STORM BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE
A familiar scene was occurring in the extravagant chambers of the Third Prince of Divine Dynasty, Annel En’gar. There, amidst the golden decorations, canopy bed adorned with silken sheets and curtains, and rugs which each individually could feed a thousand families for two years, atmosphere was sunken and dry. Even the walls decorated with colorful painting exuding sheen of elegance hardly seemed to matter.
Annel and Evelyn sat around his work desk, with a thick stack of papers residing right there in front of their eyes. It has been a week since Annel asked the strange beggar for help, and now he was seeing results; indeed, Felix stopped coming over to Evelyn’s place - she hadn’t seen a shadow of him in the past week.
Instead, he was being spotted left and right across the city, doing all sorts of weird and questionable things. His reputation as a rather reclusive, but calm youth had completely collapsed and was instead replaced by that of a complete scoundrel. It took neither Annel nor Evelyn a moment to realize the cause of it all: that beggar. Somehow, he actually managed to convince Felix to follow him and, perhaps even worse, talk him into pointing finger at a woman and uttering strange things like ‘eight-out-of-ten’ and ‘definitely would, definitely’.
Annel tried going out once again but, this time around, he was unable to meet the beggar no matter how hard he searched. Letters kept streaming in from the Duke Dongrauth’s family, each piling on apologies like stacking cakes. There was a complete witch hunt for the two across the city yet they kept eluding everyone through some strange means.
Perhaps the worst offender of all was the dog that tagged along with them; he’d escalated to outright stealing expensive jewelry and gemstones, though beggar would strangely come back later and return them, even apologizing for the dog’s damned behavior. To make matters worse, he’s apparently won over a small army of commoners with his outrageous stories, one of which included a story about how Royal Lady Evelyn seduced Royal Master Annel which is why the two of them are inseparable.
Just yesterday, Annel had deployed several Royal Guards to search every nook and cranny for the beggar, but they’d returned just half an hour ago and resigned, saying they wished to become beggars as it was the most honorable calling in the world. If it were just any other guards, Annel wouldn’t have cared much; however, Empire has put in a lot of resources into training Royal Guards, which included numerous medicines, Martial Arts, weapons etc., so losing them cost considerably.
Though he was infuriated, Annel actually understood somewhat how beggar won over the commoners and even his Royal Guards; he had that sort of charisma that a person can’t help but follow his pace. As someone trained in speech and negotiation since early childhood, even Annel completely played the beggar’s tune without ever gaining any ground on the latter.
On the other end, Evelyn was growing more and more curious about this strange beggar that suddenly showed up a couple years ago. Though he was always a troublemaker and a source of some humorous stories and rumors that spread throughout the city, the past week really appeared like he was escalating things. She very much doubted it was without reason, but couldn’t pinpoint as to what his plan was. It vexed her deeply.
“... shouldn’t we consult with Ministers now?” Evelyn asked Annel, no longer carrying a playful expression; though she didn’t know what beggar was planning, she was certain it wasn’t anything small.
“And reveal that we were played like children by a single beggar?” Annel protested. “It would ruin me, not to mention any chances of me ever ascending the throne.”
“... we danced with the devil,” Evelyn added, sighing. “While thinking we were the devils in the equation.”
“... I’d still rather pull him in than push him out,” Annel said, tapping his finger against the table. “Even if his realm is low, his wit is more than enough to make up for it. I have a feeling that, with him around, securing the throne would be a child’s play.”
“Of course, he’d kill all our other brothers with his tongue and shamelessness.”
“... that’s true,” Annel sighed. “There’s no way they could endure his snake’s tongue. They’d be bleeding from every hole within minutes.”
“How do we rope him in, though?” Evelyn asked. “I think he made it pretty clear he doesn’t want any contact with us.”
“... why not release a public arrest warrant for real?” Annel said with strange expression. “We’ll set down that anyone who warns us about his whereabouts or brings him in will be rewarded handsomely in gold and, in latter’s case, with a noble title.”
“Isn’t that a bit too much?”
“... no matter how clever he thinks he is,” Annel said, smiling slightly. “If I could get him to talk with me again, I’d be able to pull him in. Noble titles beneath Duke are worthless these days anyway. Father and Grandfather gave them away as though they were candies.”
“... do you really want to antagonize him further?” Evelyn suddenly asked.
“What do you mean?”
“If he’s doing all this while technically on peaceful terms with us... can you imagine if he suddenly escalated things even further? You have to remember, An’, he has one thing that neither one of us does: freedom. We have to behave, speak and react a certain way. There are certain things that, due to our position, we are simply unable to do. However... he can do anything he wants. He’s completely unrestricted.”
“... that’s true.” Annel sighed, realizing he’d been a bit harsh with his idea. “Do you have an idea?”
“I think it’s time I went out and searched for him. I’m certain he won’t be able to resist allure of a pretty maiden.”
“... are you certain? Though he didn’t commit any serious crime, especially with harm toward the people, it doesn’t mean he won’t. If you push him too far...”
“Hah, please,” Evelyn said, playing with her hair while a strange smile dangled on her face. “He may be the smartest beggar that has ever been, but so what? He’s still a beggar. His world view is narrow. How many beautiful women would he have seen in his life, let alone felt a touch of? I’ll have him dancing around my little finger within minutes.”
“... I’ll assign a few Shadow Guards to you just in case something goes awry.”
Meanwhile, the topic of their conversation was currently sitting by a small pond, his feet soaked in, humming a low tune. To his right lay a dog with his tongue spat out, sleeping soundly. To his left was a massive fan, being heaved up and down by an expressionless youth - Felix. His eyes looked at the man he was currently fanning with utter reverence. If someone told him just a week ago that he’d be beyond joyful by fanning another man... he’d have them executed. Today, however, he was doing and feeling exactly that.
It took his Master just a week to show him a completely new world. It was the sort of feeling Felix had never experienced before, making it hard for him to put it into words. However, if he did want to boil it down to a singularity, the word would be simple: freedom. His Master unshackled over twenty years of rigorous teachings of Duke’s House and showed him the world without it.
That world, for Felix, was fun. For the first time in his life he’d interacted with commoners alongside his Master, he’d joined in on their nightly drinking adventures and tale-telling, he’d scrubbed the walls and earned bread with hard labour. He never once used Qi in the past week by his Master’s assignment, yet his cultivation, which was stuck at Early Purity Realm actually achieved a breakthrough into the Mid Purity Realm.
Since then, he’d slowly started understanding why his Master lived, behaved and dressed like a beggar. Why he never allowed rules to constrain him, why he never seemed to meditate upon the world. Living it gave all the answers necessarily. Why contemplate clouds when you can watch them? Why debate on life when you can live it? Felix felt that unrestricted feeling for the first time in his life. It was beyond beautiful, so much so that he had no desire to go back to his home even if extravagant dinners, clothing and jewelry awaited him.
Though his Master would from time to time be confused about worth of worldly possessions, Felix realized it mainly had to do with food and alcohol. And sometimes a golden coin or two to buy those two things. He never looked at expensive clothing, never looked at gems and radiant stones.
As for his Master’s antics when it came to making people cry, he at first found it rather unsettling. However, as his Master explained, it was a training; to make another person cry will make you more emotionally stable, making it harder for others to shake you. Though he heard a lot of rumors about his Master, most were simply wrong.
While his Master did make many women cry, he never once touched a single one. Rather, he never came even five meters within them. It was another lesson for Felix: words are a weapon as powerful as any other. If you can touch a sore subject and enlarge it, or if you can simply present a potentially dangerous situation, sometimes it wasn’t even necessary to take action.
He’d also witnessed his Master’s glib tongue numerous times, especially while he was telling tales like a bard to commoners. They mostly involved nobility and royalty, and even Felix would oftentimes find himself immersed and devoured even though he knew none of those stories were true, especially one about Annel and Evelyn.
All in all, Felix realized his Master was a true eccentric; he did what he wanted, said what he felt like saying, and he didn’t care how others perceived him. He lived life rather than thinking about it, he did things rather than considered them, and he enjoyed it all. Though Felix certainly wasn’t yet at the stage where he could feel the same level of freedom, he anticipated the day he could. He knew that his cultivation would soar so long as he stayed near this weird, twenty-sixty-looking, beggar-acting, storytelling man and his utterly shameless dog.