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After being escorted to the VIP suite he would presumably be staying in during his sojourner in the North, Vahn waited for around an hour before a firm knocking could be heard from the door.
Without rising from the rather comfortable lounge he had purchased from the System Shop, Vahn called out, "It's open." in a calm and relaxed tone.
Though there was a noticeable pause, the exceptionally thick door opened to reveal a tall man with bronzed skin, bright red hair, and rugged features that consisted of a squarish face, thick brows that flowed into a pair of dulled black horns, pointed ears, and black studs protruding from his chin. His outfit consisted of a dark grey tunic that flowed past his ankles, a red sash, open-toed sandals, and a set of dark robes emblazed with the fiery emblem of Salamandra on the back.
Seeing Vahn reclining against the lounge, the man's brows wrinkled almost imperceptibly before he quickly caught himself and bowed, stating, "It is an honor to be in the presence of the Sage Dragon Emperor. My name is Mandra Doltrake, Strategist of the Salamandra Community, First Prince of the Salamandra Royal Family, and Chief Inspector of the Military Police. I hope my men have not caused you any offense…"
Leaning forward, Vahn surprised Mandra by appearing right in front of him as he answered, "While it was a mild inconvenience to be stopped in the midst of my exploration of the Capital, your men were nothing but professional and courteous during our brief exchange…"
Further throwing Mandra off, Vahn extended his right hand with the obvious intention of initiating a handshake. The man initially hesitated, but, after regaining his composure and nodding his head, he extended his own right hand and said, "I am relieved to hear that. The situation outside has become rather tense as of late. The impending festival has led to a drastic increase in the number of…guests visiting from abroad. If an incident does occur, please demonstrate the magnanimity you are known for. My men are under a lot of stress and even the Gods are not without their faults…"
Raising his brows, Vahn searched Mandra's dark blue eyes to ascertain if the man was attempting to threaten him. Instead, he noticed genuine concern in the man's gaze while traces of moisture had started to develop above his brows and the sides of his face. If not for the threads of grey and dark purple in his aura, Vahn wouldn't have suspected him of any wrongdoing.
Adopting what he intended to be a penetrating smile, Vahn retracted his hand from Mandra's and stated, "You had several small tumors in your lungs. To commemorate our first encounter, I took the liberty of removing them for you. I hope you don't mind."
Extending his left hand, Vahn held out a small glass container filled with granule-sized masses of grey, black, and dark red flesh. When Mandra laid eyes on the container, his expression became a white as a sheet as he placed his hand on his chest and took several, unobstructed breaths. Instead of appearing relieved, however, a hint of panic flashed across his face as she said, "Thank you…" in a low, clearly anxious tone of voice.
Patting the man's shoulder, the corners of Vahn's smile curled upward as he said, "Don't mention it. Even if you're targetting me for purely political purposes, we're practically family from this moment onward. Your troubles are my troubles. Just don't go making too many messes for me the cleanup, okay…?"
Swallowing the knot in his throat, Mandra attempted a response but found himself unable to find the words to speak. Vahn was far more competent than any of them could have anticipated, and, based on that smile from before, it was clear he had already seen through their schemes.
After finally recovering enough wherewithal to speak, Mandra had to fight hard against the urge to wipe the sweat from his brow as he muttered, "It would appear the rumors regarding your ability to intuit information were not exaggerated. Worry not. Though we anticipate numerous casualties, the agreement we made prohibits the killing of non-Players…"
Though he had absolutely no idea what Mandra was referring to, Vahn just nodded his head before retracting his hand from the man's shoulder and warning, "So long as your actions do not impress upon my bottom line, you have no need to fear the consequences of my wrath. Just pray that I do not discover you have a connection to the recent disappearances…"
Having already confirmed with Loi-chan that Mandra had nothing to do with the children going missing within his territory, Vahn eased up the pressure he had been exuding subconsciously. This resulted in Mandra nearly losing his footing, as, even when he suppressed it as much as possible, Vahn's Authority had a habit of leaking out when he felt anger or was trying to intimidate someone.
Feeling equal parts relief and fear wash over him, Mandra was about to thank Vahn for his clemency but the latter had already turned his back to him. This signified that Vahn was finished speaking, so, while there were actually quite a number of things that Mandra wished to discuss, he ultimately just bowed before backing out of the room and easing the door shut…
The power and supremacy exuded by a Pure Blooded Dragon were far more potent than Mandra could have prepared himself for…
With the help of several handmaidens, Sandora thoroughly cleansed her body and washed her hair before donning her most recently tailored outfit. She had yet to receive Vahn's response regarding her proposal, but, understanding the importance of first impression, Sandora was psyching herself up to make the best impression possible.
Had this been a few weeks prior, Sandora wouldn't have been looking forward to her meeting with Vahn. She had known ever since she was a mere eighteen months old that she would be forced to marry with the intent of preserving her bloodline. With the exception of her sister, she was the last person that could pass on the legacy of Salamandra, so, while there had been a period in her youth where she wanted to run away with a boy she liked, Sandora had long since accepted her fate.
Fortunately, Vahn was the best possible candidate Sandora could imagine. He was a Pure Blooded Dragon, but, instead of being arrogant and cruel, he showed genuine concern for the people in his Community. More importantly, he treated those who came seeking his help in a fair and impartial manner. So long as they hadn't done anything to touch his bottom line, he would even provide aid to Demons without asking for anything substantial in return.
Even if Vahn had only possessed these traits, Sandora would have accepted their arranged marriage without hesitation. The thing that pushed her over the edge, deeply imprinting itself onto her heart, was the moment when Vahn had transformed into what many were referring to as the Dragon God of Infinity. Since then, Sandora had viewed the recording of Vahn's showdown with Amaterasu more than three hundred times.
Though the content was a little disconcerting, Sandora knew that the only reason Vahn had ripped Amaterasu to pieces was the latter's apparent disregard for the lives of his children. Amaterasu had actually made a public statement clarifying the situation, so, like many maidens of Dragon descent, Sandora had been dreaming about Vahn with increasing frequency. When her brother broached the subject of entreating him for a political marriage, Sandora had actually spent three days and nights penning the letter.
While most girls wouldn't be particularly enthused by the notion of being pressured into a 'Stag Wedding', Sandora had gotten over such aversions years ago. If anything, she was relieved things had turned out this way as not only was Vahn from a different district, his Community, the Aldrnari Empire had much greater standing than the Salamandra Community. They may be the Community affiliated with the position of Floor Master, but, ever since the war against the Demon God and his endless hordes, they had stagnated to a 5-Digit Community.
Near the beginning of the war, the Salamandra Royal Family flourished with well over a hundred members. In its wake, a mere seven had survived. By the time of Sandora's birth, the lineage of the Salamander had diminished to four surviving members. One was nearing the end of his life, another was plagued by a congenital birth defect attributed to inbreeding, and another had fled after nearly being forced into an incestuous relationship after the death of their mother during childbirth. For all intents and purposes, this left Sandora as the so 'viable' member of the Salamander race.
Thanks to her brother and a parting gift from their sister, Sandora managed to escape the fate of becoming her mother's replacement. If Vahn agreed to bed her, she would also be able to silence many of the people pushing to have her marry her brother. Thus, while most girls in her situation would be nervous and afraid, Sandora's emotional state could best be characterized as giddy with a hint of excitement.
Staring at herself in the mirror, Sandora's demeanor changed the moment her handmaidens placed a golden, diadem-like crown atop her head. The crown was the processed remains of the Stellar Sea Dragon King, and, under normal circumstances, it safeguarded the wearer's mind against all forms of mental influence. Sandora didn't believe that someone of Vahn's level would peek into her mind or try and manipulate her, but, whenever she left her personal chambers, she was obligated to wear the crown at all times. It was the symbol of her status as the Leader of the Salamandra Community, and, though she had yet to be declared Queen, it simultaneously represented her Authority as Floor Master.
Feeling a lot more confident with the crown on, a smile graced Sandora's face as she stared into her own eyes and affirmed, "Don't worry, Sandora. You can do this. Vahn is a nice guy. What's the worst that could happen…?"
Imagining various scenes within her mind, a hint of a blush developed across Sandora's face as she promptly dismissed the twin sisters that had quickly risen to become two of her most trusted aides. In response, the two raven-haired beauties exchanged knowing looks before staring into Sandora's eyes through her reflection and chorusing, "Just be truthful and everything will go smoothly."
Without elaborating further, the two girls offered courteous bows before mirroring each other's movements as they departed the room. This was observed by Sandora, who, for the first time in a while, felt the urge to chuckle as she remarked, "How envious…if I could be half as confident and relaxed as those two, maybe there wouldn't be so many people opposing my ascent to the throne?"
Shaking her head, Sandora did her best to rid her mind of needless thoughts. She knew the sisters, Ebony and Raven, were just looking out for her. Ever since the duo had arrived, they had been two of the only people to treated her as something 'more' than just the Leader of Salamandra. Sandora appreciated them greatly, but, believing they had no idea what it was like to stand face to face with a man like Vahn, she disregarded their advice and continued to psyche herself up in preparation for her fated encounter with the Sage Dragon Emperor…
While Sandora was busy mustering her courage, Ebony and Raven migrated towards Vahn's room as if guided by some unseen force. When they reached it, they didn't even need to knock before an indescribably handsome man opened the door, an affectionate smile on his face as he asked, "How is she…?"
Understanding that the man, their father, was referring to Sandora, Ebony mused, "She is behaving even more adorably than usual." before Raven followed up by asking, "Are you really going to have sex with such a small girl? I fear you may break her…"
Laughing dryly in response to his daughter's rather brazen question, Vahn extended his hands to caress both girls' heads as he stated, "The two of you are becoming more mischievous with each passing day. I hope you haven't planted any strange ideas in her head…"
Exchanging glances with each other, smiles developed across the faces of Ebony and Raven as they cheekily chorused, "We didn't need to." in the same sultry tone often employed by their mother…
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Vahn the type of guy that shows up to pick up someone's daughter and the father is too afraid to come outside…','I would say that Royal Families and the notion of blood purity don't mix, but…','Semiramis would be proud…')
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