Chapter 166:

The Golden Orchard

Mad God

High up in the mountains, where everything was hidden under a layer of snow and ice, a group of 50 demons were standing guard. They made their home amongst the ruins of an ancient castle built by humans more than 2000 years ago. It was abandoned for more than a millennium and, by now, barely could work as a shelter against the elements when the wind decided to go on a rampage here. When a wild blizzard descended down, right on the only passage between East and West, those who lived here were cut off from everybody else. A decade ago, this was the home village of the Ice Wolves, yet now it was the most important military outpost for the Tiger King. It was constantly guarded by two dozen snow leopards, used to the cold, and another two dozen warriors from different tribes.

The morning seemed to be calm as the wind was not howling, and the sky wasn't covered with clouds, letting the sun shine on the snowy fields, making everyone's eyes hurt just looking at it.

"I can't believe anyone could've lived here for so long." A man sighed to himself as he was standing at the top of an old tower, looking out from a small window. The cold, old walls of the building kept most of the cold on the outside as they were covered with white wolfskins all around him. Right behind him, the fire was dancing in a fireplace, his only source of warmth in this frozen wasteland.

In his human form, he was towering above others with his two and a half meters tall body. He was dressed in a thick, golden fur coat that looked like the continuation of his thick and fluffy mane. He was a lion in reality, and being up here for years, he felt like this was a bit too much already. He wanted to defeat the wolves finally so he could go home. His name was Sengge, General of the Tiger King and the one who was made responsible for the conquest of the wolves' territory. After the King took over this frozen wasteland, killing the Ice Wolves, Sengge was given this ungrateful task, and since then, he has been stuck up here. He has been living here since that day, acting as the right hand of the Tiger King.

Turning around, he just walked before the fire and got ready to make tea in an ancient, thousands-of-years-old set found amidst the ruins. He always had a strange hobby in the others' eyes, collecting forgotten, discarded human relics. His favorite items were intact books. He even learned the language of a long-gone kingdom and tried to rediscover their customs. No wonder he was looked at as one of the odd ones, but his strength made the rest deeply afraid even to question it. Sengge was second only to the Tiger King and first of his generals.

Before the King's rise, he was one of the strongest individuals in the East, leading his own people, unifying multiple tribes of lions and lionesses, and proudly leading one of the strongest forces the East ever saw. It all came to an end when he lost against the Tiger King. There was news of a new tiger rising to fame, doing the same thing as him, collecting his brethren under one banner. He predicted that it would come to a conflict between them sooner or later. So he did what he must to ensure his own people wouldn't suffer needless losses and went ahead, challenging him to a duel.

"Haah… I still don't know if it was close or not." He murmured as he shook his head, shaking himself out of the memories of their fight, and took off the whistling teapot from above the fire. "At least I did not end up on a wall." He whispered, watching the wolfskins lamenting what had become of the proud warriors who were standing against them for years.

"General." A knock came on his door, and he recognized the voice as the captain of the snow leopards, Shen.

"Come in."

"We received a message." He said as he walked inside, only reaching up to his chest. He was shaking off the ice flakes from his body, wearing a grayish, black-spotted fur coat.

"I guess it is important if you bring it to me personally." Sengge smiled, watching him.

"It is from the King." Shen nodded, bowing a little as he watched Sengge's eyes shrink significantly. "He… orders you to go back to the capital. Like… immediately."

"Something happened." He whispered as he crossed his arms and closed his eyes. "I can't say no, so I'll go right now. I appoint you as the temporary decision maker until I'm back. For now, halt any advances of the forces and order them to wait and get ready for any attacks! Defend the captured territory."

"Do you think… something big happened?" Shen gulped.

"Must be." His general nodded, but he did not explain any further, just disappearing at once, not even waiting for his answer, leaving Shen a bit overwhelmed behind.

Running along the road leading downwards to the East, a small smile formed on Sengge's face as he touched his own chest. Deep inside lay the King's blood, dormant and seemingly asleep. On the surface, it was looked upon as a blessing by others. But to those who had power and had to 'wear' it, it was nothing but a curse. A shackle. A few days ago, he felt it suddenly shuddering and then going cold. All these years, he felt as if a foreign, hot seed was stuck inside of him, but suddenly, it weakened and cooled down. He quickly surrounded it with his own powers, still not able to purge it, but finally, he felt the chains loosening around his neck.

"Something happened to you, eh?" Sengge thought to himself. "I don't know what you did, but you ought to get something or somebody to finally hit back if you go everywhere swinging! Let's hope it gets to you more next time! I was waiting for something like this." He said to himself as he watched the changing of scenery with an even bigger smile as he descended the mountain like a cannonball.



It was days later, in the tiger's capital, called The Golden Orchard. It lay beside a huge and calm lake, surrounded by strange, giant trees. They were yielding shining, golden fruits at the size of a human's head all year long. Looking at the sea of sparkling trees was an otherworldly experience, not to mention the still-standing, expansive, luxurious villa right next to the lake. It even had its own peer, stretching over the smooth, mirror-like surface of the blue water.

"Humans are something else…" Sengge murmured, walking slowly along the trees, watching the palace of the Tiger King as it was getting closer and closer. As he walked along the stone road, different, smaller demons in their human forms looked back at him. They were either collecting the fruits or tending to the trees with lowered heads, only stealing a glance when they thought he didn't see them.

There were countless kinds of demons here, tribes that were conquered or deemed worthless. They were driven into a nameless, disposable caste, their only purpose to serve their lords, the tigers. The enslaved demons did not try to make eye contact with him, knowing that it would only bring death to them. Looking into the eye of a higher-ranking being, in this case, a lion, one of the powerful followers of the Tiger King, meant that they were marked as food. Their only purpose from then on would be to serve as nutrition to the one they made eye contact with.

"You only know how to take things away." Sengge lamented deep inside of himself. "Back then, this place was the retreat of the human rulers, a showcase of their wealth. I bet you don't even know that! You just found this place to your liking." He mused as he walked forward, seeing the villa before him. "You harvest the fruits without recognizing their worth and trade them blindly with those cave-dwelling maniacs for metal scraps. Not realizing the true worth you have in your hands… You illiterate bastard. Splurging away the true wealth of our land… Unforgivable!"

Arriving before the well-kept garden, standing before a huge fountain that was decorated with beautifully carved, dancing, naked figures of women, he let out a long sigh. He was watching the young dancers, placed around the spring of youth, celebrating their own beauty, which was lasting forever. It was then that another General of the Tiger King arrived. His name was Shona, a short, slim warrior, only reaching about 1.70 meters in height, both in his human and in his demonic form. Yet he was the fastest demon in their domain, not counting their King.

"Shona." Sengge nodded. "You were also summoned?"

"Yes. I rushed here the moment I got the message." He answered, slightly bowing towards him. "And not just I."

As he finished, another figure appeared. He was a newly appointed general of the King, a saber-toothed tiger. His distinct, long canines reached down to his chin, and he was built similarly to Toothie.

"You must be Baagh, huh?" Sengge asked as he looked at him. "The one who was responsible for the Bloody Moon massacre?"

"Calling it that marks you as a headless corpse," Baagh answered with a deep voice. "Lucky for you that you are our King's very first ally."

"I like calling things as they are named," Sengge replied calmly as they were at the same height. Shona was sandwiched between them and felt like a kid stuck amongst arguing parents. "You massacred every member of the mongooses, child, women, elderly, everyone. No wonder everyone calls it what it really was."

"They tasted good." The only reply was with a smile, but before they could continue, Harimau's voice cut in between them.

"Come inside, I waited enough."

The trio just looked at each other before walking into the villa. Harimau was sitting inside an empty hall that once served as a ballroom. Now, the smooth, marble floor was rugged as deep, fresh claw marks destroyed it, and the previously shiny, carved wooden decoration on the walls was similarly ravaged. Every figure that depicted a woman was clawed into half or torn to shreds. Their King was sitting at the end of the room, in a lotus position, meditating, and he looked completely normal, without injuries or anything that would suggest that he had battled in the previous days.

Only Sengge realized that something was off, especially after seeing the destroyed room. He quickly picked up on the rage that resulted in the scenery before them. Not to mention that it was clearly aimed towards the female figures on the walls. Every decoration that even slightly resembled a woman's silhouette was violated.

"It must be the Fox Queen's work." Sengge's eyes flashed as he thought, but only for a brief second. "If they are stepping in… Damn you! Did you go ahead and try to woo her again? Why can't you be satisfied with women of your own kind?" He cursed deep inside, feeling a headache incoming. But also he felt happy. This was an opportunity.

"I called every General of mine here for a reason."

"Shouldn't we wait for Tylvana?" Shona asked.

"Don't dare to mention that treacherous bitch's name!" Harimau opened his eyes, and it was blazing with rage and lust, mixing together. He was trying to suppress it, with not much success. His voice rumbled like war drums, making Shona shake. He stepped backward, fell to his knees, and gasped for air as his King's aura pressed down on his mind.

"She betrayed us?" Sengge asked with surprise, drawing away Harimau's attention so Shona could finally breathe.

"Yes." He said after he took a deep breath. "The South has unified."

"This is why Matu's tribe was punished. Their failure brought this upon us." Baagh snorted, watching Sengge with one eye.

"We are being attacked by them, and our southern borders are much weaker to resist their advances. The army is concentrated in the west, and we need to reorganize everything. Shona."

"Yes." He stepped forward with a lowered head.

"Go to the north and speak with the dwarfs. Tell those abominations to speed up their side of the bargain! I was promised their weapons long ago! I am out of my patience! I PAID FOR THOSE WEAPONS! Bring what is MINE here! NOW!" Harimau said with a low roar, and Shona felt like asking any questions would lead to a beating or losing his head. So he just nodded and left as soon as Harimau's eyes wandered off of him. "Baagh. You take over Sengge's position in the west."

"As you order, my King." Baagh bowed with a grin while Sengge remained calm throughout Harimau's speech.

"I don't care about the numbers. Just clean up the west. They had time to surrender, but they failed to do so. Eradicate them. I want the forest to be empty and ready for us to repopulate."

"It is going to be done." Baagh's answer was firm and bloodthirsty, already excited by the prospects of war.

"Sengge." The Tiger King continued. "You go and take over the South. I want you to resist them as long as you can. We can't afford any distractions! I'll send you as many demons as I can spare, but you need to be resourceful. I want to lose as little territory as possible."

"I'll do my best." He bowed, and as Harimau said nothing more, they quickly left, not wanting to stay beside a clearly agitated Tiger King… and possibly draw his ire onto themselves.

Outside of the villa, Baagh provoked Sengge once again with his eyes. He was visibly happy that he took over his position, gloating with a loud cackle as he saw it as Harimau being unhappy with the little progress that Sengge had made. Baagh, throughout the years of serving his King, rose steadily. After Matu's death, he was even made into a General. Now, he finally felt like his King trusted him more than the so-called 'First General.' Yet his attempted provocation fell on deaf ears as Sengge just ignored him, not even sparing a look, before walking away, turning his back towards Baagh.

"Play the tough guy until you can…" Baagh spat. "Soon, your title will be mine."

"Maybe." Echoed a soft answer, but Sengge was already far away, smiling to himself. "The winds are changing. Tylvana betraying us, huh… Something really is going on in the South! First, Matu loses his life, then one of us switches sides… The King is injured, and his mind is slipping away, slowly getting taken over by his obsession and rage. When his insanity becomes uncontrollable, the empire he built is going to implode on itself." His mind had already come up with multiple possible scenarios, and the smile on his face got wider and wider as he traveled farther from The Golden Orchard.