---- A Few Days Later ----
The soft rays of morning sunlight warmed my face as I lay in Julia's bed.
Snuggled up next to me, I look towards her. Julia's platinum blonde hair was lovely. It reflected the sunlight, creating an otherworldly glow that surrounded her body. The blanket we snuggled under raised and lowered itself following her breathing. She was completely vulnerable.
And at my absolute mercy.
Deviously, I shuffled my arms beneath the blanket towards her figure.
"Mmm… Kuro~" She yawned. My hand stopped as she spoke my name. It would be too cruel of me to start her day like this…
"Good morning, my Lady." I glance to the wall and inspect the nearby time crystal. "It is still early blue; you may rest for a little while longer. I shall prepare for the day, nya."
I swung my legs off the bed and got up, the chilly environment punishing me. I immediately missed the warmth of being at her side.
Looking back at Julia, I couldn't help but feel somewhat guilty for the web of deceit and lies I'm about to unleash today.
Well… on second thought, she may need some extra stress relief in preparation for what's to come.
---- Two Hours Later ----
POV: Juliana Von Wickten
Kuro knew just what I liked, however, it would soon be time for breakfast. As per routine, she went to get clothed in her maid attire before attending to me. From the wardrobe, Kuro picked an ornate, royal blue dress decorated in jewels and ribbons.
"This one matches your eyes, Julia. Kuro thinks you will look wonderful in this, nya." She held the dress up in her hands. I nodded at her choice for today. She was still inexpert at dressing me, but that was to be expected.
Clothes were a foreign concept to demis who usually prance around naked. Obviously, dressing up another person would pose difficulties. What she chose for today looked a little too gaudy for my liking.
Just as we were about to leave, I received a tug on my sleeve and a timid look from Kuro.
"My Lady, I am supposed to deliver this to you." She whispered.
She reached behind herself, producing two sheets of paper in hand. Curious by her change in attitude, I grabbed the first one and began reading.
To my honourable liege,
If you are reading this, it means that Kuro has delivered this message successfully. I have a dire communication that requires the utmost secrecy and is of the Wickten Duchy's highest concern.
Along with this message, should be a document detailing this year's fiscal income. I have highlighted points of interest. I have combed these logs for many days and nights and uncovered a dastardly conspiracy against the honourable Wickten name.
Hundreds of thousands of gold coins worth of goods and currency have been diverted away from the duchy's private vaults to an unknown account. I have investigated as much as I could and have confirmed the accounts to be of foreign origin.
I regret to inform you, but the only man with enough authority to do this is your husband, Leonard. I implore you to look through these papers with rigorous scrutiny and come to your own conclusions.
I will support whichever decision you make.
Head of the Wickten Finance Guild,
Hundreds of thousands… A pessimistic estimate would give that near 30% of the duchy's income. As high as over half of it.
I grab the other sheet held in Kuro's hand and begin skimming over it. The numbers were dizzyingly large, so I decided to sit down.
"Kuro, bring me a quill and parchment. I will have to delay breakfast a little."
"O-Of course, Julia!" She dashed off faster than I had ever seen.
If the contents of Albertt's letter holds true, then my husband has a lot to answer for.
---- Half an Hour Later ----
Everything was panning out perfectly. It was only a little while before Albertt's little scheme would be executed in full force, so I might as well make the most of it. The last time we met, I had him write a little letter. An act befitting of the phrase 'two birds with one stone'. Vetter will be cleared of suspicion, and I get rid of Leo.
Julia seemed convinced by the letter. It was his handwriting after all. What was more interesting were the numbers. They didn't lie. Somebody was stealing a fortune from the territory. Just not whom the letter proclaimed.
I must admit Vetter was very sly. Most of the funds he snuck away were from the guard's payroll. He weakened the most dangerous factor. A decrease in equipment quality followed by an increase in resignations.
I don't expect fireworks, but I do know that people get twitchy when foreign agents of dissent are involved with your military. Julia had no doubt noticed the identification tag on the payments.
As I followed an irate Julia into the dining hall, I was greeted with an all-too-familiar sight. That philanderer, Leonard, was already at the table enjoying the company of his two concubines. He paid no attention to who just entered. I could barely hide the smile plastered across my face.
Me, Julia, and two members of her personal guard.
As she made her way towards the table, I hurried forward to pul the chair out for her. I prepared her napkin and laid out the cutlery appropriate for today's meal, salivating slightly. I shook my head; this was no time to fantasise… I would get my food later.
Completing my task, I take a step back and stand behind her, close to the wall. My job now was to remain discreet and silent. If she required assistance, I was expected to be proactive.
The meal continued for a while. A cold atmosphere settled over our side of the table, whereas on the other, Leonard continued his merrymaking.
"Husband, I believe that it is time for you to address what is happening within our demesne."
Eliciting a startled reaction, Leonard coughed and spattered his food onto the table. Some maids quickly rushed over to deal with the mess.
"Juliana, is that the first thing you have to say to me?" he rumbled out. He's pissed off. Living with a silver spoon since childbirth and relinquishing duties to others, the thought of having to do something must feel scandalous to him.
"I'm sure you have heard of the unrest that is disrupting our day-to-day operations. Their demands are for lower taxes and more public spending of it."
"Bah! Baseless rumours! Ignorant peasants! None in the Wickten duchy would dare challenge my absolute authority."
Spoken like a true man-child.
"Husband," she smiled chillingly, "where there's smoke, there's fire. Funnily enough, I've heard some threats of arson, recently."
He looked up from his meal.
"And? What do you want me to do about it? Just send in the military."
What a clown.
"The military may be under foreign influence. I do not want to instigate a takeover by an external power."
"Wha- What do you mean foreign influence? They've been bought?!"
I retract my previous statement. The fireworks were going to be beautiful.
"Yes, my dearest. They do not follow the Wickten banner any longer… Do not play dumb with me."
"What do yo-"
"I knew you were up to something. Weakening our own military and sending tribute to foreign accounts. What did they offer you that I cannot? An even more carefree life once they've in power?"
"Are you insa-"
"You've been sowing discontent in the territory willingly, haven't you? That's a great excuse for somebody to invade, swooping in to quell unrest, when it's just a hostile takeover. Admit it."
Wow. She had managed to spin an entire story on the back of this meagre information. It was entirely believable with the given information.
"I'll admit I spend my money frivolously, bu-"
Ah, this absolute idiot. That was an admission of guilt.
"Guards, seize that man under the authority of Juliana Von Wickten." With narrowed eyes, she pointed at him with her knife. Damn, she looked sexy.
Her personal guardsmen circled either side of the dining table, apprehending him.
"Confine him to a guest room and secure him. He will remain in custody until further notice."
Not execution then? I wasn't expecting it, though. The only proof she has are the documents detailing the missing cash and an admission of 'frivolous' money spending by him. There was no confirmation of another territory encroaching on this one, other than Vetter's claim.
This network he's been working so hard on better be sufficient. Faking another country's involvement is trickier than it sounds. And it already sounds like a nightmarish undertaking.
"Oi! Unhand me! Juliana, you've been deceived by that devil!" He pointed to me. I stifled a snicker at how close he was to the truth.
Leonard wasn't shamefully dragged out of the room as I wanted but rather was escorted out of the room by the two guards. He was still one of the highest members of authority here and is still due respect. Damning evidence of his 'misdeeds' would need to be uncovered if I was to be rid of him permanently.
I sighed to myself.
The prospect of entrusting everything to Vetter wasn't something I was too keen on. While he had assured me that a couple of days preparation was more than enough for him, I am unconvinced. I think it's still too early.
Let's hope he is as adept at forging more than just financial statements.
---- One Day Later ----
POV: Albertt Vetter
Kuro sat across from me. Her tail drifted from side to side, ears alert. She wasn't happy; that much was obvious.
"So? Are you going to tell me your plan, nya?" She grumbled out. "Kuro doesn't like the ever-increasing sense of foreboding recently. Nothing's happened since his arrest, and every second that goes by, the chances of eliminating him decrease."
I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I was quite curious as to what a 'second' was, but onto more pressing matters.
"Not to worry, High Prieste-" The atmosphere became heavy as she interrupted me.
"You will address me as Kuro in private, Vetter." She spoke through gritted teeth. "The title of 'High Priestess' is akin to a codename. You only need to use it when necessary," she spat.
"My apologies. You hadn't clarified…"
Her gaze intensified, and I shrunk into my seat.
"Moving onto the main topic, Lady Kuro. You really mustn't worry yourself about the smaller details. Everything is moving together, just as you wanted. You only need to give the order, and The Order will move in accordance with your wishes. Evidence is being fabricated as we speak, and we will have an irrefutable case by the end of the week."
Kuro tapped the desk rhythmically as she listened to my assurances. Her expression shifted from annoyed to somewhat approving over the course of my report. She raised her hand to stop me before I could move on.
"Tell me the details. About the evidence, nya."
Her order was short and left no room for misinterpretation. Skirting around the issue was not going to work. It seemed I was going to have to divulge an indelicate truth.
"The documents we are fabricating are real, in a sense." Kuro blinked twice before leaning forward.
"…They are what…?" I fiddle with my thumbs and try to look elsewhere.
"…You see… a handful of counts and countesses are actually conspiring against the Wicktens… And are preparing to launch a hostile takeover with the help of foreign actors…"
Kuro stared at me vacantly. We sat in silence as I watched the time crystal change hues. My palms grew sweatier the longer this dragged on. And whether for dramatic effect or genuine contemplation, Kuro kept me waiting.
Eventually, she looked up, her narrowed cat-like eyes met mine.
"Vetter… This mess is your doing… isn't it?"