Chapter 49 – Meeting the In-Laws

So Julius was in a dining room now, from what he could tell. 

A really damn fancy one, with huge, dark windows covered by long curtains taking up the left-hand wall and a rectangular table covered by a black tablecloth in the center with three large chandeliers hanging over it. There was even a fireplace set in the far wall and a fish tank along the right one. Also some black doors were set around, probably leading to places, but what really held his attention was the three gigantic women–goddesses, to be specific–that were sitting at the table.

Marrow was obvious and recognizable–hell, she was sitting directly across from him at the head of the table–though she was wearing some fancy military uniform instead of her usual armor. It was the kind with a long-sleeved jacket and a half-cape; both in red because of course, and embroidered with gold.

The other two at the table were new to Julius, though they were definitely striking and almost seemed like they were deliberately contrasting each other.

The one on the left, closer to the windows, was thin and gaunt, and wore a fancy white dress that was covered with veils, completely covering her face. Every part of her body seemed to be covered, actually, what with the gloves on her hands and such. It almost looked like a wedding dress…but it actually reminded him more of a funeral gown.

The one on the right, by the fish tank and all those tapestries lining the wall, was also wearing a dress, though hers was black and more frilly, with poofy sleeves and wide skirts, along with flowers clearly patterned down her front and a wide, lace-rimmed hat on her head. Her hands were bare aside from some silvery rings set with onyxes and her face was uncovered, showing off her bizarrely stitched mouth. 

Oh, and the woman was a pitch-black herself. Kinda disconcerting, but okay then. She also had a raven perched on her shoulder; a very large one with white feathers on its head. Only its head, for some reason. Almost looked like a skeleton in a cloak…Dammit, he was forgetting something again…

“…Uh…so, what do you need to talk to me about?” Julius asked as he stayed standing, not taking the seat yet. Then he actually thought about what kind of situation he was in and he tried to smile politely. “Ah, hi? Hello, uh…your…graces? I’m…May I present my…” Fuck, how did etiquette work? Augh, they were all staring at him…

The white goddess snorted and leaned back in her seat, blatantly unimpressed while the black goddess made some kind of…hissing noise, her hand going to her mouth–oh, she was giggling at him. Welp. Clearly he was off to a great start here.

“Rot, Drought, may I present to you my recently rejoined vassal, Julius Goldforge,” Marrow introduced with an amused smile of her own, “Julius, these are my sisters and fellow Matriarchs: Rot, the God of Conquest and Plague, and Drought, the God of Deprivation and Aristocracy. Or Thirst, if you want to be concise.”

“Ah…H-Hello…it’s my pleasure to make your acquaintance…” 

“It truly is only yours,” Rot said as she looked down upon him. He couldn’t see much of her face through all the veils, but he was pretty sure she was scowling at him.

“…Right.”

“You can sit down now,” Marrow pointed out with a small smirk.

“Right.” So he did. The seat was nice. Pretty comfy. “So…you all wanted to talk to me?”

[In a sense, yes.] Oh gods, that felt weird. [More so Marrow here wished for us to meet you.]

“Why wouldn’t I? I already know all I need to know about him, but you two haven’t met him before,” Marrow said, shrugging, “So it’s only right you decide on how you feel about him.”

“I already decided.” So Rot clearly hated him for some reason, which was weird because Julius was pretty sure he’d never even interacted with any of her followers. Oh, wait, Claire counted as one of those…Fuck it, might as well bite the bait.

“Did I do something to upset you?” he asked the white goddess, trying to meet her gaze as calmly as possible, which was a little tricky because her veils were covering basically everything.

“No, I’m just mad because obviously I hate everything and can’t have a shred of reason behind my obviously unjustified anger, Marrow.” …Ah. So he was stepping in the middle of something then. Hm.

Marrow just sighed. “I didn’t say anything like that. I just said-”

“Yeah, you just told me to go fuck myself, just with those fancy polite words you two cunts think you can use to burrow out of every hole you dig!”

[Why am I getting yelled at? I wasn’t involved in this argument.]

“BULLSHIT YOU’RE NOT! WHO WAS THE CUNT THAT ENCOURAGED CLAIRE TO CHASE THIS PATHETIC BITCH IN THE FIRST PLACE?!” Ahhh. So it was about him. Hm.

“Hey, I don’t pick pathetic vassals.” Why was that the thing she argued against? 

“Ah, if I may?” Wow, those were some heavy glares. “Even if she encouraged it, Claire was the one to made the choice-” 

Who gave you permission to speak? Julius very carefully did not let himself flinch. He also didn’t look down. He really didn’t want to see if his skin actually was crawling with worms or if she was just making him feel like it.

[Rot, honey, let the little human speak, and then you can air your grievances towards him,] Drought chided, idly taking a grape from the table and feeding it to her raven. 

“…” 

Rot slumped back in her chair, staring at her sister instead of Julius, so he decided to take the chance to speak again, “…I don’t exactly know what’s going on, but I imagine you probably don’t like me because of who I am, right? Whole ‘lightlander hero’ and all.” 

“Hmph.” 

“I also imagine you might be worried I might try to stop Claire from succeeding with her ‘conquest’, right?” 

“…” Nailed it in one, apparently. 

[Really? That’s what eating at you, Rot? Didn’t we already discuss this issue?]

“Wasn’t so much us discussing, more so her yelling,” Marrow muttered as she crossed her arms over her chest, earning an immediate and obvious glare from her paler sister.

“YOU WERE YELLING TOO!” 

“BECAUSE YOU WOULDN’T STOP YELLING!” 

[Really, must you two fight in front of the little human?] 

YOU SHUT UP!” yelled the two bickering goddesses. 

[…] And now Drought was pouting and wow, was it getting hot in here?

Julius swallowed, his throat suddenly feeling…bizarrely wet, like there was something moving under his skin and gods, his heart was racing hard. There was this sudden feeling that he needed to bend and grovel and rage and fight all at the same time and his eyes were bulging and his ears were ringing–

“E-Excuse me!” With shaking arms, Julius forced himself up, trying his best to stand up straight and not crumple under the immense pressure the gods were giving off. “I just want to say, I have no intention of making Claire give up her conquests!” 

There was a sharp CRACK as Rot’s head jerked towards him, the goddess suddenly looming right over him, looking far larger than she should’ve been. “Really now? Is that so? You don’t have any intention of getting in the way of my girl’s conquests? You don’t want to stop her from claiming your precious Light Lands? You don’t want to stop her from putting the resisting to the blade and ruling those who fall into her grasp? You, of all people, support her grand ambition, oh heroic slave of the damned Rakuli? Is that what you are claiming? IS THAT YOUR TRUTH?

His eyes hurt. His eyes really hurt, burning from the intensity of the eyeless god. But Julius still stood firm and met her blind gaze. “Sure, why not?”

“…”

“…”

[…]

“…” Julius shrugged, trying to ignore just how fast his heart was racing as the three goddesses stared at him while also coming up with something that wasn’t quite bullshit but would convince them not to explode his eyes or whatever was happening. “I think Claire would be good for the Light Lands. I don’t really want her murdering people or killing anyone I care about, but she doesn’t want to either, and I don’t think she really needs to come in with a massive army and swarm over everyone. She can do it slowly and subtly, probably. Maybe position things so the Dark Lands become a major power everyone has to rely on? I’m sure she has plans, she said she wants to make sure the whole thing works with ‘minimal fatalities’, and peace really does seem to be her current plan. Sure, I’m probably biased and want things to work out well because I love her, but if she can rein in the worst elements and promote the best, why not help her go for it?”

“…It won’t happen.” Rot scowled, leaning back in her seat again and propping her head up on a clenched fist, her elbow resting on the armest. “There won’t be peace between the Demonic and the Divine. Force is the only thing those cretins understand.”

“Well, that hasn’t really worked out for you so far, has it?”

“Watch your tongue, slave.

“I can’t really be a slave if they threw me out, can I?” Julius shrugged as some tears rolled down his cheeks. By this point, he was just powering through the pain. “My gods didn’t want me because I didn’t do things according to their rules. Sure, I could blame it on a certain someone for giving me power I never asked for-”

“Hey!”

“-but they wanted to get rid of me because of it,” he continued, ignoring Marrow’s huffy pout, “I can’t go home because of them, so I’m not about to fall in line and march to their beat. My loyalty has always been to my family, and as far as I’m concerned, Claire’s a part of mine now.”

Rot just scowled. “Pithy, sentimental tripe. Words are nothing, you pathetic prick, and I don’t give a shit! You want to preach to me about fucking loyalty? Well how about you prove it.

Rot grabbed the front of her veils and ripped them straight off, baring her pale, blistered, and utterly ruined face. Her pure white skin was a misshapen mixture of boils, lacerations, open sores, and outright rotted flesh, twisted into an enraged scowl. Though, weirdly, that wasn’t actually what Julius wound up focusing on. 

Instead, his brain, in all its infinite wisdom, decided to note that the furious goddess actually looked a whole lot like both of her sisters. Like he could actually see the family resemblance, especially in the shape of the nose and cheekbones.

“Huh.” He glanced over at Marrow, who looked very serious at the moment but also hm, yeah, they both had kinda pointed noses. Well, probably best to focus–That was a gigantic worm coming out of her eye socket, okay then.

So Julius had been ignoring that a little–the fact that Rot has totally empty eye sockets with an endless expanse of a pure white void in them, one that was making his skin crawl every time he looked at it–but now a huge, white worm demon thing was coming from it as she bent over the table and that was just incredibly difficult not to pay attention to.

[Ah, I suppose this means we won’t be getting to tea anytime soon…] Drought sighed while Marrow grimaced.

“Really, Rot? You couldn’t leave the demon creation for later? You really needed to do this right here and now?”

“YES I DID, NOW FUCK OFF,” Rot snarled, before grabbing the worm out of her face and slamming it down onto the table where it wriggled and squealed, its circular mouth opening wide to bare multiple rings of exceedingly sharp teeth and oh good, that was an eyeball in that mouth, okay.

“I hope you realize you cannot ever call me unreasonable after this little display.”

“Like you have any room to talk, dumbass!”

“Who was the one who just spawned a demonic larva right here on the table?” Larva? Like this thing could get bigger?

“Who’s the one who still hasn’t dismissed her own demon bitch!?”

Julius paused, then glanced behind him. Standing at the wall there was Tenvoc, who apparently had never left. “…Why are you still here?”

Tenvoc shrugged. “No one dismissed me, and this was all gettin’ interestin’.”

“…I’m glad you find this entertaining.”

“Aw, thanks, I appreciate that.”

Julius just sighed and turned away from the sarcastic demon and back towards the very angry goddesses and the far more hostile demon that was definitely getting bigger with some distinctly unpleasant-sounding ripping noises as its skin bulged and tore. Hm. Maybe he could just leave? …If he knew how to, anyways. 

Gritting his teeth, Julius did his best to still his beating heart, ignoring the sharp taste of the blood leaking into his mouth from his nose. 

“Are you seriously about to have him fight a demonic larva barehanded?” Marrow complained, still mid-argument.

“Oh what’s this shit now? Do you seriously doubt your bitch vassal that much? Or is the little shit just too weak to handle himself?”

“…Julius, don’t you dare lose.” Well. That was a nice vote of confidence…

Shit, this wasn’t good. With the sheer pressure of the three goddesses in front of him, he couldn’t properly control his blood. His constantly, intensely beating heart was robbing him of his control and his normal magic wasn’t properly responding either. As it stood, he was just a normal human up against a demonic being created straight from a god. 

Well only one thing to do, or so the immense amount of berserker rage going out of control in him said.

Rushing onto the table, Julius jumped up onto the larva, and grappled it, ignoring the slimy sensation of its body as he dug his fingers into its fle–oh god there were tiny larva inside of it. Biting back the vomit in his throat as larvae spilled out of the larger demon’s wounds, Julius continued to dig his fingers in it to try and tear away at its body. 

Pulling as hard as he could, larvae and blood continued to spill out–and in that instant, the squealing larva rolled over and slammed down, pinning Julius under its weight and beginning to crush him, his bones crying out as they started to break. 

Pushing up as best he could, Julius ignored the smaller larvae spilling into him and wriggling around on his face, trying his best to shove the damn thing off him when he suddenly felt the cold sensation of steel and an abrupt weight appear on his back. Right, his sword would show up whenever he was in danger, but why the fuck had it picked his back to appear on!? He couldn’t reach it like that! AND WHY WAS IT SHAKING LIKE IT WAS AFRAID?!

In that moment, panic began to set in as his mind was consumed with the knowledge that he couldn’t do anything but delay the inevitable. 

For a brief second, Julius wished he could have seen Claire one last time. Then that wish was overwhelmed by an immense amount of burning rage because FUCK THAT RESIGNATION, HE HAD PEOPLE HE LOVED FAR TOO MUCH TO JUST

And then the larva was gone. 

Well, no, that wasn’t accurate, part of it was still there. Mainly, the little larvae that had already spilled out and the part that had been right above him had been completely erased, with only little bits of ash floating in the air marking where they’d once been while the remaining, charred half wriggled in agony further down the table.

“Are you fucking serious!? You just met him and you already tried to kill him!?” 

[That was more Rot with Marrow encouraging her.]

“Hey! Don’t blame me, she was the one who started shit!” As Marrow complained and the remaining pieces of flesh were thrown off him, Julius felt himself being pulled into a warm embrace. Which was nice, because he was pretty burnt out at the moment.

“That doesn’t change the fact that the three of you are leaking your stupid ‘godly’ essences! His body was tearing itself apart!” 

Huh…he must’ve lost a lot of blood, because he had to be seeing things. There was no way Claire was hugging him tight to her when she was this undressed…Huh, she had a lot of hickies on her neck. More than he left her with. Hm.

[Again, I would blame that more on these two and their little spat, dearheart. Off topic, strawberries?]

“Fuck you, I like them.” Ah, okay, now she had a cloak on–Oh.

“Uh…h-hi Claire.” He grinned weakly up at her, trying to ignore how warm his face felt–Ah, wait, that might be the blood. And that’s when he felt a sudden rush of soothing energy and…huh. It was a little thing, a small movement out of the corner of his eye, but did all three of the gods…flinch?

“Oi, brat. What the fuck do–”

“FUCK OFF ROT!” Claire immediately snapped, glaring fearlessly at her patron god, “It’s called Healing, moron, and it fixes up people like him, so shut up until I’m done fixing!”

“Tch.” Rot let out an irritated breath, sinking back in her seat while Claire finished up healing the damage done. A whole lot faster than most healers Julius had been to, actually, so that was a little interesting.

“Are you okay?” she asked quietly, leaning in close with a clearly worried frown.

“Better now that you’re here.” 

“…Bleh. Don’t be flirty while you’re covered in burnt flesh, got it?” She was still smiling as she helped him up, so he counted it as a victory. “Now what, exactly, is going on here? Why were you fighting a larval plague demon?”

“Rot wanted to test my commitment to you and your cause,” Julius answered immediately, honestly, and shamelessly as Rot grimaced behind Claire. 

“He’s the one that jumped up here to fight. I didn’t even set conditions for the match,” Rot grumbled, looking away as Claire turned to glare at her.

“And what ‘conditions’ would that be?”

“…It’s nothing, brat-”

Tell. Me.

“Oi! No using the fucking demon voice on me! That-”

“DO YOU WANT TO FIX THIS OR JUST PISS ME OFF?! WHY DID YOU TRY TO KILL MY FIANCÉ!?” On the one hand, Claire was clearly angry here and Julius felt like he should be too after that mess. On the other hand, she directly called him her fiancé and now he was just kinda feeling happy…

“I didn’t want to kill the idiot, brat, he just jumped right in on this! Fuck, I wasn’t gonna be reckless with this, I was planning shit!”

“But then you didn’t put up any barriers to stop him or try to separate them when the fight started?!”

“…Look, if the asshole wants to kill himself so bad-”

“FUCK YOU! WHAT THE FUCK TYPE OF LOGIC IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE!?”

“…Does it matter? You blasted the beast in half, you healed your bitch boy, it’s fucking fine now-”

“NO IT ISN’T’! YOU STILL TRIED TO KILL HIM!”

“I JUST SAID-!”

“What were the conditions going to be?” Julius asked, taking a slight step forward. Claire kept a hand on his shoulder, giving him a glance as some kind of energy swept over him. Felt protective, so it was probably good.

“…Call it a bet for my support.” Rot shrugged, grimacing. “…I don’t want to intervene in your dumbass romance. I know how bad that can go, so…Look, if you don’t me around, I won’t be around-”

“What!?” Claire’s grip tightened hard on his shoulder, her voice actually shaking as she addressed Rot. “Y-You were going to abandon me?”

“…I…No, that wasn’t…”

“Rot, that’s not-”

Sh. 

The room went completely silent as Drought raised a finger to her lips, giving Marrow a look, before settling into her seat and gesturing for Rot to continue.

“…” It was…strange, seeing a god be nervous. Her throat visibly bulged as she gulped, trying to steady herself. “…I…Brat, I wouldn’t.”

“But you were going to,” Claire replied, staring straight back at her.

“…I don’t want to lose you to him.” 

Julius blinked. He glanced at Claire, then at Rot. “…Uh, what?”

Rot just sighed, her breath actually visible as some strange, yellow vapor. “…I hate losing things. I…I take, but I can’t hold, and…” She suddenly rubbed at one of her sockets with a hand, then dragged it down her face, scowling again. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Well tough.” Claire stepped forward, still keeping her hand on Julius’s shoulder, though, this time, it felt like she was leaning on him, almost. “You need to talk to me. I hate losing my people too, and I’m not about to let you run off on me.”

“…I didn’t say anything about people.”

“You didn’t need to.”

“…”

“…Why don’t you tell Julius why you hate the Rakuli?”

Rot twitched, her teeth visibly grinding against themselves as she “glared” back at Claire. “Isn’t it fucking obvious? They’re our exact opp-”

“Not the shit the Ouza as a whole tell themselves to justify it. Why do you, personally, hate the Rakuli, mom.”

“…Hhhh…” Rot clutched at her own face again, her fingers digging into the skin of her forehead. But then she stopped and stared, quiet. “…They took my mother from me. That’s why I hate them. My bizarre, stupid, thoughtless, careless, moronic, dumbass bitch of a mother decided…Fuck if I know what she decided. None of us knew. Maybe she was mourning her friends. Maybe she wanted vengeance. Maybe she liked what her ‘peers’ did and thought she could do something similar. Point is…one of your types, idiot–” She pointed to Julius. “–decided they needed to stand against her. Whether that was fair or not, I don’t give a shit. My mother isn’t around because of the Rakuli, so fuck them. I want them to lose everything, and that’s not about to happen if my greatest vassal decides to give up on me in favor of peace.

“Though wouldn’t that just be typical? I can’t hang onto any of my kids, so this is just that fucking asshole fate coming around on me again…Buncha fucking morons, all of them, dying for shit reasons, demanding more than they could ever have, falling in fucking love…”

“…That is an ironic thing to say for the daughter of Hallow,” Claire replied, simply and without any malice.

“…Fuckin’ right it is. Heh…” Rot suddenly stood, scratching at her bare head. “…Hey, Marrow, Drought…Talk with these two. Have your little tea party. I’m…fine with their relationship.” She really didn’t sound fine. “Just make sure to burn some wedding cake for me.” She let out a little sigh. “…I think I’m gonna go visit mom for a bit…Love you, brat.”

“Love you too, you enormous asshole.”

“Kah!” Rot barked, laughing loud as she turned and walked out of the room, a genuine smile on her ruined face. 

“…I didn’t realize,” Marrow muttered, turning to watch her sister leave.

[Do not worry. I did not either.] Drought let out a little sigh, causing a slight whistle through the strings binding her lips together, before she suddenly clapped her hands together. [Now then! While it is a shame Rot had to leave so soon, I do believe we are all now entirely capable of having an honest discussion now-]

And then the larva half wriggling on the table abruptly burst open, its charred stump suddenly shrieking out as three massive, fleshy, snake-like heads burst out of it, wriggling in the air on huge, long necks.

“…Right, didn’t fully kill that…” Claire hummed, then glanced at Julius as both goddesses stared, bemused, at the screaming demon. “Say, you don’t mind if I keep it, right?”

“…What.”

“Oh come on, we can consider it an engagement present! Besides, doesn’t it look incredibly cool?”

“…” Julius glanced from his beaming fiance to the huge, wriggling monstrosity that seemed to be twisting around itself as huge crab-like legs burst out of its sides, a shell somehow forming across its body, all while it screamed in a terrifying cacophony of high-pitched voices. “…I’m not feeding it.”

“Pft, like I expected you to. Do remember who’s the rich one here~.”

“Hm.”

“So, you’re done with this shit then?” Tenvoc said as she stood over Julius and Claire. 

[Must all you little creatures step on the table?]

“Hm? Did you need something Tenvoc?” Oh, so Claire knew her. Well, that made a weird amount of sense.

“Of course I do, I’ve been standing around without shit to do, so I want a fight with that ass as payment. Last time we fought, his friend sucker punched me before I could finish the fight, so I want another go at it.” …Sucker punched was a weird way to describe getting her skull caved in by a hammer.

“Can’t you at least wait until he’s better? Healing doesn’t replace blood, so he won’t be good to go for a while!” 

Blinking as the two continued to bicker about whether he could fight or not, an odd thought suddenly crossed Julius’s dazed mind. 

“Oh yeah…Marrow, you’ll probably have to do this meeting stuff again. Claire has a girlfriend. Oh, and a harem.” 

“J-Julius!?” 

“Oh ho?”

“Yep. Pretty sure the two of them just fooled around, so it seems official,” Julius replied, grinning as Claire got redder and redder. She was so cute sometimes. Well, all the time, really. 

“W-W-We d-d-didn’t do…i-i-it w-w-was j-just…h-hmph…”

[Hm. Then let’s avoid having the next meeting go as sideways as this one went. For now, Tea!] 

And with a clap of the dry god’s hands, tea was served.

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