The cannons roared as the twelve-pound spheres of iron shattered against the walls reinforced by earth magic. "Fire!" a bearded man, of tanned skin and cold steel eyes, whipped out his wand as he and his wizards began to chant. Fireballs emerged from the tip of their wands, before flying through the air like comets and descending within the city.
Trebuchets flung rocks, crashing on buildings' rooftops.
"The walls of Vindobona," Albrecht clicked his tongue in distaste, "the last time I saw them I was but a child, carried out of the city by night. I never thought I'd see them again, laying siege to them," standing on his dragon, he eyed the capital of the Germanian empire once proud and tall and now turning slowly but surely into wreckage.
"Is this necessary?" Saito asked, gazing as the walls began to crack.
"Normally, no," Albrecht remarked. "Yet we are short on time, and I cannot risk the men in taking the breaches. We will tear the walls down one by one from afar," he gazed ahead with a spyglass, "There are three sets of walls circling around Vindobona. This one is the furthest and the easiest to cave in. The second one will be the most difficult —the Academy of Vindobona lies within the second and third circle. And then, finally, the third and final wall that separates us from the palace itself."
Ragnarok's wings flapped, his mouth emitting small bouts of flames. "Patience, my friend," Albrecht patted the sides of his dragon's neck. "The walls must fall first."
Another salvo of cannonballs soared in the air, crashing against the walls and splintering them further apart. Large chunks fell on the ground, as the wall's cracks began to widen.
Behind those walls, two armies of fifteen thousand waited.
"Do you know why I do not wait out a siege?" Albrecht muttered. "I could easily have them surrender for lack of food…thirty-thousand men kept within the city itself would cannibalize it within days."
"But the emperor would escape," Saito replied, "Is that right?"
"Exactly…and also," he gestured around, "Morale is at its peak right now. This battle will be bloody, but never must the army think it can be lost. We will lose many good men today, but we will prevail," he exhales, "Should I fall," he mutters, "Take the crown for yourself, Gandalfr."
"What? What nonsense are you spouting now?" Saito's eyes crossed.
"Nobody would challenge you, and as the Gandalfr your word would be law," Albrecht remarked, "Use Germania's might to find a way back home, and abdicate in favor of someone you trust afterwards. Even if I die, I want all my debts repaid —especially to the Holy Gandalfr. That ought to give me a place in heaven, I hope."
He chuckled then, a throaty hearty bout of laughter erupting from his lips. A fireball crashed against the summit of the walls, the cracks giving way as an entire section caved in. The passage was wide enough.
Pikes gleamed beneath the dust, the Imperial armies' pike-men holding their lines within the narrow streets.
"Streets are narrow to syphon soldiers into breaches, and grind the invading army to dust," Albrecht stated plainly. "Yet, as always…" he raised his right hand, "There is always a mean to an end, if one does not care for consequences."
The trebuchets opened fire again, throwing flasks of oil tied with burning straps of clothes.
"What are those?" Saito asked, as thick columns of black smoke began to rise.
"It's a mixture —the same I gave you a few weeks back— it emanates thick and black smoke, and water does not turn it off."
Ragnarok's body shuddered, the dragon began to flap its wing. "Feel it," Albrecht whispered, standing still as the army itself drew their blades. "Feel this moment," he choked on his own words, "For this, this instant, is where history itself is made." He thrust his wand upwards. "Today!" he roared, "Today we go down in history, men! Death to the king slayer! Death to Albrecht the Third! The Founder blesses us with the Gandalfr's strength! We cannot fail, my brothers! FORWARD, UNTO THE BREACH!"
Ragnarok roared, flapping its wings and lifting off.
Saito kicked the flanks of his horse, jumping over the dug trenches lance and Derflinger in hand. His heart drummed like crazy, sweat falling profusely down his brow. His hands clammed tightly his weapons, his eyes wide to take in every instant and second of the charge.
Thirteen thousand men charged as one against thirty thousands, as cannonballs flied and crashed all around them. Muskets opened fire, the thick smoke impeding visual.
The Imperial soldiers behind the pike-men, their weapons primed and ready, heard the clopping sounds of a horse charging through and then the ground trembled and cracked apart, as an Earth spell broke their ranks as many tumbled down.
Air blades sliced a bloody path, breaking through the armor.
"Fire! Fire! Open fire!" their sergeant bellowed, and the crackling sound of bullets erupting from the barrels came to their ears. They had pressed the finger on the trigger without thought. They drilled them to do it. "Reform the ranks! Quick! Second line, recharge! Pike-men, hold your—mother of god…"
A horse as black as night itself strode forward from the thick smoke, jumping over the pike-men in disarray as the lancer above struck through the chest a musketeer, while his sword bloodily cleaved the other side. The lance danced in the hands of the horseman, moving faster than it could be seen.
A lucky pike-man thrust his pike in the sides of the horse, making it neigh loudly as it fell on the ground, the rider jumping off it with an unnatural grace. In the middle of the smoke, something seemed to shine on the man's left hand.
Frederich charged through the breach second, his men following him with roars and cries. His axe swung down on the back of a pike-man's head, crushing it to paste as he pushed his body forward. Behind them, more and more men poured in through the breach.
The Gandalfr stood decked in full armor, his sword held in his left hand shone brightly in the smoke, as the horse he had charged upon lay on the ground. The animal's breaths came aloud as the creature clearly was in pain. Frederich stopped for a moment to gaze at the scene, before roaring. "Gandalfr, leave it! It's just a horse!"
Saito turned and swung down his sword, beheading a musketeer who had moved too close to him with the favor of the smoke. "Careful! Some of these like to play dead!" he exclaimed then, giving one last look at the horse's heavy breathing before returning into the thick of the fight.
A heavy gust of air pushed the smoke away from them and towards the depths of the first of the capital's blocks. Barricades of wood, overturned carriages, crackling bullets and screams and tears…Saito looked and memorized it all as he threw his body forward, into the mettle, into the battle, into the skirmishes.
He watched a young man covered in sooth recharge his musket and open fire, taking down a man holding on to an axe. He thrust his sword into the neck of an old man, before he could even beg for mercy as he held on to a flintlock pistol.
Saito opened fire with the gun of a dead man, killing a sergeant barking orders from the top of a barricade. He could hear the drums, the horns, the bellowing screams all across the capital as fire and columns of smoke rose in the air.
He saw the battle, he saw the war, he saw the fight so different from how history told it with its dry calls of numbers and deaths…but without the truth of the smoke, the acre smell of gunpowder burnt, the faces, the screams…
A cannon ball crashed down nearby, crushing through a building's wall and rolling forward, slamming into another. The building fell, its weight no longer held by the torn down walls. Powder and smoke flew forth like clouds of fog.
"Partner! To the left!" Saito rolled towards that side, avoiding the hasty thrust of a pike. He pushed his body forward, ignoring tiredness and pain in his lower limbs as he thrust his own lance against the man's chest, slamming it through as the enemy breathed his last.
An arrow shot from a roof, breaking upon impact with Derflinger's blade.
From a roof nearby, archers opened fire.
"Fighting house per house," Derflinger muttered, "I see now…"
Saito jumped, pushing his legs against the sides of the wall and reaching the summit, before slicing away at the enemies.
"What?" he replied.
"The smoke and the fire," Derflinger whispered, "Look, the capital is burning…"
Saito gazed from his spot on the roof, his feet standing atop the puddles of blood of the deceased, and he watched. The capital of Vindobona was burning, as fire claimed the houses and the men, as the smoke drifted forwards and the screams began to die out.
People ran away from their houses, cinders covering their hair and their bodies. The screams weren't only of the soldiers fighting and dying, but of the families hidden within the houses screeching for mercy.
Bile rose to Saito's throat. "We're…We've been fighting the people?"
"Militia is levied when there's a need for it. I reckon the strongest soldiers stand in the last ring of the city," Derflinger remarked. "Look, do you see how the second ring doesn't have cannons, but there are small slits in the walls?"
Saito turned, frowning. "Why would they do that?"
"Because they don't need cannons…when they have mages," Derflinger shone brighter. "It's coming partner! I can feel it!"
"What is!?" Saito howled.
"Go forward! Go forward! Straight into the heart of the burning inferno!" Derflinger howled, "Trust me partner! They want to see the Gandalfr! Let them see us! Let them feel our power!"
Saito obeyed, jumping to the next roof and from there running closer to the second ring of walls.
He saw flames erupt from the thin slits in the second ring of the walls, forming shields of fire that merged with one another to erupt into a titanic wave of scorching heat.
"Bring me forth! Quick partner!" Derflinger yelled, "And hold on tight!"
Saito dropped his lance, gripping tightly onto Derflinger with both of his hands. The heat singed his clothes and made his eyes water as he closed them, yet he thrust his sword forth as it shone and brilliantly began to suck in the heat, the fire, the magic itself. The handle began to scorch his hands, but he did not let go.
"My word," Roderigo whispered in awe from his spot on a nearby roof. "My…word…"
"God…" a man murmured on the road, as the giant flames disappeared, sucked into the sword of a single man.
The mages standing behind the second ring of the walls clenched their wands as their hearts drummed, blood rushing to their heads as many stuttered words of 'impossible' and 'unexplainable'.
With powerful flaps of Ragnarok's wings, Albrecht descended from the skies of Vindobona, landing just behind Saito. He held the reins of his dragon firmly, the teeth-filled maws covered in blood and scraps of flesh.
Saito screamed as the blade shone brighter than before, "Release it back," Albrecht remarked from behind him. "In a straight line, from here to the palace, release it back."
Saito swung down Derflinger, and the magic erupted out pure and undiluted, slashing its way past the buildings, vaporizing the stone and leaving nothing but ashes on its path. The hot air crumbled the houses, smashed away the walls and made the screams rise all the way to the center of the capital, straight at the very heart of the palace.
"Climb aboard," Albrecht roared, offering his hand to Saito, who gripped it tightly and hoisted himself on Ragnarok.
"Did you know about that?" Saito asked.
"Yep," Albrecht chuckled, "I wanted him to do it."
With powerful flaps, Albrecht took the skies and Saito held himself tightly to his sides. "HEAR MY WORDS!" he bellowed. "TURN YOUR WEAPONS TO MY CAUSE AND JOIN ME! YOUR EMPEROR ABANDONED YOU TO THE SCORCHING FIRE! WE HAVE THE GANDALFR! WE WILL WIN THE DAY!"
Roars from the mercenaries mixed with the cheers of the soldiers that already had joined his ranks. Many soldiers of the Imperial army were too busy running for their hides to care about the words, but the mages heard it all. The mages atop the walls, who had seen their spell fail, heard the words…and fell on their knees.
Albrecht the Third
"What do you mean, it failed!? I ordered you to char them all!" he screeched, his voice loud. "Where are they!? How could it fail!? Have the heads lopped off the mages then! Those traitors didn't go through with it, did they!? They stopped! They must have stopped!"
"The spell departed, the incantation was flawless," the head of the Academy whispered, his thin golden framed glasses covered in sweat, his appearance ragged. "It should have left nothing but cinders in its wake…but it didn't, your highness…it didn't."
"Nothing can defeat fire! Nothing!" Albrecht yelled, his face red with anger, "You're lying to me! You're all lying to me!"
"We have witnesses, your highness!" a noble yelled right back, "The Gandalfr is real! He's here riding a steed as dark as the night! He has come for us all, who followed you! He tore apart the walls with a swing of his sword! They're pouring in through the breaches, and the armies are in rout! We can't hold against the will of the Founder!"
"That is treason!" Albrecht shrieked, standing up from his golden throne and bringing his wand out. "I will not stand treason in my palace! Guards! Arrest them!"
The guards looked at one another, and then knelt.
"Guards?" the emperor whispered, "What treachery is this?"
"Oh Founder all mighty," the guards prayed, "Please forgive us," they whispered. "Oh founder, oh founder, all mighty founder, please forgive us."
"What are you praying for, you stupid sons of whores!" the Emperor shrieked. The generals stood still, their eyes at the windows.
"Your highness," a noble whispered with his face pale. "He is here."
A shadow passed over the Emperor's face, as his eyes widened to stare at the windows. A dark dragon flapped its powerful wings, passing by the windows with eyes red like braziers. The windows rattled.
"Then chant! Chant spells, don't pray!" the Emperor roared.
He swung his wand forth, closing his eyes to concentrate. It had been so long since he last cast a fireball, but he still remembered the words and the intonation.
He heard the doors of heavy wood crack into splinters, his eyes snapped open again at the sight of the large chunks breaking off and falling on the ground. Had they carried a battering ram all the way to the palace's doors, all the way through the palace and just outside the throne room?
How? How had they done that!?
"They surrendered," whispered one of his generals, "They all surrendered." His face pale, the man dropped his wand on the ground and knelt, starting to pray in turn.
The doors slammed open just as the fireball departed from the Emperor's wand, yet it crashed against the roof as a priest gripped his hand and pulled it upwards. "Enough!" the priest yelled. The Emperor screamed as he pushed the old man on the ground.
"Nobody tells me enough! I am the Emperor of Germania! I am Albrecht the Third! Betrayers! Traitors! You're all traitors! Rebels! You—"
The windows crashed as an armored man slammed down on the ground in front of him, cracking apart the table and sending all those praying backwards. His sword gleamed with blood, as from the window broken by him the dragon of the Black Lord pushed through his body and that of his rider.
The claws of the beast cracked the marbles on the ground, its spiked tail snapping in the air.
"We surrender!" one of the men kneeling yelled, "We surrender! We beg your pardon, Holy Gandalfr! Holy Gandalfr, have mercy! Mercy!"
Albrecht descended from Ragnarok. Slowly, he removed his helm.
A visage filled with disgust showed itself for the first time.
"Y-You," the Emperor whispered, "I…You can't do this!" he howled, "THIS IS MY EMPIRE! IT'S ALL MINE! MINE!"
"No," the Black Lord replied, "it's not." He stepped forward, bringing up his wand. "How many years…have I dreamt of this?" he whispered, "How many decades! How many days and nights dreaming of this! LOOK AT ME, FATHER!" Albrecht roared, "Look at me…" He howled in laughter. "The Founder heard my prayers in the end. Do you understand this, father? The Gandalfr is real," his left hand gestured towards Saito. "The Founder is real, it's not a myth, a story of the church…the Gandalfr exists! The Void is not a myth! It's real!"
Albrecht the Third's wand began to move. "Fire and ashes," he whispered, "burnt ground and charred corpses. Blood spilled and festering wounds, I survived it all for this day, this moment, this instant…and you—"
There was a loud bang. The Emperor held with trembling hands a pistol, his last defense. Yet the Black Lord's eyes widened for but a second, as Saito's sword blocked the bullet. The ringing sound of Derflinger vibrating lasted for a second, the sight of the back of Saito's hand now clear to everyone, with the runes of the Gandalfr shining brightly.
"The Holy Gandalfr…" the Emperor whispered, his gun falling on the ground with a dull thud. "H-How? Why? What did I do of wrong!? I acted as an Emperor should! Is it a matter of tithes? Of money!? WHY? Why do you appear now, on the side of a bastard!"
Saito remained quiet. They wanted an answer from the Gandalfr, not from Hiraga Saito.
Well, he'd give the man an answer, the perfect answer.
"Because the Founder wills it," he said.
He lowered his sword, and the Emperor screamed one last time as a massive gust of flames erupted from the tip of Albrecht's wand. Against the golden throne, the charred remains of the emperor melted with the gold.
Albrecht the Third screamed his last.
"And now," Albrecht the Fourth remarked, lifting up the fused pile of gold and shattering it to the side with his wand, "A new Empire can begin," he stepped forward, past the old guard of the old emperor, as Ragnarok trudged his way to his side and lowered himself around him —to become Albrecht's seat. "My name is Albrecht Frederick Percival the Fourth," he roared to the assembled man, "And the realm of the heretical Emperor has ended! Yell it in the streets! Yell it to the crowds, to the people and the farmsteads! Bring the message everywhere! THERE. IS. PEACE!"
Saito sheathed Derflinger, before removing his gauntlets and then starting to clap. "Long live the Emperor!" he roared, and soon, he was joined by the others.
"Long live the Emperor!"
"Long live the Holy Gandalfr!"
"Hail the Emperor! Hail the Gandalfr!"
"Your highness," the priest whispered, kneeling near him, "There's the matter of the crown…"
Albrecht nodded. "The coronation will happen in the church, tomorrow," he acquiesced. "Today, we mourn the dead and deal with the wounded." His eyes moved towards Saito, "May I ask the Holy Gandalfr to grant me the crown?"
The priest choked on his spit, looking from him to the Gandalfr and backwards. Saito frowned —he didn't understand, but he nodded.
"I will grant you the crown."
"Very well then," Albrecht nodded. "We have much to do…and so little time to do it all."
Louise Françoise Le Blanc de la Vallière
The carriage moved on stone roads, smoothed out by countless hours of work. She stood primed and still, her clothes tight around her midriff and her chest —she could barely breathe. Her mother was just in front of her, her visage stern and unblinking. She looked like a statue —only, statues didn't have such cold eyes.
"Louise," the duchess said. "You have been invited to court to become the handmaiden and lady-in-waiting of the Queen. Remember the rule of steel and do not falter." Her mother craned her neck upwards, showing no hesitation or fear.
"Yet, Germania…" Louise said, her voice weak, "It's so far from home."
"Home is wherever we wish for it to be," Karin said. Her lips thinned in displeasure. "Do not delude me. You have a delicate task ahead of you, one you can hardly fail. You will bring the words of the Tristanian nobles to the ear of the Queen herself."
"I understand, mother," Louise said. Her hands clasped tightly together. "Will…will I be able to return home for the Founder's holy day?"
"You will do as your Queen commands you," Karin replied. Her gaze lingered over her for a moment, before she whispered, "But I see no reason why she would not let you come home. I know nothing on the new Emperor, but I heard he was a mercenary leader. He might be a brute and the marriage might still be annulled."
"I understand, mother," Louise said. She looked out of the carriage, just in time to see the broken walls of Vindobona ahead of her. "May I ask you something impertinent?" she asked, her voice slightly cracked.
"Are you…hiding me, out of shame, far away from home and my country?"
Karin did not reply for a long time, so long that the carriage reached the archway of stone that was the gate within the city itself. As the carriage passed beneath the gate, she finally whispered.
"How could you say that, Louise?"
"How could I?" Louise said, "How could I not?"
"Germania nobility isn't made only of mages," Karin answered, her voice now once more strong, "Having a familiar or not having one means nothing to many of them."
Louise gripped her gown, touching the gentle and soft fabric of the light pink dress she was wearing. Her hair coiffed for the occasion stood up high before descending in curls around her face.
"So…this is where I'll spend the rest of my life?"
"Do not be so melodramatic," snapped back Karin. "Many young noblewomen would kill for your position, and many will try. A man the Emperor himself trusts will escort you and the Queen at all times."
Louise did not say anything else, even as the carriage passed by the second archway —here, there was a section of the wall that appeared to have been literally melted off, as the ground beyond it seemed charred and brown.
"What happened here," Karin whispered to herself. A few horses galloped next to their carriage, belonging to tall and lanky men with flapping mantles behind them —bearing the symbol of the royal family of Germania.
The carriage's escorts followed them from the second ring of the walls to the last, before dismounting as the carriage came to a halt in front of a large marble staircase.
There were still traces of dried blood in the corners.
Louise felt slightly sick as she descended second, helped by one of the stewards who gave her a hand. The chief steward of the palace walked forward, dressed to impress.
Louise took a deep breath as her eyes travelled across the façade of the palace, resembling more a castle than a mansion. There was nothing of noble in the cold stone, and the gargoyles perched on the windows and roofs gave it a spooky feeling, rather than one of refined tastes. If she thought of how the princess had already been there for a few days…
She shuddered at the thought of a very obese man, brutish and uncouth, with a crown of steel on his head and toying with the princess' body shackled to a wall to be whipped. Yes, that was her mind-impression of Germanian royalty. How far could she be from describing a man called 'Black Lord', brought up to be some sort of demon? A man who feared not the church or the gods, by striking down his Emperor?
From a window above, Saito looked downwards at the newest arrivals.
He closed the curtains and turned towards the table of his room. Sitting down, he began to jolt a few more bits and pieces.
He didn't know things like a doctor, or an engineer, and he clearly wasn't a scientist… but any little bit he knew was enough to change the life around Germania towards the better. He wrote of boiling water before using instruments. He wrote of freedom of religion, of basic human rights. He wrote of education, of ways to improve health —it wasn't that people ate badly by themselves, but even something as basic as 'eating oranges to avoid scurvy' was something they didn't know. They knew eating fruit was good, but they didn't know why.
He didn't know either, but he was certain, whereas they still doubted.
That was the reason he had been late on departing. He repeated that aloud even as he penned down a small addition —engines worked with fuel, and small heated gas that moved pistons up and down, which in turn moved wheels.
Derflinger watched from his corner the scene, and sighed metallically.
"Partner," he said.
"Yes, Derf?" Saito replied.
"You were born in Tokyo. You want to return to Tokyo."
Saito closed his eyes firmly, and then nodded.
"Thank you, Derf," he dropped the quill and left the papers to dry. He snapped his eyes shut, groaning before taking the quill again. "I forgot, the press system…metal letters, imbued in ink, interchangeable, to impress on paper. Letters have to be separate and swapped, and…" there was a knock at the door.
"Oi, Saito!" Frederich's voice boomed from beyond his door. "Are you done writing your love story?"
"I'm not writing a love story, Frederich!" Saito exclaimed, standing up and heading towards the door, Derflinger's sheath in hand. "I'm writing improvements to the life of the people of Germania."
"Yeah, yeah, live a little will ya?" Frederich snorted. Saito opened the door and stilled. He blinked. He began to chuckle. He held his sides as he burst out in laughter.
Frederich was wearing a 'penguin-like' suit of sorts. "T-The tails!" Saito laughed, "What's with…the tails!?"
"I know it's not my style!" Frederich exclaimed. "But listen here, I had it made by a tailor especially for this grand day! It's high society! We're getting branded counts, dukes, marquis! We're getting land and titles…come on, be a bit more excited about today, Holy Gandalfr."
"So spoke the Royal Captain of the Guard," Saito nodded, "Who walks around the castle half-naked even in the coldest of winters."
"It's frigging hot in here!" Frederich said, "How can you keep your fire going every day is beyond me! Tell you what, maybe we should ask Albrecht to move the castle near the coast. Then, during summer, we can have a go at rowing or swimming."
"Frederich, to find you I just had to follow the incessant words filled with stupidity," another voice butted in.
"Oh, shush it Marçeau! I thought you had kicked the bucket back then during the siege —I knew the gods wouldn't want your ugly face anyway, but I hoped they'd be blind and drunk with the blood of the deceased by the time it came your turn."
"And here comes the heathen, to speak heretical words in front of the Holy Gandalfr no less," Marçeau exhaled. "Of all the things…maybe I should have taken the arrow straight in the heart rather than a few inches to the left."
Saito clapped a hand on the back of both men. "Let's not waste time here," he said, "Albrecht won't be offended if we're late…but I can't guarantee the others will. I even have to go first too…"
"Right, right, within the next hour, you'll get to become royalty…well, you deserve it kid, but if you think I'm going to call you 'your highness', you deserve the spanking I'd give you for that," Frederich laughed.
"Don't worry about that," Saito replied. "The day you manage to spank me is the day you get to be the Holy Gandalfr."
With that said, the three walked downwards…
And a new chapter in the story of Hiraga Saito began.
You know how, in Anime, there are 12/13 episodes per season? I reckon we can call this the end of Season 1 and the next chapter will be season 2.