(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you happen to spot them, please let me know in the comments below. Thank you!!)
A chaos. That’s what it was. An utter chaos, to seemingly end all the other chaos in the universe.
The fire that raged after the collapse of the City Hall building needed the whole night to bring under control. Even then, the destructive flames didn’t truly recede away, choosing to continuously burn and melt bricks and bones alike.
And as the morning Sun broke the dark horizon with its pale light, the ceaseless streams of charred and mangled bodies flowed out endlessly. Lifeless, soulless carcasses being carried out one by one from the still smoldering ruin as the grains of sand fell in the hourglass.
Damien grimly looked on from the side, a thick blanket wrapped around him to ward off the bone-chilling cold. He lost count just how many bodies were recovered so far. No survivors at all. Excluding him, that was.
All the Barbarians, all the soldiers, all the hostages – all dead, most likely.
He could hear the occasional shouts from those charged with recovery of the remains. Some were asking for additional assistance, some swearing aloud, some were offering heartfelt prayers to their chosen deities for the souls of the departed.
In the air, black ash and smoke swirled and danced with the wind, slowly choking all the unfortunate souls working hard below as they toiled away, fighting the horrors of the reality and all that nausea rising from within.
The Sun’s rays soon overtook the lit torches as the source of illumination. Yet, no cheers could be heard. If anything, brighter light only served to starkly illustrate the ultimate carnage brought upon the scenery around the plot of land where the City Hall used to stand.
The building itself was gone, with only the foundation remaining. Surrounding buildings that were too close also collapsed, either trapping or killing all its occupants outright.
Streets that were once pristine and perfectly laid out were now pockmarked and ruined. Puddles were forming within those holes, remnants of the moisture that iced up during the night now defrosting under the sunlight.
Damien slowly rubbed his shoulders; the healing Invocation had made sure the wounds he received from the Visitors were more or less all patched up. But he still felt the chills permeating into his bones whenever the winds blew.
He sighed softly. So many people have died. No one could tell why that was so. No one here could provide any solid explanations how this tragedy occurred. No one was brave, or perhaps, foolish enough, to offer up any theories yet. Obviously, too early for that. The time for the vocal ones to rise up with the voice of discontent would be sooner rather than later, though.
But whatever the case may be, things would never be the same from now on. For the Lucius Lomax family and for the city, mostly. And perhaps, with how the Empire interacted with the various Barbarian tribes beyond the borders.
The military advisers had made their way from the Count’s mansion and were directing the relief efforts, for whatever worth they were at this point. Dukakis, on the other hand, was not around, having left the scene with his eyes totally bloodshot and crazed. It was plain to see that he was under an enormous pressure at the moment.
Even Damien wanted to leave, in all honesty. What good could he possibly do here? If anything, he was a hindrance, nothing more, in his current condition.
But to his chagrin, he found himself unwilling to leave. He simply couldn’t walk away from this place just yet. As the morning dew settled on his hair, he stood there like a scarecrow as the throngs of people moved around him, avoiding him like the raging currents of the floodwater going around a boulder.
In his head, he was replaying everything that had happened inside the City Hall. Nothing seemed amiss – apart from the thing with those Visitor bastards, that was.
He had no basis for the one wild theory buzzing in his head. But he knew. He just knew deep in his bones, that this, all of this chaos, the destruction, the loss of many lives, was the handiwork of the Visitors.
It all fit quite well. There was just no way a Barbarian was capable of an Invocation that powerful. No way. Never mind the fact that he would never choose to blow himself and his comrades up just because things turned a bit unfavorable for them.
But the Visitors, on the other hand, were capable. No, whether they could wield Aeterna or not was unknown at this point in time, but those miniaturized cannons were a proof enough to convince Damien that they were capable of pulling off something of this magnitude.
But why? Why would they enter a city full of regular, unaware folks to blow up a government building for?
That’s why Damien continued to replay the scene inside his head over and over again, hoping for an answer to present itself. He wanted to understand their motivations for committing this atrocity. But nothing useful came to his mind.
And how could he be so sure it was the Visitors that did this in the first place? He could be wrong about his assumption after all.
Sure, he found the lot of them installing those strange clay brick things inside the archives, but he found those things all over the building’s interior so it was not specific that particular room was being targetted. It could mean they finished setting those things in the rest of the building and the archives were the last place to receive their attention.
Damien grimaced, knowing how confused he felt right now. The longer he stood there and contemplate, the less certain everything seemed to him.
Then, the sketch of that noble from the Capital suddenly popped back in his mind. How strong was the possibility of that the man somehow also involved in this attack? Like, the way he was negotiating with the Visitors to instigate a civil war.
Damn it. I just don’t know!! I can’t think straight. Not like this.
His head was chaotic. The smell of burning corpses and materials were clogging up his mind. This wasn’t the first time for him to stand so intimately close to the charred bodies but no matter what, the sights of blackened flesh, missing limbs, and their hollow eye sockets, jaws wide open in terror never became easier to look at.
He really wanted to breathe in deeply, but could not. He just ended up feeling dizzy instead. Was it because of the blood loss? He wasn’t sure. It was not like this was the first time him experiencing a life or death fight, where he lost a bit of blood.
No, it was something else. Something more psychological than physical. He was the kind of a man who could get over losing his arm. He had already gotten over losing his friends. Didn’t mean he forgot about them, but simply that he had finished grieving over them and have moved on because that was what they would have wanted from him.
As an Adventurer, he had to develop a thick skin that allowed him to get over the various traumas that would come with his line of work.
In truth, he wasn’t like that. When Gordie and his men died in that Sacred Acre, it hit him hard. It was personal. And when his son was taken away from him, that was even more personal. That broke him, although he had successfully hidden that fact from everyone. Including himself.
But now…. he felt like he could taste his own fear. His own fear of mortality. In other words, he didn’t want to die just yet. He had so much to do. Like, for instance, getting his revenge against The Children.
Yet, why was he so damn bothered about this matter regarding Jonas’s journal and the Visitors and this city and everything else unrelated to his vengeance? Why couldn’t he get over this and move on?
Was it because he virtually hadn’t made any headway with the Children, after all? That he failed to even meet anyone from West & Brooks?
Was it because he was angry? At the Visitors?
Frowning, he looked around to see if, just if, the rescuers could find any evidence of those Visitor bastards getting buried under the rubble alongside the other victims but alas, it seemed that was nothing more than just his unlikely hope.
Did they survive? No, did they somehow escape before the explosion? But how?
It was too early to tell. Not all of the bodies were recovered yet. Not all of the evidence was found. He didn’t hold high hopes, though. Not anymore, anyways.
Thinking this and that, Damien felt a bit dizzy again. No matter how sturdy his body was, at the end of day, he was still just a human being. He was wounded pretty badly and did lose quite a bit of blood after all. And no matter how good the healing Invocations were, they could not replace the vital lost fluids. He definitely needed a good, long rest.
But could he, though?
He went back inside a large, drab green tent that was substituting as a makeshift infirmary. His things were temporarily placed there while he was recovering overnight.
It was time to leave for him to leave and speak to Dukakis, let him know just what the hell was going on in his own backyard. Even if he wasn’t sure of himself, how he felt and why he felt that way, at least he felt certain about this one thing.
Damien wanted to get out all of these secrets bubbling in his heart. Share it with someone else, regardless of the burden that might place on the other party. That could maybe help him find some clarity and of a way forward. Just maybe.
The inside of the tent was also equally as chaotic as the outside. The blast caused numerous fatalities and injuries to those near the perimeters set up by the soldiers. Curious onlookers and soldiers themselves bore the brunt of the shock wave and scores were killed or hurt to varying degrees. Burns, burst eardrums, ruptured organs, dislocated joints and broken bones – the all sorts. Add the collapsed neighboring buildings and the people pulled out from those on top of that….
The scene inside the tent reminded Damien of an aftermath of a war zone. Like that time all those years ago when the group of Adventurers tried to confront an Awakened Gray Strife-Wolf and its massive, hungry pack.
That certainly was another bad memory to be reminded of, so he lowered his head and simply grabbed his gear. Not even looking back, he left.
His current destination? To the Count’s residence.
The adrenaline coursing through his veins, which kept him going throughout the night, began to dry up as his feet led him away from all that deathly smell.
His feet steadily grew leaden. Heavy. Difficult to move.
Damien acutely felt his own weakness as a human. His body, lacking a quantity of blood, definitely needed a rest, not another tough trek in a cold weather towards a far off distance. But he pushed himself. His mind was screaming to make it. He kept on telling himself that he could rest at the mansion once he got there.
More than once, he had to lean against a wall, a fence, a lamp post, whatever, to stay upright and to take a breather.
Passersby shot him a weird, suspicious glance; Damien couldn’t blame them. His armor was damaged. It had holes here and there. And then, there was dried blood, caked all over. On top of all this, he was pale, panting heavily, walking warily, covered in soot and mud. Who wouldn’t look at him with wary eyes? No one, that’s what.
Yet none approached him nor tried to stop him. As a matter of fact, people, even the hardened residents of the city avoided getting in his way. The reason was simple – his eyes. Damien’s eyes were brimming with intense ferocity, with madness, with the kind of unbridled, unstoppable determination only seen on a man driven to achieve his goals regardless of the obstacles in his path. He himself wasn’t aware of the light. No, he was doing his best to make it there, to his destination, and say his piece.
That’s all that mattered to him.
Damien doggedly walked. He didn’t care that his energy had run dangerously low. He didn’t care about his heavy eyelids trying to close by themselves. He didn’t even care about the guards stationed in front of the Count’s mansion who were trying to block his way.
If it weren’t for the timely intervention by Cassius, there could have been trouble. For the guards, that was.
“Young master, what happened to you?! Are you injured? I shall immediately call for help!!”
Cassius sounded panicky. He roused himself early this morning after not getting a good night of sleep. He too had heard the news of the City Hall’s destruction and the countless deaths of all those inside.
He also heard that Damien had made out of the carnage relatively unscathed so the current appearance of the “young master” greatly shocked the old butler. He simply didn’t expect it to be this severe.
Waving his hand casually, or at least he tried to, Damien spoke with a false swagger in his voice. As if to convince all in front of him he was perfectly okay.
“I’m more or less fine. Cassius, take me to Dukakis. I need to speak to him right this instant. If he’s asleep, then wake him up. If he’s having a breakfast, interrupt him. If he’s taking a dump, then hand him over a wipe quickly. This matter can not wait any longer.”
Cassius looked flustered at first then his expression changed into uncertainty. The old butler couldn’t really understand this strange aura rising from Damien. It was something a man on a brink might exude.
“Master Dukakis is currently engaged in discussion with Master Caleb and it might be difficult to earn an audience with him at the moment. Why don’t we enter the premise and I serve you with breakfast, young master? I’m sure you hadn’t had the opportunity to grab a bite as yet.”
Damien was about to open his mouth to say no, but his stomach went growling first. His initiative was now lost and no matter how much he might refute it, it would be difficult to be taken seriously now. Reluctantly, Damien went along with the suggestion.
He followed Cassius in but even before he could get past the foyer, he was greeted by the sound of loud yelling and something smashing against a wall, shattering into million pieces.
Damien immediately identified his father’s and Dukakis’s voices. It looked like they were verbally assaulting one another.
The contents of the spat were obscured by the walls so he couldn’t hear them exactly but as a person with a working brain, figuring that out wasn’t all that difficult.
Damien sighed and told Cassius. “Looks like that breakfast may have to wait a little while longer.”
Cassius wanted to stop him. The old butler did not wish to see Damien jump into the fray and cause an ever bigger bitterness and resentment by saying certain things.
But he was too slow. He simply could not stop Damien who was moving on the strength of the determination alone. Nothing short of physically restraining him would work at this point.
The room where the sound of fighting originated from was Dukakis’s office. The door was slightly ajar and there were a handful of concerned servants eavesdropping nearby.
Damien knew the fighting must have started not too long ago. Maybe his father, Caleb, woke up recently and heard about the City Hall’s destruction. Maybe he fell off the bed this morning and decided he needed to vent out or something similar.
Whatever, it didn’t matter. Right now, Damien had to tell the two of them the truth. He had to let them understand there were things happening right now. Things that impacted the future of his family, this city, the people living in it and most likely, the whole of the Empire. Their squabble seemed so petty and unimportant to him when he looked at the bigger picture.
The servants stole glances at him. They all looked worried. Some of them looked tired, probably from worrying too much. Most of them looked scared as well – scared that they might lose their only livelihoods.
If they were let go because of the change in the lordship, then where would they find work to feed their own families in the meantime? Sure, they could potentially gain new employment with the new lord. Or find it with other nobles living in the city. But it was not guaranteed. Nothing was. No one could afford to give them such assurance of mind in this climate of uncertainty.
Damien brushed past them and entered the noisy office. It was clammy and heated inside – but not because there were a hearth and a fire, but the temperature spike caused by the flaring anger of both men present within it.
There was no one else present other than Count Caleb and Dukakis in the office. The two of them was staring daggers at each other, veins visibly pulsating on their foreheads.
They didn’t notice Damien intruding upon them. Too busy for that.
“Useless!! I let you run things just for a little while, and you turn it into such a mess!! How incompetent can you be?!” Caleb shouted, spittle flying out of his mouth.
“How dare you, father?! You call me incompetent? While your head was filled with pointless pursuits of martial path, I have been steadily building the wealth of this city!! We have achieved the level of prosperity never seen before during your reigns, and yet you call me incompetent? How dare you!!”
Dukakis didn’t wither away like usual and was fighting back.
“Yes, I am calling you exactly that, an incompetent!! You let the enemy invade your own home, and you let the said enemy destroy and maim symbols of the Empire, and subvert the proud values of our nation you swore to uphold!! And just how many people lost their lives? Hmm?”
Caleb didn’t let up. His voice became hoarser as he screamed at his eldest son.
“And how is that my fault? The Barbarians started the war by themselves. We, no, I, did everything to stop them. And when I did, their attacks decreased gradually. I was bringing back the order and peace back into the streets!! Oh, wait – I see what this is. This is about you getting poisoned, isn’t it? You’re blaming me for your mistake!!”
Dukakis sneered as he spoke the last line.
It was at this point both noticed Damien standing there, looking at them with a tired expression.
Caleb was about to launch a tirade towards his other son before noticing all the grime and mud on his face. Then he spotted Damien holding the leather cuirass that was full of nicks and scratches, a tell-tale sign of its wearer going through a hard battle. Not to mention, dried blood on the armor itself. All of those were enough clues to form a narrative in his mind.
With a face full of contempt, he turned towards Dukakis and growled.
“It seems that your younger brother, a lord of another town no less, is more proactive in attending to the incidents occurring within your city. While you cower away hidden behind in the safety of this mansion’s walls, he was out there, getting blood on his hands. You should be ashamed, Dukakis. You lack the qualifications to lead this city. Any city.”
Dukakis took in a deep breath, his eyes bloodshot. “How can I being there help the situation?! I’m a lord, not a bloody Adventurer!! There is literally nothing I can do on the site!!”
Caleb’s sneer became even deeper. “Who cares what you can do or can’t? As a leader, you should have been there, remain there, talking and more crucially, leading the people. Yet you failed even that.”
“I WAS there!!” Dukakis exploded. His anger was seething like an erupting volcano. “I was there, directing the rescue efforts!! But there was nothing else left for me to do, so I returned to attend to other matters!! You, you who don’t even know the full story, just keep your mouth shut and disappear from my sights!! Go back to your bloody room and just stay in there!!”
Dukakis raised his fist, about to strike out at his father. Yet, his angry attack never reached the sneering face of Caleb, stopping mere inches away. It was trembling. His whole body was trembling in rage yet he could not make that short gap to lash out against his target.
Caleb’s eyes goaded his eldest son, daring him to lash out if he could. Seeing this, Dukakis’s eyes became larger. New strength flowed in his limbs and he now found it possible to move.
But before that, Damien quickly moved in and grabbed his brother’s arm, thereby stopping something unpleasant from happening right in front of him.
“No, Dukakis. Wait. Cool your head. He’s not worth it.”
An uncomfortable silence descended on the office like a veil of fog. Only the rough breathing coming from Dukakis echoed.
Once he was sure of his brother calming down, Damien let the arm go and proceeded to firmly close the door to the office. He too took a deep breath to calm himself down before turning around to face both men.
“There are a couple of matters I’ve been keeping to myself until now. One of them, a secret I brought with me to Marlborough. The other, dumped on me during my stay here. Both matters…. I need to tell you what they are. Right now.”
“Can it not wait?” Dukakis glanced at his brother, before slumping down in his chair. “I need some time to reorganize. And sort out all the reports. Then, maybe I will have a leeway to listen to you.”
Damien sighed and shook his head. “I can’t wait.”
Caleb bent down to pick up a chair that was knocked down during the argument with his son and sat down on it, grunting out as he did so. After he settled down, he looked at Damien with those critical eyes. “What say you? What sort of matters you find unbearable to keep any longer, wishing to infect me with it?”
“First, the matter with my deceased son,” said Damien. He started by telling them everything. He began with how his daughter, Kaleena, was attacked many many years ago by an assassin. Then how Kain was lost on his way to another town.
His deal with a Special Bureau agent named Dawson came up next, although Damien didn’t mention the matter with the strange wooden board and Lady Valette. Then, his meeting with Mikael the information broker.
And finally, the matter about The Children and this shadowy organization’s connection to the merchant group West & Brooks.
“That’s why I came to the city. To track the members of The Children. To exact my vengeance.”
When he was done, both Dukakis and Caleb were frowning deeply. They were nearly speechless as well. It took nearly a minute before Dukakis found his voice.
“Can…. can this broker be trusted? Forgive me but he sounds shadier than a shade of a tree.”
“He’s a shady character, alright. But his information is as reliable as an Exchequer official.”
Hearing his brother’s firm voice, Dukakis took another deep breath. It was very discomforting listening to a grave accusation leveled against one of the most trusted friends to his city.
“That’s the original matter. Fine. Then, what’s the second?”
Caleb asked, his voice cold, almost distant. Clearly, he was not amused by what he has heard just now.
Damien glanced at his father’s face for a second, trying to read the unreadable expression on it. Half giving up, he then pulled out a worn journal and a pile of crumpled parchments out from his bag of holding.
“This journal was written by a man who was present at the time when I recovered the Aerinite Ore from a Sacred Acre. His name is Jonas Bremble, an Associate Noble from Argos. I want you to read its contents.”
Damien lightly tossed the journal over at Dukakis. Frowning and also confused, he caught the book but didn’t open it immediately, instead choosing to examine its covers.
“What is this? Can’t you just tell me what’s in this book that is so important?”
“Turn to the folded pages. Read those,” said Damien as he began to urgently browse through the parchments in his hands.
Dukakis read those pages. And as he did, the complexion on his face changed. And by the time he read the last page, his face became very dark.
Caleb, who was silently observing his sons, stood up and grabbed the journal, prying it out of Dukakis’s hands. He too began reading the contents, only to furrow his brows in a rare display of shock.
Meanwhile, Damien quickly went through the transit records, trying to place a name with the face of the noble described in Jonas’s journal. He had no luck so far.
“That is all lies, isn’t it? Yes, it has to be. Is this journal trying to implicate that the situation in my city is related to the Queen’s faction and these…. these people called the Visitors?! What nonsense is this? But my adjutant…. No, it can’t be the truth.”
Damien looked up and saw the disbelieving face of his brother. There were despair and unwillingness to accept reflected on Dukakis’s face. Feeling pity for his brother, Damien sighed.
“Not lies. Well, most likely not. Because…. because when I entered the City Hall to get these records, I fought against the Visitors. Damn nearly killed me, too.”
This time, even Caleb had to gasp in more shock. Damien failed to notice that, though.
“What records are you talking about? What are you searching for now?!”
Dukakis asked, exasperated, at Damien after finally seeing the messy bundle of parchments strewn about his desk that wasn’t there originally.
“These are transit records. I went and volunteered my services to you because I wanted an access to the archives to find them without needing to answer any awkward questions beforehand. The only way to find out which noble it was. No doubt he came in via the Sky Ark. No doubt, he had to get his travel papers issued. No doubt, those activities left behind traces for me to grasp. And no doubt, they are here. I just need to find the evidence.”
Another long bout of silence followed in the office after Damien breathlessly explained himself. Seeing the dazed face of his brother, he remembered something else and quickly added this.
“Oh, and quite likely, someone in this house has been deceiving you, Dukakis. You haven’t heard any word regarding a high ranking noble entering the city recently, have you?”
To this question, Dukakis could only nod blankly.
Caleb narrowed his eyes as he closed the journal, tossing it back on top of the desk. He loudly coughed, before wiping away his mouth with a handkerchief. Even though he looked frail now, there was a spark of fire, a different one from before burning in his eyes.
“Damien. I am assuming that it was the Visitors who caused that explosion in the City Hall?” Caleb asked, barely hiding the venom in his voice.
“It’s a strong possibility,” replied Damien. “They seemed to possess the tools to pull it off. I remained on site to see if any of the Visitors were pulled out of the rubble but…. honestly, I think they all escaped somehow.”
“So…. it seems that this crisis, in part, was engineered by the Visitors and this Capital-bred son of a dog. And hoping to incite a civil war? On my watch?”
There was indignation now present in Caleb’s words. The lit fire licked menacingly in his eyes as if someone poured oil in it.
“Well, nothing has been confirmed, not even the involvement of the Visitors.” Damien pointed out quickly. “We can’t simply jump to conclusions yet without more conclusive evidence.”
Dukakis watched his younger brother and his father converse as if it was a matter of fact, something that happened every day between them – as if they were very close. To him, it was truly a bizarre scene to bear witness to.
His head was already knee-deep in turmoil. And now, with these revelations, his thoughts were mired in a bigger quagmire of helplessness.
He literally didn’t know what to do.
He wished there was someone to tell him which directions to take in order to bring back the order and sanity to his world. Didn’t matter if that was his knucklehead sister Donatella, or someone from the company West & Brooks, as long as he or she was someone other than his terrible father, or a brother who could only bring unwanted news.
And as his head crazily tried to free itself from the despair clouding him, Damien slowly lifted out one parchment among the bundle, his eyes shining brightly.
Dukakis couldn’t see the elated look on Damien’s face. In fact, he had shut the world out while thinking about the future – his future.
In it, Dukakis was stuck in an endless bleakness, an abyss where escape was impossible. He felt dispirited. Weak. All he had built up, now all gone. Even if Caleb declared him as his successor, that would no longer matter. It was most certain that he’d be stripped of his peerage, of his post, of his current life.
He was going to lose everything. So how can he feel anything towards, well, anything?
“This must be the man,” said Damien as he placed the parchment on the desk, pointing out at the name recorded on it. “It has to be. This man here is a high ranking noble. You must have known if someone this important was coming to your city, Dukakis.”
His eyes blank, Dukakis glanced over at the name on the paper.
Slowly, he began to regain some of the lost vigors. He gripped the parchment and reread the name.
A maddening idea suddenly, inexplicably formed in his mind. An idea that was crazy, bold and potentially deadly, yet a lifeline nevertheless. Again, it was nothing more than an idea but, if it could be pulled off, Dukakis knew that he’d survive. And live.
“Damien, what are your plans from now on? I’ll do what I can about finding out what West & Brooks is truly up to. But besides that, what are you going to do now?” Dukakis asked, intensity returning to his face.
Damien felt reassured, seeing this face of his brother. Now he looked like a proper leader of a large territory. He looked like a man.
Nodding, he spoke. “I plan to head up North. I’m planning to find this place mentioned in the journal and confirm, once and for all, about the involvements of the Visitors. And if that special weaponized Sky Ark is still being built there, then find it too. No better proof than those, I think. And finally, take those findings to Argos.”
Caleb demanded to see the parchment as well, perusing its written contents while listening to his sons. His expression was cold but the fire inside his eyes continued to burn. He was now trying to connect the dots in his mind.
He was poisoned right after the breakout of a tribal war between the Lepudia and Tigris. Which, according to the journal, was more than likely incited by the Visitors. Then there was this noble, making a deal with these otherworldly bastards to usurp the throne. This noble slipping in and out of the city without alerting him or his son was a slap to his face.
An alarming slap too, since there was someone close by that was acting against him and his family.
Caleb softly muttered to himself. “Just how deep do the tentacles of betrayal extend to in this house?”
Both Dukakis and Damien overheard it. They looked at their father, various emotions flashing by.
It was likely that the person or persons responsible for hiding the noble and his group was also responsible for the poisoning as well.
It was literally the case of constantly watching one’s back all the time. No one could be trusted. Not even the most trusted friends and advisers.
Damien smiled bitterly, realizing that for a famous and strong family, Lucius Lomax bloodline was being besieged on all fronts with enemies seemingly at every turn, waiting to ambush them at any given moment.
What a crappy feeling.
Damien mused silently to no one in particular but to himself.
(For the next update, it might take a little while, because I’m planning to post two chapters in one go. Sorry for the delay.)
(Also, I’ve been trying to fix some wierd niggle that manifested itself on this page but to no avail. I tried to update Chapter 43 as well, but as soon as I hit “Update” button, it all goes whack. Oh well. Until there’s a fix, I shall leave it as it is.)