It was unforgivingly cloudy that night, and while the vigilant creations of man warmed the party’s clouded hearts, it did not bring ease to the mind. Yet, while the other knight squads of the capital were relieved to leave in unbeknownst to them their young prince, they hadn’t run into trouble for the first half of their round.
In fact, there had not been a single emergency in the central of the city yet. It could mean that there was no need for them, that the cycling squads had performed so wonderfully and wholly. It was the symptom of health, of absolute mastery over nature or other sorcery not seen in such dense urban environments before, that it, not counting the immune and impregnable floating city of the old capital in Elodia.
Any hope felt slimy against the impossible odds that they would not be needed, as if the mere thought was sin. Tonight they were all together, and darklings were never ambush predators, only armed with brutal forms and radiating fear that made normal people’s feet freeze. They ran back home like children avoiding a dangerous alley, and then it was seen.
At first Nicholas was the only one to make it out; the huge thing was floating toward the horizon, and he thought it was just a helicopter or other aircraft, perhaps the newest Elodian airship, but didn’t have any lights. It fixated them and all seven of them wanted to know what it was. No one could say a word, even Tom who had mastered the Blank method. It was not of human invention, and it headed southeast towards Susanoo, and if it was a giant darkling, the leviathan was ignoring all of the potential despair in Lodestone’s largest city, biding its time. What Stein had defeated was only a pest, and until a closer look would reveal its form, no one could say whether any knight could hope to defeat it.
Nicholas would try to keep anyone from sleeping, and tipped off the proper authorities across the border. Come tomorrow and it attacked Lodestone, he would have the muster the best knights from the country, and hope even they are enough. He could not pinpoint its size or direction, but with luck it would disperse into many and not hold its form, because such magnitude had not been seen since the terrorist magi incident. Tomorrow he had to ask whether King Kevin knew anything going on to attract an enemy of that caliber.
There is no antithesis to the darklings. There can only be voids of land, sea, and air they cannot feed on, and no magic could ever repel them, but magic could also create more fertile land, and magic was most common there.
It was best to normalize the situation. All that could be done by him was. He was not able to take care of his knights, but if he faked calmness he would not have to see their worry. Ella, above all the second most sensitive in these matters asked whether he had gotten any better of a look, and he could not lie to her umbra eyes. He said, with the upmost weight of voice, “ The various knight corps of Susanoo can handle something like that with minimum casualties if nothing goes wrong,” because truly it was not the monster that was scary but it was merely an active symptom.
They had cake for breakfast and hoped that it would save them. Tom, Sally and Stein were the most shaken because they did not know that a darkling could even manifest at such a size. It would only continue its march of terror as it coasted above the countryside, collecting the spoils from anyone unlucky to see it, just as it had then.
Once again, the three had stayed up all morning, but likewise exhaustion was not much of the issue. Instead, two men were at the door of their base, who were quite different not the Tinker and apprentice. One of them was a dark-haired, dark uniformed man. The other was a tall, blond-haired man, who instead wore knight armor and a hard look. They were much taller and older than anyone else, and when they addressed Nick, the black-haired one did so as an equal.
As a pair of foreign master and servant, they could only be the Emperor his attendant. They introduce themselves; the latter ignored his last name and title and only called himself Alex.
Lawrence went away, not before presenting a more delicate desert than cake that no one else knew what is was, to his work, taking the time to finish his cookbook. Eleanor was prepared to sit by Nicholas, but not to talk to the strangers she only saw once before. Kevin was okay, but to her, the prideful Grand Dragon, the Blue Knight corps commander was so horribly incompetent at being decent while serving that since that day they first visited she wondered how he and the Emperor could be private friends.
Stein expressed, “I don’t feel well. You’ll have to excuse me,” as courtly as he could and left. They thought he might really not be well. Luna had called Sally into her room, saying that she, a superhuman, needed help to move furniture. She regretted not saving Tom but there were only two chairs in her room anyway.
However, Ella had forgotten what Alex had actually said to her to cause her dislike, and was ready to forgive him but then he said, “Eleanor. Are you still studying magic? Many teachers would seek out prodigies like you.”
And there it was. That would imply many things, including that she had never studied under a teacher, she was not ready to be a knight, and the most insulting, that she herself got to the place she is without training as a ‘prodigy’. Even complimentary language turned into the hallmarks of pride. He was no mage, so he should not say anything. Even if he had meant it earnestly, he was simply too stupid and tactless to even hold an important spot. Then she knew that was it because he smiled afterwards before she answered.
She said, with dammed rage, “I don’t believe my schedule and work allows me to do that. I will continue to study hard on my own.”
Then, without speaking to her prince he asked his if he could leave. It was daytime still but he said he wanted to prepare to hunt darklings tonight. She wondered how Nicholas would forgive that. She felt obligated to leave then, despite her curiosity concerning the true personality of the controversial person in front of her.
Luna had heard her and Alex talk and told Luna that his pride was a symptom of his nearly tragic birthright, “His post is virtually hereditary, and the family selects the strongest son who can use magic technology. That’s why he thinks he can talk to Ella like that. There is also a myth about the title but I forgot,” and then she looked through her bookshelf to find out.
Sally stopped her and asked most sincerely, yet seemed insincere yet again, “Do I abuse my rank?”
“No, I don’t believe so. But the point was that Alex is a doomed high noble,” She deflected. She added, “You’re too nice.”
On the other side of the wall, Ella did not consider that Tom was still there. He was quiet and seated informally she forgot he was even there. When Nick introduced him he was almost proud, “This is the Baronet Tom. He was especially spotted because he fights strangely, much like one of your Blue Knights.”
The Emperor said, “It is Nice to meet you, Sir Tom.”
“It is my honor,” he replied robotically.
“Forgive Alex. It is my fault I let him act that way,” Tom had no idea what he was talking about.
“Anyway, Nick over here is my future vassal, so you’ll be my knight too one day,” he joked and let Tom go.
When he and Nick were finally away, he pulled out of his pocket like a stage magician a travel chess set, as he actually had no business here. Prince Samuel would probably not abdicate, but he and Nick, who he judged to be more astute and softhearted, met then, just as his late father met with their father. Kevin himself felt like decoration, as an emissary to Lodestone, which might as well be a second Susanoo.
Over the game, Nick had asked, “And what about the Special Economic Zones? Plans for common currency?”
“We agree everywhere, Nick,” he talked as if they were the same age, “but the situation is the same as before.”
They talked like this, just barely touching over important or real topics every few tens of minutes for almost two hours, in which everyone else restored missing sleep, the sight of the giant darkling fading into the past, which had not been spoke about but known acutely to Nick and Kevin. They were slightly nervous because the greatest knight in the continent was away, hungering over small fry.
Kevin wanted Nick to tell everyone, even the new recruits. Before that Nick asked, “Did you look over them yourself?”
“No, but a close subordinate did. She told me to look at this Sir Tom. He easily took down some of trainees our spotters thought were the most favored at Oakwood.”
“Oh, and he made friends with a few high performers at the tourney. You should arrange a meeting if Ella can give you names,” Nick added.
“I don’t think that’s possible. Our best and brightest new knights are stationed in North Susanoo. It’s because I’m too unpopular, but I can’t just pull them out.”
The Emperor hardened, “The last thing I request is that you should tell Zero Squad about the umbrae supremacy extremists. I leave it to you, but I think that only Zero Squad has the talent. There are too many ill omens.”
They had the same intelligence concerning them, but Nick wanted to pretend that he didn’t know until today. Although infiltration had failed, some reports listed suspects for chief enemy conspirators, even Luna among them, though that could not possibly be true, he thought.
“If you know so much about them, why can’t you arrest them?”
As Kevin answered Nick’s heart skipped a beat, “They use high-level magic to force the truth and convert my umbrae subordinates into their own. Since we have little Intel and suspect they have ties to a dangerous group of magicians, we don’t know the scope of conspiracy. That’s why Luna might still be an agent. We know for sure, that their leader or other figurehead specifically mentioned a high ranking member Tsukuyomi. She might not even know it herself. Besides that, if several magi can cause so much chaos if they’re able to collaborate and share magic, we don’t want to even incite the wrath of a handful. ”
There were many reasons that explanation wouldn’t suffice, but he was too frightened to say, even to his friend. Just because a ticking time bomb could not be diffused easily, did not mean it should be allowed to explode, he thought. It was only a matter of time until any conspirators would reach their objective; the whole thing was too frightening to be real, as if out of a story.
Kevin was staying in the nicest hotel in the city. He would be close enough to talk to if anything was the matter. The last thing they talked about was what to do with Luna. Nick did acknowledge that she appeared to his father in a very suspicious way, almost like she was spontaneously generated to serve and then betray an insignificant second son. However, it was doubtful that she had both not acted yet, and that she had underwent magical hypnosis by a very real invisible enemy, the Ragnarok that didn’t care it appeared conspicuous and had deeper criminal tries.
He could not think of anything else for a few minutes, and indignantly he knocked on her door as Sally leaked out of it slowly and bowed out.
He said to Luna, “What were you talking about?” as the heiress looked rather winded as she left.
“I was having a very polite conversation about the preparation of tea of various kinds.”
“Really, well can I talk to you?”
“It may have spilled over to other topics. You don’t have to ask, lord.”
“He sat down, and while he was not worried to how she’d react he had difficulty saying the words.”
“I don’t believe it even for a moment but he said that you could be an unwilling spy for a group of extremist Umbrae activists.”
She took it with a little shock and she grew far worse as she absorbed it. He went on to say that she might have been affected by mind control, and she too admitted a large portion of her memory from that time was beyond her.
“What should I do?” she said ashamedly.
When Nick said to have Eleanor check for magic she tried be patient until she was dismissed, and in front of Nick she even got up and past him to get to Eleanor. She, knowing that nothing good could come from rushed or panicked inspections coolly reassured her that nothing would happen, to her great relief, and that the whole thing could be put away to tomorrow. Then it was so Luna disrespected Nicholas without actually being relieved of any stress.