Book 1: Rise of the Fake Demon Lord – Chapter 17: The Mark of an Era 1
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Breaking through the Forest, Kelvin and his team laid eyes upon Profectus City. From their vantage, they found themselves able to see even the Northern most rampart.

"Kelvin, what are those?"

His eyes drifted to the far North where George was pointing. As he squinted his vision, he saw the odd sight of dozens of wagons with off tan colored tarps stretched over them. He couldn't make out any workers, but their distance was far too great for him to reasonably see much detail. Knowing that, he passed the buck.

"Hey Zeena, what can you see?"

"Oh? Give me a moment...Intra, Sky Walk."

[Reply. Executing Sky Walk. Requesting support.]

A blue orb slipped out from a small pocket near her chest and answered while floating in front of her. Kneading mana, Zeena grasped the small orb in her hand and transfered mana into it. Before her, a barely transparent rectangle with a green hue appeared. She leaped onto the makeshift platform and repeated the invocation until she obtained a greater height.

"Intra, Far Sight."

[Reply. Executing Far Sight in parallel with Sky Walk. Requesting support.]

In front of her right eye, a slight oval shaped distortion appeared. As she looked through it, her vision of the border rampart focused into view. Considering her distance, quite a bit of the site was in view but in particular, she caught sight of a small table where three people were sitting. She focused the aerial lens further magnifying the individuals.

"Hey Kelvin... For some reason there's three people sitting at a table under the rampart gate talking to- what?!"

Zeena wasn't sure how to expressed what she was seeing. While she was looking at the female Beastman, the Beastman appeared to be looking directly at her as well. Taken by surprise, Zeena slipped a subtle yelp but soon regained her calm. She figured it was impossible to realize someone watching you from such a distance. The thought soothed her until the remote Beastman raised her index finger and waived it back and forth as if to say 'no peeping.'

Below her, Kelvin and the others were hanging on to her silence. Her abrupt silence and obvious nervousness drew their worry. Without warning, Zeena canceled her magic and dropped from the air. She invoked a wind magic to slow her fall at the last moment, yet her face lacked a bit of blood.

"Are you okay? What happened? Why are you pale?", Kelvin noticed her altered state before she even reached the ground and moved to catch her during the fall.

"I'm fine...Kelvin...Profectus City might have more interesting characters than we expected..."

As she described what happened, George's tail began to sway faster and faster. His interest in the female Beastman suddenly spiked. Though directed at himself, his following mumbles leaked out to the group.

"A female that reliable! How rare! I can't wait..."

As if to represent the group, Silas inched towards the proudly purring beast.

"Uhhh, George. We can hear ya man...Is that type of eye sight normal for Pantherians?"

"It's exceptionally rare! Just think about it! Not only did she recognize Zeena's presence from this distance, she did it without any blood lust directed at her. I doubt I could have done that."

"But you could have if someone directed blood lust at you?"

"Obviously...I'm a predator after all...Can you Humans not?"

"Well...With training..."

"That's enough. If we meet her at the city, feel free to chat her up, George. Let's get going though, we don't have long till dark."

The group moved in file towards the Western gate of Profectus City.

***

Around the same time, near the South Eastern gate, an older Fairy flickered into existence in front of a pair of Knights.

"Halt! Identify yourself!"

The two Knights readied their spears at the suspicious individual, but the man's lack of wariness diffused their suspicions somewhat. While talking, he reached into his inner shirt pocket and pulled out his papers while talking.

"Forgive my abrupt arrival. I am a dignitary from Azmodius, representing Queen Dazzlevine's will. I have business with your City Mayor."

The documents he produced from his pocket were handed over to the still wary guards. One kept an eye on the man while the other skimmed the documents. After a few moments delay, he called off his partner.

"He checks out, lower your weapon. Please continue, Sir. In the future, please do not appear without warning like that. We have been in a heightened wariness since the previous battle."

"I understand, I'll keep that in mind for the future. Thank you."

Firo retrieved the documents and stored them into his shirt. He continued past the guards but stopped after a few steps.

"I almost forgot. Queen Dazzlevine will arrive in a few days. Please be careful not to over react to her."

"THE Queen Dazzlevine?! Has she ever even left Azmodius before!?", panicked one of the men.

Assuming he was a new guard, Firo instead waited for the response from the more experienced senior guard.

"We will notify the responsible parties and pass word along. Thank you for the heads up."

"Not a problem...Now then..."

Firo turned once more towards the large gated entrance and made his way into Profectus City. His first order of business was to track down Countess Sugimoto and arrange a meeting with the rumored Fairy. Though not nearly as fast as him, a series of shadows holding Fairy like wings flickered over the roadway that led to Profectus City. The spies sent ahead of Queen Dazzlevine were inching closer to the City. Their entire existence was to secure locations for the Queen prior to, and during her stay at any remote location.

As the guards eluded to earlier though, they rarely had the opportunity to exercise such tactics and strategies as their liege rarely left her cavern, much less the territory. Emboldened by the changing times and opportunity to prove themselves, they pushed their speed further. Little did they know the battle in the shadows that awaited them.

***

Amongst the Elven huts built into the many thick limbs near the canopy of their forest, the repeated shuffling and patter of heavy steps could be heard. Elves who maintained the buildings and trees were given the day off and forced onto vacation. Instead, a series of higher ranked Elves covered the area instead. Their hurried state was related to a particular Elf's message that recently arrived. Within the primary throne room of the Gilphriya capital, Queen Gilphriya and King Gilphriya were preparing themselves for the upcoming meeting.

"Is this necessary, Dear?"

"It is. I can't believe you ignored a potential find."

"What are the odds it's real? We've been searching for centuries for even the slightest hint without a single result. I can't imagine this to be anything but a waste of resources."

"I might have agreed if it were a normal messenger, but you ignored one daughter of the Halflights? What were you thinking...? That girl isn't stupid, she wouldn't make a report without a degree of certainty!"

"Being a Hero candidate doesn't make her eyes any more reliable than a merchant trained to see the value in an object or a farmer who's capable of reading the weather."

"Even so...We have a duty to follow this lead."

The King expressed a heavy sigh at his Queen's persistent badgering. He was never fond of the Royal duties that asked them to waste resources on hunting down legends. He would rather have placed those resources towards forest thinning or animal husbandry. Despite his greatest efforts, his Queen managed to get a hold of Zeena Halflight's latest report that detailed the recounting of a Demon. Though he found the story amusing, it was ridiculous to believe. The degree of power required to accomplish the tasks in the report were near the level of Gods.

His mismanagement of the information led to his Queen discovering the reports and calling an emergency council. The prisoner Zeena reported to have captured was sent to Klasika's capital for interrogation. The timing happened to work out where the results of that interrogation just arrived. In their alliance with King Asalerian, part of the agreement was to share anything related to the Demon's. An orb that recorded the entire session was delivered yesterday and the Queen who had started tracking the state of affairs revolving around the reports forced a meeting to review the orb's contents for the first time.

A series of vassals finished placing chairs and tables along the side of the throne room's main walk way. Moments later, the Elven ministers and individuals related to the topic flooded the room. They settled in the chairs as if they had practiced before hand. King Gilphriya concealed his inner thoughts and expressions long before the ministers arrived. He stood from his throne and addressed his audience with a practiced countenance. He summarized the situation once as a formality and with a wave of his hand, a pair of vassals carried a decorated table that housed a communications orb. The pair settled the table midway up the steps near between the lower throne floor and the upper Royalty seating area.

King Gilphriya dismissed them as quickly as he called them then proceeded to the orb after ensuring the throne room had been sealed. He placed his hand to the orb, activating it and then back away to his seat as the recording played.

"King Gilphriya, Queen Gilphriya. It has been a long time, I hope you two are in good health. As stated in my letter, we have captured a Demon advisor who fled during the battle at Profectus City. Initial reports have already been sent out from those who were on site, but we have just finished our secondary interrogation. Please see the results yourself."

King and Queen Asalerian were both visible in the projection, but the King who had been talking up to that point backed off screen revealing the Demon in question. It didn't appear nearly as threatening as they were commonly described. Moments later after the scene transitioned, the Demon was in a considerably worse state. King Asalerian asked questions of the Demon and after a thorough beating, answered that seemed reliable finally leaked from its mouth.

Despite the bloody end to the Demon projected, the Elven ministers in the room were fervently discussing what intelligence they just gained. The entire battle of Profectus City was told by the Demon in great detail. In particular, the merits of the Fairy Lapis were surprising. Unlike his earlier statements, King Gilphriya now held a bewildered expression. What the Demon described were levels of power described only in fantasy or legends.

With his mask as King, he held himself composed but after meeting the eyes of his Queen, he knew what she wanted to say. Their exchange was silent, but her intentions had crossed in explicit detail. King Gilphriya allowed his ministers to discuss the recording for another five minutes until he felt it was time discuss it as a whole. Standing from his chair, he demanded silence from the room and spoke following it.

"As you just saw and heard from the Demon itself, this Fairy is considered abnormal in every definition possible. Her power makes it impossible that she was recently born. Queen Dazzlevine would have recruited her a long time ago if she had known about her existence and yet we only now are receiving reports that Azmodius has started moving. Our hero Zeena Halflight encountered the creature and claims it isn't of the Fairy species, but something else entirely. Although it is only her report, her teammates, all well respected and known for their valor, witnessed the same thing. The Halflight child's opinion is that this creature that calls itself Lapis is one of the founding bloodlines. Though unsure, she submitted 'The One Who Sleeps' title as her initial guess. It's not often a creature of legend appears and so, my ministers. I ask you, what are your professional opinions?"

After opening the floor to his ministers, he moved to his seat once more. Taking advantage of the obvious air of mystery, an older Elf with thick wrinkles and glasses stood. He moved to the walkway and started.

"Your Majesty, I believe it's important to first refresh the memory of those here. It has been so long that the founding bloodlines are often regarded as myths or folktales even in our own culture."

He received a nod from the King and moved to location slightly offset from the main walkway. He remained in front of the other ministers though and spoke from the side of the room to address both the Royals and ministers at the same time.

"Unlike in the past, where the founding bloodlines were treated as history, our recent generation has treated it more as a myth, folklore, or legend. Let me say up front, they are no fantasy. Those here who believe they are, I ask you to retain an open mind and listen carefully. The seven founding bloodlines refer to seven individuals who rose to the peak of their species and reach the level of Gods. Though embellished slightly, it's true that each bearer was a different species. Each title was assigned after the fact to those surrounding them, so they titles have many interpretations. The individuals themselves though, have been recorded in our archives accurately.

Lady Zeena Halflight suggested this creature was 'The One Who Sleeps'. Besides 'The One Who Sleeps', there is also the 'Queen of Demons', 'Priestess of the Convert', 'Deliverer of Titles', 'Prince of Nature', 'Traitor of the Gods', and 'Enforcer of the Gods.' Keep in mind these were assigned to the bearers during that day and age. Due to the method of assignment, we only teach how to identify a founding bloodline member by their mana signature and expected differences between the species of this world.

'The One Who Sleeps' was granted her title due to her great sacrifice. She was a researcher and belonged to a now extinct species. She was the only one of her kind, and her species never gained its own identifier, however historians in the past recorded her species as Zemyna. Her title came after she sacrificed herself to seal the six other founders, though they had already produced children by then.

Next is 'The Queen of Demons'. This woman held the roll similar to the modern Demon Lord. Discussions have already begun on if the Demon Lord is the same, but the lack of information makes it difficult to say one way or another. The primary characteristic of 'The Queen of Demons' was her ability to control other Demons. It's recorded that her mere appearance would mesmerize Demons near her and force them to obey. It seemed to work on male and female alike.

Known as the personal friend of 'The Queen of Demons', the 'Priestess of the Convert' held the ability to bring about miracles. Though we say 'miracle', we aren't entirely sure to what degree. There's conflicting information in our records about her. The most accurate information we have is that she was a Pantherian with an unusual degree of control over her mana and magic invocation.

From our own species we have the 'Deliverer of Titles'. Due to him, we as a species started recording information about the title holders for the future. Though his abilities became less potent as he aged, we recorded many of his predictions and used them as the basis for our educational plan. Lady Halflight's quick reporting can be directly credited to his foresight.

Though lesser known, the 'Prince of Nature' who was from the Fairy race also existed in the same time frame. He showed great bouts of strength when protecting Azmodius, but rarely left the Nation itself. Most of the information we collected stems from the witnesses caught up in his after math. It was said where he fought forests erupted and the vegetation became hostile.

Finally, we have the last two which I find the most interesting. The 'Traitor of the Gods' and 'Enforcer of the Gods' were said to be incarnate of a God. Each excelled in combat ability, mana manipulation and strategy. They held two opposing titles mostly due to their polarized personalities. They were brothers belonging to the Human species, but essentially wrecked havoc across the entire continent. They are often referred to as the original 'Heroes' as well.

Now, each of those bearers have long since died out, but what's important to remember moving forward is that each of them possessed a wildly abnormal quality. It was something that differed so far from the norm that they were either considered a new species or God incarnate. Over time, we've watered down what was taught to our explorers to the point that even our most outstanding representative, Zeena Halflight, a woman considered a Hero, thought a title holder reincarnated.

Let me repeat, the title holders have long since passed away, but there are occasionally 'Heroes' that rise to replace them. Despite the abnormal resemblance reported by Lady Halflight, this creature is new. Their abilities have yet to be ascertained. I suggest we send a representative group to speak with them and observe. Depending on their disposition, we must isolate them or at least manage them to prevent the world from falling into chaos."

The older Elf turned his attention to the King signifying his overview was complete. With a nod, the King sent the man back to his desk and rose to engage the room once more.

"As the historian said, this creature is something that can cause chaos to the world. I've already had initial discussions with King Asalerian and our initial plan of action is a concerted effort between Gilphriya and Klasika to investigate and potentially capture the creature. Here me my vassals! From this moment on, our Nation will move extra forces to Profectus City where the creature resides and start our research! I expect a feasible plan to be on my desk within two days on how to support a longer term operation in Profectus. You're released to your duties!"

King Gilphriya finalized his orders and moved to sit back down next to his Queen. Her expression held subtle concern about the stance their nation chose, but she chose not to voice her concerns or questions before the vassals in fear of diminishing her King's authority.

The bustling vassals moved from the throne room with somewhat paled expressions. The minute chatter dissipated until only the King and Queen were left with their guards along the exits. King Gilphriya only then relaxed in his chair, a bead of sweat running down the side of his head. He hadn't told his vassals the entire situation yet. He hadn't told them that Profectus City had declared its independence. He also didn't tell them about the strange cavern that recently appears inside both Gilphriya and Klasika's territories.

He was never one to believe in the legends, but as a King, he couldn't afford to overlook a creature with such a potentially volatile disposition.

***

With her plans pushing forward at an increasing pace, Lapis completed her first transaction with Countess Sugimoto just the other day. Her payment was negotiated in the form of magical items rather than gold. Despite the many items she received, her primary goal was to receive the glowing orb to her side. Ever since her initial encounter with it after dropping into this world, she felt it was remarkable and wanted to study it.

After receiving her payment, she left the wagons of stone on site and pulled back with her golems in toe. She reformed their appearance and sent them back to work digging tunnels and hollowing an ever increasing series of caverns and floors. Due to the strength of her magic and diligent research, she managed to create a means to gather and knead the mana outside of her own body. The specialized magic formation was constructed underground near her control center and drew raw mana in through various inlets before converting it into a usable form of mana and distributing it to the golems.

Though things were moving smoothly, she was still trying to remove the few roadblocks that could cause issues to her later on. For that reason, she was currently roaming through Lore Forest in hopes of finding a particular type of plant or monster. She had specific requirements for it and was hoping such a creature already existed so she wouldn't have to waste time creating it through trial and error.

Unsurprisingly, she searched for hours and yet couldn't find anything close to what she wanted. Just as she was about to give up and return home, a particular smell of iron crossed her path. She sniffed the air to verify it wasn't her imagination and her eyes turned serious as she accelerated against the direction of the wind. Tracking smells wasn't her strength and Zirco was in the middle of intelligence activities forcing her to use primitive means.

She ran for nearly a half hour until the rusted iron became more concentrated. She took to the air with a heavy thrust of her wings and glanced around through the tree coverage for anything noticeable. There was a trail nearby, a small pond in the distance, and a valley even further away yet she couldn't identify anything in particular. She fell from the sky landing and focused her senses once more on that smell.

Despite not seeing anything, the strength of the odor continued to increase and with it, the smell of excrement and rot followed. The seasons had just started to change from winter to spring and yet the still cold weather shouldn't allow such a rotting smell to float about. Lapis' mind drew theories up as her body continued its hunt. It was no longer a question of where, but how far and her nose felt the odor become pungent.

She leaped across a low hanged branch and skidded to a stop. Though it was through the corner of her vision, the sight of a decapitated pantherian leaning against a tree stole her attention. She backtracked to the mutilated creature and searched through its remains for any identification to no avail. Though the corpse had started to rot, she could tell from the abundant smells of death carried on the wind that this was just one of many corpses. Showing what little respect she could must for the stranger, she incinerated the corpse and moved on.

It was hardly an extra five minutes of running when she broke onto the trail she saw earlier. She had ignored it while in the air thinking it'd be strange to come across dead on a well traveled path but the blood bath spread across the road caused even her to grimace for a moment. In casual stride, she walked across the red stained ground taking in the massacred caravan. The various theories she came up with were being scratched off one by one with each new piece of evidence and after passing a large parked wagon, the scene behind it eliminated all but one theory.

The corpses were tossed on top of each other without a care. Limbs without torsos, heads without necks, and torsos with gaping holes at the chest plagued each corpse. On closer inspection, Lapis found the corpses belonged to Pantherians, yet their tails and ears were lopped off for some reason. Her conjecture revolved around trophies, but she couldn't be sure. As she stood at the site debating on how best to handle the situation, her ears picked up a muffled cough.

Without hesitation, Lapis invoked a short range teleport and returned into the woods. She wasn't positive what made the sound, but if it were a survivor, she instinctively thought it would be bad for them to meet anyone who wasn't also a pantherian. Under that premise, she morphed herself into her Topazia ego before returning to the scene. Her newly structured ears focused for the cough or similar hints at the potential survivor's location.

Moments later, another series of muffled coughs allowed her ears to twist and narrow down the particular wagon it originated from. She approached it with wariness, silencing her steps and her breathing as she got close. Her plan was to wait for another cough to verify the wagon, but the sound of weak groaning dismantled what caution she originally held. The groans were light and labored breathing escaped from the backside of the wagon. She approached the back more certain of the creature's identity now and looked into the cargo.

The back of the wagon appeared empty and yet the muffled coughs were louder than ever. She suspected a hidden compartment and so jumped into the back without attempting to hide her presence anymore. On contact with the wooden floor, she made out the faint shuffles of panic near the center of the floor and her eyes focused on the otherwise smooth boards.

"My name is Topazia Shields. I am a traveling merchant who came across...you. Please come out, I have no plans to harm you."

Silence. The shuffles stopped as well as if considering her words. Lapis pushed further.

"I know you are in a hidden compartment. Please let me help you reach the next town at the very least."

Silence. She heard nothing for almost a minute straight and when she was about to give up and force the situation, a shark clank was heard and the trapdoor slid up from the floor. Unlike what Lapis expected, the faces of two small pantherians stared cautiously at her. She hadn't expected two survivors. A fit of coughs escaped from the youngest pantherian drawing what the attention of, who Lapis expected, the sister.

"As I said, my name is Topazia Shields. May I have your names?"

The older sister hesitated, but must have decided there was no choice but to answer. No, in their state, she might have instead chose to lean on the stranger for help.

"I-I'm Maria Hearns. This is my brother Shino Hearns."

Lapis drew a smile at the unexpectedly familiar sounding name and remained cordial.

"Maria and Shino is it? How old are you two?"

"I'm fifteen... Shino is eight."

She nodded at their answer and took a seat in front of them with her legs crossed. She hadn't handled children in the past, but she knew their life would no longer be the same and she should probably do something for them. Having come across such an unfortunate pair, she wanted to help them and she just so happened to need helping hands.

"What a good older sister you are. Well then, I am afraid I must be honest with you now. The scene outside this wagon is...frankly, terrible. I do not know how long you have been here, but I can estimate four days at least. I am sure you are hungry, and if you are still here after four days, I do not believe your caretakers survived. You are now alone and must fend for yourself moving into the near and potentially long term future. Do you understand what I have said so far?"

Maria nodded her head hesitantly. Though her face held a light brown fur across it, Lapis felt as if the girl's blood had drawn from it in fear for some reason.

"Y-yes...Will I be sold?"

"Sold? Hahaha! No. No, I will not sell you. Rather, I wish to provide a job for both you and your brother if that is acceptable."

Perhaps the light hearted attitude softened the girl's defenses as she moved to sit at the edge of the trapdoor she had been hiding in.

"Is it dangerous? Shino is weak...I don't want to leave him alone..."

"Familial love is a wonderful thing. No, you need not worry. A friend of mine has opened a particular shop that requires attendants to both clean and man the counter. It is a good paying job that includes housing."

Lapis caught the sight of suspicion in the girl's eyes stirring her internal trickster, but she held it down. Though their situation was tragic, from Lapis' perspective, it was a God sent opportunity. The girl seemed to debate internally with herself until her brother's coughing kicked up once again. Lapis watched the suspicion in her eyes convert to worry in a near instant and smiled once more.

"I believe your brother is sick from the cold and hunger. He must be properly fed and rested if he is to get better. That being said, how about we do this? Profectus City is half a day's walk from here, I will take you two there and grant you my room at the Inn. After your brother is better, we will discuss this again. I do not wish to leverage his health in this employment offer."

Maria seemed surprised at Lapis' offer and accepted with a subdued caution. Lapis flashed a bright smile at the two.

"That is fantastic! Then the next time you wake up, you will be inside the Inn room. You must also get rest, after all."

"Huh...?"

The girl toppled to her side resting against the hard wooden floor of the wagon. Lapis stood up from her spot and turned her gaze to the scene outside the back of the wagon. Though the girl seemed collected, she didn't want to show them the bodies stacked outside and so invoked a paralysis magic onto them. The siblings had been so exhausted that just a simple paralysis actually managed to knock them unconscious.

Lapis left the wagon and moved to the corpses. She wasn't one for prayers and yet still gave a silent farewell before incinerating the pile as she did with the one in the forest. She looked across the blood soaked ground and the mana within her pulsed. She invoked a higher grade of magic incinerating the ground itself. The gravel and sand turned molten boiling what blood remained liquid and burning to ash the clotted areas.

Moving to the front of the wagon, Lapis looked back only once before pulling the neck yoke from the ground and stepping towards Profectus City.

***

"Good evening, Council members. I appreciate your attendance to this meeting despite your current affairs."

Ruby stood behind Aria as she addressed the nobles aligned around the oval table. They were situated in Aria's office and the meeting had been called nearly last minute in response to the deal struck between Aria and Topazia. In order to keep her part of the deal, Aria had been forced to move earlier than expected and in a more forced manner, yet she somehow didn't feel disturbed by it. Though she now knew Lapis had been planning this for a while, she somehow didn't feel used. Too much had gone the way she already planned it would for her to even complain. After she thought back, though her path was cleared by Lapis, this outcome was similar to what she originally wanted anyhow...with the exception of declaring independence.

"Countess Sugimoto, why did you call us here? Your letter was absolutely vague, we're busy managing our own house holds and can't keep wasting time on things like this.", Marchioness Farrar antagonized Aria right at the start.

Despite the jab, Aria remained calm and dismissed the comment as if she hadn't even heard it. She continued her introduction with an excitement building within her. How long had it been to reach this moment?

"I've called everyone here to announce the first deliver of material from Lady Shields. For those who may have forgotten, Lady Shields offered to supply eight hundreds tonnes of granite in five cubic meter chunks to us. Early yesterday morning, the first half of that delivery was completed."

"I-Impossible!!", Marquess Webb retorted in disbelief.

He had men guard the borders and ensure anyone carrying granite was turned around. As if to read his mind, Aria smiled.

"It's possible and it's true. Your attempts at blocking the border are useless when you ignored the main border in question."

"W-what...?"

"It's nothing, Marquess Webb. As I said earlier, the first half of delivery has already been supplied. In regards to that, I was hoping for the council to support reconstruction of the first rampart and provide workings from each household to help speed up repairs."

"Haa? Why would we do something like that? The people in town are plenty aren't they? Scrounge up some more from the slums if you have to.", Marchioness Farrar didn't even bother to hide her displeasure at the idea.

Though she felt it earlier, Aria perceived the council had become more openly hostile to her. Was this the results of removing their leader and money from play? Despite her curiosity, she continued.

"We are still within wartime effects, Marchioness Farrar. I'm not required to ask for your permission. If you are so unwilling, then should I make it an order?"

Aria smiled at the end of her statement. She had tried for so long and placed in such more effort to remove these corrupted people and yet couldn't do a single thing. Her excitement built a little further. Her insides felt giddy and for once, she began to feel thankful towards Lapis for her interference.

"A mere Countess?! Hold your tongue! Regardless of your position here, don't you dare disrespect me!", Marchioness Farrar slammed her hand on the table at the brazen threat.

"Am I to take that as refusal?"

"Obviously! Thinking you're going to take my workers, what's wrong with you?!"

"I see...", Aria raised her head and nodded to a guard near the far door before continuing.

"It saddens me to hear that Marchioness Farrar. In that case, I'm afraid I'll have to exile you from Profectus City."

"Wha...!"

Interrupted by the shuffling of metal, the door at the far end of the hall broke open with a series of armored Knights flooding into the room. Aria reveled in the moment before issuing her orders.

"Take the Marchioness away. Keep her in a cell until I tell you otherwise."

"Yes!"

The Knights grasped Marchioness Farrar's arms and dragged her from her seat, all while ignoring her screams.

"Get your hands off me! Who do you think I am?!"

Stunned by the actions, the remaining council members remained in absolute silence. Aria kept a calm smile and took out a manila envelope. She tossed it onto the table allowing the top to come loose and the contents to slip from inside.

"Marchioness Farrar is accused of many things such as laundering money and torture. For those of you curious, the documents there are a copy of the evidence. She is beyond doubt, guilty. Please pay her no mind. Now then, where were we? Oh yes! Workers from each household!"

Unable to catch up to the pacing Aria set, the remaining council members remained shocked at what just happened. Marquess Webb was rocked from his stunned state at Aria's next demand.

"In accordance with workers, I'd like if the good Marquess would oversee the reconstruction on site. I've heard wonders about your ability to manage people."

"You want me out near the boarder?!"

"Of course...I intend to assist as well where I can."

"That doesn't fall under my duties, Countess Sugimoto. Are you not over stepping your authority?! Even just now with the case against Marchioness Farrar, you didn't offer even a fair trial."

"Who might I ask would grant such a fair trial to Marchioness Farrar?"

"Obviously us and King Asalerian!"

"That's a problem for me though..."

"What?!", he retorted with his hefty body raising from his seat and forcing a groan from the table as he leaned across it.

Aria continued her smile as if nothing was wrong. She inserted a subtle blood lust into her gaze as she focused on Marquess Webb as if finalizing her next prey.

"I see...So you're against my policies to repair the wall as well?"

"Wha?! I never said that!"

"Oh my...", Aria responded lightly before her gaze drifted to the guard once more.

The series of metallic shuffles echoed through the hall once more. As if he understood her intent, Marquess Webb held a sudden look of fear at Aria. The shuffles that continued encroaching onto their room forced him to make a frantic play. Rather than be taken away, he reached for his sword, unsheathing it and made to swing at Aria. Aria who watched the entire scene play out remained calm as if there wasn't the slightest hint of danger.

Marquess Webb saw the calm Countess but couldn't understand the reason why. He continued his swing with killing intent and as the blade neared the Countess' neck, it suddenly sheared in half with the loose end skidding across the ground. His lightened sword missed her entirely and yet the Marquess' face reflected the expression of pure terror. Before him, the young maid that had stood behind Aria moved faster than he was able to perceive and blocked the sword with only her hand. The crimson eyes she held reached into him and shook his soul as if he were a rabbit stared down by a fox.

The shuffles reached the door and the group turned their heads to see two maids entering with metallic shoes. Bewildered, Marquess Webb could only look at Aria with a lost expression. Aria kept her fixed smile as she glanced at the maids who intruded. With a tone carrying an obviously fake anger, she reprimanded the maids.

"Who told you to enter?! We are in the middle of a meeting! Remove those shoes as well, it's unbecoming of a maid to walk around in such things while on duty!"

The maids bowed to her with a subdued smile, clearly not disturbed in the slightest, and left the room. Marquess Webb observed their attitude in a stupor. It was obvious to him that neither Aria or the maids intended to hide the farce they were playing. His attention returned to the Countess across from him who now held the eyes of a predator.

"Marquess Webb."

"Y-Yes!?", he squeaked a response more tuned to a noise than actual reply.

"Do you realize you just attacked the Mayor during wartime? Do you realize the gravity of what you just did?"

"I-I-It wasn't my fault!! Y-You-"

"Arrest him.", Aria cut him off with an icy tone.

Guard who appeared to have waited right outside the room rushed in. Without a sword to defend himself, Marquess Webb was knocked across the head during his resistance and then dragged out of the room. Those remaining in attendance turned their attention back towards their Mayor with a new sense of fear. Her smile remained fixed... No, it was stretched further than before Marquess Webb was arrested. After feeling the room fixate on her, she resumed talking while removing another manila folder and placing it atop the desk.

"Marquess Webb is guilty of treason during wartime. Not only did he assault me with intent to kill, he moved Knights without proper authorization and used them as a force to kidnap citizens off the street. The evidence is in the envelope as well. Please feel free to double check it if you believe him innocent."

Her eyes danced from the excitement of cleaning house and her smile only grew further as she looked at the remaining eight members.

"Well then... Shall we continue our meeting then? We still have quite a few topics to get through."

The smile once thought as innocent and lacking in claws now appeared as a devil to the remaining members.

***

Lapis pulled up to the entrance of Profectus City's western gate. She had replaced the empty neck tongue of the wagon with one of her golems that resembled a horse in order to deter suspicion. The guard who approached her was a young gentleman who didn't seem to hold any animosity towards her.

"Ello. Papers please."

"Oh, yes...Here you are."

She removed a falsified document and invoked a subtle magic onto the young guard. The magic was temporary and only served to warp his perception and ease him into accepting the documents as real. She hadn't brought any documents with her from her house after all.

"Looks good, here you go. That'll be five copper for merchant access then."

"Yes. Here you are."

She tossed the coinage to the young man and resumed through into Profectus. After clearing the gate, she heard the young man once more from behind.

"Ah! Wait! Lady Shields! Where might you be staying on this visit? I'm told Countess Sugimoto has business with you."

"Business? Mmmm, please pass word that I will be staying at Lady Trisha's tavern. Countess Sugimoto will understand my meaning."

"Oh... Right then. Enjoy your stay Lady Shields."

"Yes, thank you."

She resumed her trip taking the wagon down the same route she made during the last heavy snow. Nearly thirty minutes of travel later, the Tavern that she had grown fond of came into view brining a smile across her face and a happy twitch to her ears.

Lapis parked the wagon at the side of the Tavern and entered inside. The tavern was as barren as she remembered, though the time of day and weather were the most reasonable excuses. She moved to the bar top where she previously ate at and waited for the bar maid Trisha to appear. It didn't take long as the woman exited the cook room moments after Lapis had sat down.

"Ah! Customer! Waaaah, yer so pretty...", the bar maid Trisha complemented her with her emotions plastered across her face.

"T-thank you...Trisha is it?"

"Oh, yea. How'd ya know? I don't rememba sayin ma name..."

"A certain female Fairy recommended your tavern to me. I dropped by to ask a favor."

"A favor? So yer not a customer?", she asked without an ounce of hostility, despite the wordage used.

"Well, I am a customer in one sense. I would ask you to house a pair of siblings in one of your spare rooms and feed them until they recover."

"Are they alright?"

"I do not know. Their caravan was attacked during travel. I found them on my way here and picked them up. They seem to be the only survivors. Do not worry about money, I will pay for their stay. I just do not wish for them to stay at the normal Inn."

Trisha's eyes squinted slightly as if she picked up on the undertones in Lapis' voice.

"Are they still in danger?"

"Potentially. I do not yet know who harmed them. Will you keep them here?"

"Darn right I will! Where they at?"

"Sleeping outside in the wagon. Please help me bring them in."

Lapis led Trisha to the wagon outside and showed the sleeping pantherians to her. From her expression alone, Lapis could tell Trisha had already tossed her heart towards them. After she hopped into the back of the wagon, Trisha lifted the younger brother into her arms. Lapis followed behind lifting the older sister and the two moved into the tavern. With the sister sleeping peacefully in her arms, Lapis followed Trisha into a side hallway that eventually led to a room near the end.

She opened the door and moved to place the younger brother onto the bed. Lapis followed behind her carefully placing the girl beside her brother then sat at a nearby desk to roam over her thoughts. The muffled sound of the front door reached their ears signaling customers. Trisha took a final glance at the children and then to Lapis.

"Lady, I don't think I got ya name yet?"

"Oh, right. You can call me Topazia, I am a friend and business partner of Empress Fardom and Countess Sugimoto."

"With Aria? Mmmm. Well, take a brake til I can find sum down time to talk more with ya."

"That is fine. I have a few things I need to think about as well. Is the wagon fine where it is?"

"Yeah, It'll be good there. Well then."

"Yes."

Trisha hurried out the room to serve the new batch of customers leaving Lapis to return her attention internally.

"Well then... How will this go?"

16