Chapter 157 - Summation
The king of the human Shi-eit kingdom is happy. This is a very rare occurrence, even the king himself has trouble recalling the last time he felt this good.
“Six days ago a band of traitorous criminals started an operation that will undermine the stability of this very kingdom. I hereby petition the Flight-given crown to act upon these unpatriotic crimes, through force if necessary. We cannot let the common people suffer like this, the structure of our society is threatened, and we must act!”
The noble who just gave that speech is part of the reason. The king doesn't even bother remembering their names anymore. The list of family titles, names, and heraldic symbols is gathering dust in his office. Although the speech sounds nice, the king knows what is going on. He keeps a serious expression plastered on his face and addresses the gathered council.
“You may elaborate on these criminal, unpatriotic, and dangerous activities. Explain what heinous crimes are being committed under my very nose at once!”
The nobles' chins wobble in agitation as he looks side to side, seeking the support of his fellow conspirators. “Well, my king… They undermine honest businessmen in our cities by supplying resources from an unknown origin. This steals the food out of our citizens' mouths. The hardworking subjects will see their children go hungry if this is not stopped soon!”
The king frowns deeper. Not because of some confusion, but because he actually needs to remember the name of these cretins. His thunderous thinking expression has the speaker trembling slightly. “Information provided by houses Shaadok, Haayin, and Kronderk makes it clear that food is being supplied, not stolen. I asked you to inform me of crimes, not competition.”
The man is now sweating profusely. “But they are purposely undermining us! My profits have plummeted! None of my kitchens or shops are making a profit anymore. I will need to cut back on slave import if this keeps up, not allowing me to resource the dungeon!”
The king smiles, his serious expression changing the genuinely happy emotion into a menacing, cold grimace. He gestures to the side, letting his aide know what to do with simple hand signs.
“Lack of respect, wasting the council’s and the king’s time and perjury. Three laws broken. Remove this man.” His aide, a young man by the name of Cyran, is now nearly shitting himself. The court official hasn't spoken a single time until this very moment, the king never wanting to risk putting him in the spotlights. The king had visited him a few days before, preparing him for events like these.
Nervous and terrified, Cyran also feels a surge of excitement. His grandfather was there when the king’s grandfather signed the Royal’s power away in a short-sighted bid for control, and his family had seen the kingdom decline over the years. Actually doing something usefull has him excited and sweating.
Guards clad in the best dungeon-won armour march through the large hall, dragging the protesting noble from his perch. None of the nobles present notice that all the guards have their faceplates down, nor that some walk in a manner that seems slightly inhuman. The king notices a strand of fur poking through the gaps of one particularly large armoured form and entertains himself by forming a report and submitting it to Database. The hulking form nearly stumbles a single second later, obviously startled by some form of notification. A slight adjustment later, and the fur is tucked back in.
The other nobles murmur loudly as they watch their colleague being dragged off towards the back. An old man stands up, only to be pushed back down as a younger man strides forward and takes the speaking platform. His nose in the air and a sneer on his face, he starts talking.
“The food is an issue, but we will take care of it, my king. No need for you to worry about that. Instead, I would like to bring your attention to the destruction of the Parduuk Islands. We have received reports of increased criminal activity on the seas for a while now, and this flagrant attack on our economy seems to be the cumulation of these terroristic strikes. I would like to know what measures you, our mighty Defender of the kingdom, will take?”
“According to law, I am responsible for the wellbeing of my people. This does not include the following groups: mercenaries, mages, and slaves. With that irrelevant reminder out of the way, which of my citizens were hurt?”
“None directly, milord, but the ceasing of the slave trading majority will have a large impact on the common populace. It will not be long before the common folk will starve in the streets.”
“So I need to take actions against this mystery force you are all blaming because people will starve? And some other mystery force is flooding my streets with good and cheap food. Are you messing with me?” Letting some of his aura seep through, the king focuses his sight upon the speaker.
“N-no, milord. The food will cease as soon as my men have taken out the criminal overlords undermining our economy.” His nose still in the air, the noble’s armpits are darkening at a visible pace.
Making another gesture, the king’s aide nearly chokes on his own saliva. It takes another furiously gestured code signal before Cyran starts to speak. “As is his Flight given right, the king and Defender of the Shi-eit kingdom hereby accuses you of treason for the following reasons...”
“Murder by proxy...” the king softly says. “...and collusion to start a famine for profit.”
“What? No, I didn’t mean it that way, we will simply have a nice talk about the source of their food so they can hand it over into more capable ha-” The still sneering man is forcefully muted by the guards and dragged off.
“Anyone else?” the king asks. The perfect silence is only broken by the panicked attempts at escape that quickly grow quieter. The king sits back in his throne, thunder still on his face as he gestures once more.
“Meeting closed. This has been the third and final requested meeting of the week. The next opportunity for general council will be in three days.” Cyran’s trembling voice causes a small exodus as the nobles all rush off. Moments later the large room is empty except for four people. The king, his aide and two nobles are all that remain.
“Mister and misses Brighntin. What can I do for you?” the king says as his mood switches from ‘despotic ruler’ to ‘friendly neighbour’. He saunters off to an alcove and tinkers a bit with some glassware. Carrying two cups in his hands and two cups floating beside him, he walks back and seats himself on the throne. He hands one over to Cyran while gesturing at the other two, floating them over to the neatly dressed couple.
The door is flung open and a cadre of guards enters, closing the door behind them. Loud clanging noises follow as their neat and organised march descends into a casual walk. Furry ears and multicoloured skin appears from discarded metal as the students remove their disguises.
“Ah, Cyran my boy. Meet these fellas. It’s an exclusive and informal club, so don't bother with formalities for fucking once, aight? By the way, great job. It felt amazing slapping their fucking faces.” The king’s smile radiates happiness and contentment. Cyran uses his years of training and experience in the nest of vipers that is the court to keep his face straight. Quite a feat, for the events happening around him are wilder than he ever could have dreamt of.
“What are your plans with our so-” The head of the Brighntin family starts speaking animatedly, his grey-speckled beard quivering with contained discontent when the girl standing next to him catches his eye.
“Hey, mom and dad. You met Vox earlier, yeah, I’m kind of mad about that. Don’t talk to me, okay? Bye!” and their promising mage daughter - the first in four generations to be accepted by the Wave Island light mages and welcomed in their illustrious midst - walks off without glancing back.
“Sup Rodrick. Your axe looks great as fuckin’ usual. Where’s that cunting side-bitch of yours, Yellow, was it? That dress was fucking tight!” the king says to the largest guard.
“Green. And she’s busy catching up with lost family. Some girl named Blue, I don’t really know… And you seem different?” Rodrick looks at the king with squinted eyes.
“Cyran, come here. Meet these fucking dickwipes, they’re great! I’m finally allowing myself to be me instead of this piss-straight cuntfuck of a persona I have to be when I’m the fucking king, you know?” The king relaxes further on his throne, slouching even more.
“Hmm, yes… I understand,” replies Rodrick, who does not understand at all. “I’m going to check on… those unknown elements now.”
“You do you, man! Vox, how are our plans going? It just felt so great to finally fucking rip those ass-ranging nobles a new one. I might even have that dickass fur-burger I had dragged off executed for undermining the good of society, or some such bullshit.”
“King, we are not friends, okay? Maybe do half-and-half? Half persona and half you, that might make you a bit more bearable. Anyway, Ares will give you the latest report. And why haven’t you introduced us yet?” Vox looks Cyran up and down, studying the unknown man’s physical form with great care. The redhead pulls the last bit of armour from his legs, vanishing it into his ring as he focuses on the royal aide.
The king frowns and focuses on Ares. “Okay then. Status report please.”
“Ah, hello mister king. A status report with all events since six days ago? Yeah, that’s when you last requested one. Okay, we’ve infiltrated the guard as you requested. A combination of paperwork manipulation and social engineering got us assigned as guards. Then w-”
The king coughs and interrupts the girl mid-sentence. “Sorry, but what’s social engineering?” he asks with minimal chagrin.
“Teach does this thing where he clads himself in qi that he shouts at. We did it to appear like your guards' colleagues or close friends. He did warn us not to take it too far, as it’s practically mind rape, but yeah… ”
The murmur of conversation fills the awkward silence between the timid girl and chastised ruler. They hear some snippets about trees, crushed mages and destroyed slave emporiums. The king purposefully ignores all talk about world-ending mistakes and countdowns concerning the collective mage islands. He has limited capacity to care and act, and would very much like to limit the ability he has to his own kingdom.
“So Teach asked us all to prepare for a largely sea-based battle. Some think that something has gone wrong with the mages or the Flight, but we’re pretty confident we can handle either. I-I mean, that’s the consensus of us all, not of me personally...” The king studies the girl in front of him for a bit. Flustered, stammering, and obviously lacking any shred of confidence, he theorizes about conquering her timid little heart. A single glance of her brother - radiating with both sexual and physical threats of violence - has the ruler thinking on the straight and narrow again.
“But most likely, it’s some trouble around the mana dungeon that the mages have kept hidden so far. That’s what all the smart guys are saying, anyway. It’s supposed to happen in a few days, so everybody is scrambling to put things together before that. Uhm, Ket, Tess and Selis brought in a few kids that had these wild cultivation bases. So that got everyone excited. Other than that, Tree grew a bit again. The sea around Tree’s lands have been growing rapidly, I think.”
The king has to stop himself from looking at the girl. Her genuine concerned expression - a pouting face while she has a finger pressed to her lip - is doing something to the ruler’s mind that no female has managed so far. He tries to rationalise this to himself, without much result.
She is at least a hundred times more powerful than him. She is half his age. Her aura feels like a combination between a healing massage, a caring mother, an innocent little animal, and a cold, calculating white mage - counting coins versus lives saved. There is this thin veneer of sheer overconfidence that intrigues and confuses the king. It's enough to pique his interest but thin enough to know it's completely natural, without anything artificial.
Another glare by her brother has him thinking of other things again. “And on the food front? Anything about a complex and convoluted quest to unseat the ruling nobles?”
Ares thinks very hard, and the king sees a small green stone in her hairline glow briefly for a second. “You're totally right! I’m so sorry, I nearly forgot!” The king stops her bowing, not so much to prevent her from showing obedience to him, more to prevent her brother from having a reason to murder him as her cleavage is showing quite a bit of skin.
Pulling on his collar, the king listens as Ares resumes her report. “Valerius has had great success with growing mass food resources. The cooking department has had some trouble, the first batch of dishes they made was too delicious. The common people would never have accepted the products as normal eating. Re-Haan had to reword the mission a few times to get the proper results, but we’re distributing a rough hundred thousand meals a day through a network of unknowing underlings. Protecting our distributors has proven to be difficult. Why are your nobles so stab-happy?”
The king is plunged into a crisis of conscience. Never has he felt as guilty for the fact that his direct subjects - the noble ruling caste - are a bunch of ruthless power-hungry despots as the current moment. He breaks away from the sultry accusing eyes of the redheaded girl to think about what she said.
The food is being taken care of. Any long-term plans… anytime the king tries to think about long-term futures, the experience that Teach forced him to go through comes to mind. The glimpse of the endless abyss. The inevitable darkness that awaits all. It puts things in perspective, you know.
The king licks his lips. Never has he allowed himself to pursue something like carnal pleasures. His long-dead parents and teacher figures always told him to put the people first. Wanting something for yourself once in a while isn't bad, right?
The combined pressure of an angry brother and two overprotective parents glaring at him from where they are still sitting lands on the ruler. Thinking of that abyss he saw, he decides to ignore all three and puts an arm around Ares’ shoulder. “Great report. Let’s discuss it in more detail in the private quarters, shall we?”
Cyran is fascinated and terrified as his impeccable and incorruptible ruler starts fighting with a boy and the two rulers of a major noble family of the kingdom. The handsome boy that was previously flirting with him is now pummeling his employer’s face into the marble tiling. Confused but slightly aroused at the sight of a mature man kicking his king, Cyran decides that a hands-off approach is the best option for this situation.
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