The Selection

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Chapter 67 - Inteiru Expota - Tension

It’s early afternoon, and we haven’t found anything related to the masked men or snake earring group. We’re back at the table inside the Icy Tavern.

Ada, who was so keen on utilizing the time we have effectively, is silent as the rest of us rejoin her.

Seeing how no one else is saying anything, I interject, “Well, what else have you guys found?”

My question is met with silence. How ironic. Despite Ada making a fuss about wasting time, none of them have found anything else other than our encounter with those men.

“We didn’t find anything, but two of our groups heard something about an auction event somewhere,” Aisha informs. “We’ll have to repeat our scouting process to find out more.”

“I have a better idea,” I say. Since we can’t exactly get access to some of the larger residences in the city, we’ll fall back to our original discovery. “Let’s explore the rest of the underground city. As we mentioned in our story, we think Floyd might know a few things. He’s at the Casino somewhere down there.”

I don’t know if none of them think it’s a good idea or if they’re all too scared to get a pass, but no one answers. I continue, ”Unless you guys have a better idea…hurry up and get a pass. We don’t have all day. Half the day’s already over.”

“Let’s go with that,” Aisha says. “Any objections?”

A moment of silence before Aisha continues, “Great. Do you know where to obtain passes?”

“I don’t know. Just go any Dwarven blacksmith, they’ll probably do it. Try the Dwarven district,” I say, and then my stomach growls. “While you guys do that, I’m gonna grab some grub with Hina. We haven’t had a chance to eat anything since arriving.”

“Right. We’ll be back as soon as possible,” Aisha says and stands up. The rest of her team follow and leave the building.

“Good call, I’m starvin’,” Hina says and walks out the door. I follow.

“Let’s find a Human establishment. I don’t wanna risk having to eat some strange rocks or something at another place. Not saying that it’s all they eat, but you know?”

“No objections here.”

We repeat the process of going into restaurants and looking around a few times. On our third attempt, we find Human servers. It’s a bit crowded, but I’d imagine most places will be considering it’s the Inteiru Expota. Well, except the Dwarven places. There seems to be an overabundance of them in this area. Everyone can enjoy a nice universal meal while only Dwarves can eat those rocks, though it’s only Humans in here as far as I can see.

A man carrying some food walks past us and says, “I’ll be right with you. There are two open tables. Feel free to take the smallest one in the corner.”

We sit down at the empty booth in the corner. Oh, two Dwarven men are sitting at the table next to us. They have their arms crossed and look grumpy. There are a few small rocks on the table. That’s interesting how this place accommodates Dwarves by giving them some rocks. I wish the Icy Tavern had some food for non-Dwarves too.

“So, we have some downtime. Let’s talk about that Aerkin battle,” Hina says and beams with an open mouth. Looks like someone enjoyed themselves.

“What—“

“I take everythin’ back what I said about monsters bein’ dumb,” she continues before I can say anything. “Well, the bear was dumb, but the wolf was amazin’.”

I think back to the moment that I thought was most impressive. “Yeah. He had an ingenious plan to attack only when the bear exhausted its Fire Affinity. If he didn’t, the bear’s Fire magic would have been continuously used and replenished at the same rate allowing him to use it as a defense mechanism as the Earth magic closed in on him. It made me realize that I should be more careful about how I use my magic, considering I have low Fire Affinity.”

Hina smiles smugly and answers, “Well, I don’t have to worry. It’s a shame your talent won’t be of much use when everyone’s Mana manipulation skill catches up to you. You’ll be at a severe disadvantage with your low Mana capacity and Fire Affinity.”

I smile back and respond, “Well, if I cut their throat with my swords before they can use any magic, it won’t be a problem. High Affinity and Mana capacity mean nothing if you make dumb decisions like the bear.”

“Fine, but seriously. What’ll you do when you can’t overpower the enemy? It won’t work if they’re stronger like those masked men. Or when they’re smarter than you? You’ll lose a battle of attrition.”

“Run like hell, what else? I won’t get into those situations. Unfortunately for those Aerkins, they have nowhere to run. It’s life or death,” I answer, though technically my Fire magic is the strongest. Nothing can overpower it.

The server from earlier runs up to us and says, “Sorry, we’re quite busy at the moment. We don’t have a menu for today since we have an overabundance of various monster meats. Ten silver coins upfront for one plate of an assortment of meats.”

Ten silver coins…? That’s ridiculously expensive for one meal. Is it because it’s overcrowded in the city? People are taking advantage of this to charge way more than the standard. We don’t have time to look for another place that might be the same way. I’m starving too. We have enough money, so it’s not a problem. I drop twenty silver coins on the table and respond, “Sure. Give us two servings. One for each of us.”

“Right away, sir,” he says, picks up the coins, and then walks away.

Considering that these Dwarves next to us haven’t got their food yet, it’ll probably be a while for us, given their grumpy expression.

“Don’t you feel sorry for those Aerkins?” Hina asks. “What if we had to fight to the death?”

“Feeling empathetic for monsters?”

“Not specifically all monsters. Just the ones like Splinter, who’s smart and can make decisions like us. They’re no different other than their physical appearances. It’s not fair to bucket them with the generic monster. They deserve a separate name.”

“I call them good monsters. I encountered a turtle in the past after the tournament,” I say, thinking of Rocky. Hina knits her eyebrows. I continue, “Long story. But, some rocks on top trapped him in place. I removed the rocks and then…”

Luna’s face appears in my head. I hesitate and then continue, “Luna said turtles taste great in soup, but I said it would be sad if we saved it only to eat it for lunch, so in the end, we didn’t. I named him Rocky. I didn’t know he was a monster until he used Water magic on Hiro, who had it coming because he was harassing Rocky.”

Hina laughs softly. “I can see that.”

“Well, even though I admit he was quite friendly, I’m not sure if he’s comparable to a person. Would they know right from wrong? Just because Splinter’s battle tactics were amazing, doesn’t mean he’s the same as us. Good monster or not. We’ll never know because we can’t communicate with them.”

“Actions speak louder than words. Rocky didn’t try to kill Hiro, did he? He knew that seriously attackin’ him wasn’t appropriate for the situation. You don’t need to communicate with words. He didn’t have killin’ intent, right?”

“Yeah, but how do I know he isn’t really good at hiding it? If you’re trying to compare it to a person…skilled fighters have no problem concealing their bloodlust.”

“There’s body language and verbal cues too. Did he hiss or look like he was about to attack anyone?”

Hmm… She has a point. Rocky was lounging on the grass, minding his own business, relaxed. But he could’ve been biding his time. “No, but he could’ve been waiting for the right opportunity when our guards were down. I mean, he clearly didn’t have any bad intentions, but if he did, it would be too late.”

“You’re stubborn. But you realize that everythin’ you said could be true of people too, right? We give them the benefit of the doubt until they show otherwise. Why shouldn’t those good monsters be given the same standard? As they say, innocent until proven guilty.”

“Because a lot of people have fallen to monsters. It’s the whole reason why villages are surrounded by walls. To protect them from the vicious monsters that roam Eiruta.”

“We have killed a lot of our own too. Take the attack on our city.”

I sigh and then concede, “You’re right. I don’t know what else to say. But, society has deemed monsters all hostile for a long time. Probably since the beginning? I don’t think that viewpoint will be easy to change. It doesn’t help that a lot of monsters look scary.”

“We can change. After all, we’re movin’ toward coexistence with the other races.”

“I guess, though I’m not sure how many people you’d be able to convince that there’re good monsters from the bad ones.”

“I don’t like how you call them good monsters. The Aerkins like Splinter. Think about it. There are real criminals among us, right? All people can make decisions, but not all of them are good. I’m sure the same can be said of monsters.”

“Ehh…this is getting too complicated. Now you want to divide the monsters up into three groups? At this point, maybe even four. For all you know, that bear could be capable of making decisions too. Or every monster on the planet. Except that most of them are dumb since you want to compare them to us. “

“Well, we don’t have to give them all names. As long as you know what I’m talkin’ about. Monsters like the bear are like most monsters we encounter. They operate on instinct. They do what they do because they don’t know any better. Then there would be those like Splinter. All I’m sayin’ if we should give those monsters a second chance.”

“Right, so how do you propose we do that? It’s not viable to wait and see if every monster will kill you. We need to hunt them for food and materials too. That’s why we have Adventurers.”

“We have our local slaughterhouses and farms. The animals we breed specifically for our main food supply. We don’t need to hunt all the monsters out there. I don’t know how we’re goin’ to do it, but I’ll make it my mission to see through this.”

“Okay, but those monsters you want to live alongside of have to hunt to stay alive too. What if they have no other choice but to attack Humans, Elves, or whatever?”

“That’s easy. We’ll increase the number of animals we raise and leave some for them. Mass feed them.”

I scoff and then interject, “Okay…

Hina frowns and asks, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean…it’s a bit of an unrealistic solution. You want to increase our food output to feed monsters when we have poverty problems with our cities. People that can’t afford food or housing. Instead of fixing that first, you wanna feed the monsters. Hell, even the baseline amount of food the army provides is lacking. That aside, you’re trying to change centuries of behavior with no real benefit to us. And earlier today, we were discussing how the Xog were terrifying because they’re upright monsters who can think. After meeting the Felodians, I’m skeptical whether we’ll ever achieve coexistence with them.

“And you can’t understand the Dwarves either who we can communicate with. But you’re jumping ahead of all of that and want to pick out the good monsters of all the bad somehow and treat them the same as us. Don’t get me started on the other social problems that we discussed, how men belittle women and everyone shunning people like Porters for no good reason. We should resolve that first, don’t you think?”

“That’s true…” she mutters. “But I’m still goin’ to try. It’s not somethin’ I can do on my own, so…will you help?”

“I don’t know how to even begin helping with that. Honestly, I don’t really care. The only thing I want is to kill the one responsible for the attack on our city. That’s all. I hope you haven’t forgotten what’s most important here.”

Hina sighs. “Yeah…about that. As much as I want to find the ones responsible and give them justice…I’m startin’ to realize there are more important things.”

“What’s more important than revenge? Don’t you wanna make them pay? Especially since they killed…you know... Your boyfriend.”

“Yeah…and that’s all I wanted for a while…but I realized. I don’t think I’ll be happy even if I find those responsible. Lucius would want me to be happy. Instead of making life miserable for those who attacked our city, I want to make livin’ more tolerable for those still alive. You should—”

’Shut up,” I interrupt. “Don’t push your ideals on me. I told you. I only want revenge. And I’ll do anything to accomplish that goal. So, are you the one thinking about backing out now?”

“No, of course not. I hope you didn’t misunderstand me. I still want to find those responsible. It’s important so that they don’t create another tragedy. It’s a different mindset. What’re you goin’ to do after you achieve your goal? Go back to bein’ an Adventurer?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far yet. I’ll cross that bridge after I kill that masked man. The one responsible for everything.”

“You should cross that bridge now, so you don’t feel lost after you’ve killed him.”

“Nah. I don’t want it to distract me from doing what I need to do.”

“I’m worried about you. About the things you’ll do to achieve your goal. I only hope that you don’t lose your sense of self. Don’t turn into one of them; a monster.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t stoop to their level. Thanks for your concern. More importantly–”

“Sorry for the long wait. Here are your meals,” the server says and sets down two plates of various cubed meats in front of us. It makes my mouth water. Perhaps ten silver coins doesn’t overrate the quality of this food.

I frown skeptically and look toward the Dwarves who still haven’t gotten anything.

“Enjoy,” the man says and then turns around.

One of the Dwarves picks up a rock and then chucks it at the server before he walks away. He turns around, and one of the Dwarves says, “’Ey, ye fuckin’ Human. We’ve been waitin’ fer owor half an hour. Whaur be our food?”

The server smiles and clasps his hands together. “Please, sirs, don’t throw your food. We’ve provided you a few snacks to munch on while you wait. We’re very busy today.”

“Busy ma fart-box,” one of them says while both stand up. They walk toward the man. “We’ve seen ye serve oder customers arrivin’ later roight in front o’ us. “

“Ye dare serve us deez crummy rocks an’ call it food? Ye ma fuckin’ racist,” the other Dwarf says.

The server takes a few steps back and points his palms forward. “Please, sit down. We’ll have your food out soon.”

Hina suddenly stands up and says, “Excuse me.”

“Huh?” the Dwarves interject and stare our way.

Hina lifts her plate and continues, “You’re free to take my plate. I know you’ve been waitin’ for a while, and you deserve it.”

She signals me with her eyes.

I sigh and stand up, too, with my plate in hand. “Take mine as well. We don’t mind waiting a little longer.”

“We dank ya, Humans,” they say and take our plates. We all sit back down in our seats.

“Ah. Dis be delicious. It been worff de wait.”

I stare at Hina and frown. “Seriously?”

She smiles and responds, “One small step at a time. If other Humans are mistreatin’ the other races, we can make up for it by bein’ nice. As you said, this is an issue we have to tackle first before thinkin’ about savin’ monsters like Splinter.”

I frown with a skew. I’m not sure if that’s a good idea…

The server comes back with two plates of meat. That was surprisingly fast. Succulent pieces of meat here I come! He sets it in front of us and quietly mutters, “Midget lovers…”

My grin quickly dies as the perfectly cooked meats from earlier are gone. The meats on both of our plates are half burnt and dried out. I eat a piece, and it tastes as good as it looks. Still edible, but not very good. This is also beef, nothing like those mystery pieces of other meats we had previously. All of these pieces are beef, one of the most common pieces of meat. We paid ten silvers for some burnt low-quality common meat.

I stare back at Hina and ask, “So, you were saying…?”

She quietly eats her meal. I don’t blame her. Even I wouldn’t have thought that we would get backlash from our own kind from showing generosity toward Dwarves. We saved his ass and this is how he treats us. It wasn’t even a big deal. We quickly finish eating our meals and then leave the place. We make our way back to the Icy Tavern. The others should be back soon as well.

“This isn’t goin’ to be easy…” Hina says.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Coexistence.”

“No shit? Because of you, we wasted twenty silver coins on a subpar meal. I was looking forward to that assortment of monster meats…”

“I’m sorry,” she says and then takes out twenty silver coins. “Here.”

I accept it and say, “Thanks. Don’t bother carrying out small acts of kindness next time. It’s not like that’s gonna solve the problem at its core.”

“Yeah. You’re probably right…but I feel like I still need to do it. It doesn’t feel right to stand idle while somethin’ like that happens, though. Couldn’t it turn into an international crisis if those Dwarves reported that restaurant?”

“Who knows. But I doubt that server is the only one who isn’t fond of Dwarves. Or even Elves and Xog. I’m sure the members of the other races feel the same about other races. No matter what you do, nothing’s gonna change. You see how hopeless your mission is?”

“It’s doubtlessly challengin’, but not impossible. I can’t do anythin’ from the bottom of the army. I need to move up.”

“How’s that gonna help?” I ask, thinking of Captain Albius. He doesn’t want to rank up because the higher rank requires more administrative responsibilities. “You’d have to be a Major…or the General.”

“Fine. I’ll aim for the very top. I’ll become a General.”

I laugh.

Hina frowns and says, “There you go again…”

“Sorry, it’s just you’re too optimistic. I don’t think there’re even any female Captains. Now, you wanna overtake General Nero all of a sudden. We don’t even know if that’s possible.”

“I’ll make it possible. It’ll show that women are just as capable of men, accomplishin’ two goals at once.”

“Good luck with—“

Screams resound up ahead and a roar afterward. Is it a monster? An escaped Aerkin?

Hina and I glance at each other before rushing toward the source. At the next turn, there’s a wave of people fleeing the area. But not everyone is fleeing which makes it weird. It could be that the people remaining are confident that they could fend for themselves if need be.

There’s a line of people standing up ahead. Huh? Is that Ruby? The ministers are next to them, but the others aren’t here.

“Ruby!” I exclaim.

“Kai!” Ruby turns around and exclaims with a grin. “I did whatcha asked me ta do.”

“Good job. What’s going on here?”

“A buncha monsters appeared,” Ruby informs.

“No one’s killed them yet?” I ask. Are they escaped Aerkins? Considering the panic, they aren’t good monsters. The others must be handling the situation.

“I’ll kill ’em now,” Ruby says calmly and turns around.

One of the ministers turns toward us and yells, “No! We’ve told you that you musn’t!”

Ruby continues walking forward. Another minister exclaims, “Sergeant Kai, stop her now!”

I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, but I run forward. “Ruby, wait! Stop!”

I put a hand on her shoulder. It was at this moment the Feloidians are in my sights. A large group of them standing there all with the monster heads. They weren’t escaped Aerkins but something worse. My heartbeat quickens.

“Okay, I’ll stop. But why?” Ruby asks. “They tried ta hurt the ministers…’n’ they’re hurtin’ everyone.”

“Take it off!” one of the Feloidians exclaims with a raspy voice. One of the goons is in front of the feline beast. He takes off his armor and then his shirt despite the cold weather. Jetia, Luke, and everyone else is in the same situation with a different Feloidian in front of them.

Oh, shit… It’s happening. They’re looking for me. A scar across the chest. This is bad. I can’t be here. I can’t hide my fear. They’ll know. But I can’t leave the ministers here if they get hurt, it’s all for naught. I back away slowly for now.

One of them suddenly turns his head toward me. The moment our eyes meet, I freeze. A cold chill goes down my spine.

“You!” he exclaims and sprints toward me on all four limbs so fast that it leaves a dirt trail behind him. It was the fastest I’ve seen anything run. He stands straight in front of me. His physique is the largest out of all the Feloidians, and his head is that of a lion instead of a tiger. His armor is a deep blue, the same color as those swords we found in that underground place. There’s an emblem of a lion baring its fangs on the center of his chest plate. Similar to Xantho’s symbol, but very different at the same time. It’s much fiercer. A huge scythe rests on his back.

He opens his mouth widely, revealing his fangs and sharp teeth. A stream of mist exits from his mouth. “Ahh…I can practically taste your trepidation. Are you the one?”

Fuck, fuck, fuck… This guy’s no joke. The amount of pressure I’m feeling from him is insane. He’s nothing like Pem. I won’t be able to lie my way out of this one. Running won’t work. He’s too fast. I could slow him down with my strongest Fire magic, but if that doesn’t work, I’m dead. Using Void magic to escape is the only viable option, but I have to keep that hidden. Attacking in any shape or form might start a war too.

“Show me your chest,” he says and then growls.

I’m running out of time. What are my options again? Retaliating in any way would probably result in him attacking me. If that happens, Ruby will be involved, and he’ probably kill her. What if I give myself up…? I don’t know what they want with me yet. That’s the best option, but I’m not sure if Ruby will understand. What if I burn off my entire chest with Fire magic? No, he’d smell the burn. If I reveal myself, it’s all or nothing.

Then, if Ruby goes berserk, it’s all for naught. It would be clear that she attacked first and then best-case scenario, we live, but would be held responsible for trying to instigate a war.

Ruby walks in between him and me. “I won’t let ya be mean ta Kai.”

Ruby… I open my mouth to say something, but I can’t. No words come out. What would I even say? Before I know it, my body begins to quiver. My hands, lips, and everything.

“Human girl, move,” he says.

Ruby doesn’t move an inch. I have to give myself up before it’s too late. I have to. I want to, but I can’t.

“No,” she says.

MOVE!” he yells at a deafening volume and then growls at an equally intense force with enough strength to blow Ruby’s hair backward. He sends out an enormous amount of killing intent at the same time. The power of his roar splits my ears, leaving only ringing.

Yet, somehow, Ruby still does not move an inch. Not even a tremble. How can she be so fearless in front of this lion beast?

The ringing decreases over time. Now’s not the time for you to be acting like this, Ruby. Please, concede and move out of the way. Anyone would turn tail after that roar. Let me turn myself in. Her shoulders rise as if taking a deep breath. A part of my hearing returns just in time to hear Ruby scream, “No!

Damn it, Ruby. I prepare my Mana and instructions as a counter-measure. If it comes down to it, I’ll reveal my Void magic and bring us to safety. I don’t care about the consequences.

“That is enough!” a man exclaims from behind me. “Bazaleon, please. Is this any way how a ruler should behave?”

This lion guy is a ruler…? I can’t believe how anyone this violent and scary could be a king. Our king in Drymo is hardly that. I don’t know who’s speaking to this beast right now, but I’m thankful for the additional time it gives me to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

“King Diell…” the lion guy mutters.

I raise my eyebrows. Or maybe not.

The lion beast continues, “A true ruler takes matters into his own hands instead of cowering into their chambers. What are you doing out here?”

“I heard from this red-haired young lady that you are terrorizing my citizens. So, I have come to take matters into my own hands.”

A red-haired young lady? Come to think of it… I didn’t see Marin around here. My body is responding again. I turn around, finding her there with a middle-aged man wearing noble clothing, who must be King Diell. Three armed men donning a full set of armor are behind him — two with Titanium and the other with dark green armor. I can’t get a good read on them right now, but they’re definitely seasoned fighters.

“If that’s actually true, you wouldn’t have come with back-up or required a messenger to inform you. I don’t understand how the other races could ever allow the weak to be in power. Only the strong should rule.”

“We will leave that discussion for another time. I cannot allow you to continue violating the rights of my citizens.”

Hah! That’s laughable. So, Elves, Dwarves, and Xog don’t count as citizens despite that we’re all living in the same city? It’s fine if your citizens violate the rights of Elves and Dwarves every day.”

“Bazaleon, you are not a resident of the Xog district, so of course, you are not a citizen. I assure you that I am doing all that I can to ensure that coexistence with the other races proceeds smoothly. I cannot keep watch in every corner of the city making sure that everyone is treated justly.”

“There’s a simple solution for that. Create a law that punishes those who show injustice to another race.”

“That only creates fear. At the surface, yes, it may stop people from showing their displeasure, but it does not create a friendly environment, which is what we wish to achieve. Governing through fear is not the answer.”

“Typical Human response.”

“Adjusting to coexistence takes time. I cannot help it if people are not ready for that change.”

“Then why the aggressive push for coexistence? What is it that you want from us? We acquire magic instruction from your institution, but what do you hope to gain?”

“Why must every action be associated with profit? We only want current and future peace.”

“Lies. Are you looking to have more land under Human rule? Or do you want to lay your filthy hands on our defenseless women?”

“Surely, you jest. Your women are more than capable of protecting themselves. What is this really about?”

“A lecherous man forced my star pupil into taking off her clothes, showing him her bare chest.”

Wait… What?! Is he talking about Pem and me? I didn’t force her to do anything! She misunderstood! He’s making up lies, but I can’t say anything. But then it hits me. If he knows about that, Pem must’ve told him. My heartbeat speeds up, and my palms sweat quickly. Do they know it was me? I look at this monstrosity of a body. Does he know it was me all along?

“How did that happen?”

“It happened because your men take advantage of our naïve women who don’t understand what’s proper and what isn’t. They don’t want to retaliate and ignite a war, so they politely comply.”

“So you are forcing these men to strip as revenge? Preposterous.”

“We’re treating you kind to satisfy our objectives.”

“And what objectives are those?”

“To find a Human male with a diagonal scar across his chest,” Bazaleon says. My heart sinks, but I try not to show a strong reaction. “And to find the fiend who violated my pupil.”

His word choice frustrates me despite the urgency of this situation. Forcing someone to strip turns into violating. What the hell did Pem tell him? I recall her last parting words. Could this situation be what she’s sorry for? It doesn’t make sense. She memorized my scent, so it shouldn’t be that hard for her to bring me to him.

“I understand the latter, but what has this other man done to displease you?” King Diell asks.

“I’ve received a tip that he’s committed atrocities against our citizens.”

Again… More lies.

“So you are terrorizing my citizens based on an anonymous tip? How reliable is the information?”

“It’s not an anonymous tip, and I can’t tell you more than that. Know that it comes from a very reliable source.”

“No matter. I order you to cease your activities immediately.”

“Are you sure you want to do that? If you want my vote to pass the upcoming reforms.”

“If it comes down to it, we will not need your vote. You are only one of fourteen. Push this any further, and we will exclude the Feloidians from the reforms.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. The other six Feradian representatives share my perspective. And if you think you’ll be getting the Dociforms’ votes…they are much easily persuaded. What’ll the other races think if you’ve shut us out for a petty reason?”

“Petty? The safety of my citizens?”

“So, you’re only worried about the safety of your citizens?”

“Yes, it looks like you understand.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly…” he says and then looks at me. At that moment, I knew something wasn’t right. “These two aren’t native to Syrina!”

The second he reached for his weapon, my body moves on its own. I step in front of Ruby and pull out my swords.

“Stop this!” General Nero exclaims behind us before Bazaleon unclips his scythe. “Those are my soldiers. I won’t allow you to harm them.”

Shit. If he’s here, he knows that I disobeyed orders and let the ministers do what they want. Always from one crisis to the next. General Nero should know I have that scar across my chest. I pray that Bazaleon doesn’t mention it again. He would no doubt give me up in a heartbeat.

“Relax, general from Drosera. I only planned to scare them a little,” Bazaleon says and then laughs. “It seems none of you are equipped with Mithril. Only measly Titanium and Tungsten, despite your lavish treatment toward the Dwarves. There are no advantages of using Titanium over Mithril, so it means you don’t have it. Why’s that? What are you receiving from the Dwarves in exchange? ”

Mithril…the name of that blue metal?

“I do not feel obliged to answer your questions with your level of cooperation,” King Diell says. “Tell us why you are fixated on those two in front of you.”

“It’s the boy,” he says and then tilts his head down to me. I freeze up again despite being able to move earlier. He laughs and then continues, “There it is again. Fear. Most of us Xog can smell it, taste it, and, most of all, sense it. Out of anyone we’ve encountered today, this boy has had the most fear out of anyone. He knows he’s the one we’re looking for. That’s why he’s far more scared than anyone we’ve met.”

“I do not mean to be rude, but anyone would be scared of you. Especially, considering you are one of the most fearsome Feradian Xog known as the Grim Reaper. Take into account that some of us are frightened very easily.”

“Fair enough. Try this. Help us find the two men we’re looking for, and you’ll have my vote. I’d like for all Human kingdoms to assist with the inspection of their respective citizens that are here. No questions asked. I won’t interfere with the decisions of the other representatives either if you do.”

“On one condition,” King Diell answers. “If we find the men responsible for both incidents, we will not hand them over unless you provide us proof that it was undoubtedly them. It should be easy for the second man. Have your pupil come and point out the man responsible.”

“Very well. Currently, I have my pupil hidden away in the Xog district away from Human influence. We’ll arrange for the inspection later. Are you sure the other kingdoms will agree to the terms?”

“I’m sure my king will agree without a doubt,” General Nero says. “They are simple requests, and if they’re as guilty as you claim, we’ll be glad to hand them over to you as a courteous gesture.”

“There you have it. Do we have a deal?” King Diell asks.

“Of course,” Bazaleon says and smiles. “I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow.”

He then looks down toward me. He bends down with his face only an inch from mine. I don’t dare to break eye contact. He continues, “Don’t think you’re getting away, boy. We’ll know if you’re guilty soon enough.”

He suddenly snarls and lets out a low growl. My head flinches backward. He stands up and gloats. “Yellow-belly.”

He turns around and then walks away, laughing. The other Feloidians in the area quietly follow him. I sheathe my weapons.

“Sergeant Kai,” General Nero says.

I turn around immediately and salute him. “Yes, sir!”

“Tell me. Why have you broken orders?” he asks in a tone reminiscent of that unspeakable day, refreshing my memory fully of the consequences.

I gulp, unable to answer. I’d have to admit that I broke orders fully aware to accomplish my side goals, that he specifically told me to drop.

“General Nero,” one of the ministers speaks up. “Please, don’t blame Sergeant Kai for this. We forced him to play along with us. We told him that we received updated orders from you to accompany us around town.”

“General Nero, may we have a word with you? There are matters we would like to discuss,” King Diell says.

“It would be my pleasure,” General Nero answers before turning back toward me. “You will be off the hook this time, but I order you now. Return to your inn and stay there until the Inteiru Expota tomorrow. That goes for you too, Sergeant Hina. You are not to leave under any circumstance, and my orders will not change. Understood?”

’Yes, sir!” we exclaim.

He leaves with King Diell and his men afterward. The random spectators around us take off too. Marin rejoins us.

“Are you guys okay?” she asks.

“Yep!” Ruby exclaims cheerfully without a trace of any fear from a direct encounter with a Felodian beast. The most fearsome one too. The Grim Reaper? It sounds ominous. “I protected Kai from the mean monster. Are ya hurt, Kai?”

“No…” I respond, unable to keep long eye contact with her. Her expression reminds me too much of Luna.

“Ho-how could you stand up to that lion, Bazaleon like it was nothin’?” Hina asks, quivering. At least I wasn’t alone in that regard. “I still feel it now.”

“’Cause nothin’s scarier than losin’ Kai forever.”

I widen my eyes. She did that impossible feat all for me. Maybe I’ve been wrong about her all this time. She’s always watching out for me. Is that proof that there’s a hint of her left somewhere in there?

“I’m sorry to interrupt your moment, but we don’t have much time. We need a favor from you,” one of the ministers says. “It involves breaking orders. However, we’ll make it up to you somehow.”

“Hurry, decide before the others come back. We trust you with this, but not the others,” another says.

“I’ll buy more time,” Hina says and starts walking over to the others. They’re still putting their clothes back on. I’d hate to be them without any clothes throughout that entire scene. “Take your time, but hurry.”

Breaking orders…it shouldn’t be a problem considering that we’re already doing that to discover anything relating to the masked men or snake earring group. We can’t back out of this now. Or Ada and Hina will never never let me live it down. The ministers don’t know anything about what we’re doing, so we could use this to our advantage. I ask, “What’s the favor?”

“Investigate and find out if there’s dissent from the Xog toward Humans. Anything that could threaten the reforms planned for coexistence. The final decisions will be made two days from now, so that’s your deadline. If you discover anything, let us know immediately. It allows us to address the matter and offer a solution to their disapproval.”

“Well, there’s definitely dissent.”

“We know that. But we don’t know all the details surrounding that. Find them.”

“What if we don’t find anything? We’d be taking the risk for nothing,” I say.

“That’s fine as long as you try. We’ll be glad to do something for you,” one of them says.

“How about we fill you in about the important details of the Inteiru Expota?” another asks.

“They don’t care about those boring details. How about a large sum of money?” the third minister asks.

The large sum of money sounds tantalizing. We don’t have a good source of income otherwise in the army. It would pay for a lot of seminars to learn more about magic. But…information could be useful to us. There could be a clue if we knew more about what’s talked about to know if the masked men or snake earring group will appear. Good information is rare, and the possibilities it gives us are limitless. The only reason we made it this far is because Viessa provided us with some great information. We don’t know what we could discover, so it’s an easy choice.

“Information sounds good,” I answer. I might be reaching too deep, but I continue, “You’ll also answer some questions that we have.”

“Okay, agreed,” one of them says. “What questions do you have right now?”

“How long ago was Syrina built? It seems strange to me how the districts are colored differently, but the other races only started living here three Inteiru Expotas ago.”

They look at me strangely. Wait… Maybe that was supposed to be secret information that I wasn’t supposed to know. Or perhaps wanting to know the answer to the question is strange. They look at each other silently.

“We don’t know, but we could find out,” one of them says. “Anything else?”

“Nothing for now. I’ll let you know if there’s anything else later,” I say. In truth, I want to ask them about the Dwarves, but I feel like they wouldn’t be able to find out the answer to that. I don’t want to reach too deep.

“Alright. Gather everyone. Let’s head back to the Windmill Inn,” one of the ministers says.

I nod and walk toward the others, who are just about dressed.

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