A stiff atmosphere hung around the throne room of the Purnesian Capital of Bryansk as various officers gave their report of the battlefront.
“Vilnius in the west and Poltava in the east are both holding out, but just barely, thanks to your genius weaponry, Commander Magellan. Even the most untrained of men and women are able to take out a few of the devils on their own. Impressive since our trained forces are vastly outnumbered by them.”
The man was referring to the two cities along the giant wall that separated the inner capital region of Purnesia and the outer lands. Along with a third city, Rivne, which stood to the south, they were the final checkpoints before entering the central area around Bryansk.
The inventor of the deadly magic armaments simply smirked at the compliment, like he had expected those results from the beginning. His face remained fixed otherwise as he stood remarkably still, almost as if he was a mere statue in their presence. That was a contrast to the lively, jovial personality that he displayed normally, which was also quite odd for a leader of the military.
However, those close to him simply knew that his attention was entirely focused on the matter at hand. When it came to the moments when he ‘gathered data’, his entire focus diverted to sorting through the information he was receiving, resulting in a lack of any movement by his body. There were times where people expected him to stop breathing, only for him to draw a sudden, deep sigh at the end of his mental deliberation.
Instead, the woman seated on the throne next to him, the Mad Empress, was the one to speak at such moments.
“But? There’s still more, is there not? I’ve only heard the supposed ‘good’ so far. Hiding your failures won’t do us any good now, will it?”
The tone of her voice was filled with an alluring venom, one that both drew people toward her and sent chills down their spine. Despite being the queen of an empire, ‘The Mad Empress’ did not wrap herself in fancy clothes to signify her royalty. Rather, she wore a clean-cut military suit, dyed crimson to her own tastes. That was the one thing different from the shades of black or green that were common for other military personnel.
If one were to look at her from the right side, a beauty of nobility came immediately to mind. But as soon as a few steps were traced around her, a surprise awaited the eyes. A large gash traced across her cheek, ending in lips that were peeled back and teeth missing. Around the old wound was burned skin that bubbled back to her ears, resulting in a ghastly contrast between the two sides of her face.
While others did not dare to publicly bring up how this had happened, several things were obvious. A brutal injury was healed in the most improper of ways. While the Empire of Purnesia lacked the blessing of healing magic that other nations possessed, there were methods to restore her proper appearance through surgery. However, her wounds appeared to be intentional and inflicted in rage, possibly a lesson to mar her otherwise beautiful features. The fact that she cared not one bit to mask it spoke volumes.
But no one dared to bring up her past. One unfortunate man with the balls to openly joke about it invoked the rage of the Empress, who sliced the whole thing off him as punishment. Only after begging for mercy with his head prostrated, did she call for a doctor to reattach it back to him.
Needless to say, the Empress was prone to fits of violence, so many people felt that being in her proximity was like willingly stepping on glass.
“Ahh… well… as for the City of Rivne… we have lost it to the enemy….” The young officer’s eyes turned to the side in shame. Despite his best efforts, there was little that he could do against the destructive force that wiped out Lodz.
As the Empress stood up and sauntered over to him, the officer recoiled. The threat of being punished loomed in his mind as her chilling face peered into his eyes. Her delicate hand drew up to his chin, tracing down it toward his neck.
“Tell me… You did everything you could against him,” the Empress suddenly squeezed his windpipe with her fingers, “did you not?”
His eyes jittering with fear, the officer fiercely nodded up and down.
The Empress released her grip, letting the man fall back and stumble to the ground. “Then, there is no helping it,” she said nonchalantly, her raging aura extinguished. “We must devise a better strategy to fight against this ‘Grim Reaper’ that has appeared on the battlefield. The fact that he can cut through everything is quite concerning.”
The Empress turned to Lamps Magellan with a smile. “You are never short on ideas, are you, my dear Electi?”
The man in question stirred from his statue-like state. A whimsical tone came from him as he placed a finger upon his cheek.
“Why, any good inventor simply must have endless material to feed into his pipeline. After all, a successful venture comes from a serendipitous spark of ingenuity that could come from any one of the ideas! I assure you that I have plenty of experiments to look forward to.”
The Empress drew forward and stroked Lamp’s chin, once again prompting the other officers in the room to tense up. However, Lamps hardly even reacted. While he was blind to the chilling appearance of his Master’s face looming over him, the sensation of her aura was all he needed to feel confident. Unlike one’s outward appearance, the emotions that drove the Empress’s actions were crystal clear to him.
“Hmm… success is hardly something that one such as I plans for. I can only ensure that the devices that I create will work as designed. Factoring in the unpredictability of this world is something even beyond my calculations.”
The Empress pulled back her hand and turned away.
“Quite true. Things have gone more or less how you have projected them. After all, your ingenious schemes have caused two prominent figures to fall already. We can hardly count those aberrations in the Kingdom of Sistina as failures, now shall we? Can I count on you to adjust for them?”
She turned an eye back towards the man who gave her an ‘OK’ sign.
“Adjustments in response to the targeted audience is the expectation of a successful entrepreneur. Leave it to me. I merely strive to satisfy everyone’s desires,” he said with a grin.
“Glad to see you having fun. I’ll place my trust in you.” The Empress walked back to her throne and dismissed the crowd. The military officers filed out of the room until only four people remained – the Empress, her Electi, and two others.
Throughout the entire time, the last two stood there pretty much unnoticed. A young boy and girl in their mid-teens, holding hands. Though they were also dressed in military uniforms with emblems that signified that they held some rank, their lack of presence made them blend into the environment, such that only a few people really knew they were around.
Their names were Orwin and Gwendolyn. Their solemn eyes stared forward at the throne, as if waiting for someone to command them. Aside from the long ponytail that the girl wore, their faces looked virtually the same. They were twins at birth, cast away by their homeland of Sistina, and sold as slaves until the Empress had picked them up for herself.
But that was not why they seemed so lifeless. Their parents had cast them aside as failures for a reason. Within their bodies, the spark of life within their cores was barely lit. Compared to the normal person from Sistina, the mana that came from their bodies was nearly non-existent. While Purnesians were known to emit very little mana also, that was because they had acclimated to an environment that required a tight hold on what mana they possessed. The twins simply had virtually none to spare.
It was a wonder how the two children could survive under such a condition given that mana was required for the body to prosper. However, those around them soon noticed that they were infallibly weak unless the two held onto each other.
An expert in mana detection was called in, revealing the reason for this. The twins had been born with each bearing half of a full core. It was an anomaly the likes that no one had ever heard of. As the core was thought to hold one’s soul, few could even fathom the concept of a core being split between two separate siblings.
For the next ten years, the two were raised in secrecy, constantly joined at the hip as they did everything together. While they had to remain inseparable, their parents wondered how society would accept such a pair. They dove into all sorts of rumors and mysteries to look for some solution, such that others would not look at their children in disgust.
They found the very nature of their inseparability a perversion of nature, and thus, they even sought extreme ways to fix it.
One day, they overheard their parents speaking in the next room.
“That’s it! One of them should be sacrificed, so that the cores can be whole in the other!”
Those very words horrified them – for Gwendolyn who would be sacrificed and for Orwin who was expected to prey upon his elder sister just so that he may live a ‘normal’ life. After being together for ten whole years, the very thought of being separated terrified them.
And thus, with no one able to notice their thin presences, they brought down a pair of daggers upon their would-be murderers. And afterward, they raced into the night. But being a pair of ten-year-olds with virtually no experience of the outside world, they were soon captured by poachers and sold to the Northern Country.
“Orwin, Gwendolyn. How are my lovelies doing today?” The Empress walked over and wrapped them in a big hug. They were yet another pair who did not recoil in the possible cruelty that the ruler could inflict.
That was because she had broken them out of those slavery cages before anyone had the chance to separate the two. Before the slavers managed to rip them apart, causing them to die from a lack of mana, the Empress had crashed the event and slain the lot of them. The scarred face that terrified others was their saving grace. The one who they owed their lives to. And all they could do was to follow whatever order she requested of them, as long as their fates remained joined.
But what could they even do? Their arms were too thin to hold a weapon. Their legs were too weak to run more than a dozen meters. They were nothing more than glorified puppets, the entirety of their lives placed in the care of others. They were as worthless as could be.
So why were they saved?
Part of it was out of pity for their situation. The Empress despised those that sold others as slaves. But also, the man named Lamps Magellan gazed at them with a whimsical curiosity.
“I find them fascinating. A rarity among samples should not be simply tossed out. That is where the true ingenuity lies,” he merely said back then, with a devious grin that exuded an unnatural interest.
“Oh, do you have something in mind for them?” the Empress asked in response. The man merely nodded, and that was all that was needed for the pair to live the next four years under their care.
But thanks to Lamps, Orwin and Gwendolyn found some purpose to their lives. They found a way to repay them back for their kindness. They found a way to fight.
“Yes, ma’am!” the twins answered in sync, the two of them saluting to her with opposite hands.
“Wonderful! Then, I guess it is time. The enemy finally draws near, and the two of you are quite the important pieces in this war. Suit up and go give them a taste of what you can do.”
The Mad Empress ushered them off, watching as they exited the throne room, hand-in-hand. Lamps followed closely behind, the same smirk of intellectual curiosity that he always had before deploying one of his so-called ‘experiments.’
As the doors closed and silence enveloped the room, the memories of how she got to this point crept back to her. It had been a long journey, and she was almost there. To take revenge on the kingdom that had sent her to this hellhole.