Chapter 24 - Leadership
Emperor Skullerbee was a tubby Lan. He was known for his sweet tooth which consequentially gave him his very popular very plump figure.
And normally, associated with that figure, was the composure and posture of a jolly old ruler who wanted little else than to appreciate his very fortunate life.
But there was nothing fortunate about that day.
“Will you be wanting a drink, your highness?”
“I’ll be wanting not to be disturbed, Liros.”
Skullerbee realized he had a mean look on his face, and while he felt a bit bad about scaring his servants, it would do them all good to see he wasn’t about to take such matters lightly. The old sheep Lan nervously nodded and hurried out of the room.
He was sitting impatiently in a secondary throne that he kept in his meeting room. It was a small thing, with nothing but his chair, since he wanted the open space for the projections.
It had almost been a day since the three thieves had made off with Aellea’s origin stone, after killing a number of guards and soldiers. The night had gone, and the sun was about to set, closing off the day.
It took half a day to get Bellhall to admit they had lost the stone and near that long to confirm that Fairgrifen had indeed already been attacked by these thieves. But the actual meeting between all of them had been delayed by Fairgrifen dropping off the radar.
He had been harassing everyone ever since, and Bellhall also put one of their diplomats doing the same thing, but Spellgate seemed uninterested. It was a consequence, most likely, of the fact their stone was still in their possession. Like Bellhall, Skullerbee could also have delegated the task of playing the bothersome politician to someone else, but it really wasn’t in his nature.
He was the leader of Aellea. He would deal with such a crisis.
Someone was stealing all the origin stones, with lackeys now wielding enough power to topple a village singlehandedly. And the adventurers who were initially pursuing them had eloped half-way into the afternoon...escaping his care, and the opportunity to talk to them. They did leave one of them behind, for communication purposes, but this…independance was not a good sign.
It all had to be contained. For the good of his people. He couldn’t just write off this responsibility to someone else, he felt the need to take care of the issue and use the might of his power and position to rush through diplomacy so they could get down to taking action.
And there was a lot of diplomacy to get through. A lot to talk about.
A few minutes beforehand, he had at last gotten word that Fairgrifen had resumed contact. It had taken a bit of time to alert the other two to this fact but now, finally, they would have an official meeting.
A tingle in his spine alerted him to the fact the spell was being activated. His antenna shivered in impatience.
“At last.” he cupped his multiple hands, glowing bright blue, and concentrated. He formed a sphere, pulling apart his hands as it grew. Then he opened his eyes and threw it forward.
The sphere expanded and splashed across the room like liquid, leaving behind traces of three different rooms, starting with three projections of the leaders of the other cities.
So now, a bright blue layer formed an ethereal presence of each of the leaders’ rooms, with the leaders’ bodies included, making it so the round room was divided in four.
Skullerbee looked around and didn’t recognize either Bellhall nor Fairgrifen’s ruler. Plus, Spellgate’s avatar was the same as always, a representation of every citizen. Spellgate was an Isocracy, after all, so when these meetings were called, everyone in the city partook in a spell that connected them all to the conversation; it automatically calculated what to say from what each individual wanted to be said, by rule of majority. Thus, Spellgate was represented by a genderless Jun of average height, width and muscle mass, who saw with blank eyes and had hair stretching to his shoulders.
“Who the hell are you people?” Skullerbee asked the other two.
“President Layryn of Bellhall,” the polite Fea said, bowing. It was a woman with long hair and a skinny figure that seemed to be dressed in a giant leaf. The Feas’ pretenses of being one with the wild by draping themselves in Flora always irritated Skullerbee, but he would just have to ignore it. The cloak, or cape, or dress, or whatever it really was, flowed as if pushed by the wind, giving her an ethereal and almost divine presence. Her pointy ears were also, expectedly, easily discernible.
“Oh right, you people elect a new one every year or so, right?”
“Every 5 years, Emperor,” she corrected him, politely but not without a hint of disdain.
“Emperor Faircloth of Fairgrifen,” the chubby and tired-looking Pan said, with a strong and overyielding tone of voice. He had a strong and ruthless posture that emanated leadership, which to Skullerbee meant he was capable of great cruelty.
Skullerbee looked aside to see Spellgate’s avatar holding back a laugh. He saw as the figure suddenly blinked and shifted to a serious face, and then spoke with the most neutral and emotionless voice Skullerbee would ever hear: “interesting.”
What was interesting was that an entire city state of people had suffered a surprise laugh, in near unison.
“You took over the city?” Layryn asked, betraying shocked surprise. “That explains the drop in communication.”
“It was time. Our form of government, weak, is exactly the reason we’re having this problem in the first place,” the Pan, Faircloth, stated. He betrayed no regret or worry, talking as if the city was all already his. “I would have caught the Bull already had the council given me the power of decision. I’m sick of seeing my city suffer because of--”
Skullerbee saw the Pan interrupting himself while looking in the Spellgate’s Avatar’s direction. Looking to the right, at it, he saw the figure holding up a hand. Its mouth twitched again, calculating the words that were coming.
“Spare us your sob justifications, surrogate emperor. Neither of us cares about the inner politics of Fairgrifen.”
“We should care,” Skullerbee stated in arguement, “it’ll upset whatever response we wish to give this problem if we can’t count on Fairgrifen’s stability.”
“There is no problem,” the Avatar said, his head twitching and blinking until it was looking at Skullerbee, “except for your old paranoia, Emperor Skullerbee.”
“Paranoia?!” Skullerbee punched the right chair-arm with all his right arms. Despite the fact it was made of marble, it cracked. “One of them blew a hole in Fairgrifen’s wall. Two of them devasted a whole port and three of them stole our origin stone, and killed a chunk of my royal guard!”
“What I think they mean, Emperor,” Layryn cut in, “is that it is likely there is just a handful of them. There is no reason to discuss open war tactics.”
“Only children would count their enemies without paying attention to the worth of each one of them,” Skullerbee noted, impatiently, “we need to put plans in place, and take action. I’m willing to commit a regiment to Spellgate’s defen--”
“Whoah!” The avatar’s time of response meant only the unanimity of the reaction. Every citizen in Spellgate had just reacted against the thought. It was such that the tone of voice actually carried emotion.
It took a few seconds, though, for them to add “we will look to Spellgate ourselves.” And that came with the usual doll-like demeanour.
“It seems to me they have been taking advantage of our unwillingness to deal with each other,” Faircloth put in. “This is not the time for us to take care of ourselves but to help each other. Let’s strengthen our ties and put down our common enemy.”
Skullerbee nodded but Layryn shook her head.
“Agreed, I don’t like any of you but that’s no reason not to trust you,” Skullerbee said.
“I am of the opinion that we are, let us say, blowing this out of proportion,” the president stated.
“We are agreed,” Spellgate’s Avatar said, in its monotonic voice.
“I’m warning you, we’re really not,” Faircloth said, crossing his arms, “the origin stones must have gained more power for some reason, there’s no other explanation for what these criminals have been accomplishing. We need to commit forces to Spellgate to stop their stone from being stolen. And we need to send out scouting parties, and put bounties up, whatever it takes to find these thieves as well as whoever is commanding them.”
“A man of action I see?” Skullerbee said, slightly offended that he would so directly try to dictate their actions.
“A man of impudence more like,” Layryn cut in, offended.
“Agreed,” Spellgrave’s avatar said, its voice now harsh. “No army shall be committed to our city. We will accept, though, donations. We will use those to personally hire mercenaries and otherwise bolster our defenses.”
“Oh c’mon, you’re richer than all of us put together,” Skullerbee protested in an unapologetically loud voice.
The figure shifted, the spell again calculating the lip movements to match the words. It would be a long statement.
“We are not the ones overly concerned about this problem, Emperor. We will not overly commit our own resources to this matter. As a sign of friendship, though, we will allow you to commit yours.”
“Well thank you, I’m touched,” Skullerbee reacted, waving his hand with as much sarcasm as he could manage.
“Emperor, madam President, I have no doubt Spellgate’s stone will be stolen.” They turned to Faircloth, a bit aghast at his straightforwardness. “We need to be prepared for what will inevitably come later. I would like to officially request your assistance towards quelling the current civil war with which I’m dealing.”
Silence endured for what seemed minutes, with everyone left speechless. Skullerbee expected such a request but had had expected it to be made in a much subtle and political way.
“We do not like him,” Spellgate’s avatar pointed out, breaking the silence in such an abrupt way it was almost funny.
“At least he recognizes the peril we’re facing,” Skullerbee put forth, “and I have nothing against some forwardness. In fact, let me indulge mine.”
He cleared his throat.
“Our treaties are founded on the principle that the stones are to be kept secure and out of everyone’s reach! That includes those outside of the jurisdiction of our individual cities.”
Again, he punched his chair arm. Breathing impatiently, he started his speech.
“Once again…Aellea will rise to the responsibility of acting first in the interest of our continued peace. We will send a full regiment to Fairgrifen to help stabilize the city, and in turn, you’ll cooperate with anything we, as a collective governing force, may require when quelling this threat, agreed?”
“Of course,” Faircloth said with a slight nod.
“I’d ask that the madam president would indulge Spellgate’s terms and lend them sufficient funds to hire an additional platoon of high-level warriors, and I’d ask Spellgate to honor the purpose of these funds and commit said force to guarding the stone.”
Silence remained as the president cautiously waited for Spellgate’s avatar to speak.
It did, eventually.
“Too risky. We will use the mercenaries to man our walls, and transfer our guards to watch the stone.”
“Agreed,” Layryn voiced with a respectful nod, “a more cautious approach to be sure. We will do our part.”
“And we ours,” Spellgate said.
“Thank you. Now, about our efforts in actually finding these people: any ideas?”
“My hands are tied by local unrest,” Faircloth said, “but I already have a team of adventurers tracking our thieves.”
“Oh, so the Ram and the Mouse’s little group are yours.”
“In the sense that I now represent Fairgrifen, yes. I understand they’re quite capable.”
“Capable of almost gettting themselves killed,” Skullerbee scoffed.
“As I understand it, it’s been three conflicts they’ve had with our thieves and they have yet to die. Or lose their trail for that matter.”
“We can count on them to continue the chase,” Layryn pointed out, “I have been contacted by a Fea who is on his way to Bellhall as we speak. He will be acting as a contact with the group. According to him, they are heading to Spellgate, close on our thieves’ trail. They have left behind another contact at Aellea?”
“They did,” Skullerbee confirmed.
“He tells me they plan on leaving someone else in Spellgate in case the thieves elude them there. And they also have someone in Fairgrifen.”
“I’ve yet to locate her in all the confusion, but yes, I can confirm she was left here. Not on purpose, but yes.”
“This demonstrates their interest in cooperating with us,” Layryn pointed out, “we should either provide them with support, or substitutes, but they are the closest to our thieves, and most likely the ones who know them best. That we know of.”
“They were practically dead this morning, according to my guard. I don’t think we can count on them.”
“The next step in all of this,” Spellgate’s avatar spoke, interrupting them, “will be at Spellgate. If there is a need to replace, or bolster, strength in this group of adventurers, we will take care of it. But we guarantee this issue will never get that far. We are forewarned and prepared. If the thieves come to Spellgate, here they will stay. Imprisoned or dead.”
“Agreed,” Layryn spoke, waving a hand in contemplation. “I am of the opinion there is nothing more we can do. We know their next target is Spellgate so I say we leave it to them, and simply prepare ourselves to take action should it be needed.”
“That and make wanted posters of our thieves. I suppose we can take care of that too,” Skullerbee said, not even trying to hide the small bit of spite over having to do the most work.
“We’re discussed, then?” Faircloth asked, “I would like to go back to my other pressing concerns.”
“If we’re all agreed, yes. For now, we’re discussed. I would like, or rather, I suggest each of us actively sends out scouting parties across our territory, just to make sure no one’s hiding under our nose…”
“A task left to each of us if we so wish to perform it.”
“Yes, well, that’s why it’s a suggestion,” Skullerbee rolled his eyes.
“Well then, I will eagerly await for your forces, Emperor. I look forward to the continued cooperation of our great cities. If you’ll excuse me.” Faircloth disconnected.
“A straightforward fellow…” Laylyn commented, not at all pleased, “I liked the old man better.”
“You would aid in a revolution, Skullerbee?” Spellgate asked.
“I would do what I must. As usual. Contrary to all of you. The responsibility rests only on my shoulders yet again. Contrary to all of you, I think this stone stealing is a very serious situation that needs to be neutralized. We all know what we could achieve with all the stones when nobody else has one.”
The meaning of Skullerbee’s words floated in the air as the silence spread. With realizing eyes, Skullerbee and Layryn looked aside at Spellgate’s Avatar, to find a hint of a smirk on its lips. It quickly shifted and twisted into the emotionless expression.
“Well then, ’till next time there is news. Let us hope this matter ends swiftly and cleanly.”
And he also disappeared.
Layryn looked at Skullerbee as he scoffed an ironic grunt, shaking his head.
She nodded respectfully. “You are wiser than you appear, Emperor Skullerbee.”
He turned his eyes towards her and soon realized he was giving her a jolly proud smile. This would let her know complimenting him worked wonders but he didn’t care.
“There’s a reason Aellea’s still an empire, madam president. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot to deal with.”
“A pleasure and an honor to make your acquaintance, Emperor. Until next time.” And with a slight bow, she disconnected, and the blueish light fell into the ground and dissipated, leaving the Emperor alone with his thoughts.
And now each will plot alone how to best benefit from this whole thing.
He got up, with effort and strain. Breathing hard from having to walk, feeling the fat in him pull and weigh, he called out for his servants to aid him. Despite his physical limitations, though, he was in as high spirits as ever.
Let’s see if, for once, I can best Spellgate.