AN EMPRESS AND A BEGGAR
Lino was staring at an unannounced and a very unexpected guest, draped in velvet folds like curtains, veiled in thick silk as to cover her face from those curious enough to look. Despite the stack of clothes atop of her, she still held herself with strange dignity which seemed to manifest itself into the atmosphere. However, it did rather little to sway Lino either way; he was merely curious and somewhat confused as to why was the Empress of the Divine Dynasty in his little shack.
That level of indifference, though, wasn’t present in Evelyn; she’d given up a lot to learn where the beggar lives, and there’s no doubt that rumors about Felix and her will begin circling the Court - one more fervent than the other. One of the reasons she was willing to commit to it was a word from her Royal Father who asked her to look after the strange beggar for as long as he was in the city. That - even more than the war itself she just participated in - surprised her.
This only increased her now somewhat unhealthy interest in the strange beggar roaming the streets of her Domain; what could have, after all, a lonesome and meek-looking beggar do for her Royal Father as to gain such support? She could hardly venture a guess, which is why she decided to just come and ask.
“... you’re supposed to kneel and greet.” Evelyn said, frowning for a moment.
“Funny story,” Lino said, smiling. “I don’t actually have a citizenship! So, technically, you’re not my Empress!”
“... so you’re admitting to the ruler of the nation that you illegally snuck in without going through proper channels?”
“No, no, I’m just telling a funny story.”
“How’s that a funny story?”
“It’s funny because it’s true.”
“So you are illegally here.”
“... you’re really stuck on semantics, aren’t you?” Lino said. “Anyway, what can I do for you, Your-not-quite-Highness?”
“...” Evelyn certainly thought about shoving a spear through the beggar’s heart, but held back in the end. Not only was she rather reserved about whether she could match him, but there was also her Royal Father’s warning which weighed even heavier on her mind. “How about you tell me how you coaxed my Royal Father into putting a good word for you?”
“... eh? That old geezer actually told you to take care of me?” Lino stopped talking for a second as he felt a cold blade press against his neck, forcing him to look down. It was truly a beautiful dagger, one which caused a sudden itch deep within his soul. However, he focused on the dagger for only but a moment before drawing his eyes up, meeting Evelyn’s. In them, he could see that she really was contemplating shoving it a bit deeper. “You really respect him, don’t you?” he asked, smiling faintly.
“As should you.”
“... forgive me, but I don’t respect titles,” Lino said, gently shoving the dagger away as he got up. “I respect people.”
“To answer your question,” he added after seeing Evelyn was beginning to cool down. “He’s just trying to repay a favor he owes me. Let him know the debt is still there.”
“What debt?” Evelyn asked.
“You’re doing a nice job of cleaning up,” Lino, instead, switched topics as he sat down onto the solitary chair in the room. “One would hardly guess looking at the state of things that there was a battle here a month ago. Good job.”
“... you have also dialed back your shenanigans,” Evelyn said. “Any particular reason?”
“I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish,” Lino replied, smiling. “Are you that disappointed that you can’t laugh at my ‘shenanigans’ any longer?”
“... you say so, but I can see in your eyes you are still concocting something.”
“Aren’t we all? Do you really expect me to believe you came all the way here, probably bribing Felix to hell and back in the meantime, just to ask me why’s your daddy looking out for me?”
“... you’re a fantastic beauty, I assent,” Lino said. “But, I’ve no intention of involving myself in either political or social matters of your Empire, Your Highness. And even less of becoming your personal tool.”
“You think it is beneath you to serve me?” Evelyn asked, arching her brow slightly.
“...” Lino remained silent for a moment, looking deeply into her eyes. “It’s not the matter of servitude. It is the matter of clashing views.”
“Oh? How come?”
“I don’t like Emperors,” Lino replied, smiling lightly. “Not as people, mind you, but as a form of governance. It’s always a thin thread between a benevolent and just ruler and a tyrant. As such, I can’t really see myself helping one consolidate her power even further.”
“... the words you just spoke... you do realize I could hang you for them?”
“... thank you for proving my point.” Lino said as he took out a gourd of ale from his void world and drank a gulp. “But, as you and your father have been rather nice to me, and as I’ve rather enjoyed my stay in this city, I can offer you a free piece of advice.”
“Oh? This ought to be good.” Evelyn sneered, relaxing for a moment.
“... you should rein in your ambitions,” Lino said in a serious tone. “Lest they become your last crucible.”
“... what does that mean?”
“There’s no deeper meaning to it. Uniting the continent... crossing the sea... establishing Central Frontier... all these dreams are indeed wonderful,” Lino added, suddenly smiling. “Should you all ever desire to be buried nameless one day.”
“And you know this how?” Evelyn asked, clearly not taking him seriously.
“I don’t! That’s the fun thing about it! I can spit bullshit straight out my ass, and if I happen to be right, at one point in the future I’ll be able to point a finger at you and say ‘Hah, told ya’ so!’. Isn’t that just freaking amazing?!”
“... I will let you stay in the city for as long as you want because my Father asked me,” Evelyn said after short silence. “But, there is no more negotiation between us. No more interaction. You have picked your path... now stick with it.”
“Did you ever hear that old adage, ‘Wisdom is found in moments of hindsight.’?”
“... don’t chase the ghost of the ruins, Evelyn,” Lino said as Evelyn turned toward the doors, the serious tone of his voice startling her as she turned around. “In due time, that place will reprise its old role of a tomb once again. Leave it to your Father, Grandfather and others. There is a reason why they haven’t and will not involve the Kingdom’s forces in the struggle. Oh, and tell Felix to prepare his ass to be beaten when he comes.”
Evelyn walked out in a slightly stunned state; she, indeed, had faint intentions of bringing up a small, elite force and joining her Father eventually in the excavation of the ruins. She wasn’t surprised that the beggar could have guessed her intentions, but rather the words he chose to use. He called the ruins ‘a tomb’, something she hadn’t heard before. It carried much graver implications than simply being a ‘ruin’; for the first time she began wondering whether the story she was familiar with... was the actual story.
Meanwhile, Lino quickly emptied the gourd of ale and took out a book to read, which he turned into a hobby over the past few years. He’d read practically anything, from histories to purely fictitious stories, so long as they tickled his fancy. On the reading list today was a book called ‘Six Greatest Wars In 10,000 Years History’ - at least, as far as he was aware, history of the Western Continent.
Just as he was about to begin, he felt a strange shake coming from his void world. Frowning as it was the first time something like that happened, he reached in and took an object that he hadn’t looked at in a long, long time - a small, pyramid-shaped necklace sat on the palm of his hand, vibrating strangely.
He shook it around for a moment trying to figure out what was the issue, but no matter what he did, the pyramid kept vibrating. Just as he was about to throw it back into the void world and ignore it, he accidentally pressed against the bottom point of the pyramid, whereupon the shaking stopped. In its stead, however, a ray of blinding light burst out into a massive, rectangular screen before his very eyes. The screen was slightly translucent and mostly dominated by a dry, brown hue.
Yet, he paid attention to it for but a moment, as at the center of the screen a bulge extended, one which quickly morphed into two figures, both of whom he hadn’t seen or heard from in almost ten years now. There, standing side by side with worried expressions and eyes full of concern were Ella and Eggor, exactly the same in make as Lino remembered them being since the day he met them.