Kakane had barely been scouring the library for an hour when the door opened. It was Mira, smiling pleasantly. Kakane came to greet her, but Serena was still absorbed in a scroll. When he looked over her shoulder, he saw that it was a half-burned blueprint of a puppet.
“Hey, Serena? Earth to Serena?” He tried waving a hand in front of her face but to no avail.
“Leave her be. A researcher gets like that sometimes,” Mira giggled. “What’s that in your hand, Kakane?”
“Oh… Just something I was looking at. It’s about Atlantean wildlife,” he said dismissively. “Figured while Serena’s doing the puppets, I might figure something out about the island itself.”
“Kakane. That’s an encyclopedia of ancient reptiles,” Mira said. He stiffened. “There might be some reptiles from Atlantis in there, sure, but if you want to research the animals of Atlantis, we have better primary documents.”
“Er…” Mira folded her arms.
“It’s about those horns, isn’t it?” Kakane flinched.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said sourly, tugging his hood down further. Mira shook her head.
“I honestly don’t care,” she said. “But if there’s anything I can help you with, feel free to ask.” She chose a book off a nearby shelf and handed it to him. “This is what you want to read if you want to know more about Atlantean zoology.”
Mira walked away to discuss something with Serena, leaving Kakane to his own devices. He began rubbing his scar, feeling a little dumbfounded. Sensing that he was becoming more ostracized by the second, Kakane announced he was leaving for the city in a fit of embarrassment. Mira called up a servant, who took Kakane to town from the Momi Hale Palace, lest he got lost wandering the place.
Poseidos’s capital city was Baria, a center of trade and commerce. The descendants of Atlantean craftsmen lived here, mingling with merchants and other skilled artisans. Compared to other large towns in Poseidos, Baria was located more inland, so there were fewer fishermen here. Instead, gatherers who ventured into the forest for plants and hunters who traversed into the jungle for meat replaced them. It was a lively place, and friendly too. But there were too many people.
Gripping his cowl tightly, Kakane ran through the streets until he reached a shadier part of town. This area was built into a cliff and was shadowed by towering trees covered in vines and poisonous-looking plants. There were far fewer people here, but they all minded their own business and didn’t bother to look twice at the others around them. They came and went up and down the stairs leading from the main street to the alleyway built into the stone, never taking their eyes off the ground. Good. Besides, Kakane highly doubted anyone from Doryoku would be here. Even better. After the fiasco at the Bannaanka Weyn, he didn’t want to deal with any more soldiers or mercenaries after his life to fetch a pretty penny.
“Fancy seeing you here, Your Highness.”
Kakane’s breath hitched in his throat and he went very, very still. He’d thought too soon, dammit. He had heard that voice before. But where? Somehow the answer eluded him. He did a quick scan of the people around him. In front of him was the entrance to the cliff-carved alleyway. Behind him were the stairs. This person could have come from either direction and since Kakane couldn’t see them, they were probably near the stairs.
Turning to the stairs with a smoking hand, Kakane readied himself for the worst. Whoever this person was, they knew about him and his origins. But who could they be? Friend or foe? Either way, he had every intent on surviving this encounter; even if he had to kill someone.
“Wrong way,” a sweet voice whispered.
Kakane shut his eyes and braced for impact. The smoke coming from his hands petered out, knowing that against an assassin, there wasn’t really anything he could do. He had to hope they would knock him out and take him alive so he could escape back to the palace later. To Kakane’s surprise, he received nothing but a soft flick to the back of his head, followed by some giggling. Gingerly, Kakane opened an eye, only to breathe out a sigh of relief.
“Cateye… Don’t scare me like that,” he groaned, placing a finger on his scar.
“Sorry. I couldn’t resist. What are you doing here in Poseidos?” the cyan-eyed assailant asked.
“Personal project,” Kakane responded. “A… friend of mine is building a combat puppet, and we’re here to get it working right. I thought we might be able to use it for… that. And you?”
“Mercenary work. I got hired to protect some sailors transporting Poseidon goods from here to Echo. Seems there have been more giant leviathan sightings as of late.”
“Will you be alright? Don’t get me wrong, I trust your skills, but I understand that this sort of thing isn’t your area of expertise. I can’t have you dying on me now,” Kakane told her. Cateye nodded.
“I get where you’re coming from, but I’ll be fine. Let’s talk about this elsewhere. Come with me; Aaliyah is here too.” Kakane perked up.
“She is!? That’s great! I need to get this fixed.” He showed Cateye his right forearm, where the cracked jewel was embedded in his skin.
“What!? Woah, that’s dangerous. I can’t believe you didn’t get caught! And that you’re alive right in front of me, for that matter,” Cateye said, eyeing Kakane’s cowl and the horns and scales hidden underneath.
“I did, actually,” Kakane said with a grimace as they started walking. “But I managed to fight `em off. I killed the Thunder Lion,” he added proudly.
“Uh-huh…” Cateye looked skeptical. “Sure you didn’t have any help with that?”
“Do you question my skills? I am more powerful than any of you ordinary humans could ever comprehend!” Kakane boasted. “Furthermore, I am a king, putting me on an even higher playing field! Doubt me once you get onto my level.”
“You’re not a king just yet,” Cateye pointed out. “Where is your crown? Your sword? Your kingdom? Boast about that once you’ve reclaimed your throne, prince-boy.” Kakane’s eye twitched and his shoulders slumped.
Cateye led him into the alley, which was dark and only had eerie orange lanterns to light the way. Shady-looking people with leering eyes loitered by shops that had windows smeared in grease. Every store had a black iron sign hanging over their glass panes displaying their trade. The smoke of strange perfume, drugs, and cigars lingered through the air, making Kakane’s eyes water. No doubt about it, this was Baria’s red-light district and underground world. No matter how good of a king Kai Tempest was, even he could not permanently get rid of places such as this. That was something Kakane knew all too well, living in the shadows for ten years.
Finally, Cateye and Kakane stopped in front of a bar. The inside was filled with bright neon lights and scandalously dressed waitresses. Bowing mockingly to him while smirking, Cateye opened the stained, oily glass door and let Kakane enter first. He glowered at her but kept his chin held high, folding his hands behind his back and stepping into the establishment with a proud, regal manner. Such was the way of a king, after all. If he did not act and look his best amongst a den of criminals, then how would his figure inspire the hearts of his people?
Cateye led Kakane to a lone table draped in deep magenta fabric. It was towards the back of the establishment, where a woman dressed in white was holding her hands over a crystal ball. Her face was shielded by an ivory hood and a transparent purple veil. Seated across from her was a middle-aged man with lots of stubble wearing grimy clothing. The woman told the man their fortune, after which he gave her a toothy grin and threw some coins onto the table.
“Farewell,” the woman said in a dreamy voice. “For others I guide, fate unyielding. The next dawn we shall pray, for now your destiny refuses to sway. Come again soon, for a new fate the sunrise will bring.”
“Aaliyah.” Cateye nodded to her. The woman removed her hood and veil.
“Cateye. And Kakane. What a pleasant surprise.” Kakane rolled his eyes. He sat down, kicking his legs over the table.
“As if you couldn’t see this coming with your fortune-telling,” he said snarkily. Aaliyah chuckled.
“I cannot predict everything, my dear prince. My own fate is the most cloudy of all. Care to tell me why you are in Poseidos, or shall I try and predict it?”
The blond woman moved a dark-skinned hand over her crystal ball, deep green eyes sparkling with yellowish light. The crystal ball flashed with various colors, settling on a deep ocean blue before flashing to red and then back to blue again.
“What the hell does that mean?” Kakane raised an eyebrow. Aaliyah’s eyes were closed and she was deep in thought.
She finally rested a hand on her orb and said, “You will find great success in your work, Kakane. You created something, correct? Your answer lies across the sea. But let me warn thee: great danger and tragedy also slithers across this path. Your only downfall shall be yourself, your despair, confusion, and wrath.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, you got it right. I’m here to repair a combat puppet.”
“Do not be so eager to dismiss your own fate. Before you know it, you may encounter checkmate,” Aaliyah warned.
“I dunno, Aaliyah,” Cateye said, accepting a beer from a passing server. “Your predictions have been wrong before. Your specialty is light magic, not fortune-telling.”
“True, but this is no ruse, my cat-like friend. I fear our princely ally here may soon meet his end.” Aaliyah closed her eyes, slowly rubbing her temples. “Yes… This vision lingers. Its strength is great. Fate is always a loose cannon, but this prediction refuses to alleviate.”
“Whatever, let’s cut to the chase.” Kakane showed Aaliyah his broken crystal. “Can you fix it?”
“Oh, dear me,” Aaliyah said, dropping the fortune-teller act. “What happened? You weren’t caught, were you?”
“He was, but he claims to have fought it off,” Cateye snorted. “Says he killed an acclaimed knight from Doryoku no less.”
Aaliyah tapped Kakane’s arm, closing her eyes. She shook her head incredulously but placed a finger over the crystal. Sigils of light projected from the jewel, but there was a hole in the spell circle. Aaliyah delicately ran a finger over the insignia, muttering strange, foreign words to herself. She was the one who created this disguise crystal in the first place, so in the rare case that it broke, Kakane came to Aaliyah to fix it. With her incantation, the magic circle was repaired and the lights faded. Kakane removed his hood and ran a hand through his black hair, nodding in satisfaction once he felt that his horns were completely gone. But it felt strange and uncomfortable now that they were missing, and Kakane immediately longed for them. Meanwhile, Aaliyah tapped Kakane’s arm again, as if to confirm something. Frowning, she leaned back in her seat while groaning and holding her temples.
“He speaks the truth, Cateye,” Aaliyah sighed. “He really did kill this knight. This Thunder Lion. Along with several Doryokan soldiers.” Cateye spat out her beer.
“Hey, I do not appreciate you barging into my memories like that,” Kakane said crossly.
“I am not looking at your memories, Kakane. I am viewing your past. It is as cloudy as what my visions of the future look like. But that red color, that symbol of blood and death, was stark and bright. So recent too… It was difficult to ignore.”
“I don’t know whether I should be proud of you or whether I should strangle you on the spot,” Cateye told Kakane surly. “Good job, I guess?”
“Look, if you were in my shoes, you’d want to kill that bastard as soon as you laid eyes on him,” Kakane growled, rubbing his scar. “It was a fitting end for a murderer such as he.”
“I am a murderer too, y’know. I am a sniper. An assassin. What makes the Thunder Lion any different from me?” Cateye asked.
“You kill people with prices on their heads. Sinners who have committed crimes. Heretics who go against the teachings of the gods, New or Old World. This man… I don’t even want to talk about it.” Kakane shuddered. He touched his scar absentmindedly.
“Fair enough.” Cateye shrugged and leaned back, bringing her mug to her lips. “What they did was horrible enough on its own. Innocent people don’t deserve to die.”
“How barbaric… I still cannot believe Doryoku would do such a thing.” Aaliyah shook her head. “And yet they call us the savages! The ignorance of the Eyuthian people astounds me.”
“It’s not the Eyuthian people. It’s Doryoku and its king, that Enjo Hononen. I’m from a foreign country too, Aaliyah; not all Eyuthians are prejudiced. Kakane is proof of that, isn’t he? Only the Doryokans view us as barbarians, and it’s all Enjo Hononen’s fault. He is a fool and a monster,” Cateye spat. Aaliyah nodded.
“Indeed… It is beyond me as to why he refuses to trade with other countries, namely my own and yours, Cateye. Does he not see the value or does he deem us foreigners unworthy of Eyuth’s natural riches? Admittedly, it infuriates me to think that Enjo Hononen hoards the treasures of the Continent of the Gods to himself merely on the basis that he deserves them as an Eyuthian.”
“That foolishness will soon be his doom,” Kakane spat. “His ego and hubris will be his downfall. It will come in the form of my wrath, and my blade will strike him down. I will not accept anything less as retribution for what he has done.”
“Look, I get that you want to kill Enjo Hononen, but control that vengeful impulse of yours,” Cateye warned. “There’s a reason why people call revenge bittersweet. It can be a pitfall if you’re not careful.” Kakane scowled.
“I have been planning for ten years for that moment,” he hissed. “When the time comes, Enjo Hononen will lose everything, and not just his own life. I won’t hesitate. I am fully prepared for that moment.”
“As you should be. On that note, my father has started to prepare soldiers in my homeland in addition to expanding his spice trading business,” Aaliyah said. “It seems he has also made secret advances within Doryoku to take down the royal family. If we do start a revolution and go to war, we will surely be ready in a few years’ time. There will be enough provisions, money, and men to tear down the Doryokan Empire.”
“The people south of Eyuth sure are efficient, huh?” Cateye whistled. “To think that Eyuthians believe the continent separated from them by Aegyptus is only a sandy wasteland! But Doryoku getting torn to pieces… Boy, I’d love to see that! Count me in on some of the action.”
“A few years’ time…” Kakane closed his eyes. “If Serena really does manage to fix REAN here… And we can mass-produce the model… How many soldiers do you have right now?” he demanded from Aaliyah.
“Don’t charge in recklessly, Kakane,” Aaliyah warned. “A revolution, let alone a full-scale war with Doryoku, isn’t something that can be done overnight.”
“These things take time,” Cateye added. “Mess up, and that’ll be it. There aren’t any do-overs here. Besides, don’t you want to restore your kingdom too?”
“I know!” Kakane snapped. “But I’ve been waiting ten long years for this… I can’t help but be impatient, alright!? Doryoku will fall and my kingdom will rise once again, all in one fell swoop!” Cateye looked at him seriously.
“Restoration or revenge,” she said matter-of-factly. “Choose one or the other and get your damn priorities straight.”
“I will accomplish both.” Aaliyah shook her head.
“You may find that to be a very difficult task, young prince. Both require massive amounts of resources, and if you pursue both you may find yourself lacking in many different areas. With the time of reckoning so close at hand, you must choose one or the other.”
“Look, we won’t hold it against you if you choose your country over killing Enjo Hononen,” Cateye said gently. “We get it, Kakane. We truly do understand.” Kakane wasn’t listening to her. He was rubbing his scar and muttering words under his breath,
“Just watch me. I will accomplish both. You’ll both regret underestimating me. Me and my strength, my will.”
Cateye said nothing. She downed the last of her beer and slapped a few coins on the table, bidding Kakane and Aaliyah farewell. Kakane watched her retreating back with some amount of frustration, but he knew she was right when she said he could not rush his revolution. Even if REAN did work, Kakane highly doubted Serena would let him mass-produce her model. And he would not steal from her; that was not the way of a king. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to bear the look of heartbreak that would inevitably be on Serena’s face if he did do that. And his kingdom would not just rise overnight. He could either completely restore his kingdom and then challenge Doryoku to full-scale war or assassinate Enjo Hononen before working on his kingdom. But Kakane didn’t see why he couldn’t do both at the same time. The resources he could pillage from Doryoku could go to his rebuilding country. As long as he had enough soldiers, it was totally within the realm of possibility!
Unfortunately, now was not the time for Doryoku’s destruction, nor the restoration of Kakane’s home. Someday, it would come, he was sure. He had promised his parents Enjo Hononen’s head when he left them and departed from his country. Kakane Beureum would kill that foul king even if he too had to fall. As a king, he was a man of his word.