Chapter 49.1 SS Royal Puppet

“Your Highness, I know what… you are asking… and it is impossible.” Williams closed his eyes and wheezed quietly into the room, avoiding the gaze of the bowing queen in front of her. 

“I know I am asking a lot, Sir Williams, but I need your help with this war. We both know that the nation won’t last another war without the support of the High Classes. And we are sorely lacking in that regard right now. The nation needs you back, General. The Imperial Scion has already drafted the rest of the court and transferred my authority away to my son, and we both know he is not ready for that. The support lines need someone to manage the reconstruction, and -“

Rebecca knew she was asking the impossible, but she had to at least try. With hardly any supporters left in the Royal Courts, she was already the epitome of a puppet monarch. Only tradition and the presence of the Imperial Scion had stalled any attempts to fully usurp the throne from her. And there was a good chance that she would be dethroned regardless since it was publicly known that she had sent Peter to the Mausoleum and subsequently caused his death. ‘Not technically my fault, but who would believe that now.’ Rebecca thought ruefully. Even seven years later, she continued to chide herself about that. Peter had wanted to die. So why would he care about what came after? And now here she was, picking up the pieces to a ruined plan; a queen without any backing; and a broken family.

“… that’s enough, your majesty. I’m sorry… But I can’t do it anymore, not… after this last attempt on my life. My… late wife would want me… to help you, your highness, but… I can’t. Not after what I saw.” William visibly shuddered as the bindings on his arms slowly turned red as the movement tore open his wounds. “I can’t… help you in my condition… and while I would like… to think better of my peers, not… many will be willing to step up… Not after the last rounds of… the assassinations… Your proposals would… have come in handy now… Hindsight, eh?”

“…no one could have expected this back then, William, not while Peter or the Imperial Scions were here. My proposal might not have worked either, not for the opponents we are facing now,” she faltered, knowing just how much of her original Royal Court was left now. “And no one stepped up either, Williams. Most of the surviving High Classes left the country or had aligned themselves with the Imperial Scion. With Alexandra in the hands of that monster and Beatrice in lockdown, the Alcudian monarchy is finished. And it doesn’t take much to figure out Daniel will be a puppet king to either Leit or Appealte, depending on what the Imperial Scion decides to do.”

It was a gloomy topic, but it had to be said aloud. Alcudia was on the brink of disaster. “… this round of assassination attempts. How did it happen, William? I was travelling incognito when it happened, but the defenses around your estate should have been comparable to Nespe Academy. Barring the defensive magic circle, of course.” Not the only reason she survived the latest attempt, but there was no point in announcing her true reason.

“They struck at night… Three full scout parties attacked… Judging by the… sentries’ bodies, they were caught unaware… died within the first few seconds of the encounter. It was… plain luck that one guard survived… to sound the alarm. And even then… it was too late.” Williams trembled as he wheezed painfully, whether from fright or fury the queen couldn’t tell. “They slaughtered everyone…no matter how well the safe rooms… were concealed. Everyone… they were methodical…. about the slaughter… just like the war.”

That was one topic she did not want to dwell on again. Peter assured her that the defensive castles would be left standing by the end and that the libraries in each city would be able to withstand the brunt of the attacks. Instead, what she was left with were mausoleums and ruins. And those were the lucky ones. The worst zones became just like the old capital of Terpii. Ritual zones. And with Peter gone, she had to deal with the blame from both Appealte and Leit for the loss of their diplomats, and the Imperial Family for the loss of Peter himself and the heroic class weapon.

 “I need help, Williams. What can I do to help my children?” Rebecca whispered quietly. With her authority all but gone, she hoped that she could at least do something for her daughters. And her son, though she feared that would be impossible.

“You can’t… use your Skills anymore, can you… your majesty?” William asked suddenly. “You… don’t have to answer; I already… know you can’t. And with your husband gone… how is Alexandra doing? She is the crown princess… after all.” The queen’s look of anguish told William all he needed to know. “… remarry. That would be the easiest way to… stabilize the country. Renew the citizen’s… faith in you, start using your… Skills again, and focus… on the upcoming war. Barring that… find a backer… one willing to go against… the Imperial Scions…decisions.”

To his surprise though, Rebecca did reply. “…and if there was one. A person, I mean. Willing to stand up for me?” 

“Then half you’re… problems would be gone… Got a guy in mind?” William inquired skeptically.

“I have someone in mind.” Motioning for William to continue lying down, Rebecca strode to the door and opened it, her guards stationed at the door following close behind. Rebecca could feel the eyes of the citizen’s following her as she strode into her carriage. There were no more cries of jubilation anymore, even if people still believed in the Royal Family.

The trip from Castle Molt’s Healer Hall back to Nespe gave Rebecca some much needed time to think about the situation of the country overall as well as the immediate problem that had cropped up in Nespe, one of her final bastions of support in the country. The Healer Hall had finally forced her to contact the girl’s mentor. Rebecca could only hope that she would have some way to change the Healer Hall’s mind. It had been decades since she had seen anyone with as much talent as that little Apprentice Mage had, and it was unlikely the Healer Hall would bend to royal pressure.

Strolling into Nespe Acadamy, she declined all the invitations offered to her and went straight to her room, placed squarely in the Academy’s reconfigured Keep. Opening the door, she peered in and made sure nothing had changed in her room before walking in carefully, slowly inspecting her gloves. It had taken a lot of research and development to create her magic detection gloves, something she kept squarely to herself. No doubt there would be people asking questions had they known she was had artifacts that were not Imperial products, but she had no qualms saying Peter had given them to her.

Sweeping the room and finding nothing, Rebecca turned and slumped on the edge of her bed, safely away from any prying eyes. Looking toward the setting sun outside the window, countless memories ran around in her head.  ‘Peter said everything would start anew if he went to the mausoleum. So what am I missing?’ Falling to her back, Rebecca curled into a ball, only mildly ashamed at her own behavior. She was a grown woman, and she was basically throwing a temper tantrum. Flicking a stream of mana out from her hand, Rebecca eyed her mana and released as much as she could, almost to the point of having a mana cloud around her. She could feel herself reaching the point of mana exhaustion but continued on, knowing what would follow.

Finally, as the last of her mana was released from her core, it happened. A spark of golden light colored the cloud and forced her mana back into her core. That was when she collapsed, her mind in a state of incoherency as the world swam around her.

 “Hey, do you need some help? Kinda strange that your alone in these woods, kiddo.”
“You need to get to safety, your highness! Protect the princess! Run! Ru-“

“Name’s Paige. Huh? My last name? Hrmm… Alduit. Yeah, that’s it. Hey, I didn’t make up my last name! It’s called stranger danger! Hey, you’re the one lost in the woods, not me!”
“My name is Peter. Peter Alduit. And I’ve heard a strange rumor about you, your highn-…, where did you get that mana from? WHERE!?”

“Commoners? Peh, when was the last time you’ve left these walls, Rebecca!? Come on, we’re going on an adventure.”
“It’s absurd. There is no way the Royal Court will pass that, Rebecca! You’ll only get yourself killed!”

“You need to push, Rebecca!…I offer my Class to this baby, Isabella Freal, that she may live!”
“I’m sorry, Rebecca… But no one was willing to transfer their class. It’s highly unlikely it would have worked anyway.”

“Mommy, do I habe to stay in teh castle? I wanna go play!”
“Mother, are you alright? You shouldn’t spend time in this room, you know the rumors…”

“I’ll…negotiate with the Imperial Family, Rebecca. Sucks that you found a heroic weapon lying about. I mean, what are the odds…Yeah, I can do it. I can do things diplomatically, after all. Sorta. So long as they don’t attack first. Hey, I know it’s important!” 
“…I’ve got to go to the mausoleum. That is the focal point… The Empire needs her, Rebecca, not me. Just tell her…I’m sorry she has to clean up my mess.”

“It, it means to live a happy life, your royalness?” 

Rebecca awoke to the sounds of birds chirping outside. The memories! She had to hold onto the memories. Focusing her mind, she tried to retain as much of the memories as she could, the memories slowly turning into fragments as she failed to retain a few of them once again. 

Closing her eyes, she reviewed the memories that she had been able to retain. “Isabella Freal Platz. My daughter is alive, but she’s not my daughter anymore…” It hurt her, knowing that someone else was acting as a mother figure, but her daughter had been happy with her adopted family. She would try harder to protect the girl, but she was already stretching the limits on the help she could provide without attracting more attention to the girl. Just the fact that the Imperial Scion and the Healer Hall had their eyes on her was a very tough hurdle for Rebecca to work around. Maybe she should post a few more guards around their house, just to protect her new family from the influence of the Healer Hall. Or would that backfire even more now?

Rebecca opened her eyes. Peter had been right. Something had changed when he went to the Mausoleum and did whatever he had planned to do. And if her daughter was seemingly alive… then maybe it was time to look for her friend in earnest once again. Peter was sure Paige could make a difference to the Empire, and from what she remembered of her friend, Paige would most likely be willing to help people again if she had the chance. At least, that’s what she hoped. 

Haille. Are you there?” Rebecca paused and waited, knowing full well it would take a few seconds for her hidden protector to appear. Her secret scouts were a key reason why she had not been assassinated as of yet. She knew the advantages of having Demon Scouts and knew they would be helpful. But she hadn’t quite expected the public pushback to be so harsh. “The latest assassination attempt. What happened?”

“…They never attacked, Rebecca. The enemy scouts stood just outside of our attack zone and hesitated for a long while. Then they just… left. Your guess is as good as mine. My husband was ready for a good fight though, so he was disappointed, to say the very least.” A woman appeared from the shadows, taking careful stock of the room. Her black hair and dark clothing painted her as an Assassin, but her wand and flowing dark robe clearly indicated otherwise. 

‘Magic Fortress Haille’. As a Demon, if Rebecca listened to her court’s opinions, Haille should have been hung for even being this close to the queen. What dribble, believing that anyone but Humans should live in Alcudia. But Rebecca was glad she had her weird memories and even gladder that they were more useful than not. She should have pushed harder to pass those laws. Damn her court’s opinion and damn Peter for not helping! But that was in the past, and no amount of cursing would fix her problems now. “What are the chances the scouts can infiltrate Nespe Academy? Your professional opinion.”

“Not likely. We are keeping a close watch on the perimeters and are scrutinizing any Demons that have even a semblance of training. Now if they were already in the town before we set up our perimeter, there is nothing we can do. The magic circles around the Library and the Academy already heavily affect the towns ambient mana.”

That was true, Rebecca thought wryly. “You’ve seen the Apprentice Mage. What do you think of her? Is she worth saving?” A callous way of asking, but she knew Haille’s opinion of other mages was succinct and to the point.

“Absolutely. She’s phenomenal for her age. I know you have your reservations, Rebecca, especially with Beatrice stuck in the Healer Halls, but I would save her. At her rate, her lower limit will be just around what Gale was. Probably not to my level, since I do have an abnormally large mana core, but still.” Her proud eyes had a hint of melancholy in them, Rebecca noticed sadly. From her original Party, Only Rebecca herself was left now. She knew that Haille still bore a grudge against the Royal Court Mage, even though she was assassinated in the latest attempts. Her goal of proving Gale wrong was now gone, and she probably hated the fact that her mock battle record would be tied forever now.

But that was not important to dwell on right now. “Haille, I need to send a message to the innkeeper. I want her to travel here. I may need her to do something for me.”

Haille frowned. “You can’t keep on relying on that girl. She’s married now and has another kid on the way.”

“I know, but she’s still the only person I can trust to gather information for me, especially now since my authority has practically diminished. I’m running out of people I can trust.” Rebecca was glad someone would question her actions and hold her accountable, but her late husband’s and her own guards were all that was left now, truly putting her in a bind. “Look, just ask her to come. If she doesn’t, I’ll manage somehow.”

“Fine. But she probably won’t be heading down for at least a year or two, depending on her newborn. But what are you planning on doing with the Apprentice?”

“I’m sending some of the scouts that way to contact her mentor and bring her here. I’ll withhold my judgement until after I meet her. But I’m leaning on keeping their party intact.” ‘Especially since Isabella is in her party,‘ she thought quietly to herself. Whatever she could do to help her other daughter, she would. 

Isabella. To live a happy life. Rebecca could only hope that she would be able to keep her promise.

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