The House of Wolves

Birth of the Golden Lion

doss intensity immediately dissipated. How could someone this kind looking mean anything harmful. He immediately reduced the force of his pitch and engaged in genuine conversation with the man.

”I see you
e reading the Holy Attestation. Quite a good book, that one. Who is your favorite character? ”

The man considered Ardoss words for a moment before delivering his response. ”Well…if I had to choose, I would think it would be Luciferos himself. ” He uttered sweetly.

But his response was by no means conventional. Before Ardos could prod more, a rather large man staggered into him drunkly, casting him away from the fellow sitting down. He quickly found himself swallowed in the mass of people and their dizzying questions and conversations, driving the thoughts of the other man from his mind entirely.

How truly like nobility all these people are, Thought Ardos to himself in contempt as he walked amongst the crowd of businessmen. He had picked up on it before but now it was practically undeniable.

Of course, there were a few outliers, but the vast majority were the spitting image of those he so detested. Indulgent, insecure, and superficial. He was not exempt from these qualities either, as the day had reminded him so painfully…but he was not even remotely as swallowed up in them as they all were.

Disgusting…how utterly disgusting.

On the far end of the wall was a tapestry. It was religious in nature, as it depicted the conquest of Luciferos by Agios Volichea, the nations great founder, he who was supposedly Gods son himself. He had heard the stories and seen thousands of paintings like this one, most of better caliber. He could no longer be roused by what it represented anymore.

Still, it offered a sort of, distraction from the cluster of braindead merchants which undeservingly sucked up the supply of oxygen in the room. So he decided to make note of all the little things going on in the back of the tapestry.

This quiet, focused moment of analyzation could not persist however, as he was disturbed by a wheezing man.

”Admiring the tapestry are you? ” Inquired the man with a cough. He was a rather elderly fellow, with a balding white head to match his blindingly white robes and the shining little blocks he had for teeth. Around his neck was a key chain with a cross at the end, signifying that he was a man of the church. He made for a rather nice contrast against the artificial plumage and bold colors which characterized the remainder of the crowd.

In response to his question, Ardos gave the most polite smile he could muster and extended his hand to the man as a gesture of good faith.

”Indeed I am, sir… ”

”Fauxton. Zolethus Fauxton. ” He said as he took Ardoss hand and gave it a firm shake.

”Of course, I apologize for my ignorance. I only arrived in this great city today so I hope you can give me some reprieve in this regard. ”

”Speak nothing of it, my boy! I have been waiting in anticipation for your arrival, and it pleases me greatly that you admire the tapestry! ” He leaned in close and whispered in Ardoss ear, ”though it is only the first step in my mission. ”

Ardos feigned curiosity before proceeding to ask what that mission was. The priest grinned, clearly expecting such a question and splayed his hands outwards proudly.

”I intend to save this city! ” He boomed, drawing quite a few eyes and ears in his direction. He paid it no mind however. ”You see, this supposedly great city is, as shocking as it sounds, not so great. Or at least….not as great as it could be. ”

”I see. Please, educate me. ” Ardos said with a sort of dry curtness. The sarcasm aspect was not received however as the priest only grew more excited.

”I intend to bring god to this city! Understand this…Corvachia, despite its wealth and grandeur is a city of unfortunate corruption and incongruity. It is split in two, between the merchants and the common folk. And why do you think that is? ”

He didn wait for Ardoss response.

”Because it lacks a church of course! There is no gathering site for the people to express their devotion to god, no place to bring us all together. Which is why we need a church to reduce the discrimination and persecution that runs rampant in this noble city. The people need god you see, to save them from their indulgence. ”

How utterly bland and lacking in originality. Ardos mused with a sigh. He hadn expected much and yet had somehow been disappointed all the same. This individual, Zolethus Fauxton, was yet another ignorant priest. A mere caricature. One who believed everything could be solved with mere faith and who never considered the greater ramifications and powers at play.

He reminded him of Ardoss sixth sister, the only one with whom he shared a mother. She too was a firm believer in god, and she too was rather ignorant of the ways of the world. But she was only twenty one years old, whilst he was hearing this nonsense right now from a man at least twenty years older than his father.

Unfortunately Ardos did not believe in god. Why should he when he had his dream. That alone was reason enough for his existence, and it was far more constructive than some unsupported belief in a deity who may or may not even be real.

And besides, what need did Ardos have to believe in god when he had himself. He was a noble, and if he could use his status correctly he would be able to provide for the people in such a way that they would have no reason to turn to god. That, was what it meant to be nobility.

”Ahh…I see you two are conversing about Father Fauxtons glorious mission. What a precious sight! ”

The individual saying those words was a tall fellow. With glossy black hair and hard eyes. He wore a checkered doublet with the prominent crest of the goldfish in the center. It was difficult to miss, especially in the flaming orange hues with which it was drawn.

This was Lord Damosh Mandelous, the recently elected noble and the High Councillor of the city. He had more illustrious titles such as the Man of a Thousand Trades and The Traveler. He was a prominent businessman who had, despite being a mere five years older than Ardos, had seen much of the world and had enough stories to last a lifetime.

At least, that was the image that had been carved around him. His height and hardened features certainly fit the tales, but his actual personality was a complete mystery to Ardos.

”Well, I hope you don mind Father Fauxton, but I think Id like to borrow this young man from you for a bit. Tell him about more of our wonderful city beyond the implementations you seek to bring to it. ”

Before Father Fauxton could object, Damosh had his hand on Ardoss back and was already leading him away from the conversation.

”What a tedious man, don you agree? ” He said when they were far away of the priest.

Ardos raised in eyebrows in response, intently analyzing the man before him.

”I thought you were his collaborator were you not? ”

Damosh refrained from responding until they had both found a table and a glass of wine had been poured.

”No thank you. ” Ardos said politely to Damoshs offer of the alcohol.

”Suit yourself, ” he remarked in response with a shrug. ”Now to answer your question…yes, we are indeed partners, but it was a choice done more out of pragmatism than genuine conviction. ”

”Do go on. ” Ardos said, genuinely interested now.

”The man has many connections you see. As shocking as it sounds, he is perhaps even more well travelled than I. He just lacks the charisma required to be a daring trader and entrepreneur, as Im sure you can imagine. Regardless, he has some very rich and powerful friends I would much like to know. So, I agreed to make this deal with the old bastard primarily for that purpose. Though it also helps keep the people complacent as well. Weve had quite a surge of good hearted citizens devoting themselves to the honest construction of the church you see. They have nothing but the utmost gratitude towards Father Fauxton for establishing this institution within this city and, by proxy, me as well. Because now, I am a man of god and more than just some sniveling merchant like some people perceive me as. ”

”Are you not? ”

”Excuse me? ”

”Are you not a man of god I mean. ”

Damosh let out a great bellowing laugh, practically choking on the wine he had been drinking.

”Of course not! Youd be hard pressed to find anyone who actually is, don you know? ”

Ardos feigned ignorance and decided to prod him further, so he could better understand his perspective.

”Well I was under the impression that all those who did acts in gods name were men of god. Am I wrong? ”

”Quite a naive fellow you are, Mister Calastre. And I mean this with as much respect as possible, for youve given me a rather good laugh today. But no…I am not a man of god. I am a man of money, because after all the world turns on the turning of coins. ”

There it was…the motto of House Mandelous. Ardos was a fool to expect their latest heir to be any different. Though he certainly wasn as tiresome as the priest back there.

”Even the humble Father back there is no true man of god. Of course he is not so misguided as myself, who acts purely for the sake of profit. But if you looked through the mans records, you would see the things he has done in the name of god are rather detestable. Torture, executions, all in the name of the lord. ”

”How interesting. I took him for a fool when I first met him. ”

”Oh he is, make no mistake about it. ” quipped Damosh. ”A fool hellbent on serving a god created by men. Quite paradoxical isn it? ”

”What polarizing views you have Lord Mandelous. ” Ardos responded with fake shock. ”You surprise me! ”

Lord Mandelous chuckled and took another sip of his goblet. ”Well I can only share these polarizing views because you
e such a polarizing man. Don think I haven been paying attention to your movements. Ive read all your papers on the utilization of magic and whatnot. Rather radical ideas, most of which I imagine attract much controversy to you, do they not? ”

Ardos could feel a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. ”How well researched you are. Yet another surprise, though I suppose that is in character for a man serving as the High Councillor in a city of merchants. ”

”I suppose so. ”

”But to answer your questions, yes, I am a rather radical man. I believe it is necessary for this nations progress for us to overcome our systemic hatred of mages and try again. ”

Lord Mandelous pulled himself closer to Ardos until the two were face to face. ”In the past several years, Ive heard quite a lot of unconventional ideas, and Ive met very few capable of backing those ideas up. But you, you seem to have conviction. I like you. ” He accentuated this respect by wagging his finger.

”But you don agree with me do you? I would think it to be rather uncommon for a man of your disposition to abandon all pragmatism and ally yourself with views as uncanny as mine. ”

”You
e still here though, aren you? I can respect that, enough to at least hear out your proposal in several days. I am pragmatic, yes, but not to the point that I am completely opposed to change in favor of that pragmatism. Who knows, after this week you might gain your first true supporter. ”

Ardos smirked.

”Well, in the meantime, why don we talk about those views of yours. You seem to have some insight on the Father and his faith do you not? ” Ardos inquired, as a means to keep the conversation going.

”You have a way with words too I see. Also commendable. But yes, I do. I believe, he is no more than a fraud, one so afraid to make his own decisions that he needs to turn to a book to tell him what to do. Its pathetic really. If he was a legitimate believer he would find a deeper understanding of god instead of basing his existence of paper and ink. ”

”Are you not the same though? The only difference is that his book is a holy scripture whilst yours is a financial statement. ” As soon as Ardos said those words a wave of guilt washed upon him. He should have kept his mouth shut and nodded along with the mans words. Why did he decided to make a snarky comment of that manner? But still, it had been made, and there was no changing that decision.

Lord Mandelous narrowed his eyes in scrutiny, as if reconsidering his opinion on Ardos. He leaned forward in his chair, and engaged in a fierce deadlock of stares which lasted for several seconds.

”Yes…I suppose you
e right aren you. ”

”I suppose I am. And so are you, seeing as you yourself confessed to being obsessed with money. ”

”Dependent on, not obsessed. You would be wise to know the difference. ”

He drained his cup and stormed off without another word. He seemed quite offended by Ardoss comparison of him.

”I suppose Ive just soured my relationship with him, haven I. ” Ardos muttered to himself with a sigh. How hard was it to find a man willing to confess to their own faults. Though he wasn all that much different. The entire scenario reminded him of something his father had told him.

”Obsession is a hard thing for a man to confess too, in any circumstance. ”

He was hardly a man to talk but Ardos could agree with the sentiment.

But Im different. I have to be different, no matter what. Resolved Ardos in his heart on the ride back. He was obsessed with his dream, this was something he knew for a fact. But it was a different kind of obsession. Not like the material obsessions of the nobles and the merchants. Those who chased after wealth, or women, or even some supposed god were ultimately shallow in nature. They lacked in conviction, and a true understanding of what it means to be nobility.

Nobles are creatures who live on extremities, Ardos mused. We cannot live unless we are surrounded by that which we obsess over. Kind of like how a lion depends on its territory.

But he was a golden lion. Not the plain, brown furred beasts which the rest of his kind could be compared to, but a true leader of beasts. He craved for something which did not manifest itself in the real world, not yet anyways. But in true fashion for a lion, he would resolve himself to hunt for it. To be as a lion was meant to be.

And he would do it simply because it was his nature. Because he was true nobility, and this was always how he had been. He had always seen things no one else could see as a child. In place of mountains he saw Giants, in place of wooden shacks he saw castles, in place of gemstones he saw glittering stars.

The real itself was a plaything for his imagination, the infinite was his playground. He had fond memories from his childhood, though they were few and far between, off feeling the endless wind breeze above him whilst he lay on the vast earth, accepting its comforting embrace. He would do this all whilst staring up at the night sky, enchanted by its captivating blackness inter spruced with glimmering stars. Hed always wondered what the stars looked liked up close, what they felt like, and even tasted like.

He always imagined they were quite hot.

But there was no way to know unless he reached for them. Which is what he did, that night, laying down in his bed. He liked the bed, it was comfortable. But he wished for the earth, so that he could properly see the stars, instead of needing to look out of some window.

Just then, an idea popped up in his head. A childish, mischievous idea. His common sense screamed at him not to do it, not to go out the window again. It had been dangerous enough in the day, at night truly anything could happen; not to mention how arduous it had been climbing back up to the window unnoticed.

But he threw his common sense out the window alongside himself and crashed into the soft grass of the garden. He sprang up immediately, and crept his way outside the manors limits. The square was still rather busy with activity from more small scale merchants and shop dealers, but he wasn interested in them right now.

No, instead, what he was looking for was the best place to see the stars. It had to be tall yet not crowded, and preferably away from the square. Such a place was difficult to find, and Ardos began to lose hope.

But just as he was about to turn back, he caught sight of a tower. It was abandoned, foreboding, and a bit worn down. Just perfect.

So Ardos snuck in and walked up the creaking stairs, made note of the broken railings, and slowly tip toed his way up to the top floor. It looked to be an abandoned classroom, though most of it was gone now. In its place was a gaping hole in the wall, providing a wonderful view of the city and more importantly, the stars.

But before he made his way to that spot, he noticed a boy. He had black hair like Aurelia, and brown skin the exact same color as hers too. Dried tear lines could be seen under his eyes and the floor around him was quite moist. He had clearly been crying quite a lot, which made Ardos feel bad.

He went over and tapped his shoulder, causing the boy to freak out and open his eyes with utter terror on his face.

They stood eye to eye with each other like that for quite a long time, both unsure of what to say. The boy decided to start.

”Are you…a prince? ”

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