As expected of the twins, Gwendolyn and Orwitz stood before me in the throne room the very next morning, not wasting any time at all fulfilling my ‘summons’. Even though such dedication wasn’t necessary, they were simply too accustomed to following orders from those above them.
Such stiffness only made the silky patterns of regal garments and the heavy metal crown upon my head feel even more uncomfortable. As I sat there, ready to begin another day of work, I couldn’t help but feel an itch growing on my back, the normal result of being unused to a situation. After all, it had barely been a month since I took up the crown officially.
After Eryn and Cornelius left on a journey to explore newfound freedom, I confessed my feelings to Katalina. And in the following months, the Kingdom of Sistina welcomed its new king-in-training, culminating in a large coronation ceremony that involved Sanshiro and Macali as well.
In fact, the festivities went on for a full week, since it had been many years since the kingdom had both a king and queen. Katalina fondly recalled the mother who passed away from illness when she was still a child. Her love of invention was partially due to the memories of her wisdom. At first, I wondered how the kingdom would receive a whimsical guy that wore his heart on his sleeve and hoverboarded around during his normal duties. That drew a contrast to the stern and daunting man that King Reginald was, what my own perception of a king generally held.
But the citizens didn’t seem to mind it. Perhaps, they were already accustomed to a Chancellor that whizzed by to tend to business before leaving like a cheery adventurer joyously completing a request. A king of similar character wasn’t so much of a stretch then. However, Katalina summed it up nicely in one statement.
“You are king, their king. If they didn’t like the thought of that, their eyes wouldn’t gaze at you so directly. They wouldn’t reach out and give you a pat on the back, like a child grown up taking the time to visit. You represent them as you always have. What better choice would make them happier?”
Such honest feelings made me a bit embarrassed, but I knew by now that I was my own worst critic. Learning to let that go and simply embrace that feeling would come in time, now that I had a loving partner to remind me at every opportunity.
“However… that doesn’t mean that you can continue to dress like Chef Fancy Pants all the time. Even I had to clean up my wardrobe upon taking up the crown.”
Those words dashed whatever confidence had welled up in me at that moment. There was nothing untrue about her statement. She had, in fact, cleaned up quite admirably, only allowing herself to look unkempt in her lab. Everywhere else, her appearance and mannerisms were well-practiced and elegant, as her position dictated. She knew the time and place for letting loose versus putting on a mask of royalty.
That was something that I was still struggling with, my quirks defining my casual nature. But that didn’t matter at the moment. Katalina’s eyes weren’t hinting with hidden critique as we weren’t doing official business. The summons for Gwendolyn and Orwitz was an informal one.
“Gwendolyn, Orwitz, we have called you here because of your unique issue. We may have found something that could alleviate the burden the two of you possess.”
The twins’ eyes widened at that news. They knew exactly what I was inferring – the fact that they had a mere half of a core within each other. That made it near impossible for them to be apart for any long periods of time.
While they had grown to be near inseparable, the rest of us felt like it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a solution to mitigate the consequences if they do happen to be apart. I joked to Dengel about how he would have to tolerate them both if he wanted to have any chance at courting Gwendolyn. Perhaps, my teasing went too far, particularly when he became red in the face at the mention of ‘both of them in the bedroom’ as a requirement.
As an apology to a man who was often too serious for his own good, Katalina and I put together our abilities to create a suitable workaround.
Gwendolyn and Orwitz looked like eager chicks waiting for a worm, their childish innocence clashing with the military uniforms that they chose to wear. Their attention immediately honed onto a man stepping forward with a cushioned tray. The slightly hunched over, sullen man in a lab coat was Jayce, Katalina’s right-hand inventor. He had been put in charge of this endeavor.
The twins stared at the two objects resting upon the tray, which looked like gems encased within a smooth, glassy material, not so different from a charm one would wear as a necklace. The two of them picked it up and rolled it in their palms, immediately noticing how light it felt. It certainly did not weigh upon their fingers like an orb of glass would.
“Your Majesty, how would such a gem be different from the bracelets that you have bestowed upon us? We are truly grateful to borrow your plentiful mana to complete our duties, but I cannot help but wonder if we grow dependent on you. At this rate, we cannot pay this kingdom back for its generosity.”
“Ah, don’t worry about that. These ‘charms’, for a lack of a better word, aren’t just another ornament to call on some powers, but rather, they are devices meant to be implanted to boost the range of your dependency.”
The twins tilted their heads in confusion, having misunderstood the purpose. I couldn’t blame them, as it probably reminded them of the Resonance Stones embedded in the suits that they wore. The ones presented to them had a similar stone within the plastic mold housing it.
However, there was one big difference.
“These little objects are meant to complement the inefficient core that forces the two of you to be in the same place. With the enchantment given, the Resonance Stones within will constantly cycle the mana flowing between you two, thereby allowing for the transfer to happen at any distance.”
The concept was pretty simple, since Katalina had already developed communicators that worked across kingdoms. The stones served as open channels for their mana to flow between each other. Similarly, connecting the two partial cores into a whole one would allow Gwendolyn and Orwitz to feel each other, even when apart.
“That is very gracious of you, Your Majesty. We will accept any modifications that you believe would help us perform our duties even better,” the two of them said in sync.
I had to bring my hand up for a facepalm. The way they replied was not at all what I expected. It made me feel like a mad scientist on the verge of creating some kind of technological weapon that shirked moral boundaries. But fortunately, the others in the room didn’t seem bothered by their statement. They obviously hadn’t seen Murphy’s law at play in anime.
Yet, the very next thing I needed to convey would dig me even deeper down that rabbit hole.
“Are you not concerned that we need to, um, ‘implant’ them onto your cores?”
The twins blinked at those words, their lack of realization of what that meant evident.
“Your Majesty, what does ‘implant’ mean? From your tone, I take it that we are not understanding the process correctly.”
Gwendolyn was often the one to question when it came to smelling any sign of danger. She had an extra sense when it came to protecting her younger sibling, with a bit more emotion to go with it.
“To be frank, that means that we have to cut a hole in your body and stick the thing to your core directly. And well… surgery isn’t the most advanced thing in this world…”
The mention of physical harm done to them caused Gwendolyn to flinch defensively, but that lasted only for a moment. She could tell that I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the procedure either. In fact, a fierce chill was running down my spine, a result of nerves with having to perform the task on someone living. Katalina placed a hand on my wrist to calm me. After taking a deep breath, I continued.
“Unfortunately, the nature of the device requires that I have to perform the surgery myself. Because it requires the powers of Critical and my mana vision.”
The way I hesitantly said that while unable to make eye contact told Gwendolyn and Orwitz exactly what the situation called for. They would be placing themselves at risk – an unproven procedure done with the mysterious powers of an Electi. It would make anyone pause to consider. However, I could already tell that they had made up their mind.
“Our lives are in your hands, Your Majesty. They have been since you saved us. And you continue to do so with our beliefs in mind. Even yesterday, you-”
“EHEM!” I coughed loudly, directing it right at them in reminder.
“You… extended this offer purely for our sakes, continuing to check on us even as we are under the care of Earl Faulkner.”
I hadn’t told Katalina yet of my nighttime stroll to go take out bad guys, leaving her to take care of the mundane duties of ruling in the meantime. I wanted to help. I really did. But the thought of meticulously blueprinting stretches and stretches of ley lines, encompassing the entire region of the Northern Lands, couldn’t hold a candle to busting up a slave auction. I had entrusted Dengel to look into such issues, but it didn’t hurt to personally check things occasionally.
Unfortunately, Katalina took notice of the snafu in Gwendolyn’s speech, as I felt the grip upon my arm tighten for a moment.
“Good, I have faith that Claude will do a perfect job at it. After all the practice that I left him to focus on, I believe that he compensated for any errors.”
My body stiffened as the twins stared at me with inquisitive expressions. I was supposed to have been preparing for the surgery, which was my excuse for skipping out.
“Hey! Why are you making it sound like I’m some serial killer in a slasher story?! I tested on animals! Animals!” I yelled in response before lowering my voice to a mumble, “…and a few fresh corpses…”
I put the blame squarely on Jayce for that one, as he pointed out that the research wouldn’t be thorough enough if I didn’t try it on an actual human. He referenced several books that I hoped not to ever see again. Among them was, ‘Carving the Human Body – A Guide to Dismantling Flesh.’ That instantly dug up memories that I wished to forget.
‘While I need to know exactly how a core responds to tinkering, the extra information on how to skin and remove the entrails, along with the proper method to box up the body parts into little ‘sampling cases’, was FAR more than I ever wish to know.’
In contrast, Jayce had already read that and other books of similar detail from cover to cover. Due to his prior occupation of working in a bookstore, there was very little that bothered him in literature. He had even read the dreaded novels aimed at fujoshi, knowing full well the model for the main character!
Regardless, it seemed like only I could do the operation, despite the fact that I had done more of carving up bodies to death than I had for any kind of medical profession. I prayed to Chrys for some measure of her Luck to be bestowed upon me.
Scheduling the operation for a later time, the twins left to go back to their business. After a deep sigh with anxiety of the impending ordeal, I tried to put it out of my mind for now and continue the day.
However, the grip on my arm tightened once again.
“Dear, what’s this I heard about a ‘Slicey Mask’? I understand ducking out on your more ‘boring’ duties, but couldn’t you have at least had more tact?”
“I… uhh… I need to fix my terrible naming schemes, don’t I?”
“Should I come along next time?”
“And what would you call yourself?”
“How about Brainy Mask?”
“I-, whatever, guess that will work.”
We smiled at each other, holding back a chuckle. Our hands intertwined as we waited for the throne room door to open once again. This time, to start actual royal matters.