Five men sat in a room, talking and drinking wine. However, though the wine was good, the discussion was not pleasant or relaxing. They weren’t sitting in fine chairs, and there weren’t servants to pour their wine for them. One man, the most finely dressed of them all, spoke first. “We are gathered here today, each of us some of the most trustworthy and the most noble of men, because we face a dire situation. The king is taking it upon himself to suppress the nobles, draining us dry of funds. No doubt he plans to eventually eradicate us.”
A second man spoke, “Indeed! He has already done so to the Cyril family, and the noble Wizard’s Guild.”
A third man chimed in, “He’s even colluding with wizards from Eclea! He’s a traitor to the country.”
Two more voices murmured in assent. Then, the first man spoke again. “All too true. What then should we do? It is so hard to find any men loyal to Ostana these days. All of those who are righteous have been killed or scared into hiding.”
“We must do our best to find them, and set the country onto the right path.”
“What about the demons?” the sixth man asked.
“They won’t be a problem. We have withstood them before, and we will do so again.”
“That’s right! What we really need is a change in leadership. Otherwise the nobility will be picked apart piece by piece.”
“Of course, the right man for the job must be found.” All of the men turned to look at the one in the finest robes, as well as the host, the head of the Hengan family.
“Well,” he smiled smugly, “I’m sure it will be obvious when the time comes. First we must gather those who are loyal, and then call for the removal of the king.”
“On what evidence? What of the knights? What will the people think?” the sixth man questioned intently.
“Why, there is plenty of evidence. There was the fall of the Cyril family, and there has been word of the knights making raids on perfectly innocent households and planting evidence to incriminate them. The populace will surely believe what we tell them… the truth. If the knights don’t see which side is in the right… well, they will be dealt with.”
“I see.” The sixth man nodded. “Let me be frank here, gentlemen, so that I can be sure of what we are planning. We will start a civil war, likely resulting in the loss of most of the country’s military force, and then immediately thereafter go into a war with the demons. Or… do you think they will leave us alone?”
All eyes in the room turned to the sixth man, finally. Who was this? Were there not only five of them? Upon looking, he was strange. More than strange, he was a being made of shadows themselves. “Who are you?!” cried one of the five men.
“Excuse me, I asked questions first. You plan to start a civil war on obviously trumped up charges for a little personal gain and power, and still think you can somehow survive the upcoming war with the demons? Surely you know your history, right?”
By then, the shock of having a man appear in their midst had worn off. One of them charged at the shadowy figure with a knife, only to find himself kneeling on the ground, with his arm held uncomfortable behind his back, the knife nowhere to be found.
“Come on old man, I was being civil here. We’re talking, right? Tell me, do you really think Ostana would survive a civil war directly into a Demon King invasion? You do know the king isn’t lying about that.” The last statement was direct, with not a hint of a question.
“How did you get in here?” the head of the Hengan family asked.
“I can see you don’t know how this works, and are very confused, so I’ll answer your stupid question. You see, there are things called ladders. I came down that, like all of you did.” The sixth man sighed. “Seriously though, why would you rebel before the war? It would be so much easier afterwards. I suppose you can’t guarantee that you’ll survive though, so you might as well seize your few years of unstable power and ensure that humanity is destroyed.”
“An excellent plan. We’ll take it into consideration after we kill you.”
“Yeah, well, you see…” the shadow man lightly tapped the man he was holding on the back of his head, after which the man collapsed. “You vastly overestimate yourselves.”
The man immediately next to the shadow drew a sword, slashing at him. His attack was blocked by a long black line, somewhat resembling a staff. The sword was deflected to the side, and the staff struck the man in the chest, knocking him backwards. At the same time, however, the head of the Hengan household pulled out strange object, then somehow did something to cause a fireball to fly at the now-turned back of the shadow. Just before the fireball connected, the staff miraculously swung around, sweeping over the shadow’s head and deflecting the fireball into a wall. The next instant, the shadow appeared in front of him, and then he saw nothing more. The remaining two nobles barely had time to pull out weapons before they, too, were struck by the black staff, collapsing to the floor.
William looked at the bodies around him. He made sure to take note of the insignia of the other nobles. They certainly hadn’t expected to be seen here, so they had no reason to hide their identities, especially not from each other. William had been fortunate to arrive here at this particular time and day. The room itself would have been suspect, so perhaps he would have returned and waited for something to happen, but he could have easily found it too late. It also brought into question whether such meetings were happening in other places. He had only come because Lorelei had told him to make sure to check on all of the big nobles, whether or not there was anything said about them. That was sound advice, really, and William thought he probably would have done it anyway. He decided he didn’t want to stay around in a room that was slowly burning. Hopefully, the wooden supports would die out, and the fire wouldn’t spread to the rest of the manor. William would prefer if the servants weren’t in danger… but he also wasn’t going to stay around to put the fire out.