background for the pale, yellow moon. He actually had to twist a little to see it-

“I’m starting to think you like my tattoo more than me~” 

“O-Oh, sorry. Just…found it really interesting.” 

“Of course it is!” She giggled, grinning. “I had these all done with each other in mind, instead of just getting them when I needed them, like some people do. But if you think that one is impressive, then look at this one.” Pulling away from him again, Claire turned and sat on the edge of her bed, moving her now loose, unbraided hair over her shoulder to let Julius fully look at her back. 

Leaving aside the fact that it was just a nice back in general, Julius couldn’t help but stare as he looked over the markings taking up Claire’s skin. Her back was absolutely covered with runes and markings, all in different forms of Infernal, all colored in either white, red, or black, and all spreading out from the three large circles tracing directly down her spine. 

The first, on top, directly below the base of her neck, was a white circle of letters with a small, crowned skull in the center, done in a simple pattern so most of her dark skin continued to show through it. The second, nearer the center of her body, showed an upright sword instead, and every bit of it was done in red. And the third, below that one, closer to the base of her spine, was a pitch black with a second circle inside of it. Though that one looked less like a circle of runes and more like a circular mouth. Considering the inward spikes it had, it probably was a ring of teeth, like a lamprey’s mouth…Hm.

Julius poked the mouth, and had to hold back a laugh as Claire yelped in surprise, her face red again as she glanced back at him. “W-What the hell was that?”

“Heh, sorry, just…I was a little curious if that was an actual mouth.”

“…What.”

He shrugged, grinning as he sat up too. “Well why not? Demon magic is weird enough for tattoos to work like that, right?”

“…Even if that was true, why would you poke it?? Wouldn’t it bite your finger off?”

“…Hm. Good point.”

She gave him a flat look, then promptly broke it, giggling again. “Why do you have to be so cute all the time?”

“I could ask you the same~.”

“Ha, cute~.” She grinned, glancing up and down his body again, obviously enjoying what she saw, before she paused and glanced over at the clock on the wall. “Hn. What time is it…”

Julius just watched as she got up off the bed and walked over there, enjoying the view as she checked the time. “Time for morning fun?”

“Hnn…tempting proposal, but no, we probably shouldn’t stay in bed all day…though Dapper could bring us food…no no, I had a plan for today, and we’re doing that instead. As fun as it would be, we can’t spend all our time having sex.” 

“True. Though I wouldn’t mind…” Ah. Hm. So a weird thought just hit him. A, uh, thing he just remembered, mostly because he was thinking of sex, which led to remembering the previous person he had sex with, which led to an instant realization of what sex can result in and alright, hm. “…So hey, you remember Arancoda, right?”

“…” Claire glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. “The Dragon Lord Galinori Aloisia Osanna Hascimagni Arancoda, yes, I do remember her, and I’m somewhat curious why staring at my tits is making you think of her.”

“Ah…not exactly of her, more like…hm. So.” Alright, be honest, honesty is good for relationships… “…You remember how I said I had sex with her?”

“I do recall, yes.” Oh that probably wasn’t a good tone.

“…So I might’ve…may have, possibly, potentially, based on rumors my friend has told me…knocked her up.”

Claire blinked, then tilted her head, crossing her arms over her chest as she seemed to think about that. “Hn. I did receive reports to that effect, and I suppose the timeframe would line up properly…” She looked back down at him. “Are you sure its yours?”

“…I’m not, but I also think there’s a good chance of it. I don’t know if she’s slept with anyone else at that time, I just think…it’s a pretty good chance.”

“Hn. We should look into that then, at least check things, though it may be best to err on the side of caution and assume the pregnancy was caused by you, which could complicate some plans, though not overmuch…”

“…I’m sorry.”

Claire paused, then shrugged and sat down on the bed. “You do recall you already told me about the sex, right? I forgave you for that, so I’m not going to get mad over the ‘unintended consequences’.” She smiled and leaned in, kissing him on the cheek. “I won’t go saying this isn’t an issue, but I’m not mad at you. You fucked her when there was no commitment to me. You blurted out a proposal and I ran away from it. Honestly, if we hadn’t had those dream meetings to get to know each other…

She shrugged. “Who knows? The past doesn’t matter, aside from being a teaching tool. I’ve learned you’re exceptionally weak to women that are tall, dark, and dominant-”

“H-Hey-”

She put a finger to his lips. “Sh~. And now you know to be more careful with protection. So, why don’t we shelf this issue for now? It’s not a problem, and it may never become one, so give me time to plan for it, and, in the meantime, you can relax and focus more on, say, me~?” 

“…” He swallowed, his throat dry. “Y-Yes ma’am.”

“Good boy~.” She grinned and stood. “Now, let’s get going–ah, right, you need to have clothes on.” It was almost shocking just how quick she could go from…intense, to just normal.

“If we’re going out, then yes, I do.” Okay. Kept his voice steady there. Did not show any…nervousness. Definitely didn’t.

“Right right, first part, we’re getting you some clothes so you’re not showing off to everyone around here.” Cocking her head to the side and crossing her arms over her chest again, she thought for a moment. “Hn…everything I have would be too big for you…but it’d take too long for properly sized clothes to be brought here…hn.” 

Walking over to her closet, she opened it up and dug through it, grabbing the sleeves of random clothes to inspect them. Eventually, she pulled out what looked like a long robe. 

“This should work for now.” Probably because it was a long robe. A long, black robe with a blue trim, kinda like the type mages would wear.

“Ah, wait, I’m only going to be wearing a robe? There’s, uh, nothing else I can wear with it?”

Claire shrugged, blushing a little as she handed it to him. “Yes, that appears to be the facts here. I don’t know where our clothes from last night wound up, so…yeah, here. We can figure the rest out once you have something on.” Well, he could see his tooth necklace on the nightstand and his sword leaned against the desk…Crap, where did he leave his clothes?

“…Are you sure there isn’t anything else?”

“Fairly sure. My normal clothes wouldn’t fit you, and I doubt you’d want to wear my underwear,” she replied, then paused. She cocked her head in thought again, her face slowly starting to get redder, before abruptly shaking her head. “R-Right right, no, that’s a…bad idea. Definitely a bad idea.”

“…” Yeah, he wasn’t gonna ask…Well, it wasn’t like he minded the idea of hanging around Claire with only a robe on. It was all the other people around that he was worried about. 

Still, it was his only option, so on it went. The robe did admittedly feel pretty comfy. Very soft against his skin and decently warm, and now he was picturing Claire doing exactly what he was doing and welp, good thing the fabric was thick. 

At any rate, the two of them were soon both actually dressed for the day–though it did take Julius a while to actually get off of the bed, mostly because he decided to watch Claire dressing–and were off to…

“Uh, hey, where are we going?” Julius asked as the two of them walked through the halls. 

“To the towers, to meet the generals you haven’t met, and to show off.” Well that was blunt. 

“Right…there was that goblin, kitsune, and golem, right?” 

“Glad to see you remember, speaking of-” Turning a corner, she walked toward a set of doors at the end of the halls. “-Valon resides here and not in the towers.” 

“I’m guessing that’s the golem?” He didn’t think anyone else around would have a name so similar to Claire’s.

“Correct. They’re my own personal bodyguard, hence why they stay here.” 

“Huh…” Well, now he was wondering what kind of person Valon would be. While unusual, it wasn’t unheard of for a golem to be sapient if their creator was skilled enough, or if they’d lived for a long time. So someone created by Claire would be pretty interesting, given what he’d seen from the small vision before. 

However, he still wasn’t prepared to walk into a large library full of tomes with a mythril golem sitting in the middle at a table by themself.

It was a round room, the shelves along the walls curling with them while some more rows of books stretched throughout the room. There were a few tables around, mostly set around the center of the room, and the one that the tall, broad-shouldered golem sat at was a simple, square one made from a dark wood right in the middle of them all. And wow, they looked even more intense in reality.

Valon’s face and body seemed to be carved to look as detailed and intimidating as possible, their silver-green “skin” etched into the shape of a fiercely snarling ogre with its sharp teeth fully bared, including both upper and lower tusks that curved out from their mouth. Add that with the four horns curling up from their bare head and the carved swirls curling all around their heavily detailed muscles and Valon somehow looked both incredibly rough and bizarrely artistic. It must’ve taken ages to properly carve every detail to look that nice…oh, and they were also bare chested, showing off all of those details to anyone looking.

[Greetings, Mistress Valondrac, Sir Goldforge.] Julius glanced up from Valon’s chest to their eyes, meeting the luminous teal orbs set there in a permanent glare by the metal around them as they spoke in a kinda weird, deep tone that almost echoed. [I hope the morning finds you well.]

“Uh, yeah, hi?” Julius raised a hand in greeting–

“Hello Val!” Claire, meanwhile, grinned as she took a seat across from Valon, then leaned over the table to look at their book. “What’re you reading today?”

[Raghin Bonescribe’s ‘Eternal Conflict: A History of the Middle Continents’. It provides both an overview and details regarding the relationships between the Light Lands and the Demon Lands throughout history, starting in the Third Era.] Valon looked at Julius. [Chiefly, it refers to the long history of invasions and counter-invasions between darklanders and lightlanders.]

“…Interesting thing to read when your ‘mistress’ brings home a guy from the Light Lands,” Julius said as he took a seat too, frowning. 

[Indeed. I thought it would aid me in better understanding the nations’ point of view, and, in turn, give me information I could use in speaking with you.] Oh. Okay, so that probably wasn’t a passive-aggressive jab at him then. [If you would care to provide further information, I would greatly appreciate it as well.]

“Oh, sure. What do you want to know?”

[Could you describe to me the current regions of the Light Lands, the primary sapient races within those nations, your largest religious and cultural institutions, and the leaders of said regions?]

“…I could. We’d be here for a while, but yeah, I could.”

[Wonderful. Please begin.]

“…”

“Nope nope, cutting in here,” Claire spoke up, though she was noticeably smirking, “Julius is spending today with me, Val. You can ask him about the Light Lands later.”

[My apologies then, Mistress. I did not realize you were on a date. Your demeanor did not match with the typical attitudes present in the research materials I studied.]

Well shit, now he had to ask. “‘Research materials’?”

[Indeed. In order to better understand various courtship rituals between organics, I studied materials such as ‘Sails of Passion’, ‘A Conquered Heart’, ‘Lust on the Winds’, ‘An Eternal Embrace: An Untold Tale of Forbidden Passion’, ‘The Lust Lord’s Lover’-]

“Val, did you just read trashy romance novels?” Claire asked flatly.

Valon…blinked? Their eyes kinda flickered. [Are they unacceptable material, Mistress? I had obtained them from your collections-] 

“And we’re changing the subject! Julius, change the subject.”

“…Uh…” Okay, shit, what was he supposed to say now–And that’s when his stomach growled, saving his ass. “…Wanna get breakfast?”

“Eh? Wait, right, shit, we didn’t have food yet. Thought I was forgetting something…Val, where’s Dapper?”

[I believe he is attending to General Marcusson and his companion, Mistress,] Valon promptly responded.

“What? Why’s he attending to Fergus first?”

[His companion asked for service, Mistress, and Head Butler Carver felt it best to attend to his needs, as he is a guest of yours and you were not yet awake.]

Wait… “Is this guest named Cyrus?” Julius asked, already sure he knew the answer.

[Indeed. The guest in question is the musician Cyrus Gerrish, who arrived in your company yesterday, Sir Goldforge.] And everything fell right into place.

“Val, I really don’t care what Fergus and Julius’s friend got up to last night. I just care that Dapper apparently isn’t around to bring us stuff,” Claire complained, then paused with a sudden grin, “Alright, better idea, let’s go directly to the kitchens! We can just count it as a part of the tour and get some actual food in our bellies.”

[Then I shall accompany you,] Valon said as they stood–Oh, so they weren’t just bare-chested, they were totally naked. And smooth down in their lower half, though the way their ridges formed kinda looked-

“No staring at my subordinate’s crotch, Julius. Val, put on pants or something so Julius doesn’t get distracted.”

[…Do I have to?] …Well, he didn’t expect that response from the golem.

“Yes, you do, because it’s an order. At least put on a loincloth, or you’re not coming with.”

[Hmm.] Despite Valon’s completely static expression, Julius got the weird impression that they were pouting as they turned away from the table.

“…So-”

“Shut it.” 

“…’Sails of-”

“Shut. It.” Heh. Grinning to himself, Julius continued to look around the library, before pausing when he noticed a small piece of paper on one of the shelves. 

Ban List:

General Sieda Yellowrock

Cyrus Gerrish

“How the fuck did Cyrus already get banned from this place?” 

“Hm? Oh, don’t worry, Val’s just very protective of the books here. They don’t want anything to dirty or damage them, so they preemptively banned Cyrus.”

“…You know what, fair enough.” 

And with that, and with Valon now wearing a simple red loincloth that draped over their non-existent naughty bits, the three of them headed through Claire’s castle to the kitchens, which were a couple floors down, leading Julius to think that he really should start counting the amount of floors that were actually in this place. Maybe he could make a map?

Navigation aside, the kitchens of Castle Valondrac were pretty damn big. Bigger than the ones he’d seen back at Queenshill Castle, actually. Which, considering Claire seemed to have a whole lot of guards and servants stationed here, probably did make sense.

It was also pretty busy at the moment, with the smells of eggs, sausages, and various other breakfast foods being cooked filling the air as a variety of different chefs worked at their stations. 

“Oh, mornin’ Overboss!” one such chef, a portly orc with short, dark hair covered by a net and a chef hat and lime-green skin covered by an apron and chef’s clothes greeted as she noticed their group. She handed the pot in her hands off to what seemed to be an elvish assistant, albeit one with purple skin and an odd wooden mask over their face–kinda like that Dapper guy, now that he thought about it–and headed over to them, beaming wide. “And this must be yer new paramour! Nice ta meetcha.” 

“Ah, likewise,” Julius replied, extending his hand to her.

The chef raised a dark eyebrow at his gesture before grinning wider and taking his hand, firmly shaking it with a surprisingly solid grip. “Ha! Ain’tchu a polite one! Ah, but where’re my manners? Bekah Beast-Roast, Head Chef’a Castle Valondrac, yer service!”

“Fantastic introduction there you two, but also, Bekah, both of us are hungry and we’d like food now,” Claire cut in, raising a hand to get the chef’s attention.

“Please,” Julius added.

“Oh, yeah, please.”

Bekah snorted, chuckling. “I see yer a good influence on the boss already! Ha, welcome ta the family!” Julius didn’t need to look to know Claire blushed again. “Breakfast is the usual, boss, but if ya have any particular requests, Goldforge?”

“Um…not really. And you can call me Julius.”

“Oh, so can I call you something special then too~?” Julius went stiff, fighting his natural reaction to elbow the person that just wrapped a slender arm around his waist without him even noticing-

“Kiyoshi. Off.” And then said arm immediately let go of Julius and backed up quickly, a nervous giggle slipping out as he turned and glanced at the woman in question. And also tried to ignore how Claire’s commanding tone sent a shiver up his spine.

“Right! Gotcha, no touching your Julius, understood perfectly!” the obvious kitsune–orange hair, black kimono, little fox ears; yup, that all checked out–replied, backing away with a smile, her hands raised in surrender, “He’s yours, not mine, so no touchy from Kiyo, promise!”

“Good.” 

“Uh…Hi, Kiyoshi. Nice to meet you?” Keeping her distance as Claire kept her narrowed eyes on her, Kiyoshi just smiled at his reply. 

“Pleasure to meet you as well, Julius~. I hope you’ll forgive me, I was unaware you were completely off the market right now~.” Smirking, she leaned forward and stage whispered. “But if you know anyone who isn’t, feel free to introduce them to me~.” 

[If it is a lover you are looking for, Lady Kiyoshi, our guest Cyrus Gerrish is apparently very accomplished,] Valon offered. 

Oh wow, that was the deadest look Julius had ever seen on someone. 

[…Did I misspeak?]

“Hmph, if I married every two bit charmer with commitment issues that tried flirting with me, I would have an army of my own. A very fickle army.”

“…So, hey, is there a dining room around here?” Julius decided to ask after a few seconds of awkward silence.

“Yes, it’s right through the doors over there, so let’s go there and not deal with Kiyo’s commitment issues!” Claire suggested, grabbing Julius’s hand and leading him away as Kiyoshi gave a mock-offended gasp.

“How rude! Not everyone can discover the love of their life after almost fighting them in the field.”  With an exasperated pout–and a slight blush from Claire–the kitsune began to follow them through the kitchen.

“…Why are you following us?” Claire asked, frowning back at her. And Valon, technically, since they were still following them too.

“What? Can’t I have some breakfast too? Besides, it’s not like you’ll be alone there. Or could it be that you want some alone time with your new hubby~?” 

“…Hm.” Staying quiet, Claire continued to lead the way, her face obviously turning a little red. 

Ignoring the temptation to tease her, Julius glanced over at Kiyo and tried to find a topic to talk about. “So…you’re very…sneaky.” Well, a topic was a topic. 

“Thank you~! Stealth and illusions are my specialty~.” Okay, good topic then. 

“I can tell. For the former, anyways.” 

“If you want to see the latter, I’d have no problem with showing off to you~.”

Huh, Claire’s grip tightened on his hand as she pushed through the door into a, well, dining room, one with a large, round table and a couple smaller ones set around the room. “Kiyo.” 

…So apparently she was the jealous type. Interesting. Also conflicting with what he already knew. “Why weren’t you this upset about Arancoda?”

Claire nearly stumbled on the stone floor, her face a bright red as she turned to him. “…Th-That’s different.”

“Uh, how?”

“She’s not one of mine.”

“…Huh?”

“Not totally sure what you two are talking about, but I’m definitely amused right now~,” Kiyoshi said as she walked right past both of them, a cheerful grin on her face.

[I believe Mistress Valondrac refers to the Dragon Lord Arancoda’s lack of presence with her social sphere,] Valon chimed in, [Our Mistress has a tendency to disregard those outside of her influence until they become important. I believe it to be a form of compartmentalization to allow herself to both maintain connections only with those she views as important while giving distance to those that require removal to facilitate the acquisition of her ambitions.]

“Val, sweetie, I told you stop psychoanalyzing me,” Claire deadpanned.

[My apologies, Mistress.]

“Then why’d you do it?”

[I believed it best to let Sir Goldforge know of your quirks.]

“…I don’t have quirks.”

Julius tried to hold back his immediate impulse to laugh, something Kiyoshi didn’t bother with as she took her seat over at the larger table–Wait, two of those chairs already had people in them. 

One of which was the ever-familiar Leok, while the other was a new sight. Specifically, it was the sight of a soot-covered goblin. Extremely soot-covered at that, to the point where he couldn’t even tell what clothes the goblin was wearing. He could vaguely make out a tattered bandana in her short, messy, ash-red hair, and he was pretty sure there was a shirt and…maybe pants there.

“Hey there Sieda, meet Claire’s hubby~,” Kiyoshi said as she waved at the two. 

“Oh? Hey hey hey Claire’s hubby!” Hopping off her chair, Sieda walked right over to them, grinning wide and showing off her sharp teeth. Standing at the same height as his stomach, she seemed to be the average height for a goblin. “How’s it going?” 

“Uh…okay…you doing good?” 

“Hm? Yeah? Why’d you ask?” 

“This is his first time seein’ ya Sieda, he’s not used to seein’ ya after one of yer mishaps,” Leok explained as she got up too, towering above her colleague as she stood beside her.

“Oh! Well well well, don’t worry, no need for concern! Minimal damage to my lab and me!” Crossing her arms, she tilted her head to the side and pouted. “Though my experiment was a bust.” 

“Experiment?” 

“Sieda here leads all the research and development projects of my forces,” Claire explained, “Given that she personally works on everything she can, it’s not uncommon to see her like this after something goes awry.” 

“Yup yup yup! Boss has me working on a lot of important stuff, but Leok said I needed a break!”

“You’ve been stuffed in yer room for the past week, if I didn’t pull ya out, ya would have beaten the boss’ record-”

Leok.” 

“Ha, damn, doin’ the demon voice already? Kiyo must’ve really been pokin’ yer spine today.”

“Only a little~.” Kiyo giggled, earning a glare from Claire.

“…Let’s just sit and have food,” she grumbled after a second, before doing exactly that, taking a seat in the fanciest chair at the table, “Julius, you’re over by me.”

“Oh, okay.” He shrugged, following after Claire and sitting in the chair next to hers. It was pretty comfy.

“Aww, you’re not going to have him sit in your lap~?” Kiyoshi teased, a confident grin on her face despite the fact that she was sitting on the other side of the table and even then, she seemed to have made sure Leok’s seat was closer to Claire than she was. 

“…” Claire just glared at her subordinate, obviously biting back an irritated response, then suddenly smirked and tapped her foot once. About a second later, Kiyoshi’s chair completely collapsed, sending her right to the floor with a surprised yelp.

“Hey! Rude!” 

“Heh.” With a victorious smile, Claire leaned back in her chair. “With that out of the way, since the three of you are here, I suppose we’ll go to the red tower first.” 

“Huh? Is there a reason for that?” Julius asked.

“The three’a us live in that tower,” Leok explained, “Boss over there has all the generals ‘side from Val livin’ in the towers.” 

“My original plan was to have three generals in each tower who best fit my matrons,” Claire added, “But then they all just decided to stay in whichever one they felt like. At least they’re not arguing about who lives where anymore.”  

“Ya say that as if it weren’t mainly Fergus and Jonathan.” 

She shrugged. “It wasn’t. Autumn also didn’t want anyone loud in hers to disturb her. Same for Seth.” 

“I was good with whichever!” Sieda chimed in, grinning as Kiyoshi finally picked herself up off of the floor and some of the chefs…servants? Probably not waiters, since it wasn’t a restaurant…point was, that was when some people exited the kitchen and started serving them food.

“Ya say that, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence ya set up in the tower with the forge,” Leok replied as a large platter of steak and scrambled eggs was set down in front of her.

“True true true, that is where it was best for me, but I still could’ve set up anywhere! I’d just have to move around between the towers, maybe make an easy transport between them, like maybe a rail or a moving walkway, oh, I could repurpose some of the bridges-”

[General Yellowrock, remember to breathe,] Valon spoke up.

She paused, took a big gulp of air, then promptly continued whatever weird tangent she was on as Julius glanced towards Claire. “So are they always like this?”

“You have no idea.” 

Julius really didn’t at the time, but as breakfast progressed and the generals continued interacting, he got a pretty good idea of how bad they could be. He also started to wonder how in the world they could ever actually be a threat to the Light Lands.

Then they actually got to the Red Tower and he immediately figured it out.

“Holy shit, that’s a lot of weapons…” So, as it turned out, the Red Tower was not only home to Castle Valondrac’s forge; it was home to an entire production line. Multiple lines, from what Julius could see, and there were a whole hell of a lot of blades, armor, and cannons being produced there, plus a number of other devices that he didn’t even recognize.

“Yeah I know, isn’t it great?” Sieda asked, beaming as she led the way through her huge workshop, which was full of other goblins and orcs acting as her assistants, all noticeably wearing fireproof armor. “But all this stuff is just the more mass produced stuff. My personal forge is where I work on the unique stuff!” 

“Must be important if a general is working on it.” 

“It is! Look I’ll show you!” Grabbing the sleeve of his robe, Sieda began to pull him along to a door at the back of the forge. Walking through it, Julius found himself in a somewhat messy forge; only “somewhat” because there were some goblins tidying up the room after what looked like an explosion had gone off on one of the desks, blanketing the area in ash. 

“Look look look, it’s this!” Sieda wasn’t deterred by the mess though, and she walked right over and grabbed what seemed to be some kind of sleeker cannon that someone could carry, if it wasn’t for the fact that one side had been blown open. “Well. It was.”  

“A portable cannon?” 

“Almost! A portable magic cannon!” Setting it down, she walked over to another  desk and grabbed a large sheet of paper. “It’s simple really, you know how magic gems work yeah?” 

“Yes? They’re condensed magic that people make, right?” 

“Yup yup yup! Well, partially, there are natural forming ones, but their shape makes them hard to use, unless they’re small, anyways, though plenty of mining operations try their best to get them out and they can be handy but those aren’t important! Now normally they’re really only used for everyday use, right? Cooking, cooling, and the like?” 

Julius blinked, then tried to figure out whether she meant the artificial or natural ones…probably the former? “Well, yeah. It’s what they were made for.” 

“Correct again!” Okay, good. “And they’re generally rather small for ease of use, and better control cuz they’re generally rather weak at that size, so there’s no need for large, mortal-made magic gems, which would be way too big and way too explody.” 

“Yeah? Any reason for the explanation of this stuff?” 

“Simple! I figured out a way to use large, mortal-made stones!” Pointing at the paper, which had the design of the magic cannon sketched across it, Sieda pointed right to what seemed to be a circular indent at the back of the canon. “Details aside, the cannon here focuses the power to shoot a beam of magic at whatever is being aimed at!” 

“…What?” 

“It’s like the stuff mages do! But, well, without the control of it after it goes off. This just kinda goes in a straight direction, like a normal cannon but without the need for an object to launch.” 

“Well…that sounds really strong.” 

“It is! I just need to be able to properly channel the magic!” 

“Huh…kinda sounds like the problem the Rosiavan’s had.”

“Hm? Would that problem have to do with whatever it is they’re keeping under wraps?” Claire asked, leaning in curiously and definitely not startling him at all. What was with people sneaking up on him today?

“Oh, uh, yeah. It was a whole thing with the core of the Metal Temple and all. They needed help with finding a power source for the vehicles they were making. Specifically these, like, earthships meant to go underground.” 

“I see…those would work wonders at getting past enemy defenses if made properly. Though I imagine they didn’t get those in time if they tried to use a temple core.” 

“And why’s that?” 

“Let’s just say I’ve had my own share of trouble with the Lightning Core.” Problems? What did she mean by–

“Uh…boss, Sieda is doing the whole blank eyed thing again,” Leok said as she gestured at the wide-eyed goblin. 

“…Is she okay?” Julius asked.

“Oh, don’t worry, she gets like this when a new invention starts to form in her head,” Claire explained, shrugging, “She’ll be fine in a second or two.”

[General Yellowrock, like many brilliant inventors, is compelled by a number of eccentricities,] Valon added, [Thankfully, none are harmful compulsions, but merely quirks of her mentality.]

“Valon, you’re not a therapist, stop doing that.”

[I could be.]

“I-Do you want to??”

Valon tilted their head, apparently considering it. [It would be a rewarding profession for one driven to aid others, yet I find myself preferring the curiosities of research and likely would find such a field tiresome.]

“Then quit it with the commentaries about people’s ‘quirks’.”

[Stop hiring incredibly bizarre and fascinating people then.]

“Aw, you know Lady Claire can’t do that~,” Kiyoshi chimed in, wandering over from where she’d been poking at…some weird machine, “She loves having us weirdos around way too much to let us go~.”

“Not like I have much of a choice. Being weird just seems to come with powerful fighters.” 

“Hm~? In that case wouldn’t you be the weirdest of us all, Lady Claire~?” 

“I-…w-what does that mean?” 

“I wonder~” 

Letting out a quiet chuckle, Julius smiled as he watched Kiyoshi tease Claire. Up until Leok placed a firm hand on his shoulder. 

“So how ‘bout it dragonslayer, ya up fer a rematch?” she asked, grinning down at him, “Trainin’ room’s right upstairs, and I wanna see how much that blood magic changes things for ya.” 

“Uh…well…do you have a sparring uniform or something I can use?” 

“Hm? Why the fuck would I have something like that? If ya don’t want that robe ta get dirty, just take it off and we can fight like that.” 

“Ah…I really can’t.” Feeling his face heat up, he glanced away, scratching at his bearded cheek. “I…only have this…” 

“Oh?” Kiyoshi immediately stopped teasing Claire, grinning over at him instead. “I fail to see why that would be a problem~. You can both fight nude to make it even~.” 

“…Th-That-” 

“Sure, I don’t mind,” Leok said as she crossed her arms over her chest, grinning. 

“L-Leok, you can’t just agree to th-” 

“Sure she can! And I’m sure no one minds, right? Sieda, Val?”

“Huh? Sure sure sure, do whatever you wanna do, I got ideas now, gotta work,” Sieda absently replied, heading over to one of her workbenches, grabbing a pen and promptly getting to work with whatever ideas were filling her head.

[I have no objections. Such activities are common in a number of communities,] Valon added, also not helping Julius in the slightest.

“Ah, but, that’s…not really-” Shit, what kind of objection could he-

“If there’s a problem, why don’t you just ask Lady Claire if it’s okay? After all, she’s in charge~.” Well that was better. Julius sighed in some relief as he felt the weight lift off his shoulders. 

At least until he actually looked over at Claire and noticed how brightly she was blushing as she stared at him. And then she immediately averted her eyes when he looked, outright refusing to make eye contact with him.

“…Claire?” 

“…” 

The silence stretched as Julius found himself stuck between a smiling kitsune, a battle-ready orc, an implacable golem, and a blushing demon lord.

Was it too late to spend the day in bed…?

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