The Duke’s body sputtered as his eyes opened to the sight of a crowd around him. By this time, everyone had stopped fighting and were looking anxiously at him.
Enough time had passed such that Cornelius’s spell had expired, releasing the two from their icy prison. As Cornelius gasped for fresh air, he looked over and saw the Duke lying on the ground with me hovering above. Knowing that our objective had been complete, he proclaimed to everyone.
“As you can see, Chef Evers has given the Duke a potion, one that will force him to speak his mind, without the lies, without the deception. I ask this as the Watchdog of the King, bear witness to the truth as told by Duke Charlemagne!”
The Chancellor breathed a sigh of defeat.
“Fine, if you’ve gotten that far. Let’s hear what he has to say.”
And so, a semi-circle of people formed around the Duke, waiting to hear what the accused had to say. Everyone had set aside their differences when they had learned of our true objectives.
Cornelius was the first to speak as he paced around like a lawyer.
“Are you, Duke Caspar Charlemagne, capable of lying to us at this moment?”
“Well yes, I am able to. That is, unless you command me not to,” the Duke said with a hazy expression.
“Then I shall command you to tell the truth. My first question… were you responsible for the murder of Roland Faulkner?”
“Yes, I was. I gave the order.”
Eryn clenched the helm of her dress tightly.
“Did you, or did you not, target him in order to gain the hand of Miss Eryn Faulkner?”
“I couldn’t allow the girl to escape my grasp! I couldn’t let her gain the title of Baroness, which was sure to happen before she turned 18. My plans! All of my plans were for her!” The Duke screamed passionately.
“You make it sound like you had a personal stake. For what reason did you have to target her, a person of lower nobility?” Cornelius said curiously.
“She was like a gem waiting to be cracked! A gem of unsurpassed hardness that I could pound away, savoring the moment in which I succeeded! I couldn’t wait to polish her and make her shine before watching her crumble beneath my hands!”
At this point, the crowd became flustered by the Duke’s unnerving candidness. None of them knew of the secret desires that he held, and the supporters started hiding their faces in embarrassment that they had approved of such a man.
In my case, the thought of him mistreating Eryn in such a manner made me clench my hammer tight enough that I felt like my fingertips would dislocate from their joints.
“Well, the details of your obsessions I could do without. Let’s turn to another matter. I have in my hand a notebook detailing various connections with known criminals and underground dealers. Allow me to list them for you.”
Cornelius read off the names in the book. As he did, a few people in the crowd perked up, seeming to recognize some of them.
“Did you request for them to perform illegal transactions for your own self-benefit?”
“I did. For all of them.”
One man in the crowd jumped up.
“You said that you couldn’t find the culprit that had kidnapped my daughter! Did you sell her off for your own gain?!”
The Duke said with a smile. “Yes, the sweet Olivia. She was a useful piece to gain exclusive trading rights to the Northern Lands. I imagine that merchant is having a fun time with her as a slave.”
The man dropped down in horror at the first piece of information he heard about his daughter in three years.
“You! My territory eroded due to that criminal! Did you put him up to it so that you could provide a way to make me indebted to you?” Another man raised his voice.
“Ah, Viscount Cornwallis. I can say that I did suggest for the man to poison the waters in your lands. That was apparently all that was required to bring your dominion into turmoil. Quite simple, really.”
Over and over, the people flung accusations at the Duke, only to have their fears confirmed. What remained of his supporters had continued to be chipped away with every nod of his head. Though they had known that his practices were a bit shady, they waved it off thinking that all nobles were the same. But once the flaws in his empire built upon deception were brought to light, there was no longer enough of his own merit to maintain it from collapsing.
In truth, the Duke had done much, even without needing to rely on distasteful methods. However, it only took a few acts of wrongdoing for people to dwell on the bad. Moving to distract the mob of angered people, Cornelius cut them off with a separate topic.
“Now then, it appears that you had tried to rally the support of the nobility. Was it because you desire the crown?”
“Hmph. I could care less about the crown.”
We all paused at his unexpected answer, especially his once supporters who had been led to believe that he was aiming to be the next king. However, his next words led to a moment that none of us would forget.
“What I cared about were those blasted rules! ‘Acquisition’ of people restricted until they were 18? Disallowed if they were a noble? I spit on these rules! Years and years of planning to regain the gem that I once lost! Years of grief that I was not able to grasp the object of my affections! What of titles when I am not allowed to do as I please? Why am I not allowed to harness those lower than me over mere technicalities?”
Eryn stepped forward, gripping her sheathed sword tightly as her body trembled in fury.
“That gem… that was my mother, wasn’t it? WASN’T IT!”
“Ah, the lovely Gracia. How I remember her so fondly. You look so much like her. It was rather unfortunate that she had to dive in the way to protect that lowly merchant. If not for those accursed laws, the two of you could have been mine much earlier. Why yes, the thought of mother and daughter together… GAHAHAHAHA…”
The depth of the Duke’s obsession knew no bounds. I subconsciously drew my knife as thoughts of vengeance plagued my mind.
‘I have to kill him. I have to rid this world of this vile man. For Eryn’s sake.’
I stepped forward, not feeling fully in control of myself. Before I had known it, I had activated my skill. My eyes searched along his bare face and neck, seeing if there was a place to strike. Seeing if there was a spot that would instantly end the ravings of this insane man.
Before I had managed to cross half of the distance, a loud cry shook the garden.
A severed head flew across the air and landed with a thud as it rolled a few feet away. The Duke’s body collapsed, no longer possessing the organ that willed it to stay up.
A silence swept over the entire garden at the sudden beheading of the Duke, which Eryn had been responsible for in her moment of rage.
I looked over to see Eryn’s dress speckled with fresh blood. She could care less about that. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she knelt down and laid her sword on the ground.
“Mother… Father… Uncle… I found the one responsible… you can rest easy…,” She said in between sobs.
I lowered my hand that held the knife and looked around. Cornelius looked on in horror, not having expected this outcome. His voice was caught in his throat. Others in the crowd looked away, not wanting to see the sobbing girl filled with sorrow before the gruesome scene. A mixture of expressions was dyed on their faces.
Expressions of pity for her situation.
Expressions of regret for not stepping in to stop her or coming up with another way.
Expressions of fear for what was to come.
The Chancellor was the first to break the silence.
“The murder of nobility is a serious crime. I’m afraid that I’ll have to arrest you.”
Having been done in plain sight with so many witnesses, there was nothing Cornelius could say to counter that. The kingdom had laws, laws that only a King could overrule.
“I understand.” Eryn wiped her tears and got up. She walked up to the Chancellor and bowed. “Please, lead the way.”
As the two turned to leave, I snapped myself out of the shock and called out to them.
“Wait! Please, take me, too! My knife was just about to slice him. She just got there first. I’m just as guilty.”
I wasn’t about to let her shoulder everything, so with a cry of desperation, I too asked to share her fate. With a look of shock and horror, Eryn tried to mouth her objection.
“Very well. I shall put both of you in custody.” The Chancellor cut her off and looked over at Saki. “What are you waiting for? Come along.”
Saki nodded as she slowly walked behind us. She was clutching her side, which had been healed with magic but was still tender.
After a while, the Chancellor had led us to a dungeon, where he beckoned us to wait inside one of the cells. After we were left alone, Eryn grabbed my arm and started to sob into it.
“I’m sorry… sorry I dragged you in this… I didn’t mean to… I just…”
“Shh… it’s okay…” I patted her hair. “Didn’t I say to hell and back? I don’t plan to walk back on those words.”
Something had spurred me on before, leading me to decide how to act, but I had been a step too slow. I regretted not getting there sooner, but what was done is done. I didn’t care anymore who was against us; if we were fated to go down anyways, then I wouldn’t hesitate any longer.
The two of us sat in silence as the sobs slowly died down. Knowing not what else to do, my hand gently patted the soft hair that laid against me. I wasn’t sure how long we had spent locked up, but it was long enough to see that the light coming from the window had started to be dyed in an orange hue. At one point in time, Saki came back and brought Eryn a change of clothes. It wouldn’t do to have her stay in a bloodied wedding dress. I looked away as I heard the sound of clothing fall to the ground.
Now was not the time for this. I mentally slapped myself as I meditated to restrain myself from peeking.
‘Grapefruit. Grapefruit. Grapefruit.’ I repeated in my mind, thinking of the most unpleasant thing possible.
Sometime after my strange ritual and another stretch of silence, Saki rapped on the cell door and called out to us.
“The King wishes to see the two of you.”
“The King?” Eryn and I both said at the same time.
I looked down at myself, dirtied from combat.
“Shouldn’t I get a change of clothes too?”
Eryn sighed as she pushed me out the door, which Saki had opened.
Before long, we were in the presence of King Reginald, the most powerful man in the kingdom. Though his face showed obvious signs of age and his hair had already turned fully white, his aura commanded a sense of superiority over others. Sitting beside him were Prince Oswald and Katsys- or rather, Princess Katalina. Prince Oswald appeared to be a young man in his teens, as he lightly fidgeted in his seat with a hint of immaturity. The lock of dark blue hair above his temple that he rolled between his fingers suggested that he would rather be elsewhere. The three of them each had a cold air of seriousness as they gazed upon us, the criminals who had murdered the Duke.
“I don’t think I have to say why it is that you are here. Chancellor Willingham has filled me in on all of the details. I have also verified the reports with Earl Reichenstein.”
The king stood up from his seat and drew the ornately designed sword at his waist. Despite being a man well past his prime, the figure of him drawing a sword was no more menacing than a warrior decades younger. Pointing the sword towards the sky like he was calling forth a decree from the heavens, he made his judgement.
“For the slaying of Duke Casper Charlemagne, one of the most powerful figures in the kingdom, and for your actions that have greatly disrupted our kingdom…”
The two of us watched the sword come down towards us in slow motion. Eryn flinched and looked down, seemingly accepting the king’s verdict.
I instinctively moved over to shield her, placing a hand on my knife holster.
Even if it was the King, I couldn’t just accept those results, not after we had fought so hard to overcome. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t from this world, or that either way, we would meet our demise, I didn’t hesitate to draw my knife and activate my skill.
“… I pass this judgement to the both of you-“