Murmurs from the stands grow louder, impatient for the next bard to grace the empty dais.
The chatter quiets as a low rumbling swells, sounding like something heavy rolling on the ground. Wobbling onto the bare rostrum is… a Salavster egg.
POP!! The egg explodes into a cloud of confetti. Gasps, cries, and cheers fill the air. As the confetti flutters, the Imperial Jester stands amidst the egg shards, waving a staff tucked firmly between his butt cheeks.
“Bonk Bonk, Royal Jester of Bunk, reporting for duty!” The Jester about-faces, bends over, and raises his left hand sharply to his rear. Somebody in the crowd boos.
“This tale,” the Jester says, standing upright and facing the audience, “is about a genius named Stanislow ‘ja Bernbrock…”
“Kitty will be perfectly fine,” Stanislow ‘ja Bernbrock says.
Kitty, Stanislow’s black Labrador retriever, lies dead in front of him and his best friend, Kristoop.
“As soon as I complete the final steps of this operation,” Stanislow announces, “tomorrow morning we will find Kitty more alive than ever before.”
Stanislow, wearing a blood-soaked apron, puts down his scalpel and dips his hands in a bowl of rat grease.
Kristoop stands beside him, observing the entire procedure in awe. They’re in Stanislow’s bedroom in his family’s mansion.
“So rat grease is the key step to bring Kitty back to life?” Kristoop asks, nervously examining the dead dog. They both wear the student uniforms of The Magist Imperial University, a prestigious school with an ungodly academic workload. They don’t have to worry about the workload, though, because they’ve both been born into families whose excessive wealth and influence preclude them from any consequence.
“The rat grease helps, but the most important step is to leave Kitty at the door of my mommy’s den,” Stanislow says, rubbing the grease into Kitty’s fur. “Tomorrow morning, without fail, I will be greeted by Kitty. Believe me: I’ve done this many times.”
“Leaving Kitty with your mother,” Kristoop says in awe. “I would’ve never thought of that!”
“Well,” Stanislow says, “I am the top student at the world’s most prestigious university.”
Stanislow is only half-correct: He’s studying at the world’s most prestigious university, yes. But he is not the top student. In fact, he’s the worst student. Thanks to his mother, a woman who is not only the steeliest of the school’s board of directors, but also a multi-industry magnate with influence in the highest political echelons of Amalcross, Stanislow’s opportunities in life are guaranteed despite his complete incompetence.
Stanislow wraps the dead dog in linen and, with Kristoop close behind, carries it through a long opulent hallway. They stop before a tall ornate door and Stanislow leaves the bundle of linen on the ground.
“Your life-saving procedure needs to be shared with the world!” Kristoop says.
“You’re right,” Stanislow nods proudly. “I’d totally write it down if I knew how to write. Now, let’s get some food — all this lifesaving is making me hungry!”
Our boys hop into Stanislow’s horse-drawn carriage and ride into town.
Their friendship is built on mutual respect and the shared leveraging of unearned privilege. Kristoop’s father, a wealthy and influential Amalcross senator borne from a long lineage of public servants, has a close working relationship with Stanislow’s mother. Over a decade, he fostered her business while she helped promote his own political power.
And when Kristoop and Stanislow were born, they were as inseparable as brothers — but, despite the hazel eyes, light brown hair, and freckles they both share, they’ve been told they’re not related.
The carriage stops under a bridge at a seedy yet vibrant shanty town they’ve been explicitly forbidden to visit. But our buddies ignore this rule because of the deliciousness of the fatty meat sticks peddled here.
There’s a long line of working-class people already waiting, but patience is one of the few things the privileged can’t possess. Stanislow and Kristoop march right to the front.
“If it isn’t Stanislow,” a voice calls. “I bet you killed another dog for your mommy to replace, hmmmmm?”
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