Chapter 53 – Arrivals

As long as Julius knew her–so literally his entire life–Graves has always had a wide variety of hobbies. Fencing, fishing, dancing, knife-throwing, drinking contests, and so on.

And apparently her new hobby–or at least one she was returning to–included wrestling. At least, that’s what Julius assumed after he was pulled out of the water with his sister’s arms around his waist before she dropped back and slammed his head into the beach.

Really, it was impressive how quickly she moved from that into a chokehold. Though Julius was a bit too busy to properly compliment her on it because she wasn’t letting him breathe. 

Thankfully, his rescue arrived in the form of Claire, who tapped Graves shoulder with an amused look on her face. 

“So, are you going to let him breathe anytime soon?”

“He can take it. We swam together enough times in Orin for me to know how long he can hold his breath for.”

“Interesting. However, instead of choking your brother, and my fiancé, out in the sand, how about you tell me embarrassing stories from his childhood to make up for his transgressions?” Wait, no, no, worse option, worse option!

Still, it did feel good to be able to breathe again when Graves dropped him into the sand. “Hm. You make a good point. Also, hello, my name is Margrave Brascul, I am the Archduchess of Orindaco and this idiot’s older sister.” She stood and extended a hand for Claire to shake, which she promptly took a step further by bringing it up to her lips and kissing it. 

“Charmed to meet you, sis~.”

“…Smooth. Very smooth.” Graves glanced at Julius as he rubbed his throat. “I like this one.”

“Glad to hear you approve.”

“You should be. Now then, as for stories…”

“Can’t you wait until later to tell the embarrassing stories? Preferably after this whole meeting is over?”

“I could. The meeting will probably take a lot of time though. Three thousand years of conflict is somewhat tricky to get over. I’m sure I can get through at least one story first.” Graves smirked. He really didn’t like the glint in her eyes…

“Well, not exactly three thousand years of conflict,” Claire contradicted, thankfully distracting Graves, “Technically speaking, every Demon Lord that has invaded the Light Lands had their own ‘empire’ separate from everyone that came before, aside from a few that formed pseudo-dynasties, and thus were succeeded by their children, and about three that were actually the same guy, ‘Horbril the Immortal’, who faked his death multiple times.”

“…Your continent’s political structure is extremely unstable.”

“I realize, and I’m fixing it.”

We’re fixing it,” Julius added, thankful for the opening, “And that means we should be going out and talking to royals instead of telling embarrassing stories, right? Right, let’s do that.”

“Oh, right, I almost forgot. Those royals are here already,” Graves replied–What.

“What?”

Graves shrugged. “I saw their skyships landing as I looked around for you and your friends. Then I met your paramour.” She frowned again. “Then I was distracted by my idiot younger brother jumping through a window to get away from me.”

“Hey, I was only doing what you taught me.”

“Tell that to your paramour. Once you’re able to peek your head out anyways.” 

“Huh?” 

“I don’t know exactly who’s coming, but I do know some details about what’s going on with your ‘exile’. Having someone who’s considered a ‘dangerous criminal’ here might sour the meeting before it even begins. So best to keep your head down until we say so.” 

“She does have a point,” Claire agreed, “We don’t know exactly what has been said about you in the Light Lands. While the very fact that those royals are even here can imply good things, it would be best not to test our luck. And it would only be for a day at most.”

“…Sure, I can see why that’d be a good idea. Though I don’t suppose you can see if my students are here?” Julius asked, glancing back at his sister.

“I could. And it would be interesting to see how they’ve changed. Who knows, maybe they won’t be afraid of me looking at them anymore.” 

“I kinda doubt that. Though there are more that you haven’t met so who knows.” 

“Oooh, fun, more people to tell embarrassing stories about you.” 

“Geh.” 

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to wait with him while you do that.” Sitting down on the beach next to Julius, Claire looked up at Graves. “I doubt anyone will come down here with something important happening, so we’ll wait here.”

“Running me off already? Oh what am I to do with such a rebellious sister.”

Claire went stiff. “S-Sister? W-Well, I s-suppose, since that would be…I-I did say…so you are just returning the, um…h-hn…”

Graves’s lips twitched. “Cute.” 

True. Very true. However- “Graves, didn’t you say you were going somewhere?” Julius took a seat by Claire, frowning up at Graves. “You should probably get going.”

“Oh? Jealous, huh.”

“You can go now.”

Graves just snorted, then turned and headed off without another word, waving to them as she went.

“…So calling her sis is okay, but getting called sis is-”

“Shut it.”

“Pft, okay then. What’s next then? For the meeting, I mean.” 

“Well, simply put, I shall bluff the entire way.”

“…Huh?”

“Think about it. What crime have I actually committed?” 

“Is that a trick question?” 

“No, because simply put, I did not invade the Light Lands. I merely attempted to annex Naloriva.” 

“…But you did invade.”

“And how is that? As far as I am aware, Naloriva does not have a governing body. Rather, it appears to be several smaller groups that were merely lumped together due to historical borders. So I simply sent some ambassadors, along with guards to protect them, to discuss annexation to the various remaining leaders. And as a sign of good faith, I had my ambassadors and their guards pull back without even asking for anything in return from the lands I annexed.” 

“…And the temples?”

“Research parties that I sent to study the difference between the Ouzan churches and Rakuli temples. I would have assumed by now you would have understood my love of cultural studies.” 

“…How long have you been planning this?”

“Long enough to know I can use your relationship with Galinori to my advantage. After all, a dragon doing business so freely in the Light Lands must be troubling. So I’m sure I can talk with her to move all further operations to my lands. Ah, though there may be some troubles there with so many regions losing such an important company, oh well, I’m certain that the oh so powerful lightlands can recover from that quickly.”

“Is there anything you haven’t thought of?”

“Well, one of my plans does require some luck, since they may ask for Lightning in return. But any peaceful land who truly cares for its people would certainly let someone with Lightning’s sapience choose for herself. That and elementals are considered quite dangerous, so who knows? They may not even ask for her in return.” 

“I dunno, her being powerful sounds like more of a reason for Gorokiva to try to ask for her back. Even Light Land nations want advantages over their neighbors, and I doubt they’d be inclined to leave one of their ‘cultural artifacts’ in Dark Land hands, even if she’s sapient.”

“Hn. But they would let her choose for herself, no?”

Hm…Honestly, Julius didn’t really know any Gorokivans that well-Oh, wait. “Torahiko probably would? He seems decent enough.”

“Torahiko…ah, one of the Lightning Temple’s guardians then. Would he be their representative?”

He shrugged. “Probably. If just because he’s the only one that was nearby ‘the heroes’ when this whole thing was announced. I’m pretty sure Douglas left him to chaperone our students, so he’ll at least be around.” Though would Gorokiva be okay with them basically forcing a representative on them? Well, they were already planning to leave Rosiava out of the deliberations, so there was that…Hm.

…He never did get rid of that scrying card, just kinda shoved it deep into his bag. If he played his cards right, maybe he could get some favors from Anita?

“Hey, Claire, how much do you know about scrying?” 

“Hn? It’s not my specialty, but I’m sure Hans or your friend Douglas can help with that. Why do you ask?” 

“Well, I could maybe help you gain an ally in Rosiava, one who’s pretty business savvy and can probably influence another leader to help you.” 

“Oh? Care to explain?” 

“Well, first I nee-”

“AAAAAAAAA-” A loud yell, which was followed by a sudden splash cut him off as something fell in the water right in front of them. 

“WHAT THE FU-” Oh another. And then five more. Well. Definitely people, and one of them was getting up on the shore, coughing out water and sputtering for breath–Wait, what? 

“Adrien?” 

“H-Huh?” Still breathing heavily, the young hero looked around before stopping on his teacher. “Old man?” And in the next few seconds, some more people popped out of the water–Okay, so everyone else on his team of students had also fallen in with Adrien, what?

“…Uh, wh-” And before he could ask what had happened, Julius was immediately tackled by Adrien as the young hero hugged him tightly. And, as expected, so did everyone else there, once they realized who he was. Well, probably the first time he was actually happy to be at the bottom of a pile of bodies. 

“Okay, okay, yes, I’m happy to see you guys too-” Oof, Sue’s grip got better. “-Just one at a time, please, I feel like I’m getting smothered-”

“Well that lot has certainly doubled…” Claire muttered beside him, her tone amused, though he couldn’t see her face in the slightest.

Eventually, and thankfully, his students let go of him, even if they stayed crowded around him. 

“I see you’re all as lively as ever.” 

“It comes with being a hero, old man,” Adrien replied, grinning wide, “Or what, is your age starting to get to you?” 

“Hey come on, we just met up again, don’t be rude!” Sue cut in, though she was smiling too.

“It wouldn’t be him if he wasn’t rude,” Sergio decided to add, his mask down for once. Probably because it was waterlogged.

“That’s a little hypocritical coming from you, Sergio…” Sophia mumbled, trying to ring out the bottom of her robe.

“More important than them being rude, Julius, your sister kicked us off a cliff! What the hell was with that!?” Maria asked, some annoyance cutting through her happy grin.

“I thought it was kinda fun, actually,” Mask said, their skin a joyful yellow under their still cracked mask. Funny that they kept that one. “Falling was a good rush, and the water was nice.” Noticeably, they were also the only one of his students that wasn’t dripping with water. Probably soaked it up or something?

“Personally, I wish I had taken Douglas more seriously when he told me about her, would have been better prepared…” Sylsa mumbled, sighing as she ran her glowing hands over her clothes, the orange shine of Heat magic drying them quickly.

“Ha. Today has certainly given me a better image of the type of person your sister is, Julius.” As Claire spoke, having moved away once the pile had commenced, his team of students finally noticed her and most of them jumped back in surprise, or at least flinched. The sole exception was Mask, who just cocked their head curiously.

“W-Woah! When’d you get here?!” Adrien asked, going right from joy to confusion pretty quick.

“Since before you lot?” 

“…Oooh, I get it.” Nodding his head as if he realized what was going on, Sergio grinned at Julius. “A secret romantic meeting, hm?” 

He raised an eyebrow in reply. “And if it is?”

“…hm, thought you would get flustered.” 

“Not today. Anyways, before we get too into our reunion, I’ve got some things to say. First, Maria your mom, dad, and sister are here–”

“What.”

“–second, you probably already know, Sylsa, but Douglas is here–”

“Good to know.” 

“–and third, gonna have to ask you to not tell anyone I’m here. Still technically a criminal so need to hide.” 

“Oh!” Adrien jolted, apparently remembering something, “Yeah, we do need to tell you, there’s an Angel that came with us!” 

“…Excuse me?”

“Yeah! You remember Gabriel, that Cardinal, right?” Ah. The water one. “They followed us after you and the others went missing. We think they wanted to keep an eye on us.”

“Hm…that might complicate things. If they try to take charge of the meeting, the other leaders might not be willing to listen to us…” 

Sue sighed. “Yeah, King Richard is probably gonna agree with Gabriel. And Chief Torahiko will probably side with them.” 

“So that’s two who will probably side against us…but we still have Graves and Galinori, and Douglas mentioned King Fritz was likely siding with us, not to mention Namita, so we should be okay.” 

“That still leaves Lady Vioka and Queen Molgari to worry about though,” Sergio interrupted, frowning–What?

“What.” 

“Oh, right, you might not’ve met-No, wait, you and Doug did meet-Look, the point is, you remember Sova Vioka, right? Maria’s step-mom?”

“She’s not my step-mom! She’s…” Maria frowned. “…I actually have no idea what she’d be in relation to me…I mean, I guess Grandpa Dario did basically adopt me, so…huh. Aunty? Maybe?”

“Can we stay on topic?” Julius asked, “Sova Vioka is here?”

“Yep, she came along with us. See, she came to Luceneva because she heard we were there and wanted to say hi, I guess?”

“I think it’s more like she wanted to influence how King Richard would be acting on our march against Valondrac’s forces, and maybe also find out why we had an angel around us,” Sophia explained, “I guess those spies she ‘doesn’t have’ are really effective.”

“Well, we did have a week of festivals going on back home,” Sue added, “She had plenty of time to figure out we were up to something.” 

“Hm…well that complicates things. If it was Dario, we could use Maria to sway him to our side, but Sova…” Julius trailed off, trying to think of what he knew about the elven noble…which wasn’t much. She seemed nice enough, and Cyrus got along with her alright, but she’d expressed that she didn’t really give a shit about anyone outside her family. “It’s hard to say. She’ll probably be against peace though. I don’t know for sure, but the Viokas in general don’t really like darklanders. Not to mention that, depending on what she thinks of Cyrus, she might side against us to spite him.” 

“And what of this Queen Molgari?” Claire asked, “She would be the Sollamavan ruler, correct?”

“Yeah, and, uh…well, she might not want to side with us?” Adrien shrugged.

“And why is that?” 

“Well, she might be willing to listen to us, since she seems pretty nice and easygoing, but she kinda well…came with a different angel.” Ah. Shit. “So she might have some bias?”

Right, there was that, but more importantly– “So there’s two angels?”

“Yup, Gabriel and Uriel. Guessing the other cardinals stayed at Divica to defend it if need be.” Okay, so the asshole that grabbed him wasn’t here. Still.

“This might be more difficult than we expected…okay, first, do you guys still have my stuff or did Gabriel have you toss it?”

“Well, she inspected it, but didn’t destroy anything,” Sue replied, “Did you need something?”

“Okay, planning time. Maria, you’re going to talk with Sova since you might be the only one of us she’ll listen to.” She frowned a little reluctantly, but nodded. “Sophia, gonna need you to get Tiz and see if you can get an audience with Molgari. With her connections, she almost definitely knows Molgari personally and we can work with that.” She nodded too, a determined look in her eyes. “Mask, I’ll need you to get something from my pack and sneak it back here, it’s a small card shoved in deep.”

“Yes sir!” Immediate response there, nice.

“Sylsa, get Douglas and bring him here.” Another nod. “Finally, Sue, Adrien, and Sergio, you three need to run interference and make sure the angels don’t figure anything out.”

After a round of “got it”s, Claire spoke up again, “And what of this King Richard and Torahiko?” 

“They might be lost causes. Torahiko is a bit too gullible for his own good, so chances are, he fully believes Gabriel, and Richard…” Honestly, if the angels were even slightly pretty, he’d be a lost cause. “Well, best not to waste the effort.”

“Pft, here you were, sounding so confident, and then it breaks at the end,” teased Claire as she grinned at him.

“Hmph. Well, it’s the best I could do on short notice. If you want a better plan, you’re gonna want to ask Douglas.”

“Hmm…no, that plan will do. Even if it was just thought up on the spot, with the two of us together, we can accomplish anything.”

Ignoring how his face started to heat up, Julius turned back to his…annoyingly grinning students. “Right, we’ve all got our plans figured out, let’s get to it. It might not be what you expected when you all joined up, but I hope you’re all ready to help decide the fate of the world.”

“…Well, guess we can’t tease you after you made it serious like that,” Sergio muttered.

Ah, his cunning deflection was a success then. Nice.

“I most certainly can,” Claire retorted, smirking as she completely ruined his victory, “And I fully plan to once you lot leave. So go on, shoo. Go do hero things, like foiling villains that are not me.”

“Oh, so you admit you’re a nefarious villain manipulating all of us?”

“…Who says ‘nefarious’?” Maria asked, raising an eyebrow at Sergio.

“I do. Also, so?”

Claire shrugged. “Not in the slightest. Certainly, I am villainous by many definitions of the word, but I’m trying this peace thing out because of Julius. So that’s that. Do any of you have further problems with me?”

“Nope, that’s good enough for me!” Adrien said, beaming, “I’m glad we don’t have to fight! Honestly, this is the best possible way things could’ve gone for us here!”

Sergio gave him a look, but huffed, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. No horrible atrocities committed, things are wrapping up peacefully, and we might be brokering an actual treaty here, so no future problems coming from you guys…alright, yeah, I’m good.”

“Damn, you actually convinced Serge. Guess we’re good then?” Sue asked, glancing at the rest of the group. At everyone’s replying nods and affirmatives, she grinned. “Right, we’re good. You two try not to have too much fun, alright? We do have a meeting in a while, and it’d look bad if you two look too ruffled.”

…Hm. 

“…You’re supposed to be the serious one,” Julius accused, frowning at Sue as she grinned and Claire started to blush again, clearly catching her meaning.

“Heh, says who?”

…Well, she had him there.

“…So, they’re certainly…rambunctious,” Claire said as his students all headed off again, very obviously making sure they were out of earshot first.

“That’s a word to use, sure.”

“You must have had quite the time leading them around.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” 

“I suppose not, but I can always get to know them. Provided they’re okay with a journey through my lands.”

“We already planned on doing that when we were going to fight you to ‘save the Light Lands’, so I’m sure they’ll be more than happy visiting your castle without having to fight their way there.” 

Claire hummed, then glanced at him. “And what of your old home? You had a business, yes?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll probably just have to send a letter to my workers along with some severance pay.” 

“A letter telling them they’re out of the job is rather rude, no?”

“Not like I have much of a choice.” 

“…I could attempt to have your criminal status revoked.”

Julius shrugged. “Like I said, don’t worry about it. Besides, even if you tried and they agreed, it’s still the Rakuli who decided to banish me. Pretty sure their word beats all others there.”

“I suppose so.” Sighing, Claire sat back and looked up at the sky. “Well, we can always–…Julius, do you see what I’m seeing up there?” 

“See wha–…huh.” Julius glanced up, then blinked, then stared at what looked like two bright lights–one in yellow and one in blue, so probably the angels–flying up above the island. “…Well, guess they’re not trying to hide the presence.” 

“Possibly surveying the entire island…or what they can see, anyhow.” Claire frowned, staring at the two figures stopped over the center of the island. “It certainly shows their confidence if they’re so willing to display themselves this blatantly…”

Julius grimaced. “Great, guess that means Adrien, Sue, and Sergio have nothing to do…”

“…” Claire’s lips twitched. “You have a fantastic sense of what’s important in life, Julius.”

“You have no idea what those three can get into when they don’t have something occupying them.” He shuddered at the sudden memory of a boiling potion shop back in Queenshill, then shook his head to clear the image. Better focus.  “Do you think they’re talking about something?”

“Most likely. Why? Do you want to listen in?”

“Can we do that?”

Claire raised an eyebrow, smirking. “You recall that I’m a master of the arcane empowered by three goddesses, correct?”

“So we can.”

“Indeed we can!” Grinning, she suddenly spread her arms. “And since you want to listen in properly, you’d better come in close-”

And without hesitation, Julius leaned against Claire, his cheek pressed to hers to the point that he could feel her skin heat up. “Like this?”

“…y-y-yes, that works…” She cleared her throat, still blushing, then wrapped one arm around Julius’s waist, while the other pointed straight at the angels with two fingers, which sparked up with some violet energy.

“–and, if possible, we should take steps to eliminate Vocula before the-…before the conference.” Well shit, that was definitely Gabriel’s voice. The watery angel’s exact, weird, “tidal orchestra” cadence was sounding right in his ears, like they were speaking right in front of him. 

“Are you certain? He has been faithful in his service of our Glorious Lady for several centuries,” a second voice came, also sounding very weird but in a different way. While Gabriel sounded like a swelling orchestra composed of water and Michael–from what Julius remembered of that prick–was more like a barely restrained roar of flame, this new one sounded…mountainous. That was a weird way to describe someone’s voice, but it seemed to fit.

“I am. Matters have changed there, as you are well aware, though I concede that we may be incapable of removing Vocula before the peace conference begins.”

“Hm. Is that really your only concern? It does feel wrong–”

“Our Lord’s will is all that matters, Uriel.” Ah, so that was their name…Hm-Wait, was that the one that tackled him the first time he went to Divica? “Vocula has betrayed Lady Lucere by siding with the Dark Lands in this false ploy for peace. If we are to maintain our own, true peace, we cannot allow the Demon Lord to dictate terms to us.”

“Yes yes, I’m aware of what problems we have, I need to know what we’re going to do about it. I’ve been talking with Queen Molgari, and she’s willing to fight at our side, but it sounds as though there won’t even be a battle!”

“There may be. We don’t know how the darklanders will act here. Their alliance with the former heroes is one almost certainly based on deceptions where they seek to gain the greatest advantage possible. It’s the natural state of such beings.” Yeesh, and people called Julius cynical…

“Sure, I understand. Still, this is different! No Demon Lord has tried a deception like this before!”

“Many have attempted to ally with corrupt individuals.”

“Yes, and that’s very different from declaring an actual peace treaty between the entire continents! There are too many unknown variables, I don’t like it!”

“I don’t either, yet we must play along with the rules set before us, which are to avoid any and all violence. If they strike first, we may retaliate, but this will be a battle of words, not blades.”

“That one’s looking around a lot…” Claire suddenly said, frowning, but before Julius could ask, Uriel sighed deeply, almost sounding like they were whining.

“That’s going to be so much more complicated though…”

“Calm yourself,” Gabriel ordered. Something about their tone sounded…distracted. “All we need to do is convince the delegates present of our honest intentions. The darklanders are treacherous; their mentality will show through soon enough.”

“I suppose…Where’s Michael and Raph though? Shouldn’t they be here for this?” 

Julius grimaced, his shoulder throbbing where Michael had grabbed him while Gabriel spoke again, “They have other, more pressing duties to attend to. It will be our responsibility to represent the truth at the conference. We cannot count on them for aid, understand?”

Uriel audibly sighed again. “Understood, I get it. Will I be following your lead then?”

“No. If need be, I will intercede in the conversation, but I would prefer if you direct it. You’re more earnest than I am, and that will endear the newer rulers to you.”

“Haven’t most of them been ruling for at least decades by this point?”

“You see? You would be better at speaking with them. You’re more tactful.”

Uriel huffed, though their voice sounded flattered. “You don’t need to lie to me here, we both know who’s the better negotiator.”

“Yes, but you’re more personable. It will work out better this way, particularly since the main, driving force behind this deceptive alliance is already gone.”

Claire made an odd noise there, then suddenly pushed Julius over into the sand. “Woah, wh-”

“Stay quiet, stay still, don’t move no matter what happens,” Claire hissed, then waved a hand as Uriel’s voice still sounded in his ear.

“Ah, ‘driving force’? What does that mean?”

“Perhaps less a force, and more an individual,” Gabriel replied as a sudden, weirdly soft and cozy feeling settled over Julius as he…huh. Okay, so everything below his neck was invisible now. And…maybe that included above his neck too? He couldn’t see his own chest or legs or arms, but Claire said he shouldn’t move, so screw it, he trusted her. “After all, Julius Goldforge is dead.”

Claire suddenly gasped, almost sounding genuine, and the blue light in the sky rushed straight down to the beach, landing hard but somehow not kicking up any sand as the Cardinal Gabriel stood, staring right at Claire. “Hello, Demon Lord Valondrac.”

And she smirked right back, raising a hand in greeting. “Hey there, Angel Cardinal Gabriel. Or would that be Cardinal Angel Gabriel? Which part is the species and which is the title?”

“Angel is the species, Cardinal is the title,” they answered as Uriel touched down beside them a second later. The yellow–and marble–angel was noticeably about half a foot taller than her blue sibling and actually had their helmet off, displaying their dusty-yellow eyes, and the small topaz spikes they had for hair. They also looked a good deal more muscular than Gabriel, and the sleeves of their robes were missing, showing off their solid, white arms as they held them behind their back, standing straight and silent.

“Really? But Angel Cardinal sounds so much worse than Cardinal Angel. You realize you’re messing up the naming conventions, Blue Jay.” 

“Fortunately, I care little for your approval, Demon Lord.” Gabriel appraised her with a neutral expression. “Why were you listening in on us?”

“Isn’t it natural to go birdwatching, warbler? You were singing such sweet songs, I couldn’t help myself~.”

An insincere smile formed on the angel’s face. “I see. Do you not have better things you could be doing, Demon Lord Valondrac?”

“You could just call me ‘Empress Valondrac’, Grosbeak.”

“No. May I have an answer to my question?”

“Nope.”

“Why not? Do you have something to hide?”

“No, Cliff Swallow, that was my answer.” Claire grinned. “I don’t have anything better to do. The meeting is for another, ohhh…what, thirty minutes? Everyone is getting all settled in and all, though I suppose I can start making my way there soon enough, chat up some of the royals, eat some food, explain your assassination plans to the Pontiff of Divica, all that.”

“And what would you do with a traitor to your nation, Demon Lord?” they asked without any hesitation or guilt.

“Jail, probably. You know how easy it is to keep people in those? Really easy, Bunting.”

“Quaint. We find it more expedient to execute those who have betrayed their god.”

“Cute? That sounds really easy to screw up on. You realize that even gods can make wrong accusations, right, Macaw?”

Gabriel’s smile was getting thinner by the second. “An odd thing to believe. Has Julius Goldforge told you his exile was a false accusation then?”

For some reason, Claire looked confused for a second–though it did kinda feel like she was faking it, at least to Julius–before switching back to cocky amusement. “Weird thing to ask, Peacock, considering you just suggested he was dead only a few minutes ago.” Her grin got a little sharper as her eyes narrowed. “You wanna explain that?”

“Do you know something to contradict that suggestion, Demon Lord?”

“Well, Martin, I do have a testimony from one Douglas Yew of the Light Lands that at least one angelic prick carted him off to some secret exile for ‘heretics’. Why do you think I’m following along to his big, secret plans, hm?” Her smile dropped into a serious frown. “Now, are you saying you lied to me?” 

…Wait, was that “you” or “Yew”?

Gabriel just smiled back. “I would prefer you ask yourself if you truly believe a treacherous hero in such matters. Yew has a great deal of ambition, and he covets power above all.” Okay, so they assumed it was “Yew”, clearly.

“Then that’s something we have in common, Kingfisher.”

Gabriel cocked their head. “Curious. May I ask then, Demon Lord, is it truly your ‘love’ that drives your actions on this day, rather than your ambitions?”

“Yep.” Claire smirked again, like nothing even happened. “Love drives a lot of things, Heron. Haven’t you ever been loved?”

“I have, yes,” Gabriel replied, straightening further, “I have the love of my Lord. That is all I need.”

“Aw, cute, real daddy’s kid, huh?” Claire abruptly beamed and leaned in close to Gabriel, who didn’t flinch, but did frown as Claire’s yellow eyes seemed to shine. “I bet my three moms can beat up your one dad, Mockingbird. And I’d bet they’d love the chance to, if it ever gets out that your fancy flock of seagulls had the audacity to so drastically overstep your boundaries in exiling a mortal man from mortal lands~.”

“…Such a thing would not be an overstep-”

“I think it could be argued quite strongly that it was. Julius is mortal. He isn’t a citizen of Zemava, he isn’t a follower of Lucere, and he doesn’t worship the Triarchy in any capacity. The Pontiff of Light has no authority over his fate, nor does his god, and neither do the gods of the Light Lands. He doesn’t, or perhaps didn’t, worship any god, and if you sent him to his death, without any authority over the situation in the slightest…” Claire’s eyes looked like pure, molten gold as she smiled wide at the angel. “If one god oversteps, what is to keep the rest in check?”

“I believe you and your gods already know what happens when one oversteps their boundaries.”

“That we do! So why don’t you learn from examples?”

“We have. Though it seems after four, yours still haven’t.”

“No, I’d say they learned their lessons just fine. You’re the ones overstepping now, remember? Or have all those millennia of life driven you as senile as your dear old daddy?”

And that actually cracked Gabriel’s calm demeanor. They scowled at Claire, their wings flaring out like they wanted to wrap around Julius’s smirking fiánce, and, for a second, Julius almost shot to his feet when he saw the angel’s weight shift, but–

“Ah ha, there you are! We knew we saw that light drift down again!” Alright, saved by King Fritz. That was a surprise…and so was his attire. For some reason, the king–who had his green hair tied back in a ponytail and was followed by two spear-carrying guards in pale silver-green platemail–was wearing a green and blue flower-patterned shirt and blue shorts. Also sandals. What? “Urii, we thought you were coming right back?”

“Ah, hello Fritzy,” Uriel greeted, turning and smiling at Fritz like they hadn’t been as still as a statue for that entire conversation, “Sorry, but Gabriel wanted to speak with the Demon Lord first.”

“Ohhh, we see! Yes, we see quite well indeed, it is very understandable to be curious of the demonic lord we’ve all come to meet, very understandable indeed,” Fritz replied, before grinning over at Claire, who casually broke her staring contest with Gabriel to smile over at him, “Greetings and good tidings to you, Empress Claire Valondrac of the Dark Lands. We are Friedrich Medianu Krieter von Sorafin, King of Tramontava, and Sovereign of the Lands of Wind and Sky, though mayhaps we ought to change that title now that the Sky Lands appear to actually exist?”

“Eh, depends on who claimed the name first.” Claire grinned, holding out a hand and ignoring Gabriel’s fuming completely. “It is a pleasure to meet you as well, King Friedrich Medianu Krieter von Sorafin. As you know, I am Claire Valondrac, no middle names, the Demon Lord of the Dark Lands, though Empress is certainly an acceptable title.” 

“We are glad you agree! Now, we’d hate to interrupt, but we must get going to the meeting with a good deal of haste. Our dove has saved our seats, and we would like to arrive early. Would you care to travel with us, Empress Valondrac?”

“Lead the way.” Grinning down at him, Claire idly waved toward Gabriel, not even looking at them. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing you later, bunting.” Hm. Julius was really glad he was invisible, considering he could easily see the sheer rage Gabriel was suppressing. Poorly suppressing, considering their wings were visibly tensed and he could hear their teeth grinding. Though it also meant he had to stay still while Claire walked away, leaving him with the angels.

“…” And once she was far enough, Gabriel inhaled deeply, their wings settling down behind their back. They’d almost seem calm, if it wasn’t for the water being pulled from the ocean and gathering around their feet. “I knew she would be insufferable, but it seems I underestimated that one aspect of her.”

“At least we have some idea on what we’re dealing with?” Uriel offered.

“True as that may be, I would have preferred not learning of it to begin with if the information had to be conveyed in such a blasted, irritating manner.” Gabriel inhaled again, breathing out slowly. “No matter. The Demon Lord will be dealt with once the time is right. Who knows, if we do end up killing her, she may end up purified and with her so-called love in the next life.”

“Aw, that would be a nice thought.” …The fuck. “Though that assumes he’s even dead to begin with.” 

“The chances he isn’t are low. Though now I wish we had been allowed to kill him.” 

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever understand why Elder Lucere let her decision change like that.” …Eh?

“It is not our place to question her word. Only to carry it out. Now come along, we must guide the mortals onto the correct path.” 

“Of course, sister.” The two angels flared their wings out, then took off, flying away and leaving Julius alone while he waited a few more moments just to be safe. 

Once they were far enough, he finally pushed himself up, and let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. So that was a lot of info he didn’t expect to find out…Now, what should he do with it?

“Hello again, sir!” Mask greeted as they walked on up, still a happy yellow, “I did not realize you could turn invisible! That is a very useful skill to have!”

“Ah, no, that was Claire helping me out,” Julius replied, then glanced at the card in Mask’s hand. 

Hm. So that was one thing he could do with the info he knew.

“Ahhh, interesting. Very helpful of her! And hi again Sylsa!”

Julius paused, then glanced behind him, where Mask was looking. And there was Sylsa and Douglas, talking as they walked down the beach towards him and Mask, though Sylsa did pause and return Mask’s wave.

Well. Good to know he’d have someone to explain all this crap to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: