Oswald stared into the fireplace of his study with a goblet of wine in his hand. The flames flickered across his eyes, reflecting his inner thoughts of the turmoil that he was suddenly facing.
A crown rested on his head, freshly passed to him by his father, who had taken a turn for the worse after learning of the princess’s kidnapping. Though he had longed for this day, it had come with quite the baggage.
More than ever, he needed the effects of alcohol to dull the irritation that had built up over the weeks as events across the kingdom had slowly gotten out of hand. A sip of the tart liquid cooled his head just enough for him to refresh his wits, but it was like dousing a burning building with a bucket of water.
Several weeks had passed since the murder of Marquis Auxerre, a plot that Chancellor Willingham had concocted to shift the balances of power into his favor. Though most people had known him to be a moderate, he and the Chancellor knew otherwise, which made him a prime candidate to be made an example of.
Oswald didn’t need someone that could unite the people against him. He didn’t need a powerful man that was about to switch sides. He needed the general population to think that the nobility against him were extremists that supported the side of injustice. The crimes of Duke Charlemagne had been useful to cast doubt against his supporters. The common folk would be hard-pressed to rally with nobles that once supported a man who had gained renown through such distasteful methods.
The plan had been to stop his sister and other rising nobles from gaining traction. That was why he had agreed to the Chancellor’s plan to frame the Demon Cleaver for the murder, destroying the relationships that were recently created. Naturally, those that operated close to him would be affected as well.
However, he had never imagined that Princess Katalina would be kidnapped from the castle, and that they would escape from the kingdom altogether. Furthermore, the knights that were sent to capture them had witnessed the princess actively fighting back, using her quirky abilities to prevent them from reclaiming her.
This brought discord amongst the ranks. Many questioned why the princess would side with the supposed murderer. As rumors began to spread, many speculations were thrown around, everything from her betrayal of the kingdom to fleeing from a secret plan to assassinate her. Of course, these whispers trickled down to the townspeople.
Given that she was well regarded by the people and seen as a magnanimous figure, the voices of support for her only grew louder. In this case, her absence had only made the people fonder of her, even more so when they had learned of her previous identity as Katsys, the name that was associated with many of the recent inventions in the kingdom.
To think that the groundwork that his sister had laid throughout the kingdom would stretch so deep into the commoner’s hearts – that was truly a miscalculation on his part. The people had no appreciation of the mystery figure in the shadows, protecting them from harm. They would rather bask in the jovial creations of a powerless girl who did things for amusement. How complacent people who lived their entire lives in peacetime truly were.
King Oswald tossed his empty goblet on the ground.
If only these people experienced the perils of war like the stories his father had told him of his younger days. If only these people could see the soldiers standing on the other side, craving to set foot upon their ground and invade their lands, then they would know how important his job had been.
This was especially the case for the newly established nobles, too young and experienced in their roles to understand what it meant to fight for the kingdom.
Oswald’s thoughts went to a certain girl referred to as Viscountess Faulkner. Though she was a knight, her accomplishments had been mainly that of an adventurer. Fighting beasts that had no intelligence was nothing at all like fighting enemy soldiers.
After she had let her familiar escape, there had been signs of her poking around to investigate the Marquis’s murder. Though the plan had been to defame and accuse her of being in league with the criminal, many people stood in his way.
Several people, including knights, had witnessed her struggle against the Demon Cleaver. Her seemingly serious attempt to arrest the man, only to be defeated, looked genuine in the eyes of those who saw it. Supporters had rallied on her side, making it difficult to lay blame to her actions. She had been meticulous in upholding the duties of a magic knight, so a misplaced punishment would only cause public disapproval.
Most of all, she was protected by the Watchdog. Marquis Reichenstein was on the side of the King, and losing his support would be a serious blow to their power. Despite being young, his mastery of ice magic was unparalleled. His ability to temporarily stall the Chancellor had also been a surprise. It would be a great shame to lose the might of a person that could freeze an entire field of enemies in a single attack.
However, Oswald had recently been questioning whether it had been wise to let her go unchecked. With the wealth of the Faulkner trading company, she could quickly grow into the position that the former Duke left behind. It was a danger to allow so much control of the kingdom to a fledgling noble that had not sworn allegiance to him.
His father had placed too much trust in Charlemagne, and the result had driven a wedge into the kingdom. The rift between royalty and nobility was not something that he would allow to widen. He had to show everyone that a king’s rule was absolute!
A knock sounded at his door.
“Come in!” Oswald yelled, a bit of irritation in his voice. He had been waiting anxiously for his guest.
The Chancellor walked in and gave a small bow. “Your Majesty, congratulations on your new position.”
“Forget the formalities. Status report!”
“Yes, it’s been two weeks since the princess and the chef escaped into the adjacent country of Sanshiro. Despite our attempts to send surveillance birds to track them down, the country has defenses that negate them. The scouts that we have sent to follow them have not been heard from. I would say that it is likely that they have been apprehended.”
“Blast! That mountain range makes it difficult for me to send more men. There’s already enough trouble holding back the North! I can’t afford to drag ourselves into another war just to find them!”
“If I may, leaving them be is certainly an option. They are no longer here to interfere with your plans.”
“My plans? I wanted a guaranteed path to my coronation! Chancellor, I had asked you to stand by my side and shore up support! Why is it that I see nothing but the seeds of discord strewn about as soon as I take up the crown?!”
“Calm yourself, my king. The best way to deal with those that question your leadership is to show them that you are serious. Their voices will not be quelled until you raise a hand against them. Their cries for revolution will not be muted until they see that they have no choice but to stand under your banner.”
“And how are you going to shift this tide to my favor?” Oswald peered over with a look of skepticism.
“You must make an example of them and force them to submit under your rule. Your forte is war tactics, is it not? Show the rebellious lord that their experience and ties are fragile and misguided. Give them a taste of what it’s like to defend their territory.”
“Are you thinking of a certain female knight?” Oswald smiled.
“Well, if that is who you are thinking, then that would obviously be the best choice, would it not?” The Chancellor returned a smile as he buttered up the king’s pride.
“What about the Lord of Reichenstein? He heavily favors that girl. Do you have a plan for that?”
The Chancellor walked over to him and whispered into his ear. A look of bewilderment crept onto Oswald’s face. It was like he had heard the strangest thing in his life.
“Truly? Reichenstein has been keeping such a secret for so long?” Oswald stated in disbelief.
The Chancellor nodded. “Only the former king and I know of it outside of his family. Rest assured, the Marquis will be unable to defy us.”
Oswald trotted over to his desk and quickly scribbled a few lines onto parchment. He was quickly drawing up orders to call a portion of his men into action. If a magic knight of Reichenstein’s caliber couldn’t interfere, then he would make haste to crush his opposition.
Placing his writing utensil down and rolling up the sheets of parchment, he handed them to the Chancellor.
“Here, two squadrons of a few hundred should be enough to demonstrate the flimsiness of an inexperienced lord. Now, all that is left would be dealing with that guardian of hers.”
Oswald had been referring to the former Captain of the Royal Guard that had taken up residence under the Faulkner name. Having a legendary figure such as Pythagoras Tromaine backing her had been another reason for her growing renown. Though few people had realized the connection since he kept up the guise of a standard butler, word had spread around ever since the current Captain had gone out of his way to chase after him.
“I’m sure he would be willing to share a drink with an old friend.” The Chancellor smiled faintly. They had met for a short time before he had disappeared nearly twenty-five years ago. He had been surprised by his reappearance as a servant under Viscountess Faulkner. To think that he had been hiding in the kingdom all this time; a different mana signature than he recalled had shielded him from detection.
Though Pythagoras seemed to be suspicious of him, he had ways of drawing him out and keeping him occupied.
Taking the rolled parchment in hand, the Chancellor bowed once again and left the room. The king had become giddy with excitement, seeing a possible resolution to his issues.
The Chancellor simply smiled as he closed the door. Out of earshot, he gave a sigh.
“Even the new king is so gullible. How I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.”
There was no hint of nervousness nor look of desperation on his face. To the Chancellor, it was all an elaborate play that he had crafted. Regardless of who prevailed in this ordeal, his own agenda would slowly march forward.
Whether the cries of internal war were snuffed out or became fiercer than ever – he had no real stake in it. His role was to gather the right players in order to gather more data for his experiments – seeking the creation of a stable purple flame.
His looks belied the true length of time that he had been alive. Having seen countless rises and falls of different countries, the man currently known as the Chancellor had lived through them all, searching for the answer.
Having lived for a very long time, a failure here would only mean wasted time, a momentary blip in the path that he had paved forward. As long as he got closer to his ultimate goal, he would not mind taking years to build up a working relationship to further his goals. After all, he was undying.
The Chancellor picked up his hat and brushed his hair back. Underneath the hat, a pointy set of ears protruded from his head. He closed his eyes, looking deep within himself.
The image of a purple flame lit the darkness of his soul – stable, vibrant, unyielding. It was a flame so different from the others that he had tried to create before. They had all been untamed, chaotic, and fleeting.
Unlike what the people here called ‘demons’, he had differentiated himself by retaining full control of his powers, a perfect version of those imitations. That was why he had lived for so long, hiding right in the middle of humankind. He had plenty of time to gain all of the necessary abilities to manipulate the top of the hierarchy.
Yet, the one thing he could not gain was an understanding of how he came to be. The only way to find out was to create another like him, a partner that could accompany his long journey.
Having already sacrificed a brat nobleman as well as various strong beasts, his sights were simply honed onto his next test subject, one that would soon be ripe for the picking. All of his actions thus far had been for gathering the proper data for the next step.
Adjusting his hat back on his head, the Chancellor continued with his task, hoping that it would bring him the slightest bit closer to that dream.