A few hours before
Aldrison presented a letter with the royal seal to his master.
“Your invitation arrived. The party starts this evening and most of the nobles are invited regardless of their political stances”
The letter itself was formless, a formal invitation to a royal party, but nonetheless Ruck had to go.
“I don't know if the emperor has knowledge on what happened or if he is just inviting us for a grand celebration without any political background.
Still, that my invitation arrived so late is a sign that he doesn't hold me in high regards like in the past.
Did our fellow lords also receive this invitation?”
“Yes, my lord. Their servants arrived through the course of the day and asked if we have(?)anything for their lords. I couldn't give them any information and it looks like they are not supposed to leave without it. They are waiting in the hall.”
“It's a bit early to roll out our plan but give them the prepared letters. The emperor made his move first but he couldn't give us any better chance than this evening. Also message our troops, they are to prepare and be fully armed this evening.”
Aldrison left shortly after, leaving the chancellor alone in the room. Ruck walked to the window and looked up to the palace.
“You made your first and last mistake today, my highness. It's time for you to leave”
Downtown | Royal City
From the main streets some unpleasant sounds are ringing through the town. Since several minutes ago, an unknown force appeared in the streets and started to slaughter everyone in their advance.
The cries and screams of the citizens were disgruntled when it started but the most awful thing came after it - the silence of the dead, lingering above the city.
The streets were empty, except for the dead bodies of youths,parents and elders. No cheerful voices filling the taverns, no monotonous beats coming from the smiths and none of the scolding voices of parents either.
In the side streets, where normally the light-shunning criminals were making their deals, a shadow was darting through the silent town, avoiding any gaze that could still strife around the streets.
The shadow was still to accomplish his prior mission that was inquired by the princess when an urgent alert from the emperor made him retreat on the spot. He did so with even more haste after his attempts to get more details from the emperor were answered with silence.
As the emperor’s personal guardian, an unofficial role, he only had to obey the royal family. After the task to keep an eye on the princess he drafted into her spy network and watched over her, coming closer to her trust and being recruited as her personal spy. It was a pleasant task, the princess was a wise and witful person and he looked forward to serve under her rule after his current master passed away.
After a few seconds hiding, the shadow was vanishing again and his path was aiming towards the castle, where the illuminated gardens showed the semblance of a still ongoing party.
However, something was wrong. Standing near the inner circle of the town, you should be able to hear the various attractions of the party but only silence came to his ears.
“This is bad”, was his only thought as he was jumping from shadow to shadow and circling around the wall the palace was residing on.
After passing half of the wall he came to a damaged house, broken windows and collapsed walls. He was to regard this fact when he stopped to oversee his current position and the town.
Some of the unknown soldiers’ fires were still burning, but for the most part the town was still intact.
“Why is this house destroyed but the rest of town intact?”
He turned back and jumped to the roof next to the damaged building. From the top, you could see that something fell from a great height and hit the center of the roof, which probably collapsed after the impact. The size of the hole indicated a large object fell there but he didn't see any major magic attacks on his way to the town. Also, the forces didn't bring any siege weapon with them. There were no damages to the surroundings and the machinery would definitely leave some trails during their transportation. Either this happened before he entered the vicinity or a talented mage successfully hid the traces of magic use in the aether.
Staring into the dark hole, a glimmer of light seemed to shine through the rubble in the dim lights, vanishing a second later. That glimmer alone was enough to raise his curiosity.
Igniting a small sunstone, a magical stone imbued with characteristics to shine when in touch with mana, he dropped onto the highest floor of the building. Keeping his guard up, he checked for traps, but only heard some rubble falling after his jump down.
He was in a normal master bedroom with some small furniture and some private accessories from the owners. Nobody was in sight, so they probably weren't at home when everything happened. After making sure that there was no imminent danger, he focused on the hole in the floor.
The next floor was pitch black and silent. Grabbing a pebble, he threw it down the hole and listened. After a few seconds, the stone hit the ground. “Whatever fell down here impacted with force enough to crash through multiple floors before stopping”.
He wanted to continue his search for the emperor, but couldn't stop his curiosity about the sole damaged house in the entire town. Making a fast but maybe unwise decision, if there were still mages from the attacking force in the vicinity, he threw the sunstone down the hole and watched.
Like the pebble, it hit the ground, but also served to illuminate the bottom. It seems like the object fell into the cellar and got stopped by solid ground.
He closed his eyes for a second; “Come to my aid and steer my vision”, he whispered, reciting the spell to enhance his vision. If anyone was in the area around the house, he would have been detected by now. Summoning a Mârden during the invasion wasn't a wise decision, but he had no choice other than finishing this quickly and returning to his search. He held his breath, waiting for a shout from the enemies signaling his detection, but the city remained silent.
Opening his eyes again, he turned towards the bottom of the collapse. The hole was more than 5m wide and a big pile of rubble of wood, stone and various goods from the house had accumulated there. He still couldn't see the glimmer he spotted from the top.
He was about to leave when in the corner of his eyes he saw the glimmer again. On the near left side of the pile of rubble, a gem was reflecting the light of the sunstone that rolled just a second ago from the top of the pile.
For the inner circle, such a gem was nothing noteworthy, most of the nobles had accessories with similar sized gems, but what struck his mind was the colour. Not green, yellow or a different colour. No, it was red. A medium sized red gem on the bottom of an impacted house.
The empire’s royal family had the tradition of imbuing their gems with the same colour as their first-born eyes. As for the rest of the citizens, they stopped using them as honor to the royal family.
And only one person in the entire empire with eyes like burning ruby came to his mind.
“Nobody could survive such an impact. She probably fell all the way down and her end was quick.”
The moment he had this realization, he was overcome with feelings that he felt never before.
Shame because he failed his emperor in protecting his only child, fear of what would come and anxiety about how he should deliver the news of the emperor’s only child’s death.
While his mind was tasked with so much negative remorse, a faint hope of the princess still being alive came this mind.
“The people stopped using red gems, but that doesn't mean they don't exist anymore. They store them away to be used after the passing of the child or after the royal family has a new child”
With his hopes and griefs in mind, he jumped down the hole, passing all the floors before magically slowing his fall and landing beside the rubble. In the worst case, he would have to take at least the body back, before the invaders could find and humiliate it.
He saw the nicely decorated dress under some wooden beams and stone rubble. Right beside the gem was a heavily deformed diadem, that he knew belonged to only one person.
The princess of the empire.
More could not be seen under the rubble and he didn't even dare to imagine how the body would be like. In lifetime, a beauty, but the black grasp of death doesn't care about such things.
He still would have to free the body to take it with him, so he began to chant to remove the pile.
Slowly the rubbish was lifting and more and more of the dress could be seen, but something wasn't right.
While the Diadem was heavily damaged, no doubt the fall was the reason, the dress was still intact as if it was still in the cabinet. Such dresses didn't even survive a party unhurt, much less a fall from such heights.
“What is going on”, he thought as his glimmer of hope resurfaced for some reason. Enchanting his spell with more mana, he quickens the process, disregarding the fact that so much mana would be detectable from a far distance.
After cumbersome minutes, fearing his discovery or the inevitable fact of the princess death, the body was free. The sunstone was dimmed and now only a faint light was spreading through the room. Igniting a second sunstone, he came closer to the princess’ body, prepared to accept the fact the rational part of his mind was telling him.
But the body was in perfect condition, as far as he could see. Not even a scratch after such an impact, which was unbelievable. He thought his mind was playing tricks on him.
Reaching out with his hand, he wanted to confirm if this was real or only a dream fostered by his hopes. But this body was made out of flesh and blood and he could feel the warmth of the princess.
Suddenly her pendant started to glow, filling the room with bright red light. His danger sense went to high levels and he jumped back, thinking that this was a trap and preparing for the worst.
The light went dim and focused on a small area above the princess. After some minor interference by the aether, a body appeared and he couldn't trust his eyes, even his ability to speak failed him.
The deceased queen, mother of the princess, was standing in this very room. After she turned around and focused her eyes on him, he recollected himself.
“How can this be, your highness is dead. I witnessed your funeral”
“I'm not really here. This is just an after image of myself and even that is only half true. I'm a magical construct made by the empress. Even though I have her memories, I'm merely an echo of a long dead woman. Imbued in this pendant, I was tasked to guard the princess even after the empress perished. Even this appearance is just an image of the real empress.”
“To guard? It doesn't really look like you succeeded with that. If you haven't noticed, the princess fell all the way down from the palace and crashed into a house. The princess is dead and you and I are too late.”
Normally he wouldn't talk so rudely, but this whole situation was so bizarre that he forgot his place for a moment.
The empress, no, the magical construct narrowed its eyes and looked a bit furious with that reaction.
“What you see right now is only one part of my functions. In case something atrocious happens to the princess, I'm to guard her with all my might, even the all mana I need to exist in this pendant is used for the protection.”
“So you succeeded?”
“The princess is alive”
“Such was my purpose”
“But why is she sleeping?”
“Before she impacted, I made her sleep, but..”
“During my initialization of the spell to make her sleep, I had to maintain two tasks which required mana. One for the process to make her sleep and the other to shield her from the impact. I wasn't built to handle the flow and feedback of two spells at once.”
“What does this mean?”
“The strength of the protection spells leaked into the process that made her sleep, amplifying it. I can't predict when she will wake up. In a rare case I would even assume she could never wake up again.”
“I hope this is a joke. How can you call yourself a protection if you send her into an eternal sleep”
“This construct wasn´t made to know the concept of jokes”
This whole situation was getting more ridiculous with every second and it was far from getting better after the initial happiness of finding the princess unharmed. Now there was a chance for her to be sleeping forever.
The magical construct was silently hovering above the princess, not moving. It turned back to him and asked “What even happened for her to be in this situation?”
“In case something happens to the princess, the empress gave me the ability to review her memories before the imminent danger to her appeared. I can display this if you wish.”
The magical construct started to vanish and a small projection of the princess’ view came to sight.
During the next few minutes, he lived through the nightmare the princess endured, barely holding himself together before his emotions of rage would make him take unwise decisions.
He knew he couldn't stay inside the city, too high was the danger of being detected and if he was to take the princess out of the city it would be even more difficult. He had the advantage that the chancellor thought she was dead, but nonetheless he may have wanted to claim her body.
“But where to go?”, he thought. Nothing that belongs to the royal family would be safe now and he had no secret hiding spots. The enemies were inside the cit--
“Wait a second. Inside the city? If they have their forces concentrated here, it means the outer skirts are safer and less patrolled. But where to hide? I can't trust anyone and the chance that the lords loyal to the royal faction would fear for their life and betray us is high, they may even be running away from the city right now. The only person I know that is currently here is Ruck and…”
After a flash of inspiration he knew where to hide and prepared to depart.