Chapter 9: Sirens (4/5)

“Then why wage war? Why can’t I shirk off in the backside and let the others make the charge?” A younger male asked.

“Friend, you’ve never been conscripted before? When the army comes, you either let yourself be levied or let yourself get executed for dereliction of duty. The Karthian army is at least fair in treatment. All are equal in service, even the high-nosers will find it hard to advance their station in the army.”

Murmurs rose from the crowd. People were getting excited at this topic. “My good ser, you sound like a man who has served before.” The elderly man spoke.

“Was ever there any doubt? I was but a knight once.” Boasted the man.

“Forsooth?” Roared another, “A mighty knight in a place like this? Where do I find such a knight?”

“A knight I was before. A different life it was.” The man growled. Saying no more, he dipped his head down and sipped his own mead.

The excitement was gone with that. Only the clinking of mugs and bottles against tables could be heard through the tavern now. No one spoke. No one heckled. The discussion was over, it seemed, and no one seemed inclined to continue it. 

All was quiet in the tavern.

Some found the silence hard to bear and began to offer up new topics to discuss. But like fishing in an empty pond, there was no bite. There was no interest in such topics and no discussion was had.

“What says you our odds of winning?” Someone finally asked.

“Of course we win! How could we lose? Karth has the strongest military in the world!” Another person snapped.

“What use is the strongest military?” Sneered the once-knight, “The other nations will rise up against us should a war break out. Can one nation afford to take on the whole world?”

The patron who once spoke bitterly about the three levies, chose this moment to speak out passionately for his nation. “Are you not a knight, ser? We have the strongest military and the strongest magus, the invincible and undefeated Kebrilio!”

“Ho? Seems you’re behind on the news! They say Master Kebrilio unleashed his forbidden spell to wipe out the Barren Barons near Chizra Valley, but a magus from the Sovereignian dignitaries stopped it. They also say the following duel destroyed Melkruth down to the last stone!” The once-knight polished off his drink with a flourish. “We have magi, but so do they! Sovereign is well known for their magi, who’s to say Sovereign will be able to win a war by their magic alone?”

The patrons hated his words and immediately fired back out of duty for their nation. “What lies are you spouting?” A person flew to his feet, his hands slamming the table as he did. “In no life would I believe Master Kebrilio’s magic to lose to another.”

Insulted, the man rose to rebuke the man at once. But before he could round on the other, the elderly man from before stopped him.

“Friend, one should know the truth first before they attempt to make a liar out of another. My ears hear little at my age, I shant claim to know much. But I have indeed heard of the spelltorn Melkruth.”

The man before fell silent, his earlier bickering proven to be empty. Instead, all eyes turned to Elric in hopes that someone from the involved party would be able to shed light on the topic.

But Elric felt anxious. How could he possibly state that the one to have stopped the archmagister’s ultimate spell was himself? He didn’t need to keep listening to know how well respected and idolized Kebrilio was here. Caution had to be applied here lest he accidentally blaspheme against the Karthian idol and be beaten for it. Elric wasn’t planning on making trouble.

“I came with another group to Karth before the other dignitaries, so I’m afraid I don’t know the details? Half a month it has been since my arrival, and only today did I meet with them. I know little of the events that transpired.” Elric lied.

The people were, of course, disappointed, but not all believed his words.

That was that. If no one had an answer then it was time for a new discussion. The gamblers moved back to their own table to continue their game and the tavern went back to the state from when Elric first stepped into the tavern. It was almost as if the fierce discussion just now didn’t happen.

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Elric sat there in his corner, ruminating on the discussion just now. From what he could hear, it sounded like the general populace of Karth didn’t wish for war. Not even the one who called himself a knight seemed at all optimistic about participating in a conflict he wouldn’t profit from.

But that didn’t mean that every Karthian shared the knight’s outlook. The other patrons in the tavern were fiercely passionate about their nation and everyone shared the same level of idolatry for Kebrilio. Karth was a militaristic nation at heart and their historical conquests inspired every denizen. In contrast to life in Sovereign, Elric never once thought about the politicking of his own nation. He really only cared for his own life and matters pertaining to it. The idea of it being the citizen’s duty to protect their nation instead of the army was a foreign concept to them. 

Sovereign seemed to emphasize freedom moreso than Karth. The disparity between social classes wasn't as divisive in Sovereign either, at least in Elric’s opinion. Most of the aristocracy weren’t so bad, in fact, some of them were actually quite affable and had nice upbringings. Of course, there were also a few of them many didn’t like. Specifically the ones who were quite arrogant and looked down on others, but there were just as many merchants that were just as arrogant. Arrogance, it seemed, was a common trait to have in a person regardless of social status.

Elric could only think of a single person from the upper crust that enjoyed mistreating and abusing a commoner. Princess Crazy. But then again, she was a special case even amongst the aristocracy.

The thought of princess Crazy disappeared from Elric’s mind as quick as it came. She was something of a nightmare to him and made him shiver just thinking about her. Not even the Abyssal God, Rachdor Skraneus, or the Demon Lord, Veyton Kinsraeus were comparable in fright.

Still bored waiting for the waitress, Elric took his time drinking the sweet-smelling cider one sip at a time.

Ten meters underneath the tavern, the waitress was still waiting anxiously as well. What if Elric got tired of waiting and left? Two hours had passed by already, the informant was being far too slow! She spent ten years being in this trade, she knew how easy it was to gather intelligence! Did he manage to get himself caught? Or was the boss in some kind of situation and couldn’t be reached?

The cellar door opened while she was in the middle of her thoughts. The place echoed with the shuffling of footsteps, alerting the waitress that not just one person was here. That wasn’t right, this was a secret meeting place that couldn’t be stumbled on naturally. The only one that could leave this place freely was her and the middle-aged man earlier. The latter didn’t even have the authority to bring people here as he pleased, so what was going on?

Stuck in a potentially dangerous situation, the waitress ducked behind a cupboard for safety.

Several people filed into the cellar in silence. One of them, a magus, created a ball of light to float gently above her hand to illuminate the room.

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