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After decompressing for a bit and returning to her duties, Sandora had largely returned to normal. Work had always been her go-to method of escaping the negativity that frequently tormented her when she was alone. Thus, with several hours until the scheduled banquet, Sandora did her best to distract herself with preparations for the upcoming festival.
Unfortunately, just as Sandora was getting into the groove of things, her brother and several of the higher-ranking members of Salamandra showed up. She could guess the reason for their visit even without asking. Even so, she summarily dismissed the people she was speaking with before donning her usual mask and saying, "Dear Brother, I am pleased to see you in good health. Tell me, is there a matter I can assist you with…?"
Before responding to his sister's words, Mandra cast a threatening glower to the group of middle-aged men accompanying him. Reluctant expressions appeared on several of their faces before the entire group begrudgingly bent the knee, heads lowered as a sign of 'respect' towards their future Queen.
Snorting in contempt, Mandra shifted his deep blue eyes away from the group of obstinant old men before nodding towards Sandora and explaining, "I came to ask how your meeting with the Sage Dragon Emperor went… From what I heard, the meeting was rather brief."
Though it was pretty well known that Vahn could manipulate time, doing so within the territory of another Community was exceptionally difficult outside of a Gift Game. Thus, even though Sandora had spent a startling 13 hours within the suite prepared for Vahn, only thirteen minutes had passed from the perspective of the Stewards, Maids, and Guards keeping an eye on the room.
Inhaling through her nose, Sandora steeled her resolve before raising her left hand to highlight the gently pulsing ring Vahn had given her. Upon seeing it, a hint of conflict appeared in Mandra's deep blue eyes before he closed them and said, "I see…"
Nodding his head in approval, Mandra opened his eyes before looking towards the group kneeling at the side and saying, "The future of Salamandra is now secured. With an ally like the Sage Dragon Emperor on our side, it is only a matter of time before our reputation and honor are restored. I trust none of you have any problems with this?"
In response to Mandra's question, the most senior member of the group exclaimed, "Of course not! The name of the Sage Dragon Emperor resounds throughout the entirety of the Little Garden. With the exception of our Lord, there are none better suited to becoming Her Highness's husband. Glory to Salamandra!"
Though there was a distinct lack of vigor from some of the men, none hesitated to exclaim, "Glory to Salamandra!!!". It didn't take a political genius to understand this was a power play by Mandra to test their loyalty. If they showed any signs of dissension now that a player like Vahn had entered the game, they were bound to experience some grief…
Turning back to his sister, the briefest hint of a smile graced Mandra's otherwise rugged and serious countenance as he said, "You've done well, Sandora. If Father and Mother had been here, I'm certain they would agree with me."
Feeling a knot forming in her throat, Sandora didn't immediately respond to her brother's unusually supportive words. He wasn't exactly known for being kind and supportive. Rather, even before their father had declared her the next Leader of Salamandra, Mandra had rarely spoken with her outside their official duties. He was one of the few people Sandora 'trusted', but, ever since she was a very young girl, she couldn't shake the feeling Mandra blamed her for their mother's death.
Noticing his sister's difficulties, Mandra promptly placed himself in a position to obscure her from the crowd kneeling behind him. He was quite tall at 195cm, and, thanks to his robe, he could easily conceal Sandora's comparably small, 142cm frame.
Seeing through her brother's actions, the knot in Sandora's throat became a painful tightness as she stared up at him in absolute silence. She never shed any tears, but, for a very brief moment, a dense layer of moisture covered her eyes as she seriously questioned whether or not the man in front of her was the same brother she had grown up seeing from a distance.
Recalling that Vahn had removed the tumors from her brother's lungs, Sandora briefly shifted her gaze to Mandra's chest. In response, he immediately shook his head, a far more serious expression on his face as he whispered, "You have already shouldered the burdens of Salamandra for four and a half years. There are none more suited than you to sit on the throne…"
Since the glaze had already faded from Sandora's eyes, Mandra emphasized his point by kneeling as respectfully as possible. The men that had been sneaking glances from behind him immediately lowered their heads in a similar manner. Few of them genuinely supported Sandora, but, now that the person they had been backing was demonstrating his loyalty, they no longer had a choice. The era of Sandora, the Fire Dragon of the Northern Plains had begun…
Located approximately 980,000km away from the Northern Capital of Kouen City, a handsome man with untamed blond hair and a pair of headphones could be seen gazing up at one of three moons. A remarkably attractive young woman with dark brown hair was leaning against his shoulder, yet, rather than appearing even remotely excited, both had incredibly bored looks on their faces as the woman asked, "How much longer are we going to keep idling about? As much as I relish these little moments of peace and quiet, I didn't come to the Divine Realm to gaze at stars…"
Without missing a beat, the blond-haired youth adopted a wolfish grin as he remarked, "If you're that bored, we would always trade peace and quiet for passion and fervor. I'm not sure what it was like immediately following the war, but people from my time aren't exactly known for waiting until marriage to have a bit of fun…"
Snoring through her nose, the young woman, Asuka, adopted a harsh tone as she criticized, "It's better to have at least some principles when it concerns matters of love and romance. If you're that desperate to get in my pants, you could always propose…"
Though a blush colored her cheeks, Asuka was able to conceal it by lowering her head slightly and leaning into the young man's, Izayoi's shoulder.
Rolling his eyes, Izayoi strengthened his hold on Asuka's hand as he returned his gaze to the moons above and complained, "I'm not sure my heart can take you rejecting me a fourth time…"
Snorting a second time, the ruddy coloration of Asuka's cheeks darkened as she grumbled, "If you were sincere about it, I would have said yes the first time…"
With neither really knowing what else to say, Izayoi and Asuka sat in silence for the better part of an hour before the latter muttered, "I'm bored…"
Nodding his head in affirmation, Izayoi replied, "No kidding…" before leaping to his feet, extending his hand to Asuka, and adding, "Let's go have some fun." with a mischievous grin on his face.
Though she was a little annoyed by the fact that Izayoi had basically shrugged her off his shoulder, Asuka only glared at him for a brief moment before adopting a smile of her own, grasping his hand, and asking, "What did you have in mind?"
Without any hesitation whatsoever, Izayoi answered, "No clue. All I know is there's a massive world out there waiting for us. I'm sure we can find something if we just go out and explore it."
Furrowing her brows, Asuka asked, "You're not suggesting we just up and abandon the No Names, are you? What about working together to raise them from one of the weakest Communities to the strongest?"
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Izayoi surprised Asuka by picking her up in a princess carry and saying, "We're not going to accomplish anything by just sitting around and gathering our strength. If it were up to Jin, the No Names would remain isolated from the rest of the Little Garden for the next hundred years. No way am I going to just sit around twiddling my thumbs while Vahn and his Community get to have all the fun."
Without waiting for Asuka's response, Izayoi leaped high into the night sky. Asuka closed her eyes and clung to him in response, but, upon realizing there was no wind pressure whipping against her hair or face, she gradually relaxed enough to ask, "Where are you taking me?"
Adopting his characteristically wolfish grin, Izayoi continued to kick and bound off of empty air as he teased, "Well, since my bedroom is apparently off the table I figured we may as well consult a professional. Just try not to get riled up like last time, okay? I'm more than willing to throw down, but I'd rather not have my ass handed to me just because you're jealous…"
"Huh? Jealous? Me? Did you hit your head somewhere? Who could I possibly be jealous of…?"
Meeting Asuka's incredulous glower, Izayoi's expression morphed into a deadpan as he answered, "Me, Jin, Lily, Yo, Black Rabbit, Usalia, everyone in the Sage Dragon's Hearth, people who are even mildly better than you at something, and Vahn."
Ignoring the piercing chill in Asuka's gaze, the corners of Izayoi's smile curled upward as he asked, "What? I didn't say it was a bad thing. If anything, I think it's kind of cute. Your drive to be the best is one of the things I love most about you. It would be one thing if you were jealous of people and didn't even try, but, whenever you encounter an obstacle, you continuously push yourself and try to overcome it. It's honestly kind of hot…"
Though she snorted through her nose, a healthy shade of crimson spread through Asuka's cheeks and ears as she looked away from Izaoi. She was honestly still a little miffed, but, like many young maidens in love, her anger subsided greatly when she heard Izayoi say he loved her. Sure, he may not have said it directly, but that was beside the point…
Sensing someone entering one of his consultation offices, a version of Vahn immediately appeared as Izayoi and Asuka stepped inside.
Raising his hand, Izayoi immediately greeted, "How's it goin', old man? We decided to drop in and ask you for a bit of advice."
As this was the first time Izayoi and Asuka had visited the consultation office by themselves, Vahn was genuinely confused regarding the reason for their visit. The only thing that came to mind was relationship advice, but, if that was the case, Asuka wouldn't have been present.
Shifting his gaze to the pouty, faintly blushing brunette, a teasing smile developed across Vahn's face as he asked, "What's this? Did the two of you enter the path of adulthood and have a happy little accident…?"
Understanding the meaning behind Vahn's words, Asuka's cheeks practically glowed as she balled her hands into fists and hissed, "You…you scoundrel…!"
Blinking in surprise, Vahn shifted his gaze to Izayoi, mild incredulity in his expression as he asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
Much to Asuka's chagrin, Izayoi shrugged in response to Vahn's question before asking, "Are there any interesting events going on in the Little Garden right now? We're bored out of our minds and are looking to get out and have a bit of fun."
Watching in amusement as Asuka attempted to 'discreetly' step on Izayoi's foot, Vahn asked, "Just the two of you or the No Names as a whole?"
Seemingly oblivious to the fact Asuka was driving her heel into his foot, Izayoi looked down at her and asked, "You heard the man. We eloping or do you want to entangle everyone else in our thrill-seeking?"
Realizing that trying to crush Izayoi's foot was like trying to crush diamonds, Asuka forced herself to regain her composure before answering, "I know for a fact that Yo would want to tag along. We can also use this as an opportunity to drag Jin out of his comfort zone. Who knows, if he builds up a bit of confidence, he might stop stressing out so much…"
Noticing Asuka directing an accusatory gaze his way, Vahn furrowed his brows and asked, "What's that look for? My relationship with Lily is strictly platonic. If it wasn't, you would literally be one of the first to know about it."
Unable to refute Vahn's words, Asuka just crossed her arms and looked away. She knew full well that Lily and Yo would have told her if something happened between them and Vahn. They may have developed a game to send Vahn secret messages, but, based on what they had told her, he would usually just chuckle before ruffling their hair and gently chastising them…
Taking advantage of Asuka's silence, Izayoi half-stepped between her and Vahn before asking, "So? Anything interesting going on? Something an entire Community could get in on…?"
Though he was mildly amused by Izayoi's protective demeanor, Vahn didn't comment on it. Instead, he pulled out a flier with the words Rise of the Fire Dragon emblazoned them in shimmering, bright red ink, asking, "Have you not heard about the festival in the North…?"
(A/N: Alternate Titles: 'Glory to Airyglyph…!','Not sure if wholesome or annoying…','Fate reveals its hand…')
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