CHAPTER 23: FIRST STEP
"THAT WENCH! I CAN'T BELIEVE SHE DITCHED US!"
Riding together with her best friend on her dragon familiar, a certain Germanian redhead was fuming, annoyed at the fact that of their companions had ditched them the night before.
Still, already used to her theatrics, the redhead's best friend, Tabitha, paid her no heed, and instead focused her attention on the book she was reading... or at least, pretended to focus. For in truth, her attention was not on the story, but rather, the particular pink-haired mage who left without even telling them.
Observation and reconnaissance, that is the task that had been assigned to Tabitha, whose real name is actually Charlotte de Orleans, a knight of Gallia and, by right, a princess of the same country. Sadly, a power struggle is normal among the Royalty which led to the tragedies in her life. Her father was murdered by her uncle. Her mother drank a potion which drove her to insanity, and while her action spared Charlotte from suffering that fate, it only, unknown to her, hurt her daughter more, as in her insanity, she began to treat Charlotte like trash, while treating the doll she owned like her daughter.
And now, with that very Uncle who murdered her father on the throne, Tabitha was constantly sent to dangerous and perilous missions, in the hopes that she would get killed, as Joseph, for some reason, did not want to have a direct hand in the death of his niece.
The present mission Tabitha had been given may not seem to be as bad her usual ones, as it was only observe and gather information, yet to do so in a country that was at war made it just as perilous as her other missions. So far they have been lucky, but there was always a chance for things to go wrong. Tabitha was from Gallia after all, which was on friendly terms with the Albion Royalists yet secretly supported the Reconquista forces, but despite the mission given to her, Tabitha was not given the proper papers and documents that would ensure that she would be able to perform her mission fully, that would ensure her safety in case she was suspected of being an enemy by either side of the war.
In fact, had it not been for the fact that Louise Valliere was with them, Tabitha doubted that they would have been managed to move about as freely as they have been able to.
And speaking of Louise Valliere... the blue-haired female had to admit that many things about her was certainly suspicious. The fact alone that some of the soldiers of Reconquista would treat her with respect was enough to raise alarms.
Tabitha, while not aware of all the details, knew that Louise and her sisters were at Albion doing an important mission for Tristain. Having seen them leave together with her own two eyes, she was actually surprised to see that Louise was alone, and thus she could not help but suspect that the pinkette had an agenda of her own. She could be mistaken, of course, but that was what Tabitha's instinct was telling her.
But no, that part was not really what bothered her.
"Her eyes. When I saw her yesterday, she had the same look in her eyes that you had when we first met."
Kirche's observation of the pinkette does indeed hold some merit. However...
Tabitha knew it was not the case.
"Different? What do you mean, different?" The Germanian fire mage inquired of her friend.
"..." Tabitha, however, did not respond, said nothing, pretended to turn her attention back to what she was reading.
"Fine, be that way," the Zerbst huffed, yet the look on her face was one of understanding. While Tabitha had told Kirche more or less her background, she knew that anything related to it were not issues her ice mage friend liked to talk about.
Due to her traumatic experiences in life, Tabitha lost the ability to express her emotions the normal way. She had become cold, quiet and distant, preferring to be alone most of the time. Having someone like Kirche as a friend had truly been a great help to her, but while she had not lost the ability to feel, as well as slowly recovering from her trauma, she was still just like before, just like a living doll.
But then, while Tabitha had become similar to a living doll...
Louise had become a living a doll.
In order to deal with the emotional stress brought about by her mother, as well as the missions she was given that involved killing fellow human beings, Tabitha, just like her magic, had learned of a way to minimize the pain, by freezing her own heart.
However, when she stared Louise straight in the eyes the night before, it was not the look of someone who had frozen her heart.
It was the look of someone who had removed her heart.
"So, where are we going now?" Her Germanian friend asked Tabitha after a while.
"Back to school."
"What?!" The redhead exclaimed in complaint.
Once again, the blue-haired female decided to ignore her.
In truth, Tabitha was a person who did not like having debts. Even up to now, she knew that what she had done was not enough to pay Louise back for everything she had done for her and Sylphid. Much as she did not want to admit it to herself, the Gallian knight had actually started developing feelings for the girl which would make her even more depraved than her best friend, who was, no offence, on the opposite side of virtue.
However, she decided that leaving was the best decision. After all, it was Louise who decided to separate from them, and much as Tabitha wanted follow her, with everything that happened so far, she knew that it would be too risky.
Besides, with regards to her mission, Tabitha had already gathered enough information to make a satisfactory report.
Not to mention the fact, that the Louise she saw...
Was not the Louise she knew.
Getting into New Castle had not been too difficult. The guards at the gatehouse, naturally, had been suspicious and refused to let me enter, but when their captain noticed the commotion, after a little bit of convincing, I was quickly granted entry.
The man, apparently, knew about the Valliere family, and having recognized the seal on the letter I was carrying and the Ruby of Wind which I was wearing on my finger, he immediately believed my story. That I am Cattleya de la Fontaine, an ambassador who was sent by the Crown of Tristain to deliver an important letter to the Crown Prince of Albion.
Foolish. It was a time of war yet the captain just allowed a complete stranger to waltz into their fortress just because of a few trinkets.
The guards had more sense than their captain.
Considering how nobility acted, it was not that surprising.
The result was to be expected.
But it is certainly convenient.
A party was being held at the castle halls, and I had been invited to attend. Apparently merry-making was a norm for royalty.
"Ms. Fontaine! Try this wine! Tell us which country's wine is better!"
"No thank you. You see, I made a vow to the Water Spirits never to touch any form of liquor as long as I live." I refused as politely as I could.
"Ah, well, too bad for you!" The man who offered me a glass then drank that very same wine, before heading back to the hall, where he asked a lady to be his dance partner, who happily accepted.
Since further interactions would be inconvenient, I decided to stay near the shadows of a pillar, not with the look of someone suspicious, but with the expression of someone who did not want to be bothered.
It seems that people got the message.
While most continued enjoying the feast, I was thinking about the next course of action which I should take.
The destruction of the Albion Royalists, it was all but inevitable.
It was the end for them, no matter what angle you look at it. With most of Albion supporting Reconquista, they were bound to eventually fall.
But the question is, how would they fall?
From the way things were, it seems that the Royalists were brave. None of them looked like they were willing to bow down, and were definitely going to fight to their last breath, taking as many rebels to the grave as they can with them.
That is unacceptable.
The Royalists believe that what they are fighting for is right.
Reconquista believes that their cause is for the greater good.
But to me, in this case, their ideals, their philosophies, have no significance whatsoever.
The problem does not go anywhere along those lines.
The problem is how to minimize the number of casualties.
Eventually, the party ended. Everyone retired, exhausted from the festivities. Some headed back for their quarters. Others simply fell asleep where they lay on a drunken stupor.
As for me, I pretended to be asleep as well, making myself look as if I was comfortable to decrease the chance of someone approaching me.
Only a few remained awake, undoubtedly including those who had been ordered not to get drunk, tasked to take care of the mess once it was all over. Two of them, strong and muscular, lifted the King's chair, on which the King himself was still seated and snoring loudly, likely headed for his bedchambers, before another one lifted his wand and levitated the chair, removing the burden from the two weight lifters.
With all this one thing was for certain.
An opportunity has presented itself.
It would be a waste for me not to utilize it
Bloodshed should be avoided if it can be avoided.
But if that was not possible, then it would be better to reduce the amount of blood that is spilt.
After fumbling in my pockets for a while I finally found what I was looking for.
A bottle, containing a clear, tasteless liquid that could be mistaken for water.
It was time to make my move.
It is normal for old people to suffer from lack of sleep. This is because no matter how they try, even if they go to bed early, they would fall asleep at a much later time. That, and the fact that old people tend to wake up really early.
James I, the King of Albion was no exception to this rule. No matter how high or low a person is in society, whether he be a commoner or a monarch, the effect of old age is not prejudice. Selective, perhaps, since there are old people who do not suffer from it, but the condition certainly does not differentiate between plebeian or noble.
The old man was currently standing on the balcony of his room, looking up at the early morning sky, one which was still dark and dotted by stars, thinking about what was to come in the days that lay ahead.
He knew that it was almost over them. He knew that his time was nearly up, yet to the King of Albion, it did not matter that much. He was cripple, that much was true, and he had enormous difficulty just trying to keep standing by leaning on his sceptre, without anyone's help.
But he was still a square class mage, and had years of experience that would ensure that he would not be taken down easily.
He was already prepared for his own death, yet if there was one thing he regret, it was the fact that he could convince his last remaining son to flee.
James I had not been a good king to the people of his country. Despite being protestant, he was faithful to the teachings of the Founder, at least, the parts of the teachings that was beneficial to him
When there is something that James wants, he would use any means he could to get whatever it was, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.
He wanted the throne, and thus he arrange the death of those who would get in his way, including his older brothers and sisters. Soon, when their father died, he became king, yet he was still not content.
Lands, precious artefacts, women. Everything that he wanted he was able to acquire. He was the King after all, and there were very few who would dare to cross him, those few not being able to stay in the world of the living for long. James was so different from his father, the deceased and benevolent King Richard, that many wondered, despite the resemblance, if he truly was the man's son.
King Richard was loved by the masses.
King James was loathed by many, noble and commoner alike. Especially the ones who sided with the common folk.
Had James followed in his father's footsteps, Reconquista would probably have not formed. Even if it did, things would probably not have become as bad as it had.
One by one, all of James' sons and daughters from his wife, as well as the various women he had affairs with, all of whom had followed in their father's footsteps, were killed. Yet most of them died, not because they were killed by the Reconquista, but because of the power struggle that ensued between them.
Now he knew the grief which his own father felt.
In his later years, James realized his folly and tried to change his ways, but it was already too late. Way too late.
The monarchy grew weaker and weaker, and soon, the rebel forces scored a crucial victory, when five thousand Albion Royalists were killed in a skirmish against three thousand rebels, who successfully managed to take into their possession the largest battleship in their possession, one which was now named the Lexington.
However, James knew that even if the ship had not been stolen, with the support for them declining as it had, the rebels were still going to prevail. And even by some miracle, the Royalists turned the table on Reconquista, Albion was likely to be invaded by Gallia. Cripple though James was, ignorant he was not. He was fully aware of the shrewdness of Joseph of Gallia. Not once was he fooled by the image said king was trying to portray.
Now, out of all his sons, only Wales remained, the only son James had ever truly been proud of.
At the start, Wales was just like his brothers and sisters, people who only cared for themselves. But then something happened. Wales experienced something which even his own father had not.
Wales experienced true love.
Ever since meeting Henrietta, the young prince had become more accepting of the reforms James desperately tried to implement. Even if it was too late for the King to curb the tide of the revolution, he had at least managed to remove one of his sons from the path of destruction that he followed, into one which was better and brighter.
Yet no matter how he tried, James was unable to convince his son to abandon him and flee.
He wanted Wales to survive, with all his heart and soul, yet James did not want to step on his son's pride, and thus he relented. While he would recommend it, even if he is King, he would not give such a cowardly order.
"Stay safe my son."
Even if James accepted his son's decision, he was still Wale's father, and he wished that his son would live.
Yet there was nothing he could do, but pray and hope for a miracle, that somehow, his son would manage to make it through this...
James clasped his hands together and closed his eyes, and started praying to the Founder.
"Founder Brimir, I humbly ask thee..."
James, however, was unable to finish his prayer, as before he was able to, he felt something hit the back of his neck, before losing consciousness.
Too engrossed in his own thoughts, the King of Albion did not notice the shadow that approached and struck him from behind.
Inside of his cabin on the flying ship, the Eagle, Wales Tudor, the Crown Prince of Albion, was currently sitting on his desk, carefully plotting on a map, marking key areas as he thought up of possible method that could be used against their enemies.
As the commander of the Albion Royal Air Force and also the chief military officer of the entire Albion army, numerous responsibilities were upon his shoulders. In summary, it was his job to lead, to plan, to prepare and execute operations, which his loyal soldiers were bound to follow.
He was, without boasting, a truly talented and effective commander, able to turn disadvantageous situations to their advantage and turn the tide of battle. However, that was not the case. Due to a number of reasons, which include, but is not limited to, the abuses and corruption in the government, most of the people of the country had lost faith in the Tudor Royalty, and while more than half of the total population of Albion had opted to remain neutral, the remaining percentage still greatly outnumbers that of the Tudor's remaining followers.
According to reports, the Reconquista has at least fifty thousand soldiers under their command, at least five thousand of whom were probably mages.
Wale's army consists of only three hundred men.
No matter how good a commander he happens to be, no matter how skilled he was in battle or at formulating plans. He knew there was no hope of winning.
Being a wise tactician, Wales knew of several ways by which he and most of his, if not his entire group, would be able to survive and escape Albion.
But then, that would be a coward's way out. Thus, even though he knew there was no chance of winning, he decided, as the commander, to fight to the very end, to give their rebel enemies a difficult time. Even if they would go down, Wales would make sure that they would be taken dearly.
Despite the presence of the Lexington, a monstrous battleship that was the cause of devastation among the Albion Royalists, they were still able to fight back. The Castle after all, was a great fortress impervious to the cannon fire, due to the way it was constructed and the various enchantments shielding it from destruction. That aside, the Reconquista was unable to trap the Albion Royalists in the Castle and starve them out due to a secret passage unknown to the rebel forces.
With the use of secret sky ways unknown to their enemy, Wales, with his flying battleship, the Eagle, were able to gather supplies, and even managed to launch surprises attack on Cornwall, Riverdale and Viridian, key military points of the Reconquista, destroying and burning them to the ground.
According to the reports, Albion was amassing a huge army with which to attack New Castle, yet through his cunning methods, Wales and his men had successfully delayed their advance. With the damage they caused, even though the huge assault would be inevitable, it was probably delayed by a few days.
Wales had few regrets. True, he was afraid of death, but he was more afraid of being branded as a coward than he was of dying. He would rather die fighting for his cause, fighting for what he believed in.
And now, as he looked back, there were some precious things that he will miss in this life. The first of them, was his cousin, Henrietta, who also happened to be his lover. He knew that the two of them could never be together due to their respective position, but still, the love that sprouted between them was true and pure.
Something which could not be said about his affairs with other women.
Wales, in truth, had never been disloyal to Henrietta, yet before they met, before he had experience true love, Wales was a different person. In fact, one could say that what was happening to the Albion Royalty was a form of divine retribution.
Just like his father had been, Wales was a womanizer, and he took advantage of his wealth, his position of power, and his charming good looks to get what he wants. He was but twelve when he had first tasted the flesh of a woman, and when he was thirteen, he got one of his maids pregnant.
Back then, he was young, rash and headstrong, and was trying his best to follow in his father's footstep. Now, he was twenty-three, and thanks in part to meeting Henrietta, he had become wise, virtuous, chivalrous, an example of true nobility that could not be said about many.
Yet despite what he had become, that does not change the fact that once upon at time, he was a m...
An echoing voice from a pipe in his room interrupted the Crown Prince from his thoughts.
"We've spotted a merchant ship leaving Port La Rochelle. It belongs to the Porter group, so it is likely that its cargo include sulphur."
"Right. Follow the ship but keep some distance for now so they don't suspect anything. I'm going up to the deck." Wardes ordered, as he closed the pipe and started changing his attire, wearing a false beard and hair, placing a patch over one of his eyes, his look transforming from one who is of Royalty to that of a bandit, sky pirate.
Wales already knew that the war was at good as lost And yet, no matter what, he will not give up, and will continue fighting to the bitter end.
Little did the commander of the Albion Royal Air Force know what awaited him when he returned to New Castle.
The next day in the fortress of the Albion Royalists, New Castle was one that was spent in mourning.
King James the First of Albion had passed away, and the cause of his death: suicide.
At first, there had been an uproar. Very few people could have ever believed that their King who, despite being old crippled, was still alit with confidence, would suddenly decide to take his own life.
Many initially believed that it was foul play, that their King had somehow been murdered. However, after some investigation, they found that theory to be unlikely.
Hard though it was to accept, there was no doubt that King James I of Albion, did indeed die by his own hands. Or rather... quill. The man had died from blood loss, a self-inflicted injury on his wrist caused by his writing instrument, which did not stop flowing until it drained him of blood.
The same blood which he used to write his final message.
In the middle of the castle hall, where everyone was gathered, General Charles Roosevelt, the second-in-command of the Albion Royal Army, despite being an experienced soldier, was finding it hard to stop the tears from forming in his eyes, as addressed the populace regarding the Albion King's demise.
He was, after all, one of the King's closest friends, who had remained loyal to him through the toughest of times.
"Many of us here believe that it is cowardly to run away, that the only path left for us is to continue fighting to our last breath, to never give up, and die with honor" the began, taking a deep breathe, before he continued.
"Our King, however, thinks otherwise, and I agree with him."
"Some people are able to say that they are not afraid of death. That is not true. No one is afraid of death. They are simply more afraid of living. Die, and you will no longer be able to change anything. Live, and you can change things for the better."
"But why then? Why is his Majesty telling us this when..." one of the mages was muttering, but immediately stopped when his friend nudged him in the ribs, telling to shut up, which he thankfully did...
Otherwise, he would have missed the next words that the General read from the letter... and would not have gotten the answer to the question he and others were pondering about.
"I admit I am a coward. Leaving you like this by yourselves. I am old. I am tired. I am afraid. I have neither the strength nor the courage to continue moving forward."
"But you, my loyal subjects and vassals. You are still young. You still have a future waiting ahead of you. Do not let me keep you from it. Do not allow this war, do not allow your pride to get in the way. My son Wales, he is brave and reliable. Continue following him, and he will be the one to lead you to that better tomorrow."
"Remember. Choosing to die is the same as giving up. Choosing to lives means you have the courage to continue moving forward."
Everyone continued to remain silent as they internalized the words of their King.
"This is the final order that His Majesty has given us." General Roosevelt said after a while, as he held up another piece of parchment: a Royal Edict, one which had only one word written on it as the command: Live.
"I know many of you are still eager to do battle. I myself wish to continue fighting. But our King has spoken. Our King, His Majesty, believes that we should live, that giving our lives for this cause would be nothing but a waste. Live. This is our King's final order, my friend's final request. All he wants is for us to survive and start anew. Who am I to deny him such a simple wish?"
Despite his faults, the King of Albion truly cared for them. He did not want them to die for the crown. He did not want them to die for their country. He wanted them to live.
Touched by their King's words, the hearts of people in New Castle were united as one, each one of them set in following the path which their dearly departed King had set for them.
Except for one person who, while pretending to join in, was not touched one bit by the turn of events.
Everything was going according to plan.
In these desperate times where anyone could be an enemy, there was always a chance that they would seriously investigate.
There were a few who were very suspicious of the circumstances of their King's Death.
But my gamble paid off.
As I predicted, they let their emotions cloud their judgement.
The letter truly was written by the King James I of Albion.
The words, however, are not his.
They are mine.
Infiltrating the King's chambers was not easy, but not impossible. The door may be guarded, but the security outside was lax, and I was able to sneak in through an open window.
As it turned out, there were no guards inside the room, likely to respect their King's privacy.
More likely, there were also spells meant to detect the presence of intruders.
Fortunately, none of these were triggered. By suppressing my magic and my presence, none of the possible defence mechanisms were activated.
I could not use any magic due to the possibility of triggering an alarm, but it did not matter.
Staying hidden in the shadows, I waited for the perfect opportunity to strike, knocking the King unconscious, before forcing down his throat the liquid in the small flask I was carrying.
Even if I am quite adept at defending my mind from outside forces, the offensive form of mind control magic has never been specialty.
The Potion of Absolute Obedience changes that. It is a dangerous potion, one which I once purchased from a shady merchant in Fiore for a similar purpose before, yet never got to using it due to some interference.
But this time, there was no one to stop me.
By mixing my blood with this water-like liquid, it grants me the ability to fully control whoever drank it. The amount I bought would give me two hours' control over my victim.
Using that time, I asked the King of Albion a series of questions to gain information. And as expected, he did indeed know many things which will certainly be useful.
Once I was satisfied, I made the King write a suicide note, and watched him as he died from loss of blood, making sure he was dead before I left the room through the same way I came in.
The ruse was effective.
By making the King write down that last Royal decree before his 'suicide', the people of New Castle had been convinced that it was not worth it to throw away their lives.
It is only the first step.
The next one would begin once the Crown Prince of Albion returned from his mission.
No doubt some trouble will arise once he arrives.
But it does not matter.
I have already thought about many possible scenarios.
And my chance of succeeding with the second step...
Is eighty percent.
The chance of failure is slim.
Alright, another chapter out.
Now, I have been skimming through reviews, and I must say I agree. Many of the past chapters seem to have too many commas( sorry it's a habit of mine). I will try to fix that when I have time, or try and find someone who would fix the grammatical errors for me.
For now, I would focus with continuing with the chapters.
Now, about the complaint that Mott was shown in a better light. Well, sorry if it turned you off, but that's how I am going to go about with this.
Count Mott's background is not really explored in canon, except for the few hints by canon Louise. The man is a pervert, but contrary to what you might think, since he is not a fully rounded character, he could actually be developed in fanfic in a different way other than the 'he is evil' route. I think I have been faithful to his canon description, except that I added something different to the blanks.
Once again, I will warn those who do not like to read drama parts or see the main character doing things which are unacceptable, and would advice you to skip the next few chapters.
As for Louise's ability. Well Blank State is not magical. It is mental in nature, and does not in any way increase her magical power and physical prowess. It does, however, improve her reflexes, as well as her proficiency at using all that is at her disposal. In a way, you could say it is a bit similar to the Seed Mode in the Gundam Seed series.
And yes, someone guessed it. The Blank State of Louise is actually from an inspiration caused by reading Type-Moon novels, Fate Zero in particular.
However, while it may seem similar at a glance, Louise's mindset, as I'm sure you'll come to understand, is actually very different from that of the Magus Killer's (read Fate Zero or read the profile of Kiritsugu Emiya in the Type-Moon Wiki for more reference).
But enough about that for now, since I think I might end up giving out too many spoilers.
And like always, I hope you enjoy (?) reading this chapter...
Later then, people...