A room normally embraced by chaos bore the weight of silence for the first time. Four men and one woman sat facing against each other without speaking a word. Their gazes were enough to convey the differences in their thoughts. Hope, disdain, and reluctance were all reflected in their eyes.
They were the council in charge of leading the rebels. A small group of people with vested interests in the birth of a new ruler. Driven by their interests, they had formed their union, their alliance, and with it, a movement that gave the current royal family an endless stream of headaches.
However, this same group was now burdened by silence. It all started when one of them delivered the report held in their hands. A letter of introduction from Magnus Rendheart, representative to the Church of Light’s interests.
Facing the reticence in the room, one of them broke the chains of silence. His chest heaved in anger and his brows locked against each other. He couldn’t take the other council members’ stance anymore.
“Madness! I can’t believe you all are even considering this,” he said. His fists were clenched so hard his nails were drawing blood from his hand. “Are you going senile? Are you this desperate to put an end to this war?”
An older man next to him gave him a wry smile, using his hands to motion him to breathe. “Calm down, Nolan. We’ve had our differences in the past, but I think we can all agree this is at least worth considering, right?”
“I can’t help but agree with him, Nolan,” said a woman sitting across from the old man. “The church’s support could legitimize our cause even further in the eyes of the populace. It could give us the final push we need to overthrow the royal family.”
“You shouldn’t even be here, Katherine,” said Nolan. His eyes were becoming bloodshot because of his anger. “Your husband earned his place here, not you.”
“I’ve earned my place as much as anybody else in this table,” answered the woman. Her usual smile was nowhere to be seen. “Don’t forget it is my money supplying the food you eat every day.”
“Your dead husband’s money,” stated Nolan. His eyes made no effort to hide the disdain he felt for the woman in front of him. “Not that it would be worth anything without my channels to do use it.”
Their bickering came from the difference in their natures. Like water and oil, both of them refused to mix with each other. That being said, the others in the room were not fond of their childish behavior. They had more pressing matters to attend to.
A thunderous voice came from the man sitting at the head of the table. His cold voice drew the bickering rivals’ gaze. Neither of them dared to continue once warned by their leader.
“Remember who our true enemy is.”
Katherine used a small fan to hide her face as she faced the owner of the voice. She was slightly irked that no one had her back earlier. Thus, she planned to stir some more chaos in her benefit.
“Very well,” she said. “I would like to know your stance on the matter, Richard. It’s not this often that we see you remain quiet for this long.”
Richard, the man who had spoken before to calm both Katherine and Nolan, turned to look at his vassals. No, calling them vassals would have been wrong, theirs was a relation of equals. One in which he held just a slight advantage above the other since Arkus was on his side.
He traced his silver hair with his right hand until it came to rest on his neck. It revealed two sharp eyes that looked at Katherine with no intention to play her games.
“I won’t take a stance until we have all the facts, and so should you,” he said. “I think we should speak with the church’s envoys before we discuss this any further.”
The old man from before nodded his head and so did Arkus, who sat at Richard’s right side. Waiting was always an option. They didn’t have to force themselves to accept something so sudden.
Nolan, however, seemed dissatisfied with the result. His puncturing gaze couldn’t help but shoot towards Arkus, the man responsible for delivering the report.
If not for him, I wouldn’t have to deal with the church’s hounds once again, he thought. The misplaced guilt was natural for someone of his origin.
Richard ignored the blatant air of disagreement coming from Nolan. His gaze instead turned towards Arkus, examining the stern and disciplined disposition of his subordinate before asking, “Where are our guests from the church, commander?”
Arkus faced him and immediately reported, “We took them to the empty tents in the outer perimeter, sir. My adjutant is currently watching over them.
However, I think they do come with sincerity. The young girl seems to be speaking the truth about her identity as a Chosen. I doubt there are many people her age with that level of skill.”
Richard sighed, pleasantly surprised by Arkus’s evaluation. It would be marvelous if the offer from the church was truly as honest as they made it seem. With it, they might finally put an end to the stagnating war against the royal family.
No one said being a leader was easy.
Richard combed his silver hair with his fingers, looking at the rest of the people sitting with him.
The most imposing amongst them was Arkus, former commander of Nyx’s army first division. His meticulousness was only surpassed by his love towards tempering his body. A man who had achieved the third rank through battle and training. He was the strongest powerhouse amongst their ranks.
Looking at the rest with disdain was Nolan, a shrewd man with deep connections to the underworld. His hatred for the church could be described as his own fear towards the enactment of the moral law. It was his connections to different black markets that ensured the channels used by the rebels to gather their supplies.
Next to Nolan sat Jan, a former strategist for the royal family. His daughter had been raped by the prince one night of drunken stupor, causing him to hold a grudge deep within his heart. When he confronted the king about it, the King dismissed his claims as his own daughter’s attempt to seduce the prince. He was furious, realizing his own loyalty held no value to the royal family. In anger, he used his authority to secretly form a squad with many dissenting soldiers, guiding them to desert and join the rebels.
Against them sat Katherine, a middle-aged woman with a true love for the commoners. She and her husband had created one of the biggest merchant companies of the kingdom but were forced to run away after the royal family coveted their possessions. Both her and her deceased husband had financed the rebels’ operations over the past decade.
They formed the political and financial core of the rebels, legitimized by Richard’s presence. He was none other than an illegitimate child of the royal family, a half-brother to the current ruler. In order to take the throne from the royal family’s hands, they would need someone like him to appease the populace during a transition.
As someone who could threaten the structure of power in the Kingdom, he had been banished, never to return. That was their mistake. He experienced the troubles of the commoners, the famine of those banished to the northern lands.
This new experiences, however, didn’t feed his despair. No, they fed his ambition. The fire of rage rose and formed a new movement to give him what was rightfully his. Helping the populace was only a tool to achieve his ambition. Not that anybody at their table disagreed with that thought.
“Arkus, how are the troops doing?” asked Richard. It was important for him to be up-to-date with every piece of information regarding the rebel army.
Arkus pondered for a moment before answering, “I’ve split the newcomers into three teams, sir. The most impressive is still number three.”
“Is it because of that kid you told me about earlier?” asked the silver-haired Richard.
“Yes, sir. I’ve never seen someone with that much talent. Was he not here, I’d suspect him to be a church’s Chosen.”
“Nonsense,” said Nolan. He wasn’t convinced a simple recruit was worth so much praise. “You compliment every young man willing to join our cause.”
“You haven’t seen him during training,” refuted Arkus. “His fighting spirit is above any other recruit, held back only by his youth. I wouldn’t dare to claim I worked that hard at his age.”
Jan pondered for a moment before asking, “What do we know about him? Is his background clean?”
“It’s unclear,” said Nolan. He was thinking back to a report made by his subordinates. “I’ve already sent people to dig into his past, but very little information can be found about him. He doesn’t seem to socialize much with the rest of the recruits.”
Jan looked at him with a puzzled gaze. “Please elaborate.”
Nolan frowned as he recollected his subordinate’s report.
“This kid follows an almost mechanical routine every day,” he said. “After waking up, he will always go for a run in the outer perimeter. After being done, he will eat and leave to train immediately after. It reminds me of a certain muscle freak amongst us.”
Katherine laughed, stealing a look towards Arkus’s arms. Ignoring her, Nolan continued.
“We also know that like many of us, he is a wanted man in Nyx. We are ignorant about the reason, however. This seems to be something originating from even before he joined us.”
Jan closed his eyes, slowly massaging them before he spoke. “It’s strange for someone that young to be a wanted man.”
“Intriguing, indeed,” said Richard. He had heard of many political conspiracies carried on by his brother and the noble families — this situation could very well be one of them.
“Anything else?” asked Jan. It was uncommon for Nolan to find that little information about someone.
“Nothing but random guesses,” said Nolan. “I’ve had a few of my guys tell me about his habits. He keeps to himself and usually guards his food a bit too close, it’s a common trait seen in people from the slums.”
“He’s also well versed in hunting. Whenever we lack meat, he will go hunt some wild lizards to feed himself. That’s a trait common to those who grew in a small village, particularly those near the forest. If I was to guess, I’d say he comes from Sol’s slums. I don’t think anything more can be said about him.”
“How is his nature then?” asked Katherine. Her question was addressed to Arkus instead of Nolan. “He can’t be all that bad if he’s receiving your praise.”
Arkus’s didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after hearing Katherine’s question. “I can’t say for sure, but he seems like a good boy. Perhaps a bit naïve for his age. The other recruits say he often seems to be talking to himself. He might be one of those.”
“Another crazy one?” muttered Jan, crossing his arms over his chest.
As Nyx’s former strategist he had seen many young men develop strange habits to cope with the kingdom’s tensions. Not everyone could witness starvation, injustice or slavery and still keep a sane mind.
“I guess it’s still better than people who give up on life.”
“That’s cold,” said Katherine. She had seen spoken to many of the young deserters who joined the rebels. All of them had a reason, a past that drove them here. Some escaped from a noble’s chase while others were running away from debt. Some were just in it because of their own hatred towards the crown, and some were fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.
“They didn’t choose to be born here. Were they born in another part of the continent, they might have not had to face such circumstances.”
“We can’t dwell on what ifs,” said Richard. “What if I had been recognized as the heir to the throne? What if I had never chosen to gather the rebel forces? They are just empty statements without reality backing them up. All that matters is whether that kid can be of use to us.”
“I can give you my word of that, sir,” stated Arkus. “While he keeps much to himself, it’s pretty obvious he holds no affection for the current royal family.”
“Well, it would be good if you can pay closer attention to him then,” said Richard. “We can always use people like that close to us. The kingdom will need a people like him to rise again, even more so if we accept the Church of Light’s proposal.”
Katherine closed the fan in her hand, bringing it to her lips. “It’s about time we call the envoys from the church and have a discussion, isn’t it?”
Most of the group nodded in agreement, leaving Nolan alone in his reluctance.
Jan tried to salvage the situation offering him some solace, “Don’t worry, Nolan. It’s not like you’re from the Lapas family or anything. Your shady deals aren’t enough for the church to care, even more so if we establish an alliance.”
Nolan sighed, not willing to say anything else above the matter.
Seeing his partners reach a compromise, Richard finally gave his order. “Very well, call them here Arkus.” It was time for them to settle the terms of their alliance.
It didn’t take long for Magnus and Erin to come into their room. Behind them were two of the initiate paladins. The paladins had left their plated armor behind, wearing the ceremonial robes from members of the clergy instead. It was a small display of their peaceful disposition, not that it mattered with Magnus’s presence. A mage biggest weapon was his mind.
“Please, take a seat,” instructed Arkus. He sat next to the silver-haired Richard, carefully observing Magnus’s every action. Even if he believed in the church’s sincerity, he wouldn’t risk an assassination attempt on his leader.
Magnus nodded his head, taking a place in the table along with rebels’ leaders. “Everyone, I’m sure Arkus has already delivered our request to your hands. May I hear your initial thoughts before we continue? I’d like to dissipate any doubts you may hold.”
Nolan looked at Magnus and then scoffed. “You’re sending us into our deaths,” he said. “No amount of clerics will justify a frontal attack into Nyx’s capital. Your proposal is tantamount to suicide.”
Magnus nodded, attentively hearing Nolan’s complaints. “Anything else?” he asked. He wanted to address every single point with a single strike if possible.
Jan looked at him before saying, “We would also like to know what the Church of Light has to gain from this. You must understand your stance seems to hold no basis in our eyes. There is no such thing as allies, just partners in the face of benefits.”
The paladin candidates behind Magnus and Erin had trouble controlling their faces. They felt offended by such claims. The noble Church of Light represented justice in their eyes. No mortal men should be willing to question their goddess’ will.
Magnus looked at Katherine, piercing her eyes with his own. “You seem to want to say something, my lady, please speak.”
The woman smiled coyly, twisting a curl of her red hair with her finger. “It’s nothing much, just something I feel pulling at the back of my mind. Why now of all times? We could have used your help at many points in time before, so why did the church suddenly change their stance? I thought the policy of the churches was to work alongside kingdoms, not form those of their own.”
“Your concerns aren’t without basis,” said Magnus. It was his mission to make this meeting work out smoothly, he had already planned his answers beforehand. “The church has seen the pain the royal family is placing its populace through. Their stance was changed after a divine revelation told them they were allowed to intervene.”
“I see,” said Katherine. Magnus’s answer was plausible, but seemed rather far-fetched. “Why then didn’t the Church of Life or the Church of Harvest do something? They are the two churches with the biggest influence in Nyx. You would think they would intervene before the Church of Light did.”
“That is something I’m afraid I can’t answer with certainty,” said Magnus. “Each god and goddess has their own views, as do their churches. I can only speak as a representative for the Church of Light.”
Not that there is any church interested on that barren land you call your kingdom, he added on his mind. We could invade the whole thing and no other church would care.
Katherine sighed in resignation. Her question might as well go unanswered. “Very well,” she said. It was a better use of their time to receive answers to Nolan and Jan’s questions.
Seeing her give way for him to continue, Magnus resumed his explanation, “Regarding what we have to gain, it is quite simple — a new ally. Nyx and Irelia were at war for far too long, leading us to spend resources that could have used for the development of both our kingdoms. The current royal family in Nyx still holds those grudges, but I’m sure your group would be willing to let go of them in exchange for victory.”
Jan pondered about it, looking back at Richard. Despite being banished from the kingdom, he wasn’t sure of Richard’s stance on the matter of old grudges. It took a nod from Richard before he turned back to look at Magnus, requesting him to carry on.
Magnus nodded and continued. “We could help with Nyx’s expansion towards the south as long as your leader swears to open up our trade routes once again. Of course, we will also request permits to the establishment of a few chapels in the new settlements.”
“That still doesn’t answer how you will support our war effort,” said Nolan. He had been the first to ask his question, leaving him frustrated when Magnus answered everyone but him. His previous interactions with the church didn’t help him hold any good feelings towards Magnus’s sophistry.
“I was getting to that,” said Magnus. “As members of the church, we can’t involve ourselves in military matters, and therefore can’t provide you with any troops. This point you must understand.”
Magnus’s answer seemed to darken the mood in the room. Nolan was specially upset about it, pushing him to stand up from his seat and face Magnus disregarding what the mage could do to him if angered.
“What good are you then?” he asked. “You’re pushing us to our deaths.”
The paladin candidates took a step forward. Even if Magnus was only a temporary commander, they had a role to uphold.
“Relax,” said Magnus, waving his hand so his temporary subordinates would step back. “It isn’t like we come empty handed. If you take a seat, I can show you what I’m talking about.”
Richard seemed intrigue, causing him to look sternly at Nolan. It left the poor man no choice but to take back his seat.
“Very well,” said Magnus. A smug smile rose on his face as the situation came back to his control. Once everyone’s eyes were back on him, he tore a hole in space, bringing out a small rosewood box from within.
Extending his arm, he placed it on the table.
“This is our offer.”
- Costa Rica
Hey, I'm InkBamboo. Currently a Bachelor of Sciences in Psychology, I write as a hobby to relieve stress from clinical work. I enjoy grimdark fantasy settings and the occasional litrpg as a guilty pleasure.
I hope to someday create as many stories as there are bamboo shots in a forest. I hope you can follow me through this journey.
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