Chapter 51 – Shioneri Island

So Julius was feeling weird. Not really nostalgic, not really anxious, just…weird. It was weird. Being on the boat to Shioneri Island felt weird.

Not the boat ride itself, but the location they were heading to. It was the place his group, his “team of heroes”, landed at right before they entered the Dark Lands, on their way to kill Irascagan. It was one of those places that was just outside the boundaries of the two connected continents, small enough and just far enough away that no one really felt like bothering with it. Hell, no one seemed to know if it was considered a part of the Light Lands, the Dark Lands, or even the Frost Lands.

All of those qualities made it a perfect place to land when a group of dumbass youngsters wanted to sneak past the heavily occupied border Ebkai had become back then. Through Nalori with Namita’s help, over to Shioneri for one last prep, and down into Korikal to rush their way to Irascagan in the swamps. So this was almost like a weird reverse of that situation…

Well, if they’d come from Ostrotoba instead of setting out from Inrapaba…And if he was actually going to Naloriva afterwards instead of being completely banned from ever entering the Light Lands.

…Well shit, he made himself sad again.

“What in the world are you looking at?” And in came a distraction in the form of Ariel, who was in full arachne form and totally not remaining in that form just so she could be taller than him at all times. Totally not, and he could tell because she kept looming over him at all available moments with a superior smirk on her face. Clearly no one with a superiority complex would ever do something like that.

“The ocean,” he blandly replied, then continued to do exactly that. He was standing at the bow of the large, triple-masted ship and staring into the distance, so he’d see Shioneri as they approached it.

…Maybe he was getting a little restless.

And that was one of her legs digging into his side, okay then.

“And just why is the ocean so important as to spend all your time here?” 

Julius took a deliberately step to the side to avoid her leg, idly rubbing the slight pain away. “Is there any particular reason you want to know?” 

“Trust me, I couldn’t care less about what you’re interested in. What I do care about, however, is ensuring Claire’s happiness, and if she were to see you moping about, she’ll be saddened.” 

“…Thanks for worrying?” 

“Hmph. Don’t thank me, I’m only caring for my beloved.” She glanced away with a little frown, her arms crossed over her chest. “And I do owe you one for helping me before.” 

“Heh. All I did was give Claire a push in the right direction.” 

“Which was needed, thanks to my own blunder.” 

“To be fair, I’m pretty sure I only got through to her by outright proposing to her.”

“Please don’t remind me of your idiotic actions.”

“And here I thought we were opening up to one another. We do have to get along as members of Claire’s ‘harem’, after all.” 

Ah, that got a blush. “…H-Hmph.” 

“Heh. Oh, speaking of, I never did get to hear what you were going to tell me on the skyship.” 

“Oh…yes, I suppose we were interrupted. Is that you’re way of asking to hear about my past?” 

“Gasp, my plan was discovered.” 

Ariel raised an eyebrow at his dry tone. “Hm. Well at least my beloved will be entertained by your idiotic humor. As for my story-”

“LAND AHEAD, ADMIRAL!”

“WONDERFUL JOB, DEAR LOOKOUT!” Ah dammit Jonathan.

“Damn it Jonathan…” Ariel echoed, glaring back at their ship’s helmsman. Apparently being an Admiral meant he should be in charge of everything onboard the vessel, and while he did seem to actually know what he was talking about, his dramatic attitude did get annoying. Didn’t help that he had an ostentatiously fancy admiral outfit on–all royal blues and covered with medals with a huge captain’s hat–and stayed in his cabin unless the sun was covered. He seemed fine, most of the time, because of those protection charms of his, but apparently he got “tingly” whenever it was daylight out. “I suppose this will have to wait until later.” 

“That it will. For now we have to make sure that a fight doesn’t happen.” 

“Oh, certainly. Though I doubt we’ll have anything to worry about if it does come to one.” Well, that was a sinister smile.

“Please don’t get excited about fighting people at a peaceful negotiation.”

“…You have no power of command over me.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘maybe’.”

“Hmph. Fine. Maybe.”

Julius felt his lips twitch up into a smile, a little bit of his restlessness fading into a slight relief as he walked on over to his cabin, while all the deckhands–mostly werewolves and half-nereid orcs, along with the occasional semi-aquatic lamia–begin to get ready to land. Entering the cabin, he saw Claire sitting in Jonathan’s fancy “Admiral chair”, apparently right in the middle of a conversation with Kiyoshi, who definitely hadn’t been on the boat the entire trip over.

“-ke sure to stay hidden in case anything happens. Last thing we need is to go in unprepared,” Claire finished, her eyes flicking over at Julius as he walked in. 

“Of course~! If they even twitch inappropriately, I’ll make sure they don’t get away with it~,” Kiyo replied, grinning cheerfully like she hadn’t just suggested–at least–injuring important Light Land dignitaries. Or whoever else would be there. 

“Good. Now then, how is everything out there?” Ah, and now Claire was talking to him-

“There doesn’t appear to be any ships that a political figure would use at port, so we are probably the first to arrive,” Ariel said as she shifted to her humanoid form to enter the smaller doorway. Because she was the one Claire was talking to. Right. “However, I did spot some skyships in the distance.”

“Hn…Julius, you were here before. Does Shioneri have a place for skyships inland?” Okay, so now it was his turn.

“Nope. Haven’t been here since last time, but I doubt they have a skyship port,” he explained, shrugging, “They weren’t invented back then, and it’s basically a ‘hidden vacation spot’, so they probably haven’t had one built in yet. Ah, but there is another port on the other side of the island, though only someone coming from the Frost Lands would use it. Well, we could, but we’d have to sail around the whole island to get there.” 

“So we will most likely have time to prepare here. At the very least, we can scout ahead and decide where the meeting will be held on the island.” 

“Well, if Douglas hasn’t done all of that already. He probably picked a good spot out already.” 

“Oh? Are you sure?” 

“Yeah, he’s technically the smartest person from my team,” Julius admitted, “So chances are he did. Hell, he wouldn’t have sent that letter if he didn’t have a plan in mind.” 

“Very well, I’ll trust your judgement. Though I hope whatever it is he has planned will make the Light Lands be willing to listen.” 

“On that subject, my lord,” Ariel spoke up, “Are we truly planning to seek peace at this gathering? Especially since we’ll likely have to give up our own properly claimed territory in concession to the lightlanders.”

“Eh, it’s not like we’ve done anything big with it so far,” Kiyoshi chimed in, propping her head up on one hand and grinning, “In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s been a bigger drain than a gain over there, what with all the funding we’ve been giving those timberlanders to rebuild and renovate their piddly little townships, plus the occupation costs and soldier pay, the material transportation, the leaflet and poster printing, the-” 

“Costs aside, even if we have to give up the land, we’ve gained the favor of quite the number of citizens there. Passage through the country should be much easier for our citizens now.” Claire brought a hand up to her chin and chuckled. “As is, they probably have a higher opinion of us than they do the leadership of other countries within the Light Lands, thanks to the ‘chosen hero’.” 

“Hm? Why’s that?” 

“Simple really. Thanks to the ‘divine word’ of the Rakuli, it’s up to the chosen hero to save the Light Lands from those threatening them. However, that fact also means that the nations of the Light Lands must wait for the hero to be ready to attack. So even if Naloriva is in need of help, the others do nothing.” 

“…Huh…That…hm.” Kiyoshi glanced at Julius with a raised eyebrow. “Really?”

“…Largely, yeah. That’s not…inaccurate.” He scratched the back of his head. There really wasn’t an easy or good way to explain that whole tradition… “No one really likes having foreign armies marching through their nations, even if it’s for someone else’s sake, so the traditions are upheld for that reason. Mostly. I’m sure there’s a decent amount of ‘I really don’t feel like sending my people to die for that other royal’s people’ going on.”

“…You know, I was kinda horrified at first, but that is actually pretty reasonable by most standards…Still fucked up though.”

“Yeah, I know, it happens because you guys keep invading us.”

“Right. True…Whiiiiiich is why this is totally a good thing, because we’re fixing that part! Right?” Kiyoshi glanced at Claire, who nodded. “Right! Yeah, onboard the peace boat!”

“Is that why this ship is named The Olive Branch?” Ariel wondered, her head tilted in thought.

“Yes yes, there’s significance in every name, so special,” Claire said, rolling her eyes as she stood, “But, more importantly, we’re going to be landing, so come along, let’s get out there and represent the glorious might of the Valondrac Empire!”

Julius couldn’t help grinning as Ariel and Kiyoshi immediately cheered in support. Still- “Is the ‘Valondrac Empire’ name set in stone? Because I feel like you could come up with a better–”

“If you say anything about a better or less obvious name, you’re swimming to shore.”

“Heh.”

And so, with Claire muttering about how “those dumbass sunlanders get to name empires after themselves all the time”, they all headed out onto the deck to see Shioneri Island come closer and closer. It wasn’t a really big island–more like one of those types where there’s about enough room for a single town, albeit a pretty big one, and a couple sheep farms, so nice hills and fields for grazing, hiking, or hiding out in–but being known as the place that housed the heroes that took out Kigalori had done a lot for its reputation.

Which explained why the main port-town, creatively called Shio, was looking a lot bigger than before and had a whole lot of ships in its harbor. Granted, that could’ve been because of the upcoming meeting…The docks did look bigger though, extending much further out into the ocean, and there was a clear difference between the newer, brightly painted wooden buildings out there and the original, white, stone buildings–which were mostly decorated in some nice sea-themed mosaics, if Julius remembered right–further on the mainland.

“HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYY!” Speaking of the docks, good to see Douglas made it there ahead of them. Now if only he didn’t have a gigantic, floating sign constructed out of what looked like a mix of water and light spelling out “WELCOME TO THE BIG PEACE MEETING!” floating overhead…

“Why,” was Ariel’s only question, her tone completely flat.

“Is that Hans?” Kiyoshi, meanwhile, was raising an eyebrow curiously and yup, that was Hans next to Douglas. So he was helping out with the construct? Probably. Probably…

“Well, at least it’s off to a good start? They seem to be getting along,” she added after a second, shrugging.

“That’s certainly as good a sign as any that this venture of ours will turn out fine,” Claire agreed with a wide smile.

Letting out a sigh, Julius scratched at the back of his head as their ship arrived at port. As ridiculous as Douglas could be, Julius couldn’t help but feel relieved that his friend was doing okay. Now he just had to worry about the rest of his team. Something which would had to wait until later, since as soon as he stepped off the boat, Douglas–huh, he had bags under his eyes, been years since he’d seen that–rushed him with a hug.

“Ha, I knew you would be alright!” he immediately shouted, beaming wide once he pulled back, “Even the gods can’t keep you down!”

“You’re right about that,” Claire said as she walked on up with Ariel behind her–and Kiyoshi was already nowhere to be found–and a smile on her face, “You must be Mister Douglas Yew.”

“Indeed I am! And you must be Jules’s brilliant fiance, the Demon Lord Valondrac!” He continued to grin, keeping one arm over Julius’s shoulders, which was a little annoying, but eh, he could tolerate it for now.

“That she is. The most brilliant, beautiful, and powerful Demon Lord to ever live,” Julius said, smiling too as Claire turned a little red.

“A-Ahem. Ah, entirely accurate praise aside, it’s good to finally meet you. I see you’re well-acquainted with General Samore. Hans, how are things?”

“Things are progressing quite nicely, mine lady,” Hans greeted, giving her a quick bow before straightening, “The guests have yet to arrive, yet our preparations proceed quite smoothly. And I see Sir Goldforge is quite prepared himself. That sword is intriguingly new.”

“Huh?” Julius blinked, then glanced down at his sword in its sheath. “Oh, no, this is my normal sword-Ah, wait, I haven’t had it on around you at all.” Aside from the Water Temple, and it wasn’t all demony then.

“Oh ho, not an intentionally kept secret then! May I look upon your blade then? They seem quite ripe to form.”

“…’Ripe to form’-”

“JULES! POURQUOI?! WHY HAVE YOU BETRAYED ME LIKE THIS!?” Oh godsdammit Cyrus…

“What did I do this time?!”

“WE’VE LANDED AT SHIONERI AND YOU SAID NOTHING!” Cyrus continued in that mock-offended tone, stomping down the gangplank while Mira trailed behind him with an embarrassed grimace. “So again, pourquoi!? Would you have left me out of all this-Oh, hello Douglas.”

“Hello Cyrus.”

“Now–” Cyrus paused, then actually looked at Douglas. “…Hello Douglas.”

“Again, hello Cyrus,” Doug replied with a smile, “You seem as spirited as ever.”

“…”

“Oh come now, you can’t be embarrassed now. You knew what you were doing when you chose your ‘offended’ act up there.”

“Yes, but that was to establish myself as dramatic among the new people. I didn’t think anyone I actually know would be here.” He huffed, crossing his arms over his chest and actually looking around at everyone, from Claire, who was–badly and adorably–trying to hide her amusement, to Ariel, who just radiated disgust. “Hm. All of you are people I already know. Well that’s annoying, I wasted that effort…”

“Why. Why would you want people’s first impression of you to be thinking you’re a jackass…?” Mira wondered, trying to hide her blushing face with a hand. 

“It makes them underestimate me and means I can work with it for comedic effect.”

“…Oh. I didn’t think there’d be a reason-”

“Well hello new Daughter of Cyrus,” Douglas cut in, looking over Mira with a curious eye, “Hm, you’re not a native darklander, are you? You’re certainly a warlock, and the arm implies you’re a disciple of Samore there-” Then he paused. His brow furrowed, and he stared at her face–Ah. 

“Yeah, she’s ‘related’ to who you’re thinking of,” Julius spoke up, trying to head off any potential problems. His words made Mira stiffen and Cyrus twitch though, so…fuck it, commit. “Cyrus can explain what happened later, but she’s not affiliated with that asshole, or even fond of her. So don’t worry, okay?”

“Oh, not to worry, Jules, I have no intention of holding one’s parent’s-” He noticed the wince. “-one’s biological donor’s actions against them, nor do I believe it shall be an issue here in the slightest! Indeed, I believe Maria should be quite happy to meet her older sister once she arrives!”

“They’re not here yet?” 

“Nope, from what I could learn, they were still in Luceneva, probably just stalling for as long as they could.” 

“Well that’s good to know. Last thing we need is for them to be in trouble.”

“Yup, entirely out of danger, they’re just near some very unpleasant angels.”

“…” Julius gave his smiling friend a dead stare. “Thanks for helping me feel less stressed out Douglas.” 

“No problem, it’s not like Tiz and I weren’t stressed out worrying for you either.” Ah. Right.

“…Sorry.”

“No worries, none at all, I know you couldn’t help it. Now come come, we have things to prepare–” He yawned, then shook his head. “–mm, right, more things to prepare, many more things, so please!” With a “come hither’ motion, Douglas began to walk up the dock. 

“Wait, before we do,” Claire said as she walked up to Douglas, “You mentioned having something very important, that would make the Light Lands be willing to meet us here. What exactly is it?” 

“Oh, yes, true, I didn’t explain it properly, now did I?” …Why did that feel like a deflection?

“I believe that it would be better to see what we have rather than just have us tell you.” Hans explained as he walked alongside them. 

“Yup, and it’s not far off, come on, Tiz is keeping an eye on him.”

“…Him?” 

And a few minutes later, Julius just stared blankly as he arrived at where Douglas had been leading him. Really, there was a lot to stare at in the room. 

First off, Tiz was there, at a round, restaurant table where she sat between Seth and who he believed was Ursiati Rosoda, the two dragons glaring daggers at each other from either side of the exasperated minotaur. Arancoda was also there, eagerly scarfing down platters of food that Vercoda was serving to her, which, while not odd, did make him remember what was happening to her. Well, what he technically…what he literally did cause to happen to her and what he really needed to talk to her about, but, well…maybe he could put it off a little? They did have other things on the mind, it could be saved for–

Anyways! Lastly, a disgusted-looking Pontiff of Light, Caius “That Asshole” Vocula, sat by himself, eating a meal of fish, rice, and broccoli. 

“…Douglas, I thought you said no one else was here yet.” 

“Well technically that was Hans that said that, but yup, you’re the first to arrive.” 

“…In that case, may I ask why a pontiff is here, alone at that,” Claire asked as she stared warily at him, while occasionally glancing at Gali. And at her belly. Hm. Maybe they did need to have a longer talk-

“Simple, he’s our leverage.”

“…” The fact that even Cyrus was stunned into silence said more than any words could. 

Thankfully, the silence didn’t last for long, though it didn’t get broken by anyone from either group. 

“There you are!” And in the next moment, a pair of strong arms wrapped around the three standing heroes and hugged them tightly, a cheerful and very obviously accented voice sounding out as they were swept up. “You could have waited for me on dock!” 

And as he felt some bones pop in his body, Julius realized that his old friend Charlotte Danilovna Rassvet, Goliath Paladin of Khioni, had arrived. And was currently crushing all of them together in a big hug.

“GHhhhhh-Ch-Charlie, p-p-please, n-n-need my ribs!” Cyrus immediately gasped, before yelping as Charlotte let them all drop, a wide smile on her pale face.

“Ha, my apologies, Cyrus! I was just so happy to see you! Nearly everyone is here! We are only missing Ellie and Yuli!” She paused, then glanced at Douglas. “Dougie, Ellie and Yuli are not coming, yes?”

“Heh, yes, sorry to say, but I’m sure this little get together will be crowded enough without bringing those two in all the way from the Sun Lands.”

“Yes, very true, we cannot be interrupting lives just for one meeting. Though perhaps we should schedule reunion? In simpler place to meet, make it easy for everyone.” She tilted her head in thought as Julius took a step back–poking at his side a little to make sure nothing was broken–to take in his old friend’s appearance. 

Her pale blonde–almost white–hair was longer and now kept in a tight braid, and the four long scars that once left the lower half of her face a bloody wreck were thin and faded into some diagonal lines crossing under her nose and across her chin, which was still very solid and square. Like a lot of goliaths, Charlotte had rough, rugged features that had only gotten harder with age, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t dress cute, which she proved with the navy blue peacoat–lined with silver and crossed by a teal sash baring the “frozen crown” emblems of Tolimeka, her home nation–and long, white skirt she was wearing, along with her tall snow boots that were decorated with little blue bows.

Oh, and she was also easily the tallest person there at 7’6”. Well, actually, Galinori was probably like two inches under that, so not easily the tallest, but she wasn’t standing up either, so the point still stood. It should also be noted that that technically made her “short”, for a goliath.

“Orin could work, yes? I’m sure Gravi would want to be part of this.” Hm. Graves probably wouldn’t mind hosting, but Julius couldn’t actually…

“…Why don’t we sit down and get some food? We have a lot to explain.” 

“Oh! Of course, we must catch up! You would not believe what I have been through since we parted ways!” 

Well, at least it would be nice to one up Charlotte. 

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