132. Undecided (2)
Tom was at his desk, buried underneath a bundle of papers that covered him and cascaded onto the floor. He began to lift his head, then reflexively reached for his neck. It was stiff.
Dizzy, his body heavy as a wet sponge, he looked about the desk, blinking several times to get the cobwebs out of his vision.
“Must’ve dozed off.”
The documents filled up the room, depicting details about territories in the Holy kingdom. Between the Demon Kingdom, the Lome Kingdom, The Aylans Kingdom, and the others, only the most reliable information had been collected and sorted out.
Finding precise information was a challenge: once a territory fell into conflict, no one had a clear picture of what enemy troops, or how their movements were subject to change. There was only one understood reality: the situation was hopeless.
The people in the Holy Kingdom’s territory had no champion for them to turn to. Between overtaxation, the collection of ‘donations’, the violence from the black priests, the Golden Cross Army’s maintenance, et cetera, they could only feel the desperation underneath Salem’s tyranny, who even now trampled on the faith that raised him and had governed the nation for so long.
‘But desperation can be a source of strength,’ Tom thought. He took a deep, long stretch. He needed to return to the preparations for his next plan.
“I wonder if Lulu can make some tea. Actually, weren’t there supposed to be ambassadors coming in from Lome and Alyans? I wonder who they sent?”
He went to the office doorway. Tom had no sooner grasped it when it flew open and two familiar faces stood before him.
One was an older man with an angular face and a stunning white beard, the hair atop of his head, by contrast, sported fewer white hairs among brown locks. His barrel-chest was fitted with leather, and he smirked directly at Tom. Behind this man was a woman with purple hair in a black robe. She too had her eyes on Tom. Tom nearly stepped back unconsciously after seeing the two people.
The old man, who clearly took notice of Tom’s reaction, spoke first.
“This a bad time?”
He grinned. Tom looked about and found Lulu beneath the man’s large shadow, greeting Tom with a lowered head.
“Apostle Tom, I present to you Oscal Raffenrose, ambassador of the Lome Kingdom, and Akareal Morgana, ambassador of the Aylans Kingdom. They insisted on meeting you, and so I brought them here.”
Lulu was visibly worried by this development. Tom had no doubt that such an unplanned visit went against Lulu’s instincts, and Lulu’s attention to detail likely meant he picked up on Tom’s surprise, and easily construed panic.
“Not merely ambassadors,” Tom said. “Are you two not the Lome Kingdom’s guardian and Aylans Kingdom’s queen?” He gave a bow while trying to maintain his expression. “I was under the impression that we would be accepting some of your dignitaries, and that it would be tomorrow. You arrived quite sooner than expected, and we didn’t think it would be yourselves at all!”
Inwardly, Tom groaned. ‘Why did they have to come?’
The Lome Kingdom was still unstable from its recent conflict with the Demon Kingdom, and nobles and senators alike had received threats from Pygni—not that they had acknowledged them. The last thing Tom saw coming was Oscal leaving Pygni’s side to arrive here, leaving open the door to revolt back in his home country.
Akareal was a surprise to Tom as well. Travel could compromise her pregnancy; King Paulie’s absence in accompanying her, let alone consenting to her coming all the way here, stood contrary to Tom’s assumption that he would protect his wife until at least the end of the war. Instead, here she stood with Oscal, in another kingdom.
‘What are Pygni and Paulie thinking?‘
“How may I be of service?” he asked. In truth, he had an idea: they wanted to answer his questions in person.
“Why, we came to see you!” Oscal brazenly shoved a finger at Tom while glaring at him. It was a clear faux pas and unquestionably rude to do another country’s dignitary. “You had me on the ropes, on the verge of death.”
Tom glanced back at his office before turning back to Oscal and Akareal.
“Forgive me. My office is in no state to accept you. Lulu, if you would be so kind as to take them to the VIP room.”
Lulu bowed and Oscal strode past Tom and into the room, brushing off documents on to the ground and crossing his arms.
“Apostle Tom, I apologize for this gorilla’s behavior.” Akareal blurted out.
“Who’s the gorilla?” Oscal barked.
“He was essentially raised by wolves and bruises easily.”
‘Bruises easily? Since when?’
Akareal ignored Oscal, keeping her gaze on Tom. Tom felt the pressure of her stare and caved.
“Please, come in.”
They were still guests, after all, and couldn’t exactly be left to their own devices. Akareal bowed respectfully and entered. She went to Oscal’s side and whacked the back of his head.
“Forgive me, Apostle Tom,” Lulu whispered timidly. “I’ve put you in quite the situation.”
Tom gave Lulu’s head a stroke.
“It’s quite alright. I’ve business with these two anyhow. Since it looks like I’ll be dealing with them sooner rather than later, I could use an excuse…”
Lulu’s ears perked up and he looked at Tom quizzically.
“Nevermind; would you perhaps brew me some tea? I’m in need of refreshment, and your tea is always the best.”
“Oh, why certainly!” Lulu nodded enthusiastically.
After he left the room, Tom turned to Akareal and Oscal.
‘Now what am I gonna do?’
Lulu left Tom’s office and strode down the hallway. Further down were two people: A girl in a black uniform with a pitch-black hair and eyes and a skin with the opposite color, Ellin, and a werewolf with silver mane and fur in light armor with a spear in his hand, Wolf.
“How are your wounds?” Ellin turned to Wolf. “Feeling better?”
Wolf puffed out his chest and gave a small jab at its core with a long sharp nail.
“I’m fine. The Hero’s blow still stings sometimes, but more importantly: my precious mane was singed.”
“The reports got that detail wrong: I had my clan with me, and I was only fulfilling my duty to protect her, as a Demon.”
“So gentlemanly!” Ellin smiled.
At that moment, Lulu greeted them both with a bow.
“Miss Ellin, Wolf.”
“Where are you off too, Lulu?” Ellin asked. Wolf gave a short wave.
“The kitchen. I’m to brew some tea for the guests from Lome and Alyans Kingdoms.”
“They came today? I thought they were due tomorrow!”
“You’re not the only one. They seemed to have made haste in their travels, in part to see Mr. Tom.”
“Tom?” Ellin asked, placing a finger atop her chin thoughtfully. “Why?”
“Not sure, but the ambassadors insisted on seeing him.”
“Who are they?”
“Lome Kingdom’s guardian, Oscal and Aylans Kingdom’s queen, Akareal.”
Ellin’s face lit up upon hearing Akareal’s name.
“Miss Akareal is here? What of her child?”
‘You fool, that’s not common knowledge!’
Very few people, even in the Demon Kingdom, were aware of Akareal’s pregnancy. This was by request of King Paulie.
Lulu tilted his head, and Ellin waved her hand.
“Nevermind, I was confused. How is she? Where is she now?”
“Apostle Tom’s office…like I said.”
“You do know you aren’t to interrupt them?”
Lulu squinted, looking at Ellin uneasily.
“A meeting between emissaries of nations is not a trifling matter. If Miss Ellin were to intervene–”
“That’s Apostle to you.”
Ellin Yanked for Lulu’s rabbit ears. When she had let go, Lulu nursed them gingerly.
“T-that may be true, but—”
“I will not impede on their conversation, especially on diplomatic matters. But there is no rule against listening from the outside, is there?”
“Th-there is not.”
“Good.” Ellin turned back to Wolf. “Let’s go.”
Wolf looked at her in astonishment.
“I can’t very well go by myself, now can I? What if something happens?”
Wolf remembered the last time Ellin met Akareal and nodded.
— Ω —