Chapter 72. Surprise!
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"Mysteriously", the overly solicitous "servant" had vanished. The rest, I noticed, had been relieved, if too professional to actually show it. Makes sense. Nobles often practiced group responsibility for domestics, and it would not be out of character for me to demand (and get) them all whipped over one impertinent pretender. Who would probably be spared the treatment themselves to boot. Not so mysteriously, I had lost track of time given that I had a bath and a maid in it, so... Yeah. Well. It is half to two when I finally remember I am actually expected to dine with everyone at three, and therefore must wrap up the overly long bath lounging. Bridgit pouts when I say as much, but she is immediately rebuffed by her stomach growling. Which makes both of us jump up a bit. Hm.

It's surprising just how much sudden pang of hunger is motivating one to dry off and put on clothes. Of course, it does help that drying oneself off is a cantrip so simple Bridgit uses it casually, nevermind me. I evaporate the bath water (The remains that were in the original bath. I had to conjure the majority of water for us, and letting it time out created a sort of fog out of remains. I elected to deal with it by a combination of open window, heating spell and a bit of magic breeze to get it all outside.) and consider restructured bath critically.

"Bridgit, come on over here." - I ask - "Can you try to lift this bath and tell me how easy it is?"

She eyes the thing dubiously. "Mistress, I shouldn't be able to even budge it, let alone lift." - she complains, but tries anyway. Much to her surprise, the bath is actually liftable by her. Not easily, I can see she makes an effort to lift it up, but manageable. Setting the whole thing down, she turns to me - "Is it lighter then it looks or I got stronger then I thought somehow?"

"First, I'm afraid. Ever wondered, what if metal was not solid, but like sponge? That's the answer." - I tell her - "Ridiculously light for something that's actually sturdier then solid metal. I don't really want to revert it back to being small, but I wanted you to know it's light in case someone wants to move it and decides size is an issue."

She just shakes her head, as she starts to sort out the luggage. I've had her pack a few fancy dresses for the occasion. I mean, I could easily mimic any clothes, but I'd really prefer to keep shoggoth tricks to minimum while I'm here. Last thing I need is Alphonse calling the talks off because he thinks I've been replaced by something. I, meanwhile, throw on a bathrobe, go out to the anteroom, and order a plentiful lunch to be brought in. It, of course, causes a lot of dubiousness among servants, but after the little show earlier, I believe they're all of an opinion I'm unrepentant domestic tyrant and tolerate no questioning of my orders. The lunch is obviously for Bridgit, because I'll be damned if I let her dine in the servant quarters as they expect. It might cause a bit of talk, because I'm clearly showing Bridgit more favors then a maid usually warrants, but fuck them. If I'm reading this right, the conclusion would be simply that she's my favorite maid for skinship and therefore pampered.

By the time the lunch is brought in, both me and Bridgit are dressed and the bath is quite obviously ready to be removed. Which causes a LOT of consternation among the servants, because they presume the newly enlarged bath is well beyond their ability to move.

"Mistress, I beg your pardon but there is no way we could possibly carry this out on our own!" - bleats the most courageous of them eventually. Hm. I wonder what his job actually is. Handyman? Valet?.. Whatever. I snap my fingers and nod to Bridgit. Who shakes her head bemusedly, but comes over to the bath and lifts one side of it, not effortlessly, but clearly without excess strain.

"I think you'll manage." - I tell them dryly. They gather around the bath incredulously, grasp it and... make a lot of surprised exclamations then expected weight is much less then they thought it would be, leading them to yanking the whole thing almost to chest level and consequently almost dropping it. Thankfully, the doors are sufficiently wide to make extraction a non-issue from that angle, and they carry out the enlargened bath out, eliciting much surprise from the guards outside the doors. This would be making rounds in the castle rumors, I know it... And that's fine. If it was back in summer, when I was still having delusions about being low-key, I'd revert it back to it's original form, but that ship had well and truly floated away. So instead, I've decided to cultivate the image of mad scientist, of a sorts. A sorceress so advanced she casually does things everyone else thinks impossible or unbelievable. The pros of this are manifold - if this kind of fame becomes common knowledge, I'll have much easier time introducing stuff, because common consensus would tilt. Instead of dubiousness about the "newfangled design", people would be thinking "ooh, that mad sorceress invented a new bizarrely convenient thing, I gotta see this". And as I have already experienced, the collective subconscious on this reality is a real force behind the curtain. So... I'm going to put some effort into shaping narration. And possibly examine other players in this from the viewpoint of narrative influence. Konistan, for example. I have a big nasty hunch that he was considered an elusive master criminal in a large part due to collective subconscious believing he is. And if I was not an outside context problem in his case, he could've very well been very frustrating opponent to bat against simply because so long as his action fit the collective subconsciousness narrative, things would go his way.

Come to think of it, it might also explain some other things. Like for example, how come Vlad enjoys such a fearsome reputation outside of Vallah in spite of Vallah being, ostensibly, just a county-sized fief with no grand monopolies to prop their economy with. I need to put out feelers into the Confederacy, I think. Maybe cause some reunification wars, because at the rate things are going, Vlad will eventually pull his head out of impalement daydreaming and start applying his arguably considerable army to the neighbors. I'm not sure what kicks him off. The game implied that it was protagonist's fault that he decided he should unite Confederacy under Vallahian flag, but the clues in the game don't seem to bear that out - he had his forces already positioned and agitating the neighboring countries into border skirmishes. In fact, in one of the holdovers from the game plot, Alistair complained about Vallah incursions and rising tensions in the Confederacy as early as a month ago. So it's entirely possible that Vlad is already working through his plan of "unite Confederacy under himself and impale enough people in progress to create a lasting prejudice against sodomy in Confederacy". And not due to persecution of gay men, which he isn't actually carrying to the best of my knowledge, but due to the fact his favorite method of impalement seems to be "insert the tip of two meter pole into rectum, stand it up and let the gravity handle the rest". Thoroughly unpleasant, that. Even with healing magic, there is pretty much no chance of saving someone once they've been "sat" like this. Pain shock, blood loss, dehydration and infection pretty much guarantee that death occurs, just over the period of several days rather then several hours.

Gods damn it, now I just can't stop thinking about this. To be entirely fair, while this is obviously his fetish, Vlad starts off by reserving this kind of execution for people who actually deserve it - rapists, traitors and childkillers. But as the conquest kicks off for good, he goes off the deep end and starts ordering impalements for less and less serious stuff. Like, suppressing guerrilla opposition by impaling entire villages and setting the results out in the fields outside the villages in question. I think I need to make sure Vlad dies before any of this actually kicks off. I'm not exactly responsible for those people, but knowing about impending disaster and doing nothing about it is kinda... scummy. If memory serves, Vlad kicks off his conquest around the beginning of next summer, and that's the time when he shifts from "cruel but passably fair overlord" into "torture-obsessed madman". Enough time for me to bust in and rip his head off, if necessary. Though maybe I can do something about it in less overt ways. I wonder if there is a good way to neuter him somehow. Something to discuss with Abe and maybe Alphonse. I obviously have better rapport with Abe, but Alphonse is the one closer to the situation.

___

I'm positive now that someone's doing hijinks. Because the guards at the dining hall doors had conveniently forgotten my name and face. I could have thrown a hissy fit, I suppose, but that would be long and annoying and probably used as a pretext to claim I've been unruly to begin with... So instead, I pull my copperphone out of pocket and call Abraham. He is... quite incredulous about the idea, and two minutes later, one of the guard captains runs out of the hall, gives bows and apologies and hisses at the guards in question in pretty much the same motion. The end result - guards are sent away, half-worried and half-defiant, I've been profusely apologized at and escorted into the dining hall, and there is some kind of... table reshufflement? No, they're just swapping out the whole chair and utensils next to dad's spot. Apparently, someone "misread" my name and made an assumption some kraut noble with superficially similar sounding name would be attending.

The dinner is lavish, but hardly anything outstanding. I was expecting something to the tune of business luncheon, maybe, but it's full-on ceremony-heavy dinner. No talking to anyone beyond your immediate neighbors, lots of dish changes, full-on showoff mode for kingdom. Which is actually kind of annoying, because with all the rare delicacies, there's a distinct lack of simpler fare to provide some kind of base. Oh well. At least I could have a pleasant conversation with dad, while at it. Unfortunately, the guy on the other side of me was clearly put there on someone's misguided idea to "romance" me away from Champagne. Seriously, why? Oh, the dude was passably polite, I'll give him that, but he also managed to clearly impress on me that he's not about to consider no a valid answer nor is he discouraged by being ignored within the first five minutes. Thankfully, I had enough of unimportant minutiae to discuss with dad to be sufficiently distracted from the dude's overtures.

Thankfully, the ceremonial nature of dinner also meant it was run on a strict schedule, so exactly an hour later, I was free from the table and incessant flirting. Dad had begun looking increasingly tense as the dinner progressed, giving evil eye to the flirting dude with increasing frequency, and just like me, he heaved a sigh of relief as soon as the dinner was announced over. Unfortunately... the would-be suitor was very determined... And I was very fed up.

"Look!" - I tell him, yanking my sleeve out of his fingers - "I believe I've been quite upfront with you when I said I am already spoken for and have no interest in pursuing extramarital hijinks before my marriage is even finalized. Please STOP flirting with me, stop trying to invite me along to your social gatherings and most importantly, stop bothering me. I'm here for business negotiations, nothing more. Certainly not to strike up a clueless romance with a guy who thinks 'no' means 'try harder'. Now kindly, leave me be, because you're one compliment away from being challenged to duel!"

He drops my sleeve and steps back like he's been scalded. The crowd pushes back, whispers growing in intensity immediately and gaining scandalized undertones. Yeah, it was not fucking diplomatic. Not even slightly. I... do... not... care. This mission had been an exercise in patience ever since we touched down in Berlinger, and I'm quite near the boiling point. It shouldn't be THAT annoying. Someone put a lot of effort to guide all those pushy and clueless people in my way, and by golly, they're going to pay for that.

"Come on, freulein, surely you do not mean that." - he gives his best impression of politely haughty chuckle - "Would you really force your venerable father into fighting a man half his age and twice his strength?" Dad visibly bristles at that, but then suddenly relaxes and grins, giving me a nudge and nod. I think he just had his own patience tipped over. I wonder if he also had impertinent servants bothering him, or he's simply indignant about this guy being so blatant.

"And here is another reason why your attempts were doomed in the crib." - I tell him - "If you had any interest in me as a person, you'd know that I fight duels personally. So. Will you kindly leave me be, or do I need to hand you your ass first?"

He's... looking affronted now, but visibly calms himself and gives another chuckle - "Oh, I wouldn't want to spoil the festivities with such unsightliness, freulein."

"Wise decision." - I'm not giving a fuck, I'm tired of this - "So let us pause things at this. Next time you make an approach, we can resume the unsightliness. Do NOT expect anything else."

___

Well, that was annoying. Alphonse just HAD to start inquiring about the situation, and then had the fucking gall to start tutting at me.

"Your majesty, do you have second thoughts about the deal?" - I ask him bluntly. He blinks and stares at me, clearly not expecting this kind of rebuke. I forge on, not letting him retort just yet - "Because I have a distinct feeling people have been trying to drive me to indignant anger ever since I stepped off the airship. Honestly, you do not have to resort to such underhanded tactics. Just say so if you want more time before you commit to anything, I understand that there are political concerns about everything."

"Now, now, freulein." - he rumbles back at me - "I do not care for such accusations. Really now, if I had a reason to postpone, I daresay I would just say as much."

"If so, then someone is hard at work sabotaging you, your majesty." - I redirect - "Insofar, I have been accosted by impertinent servants, ignorant guards and ignoble guests. Once might be chance. Twice might be coincidence. But three? That's systematic. Someone is trying to sabotage the talks."

He begins to say something... Pauses. Thinks. Leans to Abe and whispers something to him. Abe whispers back, and whatever it was asked and replied, Alphonse's expression hardens from that. He leans back and smacks his fist three times on the wall behind him.

"Klaus!" - he bellows, surprisingly loudly for a man of his advanced age - "Come on out here, I want some explanations."

Klaus? No way. I killed the dude very comprehensively. Do they do the whole "man dies, identity lives" dance? Or is Klaus actually a "working name" for Kraut spymaster? I steal a glance at Hiram... And I see him very puzzled, mouthing the word back silently as if trying to figure out something nigh-inconceivable. And, of course, this is when the door opens. And I see a man who is, in oh so many ways, same (or at least very similar) to the one I killed at my mansion three months ago. I see Hiram jump to his feet in alarm out of corner of my eye in the same moment. He clearly was left in the dark about this particular resurrection. Hrm. I wonder why Alphonse is electing to reveal Klaus now?

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