Continues on from Chapter 6 – Destination, Imperial Capital Arkham
Continues on to Chapter 8 – The Battle of Hévin-LeCoultre ~Battlefield~
Chapter 7 – Uriel Strikes Back
Imperial Capital Arkham – this was the capital of the Chevron Kingdom as well as one of the few large metropolises of the world. The majestic and magnificent Arkham Castle stood in the centre of this world-class city. Arham Castle wasn’t just a fortress that was easy to defend and difficult to attack, it was also an artistic building that made the style of the Chevron Kingdom known throughout the world.
After dinner — with elegant dark long hair and amber eyes, the resplendent Second Princess Cassandra Lautreamont walked side by side with Uriel through a corridor of the castle. Since they were still in the mourning period for Zacharias III’s death, both Cassandra and Uriel wore dark mourning clothing. However, Casssandra did not truly feel any grief or sentiment in mourning the death of the Chevron King. Moreover, she even said to the royal tailor “prepare me the most beautiful mourning dress in the world”. In fact, the mourning dress that Cassandra wore did indeed exude a seductive aura that was reminiscent of black butterflies. Upon seeing Uriel and Cassandra, the servants who had been bustling through the corridor immediately retreated to the walls and made sure to bow. The Third Prince of the Kingdom and the Second Princess of the Knight Country were relaxed as they proudly strode forward, like lions paying no heed to mere ants crawling on the ground. The place that Uriel brought Cassandra to was a corridor on the fifth floor of the east wing — an area that was lined with a row of luxurious doors. All of these rooms were exclusively for royal guests, and Cassandra had stayed here in the past as well. At the very end of this eastern corridor was the most exclusive room among these luxury suites. Four palace maids expressionlessly stood in front of the door. Although they appeared to be ordinary maids, their expressions were so stern that they almost seemed to resemble guards.
“Good work. How is her condition?”
“Yes. There have been no abnormalities.”
The most senior of the maids opened the door and then gestured for Uriel and Cassandra to enter. As soon as Cassandra entered, an odd smell permeated her nostrils. The smell was akin to a bitter herb. As she looked around, she noticed that incense had been lit in every corner of the room and filled it with a hazy white smoke. The form of the haze was irregular and variable, giving the room a somewhat exotic atmosphere. In contrast to the oddly shaped incense burners, the tables, sofas, bed frame, display cabinets, bookshelves and other furniture were all first-class products that were intricately crafted by renowned artisans. In front of the fireplace was a beautiful lady who remained completely motionless. The woman had long black hair that reached down to her back, and a layer of light makeup on her face. A bridal gown covered her slender body. The pure white silk was embroidered with vast amounts of gold, silver and precious stones. A corset was wrapped around her waist, emphasising the curvature of her waist. The fluffy hems of her skirt resembled a blooming daffodil. Even when Uriel and Cassandra appeared before her, the lady remained motionless and unresponsive as she sat on an antique chair. Her appearance was just like a wax figure on display in a museum.
“—And just like this, the <Baron of Sonic> exists only in name now.”
Cassandra derisively examined the lady’s face. It was hard to believe — this young and beautiful lady was in fact a noble who had travelled abroad under the guise of Oscar Brailsford. Even with Cassandra’s rude glare, Oscar continued to stare into empty space without any reaction at all. It was as if her spirit had been left behind somewhere.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? To think that Oscar is now just a living doll.”
“This <Galatea> narcotic…it’s more potent than I imagined. I’d heard about it in fairy tales before, though I didn’t think it was actually possible to concoct.”
“Yeah. In the fairy tales, not only <Galatea>, but all of the narcotics are described as secret drugs produced by elves. In the past, I doubted the existence of the elven race and thought it to be mere fiction, let alone these narcotics. But, after investigating some ancient literature, the truth was immediately revealed. In ancient times, not only were there elves, there also existed powerful magic that could compete against the dragons. Although elves were once on the verge of extinction, they were able to pass their genes on to make half-elves.”
“Half-elves? Are you implying…”
“Indeed. They are the Ecbald Tribe.”
“So, the court pharmacist who concocted this <Galatea> also happens to be…?”
“You guessed it. The court pharmacist seems to be out today, but I’ll introduce you someday.”
“A pharmacist so powerful that they can make ancient drugs…they’re an interesting kind of genius.”
After Cassandra stroked Oscar’s cheek, she gave Uriel a cold glance.
“…So, are you really going to marry this lifeless doll?”
“It’s precisely because she’s become a puppet that Oscar will obey me.”
“That is true. If Oscar still had any consciousness, she would’ve commanded Tristan to trample you.”
“That is precisely my worry, given that she’s a talented Dragonar after all. That being the case, I thought I’d make good use of her as a tool for giving birth to my children.”
“I see your interests are still just as vulgar. Putting that aside for now…and onto a serious note, I don’t think that Ash Blake and the others will idly stand by and watch. Allow me to warn you beforehand…Mirabel is not to be underestimated any less than Veronica.”
“Hmph. That’s certainly a persuasive statement, given that this is coming from Mirabel’s older sister. I was definitely taken aback by her actions. I didn’t expect a scholar like her to intervene in politics.”
“She used to be the quite the gloomy child who would lock herself in a research lab all day and night. It’s possible that Mirabel was also influenced by Ash Blake.”
“However, both Mirabel and Ash Blake should be aware that any reckless action will trigger a war. The only thing they could do is send a few elite troops into Arkham Castle in an attempt to rescue Oscar.”
With a vicious expression, Uriel continued,
“Due to the enormous size of the dragons, they aren’t suited to such stealth operations. Moreover, Arkham Castle’s defences are impregnable. Once the mourning period is over, I plan to openly make my way to the Holy Espada Agency where the coronation ceremony will be held, and I’ll officially become the king.”
“…I’m a little disappointed though.”
“Oh…would you care to tell me the reason?”
“Do you remember what you once told me? You said that you wouldn’t publicise the secret of Oscar’s gender. I felt somewhat attracted to you back then, you know?”
“You certainly have nerve to tell me that when you never let me touch you. Having said that…I didn’t originally want to resort to such a cheap method. If it wasn’t for the failure of <Operation Zauberflöte>, this would’ve been settled…whatever, it’s useless to ponder such things now.”
“Well, what will you do with the Brailsford family and their territory now? Given your tendencies, you’re not just going to spare them like this, are you?”
“The Brailsford family was originally one of the most renowned houses in the Chevron Kingdom. However, they’ve produced no significant lords over the past few hundred years, leading their family towards ruin. In order to break out of that dilemma, the current head, Arthur Brailsford, came up with a plan. With no children of his own, he fancied the illegitimate daughter of the king, Oscar, and adopted her as his own son. Although her right to succession would rank at the bottom, she happened to be a Breeder…which was why she had a chance of taking the throne.”
Uriel stood beside Oscar and caressed her black hair with his fingers.
“Although an adopted son, the Brailsford family would be given the opportunity to restore its former glory so long as she could assume the throne in the future — that was Arthur’s wishful thinking. Unfortunately, I could only ask him to pay for his arrogance and stupidity with his life.”
“Fufu, how cruel. The reason why Arthur callously poisoned Oscar was in the hope that he’d be of use to you after you take the throne.”
“Sadly, I have no use for a peon who would sacrifice his own daughter in exchange for fame and fortune.”
Uriel lifted a corner of his lips as he brought them close to Oscar’s ear.
“Your family home and territory — I think it’s already nothing but scorched earth now.”
—Late at night.
The ancient magical ship Escavaron used the cover of night as an advantageous time to cross the border. From there on, it ventured into the airspace of the Chevron Kingdom. After dinner, whilst filled with anxiety, Eco fell asleep at once, but Ash on the contrary couldn’t get himself to sleep. Although Rebecca had suggested that this was the prime opportunity to rest and recuperate, when Ash contemplated the importance of the task that was upon his shoulders, it was impossible for him to leisurely fall asleep. Moreover, the tension that raced throughout his body didn’t allow him to relax.
“If I can’t sleep then I can’t sleep…”
After tossing and turning in his bed several time, Ash finally decided to climb out of bed. He left his bedroom and walked towards the deck. As soon as he opened the door that separated the ship’s interior from the outside, a strong wind suddenly blew across.
Although he was startled at first, the wind’s force wasn’t strong enough to blow him off his feet. Ash shut the door behind him and walked towards the ship’s bow.
“…Is that you, Ash?”
Unexpectedly, there was already someone else there — Celes.
“Oh, you can’t sleep either, Celes?”
“…Of course. When I think about how Oscar is being subjected to unimaginably inhumane treatment every second…I feel so worried that I can’t fall asleep. If I had known things would turn out like this, I never would’ve left Oscar’s side…”
Celes’ usual intrepid personality had turned into depression as a result of her demoralisation.
“Don’t say things like that.”
Ash replied in a firm tone as he stood side by side with Celes.
“Celes, you risked your own life to come here and tell us the truth. If it wasn’t for you, we’d probably still be blindsided by plausible reports and news, and we’d have failed to take that step forward.”
“Celes, it’s thanks to you that we learned the truth and decided to put up a fight. You’re undoubtedly the person who has led us to this step.”
Ash exclaimed in surprise as Celes suddenly kicked his rear without warning.
“Wait! Why did you suddenly kick me!?”
As soon as Ash retorted, Celes threw herself into his arms.
After burying her face in Ash’s chest, Celes spoke with a stifled voice,
“You really are a filthy insect…to feed me such gentle words when I’m most vulnerable — making me fall for you!”
Ash couldn’t help but return Celes’ embrace by putting his arms around her back. When he thought about how Celes had struggled to survive with such a petite figure, the cognisance of wanting to protect her feelings surged forth within him. Just as Ash continued to hold a sobbing Celes in his arms—
“Ash! So this is where you were!”
Someone abruptly opened the door to the deck — and the person who rushed out was Rebecca. Although Rebecca had the image of a calm and collected Student Council President, even she couldn’t help but freeze in astonishment upon seeing Ash and Celes embracing each other.
“…I didn’t expect that the two of you had such a relationship. I didn’t see this coming at all.”
For some reason, Rebecca’s tone seemed unusually cold. Was it just Ash’s imagination? In the past, Rebecca simply would’ve handled the situation maturely and with a wry smile.
Ash and Celes immediately jumped away from each other’s arms.
“Umm, Rebecca-san…you’re not angry, are you?”
Following Ash’s apprehensively probing question, Rebecca responded in a manner that surpassed his expectations. Her cheeks were flushed as were her ears as she snappily replied,
“…J-Just because I saw you and Celes enjoying a little tryst, you think that I’ll get angry?”
Ash was dumbfounded. It was blatantly obvious that Rebecca was angry, yet she desperately tried to deny it…her expression and actions were surprisingly cute.
Seeing Celes mumble at him in apparent disbelief, Ash felt even more anxious.
“Ahem! Leaving your relationship aside for the moment—”
Rebecca made a serious expression as she stood at the edge of the deck.
“According to this map of the continent, our magic ship is currently passing over the Brailsford territory, however—”
After saying that much, Rebecca paused and examined Celes’ expression.
“Celes, the scenery here may be somewhat cruel to you…”
“It can’t be—!”
Celes shouted as she rushed to Rebecca’s side. She almost seemed to shift her entire weight over the deck as she leaned over and forcefully gazed into the night.
Ash also noticed. It was already late at night, and the moon had obscured itself behind dark clouds.
By logic, the ground should’ve been completely dark with nothing to be seen — however, the hills, forests, and even houses were encased in fire so bright that it illuminated the entire surrounding area. Even the mansion that towered in the centre of the idyllic countryside had been caught in a raging inferno. If that tragedy had to be described in a single sentence, perhaps it was a freshly war-torn battlefield. The Brailsford territory had become scorched earth.
“How can this be…is this a joke? The Brailsford family mansion…the territory…it’s all on fire — aside from the lord and lady in that house, my mother was also…!”
Celes’ body suddenly collapsed. Slightly shaken, Ash caught Celes from behind. When he peered down at her face, he found her unconscious. Perhaps the shock overwhelmed her to the point that she refused to accept reality. In retrospect, the reason why Celes had been willing to do Uriel’s bidding in the past was to ensure that her sick mother would receive proper care. Although her words and actions were often rude, she was actually a kind girl who was filial to her mother. Ash had also heard that her mother was under the protection of the Brailsford family. After putting Celes down to allow her to rest, he stood up.
“There might still be some survivors! We’ll immediately land Escavaron and begin a rescue operation!”
“Don’t be impulsive, Ash. We must concentrate on accomplishing our goal of rescuing Oscar and defeating Uriel. You realise with the way things have progressed so far that we can no longer turn back, right?”
“The problem is that a lot of innocent people are now suffering because they’ve been dragged into this battle for the throne. That also includes Oscar’s family and Celes’ mother…”
“It appears that you’ve made up your mind. But, Ash, you are now the highest-ranking person in charge of this magic ship. Therefore, I cannot allow you to venture onto a perilous battlefield.”
“Calm down and listen to me, Ash. I’m only saying that I cannot allow you to go. If you’re truly concerned about the safety of those people, then you need only order someone competent to rescue them as the highest-ranked person in charge. See, it’s simple, right?”
“You mean to say…!”
Ash finally understood what Rebecca was implying to him.
“Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking. For example, I have an excellent Pal named Cú Chulainn. A Dragonar’s role on the battlefield isn’t just combat, right? Scouting and rescue activities are an easy task for Dragonars.”
With a smug smile, Rebecca placed one hand over her chest.
“But, no matter what you say, I don’t feel like I have the right to give an order to you, Rebecca-san…”
“That won’t do, Ash.”
After making a wry smile, she lightly tapped Ash’s head and then closely inspected his face. Ash felt the illusion of almost being sucked into her emerald green eyes.
“Can the man who’s determined to fight against Prince Uriel really act so cowardly? Perhaps it would be best to start practicing as soon as possible?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean practice for giving other people orders. From now on, no matter how absurd or unreasonable an order you give me, I promise to listen and obey.”
Rebecca averted her gaze and fidgeted as if she was embarrassed about something.
“So, you don’t have to worry. Just boldly tell me what your desires are.”
“Wait! What do you mean with that…what do you take me for? If I ordered you to kiss me, would you obediently comply, Rebecca-san? Something like that can’t—!”
In an instant, Rebecca interrupted Ash’s words. She placed both hands on his shoulders — and then kissed him on her own initiative.
Upon receiving the sudden surprise attack, Ash’s body became completely stiff. Rebecca had kissed him on the cheek twice before. The first time was when he decided to become a member of the Student Council. The second time was when he visited Rebecca after she had been injured during the first round of the Dragonars’ Gunnar Bout. On both of those occasions, Ash felt that it was normal in their relationship as a junior and senior at the same school. They were like kisses of good luck and encouragement. However, this kiss was lip-to-lip. There weren’t any excuses that could be borrowed…after all, such behaviour could only be described as the relationship between a man and a woman—
Rebecca’s kiss was much like the colour of her hair, ablaze with fiery passion. Their tongues touched and entwined with each other as if they would melt and become one. She was the Student Council President at the apex of Dragonar Academy, as well as a Dragonar who held the title of <Scarlett Empress> — Rebecca Randall. She was like a flower on a lofty peak beyond anyone’s reach, yet she had thrown herself at Ash, revealing her true feelings as a woman. Smothered in Rebecca’s bodily fragrance, Ash entered a realm of ecstasy so comfortable that all thoughts escaped from his mind. …After a while, Rebecca pulled her lips away and cast out a warm breath. Her unfocused eyes stared at Ash with a raving passion.
“This is what it means to give someone an order. Make sure you never forget this experience…”
With solidified determination, Ash gazed back into Rebecca’s eyes.
“…I understand. Rebecca-san, please investigate the Brailsford territory and provide assistance to any survivors that you find. For your safety, please avoid operating on your own.”
“Thank you for your concern, Ash. I shall invite Lucca and Max to come with me then.”
After nodding in acceptance of her order, Rebecca had instantly returned to acting like the <Scarlett Empress> that everyone was familiar with.
The Escavaron landed behind a mountain with coverage to hide itself, and after just over ten minutes — Rebecca, Lucca and Max completed their investigation sooner than expected and returned to the magic ship. Ash welcomed the return of Rebecca and the others in the operations command room. Mirabel, Jessica, Anya and Raymond had already assembled in the command room as well.
In fact, a sleepy Eco also attended the meeting. Ash was the one who had woken her up and dragged her here just before the meeting. In addition, since Celes had yet to awaken from an unconscious state, Eunice looked after her in the infirmary. After looking around at everyone, Rebecca began her report.
“Although the home of the Brailsford family was completely burnt down, we did not find any corpses at the scene of the fire. None at all. It wouldn’t have been surprising if Oscar’s adoptive father, Arthur Brailsford, was instantly killed, but it seems that he was taken away by someone.”
“Taken away? Perhaps it’s good news that he wasn’t killed…”
Ash pondered. The one who betrayed Oscar and turned to Uriel was none other than Arthur. Perhaps he had expected to gain some kind of benefit from siding with Uriel. However, as if to mock the foolish course of action that Arthur had taken, Uriel decided to unleash fire that burned everything to the ground. Of course, it was Arthur’s mistake to begin with, so one could say that this was what he deserved. But even so, the action of setting fire to someone’s territory was simply extreme. Just how much malice did Uriel have to do to satiate his appetite…? Ash clenched his fists as rage churned in his heart.
“By the way, are all of the citizens safe?”
Upon hearing Ash’s question, Rebecca folded her arms as she appeared to give it deep thought.
“Now that is an interesting point. We didn’t see any residents at all during our investigation.”
“Not even one?”
“Yes. If they were killed in the raid, there should be corpses left behind. But we didn’t find anything suspicious. Not only the Brailsford family, but even all of the citizens appear to have vanished into thin air…and now that I think about it, it seems the retreat of Prince Uriel’s army was unnaturally fast…”
“Could it be possible that the citizens managed to escape the conflict by hiding in the forest or mountains?”
Rebecca shook her head to deny Mirabel’s speculation.
“No, we broadly searched all of the possible locations that people could have hidden. If there were any survivors still hiding, Cú Chulainn, Arianrhod and Gawain surely would’ve picked it up. The Brailsford territory has already become a complete ghost town.”
“So…it’s possible that aside from the Brailsford family, Prince Uriel’s army also took away all of the citizens?”
This time, Rebecca nodded in agreeance with Mirabel’s conjecture.
“Indeed. I also think the possibility of that is quite high. But assuming that they really were taken away…it’s difficult to figure out the objective of Prince Uriel’s army. Strictly speaking, his army didn’t even ransack anything.”
“Yes, that is truly surprising.”
“Yes. I checked the residential houses that had become vacant and found that all money and personal effects were in neat condition. The most unnatural thing is that the Brailsford mansion was destroyed by fire, but precious treasures such as gold, silver and gemstones could be found amongst the rubble. Generally speaking, such items would’ve been the first to be located and taken…”
“Since that’s the case, it’s likely that Uriel ordered his army not to loot, and taking hostages was instead their priority. His objective is still puzzling though…”
Mirabel frowned and fell into silence. Even as knowledgeable and intelligent as she was, it seemed that she was unable to see through the motive of Uriel’s army.
At that moment, Lucca, who had been standing behind Rebecca, shyly raised her hand. Everyone suddenly affixed their attention to Lucca.
“I’ve heard something…in the past. In the Ecbald Village, the concoction of narcotics — is a taboo. Those who violate the rule…will be sentenced to death.”
“Why the death penalty?”
An ominous premonition circled around in Ash’s mind. He already knew the terrifying effect of narcotics and understood why it would be regarded as a taboo. Yet, the death penalty felt somewhat extreme. With a rare, serious expression, Lucca stared at Ash — and then revealed the horrifying truth.
“It’s because the ingredient used to make narcotics…are living people.”
“—By the way, Cassandra. Does Mordred show any signs of revival from lying asleep in your body?”
Uriel asked an abrupt question after looking away from Oscar, who had turned into a lifeless doll.
“Unfortunately, it is sound asleep. Its joint defeat at the hands of Ash Blake and Eco seems to have been a serious blow. No matter how I call out, there is no response.”
“Very well, let it be then. I don’t have an immediate need of Mordred’s strength anyway.”
“Perhaps Ash Blake will soon be at our doorstep?”
“So long as I stay inside the Kingdom, there is nothing that he can do to me. Even if they cross the border, they will only be regarded as the aggressors. International public opinion will not be forgiving of their foolhardy actions, and as they are also citizens of the Knight Country, any act of aggression from them will simply put the Knight Country’s government in hot water. I don’t think they’d truly be willing to come rescue Oscar while taking on such a large risk—”
“Please excuse me, Your Highness Uriel!”
At that moment, soldiers serving the royal family burst into the room without warning.
“…What’s all this noise for?”
Uriel spoke with an unusual, gruff tone. Perhaps it was because he was irate that the soldier had abruptly rushed into the room where Oscar had become an empty shell.
“We have a report that a magic ship violated our national airspace not long ago! According to the report, the ship is suspected to be the ancient magical ship that Princess Mirabel unearthed from the underground labyrinth in Ansarivan the other day! This is clearly an invasion!”
The unexpected news stunned Uriel. He remained silent for a while—
And then his mouth opened wide as he unleashed a cacophony of laughter.
“It seems they’re far more stupid than I thought. Very well, I shall also head out to pay tribute to their stupidity. Go and prepare the Claíomh Solais for takeoff immediately!”
After watching the soldiers leave, Uriel turned back around and looked at Cassandra.
“It seems I misjudged Ash Blake and the others. They’re the first ones to exceed my expectations and surprise me.”
“The Scorched Earth Policy ~A.S.B.1365.12~” is closed.
(All 4 of 4 parts) (23/5/20)
Continues on to Chapter 8 – The Battle of Hévin-LeCoultre ~Battlefield~