Aara is a young man who works for Ethel Dress and Shoe Imperium. He lives with his younger brother Danush. I have seen him once when I was much younger, but never got a chance to interact with him. Now though, that opportunity has been given to me. He has something that I have been looking forward to for the longest time.
“So tell me Aara,” I say, “What do you think of my offer?”
“I…” he trails off and opens his mouth to say something, but closes it as quickly as he opened it.
“Why don’t you think about it more before you give me an answer?” I prompt him, pretending that I am very patient.
“I shall do that, Dayang,” he says, looking away from me. He is surprised that I am talking to him this way.
I sit back to watch him. He’s beginning to look pale. His eye twitches. He sits back again, palms pressed against his forehead. I take a sharp breath and clap my palms on my thighs. I nod in Jenna's direction, and she motions him out of the room.
“I take it that none of this will go out.”
“Of course, Dayang,” he answers quickly.
He walks away in a hurry, but not before giving me another look.
“I told you that she’s useful. Do you trust her now?” I ask and Ash emerges from the drawing room's secret room.
“She knows how to run things; she even managed to make Aara enter the palace,” he admits.
“Who would’ve thought that she made me an excuse. Father really spoils the hell out of me. Look at all these new clothes and shoes for the autumn festival.”
“We still have a long way to go,” I remind him.
“We have done everything we can on our end to prepare.”
“If Aara can persuade Danush, it will be beneficial to us. The guild has already grown in size, and we've established new branches even outside the kingdom. That place... I already know where it is; all we have to do now is figure out how to get there without being suspected.”
I asked Mariana to find Di Nais for me years ago, and thank god that place exists here. It’s a hidden nation I created that I intended to use in Vendetta but ended up scrapping anyway. It's a good thing I didn't put that in Inamorata because now that I’m here, I plan on using that for myself.
“Our people already scouted the area but have not gone beyond the range you specified; however, one person has yet to return,” Ash reports and I shake my head.
“Then stop scouting that place. Whatever they do, those people will find each and every one of them and will not spare them if they still continue. Cease the operation; it's already compromised anyways.”
He nods. He takes a sip of the already-cold tea that had been placed on the low table by Jenna a few hours ago. Disgusted by the stale taste, he spits it out and sticks his tongue out.
I mimic him and burst out laughing.
I take a deep breath and untangle my hair, allowing it to fall freely over my shoulders. I mess up my hair by weaving my fingers through it.
“There's nothing on my plate now that Babos is dead and Vremo has been cornered by your family. What a shame we didn't get the chance to squeeze them though.”
I roll my eyes and puff at him. “They’re two peas in a pod. All of their ill-gotten gains stem from trafficking humans and exotic animals. They enslave people. They ruin the balance.”
“They also know a lot of powerful people, both in positions and in the underworld; if we maximize their value, we’ll have everyone’s weaknesses at our disposal and big people on their knees.”
“They need to burn in hell, Ash.”
“We could have used them to our advantage; Iris, they could have served as pawns. The dirtier someone's hands are, the more useful they are to our cause.”
I nod, but in my mind, I wonder if he's telling the truth, or merely bluffing. I doubt that he is saying that their crimes can be overlooked as long as they're useful to us. So far, we’ve only had a tiny amount of success as far as amassing allies. Information may be easy for us to obtain, but for a country whose foundation is exchanging information, our power is not enough; others can still access our information if they dig deep enough. We need more. It still isn’t enough.
Jenna knocks on the door and enters with a food trolley. I thank her and she returns it with a jolly smile; she knows she did great.
"Sit beside me," I tell her, but instead of doing so, she takes a seat on another couch. “Good job, Jenna.”
“Hmph!” She crosses her arms. “How dare Dayang keep a secret this big from me. I won't complain if you force me to do dangerous things, but what if Dayang gets herself in harm's way? What am I to do then?”
“Ask Brother Lothario for help?” I teasingly suggest, earning a sharp glare from her.
“Hmph!” She moves her gaze away from me. “I suppose, but still…” she mumbles, her cheeks flush.
Ash and I exchange looks, cracking up a smirk.
“I heard he gave you a bracelet.”
“DaYang~” She slaps the air and tucks her hair behind her ear.
“Is it the one you're wearing right now?” I ask.
She shyly nods her head and bites her lip, discreetly showing off the bracelet.
Ash clears his throat. “We should get going. We have a lot to prepare for the hunting festival.”
“You’re just scared that my brothers will kick your ass if they get word of you hanging out with me again— I know, Jenna, language.”
“You can all go. I want to be alone. Oh wait, I’ll go too. Don’t come to my study.”
I didn't wait for them; I walked out of the room and into the study, then locked it from the inside after dismissing the knights stationed at the doors after informing them that no one is permitted to enter the west wing of the Great Hallway leading to the study.
“Ningning,”I try to summon the Deity of Light and Darkness, but I get no response. Just like the other times. “You should at least give a sign, you know. I feel stump here.”
Still no response.
“Haay…” I’m not sure how to communicate with her. Mariana said it should be automatic, the bond. Except for when I was in Cylian Paradise, I never felt Ningning’s presence.
I take my notes from the secret compartment of my desk drawer. It's gotten thicker now since I've added a lot over the years, though there are a lot more 50-50 things compared to things that I'm a hundred percent sure. I review everything and make changes here and there.
Babos is dead. Vremo will die soon. All their riches will go to the royal family. The guild is doing good. Inamorata is starting to really unfold, I don’t care though. I’m not going to participate in all the shenanigans in the Capital. I’d be in Di Nais by then. I’m not that much interested in Elrich's story. I just care about myself and my own goals. I’ll just help from the sidelines since I won’t have that much impact as a princess of Amari anyway.
For now, the next most important thing on my list are three things.
Danush and the Children of the Damned.
The establishment of Black Hats.
But most importantly, the upcoming autumn festival.