“Hmm…” Akil mused, his fingers lightly drumming against his chin. An air of contemplation surrounded him, catching Sang-je’s attention. Sensing an intriguing undercurrent, Sang-je couldn’t help but inquire, “King Akil, have you stumbled upon any tales, no matter how fanciful they may seem? Even if they defy belief, I’m eager to hear.”
Akil’s response took a slight turn, “The consortium of merchants back in my homeland wishes to extend a message to Your Holiness.”
A hint of irony danced at the corners of Sang-je’s lips. The ceaseless line of those desiring an audience with him was endless. Given that Sang-je dedicated his time primarily to engaging with the Holy City’s inhabitants, the chances of foreign visitors from Akil’s realm securing an audience were close to nil. Nonetheless, Sang-je affirmed, “It is my solemn duty to disseminate faith to those devout souls aligned with the divine will.”
Summoning a priest promptly, Sang-je requested the roster of individuals seeking an audience, right there in Akil’s presence. After the priest departed, Akil interjected as if a thought had just surfaced, “By the way, though it might not hold direct relevance, some time ago, upon the Fourth King’s request, we granted him a rather exceptional pass. A pass that exempted him from inspections.”
“A pass?” Sang-je’s eyebrows arched with intrigue, his curiosity piqued by this revelation. “You provided the Fourth King with such a privilege, for what?”
Akil’s lips curved into a wry smile. “I shared an extensive discourse with the Fourth King.”
In those words, there lingered an unspoken implication: Akil had also conducted dealings with the Fourth King, just as he had with Sang-je.
“Did the Fourth King provide any insight into why he required the pass?” Sang-je inquired.
“I can’t say. I didn’t ask.”
The ambiguity in his demeanor left room for speculation: was this a genuine lack of knowledge or a deliberate withholding of information? However, Sang-je deduced that further probing wouldn’t yield any more clarity.
“…King Akil, your aid has proven invaluable,” Sang-je acknowledged.
Akil brushed off the praise with a casual wave. “No need for flattery. Well then, I shall take my leave. May the eternal blessings of Mahar accompany us.”
A sly grin curled on Akil’s lips as he exited the grandeur of the Holy City’s Palace. His thoughts retraced to a recent exchange, replaying the moment when he had handed over the pass to the Fourth King.
“Fourth King, what price are you prepared to pay in exchange for this pass?” Akil had posed the question.
“Name your desire,” came the swift response.
“I’ve been pondering over the necessity for you to move discreetly using this pass, avoiding prying eyes. Whose gaze are you fleeing?” Akil had questioned, the words carrying an unspoken weight. Without uttering Sang-je’s name explicitly, their gazes had held a silent conversation, conveying volumes.
“Are you turning your back on the Holy City’s Palace?”
“I’m yet undecided. But should circumstances demand the use of this pass, the decision will be irrevocable.”
“Irrevocable,” Akil had echoed. “To what extent are you willing to go?”
“In return for further assistance, I shall ensure the Concord King’s aspirations find fruition.”
On that day, a new pact had been sealed alongside the pass’s exchange. Today’s meeting between Akil and Sang-je to exchange insights regarding the pass traced back to that clandestine transaction. Akil sensed an intention to disrupt Sang-je’s information network, yet the entirety of the Fourth King’s intricate scheme remained beyond his grasp.
“What I desire…” Akil’s voice hung in the air, chilled and resolute as he ascended the carriage steps. To get rid of those trash, his thoughts whispered, a frosty determination crystallizing in his gaze.
The Delano Kingdom stood as a bastion of Mara’s faithful, its numbers surpassing those of neighboring realms. Even the distant Hashi Kingdom boasted a few adherents, though its remoteness hindered effective recruitment within the Holy City’s domain.
Proximity gifted the Delano Kingdom a strategic significance, the devout of Mara establishing a pivotal stronghold. Hence, knights combed the kingdom’s expanse, aiming to seize these perceived heretics. Yet, it was the self-styled Inquisitors, those audacious figures draped in ostentatious titles, who vexed Akil’s thoughts.
Inquisitors? Those lunatics are bloodthirsty murderers.
Within the annals of the Delano Kingdom, a haunting history lingered, painted in the blood of a remote village’s merciless slaughter. The extent of such concealed atrocities remained veiled, but Akil suspected the Inquisitors bore responsibility. Almost certain, he was. These agents of death reveled in their gruesome pursuits, wrapping sinners’ punishment in a veneer of righteousness. Within their own realm, amid their own brethren, they orchestrated such horrors.
A gruesome resolve formed within him. Initially, the thought of consulting Sang-je surfaced, but Akil could hardly believe Sang-je was ignorant of the Inquisitors’ identities. This complacency, Sang-je’s audacity in allowing their deeds, ignited Akil’s resentment. Disgust festered at the hypocritical nature of one who proclaimed as God’s representative yet disregarded human life so flagrantly.
Thus, a decision solidified: to strip Sang-je’s veneer bare, to rain retribution upon the Inquisitors who had heartlessly butchered his innocent subjects. Driven by an inscrutable urge, he was prepared to oppose Sang-je, even if it meant joining hands with those who stood against him.
When the knights unearthed the trail indicating Sven’s exit from the city and subsequent entry into the Delano Kingdom, it had been approximately two days since Eugene’s inexplicable disappearance. Over this span, Eugene and Kasser had pressed forward, spanning a considerable expanse in their relentless journey.
Upon their kingdom-crossing ingress, Kasser had orchestrated a modest carriage, its lone steed steering them onward. Eugene was perched atop, while Kasser assumed the reins. By day, they charted paths less traveled, evading populous routes, ensuring their visages escaped onlookers’ memory. As the sun dipped, they sought refuge in towns that provided shelter.
The course unfolded seamlessly. Sans noteworthy events, ten days rolled by. The pass that Kasser held proved invaluable, a conduit that unbarred passage without obstacle at every juncture.
“Order endures,” Kasser contemplated, surprise alighting his thoughts. While charting a path along the Dicus border, he had harbored private misgivings. With the Concord King preoccupied, apprehensions swirled regarding the realm’s stability, casting a shadow on the efficacy of their sanctioned pass.
However, even the tiniest village they entered cast scrutinizing glances upon the pass alone. This revelation underscored the resounding influence wielded by official documentation in even the most secluded corners.
Noontime saw Kasser halt their passage. Cracking open the carriage door, his gaze fell upon Eugene, who had slumped against the carriage’s side, lost in slumber. Pity etched his features.
Eugene had claimed an unyielding facade, yet her appearance belied exhaustion. The rough, less-treaded paths exacted their toll, inflicting strains on their arduous odyssey. Amid the carriage’s ceaseless sway, weariness seeped into every pore.