"Dark Stag" - Chapter 12


            These guards stood before me, seriousness written across their face. I was so shocked with the news they just told me. The rage and hatred I had for Sir Socoshian subsided as I tried to make sense of this craziness.
“You’re,” I gulped, “Lutna Clan?”
“I am…” He said back, “We’re your Guard now. You’re all that is left! Sir Socoshian will not hesitate to exploit that… We’re not going to leave your side, my King…”
“KING?” I asked, staggered as the man bowed.
“I’m sir, Ruben. You can appoint me as your left hand, your commander, anything. You can ask me anything…” He said, slowly rising.
“Is,” I began, “Is my mother really dead?”
            Ruben sighed, his mustache furling as he went deep into thought.
“She’s gone, my king. She did everything she could, but she’s gone.” Ruben said back.
“As king of this Ziggurat,” I continued, “Do I just step up? All responsibilities go to me?”
“In theory, yes. In actuality, it’d be difficult with how deep Sir Socoshian’s influences run. It’d be best if you leave for now…” Ruben suggested.
“And hope for the best while nothing is done? I can’t give this place up…” I said. Ruben seemed to get frustrated but hid it well. His frustration seemed to be in not being able to tell me something rather than my defiance.
“Look, if anything happens, before I let anything happen, I will take you from these lands myself. You have to understand that you must live to fight another day!” Ruben said, his accent slipping in with the passion and devotion on his tongue.
“What will happen to these lands if I go? I should fight it now!” I argued.
“These lands will still be here. What I think you fail to see my young King as that there’s nothing you can do to undo what has been done right now. If you leave and return, things won’t be worse. They’ll be more or less the same. Sir Socoshian has always been in control… That’s something you don’t see just yet.” Ruben clarified.
“What are my options if I leave?” I asked.
“You’ll learn them as soon as we get you to safety.” Ruben said.
“No, I need to know them NOW or I’m not leaving!” I said back.
“You have to trust us. Your mother did…” Ruben persisted.
“And where is she now? In the GRAVE!” I retorted.
“We’re acting out HER orders, my King.” Ruben responded.
“I’m sorry but I don’t know who to trust anymore…” I sighed, taking a seat.
“We have a cover to maintain. This cover will be blown when Sir Socoshian orders you to be killed. You don’t understand how important it is for me to stay close to the source. If you leave now, I assure you, you’ll get your kingdom back. But if you stay, not only will your life be in jeopardy, but everyone else in this room. We can’t fight off an entire Kingdom. You’re thinking with your emotions in the midst. I’m laying the truth out for you plainly, my king. The supporters you have can be counted on your hand! The people against you outnumber us in totality… Pick your battle wisely or I’ll pick it for you.” Ruben threatened.
“Just tell me what’s going on. If you were really on my side like you claimed… You’d tell me!” I said, growing frustrated. Ruben just stared at me, backing away towards the door. He sighed, leaving.
“Keep your gun close… It’s a gift from your mother…” Ruben said. It seemed as though everything he said was trying to get a reaction out of me. Sure he was a part of my mother’s clan but with so much up in the air, it was hard to truly trust him.
            I had to go figure this out on my own. With all this being said, I still didn’t know if Sir Socoshian was still as evil as those around me had told me he was. He hasn’t truly shown a deceptive trait to me. This could totally be his end game. Maybe he needed me for something. It was difficult to be sure.
            The entire night was me sitting at the table, thinking this through. Surely there was something I could do. The only idea I could come up with was to play to Sir Socoshians strengths and watch what happens. I showered, freshening up and getting dressed in an outfit that would impress. I wore a blue blouse with a chain that had the golden crest of the Bourgion house seal on it. Thin, leg hugging khaki slacks and brown leather boots from the skin of a lamb added dimension to the outfit. Lastly, I wore a black hooded peacoat to bring the outfit together.
            A bit of hair gel tamed the curly mess of hair sitting on top of my head. It was time for a trim but with Roi gone, it made the shared bathroom quite an empty place. I missed my brother and it was hard being here without him. He deserved an apology for all that I had done to him. But for now, it was time to go and see what I could learn.
            I left my room, shocked to see king’s guards posted outside my door. They were Lutna men… I made my way down stairs, two of the guards following. Immediately, things were being changed. 
“Sir SOCOSHIAN!” I shouted. Everyone stopped, looking at me. People began to part as he made his way towards me, holding his trusted clipboard.
“Yes?” He asked.
“Why are you doing things without my input?” I asked, “Everything you’re doing needs to go through me…”
“I am acting as the King’s hand. Everything here is his wishing…” Sir Socoshian responded.
“I’m the King now. Everything you do has to go through me…” I said firmly. Sir Socoshian looked at me penetratingly as he dropped his clipboard to his side.
            The subjects of the palace looked weary of what was about to unfold.
“Then what do you want?” Sir Socoshian responded.
“To work with you.” I shrugged. It made Sir Socoshian confused.
“Okay…” He said.
“Where’s my father?” I asked.
“He’s been moved to a mortuary. We’ve found a different company to do the resuming.” He said.
“Without my permission? What’s wrong with the old company?” I asked.
“Their practices were a little sketchy.” Sir Socoshian smiled.
“Have you put out word that my father has died yet?” I continued.
“I was working on that now…” Sir Socoshian said, pulling up his clipboard.
“Now, what?” I taunted. He looked at me confused.
“Now what?” He responded.
“Your Liege.” I said. It seemed to make Sir Socoshian’s stomach tie into knots.
“My Liege…” He nodded.
“Don’t put word out that my father has been killed yet. That would be, not good for the Kingdom…” I responded.
“Killed? Why would it be bad for the Kingdom?” Sir Socoshian asked, unsure what I was doing.
“Because of possible mutiny! Who’d want an eighteen year old running a country? Who’d think,” I said, pacing through the room, “That I’d be able to keep things running the way things are? Who’d have faith in me?” I sat down in father’s throne overlooking the lounge, smiling.
“My liege, there is a lot to learn. Eighteen years old is indeed too young to run a country. Your father didn’t run this Ziggurat until he was nearly thirty. You don’t have the experience! This is why the King’s hand is trusted with the throne until the heir of the throne is of age…” Sir Socoshian said.
“You were my father’s left hand. But not mine…” I smiled, “Sir Ruben… Step forth please…”
            He did so, looking at me in utter shock.
“You are hereby relieving Sir Socoshian of his duties as the King’s hand and will resume his duties.” Sir Ruben slowly turned to Sir Socoshian, shocked by this.
“With all due respect, your Grace… why?” Sir Socoshian asked.
“He was my mother’s advisor and my mother was a wonderful, wonderful diplomat, the reason this Ziggurat has great relationships with foreign nations! I’d like to follow in her footsteps! As for how things are run within the Ziggurat… Sir Socoshian, I don’t want to challenge your ability. What you do is incredible which is why I’ll appoint you as my second general.”
            Worry was written across Sir Ruben’s face.
“With that change in position, what will that change with what I’m doing for your Kingdom, my Liege?” Sir Socoshian asked.
“What will change? You’re no longer handling foreign affairs. That shall be between Sir Ruben, an elected board and I. Everything domestic, shall run through you but not be run by you. You executively superhead the industries we as a sovereign nation specialize in.” I smiled.
“You realize that part of the industries I superhead revolves importing foreign items right?” Sir Socoshian asked, obviously frustrated.
“I kind of don’t like that. I want import tariffs for anything foreign grown that is anything besides a necessity to these people.” I continued. It shocked Sir Socoshian.
“Very well…” He responded, writing it down.
“And having the King’s Guard and the Official Guard be run under the same house is… fallacious. They’re going to be similar, but independent of each other.” I said. This seemed to make Sir Socoshian even more upset!
“With all due respect, my Liege, separating the police force will be an ungodly expense…” I responded.
“Then, we’ll look at our costs, rearrange them and appoint a new Ministry of Defense…” I shrugged, “I want Sir Leerwood  to be in charge of the interview process for that. By the end of the week, I want portfolios on my lap to review. Sir Leerwood looked at Sir Socoshian with the same fearful expression Sir Ruben had.
“Yes, your Grace!” Sir Leerwood bowed.
“King’s Gaurd…” I said, as they followed.
            Upon leaving the room, my heart stuttered with relief.
“Are you an idiot?” Sir Ruben asked me, very upset.
“No, but I’m trying to buy us all time. Everyone knows what’s going on here except me. Trust me, I’ll leave if I need too but I need more people on my side first. I’m going to need more help driving a wrench into Socoshian’s plans. I saw how everyone in the lounge grew uneasy as the confrontation between Sir Socoshian and I unraveled.” I said.
“That is a crazy plan!” Another guard said. He was young, my age with a huge amount of passion, “That I’m completely here for! Anything for you, your Grace…” I looked at him, the boy having long wavy hair draping down to his shoulders.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I’m Knight Dior.” He said with an eyebrow furl. He was cocky, for sure.
“He’s a trained combatant, one that has trained in my styles of combat since his youth.” Sir Ruben added, “I don’t like your plan. But your plan is better than just leaving without a trace. It’s better to slow Sir Socoshian down before we leave.”
“Why can’t we fight him?” Dior asked.
“Because we’re completely outclassed and outmatched. Sir Socoshians veins run deep into this city. If he wants something to happen, he can make it. We won’t be able to fight until we sever some of those veins, young one!” Sir Ruben clarified.
“So what now?” I asked myself, “I think we need to spruce up the King’s Guard somehow, and I think I know precisely how.”
“We can bring in more assassins, your Grace…” Sir Ruben suggested.
“That would take weeks, even months. We don’t have that type of time. Right now, we have to wait on a silver raptor to return…” I said back, “All of what I’m doing now, is because of this… I need to hear back from some people before I can plan the next step.” Sir Ruben looked at me intently.
“You definitely have the blood of the assassin within you. You’re not soft… I see that now. In this time of war beneath the surface, you are bringing the fight back…” Sir Ruben nodded.
“Thank you. Just go surprivise things, make sure you’re wedged into everything Sir Socoshian might do. I mean, you pre calculate his next counter! I need to know… I’m not going to be able to leave my room until that raptor returns…” I said.
“Your Grace, what’s going on?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Just like you have secrets,” I smiled, “So do I!”
            I made my way to my room, sitting on the balcony waiting for either Bazahra or Silver to return. As they did, I penned a letter one for Kijus and the other for my Gou and my siblings.

‘Dear Kijus,
Things are steadily getting worse here. Barely even a week after mother died, father is gone too! I can’t leave the palace yet. Everyone within the inner ring works for Sir Socoshian except a handful that were loyal to my mother. There are things going on that I don’t understand, but I must let you know that my days may be numbered! There’s a chance that I could be taken out but I’m trying to do everything in my power to make it. I’m not a fighter like you, but I am trying to be brave just as brave you! I love, you… I miss you and I hope that after all of this, we can be together.
As for now, I’m trying to find ways to slow Sir Socoshian down. Everything he wants is happening however, I’m the last wrench in his gears. So, what I plan on doing is getting a number of King’s Gaurds somehow to state their loyalty to me… I don’t know how I’m going to do it, if I’ll have to use tactics of fear, of intimidation or what… but it’s not to stay here! I’m leaving, heading south to the canyons where my brother and sister are. I hope that everything continues to go well for you where you are. My heart longs for you Kijus, you being the driving force I’m using to get through this horrible, horrible time! For you, I fight!
Your love,
Richard Bourgion.

Someone came into my room. It was Sir Ruben. He looked bot alarmed and confused.
“I just heard news that someone took out a twelfth of the Official Gaurd last night. No one saw who did it or how. Two of the people detained for interrogation are missing as well!” Sir Ruben explained.
“Wow…” I smiled, knowing precisely only that one person could do such a thing.
“What’s going on?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Something that I wasn’t expecting to play into our favor but it may…” I said, continuing to write. Sir Ruben walked over to me.
“You seem to not trust me. I’m fighting for you…” Sir Ruben said to me, looking at the letter.
“And I’m fighting for you… I trust you, just like you trust me! However, what you’re not doing is being all the way honest with me! As a result, I won’t be one hundred percent forward with you! You’ll see as well as be informed about my plans as they unravel…” I said, not looking up from him as I continued to write.
“If you have allies close by, this is something I need to know about! That in particular would be information I wouldn’t advise withholding. I could use this…”He said back.
“First, I’ll have to see what I can do. I don’t want to promise anything…” I responded.
“You sound unsure, your Grace. If things get worse, I will take you to safety! Your mother’s last words to me was to make sure you survive!” Sir Ruben said.
“I’m tired of being this cowardly, being this sheltered, too afraid of the unknown, uneducated, locked in the Royal Court spoiled little brat! Everything I once knew was gone! So, I’m going to fight the best way I know how… with pen and paper!” I disputed.
“Then let me help you…” Sir Ruben persisted.
“I gave you a job to do. Do you not trust me?” I asked, flipping his initial concerns back towards me.
“Not with that uncertainty in your tone.” Sir Ruben said firmly.
“I’m going to need you to do as I say. Just be involved with everything relating to this palace!” I said.
“Very well…” He said, leaving.
            I began writing Gou and my siblings:

Dear all,

It is now that I realize that I should have left when I had the chance! Things here have gotten worse. Father is now dead and Sir Socoshian has voiced his motives to take over since then! However, I have temporarily prohibited him from moving forth! At the same time, something happened at the Law Official headquarters with a large fraction of the Official Guard ending up dead. To me, this sounds like the work of a free agent and I can’t help but wonder if Gou had anything to do with it.
Since I can’t leave, I’m asking for help. Gou I want to leave, and I need to leave bad! I understand you specialize in undercover inside operations. Do you think you can send me undercover King’s Guards within the next forty eight hours? This is a must because, as of now, I’m heavily out numbered. If Sir Socoshian wanted to, he could have been me killed! With that being said, my days may permanently be numbered if I can’t leave! My goal is to look strong to all those on Sir Socoshians side so I can make my escape before anyone notices. I do have allies on the inside, though there are things I’m not certain about.
I was told that mother’s body wasn’t in the casket at her funeral. The casket was excavated late one night and there was a replica of her body there. This is all the more reason for me to believe that my mother is somehow alive. Afterall, mother was a trained assassin, one not only versed in combat, but espionage and hiding who she was. We can not count her out. Father though, I believe he is dead. I’m trying to stay strong, but it’s hard. I miss you all and I’m trying to keep everything we once had, together.
With that being said, DON’T come back! I believe I can manage on my own for the time being. If you come back, I believe you’ll be a target just like me! Trust and believe that I will get to the bottom of this situation!
Richard Bourgion’

I sealed the letters, waiting for either Bazahra or Silver to come. It was a long wait, the sun nearly setting before a raptor showed up on my stoop. It was so relieving to see. The bird that had come was Silver. Nonetheless, I checked for any new letters. There was none. I loaded up both letters into the bird’s pouch then gave him bechums of lamb jerky. He was off.
The wait returned as I sat, praying the bird would return before the sun completely went down. He did, with a letter.

This is Gou. I can have free agents undercover as your guard within eighteen hours. Don’t feel outmatched by Sir Socoshian and his forces. I can assure you that you have far more allies than you might imagine. Your plan is one that works well. Stay low… tomorrow at noon, rendezvous in the catacombs to meet with the agents. It will be our goal to bring you out of the city and to a safer place. The free agents of the United Cybernetic Military can liberate your city. This what we are trained for…
It was relieving to see this message. However, I wasn’t sure if this was what I wanted. Considering he worked for the United Cybernetic Military, that meant he could possibly get them too involved with the politics of the region. He was a good friend of mine, however this process was too delicate to let him turn it into a full blown military operation. Maybe I didn’t understand him fully on this.
I opened my room door where two King’s Guards were on post. I summoned one in, having no idea it was Dior.
“Yes, my Liege…” He said, taking off his helm.
“Fetch me Sir Ruben.” I said. He looked at me with a longing for more. It was beginning to bother me! He left, Sir Ruben coming minutes later.
“Yes?” Sir Ruben asked, seeing the giant raptor on the balcony, “Isn’t that your brother’s?”
“Yes… And tomorrow, I have Free Agents coming through the catacombs who will be undercover as King’s Guards. I’ll need you to accompany me to get them.” I said.
“You are a resourceful something, I see…” Sir Ruben chuckled, “You have more aces up your sleeve than I gave you credit for! Your mother would be proud. You might be glad to know that I’ve been driving home all of which you stated. It is definitely slowing Sir Socoshian down.”
“For him to have so much accomplished, he surely is one passive aggressive little something.” I responded.
“It’s because he’s walking on a thin line. If he manages to keep everything public and working the way he does, he can get what he want. However, with so many things going wrong, he’s probably reevaluating his strategy.” Sir Ruben said.
“Why not just take it from me with brute force?” I asked.
“You’re dealing with a coward, here. You tried to kill him last night, remember? He fears what you can do. I’ve known him for years. He’s a very, very methodical person. He doesn’t make a move unless the reward outweighs the risk! And right now, the risks are making him uncertain. He’s still trying to keep ahold of all that he was in charge of.” Sir Ruben responded.
“I want people not normally used to having a lot of power, given a lot of power so they’d want to fight for it. Can you do that for me?” I asked. Sir Ruben looked amazed.
“I can.” He said back, “But you have to value in debt…”
“Debt?” I asked.
“Quite a few people are in debt to Sir Socoshian. That is where their allegiance lie…” Sir Ruben said.
“That’s, that’s… wow…” I said, somewhat mind blown.
“Yeah, there’s not much telling of who’s in debt to him and who’s not…” I sighed. 
“Well break down the task forces responsible for the simplest of things. Make it frustratingly democratic and all of them have to answer to you! Things will get done slower this way. This will keep the power hungry in power and arrogant.” I figured, fishing for solutions.
“It will…” Sir Ruben nodded, thinking about it as well, “I’m not much of a politician. I see you have a natural knack for it.”
“Do you think I can drive him into taking the throne from me by brute force?” I asked.
“If you get complacent, he will.” Sir Ruben responded.
“That will be my goal then. Change thing after thing, until I find a constant, then get comfortable. I don’t know how long this will be.” I said, stroking my chin.
“Whatever happens, you must come out alive…” Sir Ruben said. I looked at him, not really caring, “You don’t have to try and save this place now…”
“I’m not trying to, and you know this…” I sighed, growing impatient of these repetitive conversations.
“Very well…” He smiled, leaving.
            The next morning rolled in and I put forth the same effort to be dressed exquisitely. Sir Ruben and his knights came into my room as I continued to get dress.
“You look dashing, my liege…” Knight Dior said, bowing. He was not subtle at all with his hints.
“Thank you…” I said, leaving. Sir Ruben and his knights followed as I went down to the cellar. Sir Socoshian and his task group watched as I entered the cellar. He hid his confusion well, not bothering to ask questions.
“Where are we going?” Knight Dior asked.
“You’ll see…” I smiled, pulling a lever behind the rows of wine.
            The entire wall moved, a number of circular dials opening. It revealed a dark, dark staircase that seemed to go down forever. Sir Ruben and his knights looked daunted.
“Surely, the big brave and well trained men aren’t spooked by the catacombs…” I teased.
“No… but it’s dark.” Knight Dior said.
“Don’t worry…” I said, reaching into my coat, for the torch, “I got you…”
            I twisted the knob, flashing the torch. It lit up as I led the men into the darkness. They followed as we walked down the stairs. To them, they seemed to never end but I was a regular vagrant into the catacombs.
“How much longer?” Knight Dior asked.
“You’ll see.” I sighed.
            Eventually we reached the long blocks of graves stacked on top of graves. As far as the eye could see were the tops of skulls layered in cement. Sir Ruben and his knights were shocked.
“This is just like home…” Sir Ruben said, thinking back to France.
“France has catacombs?” I asked.
“Yeah, but they aren’t like these… these are actual structures that support the entire platforms the Ziggurat is built on. It’s a little unsettling that human bodies were used but, still… great ingenuity.” Sir Ruben said, passing his hand along one of the skulls.
“How is this place getting fresh air? I’d think it was sealed off from the rest of the world…” Dior asked.
“It isn’t. The catacombs are connected with the underground aqueduct, sewer and service tunnel systems. All the morgues in this Ziggurat are connected too, connected through the catacombs…” I explained.
“Which explains this places strange history with using the dead to build…” Sir Ruben said, piecing it all together.
“You come down here a lot?” Dior asked.
“I do… It’s rumored this place is haunted and a lot of bad things have happened down here… But, I don’t care.” I responded.
“And you risk it?” Dior, chuckled.
“Why not…” I said, as we crossed a cobbled bridge, over an aqueduct. Everyone looked over at the rushing water.
“Is this an underground river?” Dior wondered.
“No, it’s a gravity spring. These hills have aquifers deep underground and the springs were dug up so the city can have fresh running water. The sewage from the city runs to a compost region between this Ziggurat and the Caspian Ziggurat.” I said back, “We are now entering the real catacombs under the middle ring. Here, you’ll see ruins of Temptation city, the gypsy caravan outpost from hundreds of years ago.”
“Okay…” Dior said.
            Nothing I said braced them for what they saw! Stone caskets and mummified bodies were everywhere, littering the ground like spoils of war! Ancient middle eastern architecture went as far as the eye coul see, with large concrete spires of human remains support the Ziggurat above.
“So this city had another city built on top of it?” A knight in the rear asked.
“Yes… The twelve Ziggurats are the biggest Ziggurats in all of history. They each are built over an ancient city. Think of them as giant hollow pyramids that are slightly sloped…” I responded.
“Do you ever think they’ll collapse one day?” Dior asked.
“No… They’ve been here for three hundred years… They won’t fall any time soon. And look at this place! This Ziggurat is built into the hills. It naturally slopes with the land. It won’t collapse.” I reassured.
            Soon, the light from the tombs above began to seep in. It began to illuminate the underground ruins with shafts of light. Everyone could appreciate the ruins in their full glory now, as well as be taken by the eeriness.
“This place is so vast…” Sir Ruben said, “Are you sure you know where your resources are coming in from?”
“Yes…” I said back shortly.
“How can you be so certain. The letter never detailed explicit location details…” Sir Ruben responded.
“I’m just certain…” I shrugged, walking a little further.
            We began to ascend a huge flight of stairs, more light raining in. We entered a mausoleum, the same mausoleum I helped Kijus escape out of. I just sat, sat next to a long mummified corpse. 
“This is it?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Yep.” I responded, looking at my pocket watch. It was eleven forty in the morning, twenty minutes to spare.
“Are you sure they’re coming?” Sir Ruben asked.
“I’m certain!” I said.
“Yeah… someone’s coming.” Dior, said pointing to a number of men dragging a cart. I got up, looking at the approaching men. At the front was Gou. There were ten men in total. Another cart was being pulled, several other men pulling it forth.
            Gou and I stood face to face. Sir Ruben didn’t know what to expect. It was relieving to him to see us hugging.
“Nice to see you are well.” He said.
“How are my sister and brother?” I asked. Gou sighed, worrying me.
“They are a handful… particularly Roi.” He responded.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“He’s been training the younger dark stag none stop… I mean none stop. His every waking moment is devoted to that stag. Brija… She’s just too gorgeous for me to want to be around. I’m ashamed to say that she makes me long for things I was trained to resist…” Gou said, unable to look me in the eye.
“Don’t worry…” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder, “We’re gorgeous people…” He laughed.
“We have so much to catch up on. I need to get you up to speed on current developments and let you weigh your options.” Gou said, continuing forth.
            The knights moved out his way as he led the Free Agents into the mausoleum. We followed, somehow the men able to get the carts down the stairs. They set up a small camp, moving armor out of the carts. Not only that, but electronics as well, something foreign to us all! They began chattering as they set things up.
“A lot of things, I want to tell you in person.” Gou said, watching his agents.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Your allie, Mercury, was saved last night. I and a friend did the deed.” I responded.
“It smelt like a Free Agent operation, leaving no trace of even being there.” I smiled.
“That friend…” Gou continued, “Was Kijus…”
“What?” I asked, shocked.
“He received the letter from Brija on the news of what happened, and wrote me. I’m not sure if you know this, but Kijus and I go way back. When I was younger, still training as a Free Agent, I toured the world with my sensei. She was the first Free Agent, my grandmother. We encountered the Illisian tribes people, Kijus being one. I met him when he was seven. I was around twelve at that time. I knew of who he was, his worth and everything about him before he even met me. It was because my grandmother was hired by his Kijus’s father’s family, to search for them since it had been years since they last had contact with them. His father’s family is obscenely rich, one of the richest in the world. You’d never know this by Kijus’s humble upbringings, though… He was raised in a fearsome land, disconnected from the spoils and riches, trained to be a hunter, a warrior…”
“Wait… how did he get out of the brothel?” I asked.
“Brothel?” Sir Ruben asked, shocked. I sighed, hating I revealed this.
“He escaped through the upper windows which is how he gets access to the raptors. That was why it took him so long to respond. However as soon as the letters got to us, we responded right away.” Gou explained.
“So he’s able to leave when he wants?” I asked.
“He could but keep in mind why he’s there. He’s having deeply, deeply personal issues.” Gou responded.
“Why would he be there of all places?” Sir Ruben asked, deeply confused.
“Don’t worry about it…” I sighed.
“I just… I’m worried about him. Does he know the brothels have Sir Socoshian’s names all on them?” I asked.
“No, but you can use your executive power to change that.” Gou suggested.
“I can…” I nodded.
“And the boys we rescued… They aren’t for your team anymore. Since they are out of this situation, they want nothing to do with it anymore.” Gou sighed, “But with that being said, my agents will be in communication with me, reporting to me all that goes on. This is because…”
“No, that’s not going to happen!” Sir Ruben interrupted. Gou turned to the man, wondering who he was. His agents also turned, unsure what was about to unfold.
            The knights grew tense as well.
“Gou, let me introduce you to Sir Ruben. He’s an assassin from the Lutna clan, the same clan my mother is from.” I said, hoping to ease the tension.
“Ah, the Lutna clan…” Gou said pacing, “I’m a big fan… The Lutna clan and the free agents of the West are allies… My goal is not to take over this operation if you have already had a foot in the door. My goal is to make sure my agents have their best fighting chance. I will piece together all the information they need to succeed and keep King Richard one step ahead…”
            Sir Ruben looked at him full of skepticism.
“If you wanted to, you could stop this all… Why don’t you?” Sir Ruben asked him.
“Because I don’t know all there is needed to know. I need to know all hands involved. These twenty agents I’m giving you will be working in the upper ring. The agents in the lower and middle ring will be figuring out every little thing that Sir Socoshian has his hands in.” Gou responded, “And Sir Socoshian supports an entire industry by himself. If we stop him, the economy could collapse and bigger issues could set in.”
“You’re right…” Sir Ruben said, thinking hard.
“So Richard, can you detail your plans to me?” Gou asked.
            Sir Ruben tuned in, this being his first time hearing them as well.
“With the number of support backing me, my next plan is to divide the official guard and reinforce the King’s Guard. At the same time, Sir Ruben will be slapping things down hard, making sure we look strong.” I responded, “After that’s done. I want to get Sir Socoshian’s hands out the brothels. Kijus is so far up under his nose, Sir Socoshian might not see him, but it’s still too close for comfort…” I said back.
“I’m missing the point… What’s so significant about this Kijus boy?” Sir Ruben asked.
“He’s a prince…” Gou said before I could answer, “My job is to protect him first and foremost. As long as Kijus is in deep, I can’t make a move…”
“So he’s slowing down the operation?” Knight Dior asked.
“Not exactly. He’s in a precarious situation but one where he can use his influence to get information… He’s been helpful as is.” Gou clarified.
“I’m so confused about his role in this…” Sir Ruben responded.
“He’s pivotal.”Gou said back.
“My goal is to protect Kijus…” I added, “He means the world to me. I owe him this much…”
“So all of what you’ve been doing is to throw Sir Socoshian off his tail… or is it to save this city?” Sir Ruben asked.
“Both,” I shrugged, “I know it’s ambitious… but I’m only buying as much time as I can. I’m not trying to make any of this shit work…” Sir Ruben didn’t like this. However, he said nothing of it. 
“So when you do leave, what are your plans?” Gou asked.
“I feel most safe in your hands… My family is there as is…” I said.
“No… You’re coming with us!” Sir Ruben said, not liking this. I slowly turned to him.
“What?” I asked him.
“We’re…” Sir Ruben said, trying to find the right words, “Look, you are Lutna Clan… We’ll take care of you! Give us the trust you give these Free Agents!
            This was something I wasn’t expecting.
“But my family, is with the Free Agents… and I miss them…” I responded.
“Don’t worry. We can arrange things to accommodate… We can work around it to suit your needs.” Gou reassured. Sir Ruben and I stayed in locked eye contact.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it was your mother’s wish…” Sir Ruben said back.
“I’d love to honor her wish but you’re asking me to take this massive leap of faith when….” I said.
“I understand…” Sir Ruben said, hoping he could prove to me later that he was trustworthy. He seemed very disappointed.
“If that is all… Agent Yole,” Gou said summoning him over, “Will be my representative. Anything I say will go through him and anything that needs to be said, will go through him to me.”
“I understand…” I nodded.
            Agent Yole was a fearsome looking man, of western descent. He was tall, with pale skin. His face was incredibly chiseled, unsettlingly so. He put on several electronics before putting on the King’s Guard armor. The remaining men did the same. This was definitely gratifying to see a part of my plan coming to fruition.
            Sir Ruben came over to me.
“I hope this will work…” He said.
“I’m convinced…” I chuckled.
            We all headed back through the service tunnels and catacombs to the palace. As we walked up the long winding staircase to the cellar, I sighed.
“When we get up into the cellar, we disperse immediately. Agent Yole, I understand your role but you answer to Sir Ruben’s command. Is that understood?” I asked.
“Yes your, your grace…” Agent Yole said in a thick Slavic accent. I could already tell I’d like this man a lot.
            The plan unfolded as said. Sir Ruben and his knights followed me to my room as I began to write.
“I need this information put out for a meeting at five this evening.” I said, handing the paper to Sir Ruben.
“I’ll put it out…” He said, reading it, “You’re a brilliant mind…”
“Thank you…” I said, watching Sir Ruben leave. It left Knight Dior and I alone. He just stared at me, smoldering me with those green eyes.
“What’s with you?” I asked, growing tired of this.
“It’s just we were mislead. Your mother made you sound so helpless!” He said, stepping forth.
“I kept a lot under wraps from her. In many ways, I am helpless… but I’m a quick learner.” I said, going through a number of books on the table.
“Can you tell me about the Free Agents?” He asked, “If you don’t mind, your Grace.”
“Um… I don’t know much about them. I just know they make things happen! They have technology that we don’t… It’s crazy shit, to be honest.” I shrugged.
“Between us and them, it seems like you chose them…” Dior noted. I looked at him.
“It did seem that way, didn’t it?” I sighed, “I didn’t even know mother had assassins inhouse… Everyone has secrets… everyone, and I’m starting to get a little tired of it. It’s like a sick game of who knows what someone else doesn’t…”
“I’m sorry you feel that way your Grace, but you must know,” He said gently caressing my hand, “That, I’m devoted to you and no other! I’ll do anything for you will…”
            He fell to his knees, slowly turning my chair towards him. This was a shock, his hands crawling up my thighs.
“What are you doing?” I asked him. He paused.
“You don’t…?”
“NO!” I said firmly, “My heart… belongs… to someone!”
“It doesn’t have to be your love. It can be physical… I’m your knight, your protector, your vessel, your will!” He said.
“No…” I declined, turning away.
            Dior sighed, getting to his feet. He was a gorgeous boy, with long wavy hair, smoldering eyes, and and a natural seductiveness. But I still was in love with Kijus. After this, it was hard to look at him.
“My King… if you ever need anything, I am yours…” Dior said, returning to his post. I didn’t respond, only sighing. The boy still had managed to get my heart racing, but I refused to have anyone else except for Kijus. No one was as perfect for me as him.
            Sir Ruben returned. He came over to the table I was sitting at, as I read.
“People are upset with the changes…” Sir Ruben sighed.
“Namely?” I asked.
“A lot of the older higher ups that are complacent…” Sir Ruben said back.
“They’ll be at the meeting, right?” I asked.
“They will.” Sir Ruben responded.
“That’s good then…” I chuckled, smiling deviously.
            Time for the meeting came by. I got up, heading down to the conference room. As planned, all thirty odd something of the King’s Guard were in the room. It staggered all attending the meeting. I sat at the head of the table as noblemen filled the room, Sir Socoshian being one.
“I hope you all are having a fine evening…” I smiled.
“What’s going on, your Grace?” Sir Carmichael asked.
“I just want to talk about some major changes…” I said. Everyone had a subtle reaction, none too pleased, “My father was a very interesting man… one who liked to look strong… He told me appearing strong is being strong. Well why not actually be strong?”
“Your Grace,” Sir Socishian began, “Are all those King’s Gaurds really necessary? There are more of them in here than there are of us.” He looked at them intently, trying to recognize them.
“Oh no… I don’t feel like it’s enough. We’ll get to that in a bit, though. One thing I want to be done, is to start a council for in house issues… I need six of my wisest noblemen sitting at this table for this…” I said back.
            Ten of the thirty men volunteered, unsure what the council was for, Sir Socoshian being one. One by one, I began asking them what do they think qualified them to be apart of my council. Sir Socoshian didn’t like this.
“What exactly is this council for… You haven’t specified it. How would we answer your question if we don’t know what our council would be needed for…” I responded.
“Don’t you think I might have considered that’d be ask. Asking what the council is needed for is beside the point all together… just answer to the best of your abilities…” I smiled.
            A wave of frustration spread across the conference as eyes darted between each other, unsure what to make of this.
“If he thinks this will work, he’s out of his mine…” Someone said under their breath.
“He’s just looking for ass kissers…” Another said back.
            Sir Ruben pinpointed the voice, going after the older nobleman. He picked the man up by his throat.
“Easy…” I said, seeing the fear spread across the conference, “I don’t want my ass to be kissed. I want respect and loyalty… We can move on as soon as my ten volunteers state their reasoning as to why they’d want to be a part of my council. Unless there has been a change of heart.” I leaned onto the table, resting my chin on my knuckles.
            There was a long pause of silence as the elders looked between each other. The divide and conquer strategy seemed to be heading in the right direction. Still though, the silence was going on for too long.
“Any bravery?” I asked, jabbing them all.
            A frustrated Sir Socoshian stood to his feet.
“Your grace, I have served alongside your father for years and my council to him has brought this economy to it’s boon! The Southern Ziggurat is within the top three of the wealthiest Ziggurats in all of the Caucasus due to my council. If you will, your grace, I’d like to continue my council with you, whatever… it may be.” He said, bowing. His efforts seemed to break the ice as a number of other higher noblemen did the same, spilling their rhetoric as to why they’d be best suited as a member of the council.
             Of the ten men, I had picked the ones with their hands most into the wealth of the city. These would be the men most likely to betray me in the future, Sir Socoshian being the top of the list. My selelction seemed to bewilder them men but none challenged it. But it was only the first half of my elaborate plan.
“Now, this is what I want my council to be for… With Sir Ruben acting as my left hand, I’ve elected a council of the city’s most powerful men for all house issues. Everything that goes on within the houses of wealth from scandal, to betrayal to talks of mutiny will go through said council! I’ve sat and thought about it and this is what else the council will be in charge of… Districts. There are two lower rings, that I’m planning on breaking into three districts each instead of the numerous ones.” I said back.
“With all do respect, my Liege,” Sir Ingrid, a very respectable older man began, “You’d be turning the empire into a bureaucracy and the power would just seep out of your hands…” 
“Don’t worry. I still have more plans to counter act that precisely…” I smiled.
            Everyone bunkered down in their seats as I began to spill more radical ideas.
“Sir Galvin…” I began, all eyes turning to him, “You’re taking on the duties as Minister of Defense for this nation…” Not too many people were surprised the nomination. He was previously the head of the King’s Guard before Sir Socoshian snuffed out the deal, “And this is what I want! I want every newly recruited, Official Guard to be permitted in the last eighteen months… to be reassigned as King’s Guard.”
            This was a shock that reverberated across the entire room.
“That would mean,” Sir  Socoshian began, “That a total of three hundred of the seven hundred fifty Official Guard in the city in total would be reassigned…”
“Good you’ve been keeping up with the statistics… Not only that, but I want the process to becoming a King’s Guard to be reformed. It should be considerably more difficult to become a King’s Guardsman over an Official Guardsman. It should be a different recruiting process, and not only that, but I want the King’s Guard and Official Guard to have enrollment open to the masses…” I smiled.
            It was an upset unlike any other.
“What?” Someone asked.
“This would open fraternizing with the poor.” Someone else said.
“This is an outrage…” Another official said.
“SILENCE!” Sir Ruben demanded, everyone falling quiet, looking at the large and intimidating man.
“Moving on,” I smiled, “This nation has imported the vast majority of its crops despite its fertile lands and endless water supply. Over the course of the next few years, I want to build agricultural industry here. We can grow dry crops and farm livestock of our own, of high quality and it becoming an industry all in it’s own… Any volunteers who’d undertake this? This is a job for more than one person so don’t be afraid to work as a team…”
            Of course, Sir Socoshian was the first to raise his hand. A number of others did the same.
“Your Grace,” A younger nobleman, probably the son of a retired Knight, said, “What would this job entail…” 
“It would be the start of a feudalistic system where we allow people with expertise in farming or growing livestock to live in the upper ring as long as they can meet the tax requirements and bring forth reasonable wealth. Comparatively speaking, they’d be taxed around sixty percent less than other citizens of the nation and receive incentives to keep them wanting to stay. They’d be treated quite well, with their own pinch of the King’s Gaurd to help protect them… After all, they’d be an asset to the upper ring so they’d fall under the King’s Gaurdsman’s protection. The nobleman in charge of this would have his own lordship and own council. His power would be completely separate to that of the National Council, the two being unrelated.” I explained.
“What would the significance of this be?” Sir Socoshian asked, quite confused.
“We have two main industries…” I smiled, “The Brothels and drugs… I don’t know how, but they sustain this nation surprisingly well. Maybe it’s the slavery industry as well… But it’s not enough for me! We need another industry to fall back on.”
“The Azberi Ziggurat already has a large agricultural industry.” A nobleman said.
“Well, so will we…” I nodded, “Anyone still willing to volunteer, the incentives for you will be very, very high and will be backed by the Bourgion’s houses wealth… It’s a loan you’d have to pay back over the course of three years though…”
“I’d like to do take this job, your Grace…” The younger nobleman said timidly. Eveyone looked at him as I wrote his name down… Sir Daliman.
“No one else?” I asked. Sir Socoshian raised his hand again, “No one? Okay… Sir Daliman, you’ll hear from someone soon…”
            The meeting continued as I talked about a number of issues. These issues were real issues for this place, issues that no one wanted to deal with. One of the main ones happened to be the council. It was broekn down into four sections: the domestic council, city council, Royal Court council and national council. It was an effort to add unnecessary complexity to the mundane way things were run in the Ziggurat. As the meeting came to an end, I went to my room the tension of meeting breaking as I sat down. I was so relieved!
“I am so done…” I said, “I am so done…”
“My King!” Sir Ruben said, followed by his Lutna clan members, “You’re brilliant! You’ve put much more thought into this than I would have assumed you did! Now it’s our turn! We’re going to make sure your plans are pushed forward with an iron fist…”
“Do you think that there’s a chance that I can undo what Sir Socoshian has been doing? He’s literally letting me undermine everything…” I said, worried.
“I don’t think so and I don’t like it… He’s waiting… It’s why we got to make sure you’re protected… He might get desperate in the meantime…” Sir Ruben said.
            Sir Yole entered the room, the fearsome man bowing before me.
“Do I have permission to begin my investigation? My guards have dispersed to every key area in the palace. Senior Agent Guo also has agents in the lower ring already commencing their investigation.” He said.
“Most certainly!” I nodded, “I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know just how Deep Sir Socoshian’s influences run… And the hardest part of that meeting was breaking down everything he has his hands into.”
“Don’t worry my king,” Knight Dior said, placing a hand on my shoulder, “With your mind, our persistence and the resources of the Free Agents, we will succeed…”
“God, I hope so…” I sighed.     



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