Standing at the side of the upper deck of the Ostland, I could feel the cold night's air enveloping my body. The blue tunic that Mr. Colbert had given me to replace my irreparably damaged black sleeveless shirt was doing very little to keep me warm.
Our vessel had just left the southern port of Romalia - the fortress city Cittadella, over two days ago and was now close to leaving the air space of Gallia as it slowly makes its way back to Tristain. I was a bit worried about our ship taking this route back considering the fact that we had just been fighting the ruler of this land not so long ago. But my worries were quickly dispelled after a brief stop-over at the port of La Rochelle where we were able to get wind of what the current state of the country was.
It seems that after the news of Joseph's death had spread throughout the country, the southern vassals of Gallia had revolted against the remaining loyalist of the King which was already few and far in-between. The deceased King's attack against Romalia had served as the final straw for most of the Nobles of the land who happened to be devoted believers of the Brimiric faith and thus they had defected to the side of the rebellion. Joseph's daughter, the princess Elisabeth, had already fled the nation's capital of Lutece and was now in hiding. Internally, the whole country was in disarray and its military even more so. Taking all of these facts into consideration, I guess it was understandable that dealing with a non-military vessel like the Ostland would be the least of their concerns. Although I did somewhat feel bad for Miss Tabitha since she would have to be the one that has to sort out this whole mess once she takes over as Queen. The Gallian Princess had left our party after arriving at the port of La Rochelle and was supposedly headed to Lutece.
As the ship continues on its way, my sight looks ahead towards the landscape in front of me. In just over an hour we would be crossing over this dark horizon and arrive at the borders of Tristain. But this was not something that could be considered as a homecoming for me. The Tristain that I was going to would not be the same Tristain that I had left close to half a year ago, the citizens that reside within its territory would also not be my same countrymen. It was really one of the weird and very headache inducing things about being in an alternate world. Even though I was heading back to my home country, technically speaking that really was not the case. But mulling over this rather perplexing paradox was actually the farthest thing on my mind right now since there were other more migraine-inducing things that I was thinking about.
"Oi Kid? Why are you sulking?" the sentient blade on my back that had slightly lifted itself from its sheath asks me, probably curious of my current state of mind. "Are you worried about the Queen staying over at the Cathedral?" he takes a metaphorical stab at what could be causing my bad mood.
Her Majesty, the Queen Henrietta, had not joined us in our return trip back to Tristain. Instead, she decided to remain in Romalia for a bit longer much to my dismay. It was most likely due to political matters. The death of King Joseph and the abrupt vacancy of Gallia's throne would definitely have some far-reaching consequences for all the other nations. Hopefully, Her Majesty's relationship with this world's Queen Charlotte was just as good as their counterpart's in my world even with the absence of my father.
I shake my head.
Although I was wary of her safety, she did have Captain Agnes with her. Also, I doubt that Vittorio would do anything to her at the moment since he most likely had to put his plans on hold as well due to all the chaos that the battle with Gallia had caused. I'm also pretty sure that he wouldn't risk the young Duchess's already faltering belief in him to waver even more.
"Is it about what happened back in Romalia then?" the talking blade makes another guess.
I reply with a slight nod as a brief sigh escapes my breath.
Ever since that skirmish that happened in Aquelia and everything else that transpired on that night, all I could think of really was the fact that everything seemed to be playing out differently compared to the events of my world. I had from time to time started to deduce the reasons that had caused such a great degree of variance between the two. Without the support of the elf and his Servant Sheffield, the King Joseph of my world was probably unable to mount an attack against Romalia. Whether he had any other plans of organizing a similar attack was inconsequential since even before he could do so, my father had already been able to dispatch of him. There were no firestones nor were there any attempted invasions. The battle last night was something that should've never happened in the first place.
And that was the thing that was bothering me the most.
My father's absence, Saito's existence, and my presence here means that events would most likely unfold differently to how they happened in my world. It also means that I could not overly rely on my knowledge of past events since they could easily change or even not happen at all. I seriously have my work cut out for me now. Really, it was stuff like this that was making me hate the second magic more and more. I hope that guy Zelretch (whoever he is) trips on a banana peel or something and goes stumbling down a cliff which preferably had lots of jagged rocks at the bottom.
There was also another thing that was occupying my mind as well.
Closing my eyes, I recall the battle that I fought in last night. During the fight with King Joseph, I distinctly remember hearing my master's voice just when I was about to skewer him with Gae Bolg. But more than hearing her voice, I was more intrigued by the fact that I had actually listened and obeyed what it had told me.
'I forbid you to kill anyone.'
I don't know how or why but that one sentence comprising of six simple words was enough to make me commit one of the most unforgivable sins in the battlefield.
I had shown mercy to an opponent who I was in a life or death struggle with and had allowed him to live.
That was something that I had honestly never done before. From the very moment that I had started seriously training with Auntie Agnes, Captain Guiche, and the Duchess; all three of them had made sure to drill into my psyche that in any combat situation the only right choice was to kill your opponent before he or she could kill you. I had followed that rule for as long as I could remember. And yet after arriving in this world, I had already broken it twice. I know that I had fully committed myself on being a Servant, but I would've thought that I would draw the line in regards to matters such as this.
In that case, why did I follow that order then?
Lifting my right hand, I graze my fingers over the area of my chest where my Servant runes were etched.
From what I know, the runes that were etched on a familiar's body were supposed to make the said familiar completely obedient to its summoner. But that was only supposed to apply to animal familiars who had very little magical resistance. Creatures like humans and other entities that had far greater magical resistance were supposed to be immune to such compulsions. This rule should especially apply to me seeing that I was one of the few people in my world that was aware of his magic circuits so my resistance should be even greater. But after what had happened last night, I was starting to wonder whether I was as immune to the compulsions of my Servant runes as I initially thought.
"You should really try to relax a bit, kiddo." my Uncle advises me. "It's not a good habit to always over think stuff."
I sighed again. "I know that, Uncle. It's just that-."
"Kiritsugu?" I hear my master's call from behind me as I look back just in time to see her figure emerging from one of the doors that led to the upper deck of the ship. She was wearing her school uniform which was somewhat ironic since our main destination was coincidentally the Tristain Magic Academy; her blue cape draped over her body to ward off the cold air. "So this is where you were. I was wondering where you went."
"My apologies, Master." I reply. "I just wanted to get some fresh air."
"No, it's okay. You don't have to apologize, Kiritsugu." she frantically assures me whilst waving both of her hands in front of her.
"I thought that you'd be fast asleep in your cabin. Are you having a hard time sleeping?" I ask her.
She nods. "A little."
A playful smirk makes its way to my lips. "Would you like me to serve as your pillow again, Master?" I teased.
She quickly looks at me in embarrassment as her cheeks quickly glow a bright red.
"I-It's okay... t-there's no need for y-you to do that." she mumbles as her eyes dart down to her feet. I smile at her flustered reaction for a brief moment before returning my gaze towards the horizon in front of me. My master stands on the same spot where she was for a couple more seconds. After a while, the half-elf who was finally able to regain her composure begins to walk over to where I was standing as she positions herself beside me. "...So, we're finally going back to Tristain, huh?"
"We'll probably reach the nation's borders in about an hour or so. After that, we'll most likely arrive at the grounds of the Academy just after sunrise."
"Do ships like this exist in your world?" she asks out of curiosity as she leans on the steel railings of the ship.
"Yes," I answer. "Although they're more state-of –the-art compared to the Ostland. They're mainly used for transportion and commerce between neighboring countries since they're faster than the old airships that relied on windstones."
"Did you ever get to ride on one?" she continues to query further.
"I've ridden a number of them as a stowaway." I admit shamelessly which prompts her to smile awkwardly at me. "It couldn't be helped though since the fee for riding one is really expensive. The first time that I rode on one I had to pay an arm and a leg for it. I'm pretty short on money so I couldn't keep doing that." I tried to defend my actions to her though from the look that she had right now I don't think that I was doing a good job. I guess hearing about how her Servant was illegally boarding ships to save money was a rather unexpected topic to bring up.
"S-So you were travelling is that right?" she quickly asks, trying to change the subject.
I nod. "I left Tristania over half-a-year ago and I've been going around the continent quite a bit. I'd like to say that this would be the first time that I'd be returning to Tristain after so many months, but technically speaking that isn't really the case." I say to her as I indirectly cite the rather weird position that I was in.
"Kiritsugu… do you miss your home world?" she suddenly questions me from out of the blue. I was somewhat dumbstruck by her query, although I should've expected her to ask it sooner rather than later. My master was just that caring.
"I'd be lying if I said that I didn't." I answer her. Being honest, I do still want to go back. However, for some reason, finding a way to return was actually ranked very low on my priorities list. It was strange since I would've thought that I would have a bit more sense of urgency about finding a way back but I was really taking this whole thing so lightly. "But I've decided to take things as they come along. There's no use in worrying about how to go back anyway since I wouldn't have any idea on how I'd be able to return to my world. Besides, as a Servant my main goal is to protect my master. That's all."
I stare at her while saying this, her face slightly becoming more troubled with every word that I uttered. "Kiritsugu… do you by any chance feel strange compared to when you came here?"
"…Not really." I tell her as I slightly tilt my head to the side, my eyebrows scrunched together after hearing such a random question from out of nowhere. "Why'd you ask, Master?"
"It's just that I suddenly remembered how Saito's runes had sealed his longing for his home world." she mentions that fact which immediately catches my attention. I honestly didn't know that. I remember her saying something to that effect back when I was dealing with the three vessels that threatened to set the whole city of Aquileia on fire, but I never did pay it too much mind since at that time I was occupied with more important matters. The Duchess never really went into detail in regards to how the runes actually made a familiar obedient to his or her summoner. The only thing that she really mentioned to me about it was how my father had stated that he was immune to its influence. So this was really the first time that I was hearing about this. Her expression grows even more depressed as she lowers her head to the floor. "I'm starting to wonder whether your runes are having the same effect on you as it did Saito."
"Well, for what it's worth, my teacher told me that humans are supposed to be more resistant to magic than most animals. She also told me that because of the mechanics of the brand of magic that we use, I'm a bit more resistant to magical compulsions compared to most people." I try to assuage her worries by mentioning that little tidbit though I myself didn't mention how I was beginning to doubt the accuracy of that statement. "I'm not saying that she's always right but she's more knowledgeable when it comes to these types of things than I am."
"I see…" she sighs as the troubled expression on her face slightly softens though it wasn't completely erased.
"You seem troubled, Master." I state, bringing to light the uneasy mood that she seemed to be in. "Is there something bothering you perhaps?"
She doesn't answer me immediately, though based on the look of uneasiness on her face I could see that there was a mental struggle going on inside of her head. I wondered if she was debating whether it was better to tell me what she was thinking of right now or not.
"…It's just that I'm worried about you." she tells me which prompts one of my eyebrows to rise.
"Excuse me?" I involuntarily ask for clarification, taken aback by her answer to my question. For what reason would she be worried about me?
"Ever since the fight with Gallia and the meeting with His Holiness, I feel like you're always staring off into space as if you're thinking about something. You're more quiet now and you barely talked at all after we left Romalia." she elaborates on her answer. "I was actually thinking about the same thing that you are now; wondering if there was something bothering you or not?"
After hearing this, I sigh again as I turn my gaze away from, her and back to the dark landscape in front of me "It's nothing, Master." I respond casually. "I just have a very bad habit of overthinking things."
"Damn straight!" the sentient blade on my back shouts out, breaking his silence with that loud declaration. "I've always told you to relax a bit. But do you ever listen? Of course not! It wouldn't surprise me if one day all the hairs on your head turn white because of thinking too damn much."
"Well, I hope that doesn't happen since I don't think white hair suits me in the first place." I quip back at the talking sword; a wry grin crossing my lips, though I did get what my uncle was saying. My master, however, seems to not have been convinced by my assurances to her as a more serious expression starts to cloud her features.
"The thing that's bothering you… it wouldn't have something to do with what happened with King Joseph and His Holiness, could it?" she throws out her guess which accurately hits the mark like the tip of an arrow piercing an enemy's heart.
I remain silent, not affirming what she said or even turning to her to acknowledge the question. Seriously, how in the root's name does she keep doing that? Am I being too obvious with my thoughts here? Or was her ability to empathize with other people just that great?
"Are you thinking that sparing King Joseph's life when you had the chance to kill him was a mistake?" she questions me even further despite my refusal to look at her.
A minute of complete silence passes the two of us by before I finally decide to break it myself.
"I don't think that it was a mistake… I know it was." I answer her, the friendliness in my voice all but disappearing. "I shouldn't have done that."
"No, that's not-."
"He was just too dangerous." I cut her off as I continued to air out my frustrations. "I should've killed him when I had the chance."
"Kiritsugu please, stop saying things like that..!"
"It's not my fault Master since you were the one who brought this up." I chide back. "Besides, he still ended up dying anyway so I don't see what the big fuss of me wanting to speed up the inevitable is."
"That… T-That's not the point though..!" she stubbornly continues, not willing to let go of her convictions in regards to this matter. Unfortunately for her, I was also a very stubborn person when I wanted to be.
"But it is," I cut her off again. "Let's say that we were able to somehow save Joseph from dying, do you actually believe for one second that the people of Romalia wouldn't want his severed head placed on a stake? Do you think that the people who had suffered because of his misdeeds wouldn't want him to be tortured in the worst way possible?" I narrate the possibilities that the half-elf beside me had probably not taken into account. "In fact, I think that he was lucky to have died as he did since he was spared from the humiliation and punishment that awaited him in Aquileia. So in a way, I guess you could say that we still ended up saving him."
"Stop talking like that!" my master shouts at me, a slight tinge of anger staining her voice. She definitely did not appreciate my unorthodox way of looking at things. "I… I-I don't want to hear you saying things like that! You shouldn't be glad that someone died, even if that someone was an enemy." I grip the steel railings of the Ostland tighter. After hearing that reasoning of hers, I myself had to contain the growing anger that I was feeling towards my master. To think that she was really this naïve. And the worst part of it was I think that her naivety was beginning to rub off on me. "Besides, everyone came out fine in the end so I think that given the right circumstances we could've been able to save him and-..!"
"You're wrong, Master." I quickly cut in on her once more, her previous statement proving to be the last straw. "Not everyone came out of that battle okay. And also, have you already forgotten how many people died on that night? For you to say that everything turned out fine is a bit short-sighted, don't you think?" I pressed on. There was a hint of derision and anger in the tone of my voice. Truthfully, I regarded what she had said to be an insult. Had this woman not been my master then I would've slapped some sense into her right then and there.
"…I'm sorry. I was wrong to have said that." she apologizes. I would've liked our discussion to have ended at that but to my chagrin she continues to draw out the whole thing. "But I still think that you sparing King Joseph's life was not a mistake. Although we weren't able to save him in the end, I still think that it was the right thing to do."
"Honestly Master, I find your obsession of trying to save your enemies disconcerting to say the least." I reply back with the same tone that I used earlier. "Tell me, if you were to see two people pointing a knife at each other, which one would you save?"
"I would tell both of them to stop." was her simple answer to my hypothesized scenario.
"Hmph!" I huffed in mockery of her reply. "And what if neither of them were to listen to you? What're you going to do then?"
She lowers her gaze to the floor, struck silent by the quandary that I had presented to her as she was unable to answer it.
"In the end, you'll have to side with one of them or risk losing both. You'll have sacrifice one to save the other." I tell her my solution to this particular problem.
"…So you would abandon one for the other." I could feel a tangible sadness in her voice as she said this to me.
"It's better than being unable to save either." was my immediate reply. Statistics-wise, being able to spare at least one person from death would be a much more acceptable result than losing both and walking away with nothing.
"Sacrifice a hundred to save a thousand, sacrifice ten to save a hundred," I hear my master recite those very familiar lines at me much to my own confusion. "Sacrifice one to save ten… I remember you saying that back in the throne room in Romalia." She then turns to look at me, her eyes of sapphire blue shining with a sympathetic light. "I think that such a choice is just too cruel for one person to make."
"But nonetheless, it's the only choice there is."
"No, Kiritsugu. There's always another choice." my gaze turns to her as she says this, a slight frown etching my lips which was in direct opposition to the small smile on hers. "Why not try to save everyone then? I think that having a mentality like that is better, don't you think?" she says this as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I mean, you were able to stop Sheffield without killing her so it's not that farfetched, right?"
The fact that she said it so easily only adds to my irritation. How could she say that? Does she actually believe that saving people is such a simple thing? I had tried to pursue that path before and I had spent the majority of my childhood chasing after that impossible ideal, the same ideal that my father had held on to.
But I wasn't strong enough. In the end, the harsh reality of the world showed me how weak I really was and I realized that as I am now I wouldn't be able to follow through on such a grand dream like that.
So I made a compromise and decided that if I couldn't save everyone then I would at least try to save as many as I could.
"You are an optimist, Master. And that's probably one of the things that I hate about you." I tell her straight to her face which immediately prompts her smile to fade almost instantly. "The only reason why I allowed Sheffield to live is because I coincidentally had the right tools that would enable me to remove her as a threat. She was in many ways a special case, but that doesn't mean that I can apply that same thinking to every battle that I go to." I explain to her as I tried to snuff out the false hope that she might've gotten from that particular instance. "If you go out with that kind of mentality then you're only setting yourself up to fail. No matter what you do, you can't help but sacrifice the lives of the few to save the many. Even last night, that fact was in full display for everyone to see. How many soldiers do you think died to prevent Joseph from destroying Aquileia?"
"But that still doesn't make it right!"
"I know. But it also doesn't make it wrong either." I quickly countered. "You can't save everyone, Master." I tell her one of the Duchess's earliest lessons to me, something that she had made sure to remind me at every opportunity that she had during the time when I was traveling with her. Looking back, I think that she wanted to disillusion me from the path that I chose but I was just too stubborn to realize it quickly enough.
I see my Master's eyes widen upon hearing that statement of mine. I could only hope that she was finally starting to see where I was coming from.
"Oi! Sword boy!" a loud and very familiar voice echoes from behind us. Glancing back to the door where my master had emerged from, I see Saito and his Derflinger standing just a few feet from where we were.
"Oh! Sorry for interrupting." Saito quickly apologizes. "I didn't realize that you two were talking. I'll come back later."
"It's fine. We weren't discussing anything important." I tell the Chevalier, inwardly grateful for his sudden arrival since I was starting to grow tired of this particular discussion with my master. "What brings you here anyway?"
"Louise wanted to talk to you. I think she really wants to ask you a couple of very important questions." he reveals which causes me to sigh yet again.
'Didn't any of you at least tell her anything?" I ask.
"Well, I did give her the gist of what you told us," his hand then starts to scratch the back of his head. "But I think that she's having a hard time believing anything that we're telling her."
I let out a huff of resignation. "I guess it can't be helped." I finally give in. I've been delaying the inevitable for far too long. For the past couple of days I've made a conscious effort of trying to avoid Miss Vallière which was not easy to do since we've been traveling inside the same airship up to now. But I guess it was probably time for me to get this over and done with. I wasn't sure how I could properly explain this whole thing to the young Duchess. All I know is that, based on what I've seen from her, I have a feeling that she's going to have hard time grasping the notion that she may grow up to become a rather infamous person. There was also a few things that I wanted to discuss with her as well.
As I decide to follow Saito to the open entrance that led to the inside of the airship like a prisoner being led to the gallows, I feel a slight tug on my tunic.
"Kiritsugu…" my master whispers my name as I find that it was in fact her hand that had grabbed on to the blue cloth that I was wearing. "Will you still follow my order?"
Both of us stand on that spot, motionless like two life-sized statues. I had already expressed my displeasure in regards to that particular order especially since it had proven to be a great burden during battle, but nonetheless… "I won't give out any assurances, Master. But I'll try." I tell her. "I've already given my word so that's the least that I can do."
Though I may not look like it, I was still of noble birth. I may not wear the expensive cloaks or extravagant clothes that most of the nobility wore, but I still had my pride as an aristocrat. I had already promised her that I would follow her order. So as much as possible, I will do all that I can to follow through with that promise. Be that as it may, I still wanted to clarify one more thing to her. "Just be aware that by me following your orders, I may be putting you and anyone that you know in danger. An enemy that is allowed to live is one of the most dangerous foes there is. I'm still going to use my personal judgment in battle. And if I ever believe that my opponent is too dangerous to keep alive, then I won't make the same mistake that I did with King Joseph."
This was the best compromise that I could come up with. Whether she agrees to it or not is no longer a concern of mine.
"I won't take that order back," she releases her hold on the fabric of my tunic. "But I won't force you to follow it either." I glance back at my master one more time, only to gaze upon a rather unexpected sight. "At least that way, you'll always have a choice." she says as I see a warm and very gentle smile on her face.
As we both decide to finally follow the black-haired Chevalier who was already way ahead of us, I find that her words had somehow gotten stuck in my head.
For as long as I could remember, the only choice that I've ever known in the battlefield was kill or be killed. I don't know what my master was thinking in trying to provide me with such a nonsensical choice that, in normal circumstances, I would never willingly choose. Then again, I've always found her so hard to understand in the first place. Her simple-mindedness and pure outlook in life was just something that I couldn't fathom at all.
Sometimes, I can't help but wonder if I really was the right Servant for her.
"You! Sit right there!" the young Duchess growls like an irate dragon upon seeing me enter her cabin. From the tone of her voice, I had a feeling that she was going to cut through the chase and be all business. I briefly look at her small frame that was standing on top of her bed, her right hand that coincidentally was holding her wand pointing at the open space that was in front of her. She was probably trying to compensate for her diminutive stature so as to make herself a bit more imposing, though even with the added height we were still practically at eye level right now.
I look around the small cabin as I also see that there were others people within our midst. On the Duchess's right was the Captain of this world's Undine Knight, Sir Guiche, together with his three lieutenants and his blonde lover. There was also the fiery red-head whom I had just discovered to really be this world's version of my Auntie Kirche (a fact that was making me very uncomfortable especially seeing that she had just given me a very flirtatious wink right now). With the additions of Saito and my master who had just emerged from the entrance, plus myself, it was making this already tiny room very cramped. I let out a sigh; this was definitely going to be a very long night.
I approach the place where the pinkette was pointing to. Surrendering myself to the inevitable, I kneel on the floor, folding my legs underneath my thigh. I usually took this position whenever I was about to be scolded by the Duchess since it enabled me to run for my life like The Blue herself was chasing after me if the need ever arises - which it usually did at least seven out of ten times.
"Now, let's have you give a clear explanation!" she orders me with authority as she folds her arms in front of her chest, her wand sticking out of her hand.
Right now, I was doing my best not to laugh out loud and give her a reason to go off even more. It was just so hard not to feel like that since, in a way, I had experienced being in this very scene numerous times in the past. The only difference was, instead of having one of the most feared mages in the History of Halkeginia looking down at me and causing me to fear for my life, I now was staring at a much younger, more ill-tempered, and slightly bratty version of that same mage.
That old fart Zelretch, if he had any sort of hand in this, must have a really weird sense of humor.
"What exactly is it that you want me to explain?" I ask her.
"Everything!" she shouts at the very top of her voice which causes my eardrums to ring.
"Hasn't Saito already told you most of it though?"
"As if I could believe something that's so farfetched! The young Duchess quickly points the tip of her wand at my forehead and for a second I wondered whether or not she was annoyed enough to cast an explosion spell at me. "An alternate world that's practically the same as ours only two decades ahead and I summoned someone else instead of Saito? Even an amateur novelist would laugh at such a crazy idea like that!" Her whole body then starts to shake. "And the most unbelievable thing about it…" she swiftly proceeds to point towards the blonde Captain's direction. "…is someone like Guiche becoming a square-class mage!"
I had to literally cover my mouth to hide the smile on my face after hearing that one. The captain of the Undine Knights, however, was not as amused as I was based on the look of indignation that he had right now. I could somewhat see where she was coming from though since after observing how this version of one my mentors usually acted in the past couple of days, I'd also be very hard-pressed to think that there was actually an alternate version of himself that grew up to become such a 'badass' as the Captain usually described it.
"Tell me the truth! Who in the founder's name are you?" she continues her interrogation, cutting off any attempt that Sir Guiche had in addressing the not-so ambiguous slight of his magical abilities.
"But I am telling the truth." I reply. "I really did come from an alternate world resembling this one."
"Hah! I would never believe such a blatant lie like that!" she stubbornly insists. "Another world that is entirely different from ours is one thing, but an alternate world is just completely too much!"
At this point, I couldn't stop myself from letting out a brief chuckle which immediately catches the young Duchess's attention.
"What exactly is so funny!" she scolds me yet again as she threateningly points the tip of her wand at where I was sitting.
"Nothing, it's just that your reaction was the same as mine when my teacher first tackled this subject with me." It wasn't just that though since I was also getting a kick out of the fact that compared to before when it was the Duchess who was trying to convince me of the existence of the second magic; it was now I who had to take on that role for her younger self.
"Teacher?" the pinkette in front of me momentarily closes her eyes in deep thought. "I remember Guiche telling me that his 'alleged' future-self ended up being your mentor."
"Although he is indeed one of my mentors, he mainly taught me in regards to combat and swordsmanship. It was actually my teacher in the art of magecraft who told me this."
"Teacher in magecraft? Who is it? Prof. Colbert? One of the other teacher's in the academy perhaps?" she asks, her curiosity momentarily overtaking her disbelief of my story.
"Actually, it's you." I replied nonchalantly.
It takes a couple of seconds before she finally registers my answer.
"Like I said, the person who taught me the basic principles of the magic system that I use is technically you. The third daughter of the Vallière family: Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. The infamous Duchess of Emptiness."
A couple more seconds of silence passes us by before the pinkette is finally able to react to what I had just said.
"Ehhhh?!" she shrieks, her eyes as wide as the twin moons. "What! Me? Instructor! But how? Wait! Duchess of Emptiness?" she incoherently begins to babble. I wasn't even sure whether she was asking me an actual question or she was just expressing her own disbelief.
Deciding to clarify everything with her, I finally start to explain.
"In the world where I came from you would grow up to become one of the most feared and most powerful mages in Halkeginia." I tell her which prompts the young Duchess's mouth to slightly hang open. "You would accompany my father, the King of Swords, on many of his greatest adventures, making a name for yourself in the process. In time, your enemies would dub you with the title of the Duchess of Emptiness which ironically enough coincided with your elemental affinity."
And so, I ended up spending the next half-hour telling her all about the great legend of the Duchess of Emptiness.
Of how she had once stopped a large tidal wave from engulfing one of the port towns of Gallia.
The siege of the orc settlements in Romalia.
Of how she had almost single-handedly defeated a platoon of Germanian troops sent by the Emperor Albrecht the III to illegally claim the lands that had rightfully belonged to my Auntie Kirche's family
And her participation in the last great war of my world.
I even told the young Duchess of some of the things that I had personally seen her older-self do; such as her killing the giant sea monster that resided in the oceans of Tristain who had made the mistake of disturbing her during one of her late-afternoon swims and how she had cooked it to serve as our dinner for that night. And of how the old nobility of Tristain which was one of the most stubborn and noisiest in the continent would stop in their regular shouting sessions whenever she would appear in the courts.
And with every great feat that I would mention, her jaw would drop just a bit lower. Both her arms were now hanging limply on her sides, while her wand had fallen on to the soft mattress of the bed. Her eyes had even began to descend into unending spirals, a clear sign that she was definitely having a hard time comprehending what I was telling her.
Her reaction was something that I should've expected though.
As my Uncle Derf had said on the night that we had first arrived here and we had discovered where we actually were, the young Duchess of this world most likely had not yet resolved her personal issues. And from what I've seen from her, at the present, it was a fair to guess that she was still nowhere near as powerful as her older self. Also, from the stories that I've heard from Miss Eléonore, the Duchess in her earlier years was considered as a failure due to her lack of affinity with the four common elements which is why she was nicknamed 'The Zero'. If it was the same case here then it was only natural for her to express so much disbelief. After all, it's not every day that you get to hear about how you could become a rather infamous person in the future.
"A-A-All of t-those t-things… D-Did I really..?" she stutters uncontrollably to which I nod.
"A-A-An-And I could even b-beat elves too?" she asks again.
I nod. "The Duchess was probably one of the few people in the history of the continent who could defeat elves in one-on-one combat."
A long and very uncomfortable pause reigns over every one in the room. I wasn't sure whether the mythical exploits that I had detailed had rendered them speechless or had instead made my tale too unbelievable for them to buy into. After a while, Miss Vallière jumps from out of the bed and walks over towards me, somewhere during that momentary pause she had regained her composure as the shock that her face had exhibited was no longer there. Her expression, however, was now unreadable and as she approached I could feel a cold chill run down my spine. For the first time since I met her, I started to really see the resemblance between the young Duchess and the older one. As she stood in front of me, more menacing than I had ever seen her before, she quickly grabs hold of the collar of my tunic and brings my face closer to hers.
"You're not lying, right?" she asks, the tone of her voice sounding so much like her older self whenever she was about to blow a particularly annoying person into a hundred pieces of meaty chunks (literally).
I frantically shake my head, my mind being overrun by dozens of flashbacks that showcased the Duchess in her most terrifying moments. I was desperately trying to convince myself that there was no way that she could do those same things to me. That no, I wasn't about to die.
I'm really not going to die, right? Right?!
"If you're lying, I'll kill you." she declares with the same tone of voice.
I gulped. I think this was probably what that sea monster felt just before the Duchess turned it into that night's meal. Maybe I should make a run for it right now?
"But I'm really not lying. Why would I?" I insisted, a tinge of panic in my voice.
"Uh, I have a talking sword. What other kind of proof do you need?" Seriously, it's not like a sentient sword was a copper coin a dozen. And I highly doubt that a sword that had such a unique personality like my Uncle would easily be duplicated.
"That's not enough." she tells me, much to my disbelief. "I need more evidence to support your story."
"Okay, how about the fact that I know things that no one else aside from very close people should know about you." I tell her as I started to enumerate certain things that I knew about the Duchess which was not known to the general public. "Like how your mother is actually the legendary Karin 'The Heavywind', or how you once worked in the Charming Faeries Inn as an agent of Her Majesty, or that your second oldest sister is actually you're favorite among your family members and you usually call her Big sister Chi."
It was a pretty risky gamble for me to have done this since if one of those things that I had mentioned was not the same in this world as they were in mine then all of my credibility would go down the drain. But I had to which is why I stuck to simpler facts that should be the same in this world as they were in mine.
"How did you know that?" the pinkette mutters to my relief as her hold on the collar of my tunic slightly loosens. I guess those three facts that I had mentioned had remained the same in this reality.
"Of course, I'd know about those." I calmly spoke as I too began to regain a bit of my composure as well. "You were the one who told me about them."
"I… I did?"
"Yes, you did." I told her as if to dispel any remaining doubt in my honesty.
"So you're telling the truth then." she whispers, the shellshock in her voice somewhat returning.
"I've been telling the truth from the start, you know." I chide her for taking so long to believe me though, again, I couldn't really blame her for being so skeptical.
"So… the person that you were talking about earlier… was really me?"
I sigh for what felt like the millionth time since I arrived in this world. "In a way, yes."
She remained motionless for a full minute after hearing my answer to her last question, her facial expression again reverting back to that unreadable slate that so reminded me of her older counter-part. And just when I was starting to worry that the stress of it all had caused her mind to finally snap, I notice her eyes blinking ever so slowly. She lifts her head and before long an expression of pure bliss emanates from every inch of her face.
By the root, I could even see bits of sparkling light shining over head as if a sunbeam had been filtered from the clouds and had somehow penetrated the thick wooden and steel walls of the Ostland just so that it could illuminate her figure… and it wasn't even morning yet!
"Wonderful…" she mutters while still having that weird expression on her.
"Uh, are you okay?"
"This is just… wonderful." she mutters to herself again.
I was starting to worry about her now since she just looked so out of it. "No seriously, are you okay?"
"THIS IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!" she shouts at me as she immediately grabs hold of my hand and clasps it together with hers. Her grip on me was so tight that I thought that my fingers would be deformed. "THIS IS INCREDIBLE! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT I TURNED INTO SUCH AN INCREDIBLE PERSON!"
"Uh… T-That's good to hear." I say to her while at the same time trying to free my hand from her grasp though it was to no avail. I think I might have to use a bit of reinforcement so I could salvage whatever was remaining of my hand.
"THIS IS GREAT! I'LL MAKE SURE THAT I PRACTICE EVERYDAY FROM NOW ON UNTIL I BECOME JUST LIKE THAT!"
'Er… I think you shouldn't go overboard with that." I tell her as I tried to calm her down. Besides, I don't think this world is ready to handle someone like the Duchess just yet. "It's not a sure thing that you-."
"NO! I'LL DEFINITELY BECOME SOMEONE LIKE THAT!" she exclaims passionately at me, not even wanting to listen to whatever I was about to say to her. "NOW THAT I KNOW WHAT KIND OF PERSON I CAN BECOME, I'M DEFINITELY GOING TO BE SOMEONE THAT'S JUST LIKE THAT!"
I could feel my heart sink as I bear witness to her declaration.
In the name of the five true magics… What terrible horror have I unleashed unto this world!
After that sequence, it took the combined efforts of everyone that was present inside the small cabin to try and calm her down. She was very much like a kid who had just found out that the celebration of the Founder's birthday had come early. Even now that we were able to get her to finally sit still, that goofy smile of hers remained plastered all over her face. She had also started whispering to herself while trying to suppress a rather creepy laugh. Really, I was beginning to regret telling her all of that, or at least I should've downplayed her achievements by a bit but then again it was already too late for that.
"So is that everything that you wanted to ask?" I eye her with a very annoyed look on my face.
"Wait! What about me?" Sir Guiche speaks for the first time. That didn't surprise me though since I had a feeling that one of the reasons why he came here was to find out more about his alternate world counterpart.
"How about us?" Sir Gimli and Sir Reynald simultaneously exclaim at the same time, their excitement practically overflowing from their eyes. "Did we become Square-class mages too?!"
"Well , both of you reached triangle class although you two were still-!"
"How about me?!" Sir Malicorne suddenly interjects himself into the conversation as he uses his large belly to push both Sir Gimli and Sir Reynald aside. Quickly rushing towards me, he grabs hold of my shoulders with both of his hands while inching his face close to mine, uncomfortably invading my personal space. "What about me, Kiritsugu?! What happened to me?!"
"Well, you also reached triangle-class just like Sir Gimli and Sir Rey-!"
"I don't care about that!" he shouts at me with that very high-pitched voice of his, which causes me to raise an eyebrow at him. "Did I ever become popular with girls? Did I ever get a girlfriend?"
"Uh… about that, well…"
The honest answer was 'no'. Unfortunately, as respected and powerful as Sir Malicorne was, he just didn't appeal to those who belonged to the opposite sex. Maybe it was because he was nowhere near as handsome as the Captain or his other fellow lieutenants. Maybe it was because his body had filled out in all the wrong places which made him resemble a large walking barrel. Or maybe it was his voice that had remained just as high pitched as it was now. Whatever it was, he was probably the only founding member of the Undine Knights that had not been romantically linked to any of the noble girls in the continent. I even remembered how one of the earlier recruits of the order had started making 'Forever alone' jokes in regards to the Grand Windward's love woes. That particular recruit ended up regretting it though since he was immediately thrown to the griffin's pit by Sir Malicorne as he had him join me in the senior knights training sessions. That guy immediately resigned the day after.
"So I ended up getting a girlfriend, right!" he continues to incessantly badger me while at the same time his arms begin to shake my upper body as if that would help in making me answer his query faster.
"Er… you see…"
"I have a girlfriend, right? Right!? RIGHT!?"
I could see a crazed look in his eyes; he was practically begging me to say yes. This was bad. I knew this was going to hurt the guy, but lying to him would just make things a hundred times worse.
Come on me, just spit it out.
"N-No… No doubt
Dammit, I just can't do it.
"I KNEW IT!" he shouts out in absolute glee as tears of euphoria starts flooding down his eyes. "What's her name, Kiritsugu?!"
"Er... It's, um..." I started to panic, my eyes' line of sight shifting from side to side, unable to look directly at the overzealous wind mage. Damn it! My mother was right. Lying really did make things a hundred times worse. In an attempt to cover up for myself, I blurt out the first name that I could think of. "It's... umm... M-Ma-Marie? That's right. Marie Sauvet." I tell him, remembering the name of a young singer that I had once seen perform in the large theater in Tristania.
"Miss Marie Sauvet, huh? What an absolutely gorgeousl name!" he dreamily exclaims. "She's probably a real beauty too, right?"
I nervously nod at him in reply. I guess I'll let him dream for a little while longer. Hopefully, he isn't too heartbroken when he finds out the truth.
"What does she look like? So how did the two of us meet? Is she from the academy too? Come on, Kiritsugu! Throw me a bone here, will you?" he bombards me with even more question concerning the imaginary lover that I had conjured up for him which simply made me uncomfortable.
Come on, Root. I know you're enjoying this too much already. But could you at least give me some slack for once and get me out of this situation.
"I have a question." I hear Saito's voice from out of the rest of the crowd, the serious tone of his prompting everyone including me and the plump wind mage to turn our sights towards him. "Your father, the person who was summoned to be the Gandalfr of your world, what kind of relationship did he have with Louise?"
His question immediately draws the attention of not just me but of every one inside the small room. It was a surprising question, but not totally unexpected. It was only natural for Saito to at least be slightly curious of the person who, in his point-of-view, had replaced him the same way that I was curious about the Chevalier himself. Also, by the way that he had worded his question, I think that it wasn't just curiosity that was driving him to ask about my father.
"The Duchess and her Servant were very close. From what I've heard, there was probably no one that they trusted more than each other." I tell the Chevalier in front of me whose face had suddenly turned sour. "What the two of them shared was special; a bond that surpassed the normal ties of camaraderie, friendship, or even marriage. At least that's what the Duchess told me."
"I did?" the pinkette sounds off, the topic of our conversation peaking her interest enough to momentarily take her out of her earlier revelry.
"Well, not you per se, but you get what I mean."
"I haven't really heard anything about your father yet, Kiritsugu. But from what Saito and the other's told me he was supposed to be a very famous war hero or something, is that right?" she asks to which I nod in reply. "Could you tell me more about him then?" she asks me further, her curiosity shifting from what her older self is like to what kind of person she had summoned to her side in my world was.
"…He was a legend," I start off. "To his enemies, he was the Devil personified in flesh and bone. Even up to now, the very mention of the King of Sword's name is enough to strike fear into the hearts of Tristain's enemies. But to his friends and allies, he was simply a great man."
"About your father," Saito cuts me off with a query. "Was he and Louise... a couple?"
The Chevalier's question quickly causes the atmosphere in the room to thicken.
Saito and the Young Duchess, based on the acts of affection that I've seen from both of them, were lovers. So I guess it was to be expected for him to ask me such a question. I'm sure that he was wondering (and slightly worried) about who had taken his place as the young Duchess's lover in my world. And as far as logical deductions go, the first person that he most likely would suspect was my father.
The crowd inside the small cabin briefly looks at Saito before turning their sight towards me. Miss Vallière in particular seemed to be aghast at Saito's query and had again begun to wear a very shell-shocked expression on her face.
"You never did tell us who your mother was." Saito mentions as he continues to stare down at my seated posture.
"Kiritsugu... You... It can't be," The pinkette with him stares at me intently as well, unspoken words of surprise and confusion swirling in her eyes. I wonder if the expression that she had on right now would be similar to this world's version of my mother if she ever found out about me. "Don't tell me that you're my-."
For a second I was actually tempted to say 'yes' just so that I could see what kind of reaction she would have. But, honestly, I've already lied to Sir Malicorne and would most likely pay for that later down the road. I didn't want to complicate things any more than I already have so I decided to tell them the truth.
"No, I'm not your son." I declare to her and the crowd with us. "Though the bond that you two shared was indeed special, it didn't have any romantic connotations to it." I explain to her. And besides, if that had indeed been the case then such a thing would've definitely strained the Duchess and my mother's friendship greatly. "The relationship between a Master and a Servant is something that is founded on mutual trust and respect. Although it's not unheard of for feelings of affection to surface, it's not the main foundation of their bond."
A sigh of relief escapes both the young Duchess and the Chevalier's breath. I found it to be rather amusing for them to feel that way. I guess knowing that the feelings that they harbored for each other wasn't something that could easily be duplicated was quite the burden off their minds.
Frankly, the thought of me being the Duchess's son was a very awkward and equally frightful thing to even consider. I've heard stories from the Duchess herself of how terribly strict her mother was and how she is the only person that she ever feared. I have no doubt that the Duchess would adapt a very similar method of parenting which is why I pitied any future nephew or niece that I would have from her. And if ever the pinkette in front of me were to actually become anything like her alternate world self… then Saito would most definitely have my sympathy.
"Wait." Miss Vallière turns to look at me again with a very inquisitive expression. "So if I'm not your mother, who is it then?"
Tsk, I was afraid that she might bring this up.
Based on my observations, this younger version of the Duchess was someone who regarded the status quo quite highly. And although her older-self had no qualms about a member of the Royal family (not to mention her childhood friend) getting together and bearing a child with someone who didn't even have a single drop of noble blood flowing in his veins, I wasn't so sure that she would be as understanding. Also, for the people with me to find out just exactly who I was would merely complicate things.
"That's really not important. We have much more urgent matters to discuss right now." I try to dissuade her as I desperately made an attempt to change the subject of our conversation.
"Oh come on!" the pinkette whines. "I just really want to know. Can't you at least give me a hint or something?"
"I'll tell you some other time." I calmly continue to try and disinterest them in regards to that subject but the young Duchess proved to be too persistent to my liking and had started randomly blurting out guesses of who my mother actually was.
"It couldn't be Kirche since you called her Auntie earlier and I'd rather die than let her corrupt my Servant." she murmurs to herself in deep thought while her head was slightly bowed down. The redhead in question, however, seemed more amused than offended by her comment.
And it's not like the young Duchess was wrong on her assumptions either since I've heard a good number of stories concerning my very liberated Aunties numerous attempts at trying to seduce my father. Most of them right on par with my Mother Siesta's more debauched novels.
"Maybe Agnes, although I'm not so sure that she's even that interested in men… especially after what happened before." She mentions offhandedly as her cheeks blush a faint red.
I causally scratch the side of my cheek with my finger. I know that my Auntie Agnes was a bit off a tomboy so such an assumption couldn't really be helped.
"How about Jessica or some of the other girls working in the Charming Faeries Inn," she continues to guess. "But then again, Scarron is there so…"
I slightly look away as a rather unwelcome image comes to mind. I doubt that any serious suitors would actively try to woe either Aunt Jessica or any of the other girls there since Uncle Scarron would most likely get in the way by using his body in the most disturbing means possible.
"No… it couldn't be…" he raises her sight towards me again with a look of sudden realization dawning on her face. "Don't tell me that you're…"
I stare at her patiently, inwardly wondering whether she had figured everything out by herself already. If she did then it was quite surprising seeing that I never even gave her any clue as to my mother's identity. She may have based it on the relationship that Saito had with the women around her. This somewhat troubled me since that meant that the black-haired Chevalier and Her Majesty had already nurtured a relationship that could be considered romantic by the people around them.
If that really was the case, if this philandering idiot was even thinking of making the Queen Henrietta a part of some sort of harem, then his got another thing coming.
I spare Saito a brief glare which prompts him to look at me in confusion.
Damn idiot! If you think that I'm just going to stand pat and allow something like that to happen, then you're out of luck! It'll be a very cold day in hell before I let you get your perverted hands on Her Majesty!
While I was in the midst of tempering the murderous intent that I had been directing towards this world's Gandalfr, I suddenly found the collar of my tunic being gripped by a familiar pair of very dainty hands which causes me to snap back to attention.
"Your mother, it's her isn't it!" Miss Vallière shouts at me again, this time with much more force than she did earlier. She really might've figured it out already. But I never thought that her reaction would be this bad. Was she really that against two people from differing social classes being together? Wasn't she being a bit of a hypocrite since her lover isn't someone of great social standing either? "Your mother… It's Siesta, isn't it!"
I stare at her quietly for a good ten seconds before letting a simple "Huh?" escape my breath.
My assumptions ended up being way over the mark.
"Don't play dumb! It's that damn maid, right!" she insists while shaking me by the collar of my shirt. Although she too was way off, why was she so against the idea of my father being together with Mother Siesta? I do vaguely remember Miss Siesta expressing her slight dislike towards the young Duchess when we were having some afternoon tea back in Romalia. But I never thought that the grudge between the two of them was this bad. I just don't get it. Anyway, I better clarify this one now before my tunic gets ripped. I just borrowed this from Professor Colbert so I still had to return it in one piece.
"Well, I do call her mother but-."
"Aha! I knew it!" she shrieks again which causes my ears to ring, cutting my explanation short. "So it really is Siesta!"
"Like I said, even though I call her mother she's-!"
"Shut up you!" she commands me with a very deranged look in her eye. "If that maid ever gets wind of this then she might think that she actually has a chance of getting Saito!"
Well, fortunately for her, Miss Siesta was quietly sleeping in one of the other rooms of the ship.
"Louise, calm down." the Chevalier tries to reason with his master. "I'm sure that Kiritsugu here is-.. geh!" he stops mid-sentence upon seeing the unrelenting pinkette glaring at him, silently telling him to mind his own business.
She turns her sights towards me again, her eyes swirling with an inner madness that I have yet to see from anyone – not even from her older self. "Listen here! You are not allowed to tell Siesta about this. Are we clear?!"
"Would you at least listen to me?" I pleaded for reason. "I'm trying to tell you that she's-!"
"I said are we clear on that…" she cuts off my explanation again, her tone of voice greatly resembling the Duchess of Emptiness once more.
Right now, my instincts were telling me that unless I wanted to die then I better keep my mouth shut and just nod. Seriously, I'm starting to hope that I hadn't just set this person down the path of turning into another Duchess.
But knowing my luck, that's probably what I had just done.
"So? What's this important thing that you wanted to talk about?" the young Duchess questions me as she sits on the edge of her bed.
After having to calm her down for the second time tonight and answering a few more minor queries that the others had regarding their alternate-selves, I was finally able to gather their attention long enough to bring up a very important matter.
"It's about the pope and what he might be planning." I tell them bluntly as I prepared myself to discuss a bit of my world's history. "As most of you might already know, the timeline of the Halkeginia where I came from is about two decades ahead of this one." I close my eyes as I recall some of the lessons that Miss Eléonore had imparted to me in regards to this part of Halkeginian History. "Two decades ago in my world, the 32nd pope of the Church of Brimir – Vittorio Serevare St. Aegis had sent out a call to rally all the nations of the continent under the banner of Romalia. This was so that he could wage a Holy Crusade that would pit all the kingdoms of humanity against the elves that resided in the Holy land."
"WHAT!" all of them collectively screamed in both shock and disbelief. The calmness inside of the room had been completely shattered by my revelation and had allowed panic to reign again.
"Such a thing… Such a thing is madness!" the blonde captain with us exclaims. "Fighting the elves is tantamount to suicide. I've even heard of how a single elf is able to destroy entire armies by itself. Even if it was His Holiness who had sent out the call there's simply no chance that anyone would even think of doing, much less agree, to such an insane proposal."
I inwardly nod at his declaration. He was definitely right. The Elves were definitely the most feared creatures in all of Halkeginia and, prior to my father's arrival, were considered as near invincible beings that no human could defeat alone. And even though their air of invincibility had somewhat thinned due in part to the Duchess and the King's handy work, they were still greatly feared nonetheless. So the mere thought of a war against the Elves would definitely be something that the people with me would consider as such a ridiculous notion to even think off.
"Be that as it may, the pope was still able to coerce the ruling leaders of all the nations into joining his crusade."
"Coerced them?" Sir Reynald quickly picks up the word that I had used to describe how the pope had unified the nations to Romalia's side. "What exactly did His Holiness do to convince them?"
I glance back at the inquisitive water magus. "He simply told them about something that made the frightful notion of a Holy Crusade against the elves pale in comparison." I reply to the would-be Mage Tactician.
"Something more terrible than a war against the elves? What in the Founder's name could that be?" the pinkette asks more to herself than anyone else, her eyes revealing her mind's attempts at trying to imagine what horror could have forced the leaders of all the kingdoms of the continent to agree with the pope's suicidal plans.
"…Do you know where windstones come from?" I suddenly pose a surprisingly simple question to them.
"Of course," the young Zerbst who was with us chimes in, probably getting tired of being a mere side character for far too long. "We get them from mining the deposits that are inside of caves or near the surface. My family's lands have a cave that's been relegated for the mining of those things so I should know."
"That's right." I nod at what she had narrated to us. Windstones are actually quite rare which is why most countries follow a strict edict when it comes to managing places where they could be mined. And although their value in my world has slightly dropped with the introduction of the steam-powered airships that have proven to be more economical in the long run compared to the windstone-powered ones from the past, they're still treated as highly valued goods. "But do you know that there's actually a vast reserve of windstones stored deep within the continent, virtually unreachable except by using elven mining techniques?"
"Well no," the red-head replies. "But what does that have to do with anything?"
I turn my sights at the young Zerbst from where I was seated, the steely look in my eye somewhat unnerving her. "Everything." I emphatically tell her.
Everyone's necks start to stretch forward a bit. There was not one of them who wanted to miss anything that I was about to divulge.
"The Vittorio Serevare of my world had revealed the existence of a possible disaster that would end up forcing the leaders of all the nations in Halkeginia to join forces with him. This impending disaster would later be referred to as the 'Windstone Calamity'."
"Windstone Calamity? What is that exactly?" my master queries.
"According to the Pope, within the next half decade, the Windstone reserves stored underneath Helkeginia would have grown to the point wherein the continent will be ripped apart as the Windstones reach critical mass and start to float out of the earth, dragging the surface of the continent with it."
"So the entire continent will turn into one floating land mass, kind of like a bigger version of Albion. Is that right?" the young Duchess deduces as a relieved sigh escapes her breath. "I think that's not so bad. All they'd have to really worry about is how to keep everyone secure and safe. But aside from that, I don't get how this would end up forcing the hand of the other rulers though?"
"You don't understand at all." I sneer a bit at her naively positive deduction. "Eventually the Windstones would dry out once in the air, and the floating land would drop back down to the surface." I reveal to her which immediately causes the momentary relief on her face to quickly disappear. "As a result, over fifty percent of Helkeginia would become uninhabitable once the Windstones start to rise, and due to the loss of resources as the surface breaks apart humans would war between themselves for what little is left. And that, ultimately, will lead to their extinction."
"N-No… No way..!" the Chevalier whispers in abject shock while the others were struck silent by what I had told them.
"Kiritsugu…" I hear my master speak. Surprisingly enough, she was actually the first one to be able to snap out of that state of speechlessness. "What was the main goal of His Holiness's crusade?"
"In the face of a seemingly unavoidable catastrophe, the Pope Vittorio presented to them a ray of hope." I answer. "He told the leaders of the nations that conquering the Holy Land was the only way to avoid such a terrible fate. He claimed that there was enough resources there to satisfy everyone and that they can migrate there to avoid a desperate war wherein the people would be forced to fight one another for food. He also said that the Founder had left a device there to prevent the Windstones from completely destroying Helkeginia. If they could find that said device then they could even prevent that impending disaster from happening in the first place."
"I see." Miss Valliere lowers her gaze to the floor as if pondering to herself. "So the war that you mentioned earlier was between elves and humans, is that right?"
"No," I corrected her which prompts the small-statured void mage to direct her attention towards me again. "The last great war of my world, just like the other ones before it, was strictly a human affair."
"But how could that happen?" Sir Reynald asks again before placing his fingers on the tip of his chin as if trying to figure out what might've caused such events to transpire as they did. "Did one of the rulers have a falling out with the Pope and the other leaders?"
I nod, confirming his guess.
"But what country would be stupid enough to do that and endanger everyone in the process?" the uncharacteristically quiet Sir Gimli speaks out.
"Heh. I bet it was Germania." the young Duchess haughtily huffs.
"…It was Tristain." I reveal to her which causes the pinkette's proud figure to instantly deflate.
"T-T-Tristain!?" she shouts, unable to bring herself to believe what she had just heard. "T-That can't be… Her Majesty would never-!"
"To begin with, the so-called alliance between the nations was superficial at best." I immediately explain to them. "With a few exceptions, none of them actually trusted each other. Not to mention Germania's emperor at that time harbored a grudge against both my father, and my teacher the Duchess of Emptiness who had humiliated him during an earlier encounter. But the main reason why Tristain had ultimately gone against the alliance was because they were able to find out the truth."
'Truth?" All of them crane their necks a tad closer.
"The pope lied." I tell them. "As I've already said earlier, the pope cannot be trusted. He had used two talking points to convince the nations of Halkeginia to agree with his crazy plan," I raise my right hand as I start ticking my fingers up one by one. "The first was that the Holy Land had enough food and other resources to support most of the combined population of all the countries. The second was that the founder had left a device that would prevent the Windstone threat to begin with. But it turned out that neither of those two was actually true."
I stare at the brass pendant that held up Miss Valliere's cape. The five pointed star engraved on its surface was not only the basic symbol of magic that represented the five elements but was also a symbol of the Founder himself. The young Duchess of this world from what I've witnessed was still a very devout believer of the Church. In the back of my mind, I wondered how she would react upon finding out that her alternate-self had been excommunicated and was declared a heretic by the same Pope that she once so idolized. I guess that was something that I couldn't help but think of since I was about to tell them the very reason why the older Duchess had renounced her faith in the founder Brimir.
"The Holy Land's resources were not as abundant as the Pope had made it out to be. At most it would only be able to support less than half of the human population of Halkeginia." I tell them. I've really only seen the outskirts of the Holy Land during my travels and to be honest the whole place is nothing more than a damn dessert. For the pope to have been able to convince the leaders that somewhere hidden in that sandy hell was an unlimited supply of food just boggles my mind to no end. Even the Duchess's claim that it could somehow support a portion of the continent's population was something that I was doubtful of. "Of course that meant that a mass exodus to the Holy Land was not really an option to begin with since it would pose the same problem in regards to the lack of resources." I continued to explain. "And as for the device that he claimed to be able to stop the disaster from happening, it turned out to be nothing more than a part of his deception."
"So there was no device at all then." my master concludes.
"Not necessarily." I corrected again. "From what my teacher had told me, there was indeed a vital component hidden in the Holy Land that Vittorio would need to fulfill his true goal."
"And what exactly is His Holiness true goal?" the young Duchess asks, her voice heavy with grief as her faith in the pope had all but disappeared.
Deciding to finally land the finishing blow that would at last topple her already shaky beliefs, I answer her without hesitation. "The genocide of the entire elven race."
An audible gasps echoes throughout the small cabin. I glance back at my master who stood just a couple of inches behind me. All the color on her face had been drained. This was understandable since elvish blood did flow inside of her veins. She was just as much of an elf as she was human and she had never given me the impression that she loathed her elven heritage. So for her to hear something as ludicrous as the genocide of her entire race was most likely a very shocking thing.
"Is something like that even possible?' Miss Montmorency says in astonishment. The curly haired blonde had been latching on to Sir Guiche's arm since I had begun my story.
"The pope believed that it was. And from what my teacher had told me, the Founder Brimir himself had left specific instructions on how such a feat could be accomplished." I inform them. "My teacher told me that the Pope's real goal was to gather all four bearers of the void and their respective servants, and by combining their powers together with the vital component that was hidden somewhere within the vast landscape of the Holy Land he would annihilate the entire elven race in one blow. The Holy Crusade that he was advocating would serve as a perfect guise to search for the said vital component. But the war itself had other hidden purposes too."
Raising my right hand again, I start enumerating them with my fingers.
"One would be that it would effectively weaken the military might of all the countries involved with the exception of Romalia. This was important since when the time came that he would have to reveal that only a chosen few could be saved then he wouldn't have to worry about a swift retaliation coming from the other countries."
It was a well thought-out strategy since I have no doubt that the other leaders would not be very happy once they found out about the Pope's deception.
"Another was the fact that by pushing the people who would be participating in the war to their deaths, Vittorio would effectively be reducing the number of civilians that he would need to supply with food once the Windstone threat came to pass. With fewer mouths to feed, the resources would be better managed as a result. It was because of this deception that Tristain ultimately decided to oppose the Pope's plans."
After explaining all of this to them, my eyes continue to stare at the young Duchess whose body had started to quiver.
"I… I can't believe it." she laments. "For His Holiness to have done such a thing…"
"Upon learning of Tristain's defection, the Allied forces of Romalia, Germania, and Gallia declared war against the small country." I continue despite the blank expression that I could see on the Pinkette's face.
"Gallia?!" Saito says in shock. "But Tabitha would never let-!"
"That's right, she wouldn't." I assure him of the Queen of Gallia's allegiances. "As I told you before, the Queen Charlotte and my father were very good friends. She would never have sided with the Pope in a war that would pit her against the King of Swords."
He sighs in relief. "So Tabitha became the Queen, huh? Well then, why did Gallia join with Romalia?"
"The Pope helped stage a coup d'état against the Queen Charlotte and had her replaced by someone who he could control behind-the-scenes." Left unsaid, however, was the fact that it was actually the Queen Charlotte's twin sister whom Vittorio had used to replace her. "As for the war, you and my father would lead the army of Tristain against the allied forces. The tide of the war finally shifted in Tristain's favor when the Queen Charlotte was able to overthrow her usurper and joined forces with Her Majesty, the Queen Henrietta. My father was able to kill the Pope during the final days of the war but he too would fall as well."
"Wait a second, Kiritsugu." Sir Malicorne speaks. "Just because the pope of your world did all of those things doesn't necessarily mean that His Holiness would do them too, right? I mean, if you think about it, our two worlds aren't exactly the same since Saito was the one who got summoned instead of your father. Maybe we shouldn't start accusing His Holiness of things that he hasn't even done yet."
It was a sensible remark in all honesty. After all, it wasn't right to condemn someone for crimes that he had not technically committed himself.
But I had already used that approach and after what had transpired in Romalia's throne room, I just couldn't convince myself that the pope of this reality was any different from the one in mine.
"Well, if that's the case then I guess there's also a slight chance that you and Miss Marie won't end up meeting at all." I snidely comment at him which causes the plump blonde to back off from his statement. Glancing back, I see the disapproving look that my master was giving me.
I really didn't mean to sound so antagonistic but I couldn't help it. The fact that this people would easily believe all the good things that I told them in regards to their alternate-world selves, but would be skeptical of some of the things that they didn't want to even consider just rubbed me the wrong way.
"The pope has already shown you how manipulative he can be based on what had happened back in Romalia." I tell them as I calmed my voice so that I wouldn't sound so harsh like when I had retorted back against Sir Malicorne. "Have you all forgotten what he said inside that throne room of his? How he would sacrifice as many people as he needs to." I point out to them. For me, the conviction that had been laced in his voice when he had declared this was proof enough of how serious he was on following through with such a promise. "I'm sure that he's planning something. Whether it's exactly the same scheme that the Pope of my world had concocted or something else entirely, I don't know. But I have a feeling that, ultimately, his goal is the same and that he won't hesitate to sacrifice as many lives as he needs to achieve it."
That statement of mine thoroughly sobers the atmosphere inside of that small cabin even more. The possibility that I had just revealed to them was probably something that far surpassed any of their expectations.
A war that would not only involve all four nations but would also dictate the fate of all human life in Halkeginia… I doubt that anyone here had expected to come face-to-face with such a troublesome prospect after coming back from what they thought should've been a care-free vacation.
"But be that as it may, we do have the advantage right now." I try to lift their spirits up a bit. "As of the moment, the Pope isn't aware of who I am." I glance back at my master who was sitting behind my figure and afterwards I return my sights towards the young Duchess in front of me. "Also, in order for him to do anything, he'll need the support of all four bearers' of the void. As long as we remain on guard and oppose his plans without him knowing then we can stop a great war like the one that transpired in my world from happening here." I clench both my fist that were resting on my lap as I grit my teeth. "We have to make sure that something like that doesn't happen here."
The estimated number of casualties from the last great war was said to have been in the hundreds of thousands. Many villages and cities were razed to the ground. Countless civilians lost both their homes and lives during the span of that conflict. I wasn't born yet so I couldn't imagine what kind of horror had swept throughout the continent during that time; and after seeing the scene of panic from last night's battle, I don't think that I'd even want to imagine such a thing in the first place.
That's why I won't let something like that happen here.
As my father's son, I will never allow such a thing to happen.
"Don't worry, Kiritsugu." I hear Saito declare earnestly, the utmost confidence oozing from his voice. "Like you said, we're going to make sure that something like that doesn't happen."
"Saito's right," the blonde captain with us adds. With a flourish, he whips out his trademark rose-wand as he begins to do the trademark poses that I've seen his alternate world-self perform so many times before. "Though it is regrettable that we must go against His Holiness, we of the Undine Knights will not allow such a disaster to befall Tristain or any of the other countries."
"I'm with Guiche and Saito!" Sir Gimli declares; the familiar hot-bloodedness that his other-self was famous for now in full display. "Even if it's his Holiness, we can't just let him do whatever he wants."
One-by-one, the others start to step forward. The fear in their eyes that was present just moments ago had all but disappeared and was now replaced with something else. There was a look of determination on their faces, a flaming resolve that burned despite being presented with such a ridiculous possibility like a war that would determine the fate of so many lives.
I small smile crosses the corner of my lips.
I had underestimated the people of this world. They may not be as strong or as famous as their counterparts yet… But they too shared the same courage, the same resolve that made them who they were. I guess I was blinded by my arrogance so I couldn't see it until now.
The people who had gathered here were definitely people who I could put my faith in.
"That settles it then." I say as I stand from my seated position, stretching my legs that had started to go slightly numb. "Although we can't fight the Pope head-on, we can still make sure to put a wedge on whatever he's planning. Of course, we can't let him know what exactly we're trying to do. But if enough things go our way we should be able to prevent the worst case scenario."
Just as I was about to advise my master that we should return to our cabin in order to get some rest, "Wait a minute, Kiritsugu!" I hear Miss Vallière call out to me again. "There's still one more thing that's bothering me."
"What is it?" I ask.
"The fact that you're here… doesn't that mean that the windstone calamity that you were talking about was averted?" she questions. "If that's the case then how was it stopped? Who stopped it?"
I stare at her for a good ten seconds, my face masked by an expression of seriousness that I usually only had when I was in the midst of battle. Soon, however, my cold façade slowly breaks as a derisive laugh escapes my breath
Upon seeing my reaction to her query, the young Duchess face turns red. "Why are you laughing? What's so funny?!" she asks me, her voice equally embarrassed and annoyed at the same time. "Is there something wrong with my question?!"
"Nothing at all." I tell her as I do my best to recompose myself before explaining myself. "The truth is that for all the trouble that the Pope of my world went through to avoid the Windstone Calamity, in the end it never even happened."
"EHHHH!?" everyone inside the cabin collectively screams.
"What in the founder's name do you mean it never happened?!" the pinkette shrieks as she quickly crosses the short distance that separated the two of us and grabs me by the collar of my tunic, dragging me down to her eye-level and causing my back to bend in a very uncomfortable manner. "Explain yourself at once!"
"Hey, could you calm down first." I whine as I tap her hand that had grabbed the collar of my tunic in order to prompt the young Vallière to loosen her grip. As she finally releases her hold on me and after straightening my back, I began to speak again. "Based on the Pope's assumptions, the windstone Calamity should've happened sometime in the past two decades. But it never did though." I nonchalantly tell them which causes their mouths to hang open in shock.
"T-T-T-Th-Th-Then was it all j-just a hoax?!" the pinkette resumes her stuttering. "W-Was His Holiness mistaken?"
"I'm not really sure." I bluntly reply to her. "But the reports of the researcher that Her Majesty had tasked to verify the Pope's claims had confirmed it to be true at least."
"Hmph!" the young Duchess huffs as she turns her head to the side. "I'm sure that stupid researcher was just wrong." she chides.
"I highly doubt that." I tell her as I hid the amusement that I got from her reaction. "Miss Eléonore is quite the perfectionist. I doubt that she'd risk her and her family's name on something that she wasn't completely sure of."
The void mage's body suddenly goes completely rigid like a rock. Forcefully cranking her head towards me like a stiff-jointed mannequin, she looks at me with a rather awkward expression. "W-When you said Miss Eléonore… y-you wouldn't happen to be talking about my s-sister, right?"
"Who else would I be talking about?" I smiled after seeing the look of bewilderment on her face as I enjoyed every bit of mental anguish that this was causing the pinkette in front of me. Aside from being stubborn, I was quite the vengeful person to boot. I haven't completely forgotten how she had scared the living Prana out of me earlier.
She could do nothing but nod at this as she audibly gulps. Since they were siblings, I'm sure she knows that what I had told her was true, although I did find her reaction after hearing her sister's name a bit odd to say the least. If I didn't know any better than I would've thought that she was scared of Miss Eléonore or something which shouldn't be the case since I've seen the two sisters interact with each other. And from those rare meetings, though the eldest of the Vallière sisters had proven to be a fearsome individual in her own right, the Duchess had never shown an ounce of fear whenever she dealt with her eldest sister, even going as far as pointing out the blonde Vallière's single status whenever she was nagging at her too much.
Seriously… this world is just weird.
"So, how were they able to stop it then?" the red-haired Von Zerbst queries this time.
"I have no idea." I answer as I shrugged my shoulders. "I asked my teacher the same thing and the only answer that I got from her was that she just knows and that I should just forget about it. So I decided to trust her on that particular matter." That wasn't a hundred percent true though since for a time I kept badgering her for a proper answer. I was a pretty curious child, though more often than not my curiosity would get me into very problematic situations. Ultimately, my persistent attitude earned me another encounter with one of her explosion spells after she finally got fed up with my whining. "But whether the Windstone Calamity is true or not, it doesn't really matter as long as the Pope believes that it will inevitably happen."
"…I guess you're right." Miss Valliere declares, her shoulders slightly slumping down as the reality of the Popes betrayal finally starts to set in. "As long as His Holiness believes it then we have to make sure that we stop whatever he's planning at all cost."
After a moment of silence wherein none of the others stepped forward to ask any further questions, I sigh. "Well, seeing that we've talked about everything that we needed to discuss, I think we should all call it a nigh-!" I abruptly stop myself as I notice bits of sunshine slowly lighting the room. I quickly look out at one of the circular windows of the cabin just in time to see the outlines of the early morning sun rising from the horizon. It seems that we've exhausted the entirety of the night with our overly long discussion.
"So I guess it's already morning, huh?" I whisper to myself as I continue to look out the window. I could see the familiar mountain ranges and lush forest that had seen me off when I had departed from my homeland six months ago. I could even see the visage of the Lagdorian Lake where the Spirit of Water whom I had met once before resided.
Looking at this familiar sight, a tinge of nostalgia envelops me.
Although I couldn't really say that I was back home, that still didn't change the fact that in a couple of hours I'm going to be stepping on Tristanian soil very soon.
"Well, that was fun." the sentient weapon that was hanging from my back says to itself.
Standing at one of the empty balconies of the Academy's main tower, I slightly lean over the stone railings in front of me as my body slumps forward. The once blue sky had now turned into a hazy orange hue signaling that the dawn was fast approaching as the twin moons start to come out from their hiding place. Behind me, I could hear the sound of music and dancing echoing from the crowded hall that I had just left.
After we had arrived back in Tristain the Headmaster of the Tristain Magic Academy, an old man that went by the name of Osmond, together with a fairly large contingency of professors and magic students had greeted us at the gate of the school. Our party had been welcomed like conquering heroes as the confetti had rained down on us in all directions. I guess the news of what happened back in Romalia had finally reached all the way here. There was boisterous cheering everywhere. Praises were heaped upon the members of the Undine knights for their quick-wittedness in securing the safety of the civilian population of Aquileia in the midst of the battle. Saito, my master, Miss Vallière, and even the absent Miss Tabitha were hailed as the saviors of Romalia. My reception was a bit more subdued though as most of the people that greeted our group looked at me with an undeniable hint of suspicion and confusion, probably showing their wariness of someone who they had never seen before. I couldn't really fault their reaction though so I decided to pay them no mind.
Afterwards, in light of our triumphant return and the euphoric mood that had taken hold of the entire school, the headmaster cheerfully announced that a celebratory banquet had been prepared ahead of time in recognition of our achievements. The students of course were overjoyed by this announcement. I'm guessing that skipping a day's worth of classes wasn't too much of a big deal for them. The party started from the mid-morning and had continued all the way to the late afternoon. At this point, I wasn't even sure whether they were really celebrating our victory, or just enjoying themselves. Then again, people really only needed one reason to let the wine flow (sometimes none at all).
"Was the previous headmaster really that... peculiar?" I ask my Uncle in regards to Old Osmond's strange behavior. Not only was his speech during the start of the party littered with signs of his obsession for the female body, he was also looking around the hall with lecherous eyes as he surveyed the floor for girls who wore very revealing gowns. Now I'm not really someone who likes to put people in fixed stereotypes. But, honestly, I've never seen anyone fit the clichéd 'Dirty Old Man' mold better than he did.
"Aye," the talking sword answers much to my disappointment. "If you're serious about protecting your master's chastity then you better watch out for that one."
I sighed. The Duchess never really talked that much about the previous headmaster who managed the Academy prior to its current Headmaster Mr. Colbert, so I had no idea what he was like. But if he really was like this then I could understand why she wouldn't want to bring him up in the first place.
I allow my gaze to wander over to the courtyard below me, the familiar site causing me to feel a bit nostalgic.
I've only seen the Tristain Magic Academy once. It was back when the Duchess had paid a visit to her Alma mater to serve as a substitute teacher for a week under the request of the Headmaster, Mr. Colbert. Though the Duchess could not perform any sort of spell that was in-line with the four basic elements, she was still very knowledgeable when it came to their underlying theory. The Vestri Court which was the courtyard that I was looking at right now had served as my pseudo-playground whenever the Duchess was out teaching her classes. The area that it covered was very spacious and there were very few students who went there so it was the perfect place to train.
But there was another reason why I usually spent the majority of my afternoons there.
My eyes thoroughly comb through the open greenery below me as if searching for something. Though this courtyard and the one in my world were almost identical, there was one glaring difference between the two.
"...So it's really not here, huh?" I whisper to myself in a rather somber voice, my eyes glued to a specific spot where a particular statue should've been.
As infamous as my father was, finding a portrait or a painting of him was next to impossible. In fact, most of the people in Halkeginia probably had no clue what he looked like. Of course that only added to the mystique of his legend. It wasn't rare for me to encounter people who thought that the King of Swords was some half-man, half demon hybrid who had eyes that could perceive the very lines of death itself. The only existing artistic depiction of my father's image was the one that stood at the corner of the Vestri Courtyard - a full scale brass statue, magically sculpted by the Captain of the Undine Knights himself to commemorate the feat that he had performed in the Hills of Saxe-Gotha. From the moment that I had seen it, I had made sure to engrave every detail of its image in my head. I really couldn't help it since it was the only image of my father that I ever knew.
So to see the absence of one of the few physical mementos of my father was rather depressing.
"Oi, you're moping again." the talking sword chides which prompts me to smile awkwardly like a thief that had been caught red-handed. "Anyway, I'm starting to worry about you kid."
"Worried? About what, Uncle?"
"I think you're starting to pick up some of the Duchess's bad habits."
"Like what?" I ask the talking sword, slightly playing dumb since I did have a pretty good idea of what he was pertaining to.
"Like threatening to kill people who annoy you." he replies, indirectly pointing out the brief incident that had happened not too long ago.
Earlier, after the old headmaster's speech had finished and the festivities were officially underway, I had decided to stand somewhere at the corner of the hall to keep an eye on my master. After some time had passed, a stout-looking male student who seemed to have been drinking a bit too much approached me with an empty glass in his hand. With a smug and rather dazed look on his reddening face, he had ordered me to refill his glass for him. Though I was a bit peeved by his attitude, I didn't want to overreact and cause a scene. I inwardly told myself that maybe this person had not been present or was just not listening when the Headmaster had introduced us. Also, the clothes that I was currently wearing, a plain white and rather worn-down tunic, was something that commoners usually wore. I didn't have any formal wear with when I came to this world and since I was a good bit taller than most of the people here, I couldn't just borrow it from someone. Honestly though, I did prefer this simpler type of clothing compared to the overly elaborate suits and robes that the Nobility was so accustomed to wearing anyway. So I guess it was perfectly understandable why he would've mistaken me as part of the help (though I doubt that normal servers would be carrying swords on their back so that should've already tipped him off). With that in mind, I politely corrected him in regards to his wrong assumptions. Unfortunately, it seems that he had been offended by this for some reason as he proceeded to make a fool out of himself within the hall as he started to indignantly swear at me. I did do my best to remain civil and calm down the irrationally irate noble. But after he had pulled out his wand and had pointed it at me, I immediately threw civility out the window. I quickly drew Uncle Derf from his sheath and with one slash I cut the wand that he was pointing at me into two. And for good measure, I use a return swing to sever the belt that had been holding up his trousers as they quickly fall to the ground, exposing his undergarments before placing the sharp edge of my blade near his neck. Upon seeing this, the foul-mouthed noble quickly goes silent. And before I could even return the Sentient blade back to its sheath, the frightened brat had made a run for it like a mouse being chased by a cat, tripping over himself as he did.
"You can't say that guy didn't have it coming to him though." I defended my actions. "Besides, I wasn't even thinking of killing him anyway." Though I may be someone who had killed a good number of people already, I hadn't reached the point wherein I would kill out of shallow spite. "Also, I'm banned from killing anyone for the meantime, remember?"
"Oh, yeah. I forgot about that one." was my Uncle's reply as I reminded him of my master's troublesome order. "But kid… are you really going to follow that order of hers though?" he asks with a copious amount of skepticism in his voice.
I sighed yet again. "I already gave her my word, so it can't be helped."
"Heh! I'll give you a month before you murder the first enemy that you see." the sentient blade dismissively tells me, clearly selling my strength of will very short.
"Is that a bet, Uncle?" I ask in a challenging tone.
"That depends on what's at stake here."
I smile. "Tell you what, Uncle. If I don't kill anyone for at least two months, you'll start referring to me as 'partner' from now on." I wagered at him.
My Uncle from the time that I first met him up to now had always referred to me as 'Kid'. Though I didn't mind it that much back when I was a still a child, as I grew older I found myself somewhat irked by this because of two main reasons. One, I technically wasn't a 'kid' anymore. By the standards of society, I was already an adult. Not to mention that most of the people that belonged to my age group probably never had to go through half of the stuff that I have. The other was that, from what I know, my Uncle had always addressed the people who had wielded him as 'partner'. He had called my father 'partner' when he was the one wielding him and for the time that he was with the Duchess he too also called her 'partner'. I've even asked him why he doesn't call me that despite the fact that I've been his official owner for nearly two years now to which he smugly replied with:
'You've still got a long way to go before I call you that, Kiddo!'
After hearing that, I've always dreamt of making him eat those words of his.
"And what do I get if I win..?" my Uncle queries further, his interest definitely being peaked by this.
"Hmmm… How about if I polish your blade every day for an entire year? Or-!"
"SOLD!" my Uncle shouts in delight before I could give out any other suggestion. "And you better make sure that you use that special oil that they sell in Germania. I don't want none of that crap that they sell back in Rosais to touch me!"
My eyes flinch after hearing this. "But isn't that oil really expensive?".
"So? It's not my problem." my Uncle heartlessly answers.
By the root, what kind of mess have I gotten myself into now?
"Kiritsugu?" I hear a familiar voice from the entrance of the balcony.
I look back to see who it was that had called out to me though I already had a good idea of who it was.
"Master." I smiled as I greeted the newly arrived half-elf.
"I was looking everywhere for you." she says as she approaches me slowly, her blonde hair that had been tied back into a ponytail and the green dress that she wore swaying with her movements. "I didn't see you inside the dance hall so I started to worry."
"I'm sorry, Master. But after what happened earlier, I think that it's better for me to stay out of sight so that I don't cause any more trouble for you." I tell her, pertaining to the incident regarding the nobleman that I had embarrassed.
"It's okay, Kiritsugu." she assures me. "I know it wasn't your fault." She stands beside me as she looks at the empty courtyard that I had previously been staring at. "What are you looking at anyway?"
"Nothing really," I lied. "I just felt bored so I decided to waste a bit of time here."
"Then… is it okay if I stay here with you for a while?" she asks me much to my surprise.
As I stared at her, I notice the troubled expression on her face. Did something happen back in the dance hall that had made her want to hide here for the meantime. I spare a brief glance at the inside of the still bustling hall and after a few seconds of observing I immediately take note of a number of male students who seemed to be searching for someone in particular. I return my gaze to my master… and then to the dance hall… and then back to my master again. After a few seconds I started to smirk as I began to understand what exactly was going on.
There was another incident that had happened earlier. Immediately after a bit of music had started playing, a horde of male students had come rushing over to where my master was as each one tried to convince her to dance with them. As I had expected, she really was quite popular among the male populace of the school and I could perfectly understand why.
Objectively speaking, if i were to rate my master's looks from a scale of one-to-ten; she'd probably be an eleven.
Her kindness and gentle nature easily notches her score up to twelve.
And having the biggest (and softest) rack that I've ever seen (and felt) puts her final score up to around... probably twenty.
Her green dress that sported a very low-cut neckline only served to accentuate her most noticeable feature. In fact, even the slightest amount of movement from her was enough to cause the entire male population to act like a pack of wolves staring at a piece of meat. The ruckus by that time had gotten so bad that I had even decided to step-in. But before I could do so, a twin-tailed blonde had pushed through the front and together with three other female students had shooed away the overzealous men. It was only later that I found out that the blonde female who had come to my master's aid was in fact Beatrice Yvonne von Guldenhorf, a child of the Guldenhorf clan. Miss Beatrice's assistance had somewhat surprised me since I vaguely remember the Duchess describing the Guldenhorf's as a bunch of Germanian-born, money grabbing bullies. And as my teacher always said, nothing good ever comes out of Germania. The only exception to this was my Auntie Kirche and even then that was already pushing it. So for a member of that family to act in such good faith was quite the shock to me.
But more than that, the thing that perplexed me the most was the amount of acquaintances and friends that my master had. Being that she was a half-elf, I would've thought that she would either be shunned by most of her classmates or that she would hide her elven heritage to avoid such a thing from happening. But it seems that despite her being a half-elf, the other students in the school had no qualms about this. She had been welcomed with open arm (long ears and all) and was treated and even admired by many of her peers. This knowledge had definitely relieved me of some of my worries.
"I see." Folding my arms together, I turn to face the troubled girl as I started to nod my head in an exaggerated manner. "It seems that Master's popularity with men is causing her quite a bit of distress, am I right?"
She looks down, my query leaving her slightly abashed though she did nod in reply to my question.
"Hmm… in that case," I place my hand on my Uncle Derf's hilt. "As your Servant, it is my duty to eliminate anyone who causes you any sort of distress." I declare with a bright smile on my face.
"Ehhh!?" she shrieks, her ears twitching after hearing how I would resolve her problem.
"Don't worry, Master. I'm not really going to kill them" I tell her which prompts the half-elf to sigh in relief though there was still hints of worry on her face. "…I'm just going to cut off their legs so that they never even think of dancing with you ever again." I casually tell her of my plan which causes her entire face to go pale.
"K-K-Ki-Kiri-Kiritsugu!" she indignantly shouts at me.
Her loud voice instantly draws the attention of her male predators. But before they could look towards our general direction, I had already pulled my master to the side of the balcony's entrance and away from their prying eyes. I slightly peek out from where I and my master were hiding. All of them had focused their attention towards our balcony but after seeing that no one was there, they started to turn their sights to other places.
After making sure that we were indeed safe again, I started to chuckle a bit.
"Kiritsugu? Why are you laughing?" she questions me. I on the other-hand could only reply with even more laughter. It takes my master a bit of time before she could deduce what and who exactly I was laughing at. With her cheeks puffed like a pair little balloons she turns her head away from me. "I can't believe that you were teasing me again..!"
"Sorry, Master. It's just so easy to tease you that I can't help it." I apologized to her. "Anyway, I guess having dozens of people asking you to dance is really quite troublesome."
"…It's not just that though," her face starts to turn a faint red. "I… I don't know how to dance." she whispers so softly that I was only able to barely hear it.
I look at my Master for a good few seconds after hearing her declaration.
"I-It's really embarrassing." she says while her body begins fidgeting in place. "I-I mean, what if I trip o-or I step on someone's foot."
I look at her for a couple more seconds before sighing one more time.
"Would you like me to teach you then?" I ask her.
"You know how to dance, Kiritsugu?" she replies with a question of her own.
"A little." I answer. Miss Eleonore who was also my teacher in etiquette had made sure to teach me back in my childhood days. Of course, the whole experience felt both awkward and painful in the beginning. Awkward because having someone who was way taller than you as your partner was just so uncomfortable, and painful since if I was slow on my feet then I would get stepped on by her very large boot that had very sharp ridges on its sole. To this day, I swear that she wore those on purpose just so that she could do that to me. "I'm not saying that I'm an expert but I'm passable at least."
She looks at me, somewhat taken aback by my offer, but soon her lips start to curve into a smile as she nods enthusiastically
Grabbing her hand with my right, I take her to the spot that we had retreated from as my left spreads the curtain that lay on the side of the doorway so as to hide us from her persistent suitors. I remove the sword and sheath that I carried on my back as I prop the quiet blade against the stone railing of the balcony.
I turn to face my master so as to start this impromptu lesson in dancing that I was about to give her. From the expression that she had right now, I could tell that she was still a bit tense. I found this to be quite amusing considering that just a few days ago she courageously stared at a massive airship falling straight at her with not a hint of fear in her eyes, and yet now she was practically shaking in the midst of her first dance lesson.
I give her a slight bow, keeping my eyes in contact with hers as I made sure to smile in hopes that this would alleviate some of the tension that she was feeling. My master's reaction was a tad delayed though as she blankly stares at me before noticing her own absentmindedness and hurriedly doing a rushed curtsey. I then offer her my left hand as I prompt her to give me her right. She cautiously lays her hand on my palm, her fingers trembling ever so slightly, displaying her hesitation about this whole thing. I gently clasp her hand in mine, making sure to take the utmost care so as to not cause her any discomfort. I lift our joined hands together just right below the level of my shoulder as we both draw closer together, my right hand resting on her left hip while she placed her free left hand on my shoulder. I made sure that there was sufficient distance between the two of us so as to not cause any unnecessary awkwardness for me in the form of having her ample breast pressing hard against my chest. If that were to happen then I might end up having to conclude our lesson early.
Even at this point I could still feel how very tense her whole body was.
"Just take a deep breath, master." I advise her to which she hesitantly nods.
We both take in a very deep breath and exhale at the same time. As she did, I could feel her body starting to relax.
"I think that helped." she quickly mentions the result to me.
"Of course it did." I confidently tell her. "Okay then. Shall we start now?"
My master gives me a more enthused nod as a reply.
Positioning ourselves, I begin the lesson.
Placing my weight on my right foot, I step forward with my left as I instruct her to move her right foot back. I step to the side with my right foot as I urge her to do the same with her left. With both feet on the same line, I tell her to bring the two together again. With both of us returning to our starting position, I instruct her to do the first three steps that she did but this time taking the lead and doing everything with the opposite foot.
Back/Forward - Side - Together.
Forward/Back - Side - Together.
What I was teaching her was really just your typical box-step which was probably the easiest dance to learn. You literally had to have four left feet to not learn it in five minutes.
Back/Forward - Side - Together.
Forward/Back - Side - Together.
"I think I'm starting to get it now." she comments as her movements started to become a bit more confident.
"That's good to hear, Master." I reply. "Well then, let's start timing our movements with the music, shall we?"
But before she could mount any sort of protest, I was already setting the pace. Fortunately, the music playing in the dance hall was fairly easy to dance to so I was confident that she would be able to keep up with no problem at all.
Slow – quick, quick.
Slow – quick, quick.
"See, it's not that hard to learn how to dance. Am I right, master?"
Slow – quick, quick.
Slow – quick, quick.
She nods. The half-elf looks up at me with such joy, as if she was like a child that had just learned how read and write. "This is kind of fun." She says as she urges the both of us to dance more.
We continue dancing until the sun itself had completely set and had now been replaced by the figure of the twin moons. Taking a brief glance inside the hall from where we were, I could see that the party had somewhat calmed down now. Most of the people were no longer dancing and instead were simply drinking and eating while bathing themselves in the ambience that the music was creating. Sir Guiche, who had been awarded with the title of Chevalier in the beginning of the party, was now surrounded by dozens of girls as he regaled and reenacted to them what looked to be the same story that I had told him in regards to how his otherworld-self had subdued a flock of fire dragons using his steel Valkyries. Technically, he had yet to actually accomplish such a feat. But I guess he thinks that since it was his alternate-self who did it anyway, then he could justifiably claim it as his own. Miss Montmorency was looking livid in the background, her arms folded across her chest as she continuously tapped the floor with her foot. I briefly wondered why she had yet to storm in and rain on her promiscuous lover's parade. But to me it looked as if she was actually restraining herself for some reason. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I told her that the Auntie Monmon and the Captain Guiche of my world ended up getting married.
On the other side of the hall, I could also see the young Duchess engaged in a discussion with Miss Kirche. There was a smug look on her face that bordered on arrogance as she puffs out her flat chest. Honestly, she's been like that ever since I revealed everything to her. She's definitely getting way ahead of herself.
"Kiritsugu, I'm really sorry." my master apologizes to me from out of the blue.
I glance back at her, confused as to why she was apologizing to me. "What for, Master?"
"I've given you such a big burden." she vaguely answers though I did know exactly what she was talking about. "But despite that, even though you've voiced out how much you dislike it, you still promised to follow it as much as you can… And I'm really grateful for that."
I could feel her hand that I was holding starting to tremble, the tone of guilt that was seeded in her voice apparent.
"There is nothing that you need to apologize for, Master." I tell her. "I am your Servant and you are my Master. My job is to follow your orders. Besides, apologizing for an order that you're never going to take back anyway is meaningless." This statement causes her to look down at the floor as her hand twitches after hearing what I had said. "You may not look like it, but you're a pretty stubborn person as well. You're too much of an optimist and your dream of satisfying everyone is really unrealistic. Seriously Master, I wouldn't be surprised if we both find ourselves in a bad pinch one day because of that outlook of yours."
She lowers her head even more as if shrinking with every sentence that I threw at her.
"What an unlucky Servant I am, being paired with such a soft-hearted master." I shake my head in an exaggerated manner, though there was a playful grin that was starting to crawl up my lips. "But then again, your kindness… it's not actually something that I dislike though."
Though there were many things about my master's personality that I thought was not only troublesome but also detrimental to our cause, that didn't change the fact that she still possessed the two things in this world that I valued above all else.
Courage and Kindness.
If for nothing else, I would still consider following her because of this two traits that she had in spades.
She suddenly looks at me in surprise as I meet her gaze with a smile. Before long, a soft laughter echoes from my lips which causes her to blush.
"You're teasing me again, aren't you?"
"Indeed." I answer while trying to contain my mirth.
Puffing her cheeks again, she turns her head to the side as she looks away from me. "…Meanie." she whispers to herself.
I playfully stick out my tongue at her. "I call it 'payback'."
We stayed like that for a little while longer, the twin moons sailing above our heads. And although there were still many things that I had to worry about like the Pope, Romalia, my Master's orders, and how to get back home. For tonight at least, I decided to let them fade into the soft music that played inside the dance hall. There would be many days for me to spend worrying about such problems. But, like my master with me, I simply wished to rest for now.
'You should really try to relax a bit, kiddo. It's not a good habit to always over think stuff.'
I remember my Uncle telling me that back in the Ostland.
Heh! I guess I'll be taking his advice for tonight at least.
"You're pretty stubborn too. You know that, right?" she whispers to herself, playfully sticking out her tongue at the figure of her sleeping Servant. Ever since that night when she had first seen his sleeping figure, she had for some reason developed an inane habit of wanting to watch over him while he slept. She had even turned it into a game between the two of them that only she knew about. A test to see which one of them would fall asleep first. She would pretend to sleep while he watched over her, and once she was sure that he himself had entered the world of dreams, she would turn to her side so that she would be facing him, watching over him until she too would fall into dreams.
And just like the other days, she had won out against him yet again as she now enjoyed the spoils of her victory.
As she continued to lay there on her bed, her eyes curiously watching over his sleeping form, she finds herself starting to reminisce about what had happened to them today.
On this day, she had seen the two differing sides of her Servant in full display.
Back in the Ostland he had talked a bit more about his views of the world. And honestly, it saddened her to hear him say what he had said. The negativity and bleak outlook that seemed to be the main factor that dictated his decisions was something that she just couldn't agree with. As much as he had accused her of being an eternal optimist, it somewhat annoyed her that he seemingly couldn't see that he himself was just as bad, an eternal pessimist that always anticipated the worst possible thing to happen.
But as callous and cold as he was, he could just as easily become the complete opposite as well.
She remembers the dance that they shared in the balcony and how he had acted at that time. Although she didn't appreciate how her Servant liked to tease her for his own amusement, she did secretly cherish those moments since it was one of the few times when she could see his playful side.
She lifts up her right hand - the same hand that he had held firmly in his grasp, to the level of her eyes.
Her Servant's hand felt so soft, and yet at the same time they possessed such strength that could both save and take the life of others.
…And it was warm. Holding his hand had given her the same feeling of grasping a cup of hot chocolate during the cold winter nights in Westwood… warmth that chases away the cold darkness.
Her gaze wanders down to the same hand that had held her own not so long ago. For a brief second, she was tempted to grab hold of it and feel that same warmth that he had given her again.
But she fought down that urge.
It was such a nonsensical desire, not to mention it would embarrass her to no end if her Servant was to ever catch her attempting it that she would simply die on the spot.
Calming herself down, she decides to content herself with just watching him just like she always did until she too fell into dreams.
And fall she did…
Unfortunately, on that particular night, it was not a dream but a nightmare that she would fall into.
It was hot...
Painfully… Excruciatingly hot.
Her sight had been met by the image of burning houses that lit up the night sky. There was fire everywhere. The smell of burning wood and cinder was so overpowering that it was suffocating her, making every breath that she took a labored one... a painful one to take. Dead bodies of both the young and old littered the ground, their blood painting the dry soil crimson.
Seeing such a nightmarish scene made her want to vomit. The mere sight of it all was making her sick to her stomach.
She looks ahead and there she sees the boy from before, standing between an armor-clad man wielding a large sword in his hand and an aged woman who was shielding a bleeding child who looked to be only five years of age with her body.
"You have to work!" the boy shouts as he holds his quivering hands in front of him. "Please, I'm begging you! I need you to work!" he continues to plead to an invisible god that only he could see. Tears were running down across his cheeks, his arms trembling uncontrollably as if trying to force a miracle to happen.
And amazingly, a miracle did happen.
From out of thin air, a sword that was eerily similar to the one that the iron-clad man was holding appears in the boy's grasp.
This sudden event takes the man aback. Not knowing what magic the boy had used to perform such a feat he instinctively retreats a bit. The boy, however, looks at the weapon in his grasp as if it were the most beautiful thing that he had ever laid his eyes on.
In her previous dreams she had watched as the boy was trained extensively by the strawberry blonde woman. His teacher had been strict with him. The woman had given him insanely difficult task and, more times than not, had bestowed punishments on him that she thought bordered on the sadistic.
But despite all of this, the boy persevered.
He had made a promise to be strong and if that was what it took to keep that promise then he would not run from the trials that awaited him.
And this was the fruit of his labors.
The power to create weapons… to create swords…
She knew who this boy was.
The similarities between the two and the clues that seemed to confirm her hunch was just too telling to ignore.
But there was a part of her that still did not want to believe it. Not only because dreaming of someone else's past was unheard of, but also because she did not want to believe that her Servant had experienced such things at an incredibly young age.
Children… for as long as they are children… should only know of laughter and joy. That's what her mother had always told her.
And yet, her Servant seems to have lost that privilege at such an early age.
The boy tries to lift the sword up, mustering all the strength that he could gather from his small frame. But even then he could not even lift the heavy blade above his shoulder. After all, he was still a boy so he still had to deal with his own limitations. The iron-clad man smirks at this pitiful sight. Lifting his sword up as he aims to behead the still struggling boy and put an end to his misery. But just as he did, a bullet of light appears from behind the man as it streaks through the fiery scenery everywhere and shatters the large blade that had been lifted to the air. At the same time, the boy's sword shatters as well, its fate mirroring its twin that had threatened its wielder's neck.
The man tries to turn around in an attempt to see who had fired that mysterious bullet of light that had broken his sword. But before he could discover that person's identity, another bullet is fired as it streaks through its burning surroundings. In an instant, it punches a hole straight through the skull of the man as bloody chunks of meat start flying out of his head.
As the armor-clad man's body falls to the ground, a hooded-figure appears from beyond the smoke and ash that covered the air.
"Teacher!" she hears the boy call out and in turn the person who had just arrived takes off the hood obscuring her face as she reveals who she is. It was the woman whose hair had the unique shade of strawberry blonde. And just as she now knew who the boy was, she too was now aware of who this person is.
The old woman's eyes widen. "Y-You're… the Duchess of Emptines." she stutters in fear.
The Duchess approaches the place where the older female and her student were. She turns to the aged woman and asks her to detail what had happened here.
With tears running down her cheeks, the old woman begins to narrate the events that had transpired to cause such a disaster to happen.
She tells them of when one of the landlord's mistresses had foolishly wandered into the slums. The local drunks had immediately taken an interest in the fine jewelry that she wore. Being fairly intoxicated by their drink, they had stupidly robbed the said mistress, uncaring of the consequences that they might bring not only to themselves but to others as well.
The lord of the land, after finding out about this, had gone mad with rage and had immediately ordered his personal army to burn the village where his mistress had been robbed to the ground. He had also ordered that none of the villagers were to be left alive, an order that his private knights had followed without fail.
The boy was clearly shocked upon hearing such a horrible tale, dread and disbelief swirling in his blue eyes as he looks at the chaos that surrounded them.
The old woman presents the body that she was holding before the Duchess.
"Please, save this child..!" she begs the Duchess before her who in turn kneels on the ground and takes hold of the child's wrist as if trying to feel for a pulse. Soon, however, the Duchess puts down the limp wrist that she had been holding as her hands close the child's still open eyes. With a look of deep regret, she looks at the older woman and shakes her head.
It was already too late.
As the Duchess stands again and starts to walk away, leaving the aged woman to weep on her own, the boy suddenly calls out to her in anger as if he had been betrayed.
"Teacher!" the boy shouts. "Why won't you save this child?! Why are you running away?!"
"I'm not a god." his teacher states though she refused to even glance back at the boy. "I can't possibly resurrect the dead." The boy grits his teeth as his teacher continues. "I've told you many times before, you can't save everyone. The only thing that you can do is to try and reduce the chance of things like this from happening again."
The boy starts to cry as he feels the reality of the world pushing him down once more. His teacher calls to him to come with her so that they could pay the landlord of this village a visit, but his feet felt numb. He couldn't move at all. He glances back at the older woman who had now begun to embrace the dead child's corpse.
The boy clenches his fist until his very nails start to dig deep into the flesh of his palms. Seeing such a sight must've been very disheartening.
For someone like him who had vowed to save everyone, leaving this two behind must feel like a betrayal of those same ideals.
But nonetheless, he had no choice.
His teacher was right.
There was no point in staying in that place of fire and death.
And so, on their first night back in Tristain, she dreamt of a boy who had forcefully swallowed his pride while forcing himself to walk away, not even daring to look back at the older woman who was pleading for someone to save her child as he betrays his ideals for the first time.
Yoooo! It's been a while boys and gals. I'd like to apologize for the super long update. A lot of messed up shit just happened at the same time. Our house got flooded early last month which pretty much fu(ked up my PC. There were some other stuff that I had to attend to. Plus, I was pretty psyched after finding out that LA got DWIGHT FRICKIN HOWARD IN THEIR STARTING LINEUP! SERIOUSLY! I'M STILL OVERJOYED AS FU(K CAUSE WE GOT DWIGHT, PAU, KOBE AND NASH NOW! THANK YOU BASED MITCH!
But putting that aside, there's a couple of things that I want to address.
(1) There were a lot of you who voiced their displeasure with whole no killing rule and the fact that Kiri actually followed it. I was actually expecting some of you to have that kind of reaction. The criticisms that I've received are very understandable. In fact, when I decided to make this fic into a multi-chapter one, that was one of the main points that I was really thinking over and over again. But in the end, I decided to go with it nonetheless. Truthfully, the no killing rule is stupid and absolutely unrealistic, especially in the environment that Kiri is going to be operating at. But it does serve a purpose. Both Kiri and Tiffa's way of thinking as you may have already noticed are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. I want them to realize that neither of their thinking is completely right. Oh, and speaking of Kiri and Tiffa -
(2) One of the reviews mentioned how their interactions feel a bit forced. After rereading some of the chapters, I do somewhat agree. As you can see from my previous works, I have a very bad habit of creating awkwardly forced romantic situations even though I'm not good at doing them to start with. I'm honestly a very limited author so there's only so much that I can do here. I'll try to do better scenarios but I would appreciate some help on this.
(3) Some of you have also pointed out how Kiritsugu seems to lack any sort of nostalgia or homesickness. Although I've tried to explain why that is in this chapter, I do feel that too little of it is too unnatural.
(4) I've decided to include the windstone incident mentioned in the LN. Since the LN's aren't finished yet, I don't know how exactly they resolved the issue with the windstone so I left the answer vague for the meantime. You can give out your own suggestions on this one too.
(5) I've left another clue about Kiri's tracing(?) in the dream sequence. I'll be giving out some specific details on the next chapter.
Anyway, that's it for now. RnR. I can't wait for the NBA season to start!
DAT NASH TO DWIGHT ALLEY-OOP! DEM WIDE OPEN METTA CORNER 3'S! DAT FRESH BLACK MAMBA IN THE 4TH! -IMPLYING THAT THIS LAKER RAPE TRAIN HAS ANY BREAKS! WE 73-9 NOW BITCHES!