“How could you ask such an audacious question?” Cyrek cried out while he leaned on the podium on the palace steps.
One of the many scribes in front of him calmly responded, “I just said ‘How are you?’.”
“Sorry,” Cyrek apologized. “I just expected the opening question to be something more probing and that’s the answer I rehearsed. Not that I need to rehearse…”
“Well,” the scribe followed, “I was going to ask if you had any updates on the prince yet…”
The five heroes walked up to the back of the crowd, and Exelda whispered to the others, “We should come back when-.”
Cyrek recognized the five of them and changed his tactics. “Yes, but first, let me introduce the valiant group who have been so successful at keeping the invading monsters at bay! Come on up here, guys!” All of the scribes turned around and stared at them curiously, which made Exelda, Narcius, Kefalia, Stocastin, and Akintos bear painfully awkward expressions. Cyrek gestured for them to join him by the lecturn, and they felt obligated to do so. The five of them reluctantly walked up there, and Exelda, Narcius, and Akintos stood on one side while Stocastin and Kefalia stood next to Krimeno. Cyrek addressed the scribes, “Do you have any questions for our heroes?”
The scribes all eagerly raised their hands, and Exelda picked someone at random. “How long have you guys had super powers?”
“We were born with it,” Exelda replied.
“Could you speak up, please?” the scribe requested.
Exelda shouted, “We were born with it!”
Cyrek advised, “You don’t have to say it that loud.”
The scribes all wrote her answer down, and the first person to finish raised his hand next. After Exelda called on him, he inquired, “Do you have any leads about Prince Dason’s disappearance?”
Cyrek replied, “Really? You have five monster slayers here and you only have one question for them?”
“Oh, we always have more to ask,” the scribe told him, “but that’s kind of all we can think about right now. So, what’s the update?”
Cyrek sighed, “Okay, okay! The update is that Prince Dason is alive and well.”
Another scribe queried, “He’s back now?”
“No, not yet,” Cyrek admitted.
“Then how do you know he’s alive and well?” the scribe asked him.
Cyrek took a moment before he unwillingly answered, “The kidnappers… have asked for a ransom.” A flurry of quills scribbling sounded after that remark, and Exelda suddenly tuned in with great interest. “We plan on a peaceful end to this situation, and Chaos will go back to normal again very soon.”
Another scribe corrected him, “You mean normal aside from dealing with constant monster attacks?”
“Yes,” Cyrek said as casually as he could. “Now, does anyone have anymore-?”
Yet another scribe blurted out, “How much is the ransom?”
“That’s all the time we have for today! Thank you!” Cyrek quietly instructed to the five heroes, “Don’t make eye contact with any of them. Come this way!” The heroes began following Cyrek to the palace, but Krimeno stopped to wave goodbye to the crowd, which made them barrage him with questions. Cyrek turned back, grabbed Krimeno by his toga, and pushed him up the stairs before he could spill out anymore information.
Once they entered the palace, they stood in a giant hallway bustling with various servants and government workers. To their left, they saw the entrance to the throne room, and to their right, they saw the senate floor. Cyrek shifted his attention to Exelda, Stocastin, Narcius, Akintos, and Kefalia. “Sorry about that! I know you didn’t have much preparation for your first informational conference, but I needed a distraction. The less the public knows about our plans, the more safely we can carry them out. We don’t want the criminal to find out and ruin our rescue strategy.”
“What is your rescue strategy?” Stocastin pried.
“I was going to ask the same thing!” Krimeno reacted in astonishment.
Akintos surmised, “You don’t have a plan, do you?”
Cyrek stuttered, “Well, I… we… the palace just got the ransom note, and we… uh…”
“That’s okay,” Exelda interjected. “I have an idea.”
Exelda, Narcius, Akintos, Kefalia, and Stocastin followed Cyrek and Krimeno into a room where a couple dozen men sat in stadium type of seating with a platform where they could take notes. Everyone was arguing with each other until one of them finally took notice of the strangers in the room. “Oh no! It’s the royal inspectors!” The room suddenly fell silent, and all of the senators did their utmost to put on a professional front.
Cyrek let them know, “Uh, no. These are the heroes that have been fighting off the monsters for us.”
The senators all breathed a sigh of relief, and one of them hailed them, “Thank you for all of the work you’ve done! We owe you a big thanks!”
“By thanks, do you mean payment?” Akintos kidded, which prompted Exelda to lightly tap the back of his head.
“She has an idea of how to handle the ransom transaction,” Cyrek reported.
The senators all mumbled in surprise, and Exelda informed them, “Actually, I think I know how we can stop the monster attacks as well.”
They all seemed surprised by that notion, and another senator asked, “How is that possible?”
Exelda explained, “Dason disappeared around the same time as the monster attacks, which could have just been a coincidence, except we had more than one monster know Kefalia’s defect of freezing if she laughs too hard for too long. I’m not sure how anyone besides us could have known that, but if the monsters were invading our polis on their own, how would so many of them have this piece of knowledge? Obviously, one person is orchestrating these attacks, so if we catch Dason’s kidnapper, we can stop the flow of monsters too.”
Another senator questioned, “If someone is guilty of both crimes, then what in the name of Hades is their motive? Why demand money if you’re planning on destroying the kingdom?”
Stocastin jumped in, “We believe that the culprit behind the events actually wants to take over Chaos. The purpose of the monsters is to weaken our defenses, which, needless to say, would make it easier for this individual to use their forces to hijack the throne. The kidnapping is most likely a distraction, although they may also have a purpose behind the money itself such as paying for supplies or possibly to hire help.”
The first senator that spoke up inferred, “Ah, so we pretend to deliver the ransom money and then arrest the guy when he comes to collect it?”
“Highly unlikely that a man who sees himself as the future king would go get the money himself!” Narcius scoffed.
“Narcius is right,” Exelda agreed. “I don’t think he or she would retrieve the money themselves because they’d already anticipate some kind of ambush. But they’d deliver the money to the person they work for, so if we follow the person who comes to collect it, we can find the main person’s hideout!”
The second senator that spoke up gave his opinion, “Sounds simple enough. We could send the royal guards to… Wait, this person is going to a hideout where they store monsters?”
Kefalia responded, “Probably! It’s not like they’d have two hideouts!”
“Then you guys should handle the transaction,” the third senator concluded.
“Really? You’d trust us with a bunch of money after I made that joke?” Akintos replied incredulously.
Before the senator could say anything back, Exelda stated, “We may need the royal guards’ help since we don’t know if this person has begun to assemble an army or not, but we should probably go to the hideout first and clear the area from any potential monsters.”
Cyrek wondered, “How are we going to hide a whole army?”
“Oh, I know!” Krimeno enthusiastically suggested, “We could get a giant wooden horse and pretend it’s a gift when it’s actually full of soldiers…”
“We already did that in the Trojan war,” Cyrek pointed out.
Krimeno looked confused. “Trojan war? Never heard of it!”
Cyrek cringed, but before anyone could respond to his absurdity, Exelda assured them all, “The royal guards can hide at a distance, and we can use our powers not only to spy on the transaction but we can quickly summon the soldiers when we’re ready. We can put a stop to this today if the five of us just had the military backup. Oh, and we’ll need some money too.”
“Yay!” Akintos celebrated.
“For the ransom,” Exelda reminded him, which made Akintos pout. “So, what do you say? Can we count on your assistance?” The senators mulled it over for a moment, and…