Chapter 25 – Allies and Enemies

So after Sue wound up smashing their prisoner through a wall, Julius, his students, and their ‘guests’ were politely, but firmly, asked to leave the inn they’d rented by the innkeeper. So that sucked.

Luckily, for a given value of luck, the Viokas decided to play host for them at their ‘gubernatorial manor’, which was basically a fancy way of saying their family’s own huge house in the city. Apparently all the royals got one. The Bulintos also had a place, but that one was called their ‘branch location’, for some reason.

The manor was smaller than that huge, fancy palace the Vioka’s had back in Adunca–their home region–but it had a big courtyard. More like a park, really, and apparently the Viokas had it open to the public. So while the kids went with Tarin and Fredo to get Leicester secured back at the Finja–because while there was no way in hell that Julius was going to trust these royal pricks with holding onto a darklander general, Dario was enough of a prick to insist that his grandson and great-nephew keep following around his students–the adults were busy with Julius’s least favorite thing in the world: Politics.

Dario chuckled lowly, grinning at Julius and Douglas from across the square table he had set up under some flowery canopy. “We’ve all found ourselves in quite the interesting position today, haven’t we, gentlemen?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna cut you off there,” Julius immediately spoke up before Douglas could, “You want revenge on Douglas because he got your father arrested, destroyed your house, and Cyrus had sex with your daughter, hi again Sova-” Sova, sitting in one of the metal chairs nearby, her sleeved tail curled around her waist, and currently knitting what Julius was pretty sure was a sweater–he should teach the kids how to sew one of these days–raised a hand in acknowledgment with a small smile. “-while Douglas doesn’t want to die and also doesn’t like any of you Viokas because you either ignore or actively despise anyone outside your family, again, sorry Sova.”

She shrugged. “No, I’d say that’s rather accurate. Even I don’t particularly care about random lowborn foreigners beyond acknowledging they exist as some faceless mass. Away from me, preferably.”

“Then thank you for proving my point.”

“No trouble.”

Julius pointed to Dario. “Now, you think you have something on us because we had a demon general in our inn room. Not only do you not, but what you actually have is something on your rival royals.”

“We prefer governors, and explain,” Dario…he would say requested because if this asshole made demands of him, Julius was going to slam his face into the table. 

“I don’t care, you’re royals, and who’s in charge of security in Hulthemia?”

“…Technically, the city guards are supposed to be a separate, non-politically influenced entity.”

“We call them the White Roses,” Sova helpfully supplied.

“And in practice they’re all taking bribes from whoever,” Julius bluntly stated. “But what I meant is, who would people most blame if they found out an enemy general snuck into the city without anyone ever noticing?”

“…That would be the Rosvords.” And now he was looking thoughtful.

“So who fucked up? And what fuck up can you hold over them?”

“I see your point, but-”

“Also, you’re not killing Douglas, because I have leverage on you.”

“Excuse you?”

“Would you like to meet your other half-grandkids?”

Dario stared at him, his eyes wide. “…What?”

“You were happy enough to meet Maria, right? So Douglas and I can give you a list of every kid Cyrus has, that we know about, and you can get into contact with them. Plus, we can track down Cyrus and make him give you a complete list.” They were going to do that anyways, but no reason to tell Dario that.

The old elf in question mulled that over, a deep frown on his face. “…I would say that cover two-thirds of our debt.”

Julius glared at him. “And what the fuck does that mean?”

“You seem intent on solving whatever issues we have. Well, I have three issues with Yew. Well, I have many issues with Yew, but three of them are certainly more important to me than the others, so the question is, how will you resolve the last one?”

“…To be clear, you mean me, not Douglas?”

“Yes, you, not Yew.”

“Me.”

Yes, you, Goldforge, not you, Yew, y…wait.” Douglas was grinning. 

“Okay, back on topic, let’s say the three things you’re pissed about are the arrest, the house destruction, and the pregnancy.”

“Less so the pregnancy and more so the seduction of my daughter.”

“I really didn’t mind it.”

Dario didn’t turn around. “That’s great sweetie, but also I’ve been holding this grudge for around twenty-five years and I am not good at letting go.”

“Fair.”

“SO,” Julius said, really hoping they could stay on topic, “Let’s say the grandkids fix the seduction one and the edge over your rivals solves…I dunno, the dad thing.”

Dario frowned. “I don’t quite think a small amount of political leverage makes up for my father’s imprisonment.”

“Then for the house thing.”

He pursed his lips, then slowly nodded. “Fine. Leverage as recompense for the manor thing is acceptable.”

“Julius, not to throw off your groove, but why don’t you just threaten to withhold the grandchildren thing if he’s refusing to back down?” Douglas asked, apparently not caring that Dario could easily hear him.

“Because Goldforge knows that I can find my suddenly extended family on my own, idiot. His offer provides a convenient expedient, but one I don’t necessarily need.” For once, Julius was actually thankful to a jackass noble. He was having another weird day. Kind of an average day, really, considering his recent life. “So, what can make up for the life of my father?”

“Probably nothing.” Julius shrugged. “I don’t have parents, but I don’t think I’d ever forgive someone if they threw my sisters in a prison for life. You Viokas are also kinda crazy when it comes to family stuff. Not creepy crazy, just incredibly selfish and protective.”

“So that’s all then? You offer me nothing?”

Julius shrugged again. “I’d like for us to be even, but I can’t let you kill Douglas. But also, killing him satisfied your grudge for all three of those problems, right? So one grudge shouldn’t be worth his death.”

Dario’s eyes narrowed. “…You are an interesting negotiator, Goldforge.”

“Thanks. Learned from watching a crime lord. Also my older sister.”

He smiled, his eyes still narrowed. “Family is quite important. Losing it can be devastating.” His lips quirked upward. “So, Yew, who will you lo-”

“Finish that sentence and not only are we done, I’m taking three fucking fingers from your hand, asshole.”

Dario blinked. “I…um…hm. You…are very blunt about your lust for violence.”

It wasn’t a lust, jackass. Still, could use it, so Julius just shrugged again. “Crime lord.”

“…” Dario shifted slightly in his seat while Sova watched them both carefully, an eyebrow raised, her tail uncurled and lifted in what Julius was pretty sure was aggression. Those needles would be a problem if this came down to a fight, and the ‘attendants’ around the park would definitely jump in on the Vioka’s side. “…I…Well, I was going to offer more of a, well, fosterage. That…You do have a lot of students. So…I could help? With…that.”

“How’s that benefit you?”

“Well I…er…” Dario shifted again. “Given that Maria is part of my family, albeit indirectly, I wish to help her grow accustomed to our ways. So, if she were to stay here, I would be willing to let go of my grudge.” 

“…You’re asking me to leave one of my students, who’s a rather gifted mage in her own right and has helped plenty in our fight against demonic forces, here in Rosiava just so you can teach her about Vioka traditions?” 

“Of course! For her to be related to us and not know our ways is tantamount to blasphemy!” 

“I… that’s not…” Julius sighed and dragged a hand down his face. “Look, even if I did agree, which I’m not, it all depends on if Maria herself says yes. I assume you’re a decent enough person to let her choose?” 

“Hmph! Of course I shall, but I’m certain she’ll choose correctly.” Smug in his own assurance, Dario gestured to an attendant. The attendant, dressed in a purple valet uniform, walked over and set down some paper and a quill. “Now, if you would write down the names and locations of the children you know, we’ll be off to a great start.” 

“Fine. No promises that they’ll want to go with you when you look for them.” Julius grabbed the quill and started writing. The next few minutes were filled with him and Douglas going over how many of the kids they each knew for sure that Cyrus had. It was a damn long list, and Dario blinked in obvious surprise when they finally handed it to him.

“…Ye gads. I knew humans were more fertile, but…gods, this is more than that Lucene king…”

“So are we good?”

“…Well…yes, I suppose I can let go of my grudge in this regard.” Still staring at the list, Dario extended a hand towards them. “I hope our future endeavors will be…really? With a scylla…Do they even have-”

“You’re very welcome!” Douglas grinned and grabbed Dario’s hand, firmly shaking it and jolting the royal’s arm up and down. “I’m so glad we could put all of this behind us, and I really hope we don’t ever have to deal with you or the rest of your family trying to cause problems again!” 

“Yes, yes, good, please let go now.” Dario was still looking at the list as he yanked his hand out of Douglas’s grip. He stood up, still staring at it. “Er, please, enjoy your further time in Rosiava. Do try not to get in an honor duel with Dahsin.”

Julius snorted. “Yeah, I’ll try to avoid that.”

“I’m serious. That would be bad. Sova, tell them, I need to talk to our spies.” He paused, finally looking up at Julius and Douglas. “You didn’t hear that. We don’t have spies.”

“…Sure.” Julius watched the old elf leave, then glanced at Sova. “So what’s wrong with dueling Dahsin? He’s a pompous ass.”

“Oh, certainly. He’s also an effective one.” Sova smiled as she continued with her knitting. “To tell a long story quickly, Evrard’s uncle, Alphonse, was the previous head of the family. He claimed the position after Evrard’s mother, Jeanne-Marie, died of illness and his nephew’s rising influence drove the paranoid fool to hire the Black Rose to settle accounts. Evrard got to him first though.”

Julius frowned. “So he hired the assassins out from under their boss?” 

“Oh not at all. He gutted his uncle with a rapier.” What. “He has been using his family’s connections with those dour flowers to eliminate any dissent in his faction though.”

“Oh, so he’s a worse version of you people,” Douglas muttered, already looking off further into the park.

“I don’t particularly appreciate the comparison, but I will agree Evrard Duluc Dahsin is a very unpleasant man. Do be careful while you remain in Rosiava. The man’s roots are long and he has a horrible tendency to hold grudges worse than my father.” She chuckled a little fondly. “As you may have noticed, my father cares too much for his family and bends too easily when it comes to true violence.” Her smile immediately dropped. “Dahsin has no such compunctions.”

“…Hm. Thanks for the advice.” Julius considered something. “…Did he ever kill a Vioka?”

“Fortunately, no.” She resumed her knitting. “Fortunately for all of us, to be precise. Dahsin has been smart enough to avoid directly harming the family members of his fellow governors, though there have been deaths among those inconvenient to him that are simply affiliated, not protected. He knows his boundaries, you see, and he acts within them. Similar actions are taken among a number of the nobility and the more criminal elements of our society.”

Sova chuckled under her breath. “The Black Rose drinks deep from the blood of its siblings…”

“…It’s really weird to hear you say things like that when the Shells are just a bunch of dumbass  thugs back home.”

She blinked and looked up at him. “Hm?”

“The Black Shells,” Julius explained, “They have an office in Orindaco. They’re a lot less effective though since they have about six other mercenary guilds hanging around. Though that’s more all of them keeping each other in check.”

A little giggle slipped from her lips. “The Black Rose and the Black Shells aren’t the same organization, Ser Goldforge. They may both have ‘black’ in their names, but I assure you, they’re quite different.”

“…” He just stared at her.

She stared back at him, still smiling, if a little confused. Then his words visibly started to sink in and her smile very slowly drooped. “……You cannot be serious.”

“…”

“…I…really? The Black Shell mercenary company…and the Black Rose…They cover the assassin’s guild by being a mercenary company?”

He nodded.

“They cover being hired murderers by being hired murderers.”

He nodded.

Her ears actually drooped. “…But that’s so stupid…”

He shrugged. “Seems to be working so far.”

“…” Sova slowly set down her sewing set. “…I have people to speak with. I assume you can find your way out?”

“Eh. I can just ask one of these attendants if I can’t, right?”

“That is what they are there for, yes. It was interesting speaking with you both, Ser Goldforge, Mister…Where did Yew go?”

“I’m still here.”

“No the-…” She squinted at him, then silently walked right past him and out of the little garden area.

“Heh.” Now, where the hell did Douglas go? Smartest plan was probably checking back at the ship, so off he went.

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