The meeting place was a small hall with chairs lining either side of a long table in one of the Black-Wing villages. As soon as Qasin opened the door to enter the room, he could taste the fear. They quiver like cowards. As the king, over the years, he had sat in on hundreds of diplomatic, council, and exploratory meetings, but this one was new to him. Every meeting before was filled with men who acted as if they owned the world–men whose station was always inferior to their self-perception. It was as if they were unjustly forced to play out their roles as inferiors all the while standing on equal or higher ground than everyone around them. This meeting was different.
This time, as he walked through the room of Black-Wings, the illusion of superiority was nowhere to be seen. Their faces had none of the smug confidence that he had grown to hate on Wilhelm’s face as, meeting after meeting, he droned on about how the kingdom should be run and how a king should handle problems. How he would handle things once he became king. Qasin had known exactly what Wilhelm meant; but all of that was gone now. This time, the only thing he could see on the whiter-than-normal faces of the Vampires was fear. Even the Succubi and Incubi squirmed in their chairs, their usual lustful command of a room gone beneath a veneer of timid shaking.
This . . . This is actually rather pleasant, he thought, walking through the room and sitting at the empty chair at the head of the table. He knew it wasn’t the chair he was supposed to sit in. A common negotiation tactic used among Black-Wings was to have the head councilman show up late and sit in the prominent seat after they ushered you in a lesser side position. Rather than wait for the farce, however, Qasin had decided to just walk in and claim it as his own –ignoring the objections and protests of servants who intended to seat him elsewhere as he went. He looked at their faces, knowing their shame, but there was nothing that they could do to stop him. Fear. Who would have known how much more useful it was than respect? Qasin laughed on the inside when their oldest Dragon-Wing arrived late only to see his chair already occupied.
“King Qasin, we are honored that you have accepted our invitation for a meeting,” the tardy Dragon-Wing said, taking the seat that had been intended for Qasin. “It is our hope that this meeting may help us put aside our differences and understand one another better. I believe that we may both benefit greatly if we can reach an arrangement.”
So now that it is your people dying we should talk and get to know each other? But when my people were dying it’s just tough luck and we’re just better than you, right? Qasin gritted his teeth at the thought. He had to force himself to relax so that the Council of Fools he was addressing wouldn’t have a heart attack.
“We’ve come to realize that the relationship between our two peoples has reached an all-time low, and we want to know how we can bring back the peaceful understanding we had for so long,” the Dragon-Wing continued awkwardly after the king ignored his greeting.
Qasin had imagined the meeting going a hundred different ways before he ever even entered the room, but now that he was here, all strategy abandoned him. All the planning, logic and reason that he was going to use to convince them to surrender was gone. It’s unnecessary, he thought, letting his actions and words be guided by the hunger that grew inside him. I will not dance for cowards again. “Peaceful understanding? Surely you can elaborate.”
The Dragon-Wing gulped. “You see, we haven’t had a war or ba–” he stopped abruptly when he saw the king pull out a sword and lay it on the table. He gulped again.
Lie to me. Do it. I dare you. I know your kind can’t resist. I know how you politicians are.
“You . . . You see . . .” the Dragon-Wing tried to continue, visibly shaking as he stuttered, his eyes never leaving the sword. “You see, we have always been at peace until . . . recent events.”
“Recent events? Enlighten me.” The king stood up and grabbed hold of the sword. This is just like with Wilhelm. These people, these Black-Wings, they aren’t bad. They’re just plagued with councilmen.
“Well, that is, we umm . . .”
“No, go ahead. Tell me which recent events you mean.” The king began to walk slowly around the long square table to the councilman on the other side.
“We, um, have reports that, you have been attacking our people, sir. By yourself,” he said.
“And was there nothing before that?” Qasin asked, each step shrinking the distance between himself and the councilman Dragon-Wing on the other side of the table.
“No, of course not, our people would ne–” the Dragon-Wing was cut short as the king closed the remainder of the distance in an instant. The sounds of wood shattering and bones crunching sounded throughout the room letting everyone know that something had just happened. No one in the room had seen anything more than a flash, or felt anything more than a gust of wind, as Qasin lunged forward and split the Dragon-Wing in two.
Everyone at the table froze. They wanted to object, to run and call for help, but their fear petrified them where they sat. Even the guards at the doors didn’t move.
“Now, who can tell me where our hostilities began without lying?” Qasin kicked the mangled body to the floor, upending the rent chair along with it. “You’re welcome to lie again, but . . . I’ll have to kill you for offending me. Oh, and someone clean up this rather unsightly mess.”
The silence persisted for almost two minutes. Finally, an Incubi sitting at one of the least important chairs of the table stood up and shouted, “We took part in the attack on your people near Valcrest!” He looked like he was declaring his love for a girl in a romantic comedy before quickly lowering his head and closing his eyes tight.
“Good. Now that we understand what brought us here, we can be honest. What do you plan on offering me for this peace you want?” Qasin’s words caused the Incubus to visibly relax and open his eyes.
“Sir, I mean, King Qasin, my name is Karnis. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can promise to give you everything that is mine if you will but let me tell our story before you shed more blood here. Please, Your Majesty.” The same Incubus spoke, but all the others just stared blankly at the empty place where the Dragon-Wing had been sitting.
How could a story be so important that this boy would give up everything he owned just to tell it? Qasin decided to humor the brave young fiend and listen to his story. “Very well. Explain yourself first, and we’ll talk about terms from there.”
The king walked across the room and sat back down in his chair as Karnis told his story. Most of it he had known already. He had known about the plotting to take over his throne with the council. He had known about the troop movements with the White-Horns. He had even grasped the relationship, however tenuous it may have been, but an allegiance none the less, that the Black-Wings had built with the White-Horns recently. Most of the story he had known, but the king hadn’t known why. He hadn’t known what the impetus had been for moving so quickly and at the cost of so many lives: The Sun God Emperor.
The Black-Wings and White-Horns had each managed to capture one of their scouts. They had managed to interrogate the scout and discover the imminent invasion. That’s when they had approached the Human Council and discussed the need for a unified front–but the Council had talked about a tit for tat arrangement.
“So this whole dispute was started by the Council? And this Sun God Empire, you’re worried about this kingdom attacking you?”
“Yes, King Qasin,” Karnis answered, and the rest of those present generally nodded their agreement.
“Good, but you will understand why I can’t simply forgive you just because you didn’t come up with the idea yourself, right?” the king pressed.
“Yes. I understand, and that is why we are willing to give whatever it takes if you will please cease the hostilities and send us aid to deal with this threat.”
The king let the whole notion sink in as he slouched back in his chair and relaxed. They really are desperate, aren’t they? How terrible a threat is this Sun God Empire?
“Well, gentlemen, be at ease. I will consider the conflict resolved and have my troops ready as soon as the White-Horn threat has been dealt with,” the king finally spoke.
“Thank you, King Qasin, but how much are you asking for in return for your aid?” a new voice spoke, one of the Succubi sitting close to him.
“Cost you? Why, nothing at all. A king can’t be expected to charge his vassals any more than standard taxes in return for their protection,” Qasin said with a chuckle.
A murmur broke out in the room. They had obviously not been expecting this, but they needed the help so badly that no-one immediately spoke out to counter the king’s statement.
“Look,” Qasin continued, “you either accept my help and the fact that you are now my subjects, or I murder you all here and wage war with your kingdom until you break. It’s up to you, but the real question is whether or not your pride is worth the lives of you and your people. You have until I leave this room to decide.”
The murmuring stopped. An uneasy silence crept over the room and every member of the table frantically exchanged worried glances. Ah, that fear. It’s here again. Qasin reveled in the sensation. He hadn’t planned on doing it like this, but somehow he knew it was the right thing to do. If it failed, he could just kill them all and negotiate with whomever stepped up next–a fact they clearly all knew.
After the silence had lingered for a few minutes, the king decided he had waited long enough and stood up. As soon as he did so, they all panicked. It was Karnis who stood up and spoke again, “Wait!”
“Yes?” he asked, as if he didn’t know what was about to be said.
“I . . . I think we can all agree to those terms, Your Majesty,” Karnis said, looking around for any dissenting voices.
“So, we’re all agreed then?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” he said, taking a knee.
“Good, I’ll have a messenger meet with you all to work out the details on taxes and defense. In the meantime, I have some White-Horns to visit,” the king said, walking out the door. He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he left. There was a certain pleasure the negotiations had brought him that he just couldn’t put his finger on.
The fear. It must have been their fear, he thought, closing the doors to the terrible chapter of bad council meetings that had plagued his political career.