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Book 4, Chapter 1 - The Plutocra

 Skycloud city, mansion of the Lunae family. Several men in finely beaten cotton doublets - faces pale and dripping sweat - were delivering an intelligence report to a portly man.

The one they groveled before was the head of household, patriarch of the Lunae family. He was also the richest man in all of Skycloud, Garuda Lunae.

The men with their glittering garb were members of the family's chamber of commerce. Any one of them was stupendously rich, but their sad faces couldn't have been direr if it was the end of the world. For them, it very nearly was.

The wall's destruction was an unparalleled attack on the realm, and among the first to feel it was the Lunae family. Half of their merchant vessels were destroyed in a blink crippling their trade network. Skyclouds previously well-organized merchant empire was thrown into disarray.

How large of a hit did they suffer? To put it simply, this catastrophe set the family back several hundred years!

Decades of effort had gone up in smoke and who knew how long the detrimental effects to the economy would last. Who could tell when the danger passed and things could go back to normal? If they would go back to normal? Would their family even survive?

Garuda's gem-encrusted fingers pinched the handle of a delicate teacup, but the tea inside had long gone cold. As the grim reports were delivered he sat in glum silence, face expressionless as he looked over the figures.

"Patriarch, we've been robbed. Plundered!" a councilman moaned piteously. "Our family suffers. How do you suggest we handle this calamity?"

Garuda glanced at the man with his beady eyes. Brief, but enough so that the councilman knew he was speaking out of turn. Garuda's hard eyes stole his voice.

"We lose a few ships and suffer a business setback, and this is how you react? You're all a disappointment."

The other men glanced at one another. 'Lose a few ships'? Practically all of their fleet lay in ruins! Their business contacts were in tatters! The Lunae family's business industry was spread far and wide, with countless lives it was expected to support. How could anyone look at those figures and think this was anything other than an unprecedented disaster for their family?

"If we lose money, then we find a way to make it back. When business falters, there is a way to build new bridges. Money and business is like the tide, and there will be times when it ebbs and flows. Like a river in periods of drought and rain. All we need to do is make sure we're situated properly and the wealth - like water - will continue to flow." Skycloud's ultimate plutocrat placed the teacup aside. "That being said, the troubles that face us are like an earthquake. It has shifted the terrain, and we no longer stand on a suitable precipice. However, it is important to remember that disaster and opportunity come hand in hand. You all foolishly focus on the troubles before your face, and it has blinded you to the fortune hidden behind. Breathlessly running around in a panic robs you of vision, leaving you shortsighted and ill equipped to react when the time is right."

One man, frowning, asked, "Is the Patriarch saying there is some way to turn this tragedy to our advantage?"

The rich man tented his gem encrusted fingers and spoke unhurriedly. "The problems that arise have affected all of Skycloud, not just the Lunae family. Every business and merchant organization is staring at figures like these. Only the most tenacious and extensive parties will persist."

One again the men looked at each other. These business moguls were smart and seemed to understand what he was getting at.

"Bad as it looks on paper, you can be certain that other merchant groups are faring worse. We are strong, and smart. We will persevere. Meanwhile, other families will fold under the strain. If we play our cards right, we can turn this lull into a boon. Temporary pain could portend a great blessing for the Lunaes." He continued to speak in tranquil tones. "People will always need more clothes, and food to eat. So long as there is demand and a country to service, there is room for us. What is there to fear?"

The other council members' eyes lit up. He made a good point!

"What's more, with the wall down and wastelanders pouring through, we have a wider market. Even if it comes to all-out war there is opportunity waiting for us. Tremendous opportunity, given to the Lunae family by the gods themselves. And anyone who dares spread more nonsense to sow discord, I'll make sure they are held accountable!"

"Yes sir. Of course!"

"It's a fine lesson, Patriarch. You've enlightened us all."

"All praise the gods for their bounty. How could they lead us astray?"

All members of the Lunae chamber of commerce busily wiped the sweat from the brow and ceased their doomsaying.

To be honest, this thought hadn't occurred to them. In their mind, this was a tragedy the Lunaes had never seen the likes of. How could anything good come from it? But their patriarch saw this astronomical cost as the price of business, a down payment on success and leverage for future riches. He was a real businessman, a worthy head of household.

A head of one of the offshoot families spoke up excitedly. "We can take this chance to buy out other families and take control of their production lines! As long as we make it through this tough period, we'll come out the other side stronger than ever!"

"You still don't fully understand." The plutocrat's eyes burned ever brighter. "This isn't a matter of how much money is in our coffers or goods on the shelves. Chaos means restructuring. For years the Lunae family has been seen as the overly fat pig, ripe for slaughter. Merchant families are only given lip service and no true respect. Can you not see that this is our chance to change that?"

Ah? Change?

A manner attendant hurried in and leaned toward the patriarch, whispering something into his ear. The merchant lord responded with, "Call Claudia immediately."

The steward acknowledged and scurried away.

A grin spread across the large man's face. "Opportunity knocks. Look closely."

Several of the councilmen who served as the chamber's backbone knew their patriarch to be shrewd and cunning. Yet all of that disappeared in a flash, replaced with an honest and almost simple-minded sort of facade. Only Garuda's confidants knew it to be an act.

It was a face he put on only for outsiders.

The Lunaes were Skycloud's richest family, but merchants were still disdained by Elysians. Garuda's clever ruse of being supplicating and unthreatening had given the family the space it needed to grow.

A figure appeared at the doorway and strode inside.

"Welcome noble, and mighty envoy!"

A wide and flattering smile was plastered over Gardua's pudgy face. He bound up from his chair, wobbling like an enormous meatball and clumsily stumbled forward, almost falling like a clown.

His visitor was a fair-skinned man in his middle years, skinny, and though handsome was conspicuously missing a whole arm. His face was somewhat drawn and weak. There weren't many in Skycloud familiar with him, yet he was a man to remember. Roc Polaris.

"Please sir, please take a seat." The wealthy merchant fawned over Roc like an absurd, if generous host. The asinine smile never left his face. "You know it always struck me as a coincidence. Roc.. Garuda.. similar, don't you think? Only your humble host is like a golden tit before the mighty eagle of the Polaris envoy. I've long admired you and your work as a military commander."

Roc addressed the man with a somewhat humble persona. He smiled self-deprecatingly. "Enough, you could find a dozen like me in the Cloude family. I have no qualification to hold this post, it was just a result of my family's lack of a talent pool. At any rate, I'm leaving the post. I'm special envoy for General Skye's expeditionary force now."

"Talons of God or expeditionary force, both are the bedrock of our illustrious realm and worthy of this small man's respect. I have always admired your strength and modesty."

Roc couldn't suppress a smile. As a patriarch, this fat man's antics were an embarrassing display. "Your philanthropic nature is reputation is widely known, Garuda. Why have you called me here?"

"Oh, I really haven't earned the reputation of a philanthropist. I'm just an Elysian, one of two million citizens of our beautiful land. I am really only interested in doing my duty to the realm. How does the saying go? Oh, yes: The poor are morally rich, and the rich are universally responsible. This humble man before you has been blessed by the gods with wealth. Meanwhile I think about the soldiers of the expeditionary force, who are marching to fight and bleed for the prosperity of us all. Sadly I am but a simple businessman, otherwise I would be proud to lift up a sword and fight shoulder to shoulder with you brave folk."

Roc waved his one remaining hand. "Say your piece, Garuda."

"Of course. I have thought long and hard about how to be of service to our realm. So, the Lunae family is prepared to offer to the expeditionary force all of our savings and military supplies."

Garuda's offer immediately stole the breath from the elderly chamber members still standing nearby. Roc was also stunned by the gracious offer.

The Lunae family was not your typical merchant business. Most of the food services and manufacturing services throughout all of Skycloud were involved with them somehow. After all, Garuda wasn't known as the richest man in the realm for no reason. If he decided to be a patron for the expeditionary force, it would mean a great deal.

The news was certain to delight General Skye!

But Roc did not immediately accept. Of course it wasn't going to be this easy, Garuda was a businessman. Everything he did was a measure of cost versus benefit.

The plutocrat went on. "In addition there are several younger members of our household who - despite our lowly station - aim for greatness. Trained warriors all, who I very much hope could join the army in their righteous mission. They, and I, are eager to bring glory to Skycloud."

Roc looked back at him skeptically. "That's it?"

A wry chuckle bubbled from the fat man's throat. He was almost apologetic as he said, "And one more thing."

At this point a beautiful maiden with golden hair entered the chamber. Garuda hastily introduced her. "This is Claudia Lunae, a member of the League of Demonhunters. She has earned accolades and command of a small squad, and if at all possible I would be honored if the envoy would allow her to travel with him for a while. To serve Skycloud in her own way."

Roc was finding it difficult to read the fat man's intentions. Was there something wrong with his brain? Roc was not alone in this thought, as many of the others could not fathom the patriarch's lavish offers of assistance.

Garuda lightly patted the sweat from his portly face. "The life of a humble man such as myself has few prospects. I only hope to contribute as our men and women in uniform fight for our future. Perhaps you could impress upon General Skye how eager the Lunae family is to be of service."

After a moment of consideration, Roc could find nothing wrong with this offer. He glanced briefly at the young woman standing mutely nearby, and eventually nodded in agreement. "I'm not in active military service so I'm afraid there won't be must opportunity for this young woman to prove herself. But I can recommend someone. If she were to offer her services to him she might find it more beneficial."

Garuda opened his eyes wide. "Who?"

"A young man, but one who the General has placed great hopes in. He is certain to be a pillar of our army's forces. Although few know his name so far, he already prepares to take over my post as Warden of the Talons of God. They still work independently from the expeditionary force and are performing secret missions in service of our country." Roc paused for a moment. "The Talons suffered many casualties on the slopes of the Blisterpeaks. If this young woman proves herself, I can't see how he would refuse her help."

Garuda immediately responded. "Excellent! Very good, thank you milord emissary - from the bottom of my simple heart!"

Roc then turned his gaze back toward Claudia. "As it just so happens, I need to find him now in order to formerly hand over command. If the young miss has no objections, we can leave immediately and I can make the introductions."

Claudia's wooden face pulled into a frown.

Expeditionary force? She wasn't thrilled with the idea. She'd seen enough truth and cruelty during her three years with Hell's Army.

Lately Claudia had been itching to cultivate herself. She'd escaped this ugly world of business to serve as an instructor in the Demonhunter Academy. However, although she was not happy with the deal, she had no choice but to capitulate under the pressing gaze of her father. "Very well."

She had no choice. She was the patriarch's daughter, and was bound to obey.

Her father's aim was to turn the Lunae's into a dominating force. His dream was to be able to hold his head high among the other nobles and join his voice with theirs in the Temple's audience chamber. There wasn't anything he wouldn't sacrifice to reach that goal, his own daughter included.

1. Remember them? We met our first Lunae before Cloudhawk entered the wastelands.

2. Her father, Garuda, we met briefly .

3. Both men have the character in their name, which is a sort of bird. That is what he's gushing over. And yes, a golden tit is a real bird, I picked it because it's small and its name is ridiculous, which is what Garuda is going for. The , however, is actually a powerful legendary bird in Hindu mythology.

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