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“Repeat what you just said, but in more detail this time,” the King requested.
It was unusually crowded in his cabinet today. Almost all of the top officials had gathered by the Kingdom map: the generals, South Wind, the Master, a few dukes, the chief justice, and someone else that Hadjar didn’t know.
He had built a system of mirrors, and was now using it to watch the scene from the ventilation duct. It was quite convenient, but a bit risky as well. If someone were to inspect his hiding place, he would immediately be discovered. It was called Feeling. And, if one were to believe the Master, a Heaven Soldier was able to feel and see an ant at a distance of five miles away.
The locals didn’t have such abilities, but each of the people present could’ve detected the Prince in the ventilation shaft. Luckily, they were too busy discussing the news Primus had brought to bother doing so.
“We’ve crushed the Bajek tribe,” the man reported. “But an enemy adept has wounded General Lasset. I don’t know how, but the Bajek’s managed to send an adept at the level of Transformation against us.”
The assembled people shook their heads, the younger ones even whistled. This stage was very impressive, by the standards of these backwoods. However, Hadjar wasn’t impressed. As his Master often said, the whole sect of The Black Gates was no more than a bunch of country bumpkins, when compared to the children of the Empire’s nobles. In the Empire, a person was required to reach the stage of Transformation by the age of fourteen in order to be trained by a sect or attend one of the Academies.
The Prince simply couldn’t reach that level, even if he were to try ten times harder than he already was. Realistically it was impossible. The Darnassus Empire had a lot more resources than were available here, on the outskirts.
“I made the decision to camp near the town of Silent Evening,” Primus moved several figures, which served to depict his army, to a point on the map. “We hired the best healers we could find there and waited for any news. Alas, the town is small—four million people live there, no more than that. That’s why we didn’t ask them for food, as we would’ve ruined them with a demand to feed the 300,000 strong army.”
“Did you have to hunt?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, my Queen,” Primus nodded. “Fortunately, the local forests aren’t able to give birth to strong creatures. We didn’t encounter a single monster that was higher than the initial steps of the Awakening of power.”
Well, it would seem humans weren’t the only ones in this world who could work on improving themselves. Animals could as well. South Wind had often told about such ‘animals’ that were actually stronger and smarter than most people. They, like the adepts, have their own paths for cultivation, with different stages, but that’s not important right now.
“During one of the hunts, one of the senior officers fell from his horse and into a hole.”
“Treasurer,” the king called. “Give this officer an estate and a thousand servants. No one else in my kingdom has ever fallen off a horse so successfully.”
The treasurer—a man with a simple face, but a very sharp mind—nodded and wrote something down on a scroll.
“Go on, brother.”
“Descending into the cave after him, we discovered a vein of Solar ore.”
Everyone there exchanged glances once again. Solar metal was made from Solar ore. It was much more durable and lightweight than simple steel or iron. And artifacts, which were a level higher than even Spiritual ones, were also made using Solar Metal.
So, to put it simply, the officer had fallen into a hole that didn’t contain mere riches, but a vein of ore whose cost exceeded the total value of the whole kingdom.
“How big is the vein?”
They had no reason to rejoice quite yet, maybe there wasn’t much more there. Possibly less than nothing. No one would set up a whole mine there for the sake of four or five pounds. A couple of miners with a military escort would be sent there. They would then bring the ore back to the treasury.
“It’s no less than 6 miles deep and a bit less than 250 feet wide.”
Everyone quieted down. Only South Wind closed his eyes slightly, and then said, “No less than a thousand tons, then. It’s useless to measure its value in gold or in the Azure Coins of the Empire… It’s just useless. I don’t know how much such a vein could even cost.”
“It’s priceless,” the King concluded. “And we have to do something about it, right now. To begin with, anyone who breathes even a word of this to outsiders will automatically become an enemy of the Kingdom. No one will be leaving the room until they take a blood oath.”
No one argued, despite the fact that a blood oath was a rather serious thing to bind yourself to. If a person went back on their word, all the blood in their body instantly caught fire. As a result, their death was terrible and very painful.
“Primus, have your soldiers and that officer took the oath?”
“Immediately after the discovery,” the Warlord nodded.
Haver sighed with relief. Such news could attract vultures from all around the world. And there were at least a dozen kingdoms, equally strong or even superior to Lidus, that might’ve tried something. Not to mention the family clans and sects.
“I wouldn’t be so happy if I were you, Haver,” Primus said. He was the only person in the Kingdom who could say something like that with impunity. “There’s no way we’ll be able to mine this vein and keep it secret from everyone.”
“We will station a garrison there, build a fortress around it. Each soldier will be handpicked and all of them will take the blood oath.”
“The Warlord is right,” South Wind said. “It’ll take at least a month to build a fort. The construction will draw attention, everyone will immediately be interested in it— in why Lidus needs a powerful stronghold so far from the border.”
“It’s not that far…”
“Four days, if you ride at a gallop,” Primus shook his head. “All our outposts are two days away, by road. And this is twice as close.”
There was now a heavy, oppressive silence in the room. The situation was a tricky one—they had the wealth, but it was impossible to get to it. They could easily lose their lives and the whole Kingdom if they make a single misstep.
“And what do you suggest?” Haver leaned back and looked pensive.
“We could appeal to ‘The Black Gates’ for help,” South Wind suggested.
“Stop talking about these ‘Gates” already,” the Master snapped. “It’s not their prey. We need to go to the Emperor. We’ll be sending him a tribute next week anyway.”
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“Go to the Emperor,” Haver repeated. “To the Emperor, you say, Honorable Master? And do you know that The Darnassus Empire is currently at war with the Lascan Empire?”
Everyone there looked at each other. They hadn’t heard the news. Only the King and Queen were aware of such nuances of the world’s politics.
“Can you imagine what’ll happen if the Emperor finds out about this vein? One of his armies will be sent here! And how many warriors does his army have? One hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty million? Even if he decides not to install some Governors here, how will we feed them all? Our forests will be completely cut down during their construction. Our cities will lose all their fields and reserves. The whole southern region will be ravaged. And that is the best case scenario, and what might happen in the worst … If worst comes to worst, ordinary people will be sent to do forced labor. They’ll be turned into slaves and taken away, and the Imperial Governors will come here. This already happened with one of the other kingdoms, do you remember, Primus?”
The Warlord looked at the dumbfounded Queen and nodded.
“I remember, brother, I remember.”
“I would like to point out, my King,” one of the Dukes said. “That despite the possible devastation of the area, we will still thrive and…”
“Shut your mouth, Duke, before I shut it for you.”
A palpable menace emanated from the King and the speaker instantly subsided and turned pale.
“Brother, calm down and think about this,” Primus insisted. ”Duke Remein has a point. Just think, what happens if we do give up this southern territory? There’s nothing wrong with that! We will get the peaceful times you and your wife covet so much. After all, who would dare attack us if the Emperor’s own army was stationed here? I’ve heard that all the senior officers are no weaker than the level of a Heaven Soldier. And the generals are Knights of the Spirit.”
Knights of the Spirit—words that inspired awe and disbelief in the hearts of ordinary people. For many, this stage of cultivation was nothing more than a part of the tales told to children at night, to put them to sleep. It was difficult to imagine that such monsters could really be living under the same sky as ordinary people.
“What are you trying to say, brother?”
“We would gain a lot more than we’d lose. If we did it right, we’d be able to get no less than ten, maybe even fifteen percent of the production. Do you have any idea how much money that is? We’d finally be able to build new, large cities, establish schools and invite high-ranking instructors to teach there. Adepts would flock here, hoping to make a profit or be recruited into the Imperial Army.”
Primus looked intently at a point on the map, indicating the place where the Solar Ore had come close to the surface.
“We’ll be able to acquire techniques and knowledge that we couldn’t have even dreamt of before. You and me, and the others as well… we’ll get a chance to become Heaven Soldiers. A chance to grasp eternity—to be eligible for the title of adepts, no longer mere mortals!”
“What must we sacrifice in return? The destinies of tens of millions of people?”
“The destinies of poor ragamuffins! Of miserable rodents, wallowing in the mud! What are their lives compared to ours? They live for just a century, and no more. On top of that, at the age of fifty, they stop working the fields, they stop being of any use to us. They become useless parasites, ones that waste precious resources. The Kingdom would be better off without them!”
“You forget yourself, brother!”
“No, you forget yourself, Haver! How long can we endure the ceaseless raids of the nomads and the attacks of our neighbors? How long will we be forced to eke out our miserable existence? You don’t go to the Empire to pay tribute—I do! I’ve seen their “border villages”, which are richer and more beautiful than even our capital! I hate the ridicule of their petty nobles who don’t even consider us to be peasants! I’ve seen beardless boys who are several times stronger than me. Why? Because, from the day they’re born, they’re stuffed full of herbs that we don’t grow. They can buy drugs that we don’t know how to make. They’re taught techniques we haven’t even heard of!”
“Are you worried about the Kingdom, or are you giving in to your envy?” Haver whispered, but the whisper was more powerful than most screams.
Things got heated.
“I don’t understand why you’re so blind, brother.”
“I’m not blind.” Haver shook his head. “But you are, Primus. Do you remember what our father used to say? The life of a single peasant, even if they’re old and infirm, is worth more than a dozen carts laden with gold. It is an honor to protect their lives. An honor worthy of a king.”
“Father was weak and stupid, and so are you. That’s why he made you king instead of me.”
Haver grabbed the hilt of his sword, but Elizabeth’s soothing touch stopped him. She merely shook her head and smiled warmly.
The rage was gone from the King’s eyes, and his breathing was once more steady.
“You said it yourself—he made me King. And my Royal decree is as follows—we bury the pit of Solar ore. We will not talk about it any further. We will continue to live our lives as if it had never existed. That is all.”
Primus hit the table angrily and left the room. A good half of the Dukes followed him out.
At that moment, Hadjar realized that he would have to train even harder (if that was even possible), because he had a gut feeling – it wouldn’t end so easily.