Chapter 8 – Foreign Actors
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POV: Kuro

Albertt Vetter was a threat.

Beneath that benign façade of his was nothing more than an impulsive, reckless anarchist. He not only single-handedly put the sovereignty of the duchy at risk, but more importantly, he was a liability to me.

I said he was free to do whatever he wanted with his share of the money, thinking it wouldn't affect me whatsoever. I had forgotten of the incredible ability of the world to screw me over.

I had hoped his desire for the "betterment of the people" would result in anything else. Donating to academic institutions, investing in infrastructure, encouraging international relations…

Despite all that, this man…

He just had to go and do the exact opposite with his riches and disrupt the political landscape. I couldn't wrap my head around his inconsistent behaviour. How did he become this world's equivalent of a financial establishment CEO?

"Tell me, Vetter. Was this little project of yours a recent endeavour, nya?"

The man shuffled nervously under my gaze.

"No! Not at all, Lady Kuro! It was many years ago when I had just begun to siphon funds. I had spent much of my time searching for like-minded people unhappy with Leonard's rulership. By chance, I had managed to secure the backing of several counts who held the same opino-"

"Let me stop you right there, Vetter," I glared, "Kuro has no interest in how this came to be. Your dull backstory it is irrelevant and inconsequential to me. Kuro asked a simple question, and you answered it in your first sentence, nya."

I stifled a groan at the picture unfolding before my eyes. This would be more of a headache than I first suspected.

It seemed an organised rebellion had been in the works for a while now. And while under normal circumstances, it would be manageable, Vetter had directed the stage perfectly.

He had taken paycheques from the military. 

If he were trying to destabilise some other nation, I would have given him full marks. On this occasion, however, he jeopardised my way of life. 

My continued existence relied solely on Julia, who in turn, needed a stable foundation to operate from; an attack on the Wickten Duchy was an attack on me.

If ripped out his throat here and now, it wouldn't resolve the issue. I calmed my mind and focused on not trying to kill him.

"I more or less understand what's happening nyow. The counts you mentioned have been gathering strength and support for years now. The documents detailing outside influence must come from them. You are simply appending Leonard's name to frame him as the one doing the dealings under the table."

I sighed. I knew something was up when Vetter could prepare everything in only a couple of days' notice after I said I wanted Leonard gone. Things were already prepared well in advance; he just needed a catalyst: me.

"Am I wrong?"

I looked at Vetter's stunned face, probably in disbelief that I managed to reason as much.

"…N-No, Lady Kuro. You are spot-on…"

Whatever satisfaction I had for playing Sherlock was quickly smothered as I considered the implications of my deductions.

I was confident that Leo would soon be gone from my sight, permanently, but I wasn't cheering. A much bigger problem had reared its ugly head at me.

"What's the name of the nation working to take over the Wickten Duchy?" He avoided making eye contact with me.

"…It's not exactly a nation, per se," he mumbled. Unfortunately for him, my bestial ears managed to catch it.

"Stop arguing semantics. Kuro shall ask again, what is the name of this 'foreign actor'?"

Vetter looked up at me with pleading eyes. It was as if he was begging to keep his little secret. Evidently, whatever he was going to tell me, I wasn't going to like.

I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. He wasn't going to leave this room without disclosing something this important.

A few uneventful minutes passed, and I was getting impatient.

It seems I would have to force the answers from him.

During my experimentation, I had discovered an advantageous quality of my beastkin lineage. My nails could freely transform between themselves and deadly claws. They were sharp enough to slice a throat cleanly without issue. How else would demis hunt in the wild?

This was going to be a new experience.

Instead of deriving satisfaction from someone else's suffering, my goal was to extract information from my target through it.

I must admit, I was getting excited.

"Vetter, what is so damaging about this information that you are willing to hide it from Kuro…?" I brought my hand up, brandishing my razor-like appendages. He grew pale at the exhibit. "Who are they? An underground militia group? A coalition military on par with Orthea? Are you working for them?"

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, most likely weighing his options on how to deal with me.

I was intrigued.

Why was Vetter hiding it? Protecting the name of some opportunistic strangers wasn't worth this much trouble. I stood up and leisurely made my way towards him, dragging my claws along the desk.

"Your High Priestess demands answers. It is in your best interests to give them now rather than later."

I coiled my hand around his throat, and I traced his arteries lightly. He held his breath and angled his neck, attempting to avoiding any deep cuts. As soon as the first droplet of crimson blood was drawn, he already reached his limit.

"Lady Kuro, I wish to have a guarantee!" He wheezed out.

The mad grin I had dropped. It seems he still hadn't realised what kind of situation he was in.

However, request was something I could acquiesce to. My promises weren't worth anything back on Earth; they're equally worthless here. I put on an air of trustworthiness as best I could and adopted a friendly smile.

"Of course, Vetter. You are a diligent member of the Order, my second-in-command. No harm shall befall you should you speak the truth," I lied.

I retracted my hand as a show of good faith. From what I've seen of Vetter, he was both hopelessly naive yet, at the same time, a cunning manipulator. How the two conflicting traits would make of my words, I did not know. 

The smell of his blood stained on my claws was a little distracting. I ignored the urge to lick it.

His eyes followed me carefully, waiting for additional affirmation. I groaned and placed my hands over my chest.

"Kuro pledges this on the Goddess of Etris," I added. As an atheist, it was hilarious that anybody would buy this act. However, it was undeniable that I had the 'curse of darkness', and it arises that I essentially swore upon my true nature.

I saw the gears in his mind turning. It seemed that was enough confirmation for him.

"Lady Kuro, you will not hold anything against me?" I grit my teeth together at his juvenile pleas. The answer better be worth it, else I might butcher him out of sheer irritation.

"Yes, yes. Whatever you did in the past cannot be changed, nya. Kuro has also carried out reprehensible acts," not that I regret any of them, went unsaid.

"…Church…"

He whispered so quietly this time that I couldn't hear all of it.

"Speak louder."

"It's The Church of Light, Lady Kuro…" My fur stood on end as soon as the words left his mouth.

I can see why he hid the fact from me.

He was going to die very painfully tonight.

AN: Wherever one problem is solved, another emerges. And to add to the mounting issues against our protagonist, I hope we haven't forgotten that Juliana is observing Kuro's 'lessons'. How will the lady of the Wickten House handle the revelation that her pet is a little more elusive than she once thought? Find out in the next chapter! Thanks for reading!

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