Formal shoutout to the guest who found my not-so-subtle allusions to The Name of the Wind. Yes, I've read it - it's by far my favorite novel. To the person who asked if there is an epilogue: yes, and here it is.
When Marco returned to the castle with two glamoured demons at his side and Teach in chains, he wasn't sure what to expect. His mission had been a secret; for all the castle inhabitants knew, Marco had disappeared without a trace. But when he stepped through the gates, a massive crowd of soldiers, magicians, and castle inhabitants was there to greet him.
Soldiers rushed forward and took Teach away while Thatch—evidently well on his way to recovery—bounded across the cobblestones and swept Marco into a bone-crushing hug.
"Can't—breathe," Marco gasped, and Thatch set him down without letting go of Marco's shoulders. The knight's expression was uncomfortably serious, and Marco wondered if he'd missed something.
"Don't you ever," Thatch said, "and I mean ever, do something like that again."
And then he pulled Marco into another hug, his voice breaking. "You disappeared and I knew—I knew you'd gone after him, but he's dangerous, and you—my gods, Marco, when the scouts reported in I thought—"
"Thatch, Thatch, I'm okay," Marco said, cutting off his friend's flood of worry. "I'm fine. I came back."
"I know, you bastard," Thatch said into Marco's shoulder while he squeezed tighter. "I know."
Marco maintained that Ace and Sabo were old acquaintances from the Northern Tundra, and Thatch—though his suspicions were clear—backed him up. No one wanted to correct the wounded knight or the man who had brought the traitor back, so Ace and Sabo kept up their glamours and lived alongside Marco in the magician's massive chambers.
Thatch returned to active duty under the careful eye of Kureha. Marco kept his status as a phoenix a secret, known only to him, two demon princes, and a demon queen.
Ace used the summoning chamber like a concert hall. Most days, Marco could hear him playing an instrument. Sabo either watched or helped Marco tinker with and refine spells. The blond demon seemed to enjoy the work, and his brother the peace.
It was inevitable, then, that something would disrupt it.
Marco and Sabo were in the middle of experimenting with lightning magic when someone knocked on Marco's door.
"Come in," Marco called, stepping back from the symbols chalked onto the walls. Sabo stayed on task while Marco greeted the guest. It was a messenger, panting from the long climb to Marco's quarters and offering a written note.
"From the king," the messenger gasped.
"The king?" Ace repeated, dropping down from the rafters and scaring the poor messenger half to death.
"Ace," Marco warned, and the demon lifted his palms and backed off. Marco scanned the paper, his eyebrows shooting up. "This doesn't seem to be the area of a Court Magician."
"The king said that he can't formally intervene, but if a certain magician prone to disappearing would…er, disappear, then—"
"Hm." Marco burned the note after reading the instruction to do so and sent the messenger away before he closed the door and faced his two companions, who had moved to stand next to each other in expectation.
"Well?" Sabo asked. "Don't leave us in suspense."
Marco sighed, wondering how he was supposed to phrase this to two demons who were still learning the basics of human culture and geography. "Well…you recall the Eastern Isles, right?"
Sabo and Ace exchanged a look. "Yeah," Sabo said, indicating his attire with a gesture, "I think I do."
Marco spent a second marveling at how his life had come to this point and then decided to be level with them. "It appears that there is a bit of a revolution going on there, and the leaders have requested assistance."
Ace's eyes lit up. "A revolution?" He smiled wide and threw an arm around Sabo. "Gods, it's been ages since we've been in one of those!"
Sabo smiled, reciprocating Ace's gesture. "Sounds like we have another adventure on our hands."
The support I've gotten from this story was surprising. Thank you for all the kind reviews.
Until we meet again,