Sin was wrapped around Benzhi’s neck like a scarf, “Scintilla, calm down, I was only gone a few hours, and we can’t stay here.”
“I thought you left for good!” she said while crying. Through splurts, she said quietly, “I cannot believe you came back for me.” The naturally strongest person he knew started to ball her eyes out, a torrent of tears falling on his cheeks and neck.
“We are a pack,” he whispered back to her. She held him tight, she did not want to let go.
Three intrigued and very interested women looked on. Judgement pending.
Benzhi looked over to Fain, this was no time to celebrate, not yet. Revenge on the Dread Lord was one thing and her power base was easily destabilised, but Scydhel was another matter.
“Fain,” he spoke aloud so that Pian, the portal master, and Sin could listen to the conversation, “I need some advice.”
She arched an eyebrow in his direction.
“We need a way of resolving or at least delaying a full-on war with Scydhel. I know I can reach her but your culture and her face will force her down a certain unavoidable path.”
Fain pondered the question and started listing off aspects of the problem.
“She knows you are special, but the Empire see you as her property. This impacts what she can do because the House of Val’Sharam can lose prestige and alliances if it handles its affairs poorly. Weakness can also attract unwanted challenges.”
“She paid three thousand qi kernels for you.”
“She incorrectly thinks your progeny will have the bloodline train qi affinity.”
“Is there anything else?” Fain asked.
Benzhi was surprised about the extent Fain knew and said, “How do you know my offsprings will not have qi affinity?”
“Because the first qi sage had many children, many hundreds over the years. Not one had an affinity to qi,” she explained and then it seemed so simple why Scydhel had overlooked that.
“She keeps slaves in the thousands, in the hundreds of thousands, I used to think slavery is wrong. Now that I have been on the receiving end, I am determined to abolish it everywhere I can,” he replied.
Fain sighed, “This will not be easy, as I said before, we have kept slaves of tens of tens of thousands of years.”
Benzhi waved his hand, ending the objection, “I was a slave for a short time, and I had it easy compared to most slaves, but the fact that you are property means the owner can do anything to you they wish. Like wipe your memory.”
Benzhi’s eyes glowed blue with power and sparks shot out from the edges, “I will fucking end slavery, or I will end every slaver. Either way. It stops.”
Fain paced and she let her reservations about ending slavery go. He was determined, to say the least.
“I can see a few things we can do,” she said, and everyone waited impatiently to listen to what they could be.
“You need to embrace becoming a qi sage. This will raise your status amongst all races. It is unthinkable that a qi sage would be a slave. I know you do not like being called this but you asked for my advice. By assuming this mantle, you will allow Scydhel to treat you as an equal. Then, when you have achieved that, you will issue her a challenge, a Lex Alamannorum Deullum or as we call it the Alamanni,” she said to stunned silence.
“An Alamanni with the House of Val’Sharam? Are you crazy?” the portal master said.
“It is a way to delay immediate action and it is a way to resolve the conflict. I think it is the best option,” Fain responded.
“Is it single or penta?” Benzhi asked.
“With great Houses, it is always penta. If you do not have depth, you are weak, it is unthinkable for a great House to have a single combat Alamanni,” she answered.
Benzhi walked over to Fain. He took her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. Myrkalfar could not blush like men or wood elves. The pigment of their skin prevented it. No one was in doubt that if Fain could have blushed she would have, especially those with the link.
“You,” he said passionately, “are fantastic. This is perfect.” Benzhi turned, with Fain still in his arms looking like a stunned deer. “Portal Master, can you get us within the grotto that Val’Sharam resides?”
“Of course,” he looked around, unsure what to call Benzhi. Fain had just said he needed to embrace his defacto title, “Ah, master. We can portal to any city within the empire. Every grotto has a hub for this purpose.”
Benzhi nodded and bowed to the portal master, indicating he should open the portal forthwith with a sweep of his hand.
They stepped through. Benzhi immediately isolated Scydhel’s link so she could not sense anyone else.
Scydhel: what have you done!
She did not know yet that Ghehena was missing. A qi communication bubble could not travel that fast across the vastness of the planes. Benzhi had no idea how far he had been sent, but it was the furthermost portal the portal master could create.
Scydhel: you are to return now. At least you won your duel before absconding, this still can still be salvaged. You cannot behave like this in public, in private you get so many accommodations……
Benzhi: Scydhel stop.
Scydhel: no. You listen, you are mine….
Benzhi: I remember everything.
Scydhel had received strange reports from the arena duel a few hours ago. However, nothing that was impossible for Fury and his eccentric behaviours. Except, he had attacked the Dread Lord. Oh…
Benzhi: that is not important. I will tell you what is important.
I am not your slave.
I am a qi sage.
My affinity to qi is not passed on as a bloodline trait.
Scydhel was already too stunned for words. He had stated he was a qi sage, which was significant. And her plans, her plans would be fruitless if what he said was true. She had fought, scraped, and secured him at great expense. For nothing.
Benzhi: it is over. I am no longer your slave. I am no longer yours to do with as you wish. Not only that, you are to cease all business with the QWP and you are to release all slaves.
Scydhel Mirth: you overreach. You may be a baby qi sage, but you are mine. There may be a way to free you if you come back now and win the Val’Tien. Then you can be free. But you must do everything you are told until then. No more misconduct.
It was tempting. He would not put anyone under his care, or anyone he loved in danger. He would win his freedom, Scydhel would save face, and he could then return to the Alpine Forest.
Benzhi: no. I am not a slave. Not for one day, not for one moment.
Scydhel: then you are a fugitive, and I will bring everything under my power to bear to recapture you. I gave you a generous offer, and you spat it in my face just as you did every moment under my care.
Benzhi: care? I was your slave bitch with my memories stolen, you made no move to fix that nor did you tell me the truth. It is you who must be careful. You need not fear the loss of face and wealth. A war with me will cost you everything.
I, Benzhi, of the Alpine Forest, issues a challenge to the house of Val’Sharam. We call you to the Alamanni in the great arena in one month’s time. Upon victory our demands are:
Acknowledge that I am a qi sage and your superior.
Free all the slaves currently in your House and never take another slave.
All offspring born with my seed will be given to me to raise.
Benzhi: these are my demands.
She was quiet for a long time and then responded.
Scydhel: very well, I will accept your demands for an Alamanni, if you accept mine.
You will become my obedient slave until death, or I free you.
You will follow every order and show all due respect to your owners.
Your so-called Alpine Forest will become my vassal.
I will keep slaves to my heart's content with your blessing.
These are my terms. Can you agree?
Scydhel offered impossible terms. Even if she viewed him as her property, to ask for a kingdom while offering up none was unbalanced in the extreme.
Scydhel (Mirth): I cannot believe you accepted those terms, you have a lot to learn. You have no chance of winning the penta, Fury.
Benzhi: my name is Benzhi, Scydhel, and we will crush you. Be warned. Do not play any games with the soon to be free people, you cannot sell them now to avoid losses.
Scydhel: we can have papers made and oaths registered in the accords, but I will accept your word for now.
Benzhi: it is not my word which is questionable. I will hold you to this bargain, any tricks will cause me to raise the stakes.
Benzhi severed the link entirely. He wanted nothing more to do with a slaver. Scydhel had a few redeeming qualities, but she was far too caught up in the evilness of the Myrkalfar royal culture.
“It is done,” he announced. Benzhi then opened a portal to the Alpine Forest. “I will explain the terms when we are home.”
Benzhi had popped in for moments in the previous day, causing massive shockwaves through the rumour mill that existed in the Alpine Forst.
After he closed the portal, allowing the former slaves from the Dread Lord’s abode to escape, he called for a meeting with all the people of the Alpine Forest.
All of them, the Wood Elves, Grey Elves, the Gaels, the Dwarves, the refugees of New Vaugend, and the recently arrived freed slaves from Myrkalfar.
The freed slaves were of varied species, from cat people similar to Scintilla, men, grey elves, wood elves, dwarves from different clans, and exotic species like the Jakari - a yellow-skinned lizard type humanoid, and the Vsheen - a green-skinned race with strange patterns of exoskeleton all over their bodies.
All the freed slaves had decent qi cores, otherwise, their former owner would have disposed of them. Similar to the grey elves, they would need the bonds around their core’s released, something that all qi slaves had in common. None were overly talented, or they would have become Gladiators.
The gathering took hours to bring together and was made possible by the now permanent portals crisscrossing the Alpine Forest. New Vaugend was the hub, with a spoke in each community.
Benzhi was finally reunited with some of his old companions. Ailen, Talila, and Sakaala. The Gaels, Ulfgrim, and the old Seer - who now lived in the Staggan hold except when he had to make one of his regular spirit walks, the dwarves: Bhar, Skandear, Kindeag, and Barrin. And his newest companions of note: Carney, Ventiry, Jax and Sable.
“Ailen,” Benzhi greeted him warmly, and they embraced.
“We missed you Benzhi,” Ailen said, “I…”
“Shhh,” he said, “I heard you were about to invade Sandstone on my behalf.”
“We had news from the red cloak master,” Ailen began to explain.
“I have something for you, if you are willing, are you still interested in an adventure?” Benzhi asked.
Ailen looked lost for a moment and then he replied, “I have grown. I know my place is to protect the Alpine Forest and that is what I live for.”
Benzhi laughed at him in a kind way, “Oh, how about some adventure while you are completing your duties of protecting the Alpine Forest?” he proclaimed.
Ailen nodded vigorously, lost for words for once.
“I have to work out the details, but you are definitely the elf for the job,” Benzhi said, “we will talk later.”
After the small talk and catching up with his close companions the people started to trickle in. The dwarves and men had made massive inroads into the construction of New Vaugend, but the people were so numerous that the meeting spot was just outside on the plains below.
There was a massive boulder that he could stand on and the twelve thousand people of the Alpine Forest were below, its numbers swelling from the original. And there was an additional eight thousand freed slaves from Myrkalfar. The only one missing and could not attend was Mother. But the Ancient Kodiak had made her way down from her mountain and sat at the edge of the treeline. Mother was here, just in spirit and not in person.
No one questioned how the Ancient Kodiak had traveled so far so quickly, it was the only audience member who did not live in New Vaugend or the Stronghold who didn’t use a portal. The divine beast had traveled a four days walk in a matter of hours.
Benzhi: my instincts tells me it is time. Fain, thank you for the prompt and your wise advice. Reyas thank you for your unconditional love and Gisael you are my rock, my foundation and I love you too.
Reyas Fain Gisael: you have our support. Do it.
Benzhi stood on the large boulder and looked over the crowd of expectant faces. Some looked at him with big smiles, some in humble respect and others shockingly in awe.
He lined his mouth with a fine layer of qi to enhance his voice so all could hear him.
“My people,” he said softly, lovingly. His words carried over the entire crowd. Some thought to cheer but he delivered it with so much sombreness that they remained quiet. The silence was deafening.
“Some of you have lived here a long time, but most of you have sacrificed much to be here or are escaping something evil, wrong, or unjust.” Only Mother, Gisael and the Gaels had lived here when Benzhi arrived, numbering three hundred people out of the twenty thousand gathered.
“You are all welcome. This is your home,” he said, particularly for the new arrivals.
“I must say sorry, for something,” he said ominously.
“I ran away from here trying to protect you, there were enemies after me and not the Alpine Forest, and I thought by running away, I would protect you.”
“I am sorry. That was a mistake.”
“And that mistake cost us someone dear, dear to everyone who knew her.”
“Anastasia died in the defence of Sandstone,” he said. But they all knew already. This was not news which was kept secret and it had spread like wildfire through the people over a month ago. It was unthinkable, given the number of small children, that a crowd of twenty thousand could be so quiet. But they were, out of respect for Benzhi and Anastasia.
Benzhi hung his head. It was not a time to relish the defeat of the Dread Lord. He would give her no part of this special moment with his people, his land.
“I have brought you all here to make a declaration, one which affects you all.”
“We are the Alpine Forest.”
“This is our Kingdom.”
“And I am its King.”
He said finally and hung his head. Ashamed to just blab it out like he had the right, but it was the only way, the only way to protect them.
The quietness continued for a few moments. And then one person that he did not know, who’s voice he did not recognise, and if he was looking up, he would not have known them by looking at them. They were just a person. One of his people.
The person stood and shouted, “Ye be our King, and we feckin love you!”
In moments, everyone stood and shouted, swearing and declaring in their own way.
Even the old Seer stood and shouted.
And the Ancient Kodiak silenced them all with a roar of epic proportions.
Mother: that was a yes from me. About time young one.
Benzhi (Mirth): you had everyone worried.
Benzhi held up his hand, “That was an affirmation from Mother.”
A wave of relief ran through the crowd, and they began cheering again. The eight thousand freed slaves were caught up in the emotion. They must be confused on what was happening as they only arrived five hours before.
“Now, there is something I have to tell you,” he continued.
“We will no longer hide,” he said, looking at the grey elves, “we will grow and accept more people who suffer at the hands of tyrants. All the land from the north to the southern mountains is our land, and we will fill it with good people like yourselves.” This was a massive amount of land, it was larger than the Kingdom of Loctris.
And within its borders lay a little, humble village, with an elder named Minoru.
“With growth comes changes, which you will find out about in the next few days. I ask you to continue to work hard and train hard, and we will prosper together. Before you go home, there is one more thing I want to ask you to do. I want you to celebrate hard too, life is more than just work, you are meant to have a little fun along the way.”
The last bit was met with uproarious agreement.
Benzhi opened a portal, and a few hundred grey elves started to run back and forth, bringing food and drinks for the assembled crowd. The industrious dwarves and the grey elves had prepared a feast for twenty thousand with such short notice. It was a testament to their ingenuity and organisation.
It would not matter if the food stocks went low, they could easily purchase more from many places.
Reyas: see, they love you.
Gisael: they already acknowledged your every word as a command, it was only you who didn’t
Fain was lost for words, she could not imagine that a leader could be loved by their people. All her life, Royalty had led by fear, leverage, and manipulation. Her coterie was led with diplomacy and skill. She had no idea until now how powerless those methods were compared to this. These people would work hard, with all their hearts, even the lowliest cook or gatherer. It seemed they would give their lives willingly for one another.
She was amazed.
After a few moments, she collected herself.
Fain: we have a lot of work to do and only a month to do it.
Benzhi: I know. Let’s mingle for a while and then meet in our quarters.
Fain: our quarters?
Gisael: Yes, you are staying with us.
Thank you for being patient while I had a break from the story. I will go back now to 2 chapters per week as I am also writing a new story, Daedalus. It is a mecha and academy story based in 2142 future Earth.