---- The Next Day ----
POV: Albertt Vetter
As I sat lazily on my desk puffing a cigar, I gazed out the window onto the street below. The duchy had been slowly falling into disrepair due to the rampant indifference and ignorance of the Wicktens. Lord Leonard had little care for the masses that he ruled over, abandoning his duties, basking in his undeserved wealth.
The city of Wickten was my home. As a child, I remembered walking through a vibrant city, entranced by its lively festivals and friendly faces. It pained my heart to see slews of exploited and penniless rabble lining the streets. I had to fight against this injustice. I had just the right tools at my disposal. My efforts were slowly bearing fruit. A knocking at my door pulled me out of my reminiscing.
“Yes, come in.” The door creaked open and a young boy came in, a satchel by his side. Thomas was a good kid, trying his best to get by. If you needed a letter sent hastily, Thomas was your go-to courier.
“Mr Vettel! I have an urgent communication from Lord Wickten’s estate!” A letter from the Wicktens? This was unusual.
“Thank you, Thomas. Take this as a token of my appreciation for all the good work.” I tossed him a heavy pouch that jingled in his hands and he looked at me with a shocked face. That amount should keep him comfortable for a while.
“Thank you very much, Mr Vettel!” He bowed, before leaving the room. No doubt running back to his siblings to show off his newly acquired funds.
I turned to the peculiar letter that rested on my desk. It was stamped with the signature red wax seal of the Wickten family, a two-headed phoenix, a legendary avian that represented rebirth. I scoff at the notion. All they were good at was destruction. Preparing myself to see what new ridiculous demands they have for me; I grab my paper-knife and slice the expensive parchment open.
To the dishonourable Albertt Vetter,
I bring you evil tidings. Upon close examination of your latest work, I am obliged to inform you that damming evidence of embezzlement of duchy funds had been uncovered. A significant share of duchy finances were wilfully omitted or modified in the budgeting reports. As the individual who signed off these documents, you are guilty of treachery against my liege and this nation.
Your presence is demanded at the Wickten estate immediately. Noncompliance will be met with a kingdom-wide warrant for your arrest, followed by a seizing of all private assets and properties. If you do not wish to be branded an enemy of Orthea, I hope you make haste.
I am looking forward to a constructive conversation.
Assistant to Lady Juliana Von Wickten,
My cigar drops to the floor. Oh, shit.
---- Several Hours Later ----
I was greeted at the mansion strangely amicably, as if nothing in the letter had ever transpired. Whether it was to make me lower my guard or to lull me into a false sense of security, neither worked. My hackles were raised, and I was anxious. Somebody had managed to see through my carefully doctored ledgers, an impossible task even if they knew it was falsified in the first place. I entered the mansion, and the maids led me to Lady Wickten’s office.
As I stood outside the lavish door, I droplets of sweat formed on my forehead. Wiping them with my handkerchief seemed futile, as more and more threatened to appear. I was looking as guilty as could be... Not yet! I haven’t lost to them yet! I swore to myself that I would see that righteousness would once again rule over the Wickten duchy, my stashed funds would serve as a catalyst for change. I had poured a small fortune of my unmerited money into nurturing the younger generation. Thomas one such example of its promise. If I were snuffed out here, they would be sure to pick up the torch.
The door opened, and a petite demihuman catgirl stepped out and bowed to me. She wore something that resembled a maid’s outfit but revealed perhaps a bit too much. The colour scheme was also unconventional, dark black opera gloves and knee-high stockings that matched… her raven hair and void-like eyes… Colour drained from my face and I leapt back. This… this thing was cursed by darkness. It- It lived here?!
“Lady Juliana will see you nyow,” she spoke indifferently, ignoring my offensive behaviour. She turned around and opened the door, looking back at me, patiently waiting for me to enter.
I grimaced. How hypocritical of me. I believed in equality, of opportunity, I always tried to hold as little prejudice against anybody... But my first reaction to her was of sheer terror. My emotions were in complete turmoil. Disadvantaged slaves like her are the people I’m trying to save. Don’t worry. I’ll show you that there is still hope out there.
I stepped into Lady Wickten’s office, the catgirl following me in before shutting the door. I looked around again, their family’s obscene wealth once again sickening me. I had visited the estate on a few occasions, always leaving with a bitter taste in my mouth for their blatant wastage of valuable taxpayer’s money. Her office was filled to the brim with priceless artefacts, grimoires, and paintings. Each costing well over several lifetimes of a peasant farmer’s meagre income. I dared not look into her eyes.
“Well,” she started off, “Kuro must have written a very convincing letter to get you to come here within the day.” Pleasantries first, huh? The practices of nobility were always stifling to me.
“Y-yes my liege. They did make a v-very good argument.” I looked up and was confused by what I saw. Not a drop of malice, nor anger radiated from the woman sitting at the desk. She sat comfortably,
“Well, what are you waiting for?” She asked. “Everything was in the letter, and if you are here, then you have no objections.” I quirked my brow. What was she on about? I didn’t agree to anything yet! “You are hereby appointed as Kuro’s accounting tutor. Treat her well.” W-What? What did she just say?! Kuro’s tutor? Recalling the familiar name, I recognised it as the one that sent me the letter, her assistant.
“A-Ah, of course. Wh-Where may I find Kuro, my liege?” I stuttered embarrassingly out. I had no clue what was happening. I had come to the manor expecting to be arrested, exiled or worse. Instead? I seemed to have caught myself in a devious plot. Why would somebody who uncovered my crimes need tutoring?
“What are you talking about, Vetter? Kuro is right there.” She pointed behind me. I turned around, to see who this forensic accountant was. What greeted my eyes, was the catgirl I previously saw, casually leaning against the wall, curious black eyes meeting mine. T-That was Kuro?! I-I did not believe it. Some feline had the technical ability to discern my peculation. Impossible. I came to the only rational conclusion. Kuro was a puppet; an in-between acting as a liaison for whoever uncovered my crimes. I was at a disadvantage. An unknown party had shown itself, and all I could do was follow along.
“Y-Yes, of course. Please excuse my blunder. I shall accept the kind offer.” Lady Wickten hadn’t been notified of my embezzlement, no doubt as a power play by the mysterious party. We control the information that gets to your rulers. What can you do? Nothing. I was at their complete mercy. I had to comply with whatever demands they'd make of me. If I wish to save the duchy, I had to keep my life.
“Kuro, show Mr Vetter to the private study. You can get started there.” My employer commanded the feline demi. She pushed off the wall and elegantly bowed, before opening the door. She looked back at me with indifferent eyes.
“Come.” She said frigidly. I had no pretext for refusing her order and had no choice but to follow closely behind her.
As we walked silently through the Wickten residence, my panic started dwindling. From what I gathered, the third-party wanted to make use of me, otherwise, my deeds would have been exposed. This was good. It meant that I was worth something to them, or had something worth keeping me alive for. I decided it would be improper to start a conversation with Kuro. I held off, knowing the delicate topic of our future conversations that should be held behind closed doors.
This enigmatic third-party was powerful. It had members to unearth my lawbreaking, yet could freely choose who obtained this information. It also managed to sneak a covert operative into the Wickten household: The demihuman Kuro. Not a small feat, I would add.
To Lady Wickten, she appeared entirely guileless, somebody who held her complete trust.
Kuro had attempted to look impassive. However, walking behind her, I noted the casual sway of her tail which told a different story. She was excited. No doubt for our conversation she was looking forward to.
I could only glower in silence at her shadowy form as we walked to our destination. She held all the cards.
Ah, I was in a good mood. After last night’s affair, Julia had let me send a letter to the Wickten Finance Guild. Of course, I claimed its contents were nothing but a harmless request for a tutor, but in reality, I had sent literal blackmail. Was this where the term was derived from? Hm, no use pondering pointless things. She didn’t even bother checking its contents, saying it was a “test of my persuasive writing skills,” with the results being he turns up and I pass, or he doesn’t, and I fail.
It had worked spectacularly. I saw Mr Vetter walk in the office with the gait of a man with his head on the chopping block. He was entirely convinced that I held that kind of authority. Who would have thought that stealing from nobility would land you a job as an accounting instructor?
We neared the private office. Julia was gracious enough to assign a dedicated room to me for my ‘tutoring’. Although, I was pretty sure this mansion had hundreds of unused rooms that only collect dust. Not so magnanimous when you think about it that way, I suppose. Reaching the office, I open the door and enter.
“In here,” I instructed Mr Vetter, who timidly followed behind. The office wasn’t as sumptuous as Julia’s, but was fancy, nonetheless. It was well light, a large, arched window allowing the warm afternoon sunlight to stream into the room. I circled around the large desk, build for two, and sat at the head of the room. There was a chair set up beside mine, but he was not going to be using it.
The swindler apprehensively walked up towards the desk, unsure of what to do. Time to set things in motion.
“Stop right there.” He froze about a meter from my desk. “And kneel.” He wordlessly lowered himself to the ground, a furrowed brow the only visible indication of his displeasure. Ahh… this power. This authority. It was euphoric… how I missed this feeling. A devilish grin split my face; I had no need to hide it here, no need to act all sappy. I was free to puppeteer this man in front of me to my heart’s content.
“Nyahahaha! This is wonderful… you already know your place.” All I received was a defeated nod of acceptance. “Your demeanour will make negotiations much smoother.” He shuffled uncomfortably underneath my gaze, unwilling to look me in the eyes.
“W-What do you need me for?” He began. Straight to the point, then? I don’t get to enjoy twisting the knife, but the outcome is the same. Oh, well. I tame my wild smile, regaining my composure. I needed to be sober if I were to parley. I couldn’t afford to get drunk off this power trip.
“As a front, you will act as my accounting tutor. In actuality, you will build a web for me.”
“A network of contacts; Distribution of goods and services. Acting as my tutor, you will be able to report to me twice a week. With your siphoned funds, acquiring a reliable supply chain should not be a problem.”
“T-The funds I have acquired are to be used for the good of the people! I-I will not squander it on such a useless thing!” He spewed out, glaring at me. The good of the people? What the fuck was he talking about? One of the goals of this meeting was to learn the motive behind his crime... Ah… this man… he thought he was a champion of the people, didn’t he? A childish dream to be a hero of justice. Disgusting. If it weren’t for his finesse in finance and the ridiculous amount of wealth he has stashed away, I would have gone straight to Julia to oust him.
“Unfortunately, Mr Vetter, as of this moment, the funds you have acquired are mine to use freely. Your rights to that money were revoked the moment I discovered it… Unless you wish for the money in question to be returned to its rightful owner?” Reminding him of his disadvantage in this negotiation, his form visibly shrinks, realising the foolishness of his outburst.
This man was going to be a problem. His raging justice boner was going to cause uncountable issues in the future. Although forcing him to work for me would be no issue, it would fail me in the long-term. I needed him to be at least somewhat inclined to work for me. Time to play good cop/bad cop.
“However, as a former slave, I understand the plight of the commoner.” He looks up to me, anticipation in his eyes. “I will allow a portion of the resources to be reinvested in the people.” I allow a gracious smile to cross my face to further sell my pitch.
“Oh!” A beaming smile appeared on his face, “a fellow revolutionar-” Screw that. I slam my hand down on the desk. Loud enough to shock him into silence, also hard enough to hurt my hand.
“Don’t get me wrong Mr Vetter. I will not oppose the status quo in any way shape or form. As a demi, I have no rights nor security against people who wish to do me harm. I have few qualms with using your money for the people, but do not lump me in with your ‘revolution’ bullshit.” I had read the history books.
Exaggerated or not, this country’s military strength was off the charts. Extrapolating what I could from some chronicles, they seemed to have invented some sort of incendiary projectile without using gunpowder. Incendiary grenades? In this era? Every revolution had been quashed with great force. I had no business in joining some disorganised, rebellious faction.
Maybe it was a mistake associating myself with this nutcase.
“Listen here. You do what I say, and I do not reveal what you have been doing to my Lady. I will be generous. You can keep 30% of what you are embezzling. I get to decide what happens to the rest. I will not pry into what you do with your share, but you will neither question nor reject what I do with mine. If you have any objections, I would be happy to direct you to the gallows.” He gulped. Good. It seems he has accepted my terms.
I saw on the books how much was being lost to this man. Even 10% of what he’s already reaping would be an incredible sum.
I lived in relative comfort, albeit from essentially house arrest. This little stunt had earnt me some financial security. It always serves to be prepared for the future.
“Mr Vetter. Here is your first assignment as my tutor. I need a book on the curse of darkness. I hope it will not be an issue to secure?” I was curious as to what it was ever since I was called that by Lord Leonard. I hadn’t seen anybody else among the servants or guests with black hair or eyes. I assumed it was a reference to these features. The darkness I get, but a curse? Something felt off about it.
“Unfortunately, t-there may be some issues, Lady Kuro.” I frowned. “You would only find books d-describing such a condition. I-If you were hoping to find grimoires and such detailing the harnessing of your darkness, t-they have all been burned by the Church of Light.” Grimoires? Magic? I looked at him incredulously.
“You’re making this up,” I said matter-of-factly.
“N-No! Not at all! His Holiness Pope Lux, supported by the Champion of Light decreed years ago that all dark grimoires on the Unified Continent were to be burnt…”
This was all too ridiculous to be made up. He said it with too much conviction. I facepalmed. How did I not foresee this? This was not Earth. It was a nonsensical medieval world… one filled with magic. At least it cleared something up… The literally described ‘fireballs’ I read about in the library. That little problem bugged me for a while.
“B-But do not fret! There are surely some surviving copies on the black market! I-I will do everything in my power to acquire one.” I think he was the one fretting. I wasn’t going to rat him out over failing to deliver magical books I didn’t know existed.
“That would be fine. If possible, I also desire the regular books detailing the condition, nya.”
“Of course!” The bowed.
This wasn’t fun anymore. Crouched on the ground in front of me, all I saw was a walking, talking, ticking time bomb that will ruin me in the future. For now, this would do. I needed knowledge. Quickly.
This brief encounter had shown me how grossly unreliable my knowledge of the outside world was. If I were pressed to say anything positive about Vetter, I would have to say I am grateful.
I hadn’t felt this nescient in a while.
---- Later that Day ----
POV: Juliana Von Wickten
Kuro came back rather sombre. Mr Vetter had been escorted out by the maids earlier, and he had seemed rather… relieved? It must have been a tricky first lesson then.
We sat across each other in the garden, the orange sun once again slowly dipping down beyond the treeline. She hadn’t touched her milk yet. She’s usually very enthusiastic about milk.
“Kuro, are you okay? Did something happen with Mr Vetter?” I noticed her ears were downcast and her tail lacked the energetic waving I had gotten used to.
She kept quiet for a while, fiddling with the frills on her dress.
“No…” I heard her whisper under her breath.
“Then, why do you look so glum?” I prodded.
She contemplated some more before she looked up from her lap and straight into my eyes. I stared back. She let out a sigh of defeat.
“Why are you the only one not afraid?” She asks.
“Of what?” I reply.
“Don’t act coy with me! M-My appearance… I… Why are people afraid of Kuro?”
It seems something did happen with Mr Vetter. He better not have talked to her about the curse of darkness.
“Well, Kuro… You have been cursed by darkness… People fear that.”
“Hm.” I was saving this for a bedtime story but now will do.
“The legend goes…”
---- Unknown Place ----
This was it. This age of darkness would end by my hands. At my feet, laid the unmoving form of the defeated Goddess.
“Etris, your rule of terror ends today. I have claimed the head of your Champion; I have now come for yours. No longer shall this land bend to your every whim. It shall be freed of your machinations.” I raised the magic sword, the Nullblade, taken from the corpse of her Champion.
Only the weapon bestowed upon a Champion had the power to kill their own God. And to kill a god is to take their place.
She looked at the blade, a melancholic expression appearing on her face. This witch… she dared show emotion at the end? What of all the millions killed by her hand? I had no hesitation. For what she did to us, to the world, was unforgivable. I rested the tip of the sword on her stomach.
“A gift…” She whispered out.
I push down slowly. I was going to let Etris suffer.
“A gift bestowed upon those…”
I drove it in further.
“…Who are fated…”
I twisted the blade.
“…To oppose you…”
“…New Goddess of Light…”
Yes (By himself) Votes: 7 10.6%
Yes (With help from Kuro) Votes: 44 66.7%
No Votes: 15 22.7%