Sighing, I sank into the soft cushions of my apartment’s living-room sofa. The talk with Steven and his wife, Hei Lian had been exhausting. What with all the shocking revelations dropped on us out of nowhere.
The both of them hadn’t been forthcoming with the nature of their relationship, with Hei Lian calling him her ‘subordinate’. But, to anyone with half a brain, it was clear as day. They were probably waiting for the confirmation of the elders before acknowledging it publicly.
The Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries’ Revered Ancestor and the top level of Firang including Father and Mother were still holed up in the meeting room.
Deimos hadn’t come back with us as she had volunteered to escort the both of them and show them around the camp. Thankfully, Marshal Canis had accompanied them. I didn’t feel quite relieved leaving Deimos alone with the wolf girl. If not for my recent boost in perception, I would never have guessed that she was at Tier 3. She didn’t seem much older than twenty. Her talent was shocking.
Though the way she looked at me made me quite uncomfortable… like she wanted to lay a beatdown upon me. I wasn’t quite sure I could defeat her in a duel. Currently, I could probably take on a recently promoted Tier 3 mage in a one-on-one and draw the match but if she turned Feral, I was sure she’d wipe the floor with me.
I had no idea how I had offended her. Rather, I should be the one taking offense at her husband’s idiocy. What had the prick been thinking when he sicced her half-brother on Deimos?
Well, thanks to that, the Duchess’ plans had been derailed quite a bit. And what grand plans they were. The more I learnt about them and the more information I had, the more I realised the scale of the deception. It was a plan that had decades of effort driving it. Decades of effort and the support of an entire nation.
Phobos and Ceres came out of the kitchen and took their seats on the couch, one on either side of me. Phobos handed me a glass of warm milk before she settled down with a glass of her own as did Ceres.
“Why milk?” I asked, wrinkling my nose. I had never been a fan of dairy products.
“You stayed up the entire night. You are used to your sleep schedule; this sudden disruption might upset your stomach. The milk will settle it.”
“It’s just one night. It won’t really matter.” I mumbled under my breath as I eyed the glass dubiously.
Phobos’ ear twitched. She sat up and glared at me with her hand on her hip. “Look here mister, you’ll drink that right now. Or do you need me to remind you of what happened when you pulled an all-nighter last year?”
I shrank my neck as I grumbled, “Fine. Fine. I’ll drink it. Sheesh.” I took my fist sip, grimacing at the taste.
Phobos sank back into the sofa looking self-satisfied. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of her milk-moustache. Beside me, I could feel Ceres giggling with her hand covering her mouth.
That widened my smile. I was glad that she could still laugh even though a restraining order had been placed on her. She wasn’t to leave my sight for the duration of the war. She was still a suspect.
I felt quite bad for her but it was still better than having her behind bars. She would have to put up with having me hovering about her till she could clear her name. I’d like to think that she wouldn’t mind.
“Husband,” said Ceres quietly, “What are your thoughts on the Duchess’ plans?”
I held my nose and chugged down the rest of the milk in a few gulps. Setting the glass down, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and washed the taste down with some water from the jug on the table.
Leaning back into my seat, I rested my head on the backrest so I was looking up at the ceiling. Slowly gathering my thoughts, I connected all the bits and pieces of information I had accumulated about the Duchess’ grand design.
“Let’s see, as far as I understand it, the train of events went like this:
“The Duchess’ mother and her father met at sea and got married. It could be by accident or by design. The Shogunate, which had already been planning to invade Regiis thought of using their relation as a breach and offered the Vulpine clan a chance to rise. They took it.
“The Shogunate had some sort of technique in place to make Forbidden Zones erupt prematurely and that was the core of their plan. As the Duchess’ mother rose in the ranks, she probably worked towards implementing the technique in the Forbidden Zones in and around Regiis.
“Then the Duchess’ mother sacrificed herself in order to complete the preparatory work. All that was left was to generate favourable conditions for the coup.
“The Duchess found out about me and decided to train you to help me achieve the Throne. Then she could use my position to facilitate her seepage into the higher echelons of Regiis.
“During the pre-tournament banquet, she tried to spark contradictions between the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries and one of her political opponents. Steven’s bumbling caused that plan to fail and we got involved instead.
“If I haven’t guessed wrong, the Crimson Coyotes probably had some deal with the Shogunate already. If her plans went perfectly, not only would she be able to weaken one of her opponents, she would be able to weaken the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries too, helping the Crimson Coyotes take over their territory.
“Over the four years when I’d be away for the Swayamvar, she would have lined Regiis’ eastern border with enemy forces and with the help of the marriage alliances, gained more allies in the South-Eastern Province.
“If I became Emperor, she would use me to sink her fangs into Regiis’ political body as far as possible before inciting the Forbidden Zones to erupt as they are doing right now.
“If not for you breaking free of her shackles, I believe that the South-Eastern Province would fall without a whisper under the tri-pronged attack of the insect-tides and the Shogunate from without and the betrayal of the Duchess from within.”
I looked Ceres in the eye. “You forced her hand, making her pre-pone her plans lest the investigation into her use of a Geas reveal more of her secrets.”
I bowed my head to her. “In place of all the citizens of Regiis, I thank you. I apologize for the unfair treatment you are receiving. You are a hero in my heart.”
She blushed deeply, turning her head away bashfully. “T-hanks.” I held one of her hands and Phobos reached across me to grab the other. She said, “When we clear your name, the whole of Regiis will be thanking you.”
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