Verse 3 – 4: The Way to Ruin an Empire
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1

Izumi yawned wide. Ever since she had been freed from the council with Carmelia, taken a bath, acquired a change of clothes, and had breakfast, the other summoned earthling, Benjamin Watts, had been bombarding her with questions non-stop. If there hadn’t been coffee, Izumi would’ve rioted, but Carmelia’s servants had miraculously managed to procure some from his majesty’s pantries. Therefore, the woman only apathetically listened as the youth carried on with his verbose queries, forcing a brief reply every once in a while.

Carmelia’s rank allowed her to have a whole section of the Imperial Palace to herself. It was a keep with one tower, a walled little yard and a gorgeous, multi-leveled terrace garden where small aqueducts delivered water to unknown flowers.

The most important part of the keep was the great library, however, which contained numerous ancient tomes not found anywhere else in the city, or the entire human world. This library also served as the headquarters of those conspiring against his Imperial majesty. To think that an organization plotting the ruler’s death had their stronghold in his own home...Izumi couldn’t decide if it was clever or just reckless.

The library was also where Benjamin dragged her to continue his interview.

I see, I see! So man has reached the moon? Can that be true? You mean, they flew from one celestial object to another and back again with only a simple rocket and lived? That’s incredible! What year was it again? Nineteen, sixty-nine? I have to write this down...And who took the first steps up there? Oh, why couldn’t it have been me? No, wouldn’t you say that stepping into another universe entirely is by far more amazing, as achievements go? They didn't find any people on the moon, did they? So I did better. You don’t suppose there are any other summoned humans besides us two in this world? Can I say I was the first one? I’m totally taking credit.”

Don’t know, and I’m seriously starting to hope not,” Izumi replied.

So long as no one shows up to dispute it...right?” he winked. “The moons of Ortho seem pretty far away, I wonder if even magic could reach them? I thought about asking Carmelia, but there’s this kind of a difficult-to-approach, no-nonsense air about her, you know? How far does her portal spell reach, what do you think? It has to have some limitations, right? Surely not to other planets...”

Probably?” Izumi shrugged. “I wouldn’t know, I’m not a magician.”

Ah, yes, for some reason, humans from Earth can’t use local magic. What a shame...”

Right...”

Hang on,” Benjamin reached for a glass of water, while going through his notes, “about the second world war again, how many countries were involved, exactly?”

You want me to name all of them? Give me a breeeeak...” Izumi bemoaned. In truth, she was secretly enjoying the conversation. Only, her age prevented her from getting too into it. She had to be the more mature one here. “World history wasn’t my strongest subject.”

Why?” Benjamin looked astonished. “What are you talking about? Isn’t history the single most fascinating subject there is?”

Well, I always wanted to get transported into another world, so I thought it was only a waste of brain space to learn about the old one...I would’ve rather memorized spell patterns than the dates of ancient wars and what somebody I don’t know did centuries ago.”

Not quite sure if I can relate to that...”

By the way,” Izumi thought of something, “I have a question too. What kind of a relationship do you have with Lia?”

Huh? Lia?” the young man returned her a blank stare.

I mean, you live here in her house like its your own, get to hang with her every day, act like you’re the best of friends, and I don’t see any other guys around...Are you her lover or something?”

PFFFFFT—!” The young man spat his water all over his notes and started coughing frantically. Izumi had to whack him on the back to get him to breathe again.

Don’t ever, ever say that again,” he scolded her. “She’ll kill me. Kill you. Kill us both.”

Why?” Izumi shrugged. “What’s wrong with it? I don’t judge.”

You don’t get it,” Benjamin shook his head. “To elves, we humans are no different from pigs. Lesser beings, get it? Our shared history is extremely brief, because before Amarno fell, they didn’t even consider us worth speaking to. Now, you wouldn’t take kindly to someone suggesting you sleep with animals, right? The same idea. Not very smart. A mortal insult. The fact that she’s come to the court and agreed to work with us is already a massive concession on their part. Unprecedented! She can’t be too happy about playing secretary to a bunch of apes, but she’s putting up with it for the common good. So try not to test her patience with topics of that nature, okay? Sheesh, this is bad for my heart!”

Okaaaay...” Izumi agreed. Benjamin would probably choke for real, if he learned what she had made the sorceress do on the night before.

And yet, Carmelia had indeed done it, without a word of complaint.

For the common good.

Izumi was a bit moved.

Shortly after I was summoned,” the man explained his circumstances, “it was deemed that I had...well, rather insignificant combat ability. They wanted a ‘champion’, as had been written in an ancient prophecy, so my position quickly turned—how should I say—‘precarious’. In the end, Lady Carmelia took me in, thus saving my life. I reckon she thought I was a curious specimen of an unknown species, or something along those lines? The lady’s a bit of a scientist too, you see? With my knowledge of the other world and scholarly ambitions, I suppose I managed to evoke her sympathies. Although, I can tell she’s getting somewhat bored with me already. Either way, I don’t mind being treated as a pet or a slave, so long as I don’t have to fight for food out there in the streets. Not at all. There’s no future for me outside the palace. I’m doing my best to learn more about this world, so that I might one day be of use to her. You know, return the favor.”

Hm, I see,” Izumi nodded. “So Lia’s a good girl, after all, huh?”

Oh, you wouldn’t believe...”

At that moment, the doors opened and, to speak of the devil, Carmelia entered the library. Benjamin stiffened up at once and silenced himself.

Oh, morning,” Izumi casually greeted the elven woman.

Without responding to her, the Court Wizard glanced at the young man.

The plan.”

R-right away, ma’am!”

Benjamin got up from the table and hurried off to look for something.

Meanwhile, the sorceress’s gaze turned to Izumi.

Have you dined and rested? Good. I will now tell you how to kill the Emperor.”

 

 

Soon enough, various documents were spread across the library table. All the relevant bits and pieces of information in the complex operation to take down the sovereign of the mighty Empire. Clearly the plot had been a while in the making.

You actually agreed to this?Benjamin asked Izumi. Apparently, he was in on the plot too. “Yikes. You have some guts, for a lady. Not that I don't like that.”

"Well, I gave my word,” Izumi evasively said. Courage had played no part in it.

I'm impressed, I really am,” he told her. “But, I’d be lying if I said it was going to be simple.”

It never is, is it?”

No kidding. Firstly, there’s the Imperial Guard to mind. That means eight hundred elite knights stationed at Selenoreion, four hundred of them within the palace complex alone. This place never sleeps. Still, no matter how formidable they are, guards have routines, they have places where they have to be and where they won’t be. We’re right under the Empire’s belly here, hiding in plain sight. The guards will not pose a problem for us, so long as you stay mindful of their presence. The real problem are the unpredictable ones. That’s these guys.”

There was a stack of papers featuring some curious profile pictures, skillfully hand-drawn by an unnamed artist, in the absence of photography.

The Guild of Heroes,” Carmelia continued the conversation in turn. “A band of mercenaries gathered mostly during the reign the previous Emperor. What began as a publicity campaign to raise public support for the northern war effort turned, over time, into something more. The members of the Guild are all accomplished, battle-hardened combatants, who have gone through the strictest selection process. They have each earned fame through genuine feats of war—in short, they are the strongest, most able soldiers of the Empire, fit to be called ‘champions’. The Guild is tasked with the most difficult and dangerous missions in and outside Tratovia’s borders, and are at complete liberty to determine how they go about their work. Above the law, they pledge their loyalty to the Throne alone. They hold authority over the army, including the Imperial Guard. Due to last night’s attack and their respective failures in the process, the Guild has set his majesty’s protection as their topmost priority. You will not be able to get to him again, not without going through these people first.”

So, we’ve reached the tournament arc then?” Izumi sighed. “I thought I’d avoid this the best I could.”

Fortunately for our efforts,” the sorceress ignored her odd remark and resumed, “of the present day heroes of the Guild, only four are present at the capital; the others are out on missions. Six are expected to return by the end of the week. In other words, if we are to strike, it has to happen before the reinforcements arrive, within the next six days. After that, our chances of slaying the Emperor will diminish beyond improbability.”

So they’re good then? Those heroes?” the woman asked.

You heard the lady,” Benjamin answered her. “The finest soldiers of the largest human Empire, which also makes them the finest of humanity as a whole. Want my opinion? They’re invincible. Don’t think of them as people, they’re monsters, every last one of them. I honestly wouldn’t even think about fighting these guys. It’s a suicide, no two ways about it. Maybe if I had a gun or something, but this world doesn’t have firearms.”

Yet, there could be a way,” Carmelia said. “You defeated a cirelo arcaenarian, who outranked human magicians by far. You fought a daemon in personal combat and lived; a feat even only few of my kind are capable of. Last night, you humiliated Bramms of the Grand Shield and Shivgried the Impaler before the Onyx Throne. If anyone has a chance to succeed in this task, it is you, woman from the otherworld.”

Benjamin raised his brows at the outrageous merit list but chose to remain silent.

Izumi awkwardly scratched her neck and said nothing either. She hadn’t really thought about her past deeds as somehow extraordinary. They had been but a sum of educated guesses, calculated effort, and an extra helping of good luck.

Divide and conquer,” Carmelia advised her. “We will eliminate the four heroes at the capital one by one, then take out the Emperor. All in six days’ time.”

Quite the gauntlet,” the young man noted. “Think you’re up to it?”

I already agreed, didn’t I?” Izumi shrugged.

The greatest obstacle on your path will be him.” Carmelia singled out one of the Guild’s mercenaries and turned his page up, like it was an ace in a game of Texas Hold ‘em. The likeness of a muscular, rather cruel-looking man was drawn on it.

Waramoti, Heaven’s Hand, a mercenary from the faraway land of Oss. Born and raised a warrior in the wild, under the harshest of conditions, his strength is unmatched. A master of every weapon known to the warring races, he has never lost a battle or failed a mission. No one has ever seen the man bleed or cry. Some believe him to be more than a man. And in a sense, he is.”

Some kind of a demigod?” Izumi asked, tilting her head.

No, he’s most certainly a flesh-and-blood human being,” Benjamin answered. “The thing is, his powers are not entirely his own.”

The Three,” Carmelia raised another scattered page. “The Divine Lords of Bhastifal, the protectors of the Empire. They reside in the Grand Temple and bestow their blessings upon the land. Cinithlea, the Lord of Blue; Gwanlyn, the Lord of Marble; and Yubilea, the Lord of Scarlet Flame. For thousands of years, this city has basked in their glory, allowing the heart of the Empire to prosper unhindered by adversity. The Lords do not meddle in human affairs or politics, the Covenant prohibits this. They simply are. They are Tratovia itself. And so they should have remained.”

The sorceress threw away the page. On it, only the Lords’ temple was drawn. Depicting the great spirits themselves was prohibited.

Waramoti has seduced the Lords,” Carmelia said. “As the result, the Three have granted him their favor, their powers, rendering the man effectively half a God. Yet, it is paramount to our objective that Waramoti is defeated. He is a lone wolf by nature, but should he team up with the other heroes, slaying the Emperor will become impossible. They will track us down and wipe us out.”

So, how do you kill the guy?Izumi asked, not sounding too stressed.

The topic didn’t seem very real to her in the first place. Even if she noticed it, Carmelia paid no attention to the woman’s carefree attitude, but answered,

There is only one way for Heaven’s Hand to fall. You must make the three Lords remove their blessings before you challenge him. Render Waramoti a common mortal again and you shall triumph. Or, at least your chances of doing so will greatly improve.”

How do you suppose I bring the Divines to my side then?” Izumi inquired.

You will go and ask them,” the sorceress replied.

Ask them?” Izumi repeated in disbelief. “Um, why would they even listen to me?”

You will ask them nicely.”

That’s...”

There is no other way,” Carmelia said. “No matter how corrupt, they are Lords. Their kind cannot fall by human hands. We have no way to threaten them. Nothing to bribe them with. They are the Empire itself—how would you even begin to coerce such beings? Even my own might pales in comparison to the Three. Anger the spirits and they will destroy you. But approach them with humility and respect, and there may be a chance you will win their sympathy. The Three are a haughty and conceited lot, susceptible to flattery. Keep this in mind and see them with caution. Go today. The sooner we can take care of this, the sooner we can move on with the rest of the plan. Remember, the time limit is only six days. Six days between victory and certain defeat.”

Why do I have to go see them, anyway?” Izumi argued. “Silver Tongue wasn’t one of my starting talents. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to send someone more accomplished in the ways of diplomacy instead? Rather, why don’t you go? You seem pretty gifted at coercing people, by what I’ve seen.”

H-hey!” Benjamin felt Izumi was going overboard. But Carmelia didn’t seem to care for the slightly offensive remark.

I cannot go,” she only slowly shook her head. “I have consulted the Three in the past and found our differences...insurmountable. I will see them nevermore. The feeling is mutual. My chances of succeeding at this task are zero.”

What about you?” Giving up on the sorceress, Izumi asked Benjamin.

Eh? Huh?” The young man look exasperated. “Me? Talk to the Three? T-that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Why’s that? You do know how to...talk, at least.”

Thirty minutes in the same room with you and they’d probably do anything to make you stop, Izumi thought, but had enough tact to not say it out loud. He could've cried.

No,” Benjamin shook his head. “No way! These beings have the power to reduce you to cinders with a snap! They can abduct people across realities, affect events on a continental scale, and that’s not even the start of it. The very idea of speaking to such dreadful forces face-to-face makes me...want to look for a restroom, to be honest. No, I absolutely refuse.”

Well, I don’t like it either!” Izumi bemoaned. “Why do we have to do this, anyway? If he’s that strong, wouldn’t this Barramundi guy kill the Emperor for us instead? Rather, why hasn’t he already? If he’s borderline god, why’s he content with serving somebody else, instead of taking the throne for himself?”

A good point,” Benjamin replied. “I’ve been wondering the same, actually. Nobody really knows his motives. Waramoti’s not known to be particularly obedient as a soldier or good with authorities, but he also insists he’s not interested in ruling.”

Perhaps he will one day change his mind,” Carmelia injected, “but we do not have the time to wait for that to happen. Neither do we want to trade a tyrant for another. For now, Waramoti’s loyalties are unquestionably with the reigning Emperor. Attempts to sway him risk bringing his ire upon us. Slaying him quickly before he is made aware of our plans is in our best interests. Undo his protections, catch him by surprise, and claim his head. Think of this as your trial run before going after the other heroes.”

I get it, I get it...” Izumi sighed. “I’ll go have a chat with the spirits then, as weird as that sounds. Have to admit, I’m a bit curious to see if the Lords here are as pretty as Ai-chan.”

The other two didn’t quite comprehend her reasoning.

I have conditions, though,” she said.

Again?” Carmelia’s expression clouded.

Izumi stated her demand with some seriousness this time.

I want to make sure Yule and Mira-rin are safe. If possible, I’d prefer that they didn’t pointlessly worry about me either.”

Who?” Benjamin raised a brow.

The Princess of Langoria and Colonel Marafel,” the sorceress inferred. “I cannot consent to that. Both are heavily guarded. I do not have the authority to change that, nor can I take you to see them. Any written correspondence is liable to fall into enemy hands. Our plan relies on his majesty assuming you remain imprisoned. Being discovered while making contact with outsiders would mean the end of the line.”

Then, you have better ideas?” Izumi asked. “I just need to get a message to them and back again, to check how they’re doing.”

Is it entirely necessary? You will see them again when it is over. I doubt anything will be done about them in the next few days.”

That won’t do,” Izumi refused. “I can’t focus on something this tricky if I have to worry about the well-being of my friends at the same time. I’ll be counting on you, Lia! You’re super smart so you’ll think of something.”

And what if something does happen to either of them?” Carmelia asked. “It is not in my power to guarantee their safety. Their lives ultimately remain in his majesty’s hands.”

Well,” Izumi thought, “if Mira-rin kicks the bucket, it will really, really, really be a shame, but I guess I can live with that. I mean, she’s a grown-up and should be able to look after herself. But...”

Black anger started to burn within Izumi at the very thought of the other scenario.

...If anything bad happens to the princess, I will kill everyone I can get my hands on until dying myself. Of course, by that point, your plot will be good as over too.”

 

 

2

Meeting the Emperor had done little to improve Yuliana’s mood. The conversation was done and over with well before she could go through her own points of concern, and the princess was unceremoniously escorted back to her quarters. His majesty had simply said whatever he pleased and dismissed her once he was done, not all that unlike a true dictator. Not that she had expected much better, after everything she had heard about the man, but it was still a frustrating development.

I look forward to hearing a favorable response to my request, come tomorrow morning,” he had said before departing.

At least he had been open to a peaceful solution, instead of trying to threaten and coerce her with open villainy. Yuliana felt slightly encouraged by the fact, even if she didn't dare to trust it. Reliable or not, it was through this negotiation that she had to introduce her own point of view to the Emperor.

But exactly how...?

Afterwards, Yuliana had been granted access to a garden at the root of her lonely tower, where to pass time in fresh air, and reflect on her situation. It was certainly a noteworthy improvement over the chamber in the skies, yet she remained a caged bird all the same. The solitary, securely locked exit in the perimeter fence was guarded by a pair of knights with their ornate halberds. Across the garden on the other side, a dramatic fall down the steep hillside awaited, the city streets beneath it.

But despite her uneventful captivity, Yuliana’s worries were many and thinking about them helped time pass only too swiftly.

Regarding my...associate,” she had managed to say to the ruler of the city, “would you not show her mercy? I know what she did was scandalous and a crime worthy of the capital punishment, but...would you not find it in you to pardon her, anyhow? From death, at least?”

The assassin?” The Emperor had kept his expression neutral. “You would speak on behalf of such a foolish wretch?”

Yes,” Yuliana had said. “She is a stranger to our ways, and views life like some sort of a game, but...she’s not evil inside. Reckless, yes. Rude, violent, ignorant, arrogant, irresponsible, weirdly stubborn about the strangest things, has no respect for anyone or anything, no sense of danger, she knows no shame, and is an unbelievable deviant, but...I—I suppose I owe as much to her. She saved my life, so I am obligated to speak in her favor. A-and it would be too miserable an end for her, to perish without a full awareness of what she was even doing...”

By telling the Emperor directly just how important an existence Izumi was to Yuliana, she might have given him a dangerous leverage against her. The princess was aware of this. Regardless, she had tried to improve the woman's situation, so that at least the worst of punishments could be avoided.

But had her appeal been too feeble…?

I shall see what I can do,” the Emperor had given a brief, absent-minded response, far from committed.

 

Restlessly pacing back and forth amid the beauty of cultivated nature in the garden, Yuliana tried in vain to forget the anxiety wrenching her insides. Was there nothing more she could do but wait again?

The Divine Lord within the princess remained silent.

In spite of her constant presence, it was normal for Aiwesh to take multiple days without speaking a word to her vessel. That was typical of her, but Yuliana felt the spirit had recently taken to deliberately ignoring her. By her waking positions, she knew the Divine occasionally consulted with Izumi, but whatever topics the two discussed weren’t shared with the princess, and she had no awareness at the times her body was possessed.

Being excluded was rather disheartening.

Am I that poor a vessel, not even worth being confided in? Am I only an inconvenience to my Lord? Like to my King...

Yuliana sighed and sat down on a bench fitted in a row of vigorous apple trees along the west-side fence. On the other side of the thin steel barrier, was another garden and a vegetable farm, and a building where the workers’ kitchens were. Occasional sounds of plates and metal tools clashing faintly reached Yuliana’s ears from the distance.

Since becoming Aiwesh’s vessel, the princess’s senses had steadily sharpened over time. She discovered she could accurately pick out sounds, even conversations, from unnaturally far away. Her eyesight had always been keen, but now she could clearly make out even the tiny sparrows playing in the trees of the city hundreds of feet below. But her improved senses were of no use to her in this situation. If anything, they only highlighted all the things she was powerless to reach.

For once, I wanted to be the one to save her…

Suddenly, as Yuliana sat absorbed in recycling these depressing thoughts, a strange sound reached her ears. First she heard a bizarre noise, a whoomp, and then unnatural rustling—not from afar, but from the canopy of the apple tree right beside her. No way a sparrow was the cause of that racket.

What was going on?

As she looked up, trying to peer through the dense foliage…

—“Uwaaah!”

...Someone came falling down.

Bewildered, Yuliana watched a young man drop down onto the lawn, covered in leaves.

Ow, ow, ow! That hurt...That seriously hurt…! Aw my back!the man moaned, struggling to get up. “Damn that witch! She landed me there on purpose. It was completely on purpose, I know it! I’ll so get her for this...!”

The youth brushed his white shirt and fixed the glasses on his nose, looking around.

Phew, no guards,” he sighed in relief. “Must be my lucky day...Oh.”

Then, he noticed Yuliana on the bench a few feet away. The princess was too astonished to even manage a sound, and only stared back at the stranger.

Eh, hello?” he said. “My...lord, you’re beautiful.”

Eeh?” Yuliana recovered and stood with an alarmed look. “Who in the world are you? Where did you come from?”

Shh!” the man quickly shushed her. “Please, keep quiet! Act as if I’m not even here. I’m nobody suspicious and won’t do anything weird or hurt you, I swear, so please, don’t alert the guards, okay? Please, please, please...”

“...I won’t, if you explain yourself,” Yuliana felt he was nothing if not suspicious.

Not that the man looked particularly dangerous either. He was hardly any older than Yuliana herself and not much taller. Not a knight or an assassin, that much was clear just by a glance.

My name is Benjamin Watts,” the young man introduced himself. “Please call me Ben. I’m something of a freeloader here at the palace, or a witch’s apprentice, or a royal guest, however you want to spin it. And you must be the famous princess Yuliana, yes? I mean, no matter how I look at you, you must be a princess. A goddess. By chance, I have to ask, are you seeing anyone right now? No princes around? I don’t see any rings on your fingers, does that mean you’re still in the free markets? Would you please consider going out with me...”

I’m going to call the guards,” Yuliana said, narrowing her eyes.

No, please don’t!” he pleaded. “A joke, just a joke, to break the ice! I’m simply here to deliver a message to your highness. And after this is done, I’ll be right out. Nobody needs to get hurt.”

A message?” Yuliana repeated, her suspicions not lessened in the least.

Yes. I will tell you everything, just remain calm, and try to act as naturally as you can. I’m wearing a talisman that renders me invisible, but it’ll only work reliably over a safe distance and when I’m still. The guards will spot me if they get too close, and that’s the absolute worst thing that can happen.”

So what is this message of yours?” Yuliana questioned him, slowly sitting back down. “And who’s the sender? What did you mean, a ‘witch’s apprentice’? Do forgive my doubts, but you don’t look like a sorcerer yourself, in spite of your tricks.”

I shouldn’t say too much,” he replied. “In case the guards suspect something’s up and decide to question you, er, by unnecessarily forceful means. Look, I’ve met with your friend, Izumi. Did I pronounce it right? You know, the lady from the other world.”

What?” Yuliana could barely maintain her composure at hearing the news. “You’ve seen her!? Where? Where is she now? Is she all right?”

Yes, she’s safe, she’s safe,” he answered. “We sort of broke her out of prison, and everything’s fine for the time being. Nothing to worry about. That’s what I came here to tell you. She also wanted proof that your highness is safe. Is there any message you’d like me to take back to her? You know, to give my report some credibility...”

A message...” Yuliana tried quickly to think of something meaningful, and gazed out over the city, into the distant horizon. What did she want to say? What was the most important thing? Then, she made up her mind.

Tell her not to worry about me and get out of this city. I’ll be fine. Tell Izumi to go and follow her dreams instead of wasting her time trying to save me again and again.”

Benjamin scratched his head.

I don’t think she’ll be too happy with a message like that.”

But she’ll know it’s from me.”

How about something like this instead: ‘I’m safe and sound, so feel free to fight without care!’ Like that?”

Yuliana returned him a disapproving scowl.

There’s already enough fighting in the world. She’s done her fair share of that, and too much of it for my sake. Adding to it still isn’t going to make me the least bit happy. I have to become stronger myself. Strong enough to fight my own battles.”

Well,” Benjamin shrugged. “It’s not like I don’t see where you’re coming from. But, try to think of it this way: we all have things that we want in this world. Isn’t that right? Everybody wants something and they work hard to reach it. Sometimes, instead of themselves, people may want things for somebody else. And then, what they want for you ends up going against what you want for them. And it all becomes a downright mess. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but the gist of it is, shouldn’t we all have the freedom to pursue what we want in life, and let others do the same, and just deal with it?

You’re right, not even I can tell where you’re going with this,Yuliana told him.

Let me just ask you this. What is it that you really want right now, your highness? I mean, really-really, in your heart of hearts.”

What I want...” Yuliana repeated with a dejected look. “I cannot for the death of me remember when anyone last asked me that. Everyone is only too happy to decide things for me, be they emperors or villains. Or even family.”

Ah, a hard life,” he nodded, crossing his arms. “Again, I can sort of sympathize with your standing. But, you haven’t resigned to your lot just yet, have you?”

Pardon me?”

It’d be so much easier to just give up and follow the script. But be that as it may, isn’t the truth of it that you’re still fighting for something, even now? Not every battle is a flashy one, waged with swords or fists. Sometimes, this right here is our only weapon.”

The young man tapped his temple with his index finger.

That’s...”

“But does that make it any less of a battle?” he asked. “I don’t think so. War is war. Now, do you think you’re fighting the right battle? The right way? For what you truly want in this life? Your highness?”

...I don’t know anymore,” Yuliana muttered, staring down at her knees. “I thought I was fighting only for my family, for my kingdom. For the good of my people. For the longest time, I thought it was the only fight I was allowed to think about. Who I was as a person, or what I personally wanted, played no part in any of it. My own modest wishes didn’t matter. There was so much more at stake than just me, something that exceeded one princess, one woman, by far. For the good of my people, I was prepared to make any personal sacrifice, no matter how heavy or painful. Even if it meant giving up my own life and happiness. But recently, my resolve on this has been tested time after time again. Did I truly even understand what ‘happiness’ meant, when I was readily throwing it away? What if there are things in this world that will begin to seem more important to me than the future of my own country? It’s...dreadful. To think that there exists a force, in us humans, that can enamor us so and rob us of our senses. Don’t you find that simply maddening?”

I, uh, I’m not entirely sure I follow,” Benjamin furrowed his brows. “But isn’t it fine? What’s wrong with wanting to be happy, a princess or not? I mean, I’ve only known you for five minutes and I already feel it’d be perfectly okay to throw away a kingdom or two for you sake. Yes, easily.”

“….”

...Not that I have that kind of power. But if I did, probably.”

Yuliana answered him with another tired frown,

Perhaps it is a blessing for us all that you don’t have that kind of power.”

Ahahaa, well, a man can dream, right?” Benjamin laughed. “Well, at any rate, what shall I tell Ms Izumi then? ‘Fight for what you believe, and I shall do the same?’”

No,” Yuliana said, determination returning to her gaze. “You will tell her to leave Bhastifal as soon as she can, and that’s that. End of discussion. No more fighting and killing, for any reason. And I mean it.”

Okay, okay. I will tell her you said that. With a disclaimer.”

And also tell her, I will absolutely not forgive her, if she starts something outrageous and dangerous again. I’m serious, enough have died, it has to end somewhere! That mad luck of hers can’t hold out forever. Sooner or later, she will wind up getting seriously hurtNo, I can’t even bear to think about it. Do your very best to make her give up on any attempts to rescue me, do you understand? Tell her, I will hate her forever, if she doesn’t escape immediately and live the rest of her life in peace, somewhere far away from here...For both our sakes. Yes. That’s it.”

Eh...Okay, I believe I can relay an abridged version,” Benjamin’s smile was turning crooked.

Good,” the princess nodded. “My battle is henceforth as the princess of Langoria, with the Emperor. There is no need for anyone else to be involved in our dispute.”

Ah, that’s right, I overheard you met with his majesty this morning. How was it? What did he want, by the way?”

He wants me to convince my father to allow the Empire passage to the southern harbors of Langoria, where he means to assemble a fleet.”

Wow, okay,” Benjamin nodded. “Did you give him an answer yet?”

No, but I will tell him the facts. That it’s impossible. My father will not listen to me or him. All it will do is start the war that nobody wanted. And for what purpose? For another reckless attempt to invade the old continent, which will bring about countless casualties more? It’s senseless! Senseless and completely unnecessary. There must be another way. The world will not be saved with swords and arrows and steel. I will make him see that.”

I, eh, don’t think that’s a very brilliant idea,” Benjamin grunted. “I’ve heard his majesty isn’t one to take no for an answer...”

I know it won't be easy. But that is the battle I’ve chosen to wage.”

Good grief.”

Oh, it appears the guards are coming.”

At Yuliana’s observation, Benjamin looked up.

Indeed, there were two knights coming, the tops of their helmets visible over the gold rose bushes.

Darn it! Darn it, darn it, darn it,” the young man started going through his trouser pocket, hastily pulling out a round bronze medallion with a purple stone at the center. Lines of ancient writing ran around the stone. “How did this work again? Turn the inner part one click right, the outer part two clicks the other way...Then speak the incantation...”

The guards turned around the corner of the flowerbeds. Their stride was quick.

Benjamin hid behind the apple tree near the bench where Yuliana was sitting.

I really wanted to speak with you more, but...” he said, “...Ah! Wait, but we can! Take this!”

He struggled to dig through his pockets again, soon taking out an elegant little metal chain.

I have another like it. If you merely hold it on your wrist, we'll be able to converse even over a great distance. Just don't let anyone see it, okay? The enchantment doesn’t have a whole lot of juice, so only use it if there's an emergency. Got it?”

Yes, I understand. Go.”

Oh, and try not to break it or lose it. It's kind of old and expensive, the owner will probably want it back. If something happens to it...She'll blame it on me, I'm sure.”

I understand, go!”

I will, I will!”

Gripping his amulet, Benjamin crouched and yelled, “Azulé!”

And vanished in a burst of sparkling, violet dust.

In the end, who was he…?” Yuliana pondered with an exhausted sigh.

 

The guards approached the princess and halted a few feet away.

Was someone here?” one of them asked, glancing cautiously around.

Yes, and he flew away,” the princess answered as she stood. “I take it my break is now over?”

 

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