Rosemary was enthused to hear everyone's response, her golden eyes wide with curiosity. She seemed to enjoy Dominika indulging her greatly, all to happy to have people that would actually listen. Her cup sat in front of her untouched as the little princess sat properly on her chair, legs swinging as she watched each person talk. She paused briefly after Justinian's response, but didn't understand his hesitation. She was temporarily distracted as she glanced down at her books and made sure to close them respectfully.
The doors to the snuggery opened and in stepped Duchess Patricia. Rosemary perked up at the sound of the doors opening, but she immediately drooped her shoulders in disappointment. The older woman curtsied respectfully to the Scions around."I thank you for accompanying our princess, Holy Ones, but I fear keeping her up too late would cause more harm than good,"
She stated. "If you find yourself weary, you'll find that your rooms are ready with servants patiently waiting to fulfill any need you may have. We will be serving breakfast in the morning and afterwards the archbishop will speak with you."
Rosemary sank into her seat and crossed her arms, her face furrowing with displeasure. "I'm not sleepy,"
She declared."It is prudent to rest well, Princess,"
The duchess stressed gently as she approached the table. She briefly glanced at Lucas, a slight frown gracing her lips, but she turned her attention back to Rosemary. "I don't want to,"
She muttered, sinking further into her seat."Dame Sonia wants you to sleep where she will join you once she has finished attending to her duties."
The mention of Sonia was enough to catch Rosemary's attention. She reluctantly climbed down from her seat, shuffling to the duchess. She paused, turning around to curtsey again to her fellow Scions. "I'll see you all tomorrow for breakfast,"
She said quietly.
The duchess curtsied as well and took Rosemary's hand, and together the pair exited the room. The doors remained open and a pair of knights were revealed to be waiting, their backs to the wall.
Once Sara was gone, Irina took her leave as well, back through the hidden door whence she came. She took the servants’ corridors to the office of the Palace Commander, head of all the royal family’s security forces. He was away, which would prove to be a terrible coincidence, but it worked well enough in Irina’s favour as she’d been offered the use of his office to coordinate the response to the night’s attack.
The room was a relic of its period; with dark paneled walls and walnut furniture to match, it looked rather like a dark cave lit only by the fire blazing brightly in the centerpiece stone fireplace. A few shaded sconces on the walls provided a little more light, revealing an oil portrait on each wall (presumably former commanders or people of note), but the main source of light was an antique green lamp on the desk. Previously clean, the desk was already piled high with reports and other papers relating to the attack. It had hardly been two hours.
A squire, the same one who had collected the armour crystals, arrived only shortly after Irina did. She had a knack for showing up places; Irina had only been supervising her for a few months, but already she was beginning to wonder if the girl was secretly a mage, teleporting all over the place. Whatever her method, it was certainly convenient for Irina.
The girl stowed the now-empty crystal case in a duffel bag (one of several that accompanied Irina tonight) as Irina sat down, eyes still trained on the tablet she’d been carrying. It took a moment for Irina to tear her attention away and notice the girl. “Oh, thank you,”
she greeted curtly, only glancing up for a second. “Go get Sir Edmund for me, please.” “Yes ma’am!”
the squire replied eagerly, saluting before she left.
~ /// ~“Sir Edmund?”
The squire girl appeared as if from nowhere in front of Edmund, her footsteps somehow inaudible until she called his name. She looked about eighteen years old, a little tall for a woman, of average build, and sporting a plain brown bob of hair and brown eyes to match. Despite the earlier tension between them, she was perfectly cordial - and perhaps even a little eager - as she greeted him. She saluted Edmund before speaking again. “Dame Irina asked to speak with you. Please follow me.”
Edmund nodded politely, his usual scowl on full display as he had stood down the hall from the ballroom. He was lost in thought, events of the night circling in his head like vultures. The squire didn't seem to phase him much, a roughly familiar voice. Though he did feel a hand gravitate towards his belt instinctively, towards the hilt of a sword that would usually be resting there. The paranoia seemed to be reaching a fever pitch in the quiet of his mind. But he kept it hidden underneath his grumpy demeanor, and followed without so much as a word. He reached into his suit pocket, making sure he still had the crystal in his possession.
The squire led Edmund quietly through the main halls of the palace, navigating surprisingly well for someone who had presumably never been there. A few times she took a breath to speak, but held back; she looked like she had a something to say, but was ultimately too nervous to say it.
She held her peace, bringing Edmund to the door of the Commander’s office and knocking sharply. “Sir Edmund for you, ma’am,”
she called courteously. “Come in.”
The squire pushed through the door, beckoning Edmund in behind her. Irina was sitting at the desk, back straight as a rod, but her focus was still on her tablet. “Thank you, Sylvia.”
Irina dismissed the squire, who saluted and departed, closing the door behind her.
Irina tapped a few more times on her tablet before closing it and returning it to a drawer. She locked it before finally turning her attention to Edmund. “Sir Edmund, thank you for coming,”
she commented flatly, holding out her hand. “I’ll take your crystal now, while you explain why you refused to hand it over earlier.”
Edmund's posture was more relaxed. He didn't bother with the usual formalities, his nerves and the bruising ever-present reminders of the day's events. He took a moment, taking a deep breath, before pulling the crystal out of his pocket and setting it in her hand. He wasn't in the mood to be treated like a squire again, not by her. “I expected more from the Ordo Templi. I had thought the loss of a Scion would have been a wakeup call… I wasn't expecting the response to be complacency.”
His voice was cold, but delivered in the same even tone he always used. His hands rested at his sides, his arms tense.
Irina didn’t miss the foreign firearm slung over Edmund’s back, but she said nothing, appearing entirely untouched by his comment as she stood with his crystal. From one of several duffel bags lining one wall, she produced a clunky handheld device and inserted the crystal into a slot at the top. The crystal sank into the device, lighting up a small screen, and a few seconds passed before the device beeped and ejected the crystal once more. “I wasn’t expecting a Blessed Templar to get into a pissing contest with a squire over a routine procedure,”
Irina eventually replied in kind, although her tone was utterly disinterested as she retook her seat and offered the crystal back to Edmund. It looked like she had bigger things on her mind.“That was all I summoned you for,”
she stated, although she gestured to Edmund’s new rifle. “But if you have some information that can’t be gleaned from your armour log, now is the time.”
Edmund's expression was steady as he pocketed the crystal and turned to the door. As he stepped towards it, he showed the first signs of open hesitation as his hand hovered over the door handle for a moment. He took a breath, and listened to the voice in his gut. He lifted his hand up to lock the deadbolt to the office, before turning back to face Irina. “I had a brief conversation with a member of the terrorist organization responsible for the attack when things began. She identified herself as Salome, daughter of Termina. She had been posing as a member of the waitstaff… and she seemed to be orchestrating the attack.”
Irina’s expression, formerly unreadable, suddenly shifted. For the first time, a look of intense interest crossed her face, and she folded her hands under her chin, staring intently at Edmund. She looked like she wanted to jump all over the information, but she restrained herself. “What makes you think she was orchestrating the attack?”
Edmund's expression relaxed, if only slightly. Irina's interest helped ease his paranoid suspicions for the moment. “Her control of mana was… unusual. Her transformation kicked off the assault, and she seemed to be responsible for the disruption of the Scion's abilities… she also had particular insight in the optics of what would take place.”
He paused, playing back the conversation in his mind again, trying to piece together the specific words. Recalling them felt like poison in his mouth. “Her exact words… she claimed a new king would be crowned when the year was done, due to his royal highness’ failing health… but that the public at large would blame Kaudus due to this attack and we would go to war.”
Irina listened with rapt attention, pausing when Edmund was done to process his words. She tapped her fingers on the desk in silence, deep in thought. “Her… transformation?”
she finally asked, still visibly pensive. She seemed almost hesitant, as if she had to choose her questions carefully. “What do you mean by that?”
Edmund paused, considering the question for a moment. “A blue light enveloped her, and her appearance changed. The lights were out, so I wasn’t able to get a good look. Her shape just looked… different… and I think it all came from the gloves. Whenever she snapped… that’s when things went sideways. First with the soldiers, then again with the magic disruption… from my point of view, it looked like they managed to plant things all over the ballroom to make that happen. A preliminary sweep by the Templars should have caught that.”
With the final line, Edmund’s tone changed slightly. There was a slight edge to it, the hint of anger or frustration.
Irina continued tapping the desk as she listened, eyes unfocused as she appeared to concentrate entirely on her thoughts. But, much like Edmund, the last comment brought about a change in her demeanour. “It would have, if the devices had been present,”
Irina replied in a warning tone. But she did not linger on it; instead, she stood up from the desk and began pacing in front of the hearth. “What else? Was she part of a known terrorist cell? Did she mention anything about her group’s aims? Any information that could be used to identify the organization responsible?”
Edmund’s eyes widened only slightly at Irina’s first remark. He had misjudged the situation, at least partially. Though, the revelation that the devices had been planted potentially during the party only raised more questions than answers. But as he played through the events in his mind, he answered, “The guns they used read as foreign make to me… wealthy benefactors for something on this scale. The only thing she said about her aims… she claimed she was going to ‘liberate Gaia from the false Goddess.’”
His tone shifted slightly, mimicking Salome’s grandiose delivery as much as he could. He felt a little sick saying it, but just shook it off. “The best lead I can think of as to the organization just comes from that thing she said… she claimed to be a daughter of Termina, the same way we call ourselves children of Incepta. That sounds like a starting point to me.”
A rapt knocking interrupted their conversation, accompanied by the muffled nagging of a squire from beyond the door. “I need a meeting. Urgently. You can’t pass me over twice,”
one Tyler Morris called into the room. He even tried the door handle, masterful in manners as he was, though it didn’t budge.
Irina paced as Edmund spoke, looking more perturbed by the minute. “The only group by that name is a wandering band of lunatic street preachers harassing the Doumerc borderlands as of late,”
she mused, “but they haven’t been known to be violent…”
The insistent knocking interrupted her, and her attention snapped up to the door, looking like she’d been rudely disturbed from slumber. At first, she chose to ignore it, but when it did not stop, she tsked
and strode past Edmund to open the door. “Sir Tyler,”
she greeted him coldly, “if this is not a lead on tonight’s events, it can wait.”“Wonderful, I was just thinking the same thing,”
Tyler chirped with a fake mirth in his voice, “I have information on what I assume was one of their officers.”
His impressively feigned smile fell off his face as he leveled a more serious gaze at Irina. “And I believe I know why they might be aiming to kidnap the Scions.”
Irina quirked her head in wilful concession, stepping aside to bid Tyler to enter. “Sir Edmund, you’ve been upstaged,”
she quipped over her shoulder in her closest facsimile of a joke, locking the door behind Tyler. “From the beginning, then. What makes you think you encountered one of their officers?”
Edmund took a step back at this, folding his arms as he listened close, jaw clenched slightly.
Tyler stepped inside and nodded, once to Irina and then to Edmund. “It’s okay, I have that effect on people,”
he said playfully in Edmund’s direction before he refocused on Irina. “Right. Prince Lucas froze time at one point to stop a group of them from advancing on us, except one of them kept moving. He had a strange… mana veil waving from his neck, which is where I assume the ability stemmed from. Lots of cybernetics, from what I could tell.”
He furrowed his brow as he continued, visibly agitated by the thought of the man. “From what he said, it seemed like he’d been sent specifically after me, but he underestimated the strength of Lucas’ blessing. His sword seemed designed to neutralize mine, and the thing around his neck either neutralized time magic or mimicked it perfectly.”
Edmund sighed, looking towards Irina briefly before looking back at Tyler. “You're saying someone other than a Scion could manipulate time? Slow it down and stop it?”
For the first time in a long time, Edmund's scowl dropped into a confused frown. He wiped his face with his hand. “That could explain how they installed the devices so quickly… whatever it was that disrupted the Scions’ magic.”
Tyler met Edmund’s gaze briefly, then averted his eyes downward. “It appears that way, yes. His scarf thing glowed red while time was stopped, sorta like oversaturated environmental mana, then turned blue after everything started moving again. It has to be the source.”
A frustrated huff escaped his mouth at that. “But personally? I don’t think it’s someone other than a Scion at all - not really. I think they stole it from Theodore. And I think they want to do the same thing to Nadine.”
A slight gasp erupted from Edmund's mouth, first at the mention of the color change… and then again at the mere notion that a Scion could be stolen. Through gritted teeth, he muttered, “Salome's gloves… they were blue as well. The mana…”
Tyler snapped his head up at the mention of the strange salami woman and her mysterious gloves. “They sent one after you too?”
Edmund paused for a moment, weighing his options. He still wasn't exactly sold on who to trust at this moment. After all, Tyler lost one Scion already, and another was kidnapped the day he was blessed again. But the mention of the blue mana was enough to push him over the edge. “No… not quite. I encountered another officer… if not the one leading the assault. She made the call kicking things off. She called herself Salome, and a daughter of Termina. She had been posing as waitstaff, managed to get close to the royals… but she didn't attack anyone directly. Just… snapped her fingers and everything went dark.”
Irina listened silently as the two templars spoke, expression growing graver by the minute. At some point during the dialogue, she sat back down at her desk, pulling her tablet out once more and producing a stylus to make marks on something on the screen. After Edmund finished, she tapped a few times more before stowing it away once again, propping her chin on her folded hands.
She was quiet for a moment. “Scion Lucas is very new to his power,”
she said cautiously, looking at Tyler. “Are you absolutely sure that this combatant defied his power? Is it at all possible that His Holiness somehow faltered?”
Now, Tyler had absolutely no confidence in his Scion’s ability either, but did she really think he wouldn’t have noticed if something odd was happening? “Even I had trouble when His Highness did it, you expect me to believe that metal bastard spontaneously got lucky? No, the room was entirely frozen except for the three of us. And, from what I could tell, the enemy broke the time stop spell before Lucas could release it himself, after I beat his ass too hard.”
Despite maintaining her typical stone-faced expression, Irina was starting to look pale. “If the enemy had the power to manipulate time like a Scion, they could have captured every Scion in the blink of an eye,”
she reasoned. “So why the assault?”“Fear.”
Edmund's response came quicker than he expected, leaving an awkward pause before he continued. “Salome hinted she wanted the Federation to go to war against Kaudus… it doesn't explain why they didn't take all the Scions, but maybe there are bigger goals at play than just abducting them all..”
Tyler opened his mouth to respond, though Edmund beat him to it. As good an explanation as any, he supposed. “Maybe that was the intent, but he went for Lucas first as the only one that could potentially stop him. Or maybe, if it is a stolen Scion ability,”
even saying it left a bitter taste in his mouth, “he needs proximity to the real thing to activate it- no, that wouldn’t stop him from targeting the other Scions.”
At best it would explain their decision to attack specifically after the blessing ceremony, but Edmund’s idea would explain that just as well, if not better.
Irina frowned. She had the look of someone who was desperately hoping to be wrong, but probably wasn’t. “It would take far less to trigger war with Kaudus,”
she reasoned futily, “Rodion never stops skirmishing with them, and even though Doumerc seems to have misplaced its backbone, any more intrusion on their eastern border would necessitate a Federation response. The whole continent has been foaming at the mouth for war ever since Scion Theodore’s disappearance; if the goal was simply to start a war, it could have been accomplished at far less expense.”
She shook her head, staring at the lamp on the desk for a moment. “Is there anything else the two of you noticed? Anything at all?”“Yeah, actually,”
Tyler piped up, “In the middle of his insane ramblings, he mentioned wanting to summon the Goddess in the name of his own false deity. I can only assume this attack was meant to glorify it in some way that wouldn’t be accomplished by a mere strike at the border.”
Edmund turned his gaze back to Tyler again, waves of paranoia subsiding for but a brief moment. “He mentioned summoning the Goddess? Did he… did he call Incepta a false goddess?”“Not that I can recall,”
Tyler responded with a shake of his head, “He seemed quite assured of Her existence, but claimed it was detrimental to humanity. He mentioned that word you used too, Termina. I think his recruitment spiel needs work.”
Irina looked as if she’d eaten something rotten, her face momentarily screwed up in disgust. “We will look into this… idol of theirs,”
she spat, “and communicate everything we know to each Templar once we have a more complete picture of tonight’s events. Until then, if there’s nothing else, then the two of you are dismissed.”
She stood from her desk, folding her hands behind her back as if she were giving another assembly. She looked gravely at each Templar. “For now, say none of this to anyone. What you’ve told me tonight will cause widespread panic; that’s just what they want. If this is true, then it is all the more important that you stay at your charge’s side. A power even approaching what you’ve described will give no quarter; stay alert, stay vigilant, and do not let your charges out of your sight. I’ll relay the same to the others.”
She nodded to Edmund. “Leave that rifle with me. If either of you remember anything else, come to me or the Commander immediately. Do not trust the phone lines, or anything of the sort. Do not trust the palace Knights, do not trust the Church Knights. This information cannot fall into the wrong hands. Understood?”
Edmund paused for a moment, mulling the orders over in his head, before simply nodding. He slipped the strap of the rifle off his shoulder and grabbed it, setting it down on the desk as he turned to leave without so much as a word.“Yes, ma’am.”
Tyler saluted dutifully. He did
have a sense of decorum, if only to one-up Edmund. Though, he wasn’t quite in the mood to pick a fight after the night they’d all had, and the unattended prince still nagged worryingly in the back of his mind for some inexplicable reason. Taking Edmund’s departure as a dismissal, he similarly turned and made his way outside the office.