Chapter 3: Aftermath
“Mistress, can I get you some tea? Your forehead is burning.”
Molly looked over at Delilah. “I... yes, tea would be nice. If it could calm my nerves, that would be appreciated. I just don't think it will. I doubt anything would.”
“Stupid Heather.” Doris curled her hand into a fist. “Caused this all she did. Temper Holy Knight against idea bad!”
“Yes, keep calling me stupid, that's going to solve all our problems! I'm stupid for not trying to appease to an impossible request!”
Molly held up a hand to the waitress. “Please, no yelling, no insults. Not right now. I- I can't stand it.”
Heather crossed her arms together and sighed. “Fine, I'll play nice... For all the good that will do.”
It had been three hours since Vioran and his friends had left the Cheshire Cafe. The moment the Holy Knight officials had left, Molly had gone to make sure that Heather was okay, but the damage had already been done. Any attempt to stand had left Heather screaming and howling in pain as she collapsed back onto her hands and knees. Vioran's knee to the stomach had left some lasting impact on the girl, some crippling blow that robbed her of her stability. For an entire hour past that, it had been nothing but a stream of profanities and curses that had come from Heather's mouth, but even that anger had its limits, and eventually the swears had turned into crying, like an infant robbed of a nipple to suckle on. To see her reduced to such a state was unnerving to Molly, alien even. Barely contained anger was Heather's usual state, and in the rare cases she wasn't angry or hateful at someone or something, she could be a genuinely pleasant person to be around. Heather reduced to tears and begging for help was something else entirely, and any resentment Molly had to her worker over what she had done had been replaced with pity. Thankfully, Doris had known of an old medicinal remedy to at least alleviate the pain, so the worst had passed for Heather at this point.
The bigger concern now was the state of the cafe. Everyone who had been enjoying their food had left the moment Vioran had made his demand. It was worst case scenario for the cafe owner, as any place that had offended a Holy Knight official or was looked down upon by them was a dead zone. While Heather had been recovering, Molly had tried to bring in more people to eat at the cafe, but everyone had avoided her. No one dared make eye contact with her and everyone avoided the section of street the cafe was on like their life depended on it. She had heard the few people who had passed by whisper and gossip of what had happened, that someone had been so brazen and stupid as to assault a Holy Knight official, and now the restaurant was condemned unless the offender publicly apologized to him. When that realization hit Molly, the entire mood of the staff had sunk with her. Now the restaurant was closed, and it took everything for Molly to not break down and begin crying herself.
“I still cannot believe word of mouth has spread so quickly, to where everyone is avoiding us.” Delilah looked over at Molly. “That Dorn person, isn't he usually their mouthpiece? He must have gone around and told everyone already. I wouldn't be surprised if it was already on the news.”
“Of course it is.” Heather spat. She tried to rise from her seat but fell back in from the sharp pain. “Everything they want to say is on the news, but never the stuff they don't like. Only show the fact I attacked the guy, not that he was pressing my buttons.”
Cuillin peered into the kitchen from behind the double doors. “But that is your fawn. Other people don't control what you do, only you do. Lack of self-compare is your problem, ma'am.”
Heather's head turned to where the child had poked her head from, and Molly could see her eyes begin to bulge from their sockets. “MA'AM?! DO I LOOK LIKE A MA- URRRGH!”
“Kid right is.” Doris leaned forward on her chair so it stood on two legs. Then she began to rock it to the sides while leaning back and forth so it teetered in a circular motion. “Apologize need you to. Fault yours is, baited you let get. Played hand into, intention theirs likely.”
The realization hit Molly. Doris was right, this had to be intended. The fact they knew the menu without ever being there prior had been a red flag, but she hadn't thought much of it at the time, but now it made too much sense. They had done their homework on the Cheshire Cafe and the staff and personnel who ran it. Vioran had known her name, and Dorn... he had intentionally picked out something that he knew would set Heather off the rails. This had been planned from the start, with Heather as their target... but why that was the case made no sense to her.
Heather was a rude, temperamental woman, but as far as Molly could tell, she also wasn't much of a social outgoing person either. Her work here at the Cheshire Cafe was her only job. She was the first person to be present, and the last one to leave. Otherwise, she mostly kept to herself. No one else really interacted with her much, so why Holy Knight officials would want to get at her...
She looked over at Heather and began to open her mouth, but the woman in question was faster to the logical conclusion than she had expected.
“No, I have no prior experience with any of those skreeonkers. I have no reason, no interest, nothing at all I want any association with them, and I have never met any of them at all. I've HEARD of them, yes, but I've never interacted with them, so don't go assuming this is some blackmail for some dirty thing I've done to them. And get your finger off my throat, Doris!” She angrily swatted at the girl, who leaned her chair away to avoid the swipe.
“Heartbeat frantic, pulse irregular. Lying maybe, but circumstances better explain perhaps.”
“If I'm lying, then please explain what I could have possibly done to warrant this? And if this was some desire for revenge, they could have just walked in, demanded my ass, and dragged me out, and no one would have any power to say otherwise.”
“...Maybe cheap hooker on-”
“And there goes any value your opinion has.” Heather angrily looked back at Molly and Delilah. “Ignoring the sleazy crackpot here-”
“Serious me! Being serious me!”
“IGNORING HER, this entire damn thing is a bunch of bored losers wanting to have some fun. They did their wretched little research, decided 'hey, let's piss all over the hard working girl and skreeonk her off', and I played into it like a goddamn fiddle. Because of course I did.”
Molly let out a long, pained sigh. “And I guess they also would know you'd have no interest in apologizing to them.”
“skreeonk no.” Heather slammed her fist into the arm of the chair. “I'd rather grab a bunch of my friends and go out and ram their heads so far up their asses they'd be spewing out poop for weeks. Goddamnit, this skreeonking blows.”
“You need to apologize, even if that plays into their hand. Otherwise, we are all damned. What else could we do to stay alive? The cafe would be seized or completely shut down, and we would be treated as criminals, and you would die. Heather, PLEASE...”
“Oooor... cheap hooker-”
“NOT NOW, DORIS.” Heather and Delilah snapped in unison. Heather brought her hands up to her forehead and hit herself once, then twice. Her body shuddered with the weight of her decision, and she gritted her teeth.
“FINE.” Heather screamed. “FINE! FINE! FINE! I'LL skreeonking APOLOGIZE! GODS, I'LL skreeonking DO IT!”
Another sigh left Molly's mouth, but this time it was one of relief. “Thank you. I know it'll be hard for you, but it is for the best. Just apologize to them, and everything should turn out for the best.”
“Hopefully...” Delilah muttered. “I hope it will.”
“It skreeonking better.” Heather glared at the rest of the girls. “Or I might have to come up with a Plan B.”
“The only Plan B we have is to part ways and find different jobs, or even relocate outside the city altogether and hope for the best.” Molly rose from her seat. “But I'll think that over tonight. Delilah, can you and Doris help get Heather back home? I need to drop off Ful and Cullin back at their house.”
“As wish you, Goddess.”
“I wish I was treated so well for doing almost nothi-URRRGH!..”
Despite the groans and pains that came from Heather, the two girls lifted her up by her arms and legs and carried her out of the kitchen. Molly followed behind, and looked over at Ful, who was still seated at his table. He looked up at Molly and scooted his chair out before he stood up.
“I never expected today to be so... eventful, for worse.”
“Me neither.” Cuillin came up beside him. “We just wanted to snack and drink, but instead, you're in quite the quandary.”
“It will all work out. I know they will. You two don't need to worry about me.” She walked over to them and rubbed their heads. “Just worry about yourselves and the little things. Too many things on the mind can ruin a person. Maybe I'll play some darts or hodgeball when we get to the house? I know you love hodgeball.”
“Yes yes!” Cuillin nodded frantically. “Hodgeball is the best! I always beat Ful at it!”
“I would rather you don't remind me.”
As Cuillin laughed and slapped her brother across the back, Molly found it hard to keep a smile up front. Everything was riding on Heather's apology being enough, because otherwise the alternatives were not much better. Trying to find a job that would hire her would be an uphill task, given she was the owner of the place disowned by a Holy Knight official, and leaving the city entirely...
She bit her lower lip. All she could focus on right now was the present. She had to take her own advice, or else overthink herself into a worried frenzy...
Being the Holy Knight Pilot in charge of the city of Tu-Voc had its advantages and disadvantages. The plus sides to such a luxurious position was that Vioran's name carried with it all the weight in the world he wanted. If something had his stamp of approval on it, or his endorsement, there was no one in the city who could argue against that. That had been the case with Dorn publicly shaming the Cheshire Cafe for his treatment. All he had to do was agree with him, and anyone who listened to Dorn was quick to follow suit and spread the word. Within but an hour, over half the city was aware of what had transpired, and that news spread like wildfire. No one was willing to speak against his testimony, and the few who had tried to argue were silenced with but a glare from Vioran. That was the other benefit, that every facet of life was to his own specific liking. The education system, the marketplaces, the laws and legislation, everything had to go through him, and if it didn't meet his expectations, he could shut it down with but a word. No one in the city could say otherwise, no one but himself held such power. All the other Holy Knights in the city, including Vicks, were all under his wing, and answered only to him. Those were only two of the many advantages offered to Vioran.
The downsides were few, but they were annoying to say the least. While his name carrying such weight to it was nice, the fact his face was so recognizable made moving from place to place without being known infuriating. He needed to obscure his face when traveling into public incognito, and even that wasn't enough without altering his voice. The trip to the cafe was a rare exception because that had been the whole point of the appearance; He had wanted everyone to know he was there for when Dorn made his accusations.
The second downside was that he did have to answer to one person and one person alone: Emperor Jettro. And Jettro's grievances weighed heavily on the official's mind as he walked back toward the compound. The cameras along the walls stared down at him and the two others, before a green light at the top of them slashed. The massive steel gate tore itself open, and the three entered in.
“I still think we should have stopped at the usual place to pick up a few diamonds in the rough.” Vicks snickered. “At least make the trip worthwhile for everyone.”
“You're just too shortsighted to see the bigger picture.” Vioran shook his head. “Though, I suppose that comes with being Prateria's lapdog. When all you see is her, all other vision falters.”
Dorn smirked as Vicks's face blushed red. “I would have imagined someone under the leash of the Emperor's daughter to have their taste in women skewed, but I guess being freed from her hasn't dulled that any bit.”
“Oh please, I've always been interested in others. She just wouldn't let me without beatings!” Vicks grumbled. “Being smuggled out by Vioran was the best thing to happen to me. I can actually do what I want without her sitting on me.”
“You mean you don't like having a hot woman crushing your head beneath her ass?” Dorn asked.
“Not when every part of my body is screaming in pain. Gimme that hot Molly chick instead. She's got a mighty fine body, a soft voice, a softer face, and she's like a sculptured goddess.”
“Wouldn't that Heather female dog be more to your liking? She seems like an animal in bed.”
“Maybe to your masochistic ass! She'd probably tear my dic-”
Vioran raised a closed hand, and both men went silent. “There's little use discussing women who will likely be dead soon. It is starting to get late, and I have a few calls I need to make. I will see you all before dawn tomorrow, or maybe later tonight if you're interested in some drinks.”
“Hell yeah I am!”
“Count me in as well. I'll see you later then, old friend.”
Both Dorn and Vicks parted ways at the doorway into the main part of the complex, and once they had both rounded the nearest corner to their rooms, Vioran opened the door and walked in. The stench of dried blood reached his nostrils, but he ignored it. Aside from that, last night's accident had been cleaned up in full, and the only evidence of anything having have happened was one missing servant. The rest were all seated in a circle around the room, and Vioran walked into the middle of it through the open gap. Perhaps that Molly woman would make a good replacement...
The lights in the room flickered, and for a moment Vioran saw that seven chairs had been assembled within the circle as well. Six of them had metallic boxes with screens on the fronts attached to the backs of the chairs. It was the last thing Vioran had wanted to see, as he knew what the meaning of this way, but he had no choice in the matter. He sat in the one chair that lacked such a structure and clapped his hands together.
“I am present.”
At once, the screens flared, and holograms of six other people filled in the seats. They were all currently in discussion with one another, as if oblivious to Vioran's presence.
“-Pede nest was a joke to crush for my Enforcers.” A balding older man with a monocle over his right eye proclaimed. He was dressed in a pitch black suit with a red tie on the front, and shoes with elongated heels at the back. “They never stood a chance. One big bug barbecue.”
“If you want a real barbecue, you should have seen the rioters at my place.” A green haired woman dressed in various rags and cloths said. “We gunned them down like rats in a bowl. It's been so damn long since I got to have that kind of fun, and man did it feel good.”
“Wanton wasting of life will get you nowhere, Salome.” A scrawny teenager, one even smaller and more of a stick than Vicks, huffed. “This is why your city of Bioruv is always in turmoil. A lesser yoke will yield better results, and keep morale high.”
Salome snorted. “And a heavier yoke will shatter their morale, leaving them as brain dead vegetables who cannot possibly think of rebelling. I just need to make that yoke heavier, Kaboc.”
The young man, Kaboc, turned his face away with a hateful glare, but that was when his eyes laid upon Vioran. “Finally the man of the hour is here, to save me from his sister.”
All eyes turned to Vioran, and though the Holy Knight official cleared his throat, it took everything he had to not just stand and leave. “My apologies for being so late. We had a few mishaps along the way.”
“Mishaps? That's not like you, younger brother.” Salome grinned. “The highest ranking pilot in the past five years of the Academy is getting sloppy? Must be all that tax evasion stress.”
“That's none of your concern, sister. Simply a lot of things have been happening. The top suspected location of the Rebel cells in my city has been dealt with, and their leaders scattered into the four winds. There have been sightings of a few harpies here and there in the city, but nothing that cannot be dealt with.”
“Awww, I was hoping your city would be caving in on itself, brother. Then I could just walk on over and seize it for myself. Four cities under my control.”
Vioran gave Salome a long, hard look. “If I didn't know any better, I would suspect you of being the catalyst, all so you can have more power. It is how you have subverted every other Outer Perimeter city you control.”
“If she is the cause of your Rebels, then you need to work harder at controlling them.” An elderly man, wrinkled and covered in a black robe, coughed up. Like the first man, he too was balding, but he looked to be thirty years his senior, yet his eyes were as sharp and focused as one half his age. “If you need advice, come visit Hibal or Zioth in your spare time. For sixty years they've been peaceful stalwards of the Empire. No demihumans, either. The ogres and mermaids that once lived near our cities have been no more for decades.”
“I would rather die than become part of those cities.” Kaboc injected, which brought a smile to the man's face. “There are no people there, only your puppets and zombies, Ziko.”
Ziko snickered. “I never said that peace was through freedom of choice or will. If you want peace, that's what you get rid of.”
”I heard there was more going on in your city than just silencing rebellions and angry people.” A large humanoid machine hissed. It more resembled a golem than a human, with rivets and overlapping armor across its body. Its voice was deep and labored. “There has been whispers in the air that one of Lady Prateria's missing pilots is under your care. Is this true?”
Vioran leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Vaboris, even if that were true, Prateria can come here herself and grab her lost property if she really wanted him back. But just for the sake of argument, no I do not have Vicks in my possession.”
Vaboris raised a hand to his mouthpiece. “Your lying game is admirable, but your eyes betray the truth. Lady Prateria will be displeased once she is made aware.”
“And will you tell her? No one likes a snitch.” Salome said.
“No, she can find out herself. I have no interest in helping her. She's the reason I am in this state. For all I care, she and her father can burn in hell.”
“That WOULD make for a fancy barbecue.” The first man said. “ But good luck with that. She's a mean piece of work. I've heard she even made Vioran here her personal-”
“Antioc, another word from you and your entire city will be digging your grave.” Vioran snarled. “Yes, Prateria bested me, but who HASN'T she bested, let's be real? That freak of nature is not normal.”
“You're one to talk.” Kaboc injected again. His eyes had bags of flesh beneath them which wrinkled as he blinked. “ You're more augmented than most pilots, you and your sister. You can do things we cannot.”
“We all can, Kaboc.” Vaboris turned to him. “You are simply the odd one out. Your body couldn't handle the augmentation process, which would have disqualified you from even being a pilot, but that's what personal favors are for.”
“No, you're wrong there.” Kaboc grinned. “Not personal favors, but hard work and determination. I had to work my way to the top, no matter the cost.”
“That cost being your precious little face.” The final person laughed. Unlike the others, their hologram was distorted, which left their features blurred out, aside from the fact they had a scythe in hand. “You look like you haven't slept in weeks, Kaboc. Has all the stress gotten to you?”
“Cial's right, you do look haggard.” Salome leaned over. “Why don't I pay a visit so you can get some shut eye?”
“I don't need your kind of help!” Kaboc shouted. “We just have some unruly neighbors to the west. A lot of giant spiders from the valleys are attacking Biul, and we're stuck in a stalemate with them.”
“If you insist you do not need the help...” Vaboris noted. “But if you ever change your mind, I can always lend a hand. My forces have finished scouring past the Iron Thorn mountains and have taken control of the Kingdom of Dugoth. The savage people have been routed and are now my citizens to educate and reform.”
“Wasn't there a princess in that kingdom who slipped past your men?” Cial teased. “She grabbed a hold of her family's ancient staff and blasted a hole past your men? Seems you're having as many problems as Vioran here-”
“I AM NOT HAVING AS HARD A TIME AS HE!” Both Vioran and Vaboris snapped at the warbled hologram at the same time. The two looked at each other, then turned away.
“At least I wasn't struck by a waitress.”
Vioran's head swerved back to face Vaboris. “H-how do you know that?! Who told you?!”
“Word travels fast, and nothing escapes my notice. To think you have fallen so far as to go after cafe's.”
Salome's face twisted into a maniacal grin. “Did he really?! Oh brother, how the mighty have fallen! What a nasty little piece of work you are, going after defenseless women. Freed of the eyes of your pears, your true colors reveal themselves.”
“Says the female dog who hordes men all for herself!”
Salome tilted her head. “Does that mean you are interested in men? I had no clue you swung that way.”
Vioran opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. His face reddened, and he looked away in disgust. “If everything that has been said is done, this meeting is adju-”
“Oh no, the real reason for this meeting was not to roast each other or compare dicks, though that is amusing.” Ziko chuckled. “We merely got sideswiped into this while waiting for you. No, the real reason is that, Jettro informed us of the ultimatum placed on you regarding the lack of payment that has gone his way. If you fail to pay him back in a few days, your control of the city as Magistrate will be relinquished, and it will be ripe for any of us to take over.”
Now Vioran's face turned into a blistering red hue. H-he had had the GALL to tell the other Magistrates of what his bed maiden had threatened him with?! While his own rumored tax skimming was no secret to the others, the fact such information of the ultimatum had been made public to the others shocked him. He rose from his seat. “Not a single damn one of you is getting my city! I own Tu-Voc, and Jettro will get his money or compensation for such!”
“Maybe he will, and maybe he won't.” Cial swung their scythe behind them like a swinging pendulum. “But still, a free city for any of us to control, that is just too good an opportunity to pass up. Tu-Voc is in such a wonderful place, so temperate and mild, and so close to the ocean while being safe from sea monsters, it's paradise.”
“And a nice place to start some fires.” Antoic said. “I hear the soil down there is great for growing crops and cattle.”
“And it is surrounded by rivers and plains. Any large monsters that try to attack can be spotted a mile away.” Kaboc muttered. “Though, if I do take control, you would still be welcomed into the city.”
“Maybe I'd keep you around, maybe I won't, brother.” Salome leaned forward. “But whatever you have there, whatever pretty faces you have, I want. My cities are starting to become so boring to me, but yours looks like a lot of fun.”
“Some fresh blood would be welcome.”Ziko smiled, and Vioran was greeted with the sight of hollowed out rotten teeth. “Perhaps it would be time for me to move on to greener pastures.”
“We'll be watching and waiting, Vioran.” Vaboris held a hand toward him. “We might even pay a visit in the next few days. A lay of the land is always welcome, to get to know our new city better.”
With that, the holograms faded away, and Vioran was left alone in the room, alone with his servants, who stared at him and the chairs with blank expressions on their faces.
Vioran's however, was filled with a murderous hatred he hadn't felt since last night.
“THAT LOWLY LOUDMOUTHED female dog!” He snapped. He grabbed his chair and threw it against the far wall. The chair exploded into hundreds of wooden shards and debris. “IS THIS HER skreeonking WAY OF APPLYING PRESSURE?! TO FORCE ME AHEAD OF SCHEDULE?! DAMN IT ALL!”
He raised his right arm up, and the chains that were attached to his servants necks rose into his hand. He yanked on one, and brought that servant into him. He grabbed her by the neck and threw her down to the ground. When she caught herself, he raised his foot and stepped down onto her back, which crumpled the servant girl. He stamped down again and again, harder than the time before, until the spine in that area had been shattered and the servant girl lay dead, severed in that area.
“Clean this mess up!” He snapped at the rest of them. The remaining servants moved fast, and began to remove the carcass of their fellow servant. “And make sure there isn't any remaining scent left!”
Vioran turned to head toward the far end of the room, to where his bedroom lay. He could not inform Vicks or Dorn of this, no, he had to deal with this himself. None of those vultures would dare lay a hand on his city, he would make sure of that. Aside from Kaboc, the rest of the Magistrates could burn for all he cared. But how was he going to deal with this? How...
As he opened the door to his room and walked within, he failed to notice the devices with the screens begin to warble and hiss with static. He failed to notice that the security cameras around his complex begin to power down, or that lights around the complex, and out into the city itself, began to flicker on and off. He failed to notice a sudden surge in energy that spiked across the city, as a hole in the sky began to form...