SIEGE OF THE THRONE (I)
There was a methodical sort of tension hanging above the City of Sun, one which most could hardly notice, yet still felt as form of transference. Such tension would find itself reflected in rhythmic sounds of silence, in distant thudding, in footsteps echoing against the limestone walls, in ever-dancing eyes of the curious, in air itself if one were to grasp at it.
Lino felt it, to him appearing more akin to a strange rush of colors bearing down from heaven onto earth. It burned yet was strangely cold, similar to properties of strange, Void-level flame, [Arctic Frost Flame]. Heavy atmosphere hung over the Palace, with Lino being able to notice it from miles away.
He’d left City of Sun this morning, realizing it was about time for the hell to unfold like red carpet. He wished no part in the ensuing slaughter for he had more than his fair share of it before coming here. Yet, deep inside his heart, he regretted he was still recovering; a part of him indeed wished he could get back into the game, but those wishes were for naught for the time being.
He instead took out a gourd of wine, sat atop a thick branch of a tall, oak tree and leaned against its trunk, overseeing the entire city, his eyes glued to the distant Palace. There, though beyond his sight, Evelyn was currently sitting in the Throne room within the Palace, surrounded by several dozen ministers, nobles and court officials. They all had rather tense expressions, yet none dared speak up.
Just a few hours ago, they were all officially informed of the successor to the Throne - Lady Evelyn En’gar, Second Princess of the Divine Dynasty and the chosen of the now Retired Emperor, Althone En’gar. Usually, this occasion would be one of celebrating and joy, yet just a mere glance around the tables would one force to realize over half the officials that should be attending the event... weren’t.
“... as you can see,” Evelyn, realizing there would be no one else arriving, spoke up with frigid tone, her disposition of shy, withdrawn Princess completely gone. “We have some infidels in our ranks who believe themselves above the Imperial Decree.” expressions of many stiffened; they’d all by now realized what was about to unfold.
One of those present was none other but Annel, Third Prince of the Kingdom. He currently sported somewhat bitter, relieved, joyful and regretful expression at the same time. Though feeling somewhat down that he didn’t win, and feeling somewhat stiffened that his struggle was in vain to begin with, and even slightly embittered because Evelyn had used him as a puppet, most of all he actually felt an incline of joy; he always thought that Evelyn was perhaps best suited for the throne, but because he was still in the running for it, never dared voice it out loud.
She was clever, strong, could see through people as though they were transparent glass, and carried air around her that would make others look down in shame over their own lacking. He hadn’t thought even for a second to join his Eldest Brother and Sister in resistance; he was well aware of his Father’s temper. Even if Evelyn was to lose the upcoming battle, she will ascend the Throne in the end - there was not a single iota of doubt in him about that.
He knew others were blinded with possibilities; after all, Evelyn was still relatively young and comparatively weaker. She still needed to rely on others to ensure the seat, and that was what others were counting on - that their side had more than hers. Fools... Annel sighed inwardly. You’ve really all forgotten what kind of a man your Emperor was...
However, he still didn’t think Evelyn would even lose. Knowing her, Annel was certain she was already aware of who she was going up against even before today, and today itself was simply a display for others - a necessary ceremony of sorts. Looking at her sitting up at the replica of the actual throne, Annel couldn’t see a trace of doubt, of shock or of insecurity. All he saw was cold indifference, temperament of an Empress lording over an entire realm and hearing the news that a few of her subjects would wish to rebel.
“Soon, they shall arrive before our doors,” Evelyn continued, her voice resonating throughout the otherwise silent hall. “And demand we switch places. Shall we allow them?”
“No!!!” there wasn’t a single moment of hesitation before nearly everyone voiced it out in a grand roar of brotherhood, causing Evelyn to smile faintly.
“Indeed, no. Duke Rog’thar.”
“Yes, Your Highness!” a man stepped in front of the rest; he was clad in shining, silver armor with violet decorations, wearing a thick belt where two swords were strapped. His face was covered entirely in helmet save for a pair of golden eyes.
“You shall hoist the <Formation of Sun> with your Legion,” Evelyn said. “And meet their aerial assault.”
“Method?” the man asked.
“Execute anyone who attacks, no matter their rank or bloodline.” Evelyn’s decree caused others to gasp out and stiffen while feeling their blood freeze; they realized this wasn’t a mere battle for the Throne; it was simply a masking of cleansing for the future rule.
“As Your Highness commands, it shall be done.” the man stepped back with a bow.
“Duchess Asthrah,” Evelyn called out whereupon a woman wearing thick, black robes stepped out. She had short, boyish black hair and a pair of green, piercing eyes, entirely void of emotion. “Command Children of Stars and commence a counter-attack.”
“Yes, Empress.” the woman bowed down lightly and retreated.
“Third Brother.” having been suddenly called out, Annel stumbled for a moment before hurrying over and kneeling in front.
“You have called, Your Highness?” a slight trace of amusement flashed past Evelyn’s eyes; of all her siblings, she liked the young boy in front of her the most, which is why she wanted to offer him an opportunity to prove himself in the upcoming battle as to allow her to position him highly in ranks.
“Are you confident in facing our Eldest Brother and Sister?”
“...” Annel stiffened for a moment; in reality, he stood no chance - even against one, let alone both. Yet, a sense of pride wouldn’t allow him to say no, yet fear of death wouldn’t let him say yes.
“Not alone, of course,” still slightly amused by her brother’s reaction, Evelyn quickly added. “You’ll be joined by Marquis Drevor and Marquis Thorne.” two men suddenly stepped out and knelt on each side of Annel.
“As you command, Your Highness.” the three of them quickly acknowledged before retreating.
“I shall take the vanguard role alongside Sir Devon and Ishel,” Evelyn got off the throne, stepping in front of the large group. “The rest of you will be commanded directly by Duke Onthore. His word is My word. Whoever shall reject it, shall be sent to gallows following the battle. Understood?”
“Yes, Your Highness!”
“Very well,” Evelyn smiled faintly as she began walking forward whereupon people quickly scattered sideways, creating a passage for her. “Let us cement the name of the Sun’s Child in the minds of all those who still have doubts.”
She was followed by only two men clad entirely in black armor with spiked shoulder pads and helmets. The two were her personal guards assigned by her Father when she turned six - Devon and Ishel. Both were hand-selected from the Empire’s secret Legion, Sons of the Damned, a special Legion directly under the command of the Emperor and no one else, created for the sole purpose of protecting the heart of the Empire.
They were the most ruthless, the bloodiest, the coldest and the most skilled soldiers Empire had to offer, and each Emperor or Empress would be granted two as their personal guards to serve them till death. Two men shared similar pair of crimson eyes, yet differed in their stature as Ishel was at least a whole head taller than Devon.
“... how confident are you two in holding back Duke Eredicth, Mardent, Callus and Fercrow?” Evelyn asked the two men.
“It is no problem.” Ishel replied in cold, flat voice.
“What about the Lady?” Devon asked in a somewhat mellower voice.
“... Sky Seers and Three Imperial Counties have been thinking themselves too valuable for a long time now,” Evelyn said, her expression turning frigid. “They even dared doubt and defy my Father’s orders twice. It is time they learned of sky above the sky. I suspect Duchess Le’vol and Damian won’t be showing up today, but you should keep an eye out of the two. They ought to be the largest headache.”
“... I sensed Sister Shade inside,” Devon said. “Can’t she take care of the two?”
“... she has other tasks,” Evelyn smiled faintly. “But, if those two do show up, she will too.” Devon and Ishel suddenly shuddered for a moment, causing their armors to clank. “Ha ha, are you two still so terrified of her?” Evelyn laughed cheekily, glancing back at the two.
“... I’d rather face maws of death in battle than her...” Ishel replied honestly.
“Indeed, so would I,” Evelyn said, sighing. “The only living being I ever heard of capable of cultivating <Codex of Nihility>... makes a soul wonder what she had gone through in her life...”
“She still can’t break past the Fifth Shackle,” Devon said. “When I asked her, she told me there’s still a person rooted inside of her heart.”
“... hm,” Evelyn nodded lightly. “But, she’s yet to understand the Fifth Shackle.” she sighed. “It doesn’t require abandonment of heart, nor acceptance of true nihility.”
“She’s smart. She’ll understand it sooner rather than later.” Ishel said confidently.
“Indeed. Ah, here we are,” Evelyn suddenly stopped as the trio stepped out on the terrace of topmost part of the Palace; it heaved up nearly half a mile into the air, suspended on invisible support, seemingly hanging in empty air. Already, in the distance, the trio spotted the moving onslaught of darkness creeping toward them. “They’re close.”
“... it’s sad,” Devon said suddenly. “They were swayed by promises of a cretin.”
“... there’s a reason why Damian can be considered a King of a place embroiled in chaos since the day of its inception,” Evelyn said. “Converting a few, sheltered nobles? Even the two of you could do it...”
“Ah, now that I think about it!...” Devon exclaimed in slight, almost child-like wonder, prompting Evelyn and even Ishel to laugh briefly before turning their attention back onto the incoming swarm. War for the Throne was at their doorstep... and they had to emerge victorious.