In the quarters of the King in the Kingdom of Lanthanor, Daneel was sitting and staring at Drakos's heart while being completely flummoxed.
Its rhythmic beating seemed to give a semblance of calm to his tumultuous mind, and as time passed, he finally took a deep breath and tried to voice his thoughts.
"So...In both Axelor and Arafell, Empire Spirits are in contact with the respective rulers, and they have deployed formations which will detect if anyone else at their level enters their borders. Did I get that right?"
After a pause, Drakos answered.
"It appears to be so, Young King. Even though the information and techniques contained in each of us is different, this formation is common as it is something basic, but also undefeatable by anyone at that level, which makes it incredibly precious. All it does is detect if anyone at and below the level of a Hero is covertly entering the areas which have been designated. This was originally intended as a safeguard against the Church or other enemies in case of an attack, but clearly, it works against each other among us, too, especially in this age."
"So…why haven't we deployed one on the borders of my Kingdom?"
This was the first damn question that appeared in Daneel's mind.
Those two were aware of all of those who entered their Kingdoms. What about him?!
Drakos had been in his head for quite some time already, but he still hadn't mentioned something so crucial?
An awkward silence followed, during which Daneel could easily guess that Drakos was trying to form an answer that would address the frustration in Daneel's tone when he had asked.
"Err…the answer is that you haven't unlocked it yet, King Daneel. This is one of the formations that is explicitly locked behind the second layer. You don't have enough satisfaction level in your Kingdom for you to unlock it. You can, still, enlist my services as a Formation Master, just like you did before, but certain formations, techniques, and information cannot be given by me unless you unlock them. "
But…How the hell had these two managed to do something which was taking him so long to accomplish?!
Daneel couldn't believe it, but as he thought about it, he realized that he partly knew the answer.
This news actually wasn't that surprising in the case of the Kingdom of Arafell, as it was well known that the Queen was loved by all. Since as long as anyone could remember, not a single incident of someone showing discontent had become known.
This was an almost eerily perfect record, and although Daneel had wondered about it before, he had just assumed that it might be that all incidents like those were being hidden away.
However, now, he realized that that might not be the case.
Maybe…the satisfaction level really was that high?
This was a question for which he would have loved to find the answer by going to Arafell using Drakos's Hero level spells, but obviously, that wasn't possible anymore.
Still, what about Axelor?
Everyone knew about the famous brainwashing regime of the Kings of Axelor. Rumors about horrific events called 'Purges' were also always abound in the continent.
How the hell could a Kingdom like that have such a high satisfaction level?!
As Daneel asked Drakos this, he got the answer.
"Young King, satisfaction level is a criterion which can be achieved in many ways. The best way, and the way that was intended by the Emperor, is what you are on. It is by doing good to the people and making them feel glad that they are being governed by you. The other way is to use forceful methods. You must be aware that there are different criteria for different Kingdoms. It might be that…whatever criteria was given to the Empire Spirit of Axelor, is being fulfilled very well by what their King is doing."
Taking another deep breath, Daneel tried to order his thoughts.
The old man in Elanev's head had mentioned this before, but in his shock from having all of his plans dashed, Daneel hadn't been able to remember it. Still, he couldn't have expected that an additional tier would have already been unlocked by that crazy man.
However it had happened, it was done.
Cursing at it would bring no results. Instead, all he could do was amend his plans to accommodate for this fact.
Initially, he was going to take the easy way: he would infiltrate them both using Drakos's spells before finding ways to usurp those leaders or bring them under his influence using something he might find by snooping around in their Kingdoms without their knowledge.
Clearly, that wasn't possible anymore.
So, it was time for a new plan.
Yet…he was blank.
He knew that his spies were practically ineffective in these Kingdoms, and going in by himself using a camouflage spell was out of the question, as there was quite a big risk that he might be spotted by the ruler and caught.
After all, even though covert ways of entry were being blocked, it didn't mean that the formation could check each and every person entering the Kingdom after obtaining proper permission.
After asking Drakos and finding out that this was true, Daneel heaved a sigh of relief before once again starting to consider what he was going to do.
If camouflage was out of the question…then what?
Normal means of concealment using physical props was also too risky, and he knew that he definitely did not want to get caught inside their Kingdom without Drakos. That would definitely be the worst thing that could happen, even if he was a Peak Exalted Warrior at the moment.
So, while Daneel pondered, he was quite surprised when he heard Drakos speak up.
"Young King, I think you are overlooking something."
Raising an eyebrow, Daneel wondered what he could have missed that the innocent Dragon hadn't.
"What's that?", he asked, slightly hopeful that it was something important.
"They do not know that you have reached the requisite satisfaction level and taken me into your mind. Yet, because of their formations, you know that they have definitely at least reached the second tier. And we can also ascertain that both of them are, most probably, those who haven't gone insane, as if they had, they would have attempted full possession by now, and Angaria would have been doomed. This means that they are in the Race, and they want their 'contenders' to win."
For once, Daneel was stupefied.
By putting up those formations, these two had practically exposed themselves for the sake of safety. They were like fearful humans who lit a fire for light, but had indicated to the animals around them about their location through this action.
He was just like one of those predators in the darkness. No one knew that Drakos was in his mind. Even if it was now public that he had become a Peak Exalted Warrior, he had a reason for that which wouldn't bring the suspicion on the Empire Spirit.
In other words…if he managed to infiltrate them, they would never know what hit them.
Finally, Daneel saw a ray of sunshine in the darkness. This was good news. Even though he didn't know exactly how he was going to do that, he now at least had an advantage that he wouldn't be foolish to throw away.
Yet, as he ruminated over Drakos's words, he suddenly got a doubt.
"Why are they so interested in this Race, by the way? What do they get if their 'contender' wins? Don't tell me they, too, revere the Emperor like you?"
"That…is also locked information, Young King. But I can give you a hint. It has everything to do with the Grand Inheritance. Whoever assembles it, will be capable of doing something that will highly benefit the Empire Spirits."
As Daneel heard this, he couldn't help but smile at the corner of his mouth.
Clearly, Drakos was getting better at becoming, well, 'human', but Daneel didn't know if that, too, would count as risking him going berserk.
He really hoped that that wasn't the case.
After all, Drakos had just given Daneel all the clues. Even though he didn't spell it out loud, the answer was clear.
Apparently, the Grand Inheritance would allow its wielder to free an Empire Spirit from their captivity.
This only made Daneel feel curious and excited about just what the Grand Inheritance was.
He knew that each part came in pairs, and that there were 9 of them, meaning 18 total individual pieces.
He had 2 parts, and so did Axelor.
Arafell had at least one part, but for some reason, Daneel suspected that it might have more, simply because of his suspicion that there was more to the Kingdom of Arafell than met the eye.
Wait…hadn't that old man been the one who sensed the parts and said that Axelor was leading?
Wouldn't he know how many parts Arafell had?
Getting a brainwave, Daneel immediately rushed to that training room where Elanev was still pounding himself bloody against all the training apparatus there.
Whatever the purpose and goal of this training was, Daneel could tell that it was very excruciating, which made him slightly pity his brother.
Yet, it was his choice.
As soon as he entered the room, Elanev swooned to the floor without even greeting him.
The old man, who had appeared behind him again, said, "He was already dead tired. What do you need me for, boy?"
Not in the mood to banter, Daneel directly asked, "How many parts of the Grand Inheritance does Arafell have?"
For the first time, Daneel saw the old man with a flabbergasted expression on his face.
Scratching his smooth, bald head, he said, "The ruler of that dump with those so-called 'Giants' is in the Race? How do you know?"
Anyway, that wasn't the important point right now.
"Yes…I tried to enter their Kingdom, but Drakos said that there was a detection formation there that can only be accessed by someone who's unlocked two tiers. That means that the Queen must have unlocked the formation in her Kingdom and gotten the part, right?"
Hitting his palm with his other hand, a look of realization came on the old man's face.
"So that's why I always had a prickly feeling whenever I entered that Kingdom! I was being watched! Dammit!"
Daneel patiently waited for the old man to continue, as he had begun using some very choice curse words to refer to the Queen of Arafell.
After a few seconds, the old man finally said, "Anyway, the answer is that I have no idea. I'm a Fighter, you know?! I can detect the parts of the Grand Inheritance if they aren't being concealed, and if I'm near them. That's how I found the parts on you. Clearly, that bitch in that Kingdom must have concealed it. My clones have gone to both Kingdoms, but I got no feeling like that in Axelor. Did Drakos say that that formation is up in Axelor, too?"
As Daneel nodded, the old man continued, saying, "I knew it! I felt that there, too. And here I thought the Race has just started. Clearly, there are others on the track, but they're so far away from you that you can't even see them!"
Ignoring this jab, Daneel asked the doubt that he had just gotten.
"If you can't detect the parts of the Grand Inheritance when they are concealed, and if someone who can conceal them can also cast that anti-detection spell…then how were you able to detect the pieces in Axelor?"
As this realization dawned on the old man, too, his eyes widened, before both of them blurted out the answer together.
"It means that Axelor was deliberately not concealing the parts!"
That was the most obvious conclusion. If the King of Axelor was able to put up that formation with the help of his Empire Spirit, then it meant that he could cast that concealment spell, too.
Yet, he had chosen not to.
Daneel wondered why, and as he reached an answer, his eyes lit up with enthusiasm.
"Maybe…it's a trap? Maybe the Axelorian King wants to lure the other participants in the Race to his Kingdom by not concealing his parts? It's not a very hidden trap, but what's to say that some cocky contender might not choose to march in anyway…"
If this was the case, then a plan slowly started to form in Daneel's mind.
Yet, he had to finish his present pending jobs first.
Letting it ruminate in his mind, Daneel spent the next two days 'resurrecting' all of the elves, following which his status in their hearts became more solid than it could ever be.
The vote had passed smoothly, and although those elves in the court looked like they would cause trouble, nothing had happened so far.
The morning of the next day, the auspicious time of officially signing the alliance approached.
Under the gaze of the court and the blessings of the citizens, Eldra finished her last official act as the Queen.
Yet, just as Daneel was about to sign the document, too, with his blood, a loud sound interrupted him.
Looking up, he saw with shock that a hole had just appeared in the Palace, outside which stood two figures who were looking at him with scorn.
Before they said anything, Drakos spoke in his mind, making Daneel's heart skip a beat.
"Young King…the two of them are Heroes."
Final details of contest:
Theme: WDS Spinoff
Submission: Mail to [email protected]
Last Date: 30th March 2019
Prizes: 1200 SS
Minimum Word Count: 500
Method of deciding winner: Voting
If you have any questions, please ask in the comments!