The Damned Demon
Chapter 552: Cutting Ties

In the grand throne hall of the Demonstone Castle, the air was heavy with tension.

At the heart of this somber setting, Rowena sat upon her throne, her figure a portrait of regal restraint and quiet authority.

Before her, a semi-circle of seats was arranged, each equipped with an intricate magical device. These devices hummed softly, projecting holographic images of various clan leaders, tribe chiefs, king and queen of small kingdoms. The holograms flickered with dark light yet were clear enough for one to discern their features. However, out of the ten seats, only four were occupied by the shimmering forms of the attendees, highlighting the absence of the majority.

Rowena's eyes swept over the gathered projections, her expression composed yet unmistakably tinged with disappointment. Breaking the heavy silence, she addressed the assembly with a calm, clear voice that resonated throughout the hall, "I must express my profound disappointment at the sight of so many empty seats today. It seems that the trust we placed in those we considered our allies could not withstand the draconians' beguiling offers," she said, her tone measured but carrying a sharp and cold undercurrent of reproach.

One of the holographic figures, a burly chieftain with the image flickering slightly, shifted uncomfortably, "Your Majesty, the offers were too generous to refuse," he began, his voice a deep rumble that seemed apologetic yet resolute, "Or so we believed. But my Gravestone Tribe has been trading with your kingdom for thousands of years. We will never forget the loyalty and trust our ancestors shared. Even if the draconians offered a part of their kingdom to us, we won't budge."

"I appreciate your words, Chief Bolan. Without your tribe's iron and steel, our weapons wouldn't be as strong as they are today," Rowena said with a hint of gratitude in her eyes.

Another hologram, that of a svelte queen of the Silenvia Kingdom, shimmered as she spoke, her voice smooth but firm, "I, too, believe in our shared trust. My ancestors received a lot of help from your kingdom for so many years. We could never forget the gratitude we owe your kingdom."

"My kingdom appreciates yours for standing with us in these dire times, Queen Silna. The silk from your kingdom has always been invaluable to us," Rowena said with a brief nod.

A third figure, an old clan master of the Darkgale Clan whose holographic image was the clearest among them, added, "Your Majesty, we wouldn't go against our ancestors' wishes and cut off ties like the backstabbing dogs who didn't dare to join us today in our meeting and instead sent mere letters to you out of cowardice."

"They will reap the seeds they sowed, Master Zoru. But I won't forget your clan's loyalty. Your clan's spices never fail to satisfy our people in these difficult times," Rowena said with a firm nod.

A fourth figure, a young king of the Zakya Kingdom, spoke with a slightly awkward smile, "Perhaps the others might have felt they might have had no choice. Just the mention of the draconians strikes terror in any soul in our continent. And now that these draconians are coming up with such irresistible offers, it makes everyone feel even more wary and pressured. Maybe they were too afraid to reject. So it need not be just a matter of trust but for survival considering the world we live in."

"King Doyoka, are you perhaps tempted to give in to such offers?" Queen Silna asked with a scrutinizing look, making Zoru and Bolan glare at Doyoka as well.

Doyoka winced with a dry chuckle as he said, "Of course no-"

Rowena's expression hardened as she interjected in a frigid voice, "Survival does not necessitate betrayal. We have stood by each other in times far darker than these. It is disheartening to see that such bonds are deemed so fragile," she countered, her sharp disappointment palpable in every word.

"That's…true," Doyoka weakly said with a stiff smile before adding, "But what if the draconians uh…"

"Do you wish to cut off ties as well, King Doyoka? Are you scared the draconians will destroy my kingdom and then come after yours if you refuse?" Rowena bluntly asked, her shimmering crimson eyes piercing into him.

Doyoka gave a dry smile, "It's just that my kingdom is struggling and…"

Rowena nodded slowly, acknowledging the point, "Indeed, we each have our battles. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if short-term gains will lead to long-term consequences for us all. Drakar's ambitions will not end with our trade routes. The draconians might be willing to consider you as an ally today, but tomorrow, you might end up as their target. Are you willing to trust a foreign kingdom known for its atrocities or one that has always stood by your kingdom?"

Doyoka shrank his head, feeling indescribable pressure under her gaze even though he physically wasn't present in the hall.

But then he let out a frustrated grunt and stood up suddenly, "Forgive me, Your Majesty. But I…I cannot risk my people and my kingdom based on sentiments. This is purely business, and I am sure you will understand our plight," Saying so, his projection suddenly vanished into thin air.

"That impudent coward!" Master Zoru roared as he stood up, his eyes shaking with fury.

Bolan and Silna shook their heads with a grim look before nervously looking towards Queen Rowena.

However, Rowena's expression remained unfazed but instead she said in a reserved voice, "That concludes our meeting for today."

"Your Majesty…" Zoru mumbled with a troubled look but didn't know what to say. He and the others then deeply bowed before their projections flickered in the air and vanished.

A bit far away in the hall, Asher had silently observed the meeting, his presence undetected yet keenly attuned to the unfolding discussions. He returned not long after the meeting started, though he decided to let Rowena handle these political matters because she knew best.

But seeing the number of allies that showed up pissed him off.

As the holograms flickered and vanished, marking the end of the session that concluded with a distasteful twist, Asher stepped out from his hidden vantage point.

The hall, now void of the holographic attendees, felt larger and more desolate. Rowena slowly rose from her throne, her movements weighed down as if the crown upon her head had grown heavier with each disloyal word spoken during the end of the meeting.

"I am sorry," Asher mumbled, his voice low as he approached her. He reached out and gently held her hand, an offer of solace.

Rowena turned to him, her expression one of weariness mixed with resolve, "Why are you apologizing when you were the one who notified me beforehand what the draconians were going to do? Because of that, we even sent gifts and granted exceptions to our allies, and yet...the majority of them have chosen to turn their backs on us," she responded, her voice tinged with suppressed anger and disappointment as she clenched her other hand.

"Just give me the word. I will make those backstabbing cowards get in line, even if I have to use terror and force. How dare they take advantage of us and betray us when it's convenient for them," Asher declared, his jaw clenched, his eyes burning with a fire ignited by pure anger.

He knew they were now showing their true colors finally since this was the first time the threat of the draconians were real. Nobody knew until now that the 'key' was the only thing holding back the draconians from waging war on his kingdom.

So many previously believed it was just the dragons and the long distance that deterred the draconians, and so none of them in this continent were truly worried. They all believed the could enjoy the protection of the Bloodburn Kingdom and benefited from it even without draconians in the picture.

Rowena shook her head slowly, her gaze meeting his, "You think I wouldn't have done that already? I want to, but we can't afford to. We are already running on low resources after most of it is going into strengthening our military power for the war ahead of us. Even if we could, it would only make us look no better than the draconians who go around conquering whatever they can, no matter what method they have to employ. The rest of our allies could lose their faith in us because of that."

Asher's expression softened slightly, understanding the precarious position they were in, "You know best...more than me about these things. But are we supposed to stay still and do nothing? The so-called allies we depended upon for raw materials for our machinery, agriculture, and arrays have all sold themselves to the draconian. It's even more strange that the werewolf clans don't even seem to care that the draconians are trying to spread their influence like this. Something feels very wrong here. We have to do something," he insisted, his tone grave, reflecting the urgency of their situation.

Asher didn't know why, but ever since Drakar made his move and everything that happened after, his instincts have only made him feel a bit uneasy.

The draconians and werewolves' hatred for each other wasn't lesser than the hatred between his kingdom and the draconian kingdom.

So why were they remaining silent now?

He wouldn't have cared about this if his own kingdom had plenty of resources. Unfortunately, even if his kingdom was capable of producing most of these resources, they were in few numbers and would run out soon.

Rowena's expression, previously etched with the weight of recent events, softened into a contemplative gaze. She looked up at Asher, her eyes reflecting a new-found glimmer of hope, a contrast to the prevailing gloom.

"There is one way where we could try to compensate for our losses after most of our allies left us. But..." Her eyes turned dark with doubt as she added, " might not be that hopeful after all."

Asher, sensing the shift in tone, leaned in slightly, his own demeanor brightening with anticipation, "What way might that be?" he asked eagerly, his voice a blend of readiness and resolve, "I will do whatever it takes no matter how difficult it might seem."

Chapter 552: Cutting Ties
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