Interlude 23 – An Epilogue

“We didn’t do shit,” Sergio complained with a deep frown, catching the attention of everyone else at the poker table. The makeshift poker table, really, grabbed from another room in Castle Valondrac–real original name there–so they didn’t have to move from the training hall. It was round enough, and it seated about everyone that wanted to be seated, so whatever.

“…What’s that supposed to mean?” Ria asked with a frown of her own as she changed her cards. 

“It means we didn’t do shit. On that island, all we did was sit and watch as everything happened. Sure, Teach gave us stuff to do, but then the angels were off doing something else, so all we really did was eat fried octopus and watch politics.” Seriously, couldn’t at least one other angel decide to say fuck it and also attack? He was so ready to stuff an angel with arrows. 

“…So you would have rathered everything went to shit, rather than the easy victory we got?” 

“Yes? We didn’t get to fight a Demon Lord, so some kind of consolation fight would have been nice.”

“…Forgive me for asking, but does everyone Julius train end up like him?” Bacol asked as he dealt the cards. The frostdrake had become fast friends with them once they learned about their mutual misery via the “training” that they called Teach’s sadistic tendencies.

“Don’t worry, Serge is just a special case,” Sue replied, “So unless you’re naturally like him, you’re good.”

“Seriously? Are you telling me none of you are annoyed we didn’t get to do something badass to end our quest?” Sergio asked, legitimately annoyed by this point.

“I mean…we did plenty of cool stuff throughout.” Adrien shrugged. “We fought a dragon and a giant…metal golem spider.”

“I still say we got robbed.”

“You say we were robbed, I say we survived this adventure without issue,” Syl replied, then laid her cards flat, “Straight flush.”

Everyone groaned, grumbling and muttering as they passed their coin over to the smug elf. “…Seriously though, doesn’t anyone else feel just a little useless? We’re sent on this big, dumb quest–”

“We volunteered,” Sue interjected as Mask dealt the cards.

“–and sure, we fight some monsters and some crazy people who we’re now friends with because it turns out most of them are actually kind of nice when they’re not trying to sic demons on us or smash us into paste, but we didn’t even get a final battle! Teach got a final battle! How’s that fair?!”

Syl rolled her eyes. “It’s not a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of what happened. We didn’t have to fight, and that’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, I’m with Syl on that,” Adrien agreed, checking his cards and clearly trying not to frown. He had the worst poker face. “We didn’t go through any of the horrible crap Teach had to deal with when he was our age, and that’s a seriously good thing.”

Sergio grunted. “I’m not saying I want to go through anything horrible, I’m just saying we didn’t get to do anything.”

Syl quirked an eyebrow. “You were saying you missed out on a final fight.”

“Yes, but that’s not necessarily horrible. Wouldn’t it be fun to kick some angel ass?”

Sue huffed in amusement. “It might be, but you’d be screwed. The green one was the wind angel, remember? I’m pretty sure arrows don’t beat wind.”

“Fuck off, I could shoot through a tornado. Guarantee it.”

“Oh really? Then how about we go find a twister when we get home and you can prove your point before the wind-ups show up to disperse it.”

“Wind-ups?” Mask asked, glancing up from their own cards.

“Weatherknights,” Adrien explained.

“Ah.” Mask tilted their head and said the obvious, “What are weather knights?”

“Walked right into that one,” Sergio muttered, earning a huff from Adrien.

“Weatherknights are like knights that handle weather problems, like if a cyclo goes wild, or a tornado spawns.”

“Ahhh…and those are…?”

“Wind monsters.”

“Got it! Thank you!”

“My point is, I could kick a tornado’s ass and I will prove it,” Sergio cut in, “I shot through those bor things back in the wind temple-”

“Oh yeah! We also fought an evil statue thing, right, forgot about that one.” Gods damn it Adrien, don’t look so happy about that.

“And the giant plant.” Damn it Sue…

“Oh, and tons of dungeon monsters. Well, temple monsters. Which were kind of dungeon monsters?” Maria paused, frowning, “Is there a difference?”

“Dunno. Is there a difference between those and those ‘Church’ things, Bacs?”

Bacol blinked. “…You all live very eventful lives.”

“Don’t you live in the Dark Lands?” Sergio asked, “You should see much worse all the time, dude.”

“…I don’t know if ‘worse’ would be the right word for it. I’m used to things like snowyrms and getting ambushed by lagothropes. Giant plants are…Well, no, I’ve been in Lady Autumn’s greenhouse…Well the sta-Ah, I suppose General Valon would count for that…hm. I suppose I have seen General Marcusson’s boreis around too…” He shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t have any argument.”

“Good boy. Now, what the fuck’s a lagothrope? Snowyrm is obvious, but the thrope thing sounds like beastfolk.”

“You’re right on that. The popular terms are ‘wererabbits’ or lapins.”

“You have bunny girls?” Maria sounded awed. Probably a bad sign.

“…Don’t…call them that. Please. They can and will break your neck with a foot.”

“So you’re saying they’ll step on me-”

“Down girl,” Syl said, giving Maria a glance.

“Yeah, seriously. I know your dad is the king of pervs, but you could show a little dignity,” Sergio teased, smirking, “Wasn’t your hot sister a lot less freaky?”

“First off, don’t call my sister hot. She objectively is, but I’m familially obligated to kick your ass. Second off…I don’t have a second, but shut up.”

Sergio smirked, but decided to throw her a bone and didn’t grace them all with his witty banter. At least so he could make sure he had good cards. 

Mira had left a little while after they got to “Castle Valondrac”–which he was now thinking should be emphasized with lightning flashes whenever someone said its name–to go do…something. Heading east for some reason, apparently following up on some info she got from that Samore guy. Something about old labs. Might be interesting to look into, now that he thought about it…

“So since you’re so ready to keep on fighting, are you going to keep adventuring?” Bacol asked, his face and tone both neutral.

“Of course. My talents are far too valuable for me to retire so soon. Though I may need to find a new party if I decide to travel the Dark Lands,” Serge said as he eyed Adrien’s sword. The holy blade was still by his side for some reason, and that was…he wasn’t sure what it was, but it was a sign of something.

“Eh? Wait really?” Wow. Adrien genuinely sounded sad there. 

“…Yeah, right, as if I can find anyone else out there who could come as close to my skills as you lot can. Might go solo for a bit, but you guys are the only team for me.”

“As annoying as you can be, I do have to admit you’re the only archer I’d trust to guard my back.” Well shit, that actually felt nice to hear–

“Royal Flush!” Mask suddenly screamed happily as they won, “…Wait, what were you talking about?”

…Yeah, someone really needed to teach Mask to read the room. 

Hearing the door open, Sergio looked over to find Sophia walking in, the outworlder healer obviously tired as she collapsed into an open chair. 

“No luck?” 

“…Not yet, but I’m not giving up.” 

“You’ll get there,” Sue said as she took the deck and started shuffling, “Maybe you can make it your big personal quest like Serge is suggesting?”

“Eh?”

“Hey, I said nothing about personal quests,” Sergio shot back, frowning, “I just-”

“Keep complaining about how you feel unfulfilled, so you want to go out and do something different. Personal quest.”

“…” He didn’t actually have anything to say to that. No, wait, he had one thing. “Fuck.”

Sue snorted as Syl sighed. “Right…well, I suppose if we are ‘splitting up’, as it were, should we decide now on if we pair up? I imagine Adrien and Sue would prefer to stick together.”

Sergio quirked an eyebrow. “Is that your way of saying you wanna start dating someone here? Soph or Maria?”

“Wh-No, and why are those two your immediate options!?”

Sergio shrugged. “Soph thinks you’re cute, Maria thinks you’re cute, you think both of them are cute, it’s an obvious conclusion.”

“Welp, can’t be me, I think,” Maria cut in as she collected her new hand, “I’m planning to go and find the rest of my very extended bloodline. That’s kind of a more ‘very personal’ quest thing, so I don’t know if any of you guys want to follow along.”

“Do you want us there?” Sue asked, ignoring Syl’s flustered blush and how quiet Sophia was being. 

“…Hmmmmm…Kiiiiinda, but because I love all you guys like you’re my family, not because I think I can’t handle it on my own. I’m pretty sure I can kill just about any monster I come across, so that’s not much of an issue.” Leaning back, Maria glanced over at Mask. “What about you?”

“Hm…not sure. Don’t really have any plans or personal quests. Might just wander around?”

“Well, with Mask unsure, and Syl most likely staying here with Soph,” Ignoring Syl’s embarrassed stutter, Serge leaned forward, smirking. “How about one last team job?”

“…Serge, you’re making me feel nervous here.”

“What is there to be nervous about? I mean, we’re all super strong, and with Bacs here, we’ve obviously got a bigger group. So-“

“No. Serge, I know what you’re about to say, and no.”

“Come on! At least let me suggest it!” Sue had a blank stare, so Sergio took that as a sign to continue. “We all jump Teach.”

“…”

“…”

“I knew you were going to say that, and it’s still dumber than I thought.”

“Look. Let me explain, it’s our duty as his students to show how strong we’ve become. I mean otherwise he would assume that we slacked off on our training. Besides, as we just decided, we are going our separate ways right? Think of this as a send off, for Teach’s sake.”

Sue grimaced. “…You’re doing that deliberately, and I’m annoyed.”

“…He does make a good-”

“Adrien, no.”

“…You know, with him down an eye and his arm still busted, we might have a chance-”

“Mask, I will smack you.”

“I’m hearing more votes in my favor than against.” Sergio grinned. Sue glared at him. He grinned wider. She glared harder.

“…” Sophia suddenly sighed. “It…might be fun?”

“Soph agreed, that’s an immediate win for me.”

“…” Sue rolled her eyes. “Fine, but if he kicks our asses, I’m kicking yours.”

“Nope, because then you have incentive to lose.”

“I’m not that much of a sadist.”

Sergio smirked, then glanced at his second oldest friend. “Adrien, confirm or deny?”

“…W-W-What??”

“It’s a simple quest-” Sergio ducked a thrown card. “Alright, too sensitive a topic, gotcha. Now then, who wants to talk strategy?”

“Ooo, me!” Maria chimed in, grinning, “I’ve been having tons of ideas for how the ultimate showdown would inevitably go!”

“Good enthusiasm.”

“Why would you expect an ‘ultimate showdown’,” Syl asked in the driest tone possible. Almost had Teach’s whole “asking a question that sounds like a statement” air to it.

“Because?? Who doesn’t want to beat up their teacher?? It’s all about surpassing them! Proving you’re awesome! Showing you can handle everything, including them! Or are you telling me you never wanted to beat up Douglas?”

“…I mean…I never planned on a ‘showdown’.”

“Well now you can join in on the fun!”

“Well, I’m in,” Bacol said, “So, how about we start with planning?”

“Exactly Bacs!” Sergio replied, grinning, “And with that, I gladly thank you for your sacrifice!”

“What.”

“Serge.” It wasn’t quite a groan, but Sue did sound close to one. “Please at least sound serious.”

“I am! Fact of the matter is, we can’t just ambush Teach and think he won’t realize something is up. So we need someone to keep his attention to lower his guard long enough for us to attack. And, chances are, Bacol here will probably be the best to take a blow from Teach and still keep on standing afterwards.

“But, I’m not just leaving him without some help. That’s where Mask comes in. Once they get the signal, they’ll drop from above and grapple Teach, hopefully before he takes out Bacs.”

“I really don’t like this plan where I’m the only one in immediate danger.”

“But you are the well-trained palace guard who totally has years of experience and genuine skill, right?”

“…You realize I can’t say ‘no’ here, right?”

“Good to hear you agree. As for the rest of us, Adrien, you’re good at planning things. You can figure out orders when we’re in place.”

“Oh sure, I can handle that. Hell, as is, I think we can already set things up with Serge here up top on long range, Syl and Soph partnered up to block him off from one direction, Sue and me jumping in for close combat, and Maria at the other end to block him off there and provide fire support. Maybe a hallway would be good for close quarters, at least a long hall…yeah, I think we can make this work.”

Serge grinned, gesturing to their brilliant leader. “You see? Actual planning. We’ve got this.”

They did not have it. They did not have it in the slightest. Mostly because none of them expected Teach to literally chuck Bacol at Mask the instant he noticed them jumping from the rafters. Turned out, his uninjured arm was still insanely strong. And so were his legs. And knees. And head.

And as Teach gently lowered an unconscious Maria out of his chokehold and down to the ground, right by the rest of Sergio’s knocked out friends, the now-lone archer felt a shiver go down his spine as his longtime teacher stared right at the rafter he was perched on. “…I didn’t forget about the rock.”

“…Well shit.”

Yeah, he didn’t get outta that one easy.

Ah well. There’s always a next time.

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