Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Page 1887

Lionel breathed half a laugh. “You flatter me. I am not so busy a man as that. These days, I pay other people to run my ‘empire,’ as you put it, for me. I am much more of a man of leisure, I’m afraid.”

Somehow, Hector doubted that. But he also wasn’t about to come right out and declare the man a liar to his face. Mainly, he just wondered what game this guy was playing.

Thankfully, he had a three thousand year old reaper to consult.

What do you make of him?’ said Hector.

Not much, so far,’ said Garovel in the echo of privacy. There was no one else around who might be able to overhear him, but Hector supposed the extra caution couldn’t hurt. ‘He’s just testing the waters right now, I think--trying to get the measure of you.

“I wonder what my aunt has told you about me,” said Lionel, tilting his head.

“She doesn’t talk about her family very often,” said Hector. “But I understand that you aren’t... on the best of terms.”

Lionel frowned and gave a nod. “Alas, that is so. Old wounds have a way of resurfacing when ignored.”

“...What do you think of her?” said Hector.

“Mm. A difficult question, that.”

“Why is that?”

“Because my opinion of her has changed over the years. Many times, in fact.”

Hector just kept listening.

“Even when I was a boy, she was a bit of an outcast from the rest of the family. But I liked that about her. She had a kind of... ostentatious energy to her. She may not have gotten along with our parents, but there was little doubt that she loved us fiercely--the children, I mean.” Lionel shook his head with a small laugh. “That woman has always been a paradox. She said she never wanted children, yet she would play with us nonstop. She said she never wanted a husband, yet she only ever loved one man. She said she wanted to retire, yet now she has involved herself with you.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Page 1886

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
For a moment, the Lord Carthrace merely sat here, perhaps expecting him to say something or perhaps just observing him. “Well,” the man said, “seeing as you clearly received many more requests than just my own tonight, I suppose I should not keep you. Allow me to get right to the point.”

Hector appreciated that.

“The reason why I--and so many of the others, I suspect--wished to speak with you was because I am gravely concerned about the direction our nation is going in.”

Hector just nodded lightly, figuring that made sense--and that the man was not yet done talking.

“Furthermore,” Lionel went on, “I believe you will play a large role in shaping Atreya’s future.”

Hearing that, Hector tried to keep his expression still. It was difficult. He couldn’t stop himself from blinking a couple times, though the rest of his face remained flat.

Shaping Atreya’s future?

Talk about pressure.

He supposed he couldn’t really deny it, though. With so many people relying on him now, so many responsibilities to be mindful of, it wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination.

It sure felt like it, though.

Ugh.

Yeah, that’s great ‘n all,’ said Garovel, who was hovering over his shoulder, ‘but ask him to be more specific.’

“...Was there something specific that you wanted to discuss with me?” said Hector.

Lionel eyed him for a moment. “...No. No, not specifically. I simply wished to gain an understanding of your views. In general terms. Your worldview, in other words.”

Why did Hector find that so hard to believe?

“...I find that very strange,” said Hector flatly. “I would imagine... that a man with a real estate empire such as yourself... would be a little too busy to wonder about what I’m thinking.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

Page 1885

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
Lionel Carthrace was not yet here, but Garovel informed him that he soon would be, so Hector took a seat at the table in the middle of the room and waited. The guide bowed and excused himself.

When Lionel Carthrace arrived, the man was not alone. A pair of enormous bodyguards in suits and ties flanked him. One entered the room, and the other remained just outside the door.

Briefly, Hector wondered if those bodyguards were here because of him. After a moment, though, he figured probably not.

Wait a minute, didn’t he bring a bodyguard of his own?

Wow, he’d almost forgotten about Matteo Delaguna and Ernivoc. Hector hoped the guy wasn’t too upset about being left to his own devices. He’d have to ask Garovel about where those two were later. Right now, the presence of the Lord Carthrace was demanding his full attention.

The middle-aged man had a friendlier disposition than Hector had been expecting. From the way Amelia talked about her family, he’d thought the current head of House Carthrace would appear more stern and unwelcoming.

Maybe he was just accustomed to the Rainlords, though.

“It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Lord Goffe.” The man offered him a smile and a handshake.

Hector took the latter and said, “Likewise.”

“I must say,” said Lionel as he took his seat, “I am surprised that my dear aunt is not with you.”

Hector wasn’t sure what to say to that. Inquire? Yeah, maybe inquire. “Why do you say that?”

“She has a way of injecting herself into situations,” said Lionel. “Not that that is such a terrible quality.”

Again, Hector wasn’t sure what to say to that and this time decided to say nothing.

Page 1884

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
Er... I’m pretty sure that we’re going to the solar level,’ said Hector.

Garovel paused. ‘The what?

The solar level. The floor where all the solars are. The top floor of Bosliat’s main house was designed to have a bunch of solars, as a tribute to the Goddess of Light. Important negotiations are traditionally held there because they’re supposed to be, like, sacred. You’re not supposed to do anything shady in front of Cocora.

Garovel didn’t say anything.

Hector had more, though. ‘The rooms are all on the top floor because they have windows in the ceiling--to let in the Goddess’ light. The design became a problem at one point, though, when someone used them to break into the palace and try to assassinate the king. Like a hundred years ago or something. So all the windows have bars on them now.

There arrived noticeable silence as Garovel just looked a him.

...What?’ said Hector.

I really don’t like it when you explain things to me,’ said Garovel. ‘Just feels all kinds of wrong.

Hector had to suppress a laugh so as not to freak out his guide. ‘I just, uh, happened to read up about Bosliat the other day.

You and your castle fetish.

I don’t think being interested in something makes it a fetish.

Whatever you say, you little weirdo.

Sure enough, after an elevator ride and a couple more long hallways, they arrived at their destination, which was a handsome room of mostly burnished wood with visible support beams under the ceiling--and a big window with bars under it as well. Of course, it was late enough into the evening that hardly any sunlight made it through, but a pair of tall bronze lamps still bathed the solar with plenty of warm light.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Page 1883

“Do you think it’s proper to be having the Gala now, given the current financial crisis the country is facing?” said Mr. Elias.

Wow. Hector definitely didn’t plan on answering that. He could hear his guide from the palace staff radioing for security.

“No statement?” Mr. Elias scribbled something. “That’s fine. I understand. What do you think about the Queen’s recent decision to reinstitute the death penalty?”

What?

Hector’s guide was intervening personally now, placing himself between Hector and the reporter and trying to usher the man away. Security was already arriving from the far end of the hall.

“Lord Goffe! Do you have a statement?!” Mr. Elias struggled mildly to hold his ground. “Where have you been these past few months?! Did you leave the country?! What have you been doing?! Lord Goffe!”

Hector felt a little bad for the guy as security arrived and pulled him away, all but dragging him.

Geez.

Hector didn’t have much love for reporters, given how intrusive he’d known them to be, but seeing that dude fight so hard just for a story... well, there was something admirable about that, he supposed.

They proceeded on, with Hector’s guide offering copious apologies and Hector assuring him that it wasn’t a big deal.

It was still a long way to the negotiating chamber--such a long way, in fact, that Garovel seemed to grow impatient.

Why the hell is this little walk taking so long?’ he said privately. ‘There are plenty of other rooms around here, and they’re all empty. And we don’t even need this guide, anyway. There’s nobody else around, so I can sense where the Carthraces are pretty easily. I could take you right to them in twenty seconds flat.

Actually, uh... I know the answer to that,’ said Hector.

Hmm?’ said Garovel.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Page 1882

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
Truth be told, he very much wanted Amelia to be there, too, but he still remembered his own reasoning for wanting to meet her family. He wanted to know more about her. If he was going to put this woman at the helm of the largest bank in the country, potentially, then he wanted to have a better measure of her as a person.

So maybe, in this case, going against his more fearful instinct and talking to the man without her would better help him achieve that end.

Plus, he would still have Garovel with him, so it wasn’t like he’d be entirely on his own.

Yeah.

“...I’ll talk to him by myself,” he told her, “but I’d like you there for all the other meetings.”

She frowned but nodded. “Very well.”

They went through more names after that and began forming a list. They didn’t get very far into it, considering how many names there were in total, but it would be enough for tonight. They gave their list to the palace staff so as to help with organization, and then Hector was off to go meet the Lord Lionel Carthrace.

En route, however, a man in glasses came up to him.

“Lord Goffe,” the stranger said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Ah--” Hector wasn’t quite sure what to say. This didn’t feel quite right. They were in a hall, and one of the palace staff had been in the middle of guiding him to a more private location where he could have his meeting. Who was this random guy?

“My name is Matthew Elias.” The guy whipped out a pen and notepad. “Would you mind if I asked you a few quick questions, sir?”

Oh, shit.

Careful,’ warned Garovel privately.

Page 1881

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
It seemed entirely apparent from the get-go that there would simply not be enough time to meet with everyone who had requested it--not this evening, at least. Madame Carthrace was already talking about scheduling future meetings back at Warrenhold for anyone they weren’t able to speak to tonight.

“But that also presents its own challenges as well,” she said. “These people are tremendously prideful. If we do not prioritize those with the most influence, some among them are liable to feel slighted. And while I would find that intensely amusing, it would unfortunately be counterproductive.”

Hector just listened closely. He had little doubt that Amelia’s knowledge and experience here needed to be the driving force behind these interactions. Mostly, he just wanted to not say anything stupid.

“With your permission,” said Amelia, “I would like for us to meet with Lionel Carthrace first.”

Hector blinked at the name but didn’t say anything.

“You previously mentioned wanting to meet my family,” she went on, “and this as good an opportunity as any. My nephew should not yet know about our plan to open a bank, and I would prefer that you talk to him before he does. I fear that knowledge will change how he presents himself to you.”

“I remember you mentioning that before,” said Hector.

“I don’t know what he wants to talk to you about, but there is a strong chance that he will not wish for me to be present during your meeting. In fact, it may even be better for me to not go with you at all. My presence will likely change his demeanor as well.”

“Hmm.”

“That being said, I would still like to be there with you.”

Hector considered her words.

Page 1880

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
He had no idea what do, but he tried not to let that show on his face. He didn’t know how successful he was at that, since there were probably about a thousand different ways for facial expressions and body language to be interpreted, but he did his best. It helped that he was able to compartmentalize this panic a little. He could focus on his body, his breathing, his posture--his existence in the universe, even. Like meditating.

When everyone started moving again, though, that wasn’t much of a solution anymore. For a terrible second, he was worried that the press was going to start asking tons of questions, but apparently not. They were only allowed to take pictures and video, thankfully.

The dining tables were cleared away, and Hector was given a box to store all his cards in. The guests began to spread out and talk amongst themselves again, but Hector still couldn’t help feeling like everyone was still staring at him. It was enough to make him consider putting on his armor again, just to help him cope with the pressure.

But then, he supposed he’d felt worse than this. Not much worse, but worse. Talking to Ivan and Leo, specifically came to mind. And Malast, too?

Actually, no, not really. He hadn’t felt all that much pressure talking to that guy, comparatively speaking. Perhaps it was because he’d never really felt like Malast might slaughter him and everyone around him. That did tend to increase the stress level of a situation.

Ugh. He was not looking forward to talking to Leo again.

When he thought about it like that, though, it made all this attention feel a bit more bearable.

Madame Carthrace soon found him and started going through his invitations with him.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Page 1879

It looked as though most of the dinner guests hadn’t received any cards at all, and the ones that did had only received seven or eight, but here he was, sitting in front of a small mountain.

This did not bode well for the rest of the evening, he felt.

Now that he was thinking about it, he recalled reading about something along these lines during the dinner preparations. In the preliminary paperwork, where he’d also submitted his meal order, there had been a list of names whom he could extend up to four invitations to. He hadn’t given it much thought, since he wasn’t especially interested in meeting with any of the other guests, specifically. He might’ve picked the Queen, but she hadn’t even been on the list, probably because she was the host, not a guest.

“Looks like you’re in for a fun night,” said Lyn dryly, brushing away a couple cards that had spilled over to her side of the table.

David was chortling as he stacked his own cards together. “I am not sure whether to envy you or pity you.”

“I wonder what they all want to talk to you about,” said Lynn.

Hector was wondering that as well. It probably wasn’t just one thing, right?

Might be easier if it was, though.

After that, as if all the sudden attention from the other lords wasn’t enough of a weight, the media was also let back into the dinning hall in order to take more pictures and even video this time.

He couldn’t help but notice that they were fixating on him again. This stupid pile of cards was going to make the news, wasn’t it?

Goddammit.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Page 1878

Hector kept his composure, though. He’d expected it to taste horrible. Maybe not quite this horrible, sure, but his plan remained unchanged.

He made his face light up. “Wow, it’s actually pretty good,” he said.

Lynn blinked and then tried the concoction herself. She wasn’t able to conceal her displeasure at all this time, and she had to put a hand over her mouth.

He tried not to laugh too hard while she was glaring at him with her one eye, but he could see that she was trembling from muted laughter of her own, as well. He pushed his cheesecake closer to her as a peace offering.

The cheesecake didn’t last much longer with the both of them sharing it, and not even Lynn wanted to touch the milkshake monstrosity again.

As everyone in the chamber finished up their desert, Hector began noticing more movement among the serving staff all around them. At first, he thought they were bringing out some kind of secret extra course, but when he saw that they were carrying folded cards instead of food, he began to wonder what they were doing.

To and fro, they scurried, dropping cards off in front of the various lords and ladies. He didn’t have to wait long in order to find out what the cards were for, because several of them arrived in front of him. He unfolded one and read its contents.

‘Lord Henrich Masden requests a meeting this evening,’ it read.

He picked up another one, and it said exactly the same thing, save that it pertained to Lord Arnold Greenway. Still another was for Lady Margaret Holbach.

And more cards kept arriving with more names, all requesting a meeting.

As he looked around at the other lords and ladies in confusion, he couldn’t help noticing that they were all staring at him now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Page 1877

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 3 of 3))
Hector didn’t know why he was listening to her now, but he did as she asked and took another bite. It was just as bad as the first, if not worse.

Horrible as it was, though, he was enjoying himself. They kept taking turns, and Hector watched her face, waiting to see her facade break--which it eventually did, though only barely. But even just that small twist in her expression was more than enough to make him laugh. He helped her finish her abysmal meal and shared the rest of his own with her in order alleviate the aftertaste.

It wasn’t much longer until the servers began bringing out everyone’s chosen dessert courses. Hector had ordered himself a slice of strawberry cheesecake with whipped cream. Prince David had gone for the chocolate cake, Hector notice, and Lynn, apparently, had ordered... some sort of thick, yellow drink with a carrot sticking out of it.

Hector just looked at it, then at her, not saying anything.

She noticed his gaze. “What?”

He pointed at it. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s carrot cake,” she said. “In milkshake form. With honey. And something else, I think. I can’t remember.”

“Why...?” After a moment, he realized that word alone was enough. “Just, why?”

Another tiny smile crept into her face, and she looked momentarily distressed. “Why not?”

Hector just blinked slowly and shook his head. “Have you ever ordered that before?”

“No...”

“I am not helping you finish it.”

“Oh, come on! It might be really good!”

“Yeah? Well, I can’t wait to see you try it.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to try it first? I don’t mind.”

Hector almost refused immediately, but then he thought better of it. “Alright, fine, I will.” He reached over and grabbed a spoonful for himself.

Lynn just watched him in silence.

Wow.

It tasted like a sugar pixie had taken a shit in his mouth.

Page 1876

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 2 of 3))
Hector hesitated, but Lynn was looking at him expectantly. Well, shit. He wasn’t about to refuse her, but he still had to ask, “...What is that, exactly?”

“Calamari and squash,” she told him, pushing the plate even closer now. “Try some.”

He was not pleased to know that his guess had been correct, but he supposed it didn’t matter now. He cut off a piece with his fork. It gooped together quite easily. And he shoveled it into his mouth.

“Oh,” he said as the taste hit his tongue and his face tried to scrunch into itself. “Oh, that’s awful.”

“I know, right?” said Lynn, laughing. “I made a huge mistake ordering it.”

He placed his fist in front of his mouth as he tried to muscle the food down. There was something especially horrible about the sauce. It was sweet in the most unfitting way he could imagine.

He got it down, though, and couldn’t help coughing a little afterwards.

“Want some more?” she asked. “I’ve got plenty left.”

“...You’re a bad person,” said Hector.

She laughed. “I’m sorry. But I need help finishing this. I don’t think I can get through it on my own.”

“I don’t think you have to finish it.”

“My mother would disagree with you.”

Hector recalled Isabelle Edith and had no trouble believing that. “Well, I won’t tell her if you don’t.”

Lynn just smiled faintly again before reassessing her meal. She took another bite. Her face remained perfectly undisturbed as she chewed.

“...You’re good at hiding your disgust,” Hector observed.

“It’s a matter of professionalism,” she said. Then she pushed the plate closer to him again. “Now have some more before I vomit.”

Page 1875

((Triple Wednesday -- Page 1 of 3))
“You definitely do seem like you’ve gotten stronger, though,” Lynn went on. “How about a sparring match later on? I’ll gauge your progress.”

“Uh--sure,” said Hector unthinkingly. “Oh, but, uh... I’m not sure we’ll have time for that...”

She glanced across the banquet hall. The myriad of guests were all talking amongst themselves at the moment, but there was little doubt that they would all be wanting attention from the Queen shortly. “You’re probably right.” Her smile turned faintly more mischievous. “Maybe we should just fight right here and make the news.”

Hector gave her a look. He was only mostly sure that she was joking. “We’ve been in the news enough already, I think.”

“Heh. Maybe you have. I wouldn’t mind being in the news a little more.”

“Really?” said Hector. “You want to become even more famous than you already are?”

She sat up more rigidly in her chair. “Oh, I don’t want anything. I serve at the pleasure of the Queen. I have no desires of my own.”

Hector just kind of blinked at her.

“Aside from this salmon here.” She reached over to Hector’s plate with her fork and skewered a piece for herself. “You don’t mind, do you? This looks really good.”

That made him laugh, and he scooted the plate closer to her. “Go crazy.”

She took a bite. “Mm! Yeah, that’s great. Here, you want some of mine? It’s only fair, right?” She pushed her plate toward him now.

Oh geez. This was getting kinda--

Wait, what the hell was that on her plate? Octopus? Squid? Slimy, whatever it was. Covered in a white sauce and squishy yellow vegetables. Squash, maybe.

Ugh. He’d always hated squash.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Page 1874

None of that helped Hector to know what to say right now, though. He was still so far beyond confused that he was beginning to wonder if this was a dream or something. Or possibly a nightmare.

“Not that it looks bad on you or anything,” said Lynn.

What was she talking about? Oh, the Scarf. Right. Agh. He had to say something. She was going to think he was a weirdo if he just kept sitting there in silence.

Well, she probably already thought that.

But what was he supposed to say? Nothing was coming to mind. All he could think about was how much he was fucking this up, right now.

Shit.

Perhaps Lynn grew tired of waiting, because she pulled back a little. “In any case... it’s good to see you again.”

Had she really just said that? Even if she was just being friendly or polite, Hector was over the moon. Did she actually mean that?

He had to say something in return, though. He had to.

“It, uh--” C’mon, he told himself. This shouldn’t be that hard. “It’s good to--er... to... I...”

“It’s good to see me, too?” said Lynn. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”

For a moment, Hector just stared at her, trying his hardest not to look like a wide-eyed idiot. He managed to nod, though.

“Well, thank you,” she said with a demure smile.

Good god, this woman was incredible.

“On second thought, though, maybe you’re not as different as I thought,” she said.

Hector didn’t know if he should take that as an insult or a compliment, but after a second, he realized he didn’t really care. It was clear enough from the tone of her voice and smile on her face that she was enjoying herself.

Yeah.

This was the best dinner ever.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Page 1873

((Triple Monday -- Page 3 of 3))
Somehow, he managed to clink his glass against hers without the entire universe exploding.

He sipped his water quietly and tried to focus on keeping a clear mind. Clear like the water. Nice and calm. Nothing worth freaking out over. As peaceful as meditating.

“Are you okay?” said Lynn. “You seem a little...”

Oh fuck. A little, what? What was she about to say?

“...Different.”

Agh. What in the hell did that mean? He needed more information. But that meant asking a question. Fuck! “...What do you mean?” he managed to ask without dying.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “You’re kind of... zen. Or something.”

What?

No.

Huh?

“Also, what’re you wearing?” She touched the Scarf of Amordiin.

Hector was not concerned about her suddenly being overwhelming by its sensory enhancing properties, however. Previously, that had been a worry, but he had discovering during his sparring with Zeff that the Scarf didn’t work for other people. At least, as far as they had been able to tell. They hadn’t revealed its power to Zeff, nor did they wish to, but the Lord Elroy had definitely touched it several times and apparently not noticed anything strange.

Hector still wasn’t entirely sure why the Scarf didn’t work for other people, but Garovel seemed fairly certain that it was a matter of the Scarf only being able to bond with one soul at a time. Something to do with the way bodies functioned as conduits for soul. Hector hadn’t really followed the reaper’s explanation too well.

Page 1872

((Triple Monday -- Page 2 of 3))
“Ah.” David took a quick bite before lowering his voice a little. “Might this have anything to do with these ‘guests’ of yours I’ve been hearing about?”

Talking with his mouth full didn’t strike Hector as very princely. Hector decided to keep that thought to himself, though. “What have you been hearing, exactly?”

“Oh, this and that. You’re taking people prisoner. You’re building an army. You’ve cloned yourself.”

Hector cocked his head to the side. “Excuse me?”

“Wild speculation en masse,” said David. “You are a popular subject, you know.”

“...Cloned myself, though? Really?”

“At this point, I think people just have fun talking about what you might be up to. Much of what gets said is similarly unbelievable. But perhaps you would like to inform me of the truth of the matter?”

“Uh... I would like to, actually, but...” He looked toward the Queen, who was busy conversing with her husband, then toward Lynn, who merely gave him a knowing look. “This may not be the best place for it,” he told the Prince. “But I already told, er... ah...”

The Prince glanced toward his sister as well, then nodded. “Ah. Say no more, then.” David went for his glass of wine and held it up to Hector. “Let us forestall our worries for the moment and enjoy this fine meal, shall we?”

“Ah--” Hector grabbed his own glass of ice water and tapped it against the Prince’s.

It was to Hector’s surprise, however, when David turned to the man sitting on the other side of him--his brother Meriwether--to toast with him as well.

Which meant that Hector suddenly felt an obligation to do the same with the other person that he was sitting next to.

Lynn was already looking at him, holding her own glass, and waiting.

Dear god, why was this situation so immediately terrifying?

Page 1871

((Triple Monday -- Page 1 of 3))
“I take it you disagree?” said David.

Hector looked at her.

She looked back at him, perhaps thinking, then gave a small shrug. “I’m not a philosopher. It just seems... impractical, I suppose.”

“Mm,” was all David said.

She wasn’t wrong, Hector felt. Trying to get an entire nation to become pacifistic? Especially one as big and proud as Intar? Impractical wasn’t even the word for it.

He could only imagine what the Rainlords would think of that. Though, Intar had its own Rainlords, too, didn’t it? Now more than ever, he wondered what they were like.

David skewered a small slice of buttered duck with his fork. “So would you mind joining me on my next trip to Intar?” he asked.

Hector hadn’t forgotten the proposal. He’d been trying to work out an appropriate response in the back of his mind. “I, ah...” He looked toward Garovel, who was on the other side of the room, apparently eavesdropping on some of the lords’ conversations.

Hector supposed he would have to decide on his own. If he was being honest with himself, though, he already knew what he needed to say. “I’m sorry. I... don’t think I can leave the country, right now. I’ve got a lot, uh... that still needs taking care of here.”

The Prince frowned but nodded. “I see.”

After a moment of observing the man’s face, Hector reconsidered his answer. “But... I may be able to find someone else to escort you.”

“Oh?” said David. “Who, might I ask?”

That seemed to pique Lynn’s interest as well.

Hector recoiled from both their gazes a little. “Ah, uh--er--like I said, I may be able to find someone. I don’t, uh, have anyone in particular in mind yet...”

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Page 1870

That sounded familiar to Hector, but he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions about what the Prince was referring to. “...What ideas do you mean, exactly?”

Before the man could answer, however, their food began to arrive. Hector had almost forgotten what he’d ordered. He’d had to choose four days ago from a menu the size of a book. Apparently, the staff needed that much time to prepare all of these dishes.

A simple salmon entree with mashed potatoes and vegetables was all he’d gone for, but they’d managed to make even that look lavishly gourmet--and taste fantastic, too.

David picked the conversation back up as soon as the servers were gone. “I believe the clash of ideas, at its deepest core, is between pacifism and interventionism.”

Hector was mid-bite as he thought about that. He wanted to say something, but he figured he should finish chewing first. A voice to his right was therefore able to beat him to the punch.

“Pacifism?” said Lynn.

Hector barely avoided flinching. He’d almost managed to forget that she was there.

“Indeed,” said David. “It seems a popular ideology among youthful Intarian activists. They argue that their nation has been ‘an arbiter of subjective truths on the world stage for too long.’”

“What does that mean?” said Lynn.

“Yes, the language they use makes it a bit unclear,” said David, “but I believe they are saying that they think Intar is unfairly imposing its own sense of morality and justice upon the rest of the world. Eloa, in particular.” The man paused. “Which, I have to say, is not an argument without merit.”

Hector supposed that lined up with what Garovel had said about Intar becoming more interventionist in recent years--and growing closer to the Vanguard.

“And they think pacifism is the answer?” said Lynn, apparently not caring to conceal the disapproval in her tone.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Page 1869

((Triple Saturday -- Page 3 of 3))
The Prince frowned. “Not as productive as I would have hoped, sadly.”

Hector just listened.

“Rather a turbulent place, Intar,” said David. “You wouldn’t know it just by looking, though. It’s a country full of deception. Calm on the surface, but a maelstrom beneath. Spies everywhere. I’m not sure I met a single trustworthy person while I was there.”

“Wow,” was all Hector could think to say.

“My business there is not yet concluded, however,” said David. “I will have to venture back into that den of vipers in a few days.” He allowed his gaze to linger on Hector a moment. “I don’t suppose there is any way I could convince you to accompany me, is there?”

Hector blinked at that. “Uh...”

David merely waited for an answer. He was genuinely asking, it seemed--not making some sort of strange joke.

“...Are you really that worried about your safety?” said Hector.

David bobbed his head. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes. I visited Intar much in my youth. I even studied at university there.” He paused. “Various universities, to be more precise. And before this year, I felt I had a fairly good grasp of the Intarian culture, mindset, and even its political landscape. But now...”

“Something’s changed?” Hector inferred.

“That is putting it mildly. Though, perhaps it is only my perception of it that has changed. Certainly, learning about the existence of... your less corporeal friends has had an effect on my worldview.”

“Hmm.”

“But even so, I cannot help but feel as though there is a greater game being played in Intar, right now.”

“Greater, how?” said Hector.

“Greater than a typical power struggle, I mean,” said the Prince. “Those are common enough among those with influence. Neverending, one might even argue. No, this strikes me as something different. It is more a war of ideas, I think.”

Page 1868 -- CXCV.

((Triple Saturday -- Page 2 of 3))
He had to relax. Everything was probably fine. They were in the dining room. Everyone was being seated. He just had to focus on finding his assigned spot. His eyes half-panickedly searched among the triangular name cards for “Hector Goffe.” There were so many tables, all pristinely decorated, but the Queen’s was the largest and at the center of the room. That one would probably be reserved for all the Belgrants and Lumenbels, though, right? He wouldn’t be assigned there, would he? He’d have been placed somewhere--

Nope. His name was right there at the Queen’s table, only one chair away from her. And that one chair between them had the name “Lynnette Edith” assigned to it.

He was going to have to sit next to Lynn.

Of-fucking-course he was.

He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead with one hand, and inhaled deeply.

It was going to be a long dinner.


Chapter One Hundred Ninety-Five: ‘The furtive banquet...’
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The media was finally allowed into the castle, but only to take photographs of the enormous gathering before dinner. They were soon ushered back out by the security staff, presumably so as not to disturb the guests while they were eating.

Hector appreciated that, at least. The last thing he wanted was to have this miserable meal televised.

Unfortunately, it also had the effect of lessening in the overall tension in the room, which seemed to make people more comfortable talking.

Hector was not one of those people.

But perhaps Lynn wasn’t, either, because she was remaining noticeably quiet.

The person sitting on his left, however, was very much one such talker. Not that Hector minded. Prince David of House Lumenbel was someone he was most interested in listening to.

“I’m glad to see we both made it back in time for the Gala,” said David.

“How was your time in Intar?” asked Hector, thankful for any excuse not to look to his right.

Page 1867

((Triple Saturday -- Page 1 of 3))
“I am sure they will be happy to see you as well,” said Helen.

Yeah, no kidding,’ said Mehlsanz. ‘Darsihm wouldn’t shut up about you the other day. It seems you left quite an impression on him, Garovel.

Oh, really?’ laughed Garovel. ‘That makes me happy.

There arrived a knock at the door, and the amusement on the Queen’s face diminished suddenly. “Enter,” she said loudly.

The same guide from earlier poked her head into the room. “Dinner is ready to be served, Your Highness. Everyone is gathering.”

“I see. Thank you, Willow.”

The young woman bowed her head lightly and disappeared again.

Helen inhaled deeply. “I suppose we had better make an appearance.” She stood, and her gigantic dress moved beneath her like a suddenly disturbed sea. Lynn had to step out of its way.

Hector stood up as well.

“Let us speak again later tonight,” said Helen. “There is more I would yet discuss with you.”

Hector just gave her a nod and followed her out of the room.

Somehow, he ended up walking next to Lynn.

It didn’t seem like there would be enough time to say much of anything to her, but he still couldn’t help being intensely conscious of her presence. She was so close. All of his discomfort from earlier came rushing back, stronger than ever, and his neck felt suddenly rigid as he tried not to glance awkwardly at her.

It was just a short walk. No big deal.

But she was right there next to him...

And she was looking damn good, too.

Oh, shit, he’d glanced at her, hadn’t he?

And she’d noticed, too. He could see her looking at him in his peripheral vision.

Shit shit shit shit.