352 RTYY 348 - An Unbalance in Numbers

ZaiWin took a deep breath, as if pondering his own question.

"Of course, in Wei's case, things would have never escalated to such a drastic point, where feimao would actually start to freely roam the land. If nothing else because the El'Dur would never allow Wei to face such a dire situation. The high-grade crystals they produce are too precious and important for the economy of the Empire, and so there's no way they would ever allow it to fall into someone else's hands. Still, they must have had something to gain, by supporting that small rebellion. Even if they somehow managed to overthrow the government, the El'Dur would immediately nominate someone else to take over the Province," ZaiWin went on, his expression serious and pensive, almost as if he were thinking out loud. Snow remained silent, quietly following his line of thought.

"Unless … unless they already knew who was bound to become the next Governor of Wei, and somehow had found a way to control them. Now that would be a genius, and very dangerous, move," ZaiWin concluded with a fierce grin on his face. "But to have access to such sensitive information … Only a few, very selected people would know about this kind of thing." ZaiWin sighed. "And maybe I'm thinking too much."

And yet, out of everything he had said, those last declarations were clearly the ones ZaiWin believed the least, Snow knew.

ZaiWin turned his bright-blue gaze directly to him.

"You're sure you never met him before."

Snow immediately nodded.

"What about this InnArg guy they keep talking about?"

"Never met him either," Snow replied. "I hadn't even heard his name before."

ZaiWin slightly adjusted the way he kept holding him and distractedly cover Snow's hand with his own, gently playing with his fingers. It made Snow's heart jump into a crazy beat inside. Because it had felt ... natural, somehow giving him hope that ZaiWin may eventually forgive him for his mistake, and that things may actually go back to being the way they used to be before.

"They seem to be following his orders," ZaiWin conjectured and Snow couldn't help but agreeing. "They said they did all this just so you could meet him. If meeting you was so important, why wasn't he at that house as well?"

Snow had wondered the same thing. Why go to all of this trouble? Take all this risk? Because, even though MaoHan was able to control ZaiWin's energy, there were still a lot of unknown variables in that whole situation, which made it impossible to be certain that things would eventually turn out the way they wanted.

"As far as that bastard MaoHan is concerned, there's also another problem," ZaiWin declared after a few moments of silence, his long finger distractedly drawing small circles on the back of Snow's hand. "It's true that he can suppress my inner energy, but that's not all he can do."

Snow nodded.

"It's not that he can suppress your energy specifically. He can control all dark energy," he stated, to ZaiWin's surprise. He hadn't expected him to be this observant.

"That's right. In fact, I'm probably the thing he has more trouble controlling. Reason why he can only subdue me, and can't actually take control of my markings. Not the way he controlled those feimao ... I've never seen anything like it. Probably no one has. Which also means that he can probably control, not only these brothers and sisters of his, but everyone living in these lands."

Snow lowered his head and nodded.

"You're probably right ..." he agreed with a small voice. "Everyone we saw outside, they were all wearing the same kind of collar as those children. At first, I thought they were qinrien, like the one you were wearing. But then, when I took a closer look at them, I discovered that they're different. They don't have that stone in the front, and they all have a small orifice in the back. Also, they're completely glued to their skin. I don't know if we'd be able to take them off. We would definitely be unable to take them off without hurting them. And then, in the children's cases, there are these … dark lines all over their bodies. Like something other than blood is flowing through their veins. Something unnatural. I think that that's what allows MaoHan to control them. To even have the ability to order them to die," Snow added, sounding depressed, and ZaiWin immediately held him closer against his chest.

"And if you're right, and everyone outside is in the same situation as those two kids, then MaoHan can easily have an entire army at his disposal."

Snow looked up at him with a startle.

"An army?!"

"That's right. Sure, they may not be as well trained as your average army. But, on the other hand, their numbers will easily exceed by far most of the other Province's armies. It will also create an internal imbalance the likes no one has ever seen before.

"As a norm, Provinces are more or less independent in the way their territories are governed. A Governor only has five obligations towards the Empire.

"First, to keep the order and peace within their Province.

"Second, to assure that the people are cared for, which means no extreme poverty or criminality, as well as guarantying that the majority of the people has work, food, and shelter.

"Third, to care for the land. In other words, to control any activities that may excessively exploit any natural resources the Province may have, like mining, hunting, or fishing.

"Fourth, to keep up the production levels, so that the Empire as a whole may have equal access to all essential goods. As you know, according to their geographic characteristics, each Province is specialized in some kind of industry or production. Wei produces crystals. Won produces wood. Hao produces vegetables and fruits. Hen is known for their advances in medicine and medicinal herbs. Pon produces stones for building. Tei, all kinds of metals. And so on. These are all obviously essential to the stability and growth of the Empire as a whole.

"And, of course, the last obligation of a Governor is to keep the commerce routes open, so that these essential goods may reach every corner of the Empire.

"Unless a Governor becomes unable to assure these five points, the El'Dur has no right to interfere with the way a Province is governed, no matter if it's right or wrong. Reason why, in some Provinces, slavery is still allowed, while in others is not. The Imperial Government also will not tax the Provinces. Dealing with taxes, how it's done, how much is collected, is up to each Province. They will, however, demand a tribute of sorts. Thirty percent of all the unique, specialized production is to be sent to the Province of Wen. Ten percent of all eatable production, from grain to livestock, is to be sent to the Imperial Army. And fifty percent of the men trained in any kind of military arts are to integrate the Imperial Army every year.

"This is a very intelligent way to assure that, not only the Province of Wen remains the richest Province of the Empire, the Imperial Army always counts with at least the same number of soldiers as the sum of all the armies of the other Provinces. This way, should there be an attempt to overthrow the throne, even if all the Provinces were to agree and decide to rebel, the Imperial Army will always be on equal grounds as far as numbers go.

"But now you have this MaoHan person, a nobody, not noble-born, much less royal. And he has managed to build his own personal army. Not only that, it's an army that no one else will be able to command. As weak and unprepared as his soldiers may be, this will still create a huge unbalance in the numbers that have been almost sacredly protected since the time the Empire was first established. Throw in the mix his ability to control the feimao and it's only a matter of time before we'll all at hands with the ugliest, worst war anyone has ever seen."

War, Snow repeated inside his head. He obviously knew the meaning of the word but, somehow, it was a hard concept to grasp since he had never actually witnessed one. All he knew about wars was that they inevitably resulted in a lot of suffering and death, making it a very scary thing.

"In fact, taking into account his abilities, added to how that YunZen guy is able to transport who knows how many people through his portals, I can't help wondering what's keeping them from outright launching an attack. Why they still haven't marched all the way to the Capital, to kill all the nobles and royals as it is obviously their desire," ZaiWin added with a sigh.


A/N: Now this is a very dark scenario 😕

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