Capital. Imperial Palace. The Emperor's study.
Cyn Pavone, Emperor of Regiis, adjusted his silver wire-framed reading glasses as he pored over his schedule for the next few days. His violet eyes scanned the document. One general council meeting, one inauguration ceremony for a new locomotive to the south-east to compensate for the broken trade route, one audience with the emissary of the newly formed vassal state, and banquets – oh so many banquets. At times he felt like every single one of his meals was consumed in a banquet.
Even after so many years of socializing, the aristocrats of the Capital still seemed to be interested in more. He wondered – was his personality really that charming that they wanted to spend so much time in his presence?
This wasn't what he had envisioned himself doing when he had fought tooth and nail for this position during his Swayamvar. Ahh… the naivete of youth, putting on rose-tinted glasses for its possessors since the beginning of time.
Setting the paper down, he took off his glasses, folded it and set it down on the desk before rubbing the bridge of his nose and running a hand through his violet hair. As he stretched his wings, the feathers shimmered between navy blue and green as the light hit them at different angles. Sometimes, he was thankful for his wings which were smaller than a regular Pluma's – they made sitting in chairs more comfortable.
That couldn't be said for his magnificent tail of feathers though. Passing through a specially made gap in the back of his chair, they spread out behind it in an iridescent mass of green, blue, violet and brown.
At least the audience with the emissary promised to be interesting. Quite a bit more interesting than he had expected it to be.
Looking up with a light sigh, he turned his gaze upon the young woman sitting on a couch across the room, reading a document of her own. Her sun-kissed curls cascaded down the sides of her face, framing it as her intense iron-grey eyes scanned across the document. Her metallic wings reflected the light of the smokeless torches, the reflective feathers scattering dots of light across the room. She was dressed in a powder blue turtleneck sweater and white trousers – the pastel colours accentuating her bright hair.
Flipping the final page of the document, she tossed it onto the table in front of her. The first page of the document bore a full-colour painted portrait of a handsome youth with crimson hair and eyes and a determined set to his jaws. Beside it, on the table, were three more documents, each bearing the picture of a different girl. One with white hair and green eyes, another with black hair and yellow eyes, and the last with cinnamon brown hair and eyes.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," said Cyn.
The handle of the door turned and it opened to reveal a man wearing a servant's attire. His looks were nondescript – with an average height and build and a face that was easy to lose in the crowd.
Entering the room, he closed the door behind him and bowed twice. Once to the Emperor and again to the Princess. "Greetings, your majesty… your highness." Then to Cyn, "Fortunately, this one did not fail in his mission. Requesting permission to report."
"Go ahead," said the Emperor, leaning back in his chair, and Artemis perked up in her seat, paying close attention.
"Your majesty, the Salamandra clan have made their move. They sent Laravel Salamandra to act as a tour guide for Mars Felidae and his wives."
Cyn frowned slightly. He had expected some of the nobles to try and win over the Felidae but he hadn't expected them to move so swiftly. And Laravel Salamandra was extremely favoured by her grandfather… for her to move, it either indicated that the entire clan put a lot of importance on the matter. Or, the Sunlight Soldier had personally taken an interest in them.
The messenger continued, "Mars Felidae spent the entire day touring the Capital, but first, he visited the communication tower and exchanged with his father. This one was able to intercept the conversation." Reaching into a pouch attached to his side, he brought out a small scroll. Stepping forward, he placed it on the desk in front of the Emperor.
Unfurling the scroll, Cyn read through the transcript, his eyebrows rising in surprise. Removal of bloodlines, a Bestia turning Hominum in the womb, a possible new heir to the Felidae household… the information contained in the small scroll was really big.
Rolling it up again, he turned to Artemis and tossed it to her. "Here, read it and tell me what you think."
Catching the scroll, she too began to read it. There was a short lull of silence as her grey eyes scanned over the parchment. Reaching the end, she looked up and met Cyn's violet gaze. "While I'm not too keen on a marriage with him, I am very curious about his magic."
Cyn indicated for the messenger to continue. "Then?"
"Then they had lunch at a restaurant owned by Lady Salamandra and then visited the Forge of the Iron Bear in the Earth sector – apparently Deimos Felidae had already commissioned a weapon from him prior to arriving here and they wanted to check up on the progress of the commission."
"The Iron Bear? He's that really testy blacksmith, isn't he?" inquired Artemis.
"Yes, your highness. He was manning the shop and they had an altercation with him… but his wife stepped in and defused the situation. She invited them into the shop and they exited it a while later having reached some agreement."
Artemis nodded. "His social skills are lacking but, his work is top-notch. The suit of armour he made me was just perfect – especially the runic engraving on it."
The messenger continued, "They spent the rest of the day in the Water sector, visiting the Arcanum and perusing books in the Library before returning to their accommodations. Lady Salamandra parted ways from them after seeing them home. This one believes that they have plans to visit the Light sector tomorrow in time for the sunrise."
Cyn nodded. "The Light sector at sunrise. That is a sight to behold for the first time. I've become a bit numbed to it but the first time I saw it was truly awe-inspiring. It seems that little Laravel is being a good host." Turning to the messenger, he asked, "Anything else?"
"No, your majesty."
"Good work. You can draw back. Monitor them tomorrow as well and report to me after I return from…" he cast a glance at his packed schedule, "the dinner banquet in honour of the Lupin heir coming of age… and his engagement to Erin Salamandra."
A fortunate coincidence, he thought. He'd be able to probe the clan's intentions for the Felidae boy.
Acknowledging his instructions, the messenger bowed deeply again to the both of them and withdrew from the room, leaving the two of them alone in the room.
"Artemis, what do you feel after reading his file?"
Turning to face him, she replied, "Mars Felidae seems like a good person. Filial, courageous, compassionate… talented, excessively so if these reports are true. Really, I can't find anything negative about him in there. It's a bit too perfect to be true." She waved her hand at the reports littering the table. "Basically, all these reports tell me is that the public perception of his character is quite good. They are rather useless."
"Though," she relented, "there are several interesting things mentioned about his magic. Using the old language to cast magic, external casting, utilizing ambient mana in spells, a shattered mindscape… I wonder why the research division hasn't abducted him for dissection yet."
The Emperor chuckled. "They definitely want to. Every member of the Council has received several propositions to that effect. Apparently, it could be a great step forward for magic as a whole."
Artemis smiled, "Like that new type of beast that was discovered in the Bay of Kings last year?"
Cyn Pavone shook his head exasperatedly, "Exactly like that. They are a bit prone to sensationalism." He brought the topic back. "And what of his wives?"
"Nothing of relevance. All I reliably know is their cultivation base and their affinities. Nothing has been mentioned about their Aspects or their proficiency in them. Nothing definite. Only speculation that the Kitsune girl majors in the Aspect of Illusion and minors in the Aspect of Sleep. We only know this because of Reinhart's duel with her. None of the reports before that mention anything about it."
She paused, then continued, "This lack of information is, in itself, an issue. It shows that people are willing to risk covering her abilities up for her. She is quite well liked despite her lineage."
"Be that as it may," Cyn pointed at an opened envelope on his desk. "I've received a joint request from the nobles to make your duel with Mars a public event. I was going to press for it to be a private so the marriage could still go through when he lost to you. But now, it seems that Mars isn't the sole heir of the Felidae anymore… I don't think it is worth opposing the nobles and getting on your bad side for him."
"Father!" exclaimed Artemis indignantly, knocking her chair back in her haste as she stood up. "You promised you wouldn't interfere with my marriage if I won the duel!"
He shrugged. "Rest assured, I won't anymore." Then his eyes grew sharp. "But he is a man who has managed to keep three marks dark and even if he isn't as strong as the reports claim, his contribution to magic and the Empire is still at the forefront of his generation. Marrying him isn't the kind of travesty you are making it out to be… your mother and I have made it very clear what we think about your current situation. I will ensure that you keep your word if, by some miracle, you lose."
Artemis straightened up and her expression turned callous. "Don't worry, father. I won't."
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