Kakane quickly found His Majesty, Kai Tempest, walking down one of the long corridors of the Momi Hale Palace. The sun was setting, casting bright light and long shadows down the hall from out the window. Kakane placed a finger on his scar for good luck before sucking in a deep breath and calling out Kai’s name.
“Your Majesty, King Kai Tempest of Poseidos, I wish to speak with you!” Kai turned around.
“Hm? You’re… Kakane, right? What do you wish to discuss?”
“You said… You said you’re not acquainted with Doryoku, yes? That you’re not allied with them? Then,” Kakane took a deep breath, “what is your opinion on the state of the Doryokan Empire?”
Kai tapped his chin and closed his eyes, deep in thought. When he opened them, he said, “Well, like most other independent nations on Eyuth, such as Echo to the north and the collective communities of Aegyptus to the south, I do think that Doryoku’s growing strength is a cause for due concern. But as of now, it doesn’t bother me too much.”
Kai smiled and walked towards a window. Kakane followed him. The windows of this hall lacked glass, allowing one to immerse their whole body in the fresh air and natural beauty of Poseidos. Outside the window was a perfect view of the surrounding city, as well as the islands that made up the kingdom of Poseidos. From here, Kakane could see the liveliness of Ali’i, the kalo paddies of ’Āina, the dark mass in the distance that was Atlantis, the dense jungles of Ka Ma’ukele, and finally, the rumbling volcanoes of Ka Mauna. Everything was united by the Ānuenue Bridges, which ranged in colors from fiery red to smoky purple.
The sight was beautiful, sure, but what exactly was Kai thinking? Or getting at, for that matter. Why did he turn to his kingdom when he answered Kakane’s question about Doryoku? This was about Kai’s opinion, not Poseidos! Kakane glanced up at the king as a tropical breeze blew through his hair. Kai still remained serenely smiling, looking over his people peacefully and proudly.
“Kakane, do you know what makes a good king?” Kai asked.
“Strength,” the scarred boy said immediately. “Complete confidence in oneself, and the power to achieve all your goals. The power to make your dreams and ideals a reality. In order to successfully lead people, a king must have the power to believe in themselves, so that the people may willingly follow. There is no room for error or weakness. A king is one who leads his country with absolute strength.”
“I suppose that’s one way of going about it,” Kai said. Kakane was taken aback. “But for me, being a king is more than confidence, or strength, or power. It’s about protecting those who can’t protect themselves. I believe that those with privilege have that responsibility. In time, from that kindness, the weak will go on to protect those weaker than them. That is how I want my kingdom to be run. I was born into a lineage of kings descended from gods, and I have sworn an oath to guard my people. In truth, I am perfectly willing to open trade with Doryoku, but out of fear that they will attempt to collapse our economy to control us, I have refrained from doing so.”
“Anyone who would think to trade with Doryoku is a fool,” Kakane spat. Kai shook his head.
“Not necessarily so. I had to consider all the options, and I chose the one that would bring the least amount of pain and hardship to my people. For me, being a king means prioritizing the safety and well-being of my people above anything and everything else.”
Kakane was silent. Mutely, his red eyes focused on the gardens below him. They were peaceful, pretty, with no outside intruders. Just the caretakers of the flowers and the occasional visitor strolling down the marble pathway.
“I’ve almost given up too much,” Kai admitted. Kakane turned to him, and the king was lightly grimacing. “Look at me, twenty years of age yet without mistresses or lovers. At this rate, I will be forced to marry only to preserve my bloodline. It will probably be to a lady of high standing who I have never met. Frankly, I’m a bit envious of court officials who can afford to marry out of love. You, too, have a special bond with your friend Serena, no? I’m jealous.” Kakane blinked.
The king of Poseidos… Was jealous of him? He, who had so much, was jealous of Kakane, who had nothing? Kai had a kingdom, pride, honor, everything. His navy was the strongest in all of Eyuth, for gods’ sake! Kakane… Kakane had to start everything from scratch. If anything, it was he who should be jealous of Kai! He had inherited his kingdom like any other king.
“That’s not all,” Kai continued. “I’ve had to crush the dreams of others to attain the peace I desired. It’s almost selfish, really, and I don’t really like it, but I am a king, and that’s just the sort of thing I’m forced to do. Just the other day, I turned down a man’s request to turn Ka Mauna into a tourist attraction.”
“Because Doryoku could exploit it?”
“Because the people already living on Ka Mauna would get kicked off their island. I don’t know where that man came from or what his true ambitions were, but for the sake of the peace, safety, and well-being of Poseidos as a whole, I had to reject him. A king always has to look at the bigger picture, instead of focusing on all the minute details. I would love to diversify Poseidos by bringing in more people, but not at the cost of my citizens’ well-being. Any personal ambitions I also had I also put an end to once I became king.”
“Your… Personal ambitions? What do you mean?”
“Yes. Music, horseback riding, hunting, I enjoyed all those things. But I stopped practicing them once I became king. Now they’re only pleasantries. Hm? Is something the matter, Kakane?”
“No, it’s nothing… Nothing at all.”
“I see. Very well then. This was an enlightening chat we had. I hope you learned something from it.” Kai smiled and patted Kakane on the shoulder before continuing on his way.
When he had turned the corner, Kakane could hear Megrez’s voice from down the hall. From the sound of it, it seemed the two were going to take a stroll through the royal gardens together. Kai told something to Megrez, who laughed in return. A servant passing by wished Kai and his sister a nice time at the gardens.
What a fool.
Kakane was enraged. It was the given of any king to make sure their citizens were happy! If a king had to spend everything to ensure that, then they were obviously doing something wrong. And in addition to that, it was their job to do the best they could in furthering and enriching the lives of their people. Not doing so led to a stagnant kingdom, and in several generations, a fallen country. Rather than looking at the present, kings always had to have an eye on the future.
For the sake of his people, Kakane was planning to declare war on the Doryokan Empire, take back his lands, and restore his kingdom. He would bring back the former glory of his country. All of his people would be grateful, as a given! For what he did for them. For what he was going to do.
How could Kai just look within when there was so much going on outside? He was a fool for not seeing how dangerous Doryoku was becoming. Why, just in a few year’s time, his entire kingdom could be wiped out! The Doryokan Empire would rule all of Eyuth and its former kings would be rolling in their graves, cursing themselves for not acting sooner. Kai could easily prevent this with his powerful navy, which was even greater than Doryoku’s.
And yet if Kai really was right and preserving peace, safety, and well-being above everything, even the future of the kingdom, what was Kakane to do about it? He would not rule like Kai. His way was the right way, unlike that fool Kai Tempest.
After all, where was his hatred to go? Where would he place his burning desire to slay the king of Doryoku for what he did all those years ago? The wandering souls crying out for vengeance and retribution, how was he to honor their wishes? Their wails had haunted Kakane for ten long years… Soon, their prayers would be answered.
He would wage a war to bring the events of that fated day to a close, restoring his kingdom in the process. And when that time came, Kai Tempest would thank him.
Was Kai really right? Was his image of a king better than Kakane’s?
Looking again at the view of Poseidos, Kakane recalled how happy and friendly all of the people seemed. The only place where he had seen any sort of negative emotion was at the red light district, and that was the one area that was beyond Kai’s control. This kingdom was beautiful, both inside and out. This was the fruit of Kai’s labors, and the labors of the kings who had come before him.
If Kakane truly did kill Enjo Hononen… Would his kingdom end up the opposite of Kai’s? A desolate wasteland crushed by war and strife…? After he worked so hard to make a comeback, would it all be for naught?
That couldn’t be the case, could it?
No, he wouldn’t allow it.
“Kakane? Are you alright?”
Startled, he turned to face Serena, who was looking concerned. Thinking about it now, this was the first time Kakane had gotten a good look at Serena’s face. She was admittedly rather pretty, with glossy long white hair that fell to her waist. It was straight, but wavy bangs framed her rosy cheeks and forehead. Her eyes were bright pink and kind, so kind. Her lips were plump, slightly parted in her moment of confusion.
“Kakane? Earth to Kakane?” She waved her hand in front of his face.
How many times had that hand saved him? Her healing magic, her offensive support capabilities; Kakane would never confide this to anyone, but he might not have been able to kill the Thunder Lion without Serena’s assistance.
“I’m fine. I just spaced out for a minute,” Kakane reassured her. Somehow, his hand had found its way back to his scar and was rubbing it tentatively.
“Are you sure? I can make some tea that can help you sleep if you want. It might take a while, though.”
“Don’t you need to help Mira with the restoration of Poseidos?”
“Yeah, but I’m used to pulling all-nighters. I want to make sure you’re okay! I understand that coming to a new place takes some time to adjust to. You’re an important friend to me, and I don’t want you feeling under the weather.”
Just how selfless was this girl? First at Zetreum Forest, when those gods damned bounty hunters nearly froze him solid; Serena had thawed him without any hesitation. Then at the Bannaanka Weyn when she treated him despite her fussing and even bothered with Takeru, who hurt her. And now this. Just how far was Serena willing to go to ensure the health and well-being of those around her? Kakane was amazed, but he couldn’t help but think that she was overdoing it.
“I’ll be fine. Don’t do something stupid like overworking yourself for my sake. Just focus on helping Mira,” Kakane told her. Serena nodded.
“Okay. I’m glad to see you’re alright.” She smiled.
“What is it?”
Kakane looked away from her, feeling awkward. Placing a hand on his nape, he asked tentatively, “After REAN is fixed, what are you going to do?”
“Um, well… I haven’t thought about it much, but I’ll probably go to a big city and take up work as an aromatherapist or a healer or an herbalist. Maybe… Well, I’ve only heard rumors about its splendor, but perhaps I’ll go to Jigoku, the capital of the Doryokan Empire.”
Anger flared within Kakane and he felt sparks burst in his palms. Serena? Go to Doryoku? Inconceivable! How dare she even suggest the idea in front of him!
But at the same time, what did Serena know about Kakane? Or about Doryoku, for that matter. She would not know the truth about that foul empire. He had barely told her anything about himself, and as a plain girl from an obsolete village in the middle of a forest, she probably barely knew anything about the world beyond. But Doryoku, who controlled nearly half of all of Eyuth’s land, was almost sure to have wormed its name into her village. Its might was known far and wide, all across the world and overseas. And when it came down to it, Kakane… Kakane was more obsolete than she was.
He sucked in a deep breath.
“I’d rethink that idea if I were you,” he told her. “Doryoku… It’s not all that it seems. You’re better off in someplace like Aegyptus.”
Serena blinked, pink eyes clouding over with mystified curiosity. Kakane didn’t dare tell her more than that. Instead, he just turned around and made his way to his room, leaving Serena to stare at his retreating back in confusion.