“The second thing is related to your cousin Bruno,” said mother.
Hearing that, for a moment I had an odd sense of dissociation of time and place. It was like I was being dragged back into my past. Bruno had been my rival, the one I had to overcome to keep myself and my family safe. Once upon a time he had been the driving force behind most of my actions and my efforts were mostly directed at triumphing over him.
How long? Just how long had it been? A few months? If I considered that the Tournament was the true beginning of the change in our dynamics, then it had merely taken half-a-year to leave him far behind.
Now, I found it difficult to think of him in the same light. My rival? That was probably the Duchess now. Ragyo Kirin maybe? No. Not him… that was aiming a bit too high. But, whatever the case, it wasn’t my cousin Bruno. Not anymore. Our circles were different.
I shook my head to clear my mind of that sense of oddness and focused on mother’s following words.
“Bruno drew lots for the Water trial of the Swayamvar. As for his team, he had Messi and his wife Fifa with him – along with the Delphinidae heir, Morpheus.”
My eyes widened as I came to the realization that he must have been in the Southern District at the time of the coup. “Is he fine?” I blurted out. No matter how antagonistic our relationship might have been, he was still family and two years my junior… I felt oddly responsible for him.
“Relax, he’s fine,” assured mother. “He had his parents with him and Marquis… no, Count Delphinidae was with them. The combined might of three Tier 4 mages isn’t a joke, especially your uncle. He has an… artefact… that can safeguard his life. Unless they had the misfortune of meeting a Tier 5 mage, I don’t think anything could threaten their safety. And in fact, they managed to fight their way out of the blockade… or rather, the Shogunate forces allowed them to pass as they were deemed too troublesome a foe. Along the way, they rescued several loyal subjects of Regiis. Their merit isn’t small… and I heard that Bruno made quite the name for himself. It’s happy news.”
Hearing that they were safe and had even racked up some merit made me relax. Then my mind started exploring the other facets of the situation. Ceres was really having a ‘bad’ influence on me. First off, the involvement of the Delphinidae clan. After their demotion to the level of a Count family, it was quite understandable that they would want to climb back up the ladder of authority and power.
Bruno, it seemed, was their chosen staircase. Just like the Duchess wanted to support me to the Throne, Count Delphinidae seemed to have favoured my cousin. Well, with Bruno’s compound element and splendid performance in the tournament, I didn’t find his choice difficult to understand.
Morpheus himself was no slouch – despite his permanent state of ennui – and with the first task being related to water, their team was off to an eye-catching start… In an alternate timeline where Ceres didn’t choose to stake her life to prove her sincerity that is.
Mother continued, “I heard that the task would have been to join the crew of the navy ships that patrol the maritime trade routes. Maybe even hunt down the pirates that infest the waters. Of course, it has been called off now.”
My eyes shone involuntarily at the mention of navy ships and pirates. A pirate hunter. Now that was the stuff adventures were made of. Roaming the seas, upholding justice, punishing evil, saving a maiden in distress and leaving the image of my broad back stamped indelibly in her heart…
Maybe not that last one, but the task fit my image of what I had always aspired to do in my later life perfectly.
“Anyway,” continued mother. “They are now in the Western District, coordinating with the army there to shore up the defences against any further invasion by the Shogunate. They won’t be returning for a while.”
I nodded. “That’s good for all concerned actually. They can take the opportunity to rack up military merit using Bruno’s status as an interim Lieutenant and they’ll be attracting the Shogunate’s attention… consuming their resources and involving their energy. They’ll have less leisure to cope with us.”
Father nodded his approval. “It’s good that you are learning to read between the lines,” he commended, gratified.
He continued, “The third bit relates to your mother and the Egyptian Cult.”
It wasn’t difficult to guess why they would want anything to do with mother.
“They want your mother to visit them and ‘share’ her experience of promoting with them.”
Mother sneered. “The conditions they proposed are really attractive. Open access to the library, the best medical attention… an audience with their Holy Mother.” She turned to me with an odd look in her eye, “… an audience with their current Saintess for you.”
I was speechless. Wasn’t this a bit too blatant. Where was their self-respect.
Mother chuckled at my vexed expression. “Not to worry, even if you went there and met her, nothing would come of it… but the fact that they are willing to even give us hope that it might is telling. They really place a great deal of importance on this alternative method of promotion.” Her expression grew hard. “Not that I’d accept. Even a bucket of water when your house is on fire is appreciated more than an entire lake’s worth after it is ashes in the wind. When I needed them most, they shut me out and when I obtain something they want, their enthusiasm is like fire. Heh. Really realistic.”
Father narrowed his eyes. “Don’t be so quick to reject them. We could use the healers they promised to send over as a sign of goodwill. We can always snub them later.”
Both mother and I stared at him a bit startled. We didn’t expect those words to come from him. Stared at by the both of us, father coughed lightly to alleviate his embarrassment. “When you stroll by the lake, you get your feet wet,” he explained.
Well, thinking logically, there was no way he’d have survived years of command by being stodgy. Going over the information in my mind, I proposed my doubts.
“How did they get the information so fast. It has only been a few days. Does the Cult have representatives here? Or informers?”
Mother nodded. “The Cult spreads its wings really broadly and there are very few nations that will deny a charitable medical centre the permission to set up shop in their lands. And Regiis has a good relationship with Egypt. Each district probably has one of the Cult’s medical centres. It’s mainly for the non-magical populace and the healers there only go up to Tier 2 at the most, but that’s enough for mundane maladies. It’s quite famous.”
Recognition flashed past in my mind, “Wait! Saint Pharmaceuticals is their enterprise? Why don’t I know about this?”
“Well,” replied mother, “outwardly, the charitable hospital is only a public health initiative by Saint Pharma and Saint Pharma itself is a public-private company with majority government stocks, but actually, the Cult is one of the major private stockholders and the charitable hospitals are their initiative. Other than the money, they get a quite comprehensive grass-roots level intelligence network while Saint Pharma profits off their medical expertise.”
She shrugged. “It’s a win-win situation. Anyway, the gist of the matter is that they invited me over to their place but I can’t find any reason to go now… not when we are beset by crisis. And, as your father suggested, I’ll stay in touch with them and try to squeeze the maximum benefit out of them. Let’s see if I can’t get them to have a look at Ceres’ eyes…”
I had promised Ceres that I would try to find a cure for her vision. The current situation seemed hopeful. “Okay, but try not to promise them anything. I’d rather not have them trying to dissect me and see how I tick,” I joked.
Mother smiled. “Well, you won’t have to worry about that happening anytime soon, even if the news of your involvement leaks out. After all, you’ve received a call from the Emperor himself.”
She paused to let the words sink in.
“You’re going to the Capital.”
End of Volume.