“Auguste dear, did you really not plan something?”
Moments before Clarissa’s arrival, Diane and Auguste had a little chat on their throne.
Auguste took a deep sigh. “None. Zero. In fact, I think I overdid it.”
“… All this time you avoided Amelia was just to sort your mind?” Diane was perturbed. Such reason was unthinkable. “Auguste, that’s unbecoming of you. You do know that detaining your daughter unreasonably would allow hate to grow between the two of you.”
“I can’t explain it, Diane. I’m bothered. Deeply bothered.” Auguste roamed his eyes around the throne room. There was nothing. Only the moonlight and light balls visited the empty room. “There is this itch that I kept feeling whenever I’m around Amelia. Although I don’t know what it is, I feel that there’s something.”
“Auguste, I have to remind you. Your instincts are often on the mark, but it isn’t perfect.” Diane held Auguste’s hand on the armrest. She slid her slim fingers from the back of his hand till his forearm. “You were injured once. It was a fool’s action. But I can remember how deep the cut was.”
“I know, I know.” Auguste’s open and clenched his hand, trying to recall the sensation of losing control of his own hand. “But this and that are different. That time was a battlefield. This time, it’s about our daughter.”
“So you won’t budge.”
“Not an inch. Not unless I found out what is happening.” Auguste looked to his side. There sat his sword he used against Amelia to own his trust. Just recalling how they fought each other gave him a sense of regret. “Maybe I shouldn’t have given her a handicap.”
“Auguste. A loss is a loss.”
Auguste chuckled. “She did grow to be a strong woman. But honestly, it’s making me uneasy. The more she grows stronger, the more she’ll end up in the front lines. Just imagining it makes me worry about her future.”
Diane leaned on her throne. “I feel the same. But I cannot blame her. Given what she has been through, it was obvious that she’d make it her wish to continue Father’s dream. In that sense, I hate Father.”
Auguste laughed. “To think that you’d fail to douse your daughter with the reality of what she’s after, it kind of makes me think she surpassed you in some ways.”
“No, Auguste. I did not fail to make her realize the difficulty of what she sought. Her sheer will was what ferried her through the ordeals we have given. However, on that matter, I accept that she has beaten me. In fact, I thought she’d give up halfway through.” Diane massaged her forehead. “But I have to say, never in my life did I imagine that she’d grow up like this.”
A weary smile crept on Auguste’s face. “So did I.”
“That matter aside, Auguste, it seemed that Hero Charles took an interest in Amelia.” Diane slid her fingers between Auguste’s. “I feel uneasy.”
“...” Auguste shut his eyes and imagined a course of action. “That boy, Maxwell. He was taking care of it, right?”
“What about the other Heroes?”
“So far, it was only Hero Charles. Regarding Hero Meiko… Judging by how you were acting recently, I believe you already knew.”
Auguste nodded. “The other two?”
“They remain in Libet.”
“So it’s only Charles.” Auguste look beyond the window and said, “Your plans? How will you interact with the Heroes.”
“Them coming from Libet makes them a potential enemy rather than an ally. So far, I have ordered to not let a Hero go through the borders. But I believe it isn’t enough to stop them. Regarding Charles, it’s fortunate enough that he intended to go through a formal process of meeting with our daughter. It’s a relief. However, when it comes to engaging the Heroes, I believe we have none who can match up to them… not unless we employed the Tribe’s help.”
Auguste’s eyebrows twitched. He then recalled the Tribe’s recent victory against a dragon. “Right. They manage to take one down.”
“I’m sure the Nobles are thrilled that we are allied to such a force. However, I can’t see them acting under our military.”
“It can’t be helped. Their and our goals are different.”
“True. But it’s sad to say our military force is not formidable.”
Auguste clenched his fist. “We have been living in peace for a long time. It has dulled the blades our knights and soldiers. Even the horses bred for war are now being used for transportation. It’s inevitable. Our ancestors have focused much on prosperity in the name of peace, leaving our military to wither.”
“So it seems.” Diane stood and walked a step down the throne. “Other than a fight with stamina, I believe our only choice is to engage them in wits.”
Auguste stood behind Diane and held her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Diane. I know I’m giving you most of the burden, but you’re the only one who can handle this. But I promise you this. In a year, Laurel’s strength would increase.”
Diane snickered. “A year? Just that much?”
Auguste chuckled. “Don’t be haughty now. I know you’ve been imposing an image on Argent and Amelia, but don’t push yourself too much. I myself know how much you wanted to act as an ordinary Mother.”
Diane took another step down the throne. “It’s fine, Auguste. Argent and Amelia must learn. We have accepted the mask of royalty, so we must wear it until the time to pass it towards another actor.”
Auguste walked passed Diane and looked up to her. “One of these days. As a family, let’s all go out.”
An endearing smile found itself on Diane’s expression. “I wonder how Argent and Amelia would react once they see us far removed from usual.”
Auguste laughed. “I bet they’ll ask if we really are their parents.”
Empty. The night sky was vacant apart from the clouds and the stars, but it felt rather empty. No, it might have been me who felt it was empty. However, I could see nothing. Feel nothing. Sense nothing. Hence, I concluded it was empty.
I raised my arm and placed my palm against the window. With a wine on my other hand, I raised it and downed a mouthful. It was a waste for a wine of such quality. However, matters were different. The night was different. My life became different.
To be precise, it was the same life I lived since I stood on my own. But it was shattered, mercilessly, unforgivably. To think the that my sister would be the person to trample over my efforts was unexpected. Truly. Daunting even.
Most of all, “Why now?”
Of all the possible time she could have told me the truth, why was it now? A time when I was supposed to meet Clarissa? Collecting all the information I had and my knowledge as her brother, I came to one conclusion.
Right. That sister of mine. That insane sister of mine, Amelia, was desperate. There was no shred of doubt that lingered in my mind when the thought came to be.
I knew it. I felt it in her firm hold of my hand as she pointed the scissors' blade at her own neck. She herself probably knew it was an act, but her taking the action itself said otherwise.
However, something felt off. Something was completely amiss. And to be honest, my emotions were in a complete jumble. It was like a pile of rubble from the once collapsed ideals of mine. But her words took a root inside my mind.
“Is forsaking my humanity running away?”
I could not take it out of my mind. Those words, rather than inducing my hatred from keeping me away from the truth, it invited an inexplicable emotion. Because, first of all, I never knew how it felt to throw away my own humanity. Rather, I never knew a way to trade my humanity for something else. It could be possible if one offered his soul to a demon, but tall tales were far from reality. Demons, from the very start, was a term coined by the massive religious organization of Libet. So, for those who knew the facts, there was not a well-known method to trade one’s humanity for something else.
However, the horns that grew from her head felt real. Though I knew my sister could conjure an illusion and delude me, the look in her eyes convinced me. It was the very same eyes she held onto me when she wanted to save her Maidservant, Erina, from being sentenced. They were eyes resigned to the only path she could tread to move forward.
But emotions sure are fickle. Whether I should remain with this inexplicable emotion or tread the path towards wrath was unknown.
Or maybe it was fear. Yes, it could have been fear. Possibly.
Her strength completely outmatched mine. It was not even on the level of a child against an adult. Perhaps a child against an experienced knight would be fitting. Still, it was heart-rending. Who knew? Who knew that she gained such strength by denying her humanity? Or rather, would she still hold the same principles as humans afterward? It could have been a misguided question, but it was unsettling to know that you are dealing with an unknown.
Besides, what are the side-effects of losing one’s humanity? Would her sanity be the same as before? If perhaps she had become part of those long-lived races, would her concept of time change? Would her habits change? Would her tendencies change?
There was no definite answer. Which was why I was locked down in place with thoughts running in an endless loop.
“How did it come to this?”
I focused on learning how to rule. How to spread influence and the like. All the while making use of it to gain information about Grandmother. At one point, I came to notice that it was useless to search for clues around the palace, despite it being the last location she was last seen.
Strange it was, that was what I came to after years of information gathering. But behold, despite my efforts, my sister who had her mind set on an entirely different matter found her—even retrieved her. Funny. Laughable. It was as if the Gods came down from their realm to mock the time I have spent.
The thought crossed my mind several times. Maybe I should seek Mother’s advice about this unbelievable situation. However, I hesitated. I did not know how would they react. I could not imagine how things would flow if end up exposing her secret.
“Your Highness, the carriage is about to leave.” The voice across the room interrupted my state of mind.
“I’ll be there,” I answered.
The moment I sat in the carriage, my butler inquired my mental preparation.
“It’s fine. I knew Clarissa since we were children. We are no complete strangers. However, getting to know her once more would probably the best action I could take.”
My butler rattled on, expressing his joy regarding the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, my being remained muted caused him to smile regardless. Perhaps he thought I was in a deep thought about me and Clarissa’s future.
I should get to the bottom of this. I swore. I swore as I quelled the raging fire within my core. Amelia, you have a lot of explaining to do.
Getting swept by my emotions and resorting to violence would do me no good. Or even, is violence even a choice now that my sister is completely out of my league? Knowing her, perhaps she would let me release these smoldering emotions.
I shook my head as I thought of it.
Truth. The truth must come first before the verdict. Yes. That is how it should work. Royal or not, it is Laurel’s law. I must abide with it as a future ruler.
It did not take long before we arrived at our destination. The location was in the midst of the Noble division of Aves, where a Grand Hall stood for such occasions. Usually, events as such are held in the palace, however, following after tradition, the next candidate was this Hall.
Unimportant matters aside, I arrived and mingled with the Nobles. They raised questions and hinted their expectation of my being King. But such matters were not of importance.
“We will see when the time comes.” A safe answer. Then another.
The clock ticked, but she has yet to come. My sister has yet to arrive.
I have expected her to be the first to arrive, aside from Mark, among us siblings, but she was nowhere in sight. I had asked the Nobles if they came across her. Unfortunately, she had not arrived.
Maybe she backed out to give me some time to think. Or perhaps, she wanted me to spend the night with Clarissa. But such rash action would earn Mother’s and Father’s questioning gazes. After all, to the Nobles, it may seem like she had not fully given her consent on my and Clarissa’s betrothal—despite her and Maxwell declaring it themselves.
I shook my head in denial.
No, she should arrive. She must arrive. There’s no telling what rumors could have spread if she did not arrive.
Possibly, it could become a hole for the Nobles who were against the marriage to undermine.
Soon, Mother and Father arrived.
“Where is your sister, Amelia?” Mother asked, unsmiling.
“She has yet to arrive.”
I did not miss it, the twitch in her lips. I was sure Mother’s blood was starting to boil. The disgrace my sister brought, for Mother, who was present, it was inexcusable.
Mother walked towards Father’s celebratory throne and delivered the matter—which cast a frown. Immediately after, a knight walked after Mother and Father and delivered another message. This time, the news warped their faces in distraught.
Curiosity urged my feet, but that same curiosity froze me in place.
My sister, Amelia, went missing.