Interlude 16 – Important Negotiations

Caius Vocula was having a very bad week. At least, he was fairly certain it had just been a week. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he was somewhat worried it had been far longer and he simply didn’t know, in large part because the damned lunatics holding him hostage had been keeping him in and out of consciousness for what had to be days.

Really, it was that damned demonic magic that made him incoherent even when he awoke that made it so difficult for him to do anything. At least he wasn’t being kept in a sack any longer, even if he did merely exchange one prison for another, albeit a well-furnished one. 

And, of course, the corrupt “heroes” had a dragon on their side. Those damned beasts always lent their aid to evil, and Arancoda was no different than the rest. Were it not for the fact that he was so mystically restrained here, Caius would have summoned the cardinals to lay waste to the vile bastards and their ridiculous mountainous city.

Kicking over a chair in his frustration, Caius sat down on the bed he was provided, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling to himself. And right as he did, the door opened; one of his meals was being delivered to him right on cue. 

“Leave the plate and go.” 

“Oh? And just why should I listen to you?” 

Stiffening, he turned around and found the smirking face of the Dragon Lord Arancoda peering down at him from the doorway. Making her way in, the dragon leaned against the wall beside his bed as she stared down at him, copying his pose with her arms crossed. 

“Here I am, letting you stay in my domain free of charge, and you’re demanding more from me? You high elves sure do think highly of yourselves. Must be where the name comes from~.”

“…Hmph. As if someone like you could understand the importance of someone like me. If all you came to do was taunt me, then leave.” 

“Again, my domain, my lordship, my seat of power; I don’t have to listen to you. Especially when I come to make a deal with you.” 

His eyes narrowed in a glare. “Begging for my forgiveness is useless.” 

“Ha! No chips in your hand and you still think you’re in charge. If I had any type of respect for you, I’d start to like you.” 

“Then what is it you want?” 

“Easy. All I want is for you to say the heroes were the ones who rescued you.” Feeling his eyes widen at her words, Caius immediately stood to glare at her. 

“Do you truly believe that I would be weak enough to bow to such an idiotic demand? You must truly be a fool to ask that of me.” 

“…Sit down.” Caius felt his legs tremble. Hm. His heart outright stopped as he tried to keep his ground against her. For only a moment, thankfully. 

“…” Lucere protect him, her eyes nearly burned as she glared back.

“…” After a few more seconds, Arancoda snorted, smoke pouring from her nostrils as she cracked a smirk. “Stubborn. I can respect that. Now then, as I was saying.” She walked past him, then sat on his bed, smirking. She was still at eye level with him, easily. “Claim it was a third party who kidnapped you and the two dumbasses eating my food from your fancy shmancy Temple, and that it was those same dumbasses, and yours truly, who rescued you from your dire straits.

“…”

Her grin widened at his silence. “If you’re wondering why, it’s easy. I really don’t give any shits about what Yew and Vlahos have cooked up, I just wanna eat from their pot.”

“…And what are you ‘eating’, in that case?” 

“Naloriva certainly has some bad problems, doesn’t it?” Not waiting for him to answer, she stood again, smirking down at him. “Problems that could be solved by a strong ruler protecting them, no~?” 

“…” Power then. Hm…Dragons were known for their greed…he could use this…

“So, with you preaching the grand tale of how I, and, to a lesser extent, the morons, rescued you from the dastardly clutches of some fearsome enemy, it’s only natural that you’d vouch for me as the new Queen of Naloriva. Well, Lord or Queen? Eh, I’ll decide on a title later, but the point is, not only would the lordless land finally have a damn leader, but the Light Lands now have me acting as a protector from Dark Land invasions! Ah, not that those are gonna be happening anymore if things work right.” 

Well. There certainly were some appealing ideas there. A newly established power bloc in his debt would be quite the gain from this mess…He would need to ask about the supposed lack of invasions coming, but he had a more important matter to address first. “And what do I gain from this?” 

“Aside from my word you’ll be protected from harm like two vengeance-happy heroes getting all mad and maimy?” She grinned wide, snapping her fingers for emphasis. “Easy! I might be a dragon, but I still keep minions around for a reason. Ruling a land’s tricky, I can’t be everywhere, even if I wanna be. Buuuuut, if there were a buncha, say, nice and shiny peacekeepers in the region, making sure all the people were kept calm and carrying on with the new order going on, then I bet things would go a whole lot smoother. Especially if they’re the fancy, healy type, getting them in your debt for all your generous aid and all.”

“Is that so?” Hm. The logistics of that would be somewhat tricky, but if Vocula could indeed insert both paladins and clerics in both as peacekeepers and aid-bringers…Hoh. Well, why stop there? Merely having them pass through Tramontava was an opportunity to further spread his faith’s teachings, and if he were to subtly show greater favor to those better embraced the will of Lucere instead of Her wayward daughter…

Well, outright eliminating the druids entirely would be a vast undertaking, but shifting opinions away from that ridiculous cult of naturists would most certainly be to his god’s benefit.

“Of course! And all I’m asking is that you vouch for me! Oh, and say it wasn’t the ‘heroes’ that kidnapped you. That part is pretty important, since they’ll probably fuck us both over if they think I’m cheating them.”

“Oh? You have something to worry about, Lord Arancoda?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m worried. More like…” She tilted her head, frowning in thought. “Eh, I’m not great with words. Point is, having those two as problems is worse than just going along with their shit and twisting it so I get the most out of it.”

“And if they react negatively to your attempt to seize power?”

“Well that’s why I’ve got you, ain’t it?” She sat on his bed again, smirking and clapping her hands together once. “You help me, I help you. A big bad dragon, stomping around and taking land? Gonna piss some people off. But the Pontiff of Light, the mortal representative of this continent’s top god, tells everyone that this poor, broken land, recently reclaimed from the recently reformed Demon Lord, now has a new ruler to govern it? Now that has legitimacy~.”

Caius frowned, stroking his beard. “And how, precisely, do you propose to ‘reform’ the Demon Lord?”

“Oh, that. That’s part of Yew’s big, fancy plan, and it’s also why we’re not just blaming the whole abduction thing on the Dark Lands. See, their pal Julius, the one that got himself exiled, is currently over in the Dark Lands and apparently shacking up with Valondrac.”

Fuck, he was still alive!?

“You know this for a fact?” Caius asked, careful not to let his thoughts show on his face.

“Oh he’s alive alright. Yew says he knows it for a fact, so the big thing they’re planning is a treaty. Or an armistice? The type of thing where both sides stop fighting and pretend they’re friends.”

“A peace treaty then.” Not that it would last. In fact, he could use the reprieve then to really work…the people of Naloriva would certainly resent their occupation by the darklanders, leaving him open to stoke that hatred and turn them towards the light… “And you believe the Demon Lord will give up her conquests?”

“Well she’s gotta, to get that treaty and all, and you know her bleeding-heart boytoy will beg her to stop once his pals come a callin’, and we both know anyone soft-hearted to fall in love with their enemies is gonna buckle under that chain.”

For the first time in days, Caius smiled. “You present some very good points, Lord Arancoda. It’s good to speak to someone rational for once.” He really did mean that too, even as he thought of how he could better insert his operatives into Arancoda’s own court. 

Everyone in the world could be influenced, when the proper leverage was applied, and this supposed “aid program” would give him ample opportunity to find a weakness or vice to exploit. A dumb brute would need officers to handle logistics, and he had plenty of supporters willing to risk themselves for their god. Just a few years, and he’d likely have Arancoda’s meager operations infiltrated entirely.

“Course I do! And same to you!” She grinned again, leaning back on the bed and crossing one leg over the other. Hm. Her abdomen was swollen. “So, we’re in agreement then? You vouch for me, blame a third party, and we run with this negotiation thing. Light and Dark finally have ‘peace’, for however long that’ll last, and we both benefit plenty.”

“Yes, I understand your meaning perfectly. You wish to gain a large dominion of your own, and you’re willing to work with two criminals to gain what you desire. I will admit, it is an understandable motivation.” He gave her his kind smile. “After all, many seek to leave the best they can to their children.”

He didn’t expect her to outright howl with laughter, throwing her head back and cackling, then suddenly lowering her head back with an easygoing smile of her own. “Oh, I assure you, Lord Pontiff, my interests are always directed to self-benefit before anyone else’s. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of how dragons typically treat their kids.”

…He hadn’t, in fact. Her phrasing was some cause for annoyance though; after all, he couldn’t use her future children for leverage if she lacked the instinct to protect them.

“Quite,” Caius replied anyway, then finally decided to sit down. He did still have a chair up, so he might as well give his legs some rest. “Well, before I fully agree to these plans, I would like to know what Yew has planned.”

“Huh? What I have–Oh. Oh, right, the hero mage.” …Gods damn it all, was he going to keep having that issue?! Regardless, Arancoda leaned back, smirking as some smoke poured from her mouth in a sigh. “Well, here’s the gist, from what I’ve got. He’s gonna use his connections with the Tramontan King, Goldforge’s connections with the Lucene King and Orin Archduc, and Vlahos’s slight connections with some Sollam Archons to form a coalition in favor of a big peace treaty. Like I said before, Valondrac should be in their camp easy because of Goldforge, so it’s mainly a deal of having enough Light Land nations to support it, and he’s already sending out the letters for the big meet-up.”

Hm. That was surprisingly thought out for Yew. “So if Zemava joins this coalition, they have a practical guarantee of the treaty’s success.” 

Indeed, Zemava joining would most certainly bring in the more properly conservative elements of Sollamava and Gorokiva, leaving Rosiava as the only outlier. And wasn’t that a pleasant thought? Those upstarts could do with a turn of misfortune.

“Exactly.”

Well, that was quite tidy. Though… “You said Yew sought to blame a third party, correct? Which would that be then? I doubt anyone would want to end the war with the Dark Lands only to enter one with the Frost or the Sun out of some false accusation that they abducted the Pontiff of Light and two former heroes.” An accusation like that would demand a response, and he had no intention of throwing his home into some spurious conflict, especially for the sake of those thugs.

“Ah, right. Yeah, he’s blaming the Sky Lands.”

“…Pardon?”

“You know, the old Tramontavan superstition about there being a secret continent in the sky.” 

“…You…can’t seriously expect me to say that can you?” 

“Well it’s not like anyone can prove it’s a lie. And no one would dare use Speak No Lie on someone like you, so it’s in your best interest to go along with it.”

Of all the audacious… “I see…Well, I imagine you want me to sign some form of contract then?” 

“Nah, writing that stuff down only works if I can use said contract later. In this situation, if we write it down, there’s a chance people will find said contract.” Hm. Well, that removed that potential weak point in their scheme. A shame. “So all we need is a verbal contract. Swear on the Miser you’ll uphold this deal.” 

“…You expect a Pontiff of Light to swear upon a demonic god?” 

“Unless you got an equivalent on your side, yes. What, are you afraid of her?” Arancoda grinned.

Irritating bitch. “…Fine, I swear to her.” 

“Ah ah ah, not enough. You need to specifically swear on The Miser that you’ll claim it was the Sky Lands that kidnapped you, and that you will vouch for me to become the future leader of Naloriva.” 

Letting out an irritated sigh, Caius rubbed his temples, glaring at the arrogant lizard daring to taunt him so openly. Still, he stood, straight and proud as he stared her straight in the eyes.

“Fine. I swear on the miser to claim skylanders abducted me from Divica, and to vouch for you as a future leader.” Then Caius nearly collapsed as his throat tightened and a heavy weight settled over his body, forcing him to grab the post of his bed just to remain standing. “W-What was that?” 

“Our oath binding. The weight of our convictions will hold us true, and I so do swear to keep you safe, and to allow you to send your forces into my future land, provided you uphold your half.” 

“Y-You could have said that would happen,” he chided, scowling again.  

“And you could show proper respect to me. We all learn from our mistakes. Now then, I’ll just say it’s best to uphold your half of the bargain. Call it some fair advice. The Miser doesn’t take kindly to people who break promises.”

Hmph. Arrogant and stupid. As though some petty demon could touch one protected by an Elder God. Still. “And neither do I, so you best not break yours.” 

“Heh, don’t worry, dragons don’t go back on their word. Now then, I have some idiotic guests to keep busy. I’ll make sure to inform you about what happens.” With a grin, Arancoda pushed herself off the bed and walked straight out of the room, leaving Caius alone.

Idly rubbing his throat, he sat back down on the bed and let his mind begin to race, focusing on what could and should be done to gain the most he could out of this tenuous situation.

And yet, much like he did before, he realized that he simply had to bide his time and wait. After all, the dragon was simply another pawn on the board for him. An irritating pawn, but a pawn nonetheless, the same as every upstart royal playing along with these arrogant children and their foolish plans.

And, ultimately, every pawn could be sacrificed.

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