Chapter 55 – The Things We Do For Love

Julius was up and out of his seat the instant he saw the knight raise her burning hand. There was just something far too familiar in the red glow that was quickly becoming a white-hot flame, something that made him instinctively know that he needed to move now.

Charlotte was out of the room, Doug had fallen asleep–which, fuck, of course he would, he was barely involved, so he was bound to get bored and he’d busy through the whole day–so now he’d just spear-tackled a fully armored knight who was actually an angel because of course and now he was reliving the extremely horrible sensation of being flown off by a red-winged angel, except this time, he was the one clinging onto the angel. Oh, and this time he was on fire.  

“LET GO OF ME!” Julius tightened his grip around the angel while they struggled to shake him off, trying his best to keep them from getting away. “YOU IMPERTINENT BASTARD!” 

The next couple moments made Julius thankful that he’d already braced his body, as Michael–and it had to be that fucker–made a sharp turn, and the two went flying through several buildings, crashing through brick and glass at a fast speed, amid shocked yelps and screams from the townspeople. And while it did little to deter him, Julius was starting to regret not putting on armor as some wood and porcelain had dug itself into his shoulder. 

Gritting his teeth, he tried reaching up to grab Michael’s wings, intent on making them crash down to stop this ride. But they had a different idea, and before his hand was able to even touch their feathers, they jerked upwards, taking the two towards the sky. And as they flew up, much higher than Julius had ever gone before, he felt his head throb, and for a brief moment, he vaguely remembered something Douglas had told him before. Something about not going up too fast? What was it? Confusion was making his head spin, or maybe that was just the fact that he couldn’t breathe, his chest getting tighter–

And in the next moment, a completely different type of pain shot through his body as both he and the angel were electrified, lightning flowing through their bodies, and making the angel lose enough focus for them to stall and send the two rapidly plummeting. But the shock brought Julius back to his senses and he tightened his grip, intent on making sure if he crashed, they went down with him. 

And once again, Michael had a different idea, their wings flaring out and beating rapidly to change their course from a complete drop. They were slowing fast, like a bird in an updraft, and Julius had a really desperate, stupid idea to keep the angel from just flying up again.

His fingers dug into the metal of Michael’s breastplate, and he lurched up, letting go with his other hand and finally getting a good grip of their fiery wings. They screeched in rage, but he still yanked down, completely fucking up their attempt to slow and sending both of them crashing down into a grassy field.

He did let go once they were close enough–having one arm around an armored angel as they plowed into the ground would be a fantastic way to absolutely destroy that arm–but he still landed hard. There was only so much rolling with the fall could do, though he did wind up on his feet just in time to see the fiery angel practically form a trench, kicking up burning grass and dirt as they buried into the land.

Julius took a low, slow breath, then glanced at the sword now strapped to his back, taking a moment to pull what debris he could out of his shoulder, his blood magic keeping any bleeding to a minimum once he began pulling stuff out. “…Guessing the lightning was you?”

No verbal response, but he did get a vaguely affirmative feeling. 

“Okay then. Hope you’re willing to help out a little more.” Julius drew his sword, and couldn’t help his smile. It felt good. The weight was familiar, something he knew how to work with. He didn’t have a back-up knife or dirk though, so that would be something…And the red robes he had were completely charred, so, fuck it.

Julius tore the robes off as Michael slowly stumbled to their feet, leaving him in the gray-leather gambeson and black pants. 

“Y-You…you absolute-” Michael’s armor was melting around their body, flames licking up every inch of their skin, and Julius could see their eyes widen through a half-melted helm when they saw him. His mask had come off, and his eyes were steely. “Y-YOU?! Ah-No. No, no, of course you’d still be alive.”

He watched them straighten, their crimson flames building bigger and brighter. “Yeah. Sorry your efforts were all for nothing, jackass.”

Their wings flared, and flames burst up across the already charred ground by their feet. “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? The gods show you mercy and yet you come back so easily, so eager to flout their edicts! What an abominable creature you are!”

“You tried to murder my fiancé at a peace conference, you stupid fuck. You don’t get to take the high ground here.”

“I am an angel! I always have the high ground!” they snarled, a second pair of wings flaring out to join the first. Probably not the best sign. “And for your violation of divine law, you shall die, mortal!”

“What divine law?! In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not in the Light Lands!”

“This island may be far from the Light Lands’ shores, but it still counts!”

“That-Fuck, are you really this pedantic?! Do you think I want to fight you or something?! I don’t! I want to live my life peacefully!”

“Then do so!” Michael shook their head, still glaring through an increasingly molten helm. “I had no intent on ending you! I obey the will of the gods! I am an instrument of divine law! If you had remained in the Dark Lands like the proper exile you should have been, so-called hero, then you would have lived life long and free! Do you think this position is one you have not chosen!? You sought the hand of the Demon Lord! You sought the power of the Blood God! Your choices have brought you to this place, none else!”

“And why did I make those choices?! I made them because lives were being threatened! Your gods chose to punish me for that.”

“You seduced the demon lord for the lives of others?!”

Julius paused. “…Okay, so, maybe not that one.” He sighed. “Look, Michael, Cardinal, whatever, I’m sorry, okay? I know I do things on impulse, and I get you’re in this position because…because you’re doing what you think is right. But I’m not going to let you hurt the people I care about.”

“…That is what drives you then.” And Michael looked thoughtful, their flames still there, but just a little less. By now, every bit of cloth on them had burnt away, and their armor was more like a melted shell, just barely clinging to its former shape. “You act on impulse, grow attached, and act to defend those you are attached to. You are remarkably simple-minded.”

“Yeah, thanks, you’re an asshole.” Julius frowned. “But that doesn’t mean I want to hurt you. It really doesn’t. I don’t enjoy this. If you want to fly away from this, Michael, then you can. Just go home, because you can. You have that option.”

“…” Michael inclined their head. “I do. And I choose to follow my own will.” And a burning spear, made of pure flame but completely solid, formed in their right hand. “So know that, hero. It is by my choice that I follow my Father’s will. So I offer the same choice to you. Retreat from here, today. You may not live in the Light, but you may have peace in the Dark. I will not harm you if you retreat.”

“But you will hurt Claire.”

“The Dark Lands, united as an empire, are far too great a threat to our peace. You knew this. You stood against it, once.”

“…Yeah.” Julius settled into a stance, both hands on his sword as he held it before him. “But we can make a better peace, like this.”

“Foolish.” Michael settled into their own, their spear leveled at Julius as they lowered, ready for a lunge. “May your next life be a better one, hero.”

“Sure. Be better in this one, Michael.”

Each of them stared the other down from across the field, then–signaled by the lazy baa’ing of a nearby sheep–Michael immediately rushed on the offense in a burst of speed and flame, searing the earth to ash around them in one strong thrust, just to miss Julius when he darted to the side and swung down for them, though they were already far past by that point and twisting around for another burst at him.

So, different tactic–he twisted and this time swung, catching them straight in the haft of their spear as they raised it up just in time to block and sending them back, off their feet, then went straight on the offensive and aimed to close the distance as quickly as possible, though that was tricky with how they immediately went on it too, jabbing rapidly with their spear in one hand, almost letting go of shaft at points only to catch it and pull back in time for another stab.

But Julius had a hand free, and he grabbed the haft when it went past, yanking it past him and stabbing straight for their face, missing by inches and cutting shallow line in their cheek–then they rammed their free fist into his stomach and all the air went out of his lungs–a palm thrust to his chin rattled his brain and knocked him back and they were pulling their spear out of his grasp and when they twisted he just barely ducked an attempt to drive the butt of their spear into his temple, kicking up as he rolled back to get some distance–

Which, as previously established, was actually a really bad idea because now they had two spears and they were going even faster at trying to skewer him, keeping him boxed in as one was always shooting forward to just barely cut him off whenever he tried to break away to either side and the other always somehow pulled back just in time to keep him from charging forward so maybe he did something a little stupid when he threw his sword at them.

It was a valid tactic, kinda, he needed to do something to knock them off their rhythm and when they batted the blade to the side–their eyes wide at the admittedly incredibly stupid move–he did press the advantage and punched them straight in the face with a hand that was probably more metal than flesh by this point.

And he kept up his own rhythm now, not letting them get a chance to recover as he repeatedly and rapidly punched straight into the slag that was once their helmet, sending splashes of molten metal across the field and earning some satisfying cracks–one thrust, he caught under his arm and snapped the spear almost on instinct, but that made it vanish into flame as their fist caught him right under the cheek hard enough to send spots into his vision–a burst of flame likely charring part of his face but he did not have the time to focus on that–and sending him skidding back across the increasingly charred grass–

Then a chimera tackled Michael. That.

…Huh?

Julius blinked, a little confused and a little worried that the spots really weren’t going away in his right eye, as a fully grown, violet chimera pinned Michael to the ground and tried to bite out the angel’s throat, though they were keeping it back with the pole of their remaining spear in its mouth–That was his sword. “Oh, so that’s what Douglas did.”

Okay, sure, good to solve that. Also, less good, Michael just blasted it straight off of them in a full on pillar of fire, launching it up and–Julius immediately ran, jumped, and grabbed his sword as it shifted back into a blade and he drove it straight down towards Michael just in time for them to roll out of the way and thrust the spear as he jerked back and swung up, his teeth grit hard while Michael screamed out, a burst of gold blood splashing against his clothes as their hand flew off entirely.

Maybe that should’ve ended it, but Michael clearly did not agree as their remaining fist–completely wreathed in the crimson flames that were almost completely covering their body–nearly smashed his head open, almost ripping the air from his lungs with the pure heat–and it was honestly good that they were in such an open place because he would’ve choked long ago otherwise–as he jerked back, to his feet, and rushed forward, grabbing them straight by the face–his fingers clutching between their shocked, pained eyes–and slammed them bodily into the ground before flipping his sword and driving it down–

Julius stopped himself. He stopped the point of his blade just as it was piercing through the flaming shell and into Michael’s marble chest–too slow, he was still stabbing them, but he hadn’t hit deep, by any means. Nowhere near their heart. Nowhere close to impaling them. But enough.

Enough to show he could have.

His breath was coming hot and heavy as he stood back up, staring down at the pure disbelief on Michael’s face, their eyes wide with shock while their body was spread flat and nearly buried into the blackened earth around them. “…W-We’re…done here.”

He nodded to them, and let a little smile slip through. “…Good fight.”

Then he turned, and started walking. The field was a wreck, burst and broken. Almost like him. But he wasn’t, was he? Spots still weren’t going away though. Might’ve gotten bigger, but it was something. Couldn’t feel his arm that well either. Though that might be because the pain coming from his broken ribs was taking most of his attention.

“N-Nn…” He didn’t pause at the choked, barely conscious reply. “N-Not…y-y-yet.” He kept walking. “IT’S NOT OVER YET!

He turned as Michael managed to get to a knee and there was an absolutely massive plume of fire racing straight towards him. And Julius swung back.

The plume split, diagonally, the flame bursting to embers in an instant as his cut rent the ground and air around it, traveling hard and fast and splitting open Michael’s chest in a shocked, choked gasp and a far larger splash of golden blood and flurry of crimson feathers. But it didn’t split them in half. They were still intact, albeit badly cut, as it continued far enough to gouge into a farmhouse off in the distance.

“…Ah dammit. I keep wrecking things with that one…” Julius mumbled, then pitched forward, landing straight on his face as Michael landed flat on their back.

Well, at least he landed on the green part of the grass. It was comfy. 

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