Chapter 20 – The Rose Country

If there was one word Julius could use to describe Hulthemia, the capital city of Rosiava, it was sprawling. Nestled in the center of an old and large caldera, the streets of the city all spread out from a central point at the core of the caldera where an old fort remained, rebuilt over the centuries into a large and heavily reinforced citadel. None of the buildings were tall, but they were definitely numerous. Some were even built on or into the sides of the mountains and natural walls forming the ring of the caldera.

Another interesting thing to note was the rather bright metallic sheen coming from the city. Part of that was due to bronze tiles most of the buildings had set on their roofs, but the main cause was the sheer amount of gleaming metal present throughout the whole city. 

Steel street lamps, silver clocks, huge brass bells and gilded signs; for the ‘Country of Roses’, the citizens of Rosiava really did love their metals.

That wasn’t to say there weren’t any trees around. Plenty of cherry blossoms and rose trees were planted around the city streets, their trunks further decorated with gold to keep them in place, with a lot of plant magic going into them to keep their leaves pink and their flowers blooming all year round.

“ROSIAVA!” And now Douglas was shouting for some reason. Julius turned and blinked as he saw Douglas standing near to the opposite side of the ship with–where the hell did he get a chalkboard?–their students sitting around the deck nearby. “The Nation of Roses, otherwise known as the Rosian Union and the Steel Rose of the West, is the southeasternmost nation within the borders of the Light Lands!” 

Julius walked over to them, frowning. “…Why are you yelling?” 

“Hm?” Douglas paused, glancing towards him. “I’m giving them a history lesson, haven’t you been doing similar?” 

“No.” And then a piece of chalk bounced off his head.

“Should have expected that from you, never were as interested in lore, I’m gonna have to give them lessons later…Anyway! The Rosian Union is rather unique amongst the nations in that there is no one single person in charge, like a queen or king, but rather the nation is governed by a group of five officials, three of whom are descendants of former royal houses that ruled the dominions that eventually united into Rosiava, one of whom is the elected leader of a prominent guild of merchants that rose to said prominence by providing aid in the proto-nation’s time of need, and the final one of whom is whoever is in charge of Rosvord, the mercenary group created by the Rose god.” 

There was a brief silence as everyone processed all of that, until Adrien asked, “Rose god?” 

“Excellent question Adrien! Now, The Rose God, or The Saint as some call her, was the person responsible for uniting Rosiava under one banner around six hundred years ago. Her actions, and subsequent sacrifice against the Demon Lord Rasga, left her to be deified by her followers in a grand form of martyrdom. However, despite this deification, all records of her name are nonexistent. Some say she simply didn’t have one, other offers that the name was erased for some purpose, and still others claim that she never told anyone, so when she retired she could live in peace.” 

“Sounds like that didn’t work out for her,” Sergio said, propping his head up on a hand.

“No, no it didn’t, now, question time! What questions do you have?”

Julius’s students started glancing at each other until Sue raised a hand. “Er, yeah, do we need to worry about any of those ‘factions’?”

“No, I doubt we’ll have any real problems with them, though Julius!”

He blinked. “What?”

“Come up here and name the five factions of Rosiava!”

“…Why?”

“Because you’re supposed to be a teacher too and I want to see how you do.” He smirked. “Unless you don’t think you’re up to it?”

“…See, I know you’re baiting me, but fuck you.” Julius strode across the deck and stopped in front of the chalkboard, staring out at his students. And Syl. Who was technically his student at this moment, so…Well, whatever. “Okay, so…Sue, name one faction in Rosiava.”

Douglas sighed, his voice flat. “Julius, I asked you to-”

Douglas, shut up. I have a method. So, Sue, think real quick. You should know this one.”

She blinked, then frowned, clearly mulling it over in her head. “…Oh! The, uh…the princess’s companion, Princess Lorelei’s, who was named…Gwendoline…Calavi?”

“Close. Kalavicho.” He wrapped a knuckle on the blackboard. “Douglas, mind noting this down?”

“…Huh. I suppose I could, yes.”

As he started writing, Julius took a moment to think things over. He lived in Rosiava for his apprenticeship, so the details were definitely still in his mind… “The Kalavichos are one of the ‘former royals’ of the Rosiavan oligarchy. They’re commonly known as the Red Faction, or the Red Rose, and they…” 

He took a breath, collecting his thoughts. “One thing you need to know is that all of the factions in Rosiava have their own supporters based on the kind of political positions they take in regards to governing. The Kalavichos, as a rule, hold up the principles of forming alliances and undertaking diplomatic relations with their neighbors. They’re considered less aggressive when compared to the other ‘royal’ factions, and this really shines with that diplomacy thing. A lot of their family has intermarried with the Lucene, Tramontavan and even Gorokivan royal families, even before becoming a part of Rosiava, and the youngest daughter of the current generation, Gwendoline, is currently living in Luceneva as a companion to the youngest princess of the Lucenes, like Sue said.

“Overall, they won’t have any reason to cause us trouble, and will actually be more likely to help us out to maintain good relations with everyone. Now, Sergio, do you know the merchant faction of Rosiava?”

He straightened slightly at being addressed and answered easily. “It’d be the Bulintos, right? They run the biggest conglomerate in this region.”

“Exactly. Like Douglas said, the merchant faction of Rosiava, otherwise known as the Gold Faction or the Gold Rose, are a non-royal faction. None of the families involved have run a dominion, and I doubt any of them want to. Like the Kalavichos, they also tend to be open for outside alliances and such, albeit on a more professional, on-paper only scale. Economic advantages are their only real interest, so they push for anything that can increase their businesses.

“They’re also the number one supplier of various ores and metals, since the Hulthemian Caldera has several natural deposits and they own a good chunk of the mines around the country. The only ones they don’t fall under the other factions’ control in some way or another, and even then they’ve tried securing access to them in some way or another for years. Sergio, follow-up, what else do they export?”

“…Well, aside from the things they import from their coastal towns or from farms around the country, the main things the Bulintos sell are weapons and armor. They sponsor blacksmiths and give them cuts of the profits to keep them loyal, while providing protection from more predatory merchant guilds.” Sergio tapped a finger against his knee, tilting his head back in thought. “They’re plenty nice to people who produce things for them, like crafters or farmers, but ruthless when it comes to others trying to muscle in on their territory. If you’re foreign and willing to buy and sell their stuff for them, great. If you try going for their crafters though, they’d scalp you in a heartbeat.”

“…L-Literally?” Sophia asked.

“Probably. I don’t think I’d ever buy leather from them, if you know what I mean.”

“Possibly murderous business practices aside,” Julius said, trying to keep things on track, “I think we should probably note that the Gold Faction claims to elect their leaders, like Douglas mentioned, but it’s pretty well known that the Bulinto Family has been running them for almost five hundred years now. Call it inertia or call it corruption, but they’re pretty solidly in power there. Overall, the Golds also won’t be a huge problem for us, unless they think they can profit from something we’re doing.”

“Like having us steal a dungeon core?”

“…So, Maria, since you feel like chiming in, why don’t you tell me about one of the remaining three factions?” He held up a finger. “Actually, let’s say two. No talking about the Rosvords.”

“Ah…uhhhh…” Maria frowned and crossed her arms over her chest, closing her eyes and leaning forward as she tried to think. “I think…mom mentioned having to deal with the Dahsins? Something from when she was younger.” 

Julius sighed and muttered, “Of course she did. Well, the Dahsins are, in fact, one of the factions of Rosiava, the Green Rose. Like the other two we’ve mentioned, they also want to broaden their expansion, but, rather than through alliances or treaties, they just wish to take territory and add to their land. They tend to do it by dredging up or forging claims on specific plots of land, and then using that as justification to seize it, and they’ve only been getting more bold over the years. Their main target at the moment is Naloriva to the north, since it still doesn’t have any central power figure in charge. No central power, no real chance the city-states will unite to drive them off.” 

“Oh, didn’t Galinori mention that when we saw her? Something about Rosiava trying to take the border?” 

“Yes! The Dahsins are known for their expansionism, and, as such, view the lordless Naloriva to be easy pickings, even if none of the remaining nobles there wish to give them their land,” Douglas chimed in as he made a basic drawing on the right side of the board. The left half was already pretty close to being halfway filled with everything Julius had been explaining. “Of course, the Dahsins insist it’s for the best, given the natural weaknesses their neighbors to the north face with the various openings in the Ebkai mountain passes that grant the Dark Land’s armies access!” 

“…Yeah, so, the Dahsins are expansionist, and might become a problem for Luceneva at some point, but we probably won’t have to worry too much about them. They’re not exactly against foreign visitors or anything, just interested in taking their land.”

“So don’t sign any odd contracts, kids!”

“Exactly.” Julius nodded to Douglas, then clapped his hands together. “So, Mask, Sophia, neither of you really have any reason to know who the last, unmentioned faction is, but if you have any guesses as we’re landing, feel free to speak up.”

“We’re landing?” Mask asked, actually extending their neck slightly so they could look around at the mountains the Finja was touching down by while Sophia shifted nervously, trying to think.

“U-Um…a blue faction?”

Julius blinked. “Huh. Close, actually. The ‘Violet Rose’ does use some dark blues in their symbols, so you were on the right track. The Viokas are kinda the standouts in that, not only do they use a violet for their faction symbol, but they also have no interest in the lands outside their borders. What they want is for Rosiava to stick to itself, no matter what.” 

“That also includes wanting all lands outside to remain outside,” interjected Douglas as he put the finishing flourishes on his board, “Given Rosiava’s large amount of natural resources, the Vioka family seems to believe they don’t need any help from outside Rosiava. Their opinions have varied over the years, but they mostly tend to oscillate between hardline isolationism and simply calling for higher immigration restrictions. They’re rather xenophobic, and some of them firmly believe they can withstand any attack from the Dark Lands and, as such, have no need to ally themselves with other lightlanders if a war breaks out.” 

“…That’s dumb.” Standing up as the ship began to settle, Adrien stretched his arms over his head, working the stiffness out of his body. ”Even if they don’t go down immediately, wouldn’t they have to worry about an attack from all sides if the other countries fall?” 

“Not to mention what Valondrac said she’d do…” Julius muttered.

“Hm? What happened?” Douglas asked-wait where did the board go? 

“Ah…right, we didn’t tell you. Hm. I’ll explain later.” Turning to the door to the hull, Julius waved them off. “I’m gonna go get my things, be back up soon.” 

Left to his thoughts as he went under, Julius couldn’t help but remember what happened several nights ago. Really a part of him had been joking when he said to “make it a date”, but when he remembered Claire’s face, he couldn’t help but feel his heart skip a beat. His feelings might not actually be anything besides lust, like the Butcher said, but he couldn’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if he met her in a time where they weren’t on the verge of war.

He sighed as he picked up the box with his shattered sword inside. It would take some time to really repair it. He definitely needed to add some improvements to the steel while he was at it. Something to keep it from breaking again-…

Julius placed the box back down, then walked over to the avarician’s saber. They’d wrapped it up in a cloth for the journey, and no one had any reason to use it yet, but…He undid the cloth, and held up the sword by its hilt, staring at its blade. It thrummed with energy.

He’d felt lightning-steel before. Many metals conducted electricity easily, and that particular alloy was made with an ore that naturally generated it. The saber felt nothing like that steel.

It was like a difference in percussion. Lightning-steel had a fast, chiming feel to it, like it was eager and wanted to move. It shaped easily and held well when properly set.

The saber was more like a low, steady droning, mixed with a drum that wanted to go faster but had to hold to the tempo. Its eagerness was restrained but not molded, like trying to bind water with chains instead of a vase. Some clung in place, but most of it flowed outward and it wanted so desperately to soak into something. Its lack of use just compounded that desperation. If they left it long enough…could it have taken over one of his students?

He swung it outward and heard a joyful crackle, a desire for more, an agonizing want to face another and rip everything they had from them. A duel to claim it all. He pulled it back, and placed a hand on the blade.

“Do you want to stay like this?” he murmured, staring at the blade. It didn’t care. It did care. It wanted to keep its form but in the loose sense that it was its and it wanted what belonged to it. 

“I could use your steel for my sword” wasn’t the right thing to say. He knew that with a firm certainty, the steel inside him. “I want you to be my blade” wasn’t it either.

Julius took a breath. “You are mine, and we will become great.”

The blade sparked, shocked. And then all that eagerness came rushing forward, a sudden recognition of ownership. A blade was a tool, and a tool was not a person. They had different mentalities, and even a blade forged from want for wealth would gleefully bow to one who sought its use.

He placed the blade in his belt by his dirk, felt it hum against his thigh, and let out that breath he took. 

“…So that happened,” he muttered to himself, before going over and picking up his box again. Demon swords were weird, but that could work to his advantage in the reforging process. The saber was even eager for it. In its ‘sword brain’, it essentially interpreted the whole thing as less ‘being destroyed and used to repair something’ and more ‘getting fused with another sword to become better’. Swords were weird like that. He knew, he made a lot of them.

Still, that probably fulfilled his ‘weirdness’ quota for the day. Maybe the universe would cut him a break and let this league of their journey go smoothly.

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