The Taw Kingdom. My destination— the goal I had been working towards ever since I had left the Free Lands. Ever since I had lost my mother and became a slave a year ago, I had been wandering around this world aimlessly; I had nothing planned for myself other than to survive from day to day.
But after I had met Felix, the Plague Doctor, he told me to seek out the Taw Kingdom. He told me to find King Adileth and seek for his sanctuary from the Church. It was by pure chance I had met Gennady on my way there. And now, after getting embroiled in a crime war, as well as after fending off a Saintess coming for my life, I had finally arrived.
It was… kind of underwhelming.
I mean, sure: it was definitely a sight to behold for someone in this world. The port cities we had passed by were actual cities; they had tall buildings that rose up to the sky, built in a uniform, grainy layout to pack as many people in one place as possible. To someone who lived in the haphazard cities of Laxis— or even the ‘medieval-esque’ towns of the Free Lands— it was something different and unique.
But I had seen cities before. I had seen lots of cities before in my previous life. From New York City to London, I had been a well rather traveled girl even compared to my friends— that was why I enjoyed traveling. So seeing these hubs of industrial complexes was not something that completely captured my fascination like it did, say, Sevin.
The young man was typically someone who would typically choose to stay indoors whenever possible, but ever since we caught sight of the Taw Kingdom, he stayed up above deck whenever he could just so he could be there whenever we were in view of one of Taw’s cities.
“Do you see that, Melas?” he asked me with alacrity, pointing at the nebulous city skyline in the distance, practically hopping on his feet.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Not unless you’re asking me if I can see the vague outline of shapes in the distance? Then yes, that’s all I can see.”
Sevin sighed wistfully as he rested his chin on his palms. “I wish I could get a closer look of the city. Can’t we stop in one of the ports just to restock on goods?”
“Ginah told us that it isn’t necessary. Plus she doesn’t want to run into any trouble— if she’s recognized as a pirate from Laxis, or if I’m somehow sought after by local members of the Church— things could get bad for us before we even reach Jahar’taw.”
He sighed once again, his shoulders slumping in disappointment. I saw this, and chewed my lips uncertainly. I hadn’t meant to make him feel bad; I was just answering his question, but perhaps I was a bit too blunt. I opened my mouth slowly.
“You know, I think Gennady has a spyglass on him,” I opined. “Maybe he can lend it to you for a minute?”
“Really?” He jumped to his feet in an instant. The young man whirled around and ran off, waving back at me. “Thanks! I’ll go find him.”
“Oh, uh, sure.” I lazily waved back, raising an eyebrow at that. He’s kind of like a kid, huh?
Technically, I was a kid, but he was more childish than I was— not that I cared. I guess I could understand his sentiment; this was the first time he was seeing a sight like this. Of course he would be slightly ecstatic.
I watched as Sevin swung open the door to go below deck, and almost ran into Jack. The former smuggler nimbly stepped to the side, letting him down the stairs.
“Damned boy.” Jack shook his head, sighing. “What’s got him in such a rush?”
“He’s just excited,” I said, walking up to him and nodding a greeting.
He scoffed. “Excited? For those dull Dwarf cities? What a fool.”
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked, frowning. “You’ve got to admit, they are quite a sight.”
“Perhaps for someone seeing them for the first time. But once you’ve been there, it gets dull. Fast.”
I couldn’t really argue with that, so I just shrugged; I glanced at the Taw Kingdom in the distance, then back at Jack. “You’ve been there before, right? Jahar’taw.”
He grunted in affirmation. “What does it matter?”
“I’m just curious,” I said, rolling my eyes. “This isn’t an interrogation. I just want to know what it’s like there.”
“Other than being full of greedy businessmen and generally smelling like shit?” He cocked a brow, looking down at me. “It has a lot of Golems.”
“Golems?” I asked, perking up at that. “As in Iron Golems or…?”
“All kinds of Golems,” he said. He held out his hand and began listing them out. “Iron Golems, Stone Golems, Steel Golems”— he indicated the floor of the ship— “and even Wooden Golems.”
“What do they do? Are they just… there?”
“No.” Jack leaned his back on the wall right next to the door as he explained. “They’re there for anything and everything. From law enforcement, to Monster extermination, to simply serving people. They make up the very foundation of the city— that’s why Jahar’taw is called the Golem City.”
“That’s the first I heard of that,” I remarked.
He shrugged. “Can’t hear of everything, can you?”
Jack looked at me— at the uncertainty on my face. And he frowned. “What’s wrong? Getting second thoughts about the city? Or…” He narrowed his eyes dubiously. “Or getting second thoughts about your promises to us, realizing that you can’t keep them?”
I was taken aback. I met his skeptical gaze, feeling my lips draw into a thin line. Unlike Ginah or Lisa, I remembered that Jack was coming with us mostly because they had no other choice and because he saw a chance to resolve whatever issue he had with Dwarves there.
I hesitated; there were a plethora of responses I could give him. I had made promises to Lisa and Ginah, but not to him. So I gave him the answer that only mattered to him.
“It doesn’t matter to you, does it?” I asked, cocking my head.
He furrowed his brows. Pushing himself off the wall, he started off to the other side of the ship. “You’re right. If you can’t help us, I don’t really care. However—”
He paused right in front of me.Jack turned his neck, meeting me with a sidelong glance.
“Don’t you dare do anything to hurt me or Lisa, got it?” he said dangerously.
I simply nodded. “Loud and clear.”
“Good,” he grunted and headed off.
I eyed the man as he left; he wasn’t being a jerk, per se. I could understand completely where he was coming from, so I didn’t spit out a retort. I, myself, wasn’t so sure whether I could keep my promises to them. I had to try— to trust that it would work out with Gennady’s help.
But as of this moment, I barely had an inkling of a plan. And I was pretty sure I should have had a plan fully outlined at this point. I had been busy practicing my magic— trying to get better at protecting myself— so trying to formulate some concrete course of action had mostly escaped my mind, and when I did remember, I kept putting it off.
Now though, we were within distance to the goal. To when I could no longer be idle, and had to start being proactive once again. Following Sevin, I went down in search of Gennady.
The Dwarf was not hard to find; he was, of course, in his room working on some blueprints for the design for his mana bike. I passed by Sevin on my way to him, and the young man was excitedly running in the opposite direction with a spyglass in hand. We exchanged a quick greeting before I entered the room.
Gennady looked up.
“Here to rob me of my valuables too, are ya?” he asked, furrowing his brows.
“Just here to chat,” I said nonchalantly walking up to him. I looked over his shoulder, inspecting the sheets of paper he had strewn across his desk for a moment. He waved a hand.
“Don’t bother trying to understand it. You won’t— it’s mostly advanced science and engineering, mixed with some tinkering to convert liquid mana into fuel.”
I raised my shoulders in a shrug. “I was just curious.”
“So,” he started, shifting on his seat to face me, “what do ya want to chat about?”
“Uh…” I wasn’t sure where to begin. So I sat down and was just up front with it. “Can you really help Ginah’s Crew out?”
He raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“I promised her that you’d be able to introduce her with people who can help her. Who can help her, and help out in Laxis— or at least, the city of Luke.”
“Ah.” Gennady made a sound of comprehension. He ran his hand through his scraggly brown-red beard. His green eyes sharpened as he thought for a moment. “I have… contacts. A lot of them, ‘course.”
“But how many of them do you think would really be able to help?” I asked the real question; there was a difference between knowing someone who could help, and knowing someone who would help. And judging by the face Gennady was making, I didn’t think he knew too many of the latter.
“Most could— but most wouldn’t. You have to understand, us Dwarves are very open, laid back, and willing to take risks. But we’re also not the most generous species in the world. If you want to appeal to us, you have to give us a logical reason to do so.”
“But you’re not like that, aren’t you?”
“I’m not,” he said, nodding. “But I’m also not in the Taw Kingdom for a reason.”
I paused, looking him over. “Didn’t you say you left the country on good terms?”
“I did. The King still likes me. The Prime Minister still likes me. And I have lots of friends all throughout the country. But I left because I disagreed with some of the things they did.”
“Well, what did they do that you didn’t like so much it made you leave?”
Gennady sighed. He grabbed his metallic flask from his side pocket, and took a swig from it before he leaned back on his chair. “I told you, didn’t I? They let that mad Human Bertrand take my job.”
It was not the first time I heard Gennady mention this name. In fact, I had heard of him even in other contexts, unrelated to Gennady at all. But I wasn’t sure why Gennady held this ‘grudge’ against him. So I raised an eyebrow as he explained.
“Bertrand. Scientist Bertrand. One of the top Scientists of the Holy Xan Empire— responsible for many of the new machines produced by them in the last few decades. And one of his ideas, he thought was so brilliant, it would undergo development instantly even before he made his proposal to Emperor Xavier. He prepared a team. Spent platinum on the resources needed for it. Then when he went to the Emperor to show him this idea— Xavier rejected it. The Emperor of the Holy Xan Empire banned its development.
“That was a massive blow to him. To his credibility as a Scientist and innovator. One of his proposals— what he considered to be his most ingenious ideas— was not only rejected, but outright prevented from being made all throughout the Empire? It was ridiculous. He could not believe it, so he went ahead with its production anyway.”
I listened to this, my mind connecting the dots of what I had known previously. Bertrand came to the Taw Kingdom— he went there seeking… asylum?
“He was found out, wasn’t he?” I snapped my fingers together.
“Correct,” Gennady said, nodding. He got up, pushing himself off his seat as he began to pace back and forth in his room.
“Bertrand’s secret project was found out by the Emperor. He was to be tried and punished for his crimes. But he was no fool— he knew that that would happen. So he had already prepared to flee to the Taw Kingdom. He had struck a deal to come here for protection, and to replace me as our head Scientist. I objected, of course.”
He scowled, shaking his head.
I wagered a guess. “And that’s why you left, right?”
“That’s part of it. I still remained there— in the Taw Kingdom even after being replaced by a political fugitive from another continent. But when I heard of his ideas. When I found out of his project, the one that got him exiled from the Holy Xan Empire? I realized they were right. That project should never be undertaken.”
“What’s so bad about it?” I asked, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “Was it something truly that terrible?” I had flashes of ideas— things from my world. Was it Human experimentation? Or rather, experimentation with sapient species? Or was it some other atrocity?
Judging from the haunted expression on Gennady’s face, it seemed I wasn’t too far off the mark.
“He called it the ‘Light Project’. He thought to name it after the Goddess of Light, for he saw it as something to combat powerful spellcasters. Or Monsters. That was the pretext he gave us. But now that I think about it, it was probably for something else.”
“Abominations,” I whispered the word.
“Yes,” he said, closing his eyes. A dark shadow came over his gaze, as he took a deep breath. “The timeline fits with what the Holy Xan Empire has been saying as of late about the Abominations.”
Gennady opened his eyes, and he met my gaze.
“And to destroy these Abominations. To deal with this threat, Bertrand wanted to create a… super weapon.”
My eyes widened and I stood up. “A super weapon? Like a weapon capable of mass destruction?!”
Was he really talking about something like an atom bomb? How was such a thing even possible— unless it had something to do with mana? With magic? Theoretically, a spell that could cause such destruction was possible from what I read.
Gennady nodded slowly. “You probably don’t understand the implications of it, lass. I’m sure you think it’d be better to have such a weapon— to fight off the Abominations, or even without them, to deal with vast hordes of Monsters. The others in Jahar’taw thought that too, but—”
“If such a weapon were to be developed, they could also be used against other countries. Against other people. And the damage done would be something never seen before, right?”
He blinked and stared at me. “Err, yes,” he started, then stopped. “Well, such destruction has been seen before. Like by the Demons and the Demon Lord during the Third Holy War. It took a thousand years for all the species in the world to even recover from that. But that doesn’t mean such a thing should be allowed to occur again.”
“I… see.” I scratched the side of my head. “And that’s why you left, right? Out of protest.”
“And to work on my bestiary,” he added, raising a finger. “But that is correct. And now, I guess I’m returning, aren’t I?”
He chuckled to himself, almost as if he was trying to distract himself from the subject; I bit my lower lip, unsure of how we even got to this subject. A weapon of mass destruction, I thought, slightly unnerved. That’s bad, right?
Honestly, while I realized it was a bad thing to have… whatever this super weapon was, it was none of my business. I mean, just because it existed, didn’t mean it would be used en masse as evinced by how my world hadn’t blown itself up during the Cold War. But I could understand where Gennady was coming from— the impact of such an invention could change the world entirely.
Whatever the case was, I tried changing the subject away from the dour mood.
“So, uh, about your friends,” I said, going back to what we had been talking about beforehand. “Know anyone who can help out Luke? Bring investments, factories, jobs— anything.”
Gennady glanced over at me, seemingly broken out of his trance. He took a moment to gather himself, and cleared his throat. “As I said lass, not a lot. But I might know one or two people who might.”
He took a seat on his bed, and he crossed his arms across his chest.
“Hm, yes,” he muttered to himself. “Erzhan might do it. He was always that kind of a lad.”
“Erzhan? Who’s that?”
“One of my friends,” he said, turning to face me. “A good lad. Very open minded. Too open minded, that he would sometimes make a fool of himself. He’d get into trouble because of that, but his heart is always in the right place.”
“And you think he’d listen to us?” I asked, perking up.
“It depends. You’d probably have to convince him. But if you can make a compelling enough argument— he’d do anything.”
That sounded good. But he was just one man. “Are there any others? In case things don’t work out with him.”
Gennady began listing names. “Lashyn would require a lot more convincing, but she would always listen to any proposal you bring to her. Akerke, on the other hand, is very generous, but I’m not even sure if he can help you. Last I heard, his company was on the verge of bankruptcy.”
“Is that it?” I frowned, but quickly qualified myself to not sound ungrateful. “I mean, that’s more options than nothing. But is there really nobody else?”
“Sorry lass,” he said, shaking his head. “Dwarves just aren’t that type of people. We take calculated risks. No matter how you frame it, going to Luke right now and trying to expand our business there is nothing but a bad gamble.”
“I understand,” I sighed, looking up at the ceiling. “Things can never be easy, can they?”
“You know just as well as I do that that can never be the case.”
I nodded, looking back down.
“When can you arrange for us to meet them?”
“It depends on when they’ll be available. But I probably can at least get you and Ginah to speak with one of ‘em lot within a week of our arrival.” He paused, then eyed me carefully. “Honestly, I’m more worried about getting you a meeting with Adilet. He’s my friend, but he’s a really busy man.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I have a letter. From someone who he owes a favor to. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m expected by him to arrive. He won’t lay out a red carpet or anything for me, but I’m sure he’ll at least see me.”
“If you say so.” Gennady eyed me almost dubiously, but did not comment further.
I had been dubious for the last half year since I had met Felix, but now all the doubts were gone. He had given me the letter— he had been confident when he had done it. And he had nothing to gain from lying to me. It logically wouldn’t have made any sense for him to send me this way.
So I was no longer skeptical; what mattered more was whether I would be granted sanctuary or not. And after hearing that Bertrand story, I was actually more confident in my chances.
“Don’t forget,” the Dwarf added with a raise of his hand, “Ginah and her crew are pirates. Sure, they only operated in Luke, but we probably have to explain their situation to Adilet too.”
“Right.” I plotted out our course of action in Jahar’taw. “So once we reach the Capital of Taw, the first thing I want to do is speak with the King. I have a letter— and I also have you just in case things don’t go smoothly. We get Ginah and I cleared to stay in the city, then we connect her with your friends.”
“And Lisa too. She keeps pestering me about my underground contacts. I do have some, but they aren’t as prominent or numerous as my lawful network.”
“That too. But it is only third in my priority list.” I looked over at Gennady— at my friend who had helped me throughout everything so far— and paused. “And, uh, thank you. Again. For all of this.”
“‘Course, lass. I’m supposed to be your bodyguard after all.”
“I know. But you didn’t have to do any of this for me in the first place. So, thanks. Truly.”
“Don’t get sentimental on me! This time, I’ll be the one who pukes.”
I rolled my eyes. “If you insist so badly. Fine, I’ll stop.”
He snorted, and I started for the door. “I’ll tell Ginah about this, so she knows what our timetable will be like.” I stopped, looking back at him one last time. “Are you sure there isn’t anything I can do to pay you back?”
“If you want to pay me back, learn more spells, lass. Let me study them, so I can make better tools. Other than that? Nothing. Now go— shoo! I was working on something before you came in here!”
He waved a hand, ushering me to leave. I put up my arms, and backed up out of the room. Then I closed the door behind me, going back upstairs to find Ginah and speak with her about our course of action once we were in Jahar’taw.
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