Ceres was angry at being disregarded so blatantly, but she was also curious about the motive of the boy. He had to know that by accusing Husband of setting fire to the crops he was also implicating the crew of the Cloud Whale. It was no wonder that the soldiers were looking none too happy.
It was a deed of great merit – depriving the enemy of grain. But the merit was contaminated by the blood of innocents. This kind of merit wouldn't get you punished. It would even bring moderate rewards… but the ill repute that came with it would see you shunned by your cohorts.
Life is a tapestry; each stranger, acquaintance, friend and family member a thread in the weave. Their motives are the colours they are dyed in. Study them all, understand them and you will find that they intertwine to create a grand design.
If nothing else, Ceres had to admit that Hotaru Vulpine was creative with her analogies. But there was truth in her words and following them had brought her many advantages. She was grateful for the elder kitsune's teachings. She would thank her one day – by using these teachings against her. But for now, she would practice with this curious boy who had delivered himself in front of her.
As she took her position opposite him in the clearing that had been created and cordoned off by the crew of the Cloud Whale and the guards the boy had brought along, she studied him. He had discarded the ornately gold-embroidered robe he had been wearing, revealing a tight-fitting martial attire underneath. He was clearly prepared for a duel. A conclusion reinforced when one of his guards handed him his weapons – a pair of brass knuckles.
How barbaric. A close combatant then.
The removal of the outer garment had revealed a ring of golden scales around his neck as well as a stocky golden scaled tail that wrapped half-way round his waist. And now that Ceres took a closer look at his ears, she saw that they were rounded. A member of the Pholidota clan with the blood of pangolins flowing through his veins. Without exception, the Pholidota were all earth mages.
If she was remembering correctly, then going by the traditions of the clan, golden embroidery signified direct bloodline descendants and with how ornate the embroidery was, this boy was likely the heir of his family. And what a family it was. They were the direct descendants of the Unbounded Demigod. One of the very few holders of hereditary nobility in Regiis.
Depending on who he represented – either himself or his clan – in this little vendetta of his, this matter could be a small trouble, or it could be a… Nah. It would always be a little scuffle.
The matter wasn't going to escalate. If anything, if this was the Pholidota clan taking the lead in expressing their discontent towards the establishment of another hereditary nobility in the form of the newly formed South-Eastern Kingdom, they better wash their neck and pray.
All because Isabella Chromis, Demigod of the Waves had been a passenger on their ship. By accusing Husband, they were also accusing her.
The movement of the Demigods were extremely secretive as they were the nation's trump cards. It wouldn't do to flaunt their locations lest enemy Demigods collaborate to corner them.
Isabella's presence on the Cloud Whale had been a secret from even General Kron. He had only been told that the airship would fly over the mountains on the way back, avoiding Shogunate occupied airspace.
Isabella had deliberately deviated their course, taking them smack-dab over the Central District instead. It had been a calculated bait to lure Shogunate attacks. If they took the bait, the Demigod could justifiably capture the attackers. Self-defence she would call it. No matter the fact that even if all the Shogunate army attacked together, they couldn't put a scratch on her – only exhaust her and force her to flee with the Cloud Whale safely at the cost of half their lives.
On the way here, Isabella had revealed herself to the crew because secrecy was no longer necessary.
Therefore, right now, the entire crew knew that either this boy or his clan was digging themselves into a deep grave. But none of them were kind enough to remind him of his folly. After all, no one likes being plotted against.
If the Demigod hadn't been there though, it would be a whole different story. Then, by only blaming Husband, the boy was actually giving the soldiers a way out. After all, nominally, Husband was a Lieutenant. He outranked everyone on the ship. They could claim that they were only following a superior officer's orders.
All these little pieces of information flashed in Ceres' mind and they were analysed, decomposed and recomposed into a clear picture of the current situation. The grand design on the tapestry of life that the Duchess had been talking about.
She quickly summarized it all –
First, this boy, either for personal or clan reasons, had intentionally initiated the challenge. If it was a personal thing… then the boy was clearly quite intelligent, factoring in the will of the crew into his plans. But unfortunately, the lack of information had been his downfall – both relating to the presence of the Demigod on their ship and Husband's true strength.
Second, if his clan was behind this; inciting his actions, then this was a political statement to father and mother as well as the newly crowned King Corvus. A power-play against the new kid on the block of hereditary nobility. The Capital Clans probably believed that Husband's merits were bestowed upon him by father and mother to pad his resume.
Third, the best way to resolve this farce for all parties concerned was if she beat this guy. No, thoroughly trounced him. Not only would it show her strength – give people things to say about her other than the number of her tails and her lineage – it would also make the Pholidota clan owe her a massive favour when the information about the Demigod came out.
She grinned inwardly as she watched the boy take his stance. The only loser here would be this Pholidota clan heir. She was going to inflict public embarrassment upon him and then later, when the truth got out, she was going to make him thank her for it.
Didn't his mother tell him? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
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