Empress Honoria Adrienne Agrias of the House of Winfield sighed as she looked over the reports coming from the eastern front of the war through the Jagged Maw. She still couldn't believe the mess she was looking at. She had already suffered through her fair she of war. Thinking such, she looked to her left arm or rather the lack there of. In its place was a construction of metal and crystal with gently glowing rune work. It was a reminder of the many sacrifices she had already made for the better of the Empire. It was under her rule that she had united the kingdoms of the west on this continent. It was her foresight to make an offer of alliance to the Central nations and a truce with those accursed bloodsuckers in the east that had bought the time to consolidate the Empire's power. She was the one who had to order the love of her life be executed for killing a noble. Her heart still ached to remember the man's final moments. He was of a lesser station and they were unwed. All she had left was her empire, Aelunia, and her daughter, Grace.
One would think that being at the top meant you had all of the power and control. The truth was that you had all of the responsibility with just enough power to get by on if even that. Certainly you had armies and people giving praise to your name if you did the job right, but The fact was that your so called power was a combination of those under you. Lose favor and it all comes apart at the seams.
It was this little matter that had brought about the current war. The noble houses wished for more conquest. They wanted to expand the Empire's borders and influence. Even worse, they found the perfect target for their desire. The south continent was perfect in their eyes. Lands filled with inhuman nations ripe for the picking. Now they were engaged in war with the Godara Confederacy and Orgrum Kingdoms since 8 months ago. ~And all because I hadn't caught on to the propaganda Jezelle and her cronies spread~. It would have been suicide to stand against the promises of fortunes and opportunities.
The Empress shook these thoughts away as she stood and walked to a nearby door. Opening it, She stepped outside of her personal study right into her daughter. Honoria was a strong and sturdy woman who had even served on the field of battle. Her poor daughter never stood a chance. With a bump and a shocked squeak, her daughter spilled across the floor. She looked to the nearby guards questioningly," Felicity, why is my daughter on the cold hard ground?" Honoria demanded coldly of the gawking guard. The woman paled as she tried and failed to stammer out a word. The Empress sighed in annoyance at this as she bent down to help her own daughter up," You are trained soldiers, I would expect you to have the reflexes for something like this, especially as my personal guards."
"I beg your forgiveness milady," The woman knelt as she apologized profusely.
"Mother, you know as we as I do that there's no need for this," Her Daughter, Grace Honoria Adrienne of the House of Winfield, intervened after righting herself from the unfortunate accident and picking up her beloved pet that was now nuzzling her shoulder. It was a pure white wolpertinger native to one of the central countries on the continent. Wolpertingers resembled rabbits except that they had wings on their back and a small set of antlers on their head. It was rumored in folk lore that some had fangs and were quite violent, but this one lacked fangs and seemed gentle. She even suspected the creature of being quite intelligent given how well she supports her daughter. Grace had named it Jade based on some story from the Elves of the the Southern continent about a goddess and her jade rabbit living on the moon. In all honesty, she could only sigh in annoyance back then in her daughter's interest in such outlandish stories.
"Of course there is child, you are my only daughter. I can't bear another. It was a miracle I even had you," The Empress stated sternly at first before her tone became gentle. She reached out to help straighten her daughter's long. Snow white locks as she gazed into her red eyes," You will someday inherit my position, and if you are unable to earn or command respect..." She fell silent. She did not enjoy considering the likely future for her daughter if something didn't change.
"Then would it not be better to just give it to someone else? I am nothing more than an accursed and broken child!" Grace screamed back before meekly stepping back and giving a tiny glance to her own right arm. The mother could not help smile sadly at the display. It was always good to see her daughter's willfulness come forth. It was a sign of hope. A strong enough will can often see one through may hardships in laugh and on the field of battle. However, the pride and hope had been dampened by the sight her own eyes were drawn to. The pale skin of her daughter's right arm came to an abrupt stop before becoming a similar amalgamation of metals, crystals, and runes as her own.
"Grace, I know it's hard, but I want to be proud of you. I want the world to know you as a true blessing and worthy to be my daughter. If I just let you settle into some regular profession and handed the imperial crown to another house, I would be saying you weren't worthy to be my daughter. That you are unfit to have been born," She began to lecture.
"But-" She hushed her daughter with a finger pressed to her lips and a stern glare betrayed by a smirk. She took her daughter's hand and led her into the royal study for some privacy. Once the door was securely shut behind them, She walked over and took a seat at her desk once more while gesturing to her daughter to take a seat. It was time to give her a reminder of some of the realities of the real world and politics.
Once her daughter was seated across from her with her pet sat in her lap, Honoria steepled her fingers in front of her face before continuing her little lecture,"That also doesn't account for what would follow. The legitimacy of the throne. In the commoners' eyes, they ultimately serve under the founding house, ours. They could become rebellious. As for the other noble houses, I can I assure you that they would start playing a rather deadly game to rule. One that would include our deaths. This is the best path available to us."
Grace sat silently for a moment. She seemed to want to refute the fact. In fact, she seemed to have finally come to a decision of sorts," Be that as it may, but I can't even deal with, let alone, talk to half our population!"
"Grace, we've gone down this path before. You are a princess in a matriarchal society. You'll only have to delegate through the other nobles. Ours is a power through delegation," Honoria lectured in an annoyed voice as she had many times past. They were retreading old grounds once more.
"But how can I lead if I have to hold half of our people at distance. Authority is held through shared respect. That I can't give! Even worse is that I can't even..." Grace had begun heatedly as she suddenly stood and slammed her fists on the desk. Her pet nimbly jumped out of her lap and onto the floor. As for her desk, many of her documents had been scattered. She'd have to call in a servant to help with the mess after this. It was clear that the conversation was getting to the real core of the problem. A core that took the wind out of her daughter's sails.
"I have full confidence that you'll someday find a man you can love and continue the line with, Grace," The mother spoke kindly as she lowered her hands to learn forward and take her daughter's in her own," You just need to muster your will and press on. Someday, I'm sure you'll overcome the fear and shyness that plague you."
"But, how? I'm a repulsive... I'm weak and evil in appearance," Grace spoke timidly as she slumped back into her chair once more while staring at her bruised hand as Jade managed to flutter back into her lap," In fact, another maid has requested a transfer for fear of somehow being cursed in my presence..."
The mother groaned in exasperation. She sat back in her chair now before folding her arms beneath her chest and evenly ground out her question," Am I to understand that is what brought you here?"
The daughter continued to look down and avoid eye contact as she pet the rabbit-like creature in her lap. After a moment, her daughter finally looked up timidly and answered with an apology," I'm sorry mother. I tried to convince her there was no problem, but she still left in the end."
"Grace, you need to build up some confidence beyond your little hobbies. Without confidence, you can hardly expect to be listened to," The empress explained to her heir in annoyance. It was so troublesome sometimes. Her daughter has a strong will. Of that she was certain. The problems were her lack of confidence and experience. If she couldn't handle a few maids, then she could hardly rule. She admittedly had every right to be concerned when she reminded others of the bloodsuckers in the East. She had long white locks of the banshee, pale skin of the dead, and red eyes that reminded one of blood. Such forms were feared and detested in this land. Even now with their truce, it is hard to overlook so much bloodshed and let go of their hate and fear.
"How am I to be expected to learn when everyone in the Empire are disgusted with me for one reason or another!?" Grace screamed back as she shook now while clutching Jade to her chest.
Silence filled the room. At first Grace expected it to be the calm before the storm. She squeezed her eyes shut in waiting. Another minute passed. Confusion and curiosity filled her as she slowly open her eyes to see her mother's face that was framed by light brown locks that were pulled back into a braid. Upon her brow rest the crown. While none would ever say the Empress was pretty, they could not deny it gave a sense of chivalry and vitality. However, these were currently offset by a mischievous twinkle of her cyan eyes. It was clear that her mother was planning something. Her mother had a certain propensity for schemes and those who were the target of said schemes often regretted it. As such, the now smirking mother's daughter began to panic," Mother? MOTHER! I'll do my best next time, I promise!So-"
"I know you will," The Empress cut her heir off as she picked up a certain document that now rest atop a messy pile since the ones that used to be above it were now scattered across the floor," I can't wait to see the results."
"Mo-" Grace began to plea only to be cut off with an authoritative glare.
"I'd suggest you go make preparations for an outing tomorrow, dear. I'll be making the necessary arrangements. However, I have some work to finish before then. If you will?" Honoria gave a nod to her daughter. Grace seemed to deflate in resignation. She gave a short bow before turning around and leaving her mother to her work. Tomorrow was likely to be horribly dreadful day. With these thoughts in her mind, she left for her own room. As she left, her mother called for the head maid.
The Empress was now alone once again with some help coming to assist in the clean-up. As she sat there, she looked at the documents in front of her. It would seem that the war had brought something useful for her. After all as she looked at the report on captured demi-humans.
It was a bright and sunny day in the capital. Thanks to the aid of the priests of Minerva and the research of some dedicated wizards, she was able to see well. Sadly, this didn't help in regards to her skin. She easily got burned from too much sun exposure which only gave credence to the public opinion of her bearing a curse or that her father was a vampire. While she knew for certain that latter was not true, she couldn't quite deny the possibility of the former. That being the case, she and her mother were riding in a carriage with a large number of guards in tow. There was an empty wagon being pulled behind them. Her mother was dressed in a military uniform and wearing the imperial crown. It was a simple but beautiful piece made of mithril with oak leaves and sage scrollwork. As for herself, she wore a long dress designed to cover her skin. It was made of silk and dyed periwinkle. She wore a turquoise shawl to better cover her neck and shoulders. In her hands was a white parasol and on her brow was a simple silver diadem inlaid with a single large diamond.
While she had managed to keep the sun at bay, the fact that it was sunny out also meant that it was quite warm out. Grace was not very comfortable as she took a sip of a chilled fruity drink. She had at least managed to get some sleep last night by consigning herself to the fact that today was simply inevitable and there was no use in increasing the suffering. She reached down and scratched Jade's head between the ears and then slowly working her was down her back between the wings. Jade simply nuzzled her leg as she rested on her lap. As for her mother, she was currently reading over something. She had managed to get most of her work load back in order, but she wanted to read over the proposals in these documents carefully. Boredom was starting to overtake Grace's dread at this point. She carefully cracked open a carriage window to see where they were. She was surprised to find that they were in the merchant district. With all of the arrangements being made and her mother's choice of clothing, she had expected to be visiting a noble to make some sort of impression. It was a rather interesting curiosity for her as she had not been to this part of the capital in quite some time. A flash of an old and painful memory came back. That of a child yelling and pain. She shuddered at this before quickly shutting the window. She took a deep breath before letting it out for another. She eventually settled her heart again.
As much as she wanted to fulfill her curiosity, she was not going to ask her mother. That would be giving in to her pressure. She would lose the annoying little game her mother was playing if she gave in. The simple fact was that she hated losing. In a way, she hated her situation in general just because it felt like she had no agency to win. One of the few choices she had been allowed was to pursue a hobby. One that allowed her to wear her work with pride. She smiled as she thought about the time she spent learning to make fine dresses and costumes.
"Finally starting to relax I see," her mother noted with a wry grin," Well that's good. We're here and it wouldn't do for you to make a bad impression. Now come on!"
It was then that Grace noticed the carriage had come to a stop. The door was opened by one of their escorts and they exited the carriage with her mother properly fastening her sword to her uniform belt. Grace first opened her parasol outside before carefully stepping under its protection. Due to the need to hold her umbrella and keep a hand free for emergencies outside of the palace, Jade was hoping in step with them. They were led to a rather large and beautiful building that only contained two identifiers. Hung by the front doors were two signs. One depicting a caged rose. The other gave Grace pause. It was a universal pattern. One that no noble, not to mention most people, would not mistaken. It was the tattoo of binding. This building was a slaver's establishment.
"Mother! What is the meaning of this!" squawked the daughter of the empire's ruler without an ounce of dignity. The empress winced at the loss of decorum in public and let it slide due to the circumstances. After all, this was not something that one does on a whim.
"Well, Grace Honoria Adrienne of House Winfield," Her mother intoned in an authoritatively to which Grace straightened up immediately to return to a more formal posture and bearing. Then dropped the tone as she continued" We are here to handle the matter from yesterday. I believe you said there was a problem with people from this continent. Well, I just so happened to hear that there is a rather large number of people who aren't."
"Mother! Are you expecting me to be served by a bunch of the brutish orcs!?" Grace angrily retorted.
"Or goblins," Honoria cheekily replied before cutting off her daughter's next tirade,"Hush now, you should know better than to think all people of a race are the same. I'm quite sure we can find something manageable inside, and if not, all the better to challenge you with!"
Grace Honoria Adrienne of House Winfield just knew that the torture that was guaranteed with any of her mother's schemes was going to be long, painful, and quite unique. She just wanted to scream . She was only able to restrain it to an angry hiss. After being allowed to vent in such an unsatisfying matter, her mother led her inside. They were greeted by portly man with short cropped, red hair and a mustache in a suit worthy of a fine courtier. Grace's heart sped up and she immediately dashed behind her mother.
"Why hello your Grace and her esteemed daughter," The man began kindly while looking a little perplexed at the crowned princess's reaction," I'm terribly sorry. Did I do anything wrong to displease you?"
Grace tried to answer to say no, but like every time in her life before, she felt a cold hand choke her. She could breathe still. She just could not say a single word to the man. The Empress shook her head sullenly," You needn't worry yourself on the matter. I only ask that your inform you get your proprietress as she is the one who should have been here to greet us."
"My apologies your Grace," the man replied," There was a problem with the new shipment today. She's currently trying to settle the matter, but it's looking like we may lose some of the merchandise."
The mother considered this. For there to be a problem usually means they got a hold of someone particularly hardheaded. Something that was fresh and therefore must be from Orgrum.
"Never mind fetching your employer, take us to her now!" Honoria ordered them man who quickly obliged and began leading them inside all the while warning of the dangers within. As it so happened, the official version of slavery required that the "merchandise" be brought intact. This meant that no training was to be done until they arrived on site to be evaluated and then sorted into the proper formal training program. This had been pushed for by certain groups that wished to improve slave condition and hopefully abolish it. Honoria could even appreciate the sentiment. Unfortunately, she didn't see it coming to pass under the current nobility. Slavery made for very useful labor to those who could afford it as a long termed investment. That being the case, this movement backfired by improving the quality of said investment. This of course meant that once the initial costs of the mandate were fulfilled by any such facility, they had better quality goods to sell at a higher markup.
Eventually, they heard yelling and the sounds of a struggle. The man looked to them worriedly as he grasped the knob of the door. She nodded in return, making her intentions clear. Once opened she was met by the sight of a group of goblins causing a mess as handlers tried to recapture and restrain them. It was clear that it was a hopeless endeavor. They were currently in a stalemate of sorts. Two of the goblins were holding onto what she could only guess was a third, unconscious goblin. She couldn't tell since it looked more like a bundle of rags in their arms. They were trying to carry their load to a door or window while two more were causing a general ruckus and running interference. Crates were being spilled over and things were being thrown. They were even brandishing parts of broken crates as clubs. Honoria found them quite interesting. They were well organized and resourceful. Possibly even former military.
"(Well, what we have here!)" She interrupted the chaos in Orgrish. Or at least the best she could manage. While she knew a number of languages, those of the southern continent were not ones she used. She knew some, but she had focused more on the languages she had to use more regularly in her studies. Her duties as empress rarely gave her time to study more. Especially since she preferred to spend it with her daughter. ~Or hunting~. She thought to herself with a smirk.
"I'm sorry your Grace, but these little cretins are being stubborn and won't go along with standard processing," the proprietress spoke with a bow.
"Yous the big wigs?" called out one of the goblins who had been making diversions. The Empress was a little surprised at this.
"Yes I am, though I am surprised you know our language already," Honoria answered. The goblin, short as all goblins were, had bright green skin and blue hair that was tied all to one side in a pigtail. Her ears had a few nicks in them and her body showed the scars of battle. Her face was might be called cute if not for the color, ears, or the slightly longer, pointed nose inherent in her kind. The most noticeable marking was the cross shaped scar on her left cheek.
"Gots nuttin' betters when in ships besides watching the boss," the goblin quipped flippantly as if she didn't care who she was talking to someone who could order her death on the spot,"Look, wes not drift aparts. Wes a group... er famry?" She shrugged in her confusion,"No ones left behind! We goes with the boss or dies with her!"
"I see," Honoria replied succinctly before turning to the owner," Is there a problem with them being together, I would think their display here proves they'd make good guards or gladiators."
"The problem is that one of them isn't only defective but useless," she answered as she shook in outrage," The trader failed to inform me of the extent of the injuries one of them suffered in capture."
"Oh really? Sounds like you slipped up. As I'm sure you are aware, it is the responsibility of the purchaser to ensure the quality of these kinds of goods when dealing with traders due to them operating internationally," The Empress scolded the now sullen woman. All the while the goblins seemed to have regrouped while keeping their guard over the mysterious leader of theirs. As for Grace, her eyes seemed to be locked onto the bundle of rags. She had no idea what had caught her attention though.
"I beg your pardon, of course, It's just that they had passed off one of them as merely sleeping off a small injury. The fact is that their so called boss isn't only defective, but she was badly injured and not given proper treatment. Her spine has been damaged and she'll likely be paralyzed from the neck down for life. By law, since treatment exceed the profit margin, I am within my right to have her disposed of," The owner explained without a care for the ones she was talking about. Who, by the way, all seemed to be giving murderous glances when they weren't watching the handlers warily.
"That's still not right!" the princess spoke out to the shock of everyone," You would kill her just because of that!?"
"I'm sorry princess, but the world happens to be filled with harsh truths. The fact are that she can't care for herself, she is not a citizen of this country, and she isn't human. To be quite frank, it would be a mercy compared to what awaits her if I just tossed her out there," the proprietress explained with as much respect as she could show for the girl. Grace shook her head at this and looked to the bundle. It was only then that the Empress finally noticed it. There was a small foot sticking out. A violet foot to be precise. Goblins tended to be green, some red, and occasionally brown, but violet was not a natural color. Grace might just be projecting a little onto the unknown and unfortunate goblin.
"Tell me the extent of the treatment required," The empress commanded. This looked all too interesting to pass up.