Chapter 54 – A Peaceful Conference

Claire was having a fun day. She had a delightful date with her fiancé, she managed to meet a number of rather interesting people, and she taunted an idiotic angel right to her stupid stone face. 

And now, politics! Ah, how she loved politics~. Genuinely too! There was just something pleasant about making decisions that affected an entire continent. And this time it would be affecting two continents, so double the pleasantness! Shame she couldn’t let her happiness show much on her face, she did have an appearance to keep up in front of these people.

And what an interesting set of people they were, sitting around such a grand, round table; even ignoring the ones she already knew, the people she had yet to meet were at least interesting to look at. Such as the drow, a “Sova Vioka” of the Rosiavan Vioka family, who had an air of superiority even among the various rulers there. 

The nervous tigrinthrope was also interesting, if by the simple fact that his entire being seemed to radiate the thought that he didn’t think he belonged there. Which, given that he was only there since Gorokiva had no real representative selected, made that understandable. 

And, of course, if by sheer size alone, the last figure made quite the impression. Queen Beratia Molgari of Sollamava almost appeared a statue come to life with her imposing stature and well-defined muscles, though her pale skin dotted with freckles came as a surprise for someone coming from such a sunny country. Supposedly undefeated in the ring–wrestling apparently being a popular pastime in her country according to Claire’s spies, the chief of whom was currently invisibly lounging about in an alcove high on the western wall–the dirty-blonde queen, her hair cropped short and smooth, wore a gray and brown doublet lined with silver, bearing the emblem of a silver mace on a shield-shaped badge, along with beige pants, brown boots and gloves, and silver bands around her horns. Altogether, a clearly royal, but rather practical look. In a more casual setting, Claire would have loved to get to know her more. 

As it was, she wasn’t entirely sure if the smirk on the queen’s face was a good sign, or if the queen was imagining that it would be simple to suplex Claire through the table. Which, while it would be physically simple, didn’t mean she would get away with it.

Besides, it would ruin the lovely blue tablecloth the Shionerans–Shionarians? Shionerish?–had set across for them. The islanders had certainly been quite helpful and accommodating to their needs; she should do something nice for them. Maybe a fruit basket? Or wine. Or fruit baskets with wine? These were the thoughts that would haunt her…

…Wine flavored fruit? Though, would that just be grapes–

No, wait, this was getting stupid, focus on other things. 

“Greetings royals, angels, and noble ambassadors!” Oh, there was something to focus on. Yew was walking in, a wide smile on his face as he took his own seat at the table. Which just so happened to be on her right, with Vocula on his right. She was a bit annoyed that the Pontiff sat so close to her, but since they were technically on the same side, she would look the other way, for now. If she had to deal with him later, that was another matter. “Thank you all so very much for being here today! This is a momentous occasion and one that could very well change the course of history entirely, so, to begin, would everyone please mind introducing themselves as a courtesy?”

“…Don’t we usually have people to do this?” that one king, Richard Lucene, muttered to one of his two bodyguards, glancing up at the armored knight. No weapons visible on either of the two steel-clad bodyguards, one wearing a crimson tabard while the other had a green one, though that was only natural considering it was meant to be a peaceful gathering. So, really, he shouldn’t even have bodyguards, though perhaps he was using the excuse that they were attendants? 

Von Sorafin had that valravn perched on his chair so it wasn’t as though he was the only one being cautious. Though Claire honestly wasn’t sure if it actually was caution or if Friedrich genuinely had an affection for the deathbird.

“Well, I suppose as the outsider in this, I’ll begin.” With a flourish of her arms, Claire bowed slightly from where she was sitting. “My name is Claire Valondrac, ruler of the Dark Lands, and champion of the three matriarchs.” 

“How prudent of you.” And directly across from her, seated with her sibling, Uriel, at her right side, the Cardinal Gabriel stared directly back at Claire with a visible frown on her face. “I am certain I am quite familiar to all of you here, but for the sake of politeness, I shall state that I am Cardinal Gabriel of Paasa, accompanied by my fellow Cardinal, Uriel of Paasa.”

“Hello everyone.” Uriel waved, like the cute canary they were. It was almost a shame they were a part of the opposition; their wings seemed so fluffy and nice to pet.

“Hello to you, angelic representatives,” Ambassador Altukhov greeted as she stood and bowed to everyone, “My name is Altukhov Nia Fyodorovna. I shall be representing Frost Lands as secondary mediator and impartial party. Official collective stance of Frost Lands is Light and Dark shall settle differences on their own. We shall not intervene unless asked.” She straightened and glanced at Claire. “However, Natsiya Tolimeka is an old ally to lightlanders, and will act in opposition to full aggression, should issues come to that. Also, my bodyguard is Paladin Rassvet Charlotte Danilovna.” Altukhov–or would it be Fyodorovna? Fergus tended to go by Marcusson in formal settings, even if he really didn’t like his dad–gestured to the far larger goliath by her side, who was currently in her full armor, and waved politely to everyone. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Then allow me to thank you for prompt arrival and neutral position, Ambassador Fyodrovna,” the Vioka woman spoke next, smiling in that insincerely “pleasant” way Claire so often saw on noble faces, “In turn, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Lady Sova Vioka, representative of the Royal House Vioka, the Violet Rose of Rosiava, and, by extension, the representative of Rosiava itself, due to the complete lack of any other invited representative from Rosiava. Not to say such an action was deliberate.”

Yew winced beside her. Ah, how easily well-laid plans could go awry. Poor man really should try to rest when he can; he looked as though relaxing would send him flopping face first into the table. 

“Further, might I ask a question of you, Ambassador?” Vioka continued.

“You may.”

“If the position of the Frost Lands is one of neutrality, for what reason would you have one of the former heroes of the Light Lands as your sworn shield? Would her own opinions not skew her perspective in certain directions?” That was some clever wording there. Looking from a darklander perspective, Rassvet would seem to be biased towards the lightlanders, yet from a different, more aggressive perspective, Rassvet would seem biased towards aiding her friends, which meant she would be against anyone opposing peace. 

“Paladin Charlotte Danilovna will not be active in negotiations. She is to stand and look intimidating. She is very good at it.”

Vioka paused. “…Still, she does seem to present a degree of partiality.”

“Da. She is paladin of Khioni. Khioni is allied with Lucere. Khioni is biased, thus paladins are biased, thus Natsiya Tolimeka is biased. Bias exists, is reality of situation. Is it a problem?” Nia looked to Claire, showing which interpretation she was going with. Ah, the tragedy of leaving implications too open.

“The Valondrac Empire does not have an issue with Paladin Rassvet’s presence, though we thank you for being so considerate of our feelings, Lady Vioka.” She smiled and nodded to Vioka, letting just a bit of her amused satisfaction show. For her part, Vioka kept her expression even to avoid showing even a hint of anger or irritation. Quite the cool beauty there.

“Right, well now that we have that settled–” So the Lucenevan king really was informal. Potentially useful, though more likely annoying. “–I am King Richard Lucene the Second, King of Luceneva, and these are my escorts…whatever their names are.”

The knights did not speak up. Strong, silent types then. Though the red one seemed easily irritated, based on how their hands were clenched into fists at their sides. 

“Now now, Richard, you should at least remember the name of your escorts. Oh, and we are King Friedrich von Sorafin, and we hope that none of you mind our Valravn. Eckart does get quite lonely if we leave him alone for too long.” As if to emphasize his words, the bird rubbed up against him and croaked affectionately.

“Long as he stays near you, I don’t see a problem in lettin’ him stay.” Molgari said with a lazy smirk and a low, Western drawl. Her accent was rather close to the one most swampfolk had, oddly enough, though the cadence was slightly different. “And for those that may not know, my name’s Beratia Molgari, full-time queen, and part-time champ.” 

“As much as I would like to see what made you a ‘champ’, we’ve got business to focus on. Speaking of, I, Galinori Aloisia Osanna Hascimagni Arancoda di Ebkai, would gladly talk trade with anyone willing to do so. After this meeting is done that is,” Arancoda introduced with a smile and a wink.

Then Vocula caught everyone’s attention when he let out an annoyed huff at Arancoda’s blatant attempt at capitalizing on her chances. He seemed uncomfortable with everyone’s eyes on him, which was fun to see, but he spoke up soon enough.”…Pontiff of the Light, Caius Vocula.” 

Hn, odd. Uriel seemed as though they wanted to say something, but Gabriel stopped them with a glance. Intriguing, if concerning.

“Aw, you could put a little more effort into it, Caius. As for me, I am Namita Loren, the Archdruid of the Green Faith, and representative of both Mother Chlora and the region of Naloriva,” Loren introduced, smiling cheerfully at everyone as Vocula scowled at her familiarity with him. Such a sourpuss.

Which left the tigrithrope and Brascul, both who seemed to be looking at one another. Were they waiting to see who went first? She didn’t seem like the type to try and be polite–oh wait. Having gotten a better look at Brascul, Claire became aware that the archduchess was clearly attempting to intimidate the Gorakivan representative into going first. 

“…A-Ah, well, if I may introduce myself next. My name is Torahiko Hiroto–Ah, Hiroto Torahiko, guardian of the lightning temple, and sit–I sit in representation of Gorokiva. I shall do my best to not overstep my station.” Bowing deeply, Torahiko did his best to appear confident. He was failing, but he was trying.

“Magrave Brascul.” 

…Well, that was short and to the point.

“…Shouldn’t there be more to that?” Lucene asked.

“You all know who I am.” Well, she wasn’t wrong; Brascul was once a notorious pirate who commanded a great deal of respect and fear across the seas until she seemingly decided to become the Archduchess of Orindaco for no reason. Hn, should ask Julius about that afterwards…

“You sure it’s a good idea to be remindin’ us of that?” Molgari spoke up, still smiling as she glanced over at Brascul, “Some folk still take exception to what you’ve done in the past.”

“Really. I could have sworn I made repayments to those with outstanding ‘issues’ with me. Unless certain people chose to pocket those repayments for themselves.”

Molgari snorted. “Gods, it’s cute how you think you’ve got any room to be accusin’ folk of bein’ corrupt.”

“I will ask that the delegates refrain from fighting.” Nia said, trying to stop the two.

“I’m not the one fightin’. Though if we did I’m sure we all know who would win.” And it seemed Molgari didn’t want to back down.

“Ahem!” Yew clapped his hands together, smiling as Brascul and Molgari continued their staredown. “Now that we have all introduced ourselves, shall we move into the main point of our meeting here today? Namely, the signing of a peace treaty between the Lands of Light and Dark!”

“Oh, what a wonderful idea!” Friederich said, as though he wasn’t a major part in planning the treaty-signing, “Peace is always something to be pursued by those of virtue, is it not?”

“Peace under the yoke of a tyrant is no more preferable than a bloody revolution, King von Sorafin,” Gabriel replied, “Nor is one built on falsities and bound with greed.”

“Very poetic,” Claire spoke up, drawing everyone’s attention to her pleasant, if condescending, smile, “However, if I may, that is why we are having this meeting. As much as I would love to just sign a peace treaty here and now, I won’t belittle any of you and assume all of you would do the same. As such, if you would all allow me to, I would like to say my piece first.” 

Uriel lifted their hand just enough to catch Gabriel’s attention, cutting off her reply in favor of their own. “You may, but I will ask that you think twice about what you will say, or this meeting may have to end.” 

Threatening. Cute, but threatening. “Of course! Now, I’m sure you all know the bloody history of our two continents, so I shall spare you the details, but I’m also sure that even those among you who may enjoy fighting do not wish for a long, bloody, and most assuredly protracted war.” 

“That we don’t, and if I remember correctly, it isn’t us that start the conflicts,” Richard said as he leaned back into his chair. 

“I won’t argue that; while there may be some historical discrepancies with some of the former demon lords and how they are regarded, the past few have certainly been quite violent.”

“Pretty sure your forces haven’t been the most peaceful either.”

“So some say. My word may not hold the most weight with you, your majesty, but I believe there may be one of you who can speak about my ‘forces’.” With a small nod, Claire gestured to Namita. A polite gesture, one to suggest she was passing the right to speak to an equal, rather than prompting a subordinate to speak.

“Hm…well, I might not be able to tell the full story, but while there have been some skirmishes here and there, casualties have been kept small, and the mayors I have talked to all mentioned that her forces have paid and helped with any repairs necessary. Really, most damages in Naloriva seemed to have come from battles with Rosiavan forces. Allegedly, that is.” 

“Yes, those would likely be the Green Rose’s forces then,” Vioka surprisingly agreed, “The previous head of the Dahsin family, recently arrested for crimes against the Rosian Union, was indicted for a conspiracy to aid the Dark Lands in invading and subjugating our nation. I believe he allowed a general of yours, Empress Valondrac, into our nation in exchange for eventual, sole ownership of all its territories.” Ahh, so that’s what she was playing at.

“Hm…Lord Valondrac, I will ask that you answer truthfully if there was any form of collusion between the Dahsin family and yourself,” Nia said as she looked at Claire.

“Ah yes, one of my generals did mention that to me, after she had returned from Rosiava. Believe me or not, but I had no hand in that deal, and from what I know, he was the one to bring up such an offer.”  

“Interesting. Then you do admit that you had multiple agents of your empire, your ‘generals’, violate the borders of sovereign nations and enter our most sacred sites to plunder them.” Oh she was fun~. It was almost cute seeing Gabriel look satisfied too. Vioka’s hostility must’ve come as an unexpected boon.

“In a sense. I do admit that I sent six of my ten generals to investigate the Temples of the Rakuli. I had heard such fascinating things about those grand structures, and, if I may admit a fault of mine, the cores inside in particular drew my interest. Isn’t it natural to want to collect artifacts of great power? No? Perhaps that’s just me then.”

“Demon Lord. Do you admit to your crimes?” Uriel intoned, a frown on their face that contrasted their sister’s carefully neutral expression.

“Oh? Did I commit crimes?” Claire blinked without a hint of guile, the very picture of innocence. “Ah, I see, I must have misunderstood. I was under the impression that anyone could enter a Rakuli Temple. In the Dark Lands, we have similar structures called Churches, and numerous adventurers have attempted to seize the treasures there many times. I assumed the rules were similar here. Any may take the challenge, but the cost of failure would be death. 

She sighed, like she wasn’t lying through her teeth. “I didn’t really want to send my dear subordinates into such dangerous places, but they did volunteer so brazenly, I couldn’t help but be moved by their dedication.”

“Aw-” Uriel stiffened, like their sister just elbowed them. “A-Ahem. Regardless, do you admit to violating the borders of sovereign nations?”

“Did I? I don’t think I did. Naloriva isn’t a sovereign nation, more a fractured region of minor towns, no offense.”

“None taken,” Namita replied with an amused grin.

Claire smiled back, then continued, “I wasn’t aware Ebkai counted as one either, again, no offense, my Ariel did receive permission from a governor of Rosiava to enter their nation, and I wasn’t aware islands fit into a nation’s borders, particularly ones that are barren of all life aside from the temples. Oh, and some rather lovely plant life, of course.”

“Ah, Rainfall isn’t devoid of life…” Torahiko said, though it was more of a mumble.

“Oh, is it not? My apologies, but as much as I tried to study, there is still not much I know of the Light Lands. As such, I assumed it was the same as the Water Temple. I hope my subordinates weren’t too enthusiastic in their attempts to enter the Temple.”

“Er, well, they did-”

“I hope you do not assume simply saying that you ‘didn’t know’ will allow you to escape the consequences of your actions that easily,” Vioka interrupted, “Not to mention there is the matter of Tramotava too. Or do you think they don’t count as a sovereign nation either?” 

“Hm?” Friedrich perked up, a slight smile on his face as the conversation swung his way again. “Oh yes, we do remember a matter such as that being told to us. A werewolf and his aerial entourage entering the Wind Temple, yes? Certainly a violation of boundaries, however we are willing to forgive you, Empress Valondrac, should you be willing to negotiate. Perhaps a favorable trade deal as a beginning recompense?”

“Of course,” Claire replied, smiling back.

“A-Ah, my apologies, but for me–I mean, for the Empire of Gorokiva, it won’t be that simple. Regardless of your intentions, you stole a great treasure from us, and we demand the lightning core back.” Hm, Torahiko certainly managed to change his tone at the end there. 

Claire hemmed and hawed for a moment, pretending she was searching for the right words. “Well…there may be some complications regarding your request…” 

“Demon Lord, that item is not negotiable.”

“I understand, and I suppose it will be simpler to show rather than explain. If I may?” Claire stood and waited, her eyes on Torahiko alone. It was a simple play, but a useful one, showing that she was deferring to him in a position of authority on the matter. It helped give him a tad more legitimacy, even if he wasn’t any of the mediators there.

For his part, Torahiko considered the offer, his eyes just barely flicking towards the Cardinals. So, in a pinch, he would view those two as authorities. Good to know. “…Be quick about it.” 

“Of course.” Bowing slightly, just enough to be polite without showing deference, Claire left the room and went around the building towards its other side, where she found Julius waiting outside with Lightning by his side. He did look good in those robes-

“Claire!” And then Lightning was hugging her; the elemental sprinted straight for her and immediately wrapped her arms around her in a tight grip. So she probably wasn’t going to be letting go for a while.

“Hey there Lightning, and hello to you, Julius.” Ah, she was smiling. She couldn’t quite help it…

“Figured I’d save you some time,” he answered to her unasked question, “Ariel almost came instead, but I’m pretty sure she would have tried attacking someone in there if she did.”

“She probably would have and I would have appreciated the gesture. That aside, I have to go back.” 

“Ah, wait.” Julius leaned up, past Lightning, and Claire went stiff as his lips pressed against hers. It felt both far too long and far too short when he broke the kiss with a charming grin on his gorgeous face. “You’re doing great.”

“…H-Hm, of course I am. Thank you for recognizing such.”  Not to be outdone, she gave him a quick kiss on his–still delightfully fuzzy–cheek. “Now enjoy the show~. I promise I’ll take you out somewhere nice afterwards~.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” …H-Hn. It wasn’t fair when he was being charming. It really wasn’t.

Still, she’d left the room for long enough. It was a calculated risk, a time for the rest to discuss matters among themselves without her input that could result in unfavorable results–such as the skeptics in the group picking apart her admittedly fallacious arguments–but that same time would make it apparent she wasn’t completely controlling the entire debate, directing it wherever she chose. If she wanted that, she could have merely stayed there and had a servant bring Lightning. It made her seem more equal to everyone there, and that was quite valuable in a negotiation for peace.

On the other hand, Lightning was very clingy and it was quite difficult to walk in with her nuzzling up against Claire. It did feel somewhat nice, but still.

So it was with a somewhat awkward waddle that Claire reentered the meeting hall. All conversation was smothered in an instant while she attempted to free her arm from the clingy elemental’s grip and–with a decent tug to pull free–waved to the gathered ambassadors.

“My apologies for the wait, but I had to bring what you requested.” 

Torahiko didn’t seem to know what to say to that. “…Demon Lord, bringing in someone like that, an outsider unrelated to our talks, can be taken as a sign of aggression.” Or he did know what to say, he just had the wrong impression.

“Hm? And just who exactly did she bring in?” Lucene asked, leaning to look properly. 

“Everyone, may I introduce you to Lightning, an elemental formerly known as the lightning core.” Claire smiled and pulled Lightning’s hood from her head, showing off her golden head, which crackled with an eager electricity. 

“…I will have to ask you to repeat yourself. I don’t think I heard correctly.” Nia said, somewhat stunned.

“As I said, this is Lightning, and she used to be the lightning core.”

“…” Do not laugh at their expressions, it wouldn’t be worth it. Though Gabriel was interesting. While Uriel seemed nonplussed, the bluejay had gone still, her expression carefully neutral–until she noticed Claire had her figured out. Then her mouth dropped into an annoyed frown.

“Yes, it was quite odd,” Claire continued, letting just a bit of amusement “slip” through, “One of my generals was studying it, and, as she was experimenting, it cracked and our guest here came forth.”

“Hello!” Lightning greeted. Without letting go of Claire. 

“That…even if we were on better terms you don’t think that would be believable, do you?” Torahiko asked, not even bothering to hide his bewilderment. Though better bewildered than annoyed. For all his supposed skepticism, he was more baffled by the truth than consciously denying it; his disbelief came from surprise rather than certainty.

“Certainly not, but I am aware of two other cores having been taken by other parties, perhaps you could ask them if they had a similar situation happen?” With another smile, Claire glanced at both Galinori and Vioka. 

“Can’t say I have, though I haven’t been messing around with the one I have under my protection either,” Galinori explained with a shrug of her own, though her eyes were focused on Lightning with more than a hint of interest and greed, “It’s one of a kind, so I didn’t want to break it.”

“…My apologies, but I am not aware of what happened to the core in Vice-President Bulinto and Governor Rostel’s possession. They have been rather tight-lipped on just what they are doing; proprietary secrets and whatnot,” Vioka said, her frown showing her annoyance at her colleagues. Though perhaps it was more at her own lack of information? “There was something of an accident recently, but given the problems that were already happening with the Dahsins, we choose to ignore their activities for now. Though perhaps I shouldn’t have.”

Ah, certainly annoyed that she didn’t investigate properly then. “I see. Well, I’m afraid I don’t have much beyond my guarantees on my honor, though I am willing to take an oath on the Miser, or even the Arbiter to the effect that I am indeed telling the truth–”

“Yet you lack proof to that effect,” Gabriel interrupted, “You may say you’ll swear oaths, Demon Lord, yet we have no cause to believe you regardless. What evidence supports your claims? Are you capable of giving any?”

Well, something clearly rattled her. Perhaps those angels were hiding something…An investigation for later. For now– “Sorry, I can’t. At least, I can’t present any you wouldn’t disregard as fabricated. I only have the testimony of myself, my subordinates, and Lightning, along with the remaining shards of the lightning core, my general’s notes on the core, my other general’s notes on this elemental, and perhaps the testimony of the Lightning God Innominatum or his angels? If they’re willing to clear up the matter.

“Regardless, my ‘lack of evidence’ doesn’t change the truth, and so I must apologize to Lord Torahiko for my nation’s failure in safeguarding his nation’s treasure. I hope you will accept my apology, and, if needed, I will aid you in the process of ‘returning’ Lightning to your homeland. Though I should note that Lightning is a sapient being of her own and should not be forced to go anywhere she does not desire to.”

“…” Torahiko looked to be at a loss for words. His jaw worked in silence as he stared at Lightning, then Claire, then back at Lightning, who, by now, had turned and was staring curiously back at him with all six of her eyes. The two stared at each other for a few seconds, all eyes on them to see how they’d both react, before Torahiko took the initiative with a clearing of his throat. “I…see. Well. That is completely unexpected and unprecedented, and I quite honestly have no idea how to possibly deal with the ramifications of our sacred artifact being a sapient being at this time, so I believe I shall take my seat now and allow the peace talks to proceed. Though, yes, we shall need to speak on the matter further afterward, Lord Valondrac.”

“Of course, Lord Torahiko.”

Torahiko cleared his throat again, this time slightly more nervously. “Ah, it is ‘Chief’ Torahiko, Lord Valondrac.”

“Very well, Chief Torahiko.” Quite the proper man. That could be useful. Regardless, Claire nodded to Torahiko, then looked down at the elemental still clinging to her. “Lightning, if you would please be a dear and let go of my arm, I have some important business that I need to do.” Smiling, she waited for her to act.

“…Fine.” Almost as if pouting, Lightning let go, and stood behind Claire once she took her seat again, likely mimicking Lucene’s escorts.

“Now then, unless anyone else would like to air their grievances with me, perhaps we should move onto negotiations?” Letting no amusement show, Claire kept her small smile as the silence stretched on. The angels clearly, dearly wanted to speak, but any protest they could offer would seem too petty. “Very well then. If I may, I would prefer to restart our discussion with something simple. Namely, how darklanders are treated within the borders of your Light Land nations.” 

“Hm? Pardon for asking, but we don’t get any darklanders in Sollamava, so how are they ‘treated’? Are there problems here?” Molgari asked.

Claire shrugged. “I’d be lying if I said they were all treated horribly throughout the eastward nations. I believe there are some trading caravans run by goblins and orcs in Naloriva. Archdruid Loren?” 

“I haven’t done any business with them personally, but I can confirm there are some that have found success in Naloriva,” she replied. 

“Thank you for your testimony. However, as happy as those traders may be there, others are not quite as lucky. In fact, as far as I’m aware, the only other place where darklanders can be regularly be found is within Orindaco, and while I do not wish to be disrespectful, the city-state does not have the best reputation.” 

“No need to sugarcoat it,” Margrave spoke up, “The only reason that place hasn’t turned into a hellscape is because, as much as they’d want to, none of the ‘guilds’ back home have the guts to push too far.” 

“Sounds like a classy place,” Molgari drawled. 

“I don’t know about ‘classy’, but I can say someone like you would find yourself lost easily.” 

“That so?”

…Why were those two being so passive aggressive towards one another? There was a history there, and now Claire was curious.

“Yes, but getting back on topic–” Aw. “–there are some darklanders who came to live in Orin, and while I can’t say all of them have the cleanest of jobs, I’m positive it’s better than what I’ve heard of Rosiava.”

“And just what exactly have you heard?”

“Hm~.” With a look of contempt, Magrave silently drew her thumb across her throat.

“I resent the implication that the Rosian Union summarily executes trespassers in any way,” Vioka immediately said. Her expression was still carefully neutral, but there was an obvious ghost of a scowl on her lips and a glare in her eyes. “None of our parties hold such a policy.”

“Sure. That’s the official word. Official doesn’t mean true. Same as legal doesn’t mean ethical.” Margrave’s glare went to Moglari with her last sentence, but her point was still made.

“Yes, and neither are rumors any more likely to be true. I would even put them as far less likely, and I can, in fact, provide records as to what was done with various darklander trespassers.”

“And what was done with them?” Claire asked, keeping her tone light, “Commonly speaking, of course.”

“They were sent back–”

“Is there a point to this line of discussion, Demon Lord?” Gabriel interrupted, again. For an angel of prudence, she could be rather impatient. Or perhaps she was calculating the best times to interrupt? Either were possible, though…Well, no matter, that was an easy opening to work with.

“Simply put, I would like to ask that any darklander who wishes to travel into the lightlands be allowed free passage into it, without the worry of being dealt with one way or another. Of course, the same would be offered to any lightlanders who wish to cross the borders.” 

“You wish for open borders?” Vioka asked, actually letting a frown show.

“I do. Don’t the Light Lands have something similar?”

“We most certainly do,” Friedrich answered with a smile of his own, “Full immigration is something of a different matter, requiring talks with local lords and whatnot, but any may travel across the borders we share, so long as they hold peace in their hearts.”

“In other words, our nations allow travel across the borders, if just because it would be prohibitively expensive to set up outposts outside of the major roads,” Vioka elaborated, still frowning.

Lucene raised an eyebrow. “Huh. I always thought it was more ‘the nations of light are at peace’ or whatever. We don’t worry about each other, so we don’t get antsy about border crossing.”

“Precisely, your majesty,” Gabriel intoned, “It is through the peace and friendship of the Light Land nations–”

Loren faked a cough that sounded suspiciously like “Rosian land thieves”, earning an annoyed glance from Vioka.

“–that the people are allowed safe passage. You cannot expect us–”

“Us?” echoed Lucene with a skeptical frown.

“–to extend such courtesies towards a land that has been hostile towards ours for thousands of years.”

“Yes, because we’re all such good friends here,” Margrave muttered.

And Claire smiled. “My apologies, Cardinal Gabriel, but my empire hasn’t existed for thousands of years. I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

“…You know that is not what I meant.” 

“Then I suppose that any blame of previous rulers must also land on whoever replaces them, no? If I’m not mistaken, one of Lucene’s ancestors broke a pact with Lucere, yet I do not see you holding any anger towards him. And the former dukes of Orindaco must have angered many other lands before now, yet Orin still stands despite that.” 

“…” She could almost hear Gabriel’s teeth grind.

“Arguing over nonsense particulars like this is getting us nowhere. Can we move on from petty squabbling to begin proper discussions?” Vocula demanded, apparently finally losing his patience. Claire was honestly surprised he lasted that long.

“…” Gabriel’s mouth twitched with the ghost of a smile. “Oh, that reminds me. My apologies for not informing you sooner, Vocula, but you are no longer the Pontiff of Divica.”

“…”

“…”

Huh. Well, that removed the “assassination plan” card that Claire could’ve played to discredit the angels…It also came as a slight surprise, but it did make sense, given what she knew.

“…I will have to ask that you repeat that, Cardinal.”

“As I said, a replacement has already been chosen for you. We had feared the worst so felt it only appropriate to have someone in charge in case we were in need of a pontiff, and with how busy everything has been, it slipped my mind.”

“…Th-That–” Standing up with enough force to knock his chair over, Vocula slammed his hands on the table. “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS! I’VE LOYALLY SERVED LUCERE FOR OVER FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AND YOU JUST REPLACE ME WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT!?” …Four hundred? How old was he?

“Were we wrong to? After all, look at what you helped cause.”

“W-What?” 

“Of your own volition, you decided to aid the Dark Lands in this inane plot to ‘legally’ invade our lands. Something like that is tantamount to treason. It is only your years of servitude that leave you here alive. As it is, your conduct here will decide if you are fully excommunicated from the Faith, or if you will merely be demoted.”

Vocula’s mouth worked silently, no words coming. “…My own volition?” Oh, seemed he found some.

“Do you disagree? It was with your authority that this conference was called.”

“Well mine too,” Yew mumbled, sounding somewhat put out. As well as bored. Or perhaps tired? He was propped up on one hand, his eyes blinking blearily–

And Vocula immediately rounded on him. “WOULD YOU SHUT UP!?” Before scowling right back at Gabriel. “You-Are you-You can’t-GNH, I’VE SERVED FAITHFULLY MY WHOLE LIFE! I’VE KEPT ZEMAVA PEACEFUL AND PROSPEROUS! WHO COULD YOU EVER REPLACE ME WITH!?”

“Deacon, now Pontiff, Mitrio Albanus Popola, is–”

“THAT TWIT!? YOU PUT A MORONIC WARHAWK IN MY SEAT!?”

Elder Lucere selected a new Pontiff from the worthy candidates at Her disposal. He has not betrayed Her. You have.”

“Y-You…I never betrayed her! Do you have any proof, or are you just claiming whatever you want and acting as if she said that!?” 

Hm…Interesting, the air seemed to grow dryer, almost as if it were being drawn away. It didn’t help that no one seemed to be interested in talking, which, given that an angel had been accused of lying about what their god said, probably explained why. Should she break the sil–wait, no, that sharp crack did the job. 

“Get. Him. Out.” So now Uriel was gripping the table hard enough for it to crack, all while glaring at Vocula. The tensions certainly were higher than she expected between the Divican faction.

“W-What? You can’t order me around, you impetuous angel!” Wow, he really wasn’t doing himself any favors. She could virtually see the guillotine above his head.

“…My apologies, Vocula, but if you are indeed no longer the pontiff, then your presence here is no longer needed,” Nia spoke, once she was done with pondering over the situation. 

But Vocula wasn’t backing down. “You can’t just take her word on that!”

“Regardless of what you may believe, from an impartial stance, it is only correct to side with Gabriel and Uriel. Unless you think yourself greater than a cardinal angel.”

“Y-You–Some young upstart like you has no right telling me what to do!” Well, even if she didn’t, the tall, muscular goliath standing behind him probably did, considering the rather firm grasp she placed on his shoulder. “Gh-U-UNHAND ME AT ONCE!”

“Mister Vocula, you need to-”

“NO! No, I will not be leaving, and I refuse to believe any of this-this-these filthy lies! I have done nothing wrong, and yet I’m supposed to believe I’ve been-been ousted?! In favor of a useless idiot!? Do you have any idea how much I’ve done to keep the peace in my nation!?!”

“Yeah, sure, so hey, does this mean his word isn’t worth anything now?” Galinori spoke up, seeming bored with Vocula’s outbursts, “If so, I oughta let him out of this agreement we-”

“AGREEMENT!?!?” he nearly screeched, his eyes wide and full of rage as he turned all his fury at the uncaring dragon, “YOU CALL THAT AN AGREEMENT?!!!”

“Yes, we agreed upon something.”

“YOU IMPETUOUS WHORE! ALL YOU DID WAS TRICK ME!” And now Charlotte was actively lifting him up and carrying him away. “I DID EVERYTHING LUCERE WANTED! I PUNISHED THOSE WHO NEEDED TO BE PUNISHED! I EVEN BANI-” 

“I DO hope you will forgive us for our citizen’s outburst,” Gabriel interrupted at a rather opportune time. For both the lie they were weaving, and for Lucere’s reputation. Funny how that was overlapping. “Regardless of his betrayal, his conduct is unacceptable. We shall make sure he receives a proper punishment once we head back to Divica.”

Nia nodded while Vocula continued to rant, all the way until he was carried from the building. “Thank you. If there are no further interruptions, we shall continue. Does anyone have a new topic they wish to speak on?”

Claire raised her hand first, then stood with a smile when Nia nodded to her. “Thank you, honored mediator. Guests, delegates, personages of royal blood, I’m just gonna cut to the chase right now and say that while I’m happy to hear about your complaints and talk about deals, there’s literally no way you’re stopping me from doing what I want here.”

She held up a hand, grinning at the irritated glares she got from her opponents and the amused smiles from her allies. Aside from Margrave, who just stared neutrally. Very inexpressive, that one–Huh. Yew had his eyes closed–wait, was he asleep? No, ignore that, speech time. “For the sake of peace between our two continents, I intend to pull my troops out entirely from the lands of Naloriva. For the sake of their stability, I intend to place the authority and influence I have garnered there in the hands of Lady Arancoda, so she may assume the role of Queen in those lands with the blessing of Archdruid Loren. These matters have already been decided, I’m just here to hear you all out first. I want my relationship with all of you to be, at the very least, neutral, if not amicable, so here I am.

“I’m glad we had this time to clear the air and address your grievances. I’m sure we’ll be doing more of that in the future. But this is it. I’m done. I’m not continuing with this supposed ‘war’ where no one is actually attacking anyone, aside from a few minor skirmishes.” She turned her grin to the angels, whose gazes were stony and silent. “So yeah, that’s about it. I’m not fighting you, I’m working for peace. You can’t stop me from making these decisions, so quit trying. I won’t be your big, bad villain.” She honestly couldn’t help herself. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Heh. As far as “villainous speeches” went, it wasn’t much of one, but she’d always wanted to taunt someone with that–

“Yes there is.”

Claire paused, then glanced over at the Lucene bodyguard–the one in red–just as they raised a hand wreathed in white flames and runes–

And that’s when Julius tackled the guard straight to the ground right as Kiyoshi landed straight in front of her, a barrier formed in her outstretched hands. And as everyone, even the angels, reacted in complete surprise, a burst of flames erupted from the ground, piercing up into the ceiling. In the next moment, Julius and the guard vanished, and a hole in the wall–several feet off the ground–was the only clue for where they had gone. 

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