The aftermath of the siege saw the perimeter wall torn completely down. The Military and Merchant factions came together to fund and construct a new wall twice as thick with far more defenses. The project would take almost a full year to complete but work began immediately after the logistics had been determined.
Garghent suffered half a million casualties in the war with another million injured, but very minimal civilian damage with the exception of some property destruction on the outskirts of the city.
Economic and business ventures resumed even stronger than before. The excess military were given the opportunity to work on rebuilding the wall and railroad that circles Garghent. Most took it, which meant cooks, doctors, tailors, bars and various other recreation and necessary jobs would follow the millions of new project workers.
The Merchant faction paid a total of two billion in cash to jumpstart the farming and village communities that occupy the land around Garghent. They all had been pillaged or razed and so there were many eager citizens to start their lives over or farmers attempting to reclaim their land. The market was competitive as anyone who wished to move out into the countryside would be paid, so long as they contributed to something within those communities.
Though it was the early days of rebuilding, the outside was fixing to be more prosperous than ever before. Garghent healed stronger. A mark of a governing body that both worked efficiently and had common goals. The glory of the metropolis.
The loot collected from the dead or surrendered Coalition soldiers meant Garghent had little need to pour funds into restocking military weaponry. The Merchant faction had free reign to govern reconstruction as profitably as possible, under the condition that the city undergoes a boon and everyone benefits. Wealth distributed to the citizenry is a psychological tactic to ensure loyalty. Economics, to the Merchant faction, becomes a game of spinning trays. In order for this game to work properly, the extravagantly rich elite, or the government, which in Garghent’s case are one and the same, must wholeheartedly desire to serve its people. Once that condition is met, the game can begin. People, or rather groups of people, demographics, corporations, businesses, trades, industries, all these things become spinning trays. As long as the tray is spinning, that group or category is happy and prospering. Oftentimes only one tray can be spun at a time, but there are some exceptions. Now, there are many dozens of trays, perhaps even hundreds, and they represent all of Garghent. Trays can be spun by passing laws that benefit that group, or funding a project or venture, or promoting that group’s product or message, whatever is required to satisfy them. Naturally the tray will slowly wane and bobble over time and it will need to be spun once again to keep that tray’s associates happy.
It can be overwhelming as multiple trays slowing down and stopping could start a chain reaction that leads to all or most of the trays to stop spinning. At that point the game is over and the government loses. At first glance it would seem an impossible game, with so many trays demanding so many services to stay spinning the game is rigged to begin with. Except there is a trick to the game, which allows the ruling class to successfully win this game over the working class. The trick is anticipation. By knowing what each tray wants before it makes any requests the trays can be kept spinning before they ever wobble and stop. This is the key to the game and the only way to win. The stakes of losing the game are that the populace will not be loyal, efficiency drops exponentially and overall quality of power is reduced, sometimes to the point of civil unrest and even coups in the most extreme cases.
Garghent would need its fair share of fealty from its populace for what it’s Military faction was preparing. The role of government will always to some scale include acting as a distraction for its own cloak and dagger operations. The merchant class has the dual responsibility of buying unquestionable loyalty from its people while using sleight of hand to keep them from seeing how they are funding and partaking in a clandestine war against the other cities.
“One wrong move and the Coalition, or part of it, will reform and invade us again while we are rebuilding.” Pointed out Klyle. Klyle was with a small group who carried a majority of the influence in the city meeting in secret to plot Garghent’s next course of action. General Draje, General Lillian, a select few of the most powerful Gentlmans, and the leader of this shadow government, the former Janiform Amenais, gathered to discuss retaliation.
“The chances of that have been mitigated, Rabio is currently in Daedal procuring information for us and spreading misinformation to their government.” Amenais said and then sipped from his tea.
“But can he be trusted? He is not an original member of our group.” Argued one man in a dark suit.
“You have my word, he can be trusted for this task at least. He has no knowledge of any of us and will be dispatched once this work is done.”
The answer seemed to satisfy the man as he nodded his approval.
“And Klyle,” Started Amenais, “rest assured, we have just the man to remove Daedal’s government. The timing is so perfect that Daedal will be begging for Garghent authority when we are finished.”
“A smear campaign to tarnish the people’s trust in their own city, followed by an assassination of their entire Senate, and then we will move in offering the people what they want amidst the turmoil and anarchy.” General Lillian explained.
Klyle stroked his mane in thought. “It can work, but the ramifications will aggravate the other metropolises.”
“The transition of power will be too fast for any counter, by then we will have nearly doubled our military and labor. Daedal will not be occupied through military means, it is a political transition you might say. The next city, however, will fall shortly after Daedal to military conquest and from there we will cement our empire. Trust me on this Klyle. It can work.”
“This will be our only chance.” Klyle said.
“I know. It’s all starting so late, I am an old man now but I can finally begin my life’s work in earnest. It is a pity we all could not remain eternally youthful as you do, Master Klyle. Imagine the work we could do.”
“It is the disarray and failed siege which we are capitalizing on. The other cities are weak, exhausted and have lost the trust of their people. Millions perished in their war, sons and daughters lost for a failed cause.” Draje said, returning to the topic.
“Still, I agree with Klyle, caution can not be downplayed. You mentioned you had a man for the job of assassination, I am curious who you hired.” Another Gentleman pitched in.
“It is not one man but three. And you know who they are.”
He went pale. “You’re going to use the Headless?”
“Creeper should be arriving here shortly to receive the contract.” Amenais said.
“That serpent is even less trustworthy than Rabio!” The Gentleman looked around as if he expected the assassin to emerge from the shadows.
And he was right.
“That is not very nice.” Berated Creeper, stepping from a shadowy corner of the room.
“I…” The Gentleman scrambled for something to say, sweating profusely.
“Welcome, Creeper.” Amenais said smoothly.
Creeper leaned against a doorframe, all black clothes and smiling mask and twisted hair like dark tendrils of ancient tree roots.
“What’s the pay?” He asked in his even, plain voice.
“Fifteen million, split between the three of you.”
“Snuff and Bodysnatcher are enjoying their vacation.”
“It has been a year. Besides, the job is a bit excessive for one man to do.” Amenais had employed Creeper for nearly two decades, he knew money and boredom is what made him tick. Still, he chose his words carefully.
“I haven’t been to Deadal in a while, and I think Bodysnatcher is getting sick off a Garghent diet.” One could feel the grin under the mask, though it helped that the over exaggerated cheek to cheek grin on his mask probably resembled Creeper’s real expression. It left little to the imagination and at the same time far too much.
“The job needs to be done within the month, that gives you about three weeks. Any intel you need will be available from General Lillian.”
“I still haven’t accepted. I am worried your ambition will get the better of you, dear former Janiform.”
Amenais forced a smile, knowing exactly what that ‘ambition will get the better of you’ part meant. Creeper was getting bored of Amenais too. But that would be a problem for another day.
“I assure you Creeper, my ambition got the better of me the day I could perceive elevation.”
“Fifteen million split three ways is five each. That is almost triple the usual amount. My my, have you been holding out on me this whole time?”
“The job is quite important and by all rights should be impossible, plus the number of Senators is excessive.”
“Is that the price of life to you, Amenais?” Amenais felt the deprived gaze of Creeper’s eyes through the mask.
“No, humans are worthless in that regard. This is merely the price I am willing to pay you.”
“I would ask for more money, but then I would lose my most generous employer.” Creeper tapped his finger on the door. “I’ll take the contract, but the price to buy me is more money than even you have.” It sounded much like a warning from the world’s deadliest assassin.
“There is a certain Gentleman Rabio in Daedal, please dispose of him as well.” Amenais said, ignoring most of Creeper’s statements.
“Of course.” Creeper disappeared after that.
Amenais let out a breath, his hands were shaking and these he hid in his lap.
The room was silent as the nerves rattled around loudly.
Klyle let out a booming laugh. “Was a time when men trembled like that in your presence!” He slapped Amenais’ shoulder.
The old man cursed, “There’s no respect for the elderly these days.” And shrugged off his unconventional fears.
Some of the others were less quick to recover.
“He needs to be taken care of.” One said.
“His time will come, for now his usefulness outweighs his danger.”
“Creeper could kill you any day now. He’s got a death warrant out for you, Amenais.”
“I made that decision the first day I hired him to kill my rival. He alludes to my death merely to spur me into assigning more contracts.”
“Then we have nothing to fear, if it is a tactic he uses to stay… busy.”
“Oh the threat is very real, he’s like a drug! Before you is a weapon that can solve all your problems, with the macabre condition that if you stop using that weapon, it turns on you.”
“I have known and worked with you for half a century, Amenais, always I wondered and speculated what you possess that allowed you to obtain such power and dominion, now I know the answer. You’re insane!”
Amenais smiled genuinely. “Standing on the edge prepares you for mounting the peak.”
The training facility was custom designed to push each member to their maximum limits. Josua called this particular course the butterfly run. It was a forty meter strip replete with obstacles and projectiles, all of which were deadly enough to cause serious injury on the slightest mishap. The participant had to reach the end while protecting a butterfly from the same obstacles. A nectar infused with strong pheromones attracted the butterfly toward the end. There was no guarantee that the butterfly would even take a direct route to the nectar, and its delicate wings meant nothing could touch it or else failure resulted. For Josua, that failure meant death in a real life situation, certainly it meant death for the butterfly.
Not a man given to cruelty, but it was the only way to ensure the most consequential of training regiments. Something always needed to be at risk, it was the best way to optimize training.
Josua placed his headphones on and dialed up the music.
“Zone!” He signaled one of his teammates to start up the machinery and weapons. He released the butterfly from a cage and the insect was immediately intoxicated by the specially prepared cocktail.
It flew almost in a drunken stupor toward the nectar, oblivious of the obstacles trying to kill it. The scent was so delicious that it was nearly satisfied from the taste in the air alone. But just a sip to satiate the curiosity of such a divine flavor emanating from that short flight over and it would escape this stone and metal landscape. There were strange contraptions set up all over the field and the one vertebrate in the room was giving off some intense endorphins. Oddly enough, these endorphins were much sweeter smelling than other vertebrates the butterfly had tasted.
There was a slight updraft which the butterfly took advantage of to begin its flight. The hydraulic system of its wings allowed for easy movement in the air as each flapping wing created a pocket of air under it which acted as a propulsion system, thus allowing the butterfly to make use of the element of water in its wings and the element of air to flutter across whatever landscape it found itself over. Its body was fueled by the element of fire, by burning nutrients in its upper furnace the body became filled with energy. All that’s left is to consume the element of earth, in the form of that ambrosiac nectar.
The vertebrate was leaping, ducking, turning, punching and swatting the various inorganic forms, as if it were engaged in combat with those things. The butterfly didn’t sense any malicious intent from the vertebrate but it was unsettled by its weird movements. The vertebrate kept following the butterfly which was not an uncommon thing for that species to do. They seemed to be fascinated by the intricate patterns on the wings. Whatever the reason, the butterfly made an effort to confuse the vertebrate by flying in zigzags and going for loops and backtracking randomly. The butterfly noticed the increase in endorphins released by the vertebrate. It stuck out its proboscis, taunting the vertebrate.
The butterfly suddenly soared higher into the air and jetted directly toward the nectar, leaving the vertebrate scrambling to catch up. Even the distance didn’t stop the vertebrate as it leapt recklessly toward the butterfly, catching some ball and landing on the ground only to roll out of the way of some long rod object.
It made no sense but the butterfly had reached the nectar and settled on a spot where it could sip in peace. The vertebrate’s adrenaline was souring the flavor of the nectar but that was only because the nectar was so good in the first place that it was possible for other chemicals to tarnish its perfection.
Satisfied, the butterfly started flying again, searching for a way out. To its surprise, it found a source of sunlight that had not been there before. It didn’t hesitate exiting and thought that none of the other butterflies would ever believe its story and how it drank from the greatest nectar in the world. They would believe, however, its warning of never going near those vertebrates again because of their strange and crazy behaviors. The butterfly let out its warning pheromones and flew around the city…
“I swear that thing is evil.” Josua said, still catching his breath. For five minutes the butterfly had flown in circles, just asking to get crushed or smashed or torn apart.
He took off his headphones and found a place to sit.
“Don’t get too comfortable, Antho and Erahat are back.” Illiot said, handing Josua a bottle of water.
“Thanks, and we’ll meet them in the chamber.”
Josua and Illiot walked to a door with a keypad, entered the keypad, waited for the door to unlock, stepped in the door and went through a long corridor only to reach another locked door and then an elevator that descended down for a few dozen meters. This was just one of the many bunkers Josua had for his vigilante group. With millionaire backers donating anonymously to keep his work funded, Josua was able to construct secret lairs from which to operate in. They entered a room filled with computers and a small group of technicians working diligently spying on targets and extracting information for future justice to be carried out.
Needless to say it was a major upgrade from working in basements and abandoned office buildings.
Antho and Erahat arrived shortly after.
“How did it go?” Josua asked at once.
“We made contact with him. He’s willing to tell us everything he knows but he requires complete anonymity.” Erahat said in her low voice. “His life depends on it.”
“The world might depend on the information he has access to.” Josua stated.
Erahat nodded. “What do we do?”
Illiot took over, he was the team’s Coder both in terms of his Aspect and in terms of computer coding. “We’ll use the secret forums. The information will be out there but remain secure from anyone we can’t trust. Should he die, everything he knows will be ready to go viral.”
“Perfect, send a preliminary message to the forums, stress the safety of our source. If any of the information leaves that darkweb message board his life will be forfeit and we’ll lose out on any new details.” Josua addressed Erahat and Antho again. “Has the source given any info yet?”
“He’ll send the first bit tomorrow in the cypher we agreed upon.” Erahat answered.
“There’s something you should know, Josua.”
“What is it Antho?”
“This is way bigger than we thought. Obviously we knew the Research division had a lead on something so important they are keeping it from the public. But some background, our source is an archaeologist from a foreign city who got coerced into helping Garghent with his find. That find being a feather from Talis Ranis and they’ve located a cave filled with the Fable’s writings. They’ve already begun translation.”
Josua let it sink in. “Garghent will definitely want that to themselves. Why keep him alive is my first question.”
“According to him, he’s made friends with the scientists working on it. It’s a front because the other option is execution. We’re his only outlet he has for disclosing Talis’ secrets. Potentially paradigm changing secrets of the Aspect.”
“We won’t fail him. The secret forums consist of people from both continents who all, in some way, know the identities of each other. Illiot created it years ago for reasons like this. As long as our source doesn’t do anything stupid, we’ve got everything under control on our side.”
“Hey Josua,” another team member started, “just got a tip. That aristocrat, the one who’s been trafficking… well someone spotted him at the warehouses south of the Grodon Street.”
“Good work Laeaus. I’ll head there right now. Tune into channel four dash A and keep me updated. Antho, Erahat, you coming?”
“We’re cleaning up this corrupt city.” Antho said, using that as his confirmation. Erahat agreed.
“No prisoners today.”
Translation; punish the wicked.