Amidst the bustling hall, Fire King Riner stood with an air of quiet confidence. Though rumors whispered that he had become unhinged, relentlessly hunting larks day and night, he had never posed any threat to the kingdom. Still, people hesitated to associate with him, fearing the unpredictable consequences of involvement.
Yet, Riner paid no heed to their aversion. From the start, he had no desire to fit in with the crowd. He divided people into two groups: those who could meet his gaze on an equal footing and those he deemed beneath him—most humans falling into the latter category.
Originally, he had no intention of attending the party. He had only used his earlier visit to secure an invitation as a pretext. But now, he found himself intrigued by the item he was tasked to deliver.
“They must be searching for it while guarding the city gate,” he mused to himself.
As the dry season approached, travelers eager to journey afar were departing the city. However, tensions grew as more and more people were detained for thorough baggage searches. While such matters wouldn’t normally concern Riner, something about it caught his attention.
More intriguing to Riner than the mysterious object Sang-je sought was the plotting between the Fourth King and Anika Jin against Sang-je himself. As he arrived at the party, a sense of anticipation washed over him.
All the kings have been summoned here, he thought, excitement bubbling within him, surpassing even his obsession with larks.
Scanning the room, Riner approached Myung King, who stood alongside a middle-aged Anika. Although they had just met, Riner addressed him with familiarity, like old friends.
“Hey, Myung King,” Riner called out.
Interrupting his conversation with his mother, Myung King turned his head, looking puzzled at the man with red hair who had called him.
“…Fire King Riner.”
“Care for a card game until the party’s host appears?” Riner suggested, gesturing toward the Stone King, already engrossed in cards at a nearby table.
Myung King frowned. In the past, he might have disregarded or scolded Riner for his impudence. However, today was different; he had brought his once sickly mother along, and he intended to maintain an amicable atmosphere. He was specifically instructed to keep his manners in check to prevent any hostility in his mother’s presence.
“It’s troublesome with my mother here,” Myung King sighed.
“I’ll be fine. Go and socialize, Myung King,” his mother intervened.
“Aren’t you saying you’ll be fine? Let’s play a card game then.”
Myung King looked at the audacious Riner, disbelief evident in his expression. “Why a betting game?”
“I have something I’m curious about, but I feel like you won’t tell me if I just ask.”
“You sound confident that you’ll win.”
Riner shrugged, “I don’t know about the Stone King, but how about you?”
Myung King chuckled at the childish provocation, feeling a surge of competitiveness. He instructed an attendant to take care of his mother and quickly made his way past Riner, heading towards the Stone King.
The current opponent of Stone King Pered in the card game was flustered by Riner’s unexpected intrusion and was promptly chased away from the seat. Riner gathered the cards and threw them onto the center of the table, proposing, “How about a betting game?”
Myung King stood by, looking down at Riner as if he were a madman. Riner had clearly not sought permission from the Stone King beforehand and had abruptly disrupted the ongoing game.
Fortunately, Pered didn’t appear angry. With a nonchalant expression, he shifted his gaze between Myung King and Riner before placing his cards onto the table as well.
“I won’t do it if there’s no bet,” Pered declared.
“Works for me,” replied Riner.
Both of you are strange, thought Myung King as he settled into a chair that was brought over.
Pered skillfully shuffled the cards and asked, “What’s the wager?”
“If I win, I get to ask you a question.”
“I have nothing I’m curious about.”
“Is that so? Well, I’m just curious why the Stone King is here in the first place. As for myself, why do you think I came?”
Pered’s hands briefly paused, but then he continued shuffling the cards, as if agreeing to the terms Riner set. Listening to their conversation, Myung King also grew intrigued.
Looking around, Myung King noticed people had distanced themselves from the table where the three kings sat. Unless they started shouting and causing a scene, it seemed unlikely that their conversation would be overheard.
Whatever unfolds here, I should be cautious about what I listen to.
With a swift motion, Myung King raised his right foot and slammed it down on the floor. A circular, white energy spread out from his foot, giving the appearance of thin ice covering the floor. Those who touched the affected area felt a sharp tingling sensation and quickly pulled away in surprise.
A commotion erupted as some people retreated in fear, while others screamed and ran away. Soon, an empty circular boundary formed around the table where the three kings were seated. Onlookers outside the boundary gazed in astonishment as the three kings continued to play cards, causing an unprecedented scene at someone else’s party.
“What’s going on here?” The perplexed voices murmured among the onlookers.
“If something like this happened at a gathering I hosted, I’d need a few days to recover,” someone muttered.
They criticized the kings for their absurd behavior, though their voices remained hushed. The rumors about the eccentricity of kings were not exaggerated, it seemed. Yet, the three kings paid no mind to the judgmental gazes. Pered tossed the shuffled cards in front of Myung King and Riner.
“Let’s play a simple game that depends on luck,” Pered proposed.
“Fine with me,” Riner agreed.
As Pered had promised, the simple game, requiring no skill but pure luck, quickly determined the winner. A victorious grin spread across Riner’s face as he spoke first.
“There’s no reason to hide my information, so I’ll go first. I made an interesting deal with the Fourth King, and I’m curious about his intentions.”
Riner stared intently at Pered, demanding an answer.