“Remind me again why we have to leave our home during such tumultuous times and move to the Capital.” Phobos interrogated discontentedly as she folded her clothes neatly and stuffed them in a trunk.
I sighed and explained as I packed a trunk of my own. “Apparently, my performance was too eye-catching and the Emperor has taken an interest in my talent – to see whether it can be replicated. Apart from that, he wants to personally reward me for the merits I racked up in Firang. Well, at least, that’s what it says on the invitation. As to the true motive…”
Ceres who was contemplating on the best way to fit another book in her overflowing trunk, looked up from her efforts and acclaimed, “Good. Husband, you’re wising up. Take anything written or said by an aristocrat at face value and soon you’ll be counting their money for them when they sell you. Rewarding your merit, your talent, they are all secondary objectives – just upholstery for the real reason you’re being summoned. We – the Felidae heir and his three wives – are hostages to keep your parents in check. After all, the higher-ups are putting a lot of power in their hands.”
I nodded in agreement. What Ceres meant by a lot of power was the Imperial Edict that nominated my parents as the Duke and Duchess of a new, autonomous Province that was to include the Eastern District as well as whatever portion of the Crimson Coyote territory we could annex.
The Coyotes were greatly beleaguered by the battle with the Calamity as well as the opportunistic attacks of their neighbouring sects, including but not exclusive to the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries. It was the best time to attack them. We had the moral high ground anyway. They attacked us first. The Huaxian sects can’t complain if we return the favour.
Actually, the newly formed state wouldn’t be a Province anymore… it would be the South-Eastern Kingdom.
Somehow, by some odd twist of fate, it turned out that Lieutenant Corvus was actually the biological cousin of the Emperor. After his meritorious service brought him to Imperial attention, they ferreted out his background… I don’t know why the Pavone clan would have someone with the corvid bloodline, nor do I have any idea why Sir Aeryn would run away from home… but, the fact of the matter is that after finding out about it, the Emperor crowned him King.
Now, we were an autonomous state with the Regiis Empire as our suzerain.
The main reason for this was that with the Shogunate’s takeover of the Central and Southern districts, they had effectively cut us off from the rest of Regiis – either by land or by sea. Well, we could try and circle their blockade by journeying through the mountainous border region in the north but… truly speaking, the efficiency of trade would be abysmal through that rugged route.
Of course, this didn’t mean that we had been abandoned. The Empire was sending soldiers and equipment to bolster our forces as well as a delegation of officials to help us smoothly make the transition from a district to a Kingdom.
If I didn’t recall incorrectly, the one leading the delegation was General Kron, an indomitable warrior famed for his unflinching bravery even against impossible odds. I heard that his face didn’t even twitch when he faced off against the undead army of Koschei – not even when the Dungeon boss himself awoke to fight against the Regiis Demigods. Another wooden faced general… I was sure that he and father would get along splendidly.
Deimos, who was bouncing on the lid of her messily packed trunk to try and get it to shut, halted her efforts and turned to Ceres, outrage clear on her face. “What?! How could they?! After all we’ve done…”
Ceres cut her off mid-tirade. “It’s exactly because we have done so much that they are wary of us. In this time of betrayal and turncoats, would you trust a family that seems to turn up in all the right places at all the right times? It’s suspicious to say the least. What if we are planted agents that are trying to use the merit to buy ourselves a position in the top-digit just so we can cause a bigger harm later? Hmm?”
“But… but they have no proof!” protested Deimos. “If they treat their loyal ministers this way, won’t they lose the will of the people?”
“Appointing father as the Duke is the reward for his performance in the war against the Calamity. A promotion which no doubt made the rest of the Regiis aristocrats green with envy.” I replied. “And on paper the Imperial edict is wholly advantageous to us. Unless someone reads between the lines, all the Emperor is doing is inviting us to the Capital for a meet and greet followed by a ceremony where I will be awarded a medal. In the eyes of the public, nowhere are we being disadvantaged.”
Shutting her neatly organized trunk with a snap, Phobos moved over to Deimos. Pushing her off the unclosable trunk, she let out an exasperated sigh at the sight of the mess within. While taking everything out so she could repack it, “Demi, can you please stop being so slovenly?” she scolded.
Deimos bit her tongue.
“Ehehe… I just don’t like packing.” she responded flippantly, earning her a withering glare from Phobos.
Her smile faded under the sustained glare and looking down at her feet contritely, she apologized in a low voice. “Sorry, ya… I shouldn’t have made more work for you.”
Her glare melting away, Phobos sighed and rubbed her forehead. “No… I’m sorry I snapped… it’s just that I was making some progress and this summon interrupted it.” Reaching out, she rubbed the shorter girl’s head fondly. “Yeah… I’ve been a bit stressed lately. Maybe the trip to the Capital will do me good… I’ve heard that there’s a very comprehensive technique library at the Imperial Academy. That just might be what I need to break through.”
“It’s partly my fault anyway…” said Ceres. “It was the clans that married a Vulpine maiden that rebelled in the Central and South districts…” She pointed at herself. “Vulpine maiden,” then at her four tails, “four times the tails, four times the suspicion.”
To try and alleviate the atmosphere of doom, gloom and self-recrimination, “Well, you’re not a Vulpine anymore and definitely not a maiden.” I quipped. “I can attest to that.”
Three sets of eyes filled with pity turned to me.
Cheeks burning with embarrassment, “Never mind,” I whispered as I turned back to my packing. Rushing, I put the last thing in place before hastily snapping the trunk shut and fleeing the room ignominiously. Three muffled snickers followed me down the hall.
Rounding a corner, I shook my head. Even if it was me they were laughing at, making my wives smile was worth it.