"Tell me, Valga, are there not still other Vretis out there who endure every day in hopes of one day being freed from their servitude?" Sorkoza asked.
"This..." Valga had a troubled expression.
She knew that Sorkoza was correct. She could not bring herself to say that the Vretis outside this city was not his responsibility. After all, she was once one of those lost Vretis until the Duke saved her.
"Valga, if we are incapable of caring for our own kind, how can we ever expect anyone else to care for us? We do not require pity; however, if there is no window from which to view our circumstances, both inside and externally, it will be difficult to invoke any long-lasting changes." Sorkoza explained calmly.
He then continued, "You may not understand right now, but today will forever be marked as a crucial event for the Vretis. And, whether it is known to him or not, it will all be thanks to that human."
Valga was visibly shaken as her eyes widened in shock. For her Lord to make such a statement, it could not be taken lightly. She was unsure of the exact details; however, Valga knew that they had paid a visit to the treasure room.
The Duke never permitted outsiders to enter the treasure room, yet today, he allowed two to set foot there. If that was the case, something of monumental value must have been exchanged. But what was it that caused her Lord to utter such bold words? This was the thought that wandered through Valga's mind.
"Alright, we have kept our guests waiting long enough. To increase the speed of your journey, take the Night Howler Beast. Be sure to return safely." Sorkoza said as he disabled the soundproof barrier and started to make his way into the depths of the palace.
Valga looked surprised when Sorkoza brought up the Night Howler Beast. Though after hearing what he said next, her expression turned into one of contentment and gratitude.
Valga bowed her head and replied, "Yes, my Lord."
After their conversation ended, Valga led Izroth and Ranazera through the Void Curtains.
As the group departed, the Void Curtains closed behind them.
Sorkoza halted his steps and looked back at where the Void Curtains had just closed.
"That human... Is it just a coincidence, or..." Sorkoza said to himself as his gaze moved down to his hand.
The next moment, he squeezed his hand into a fist before he opened it and revealed the Sphere of Morning Totality.
"No, how could a human possibly know one of the greatest secrets of the skounae? Perhaps it is merely fate that we crossed paths on this day. Whatever the case may be, I can no longer afford to be complacent."
A solemn expression formed on Sorkoza's face as he resumed his steps.
Several hours later...
The Night Howler Beast sped through an area of unfavorable rocky terrain as it swiftly arrived on the other side of a small hill.
At the moment, the atmosphere on the back of the Night Howler Beast was still tense after Ranazera and Valga's earlier exchange.
Their previous conversation left things in an awkward manner between the two.
As for Izroth, he casually relaxed on the back of the Night Howler Beast and enjoyed the scenery along the way.
Although the scenery itself left much to be desired, it was not every day that one could freely travel through Malentansium lands.
'At this rate, we should reach the border in roughly half an hour.'
Izroth's gaze landed on Valga, who was at the head of the Night Howler Beast.
'Though I have to admit, it's a shame. I thought I could learn more about the skounae, but... Well, it's fine. After all, someone like her...'
Just as this thought ran through Izroth's mind, Valga's voice sounded from the front of the Night Howler Beast.
"...How much do you know...?" Valga inquired in a low voice.
A carefree smile appeared on Izroth's face. It was just as he thought. Someone like Valga, who seemed to hold Sorkoza in extremely high regard, was unlikely to not follow through with his directions.
Now that they were getting closer to the border, Valga finally decided to set aside her personal feelings and carry out the task the Duke entrusted to her.
"The skounae are a race united under the absolute rule of the Night King. The status of each skounae is decided from birth and by the strength of their bloodline. Those with weak bloodlines can only become Hunters, while those with stronger bloodlines can be granted the rank of Baron or higher. However, what's important to remember is that those with weaker bloodlines are unable to disobey the commands of those with stronger bloodlines. This creates a level of strict hierarchy among the skounae." Izroth explained.
He then continued, "There exist no individual factions among the skounae; however, there are three separate groups that serve under the Night Lord. These three groups are the Immortal Umbra Horde, which makes up the largest force of the skounae and consists of those with the ranks of Hunter, Baron, Viscount, and Earl. There is also the Penumbra Circle that houses the Inquisitors, who oversees the Immortal Umbra Horde and other skounae of the Penumbra Circle and consist only of those with the ranks of Marquis or Duke. And, of course, there are the three Antumbra Night Lords, whose sole purpose is to carry out the Night Lord's will."
Valga's brows rose as she listened to Izroth. This was all knowledge that outsiders could get their hands on with the right means. However, most humans did not know of the Inquisitors existence or of the bloodline constraints the skounae faced.
Nevertheless, even though she was somewhat impressed that a young human knew this much about the skounae, Valga had yet to hear him mention anything that only those who lived in Malentansium knew of. Besides, there was also one important point that he overlooked.
"Then, there are the Vretis. In terms of numbers, the Vretis account for less than five percent of the skounae. And, because their bloodline is seen as inferior by other skounae, they often end up as servants. Shall I proceed?"
"No need. I have a rough understanding of your knowledge." Valga replied coldly.
However, Valga's coldness was not directed at Izroth himself. Rather, it was that his words were the reality of how the Vretis were perceived.
"What you have said is correct. That is, except for two things." Valga stated.
"Then, feel free to enlighten me," Izroth responded in a carefree manner.
"For one, there exists several factions outside of the three main forces of Malentansium."
From all the information Izroth acquired about Malentansium, it never mentioned any factions outside of the main three groups.
He always found it strange that there was no mention of other factions or organizations in Malentansium since it was so common in other kingdoms. But, he simply wrote it off as the influence of the Night King's Curse that kept things in absolute order.
Izroth was not the only one present with those thoughts. Ranazera was stunned to discover the existence of other factions in Malentansium.
As a princess of Tempest, naturally, she had access to a great deal of information networks. But none of them ever mentioned factions outside of the Immortal Umbra Horde, Penumbra Circle, or the Antumbra Night Lords.
For there to be several factions in a kingdom thought to be fully controlled at every corner by the Night King was a huge discovery!
"You are not incorrect that the Night King rules over Malentansium with absolute authority. You are also right that the Inquisitors maintain public order. However, the skounae are not as close and united as you think. Everyone obeys the commands of the Night King, so on the surface, they all seem to get along well. But, beneath it, is a power struggle among the Dukes and Marquis' of the Penumbra Circle." Valga explained.
She then continued, "The Night King does not interfere in the affairs of the skounae. Whether it is due to a lack of interest or invoking the survival of the fittest, no one knows. But, even after all the years of suffering the Vretis has endured, the Night King has never spoken out against it."
Valga glanced back at Ranazera, "You asked earlier why Lord Sorkoza did not use the Void Curtains to teleport you two to the edge of the territory? The truth is, the territory you're heading into belongs to a faction that is not on friendly terms with my Lord. If they sensed Lord Sorkoza's power anywhere close to their borders, they would have undoubtedly reacted to it in an aggressive manner."