Reaching the Imperial Palace proved absolutely impossible for her, by forces she could not understand, and so princess Yuliana had no choice but to leave the dark and rain, and head back the way she had come. Wearily she slouched back to her tower quarters, the only safe place that she knew. There, without a word, she freed the maids she had imprisoned, and spent the following moments seated on the edge of her bed, staring languidly into nothingness, and wallowed in bottomless apathy. Her prisoners were momentarily confused by Yuliana’s unexpected return, wearing maids’ clothing, and questioned her intentions and sanity. Then, receiving no answers, or much of a reaction of any kind, they eventually took pity on the princess, brewed the girl some tea and got her a change of clothes to replace her drenched attire.
In this depressed fashion, the princess’s night slowly passed, without much sleep.
All she could do was imagine the horrors that unfolded outside her reach, fearfully awaiting news of their final result. In those dark hours, everything seemed completely bleak and hopeless to her.
In a word, meaningless.
However, Yuliana’s blue season did not continue to no end.
At some point in the early hours of the new day, the maids returned to her.
“Your highness,” Tilfa said. “Your presence is being requested at the Palace.”
“My presence?” Yuliana slowly raised her face. “Why? By who?”
“Such things were not shared with us and neither did we ask,” Hila reported. “All we know is that they need you to come there, as soon as is manageable.”
But I can’t even go anywhere near the place.
“If that’s what his majesty wishes...” Replying without much energy, not bothering to argue or explain herself, Yuliana got up to her feet and followed after the maids. Even if she were struck dead on the way, it didn’t matter. At least then she would be free from all this madness.
They took the direct route, up the main stairs to the front entrance.
No one spoke a word the whole way.
Yuliana paid no attention to her surroundings, as various theories on the reasons for her summoning coursed through her mind. Had Izumi been captured? Was she dead already? Did the Emperor want Yuliana to see his moment of triumph? Or had both lost their lives in the cruel conflict, and her account as a witness was wanted by the investigators? Or had some different, even more unexpected development taken place? She couldn’t imagine.
Depressed and unwilling, the princess climbed the endless stairs after the maids.
As they neared the entryway, Yuliana braced herself for the onslaught of unspeakable pain. However, to her mystery, she felt in no way different from the usual, even as they passed through the turquoise gate. There was no agony, not even a hint of it. Her entry to the Palace was no longer being prohibited by the powers binding her soul. As if those powers had altogether ceased to be.
Yuliana’s confusion further deepened as they passed through the Azure Hall, to their destination in the room beyond, where a most unexpected sight awaited her.
In the nexus hall before the Throne Room, numerous unknown people had gathered. There was a crowd of military officers, people who looked like lawyers, scholars, attendants, and high-ranking servants of the court. Guards there were, to preserve order, as well as court magicians, to ensure nothing fishy was going on.
In that crowd, Yuliana's attention was drawn to the tall elven woman she had met before. Indeed, the maids led the princess straight to Carmelia, who greeted her with a soft smile.
“My apologies for the late timing, your highness,” the Court Wizard said, “but matters such as these rarely ask for our convenience. And I felt it appropriate that you should be here. After all, though you hail from another land, you cannot be called merely an outsider in this situation.”
“Excuse me, but what is that situation?” Yuliana asked. “What has happened?”
At that moment, the two were interrupted by a door opening on the left.
Yuliana gasped, as she recognized the person coming in.
Through the doorway, escorted by two servants, leaning heavily on a crutch as she walked, was the former Colonel of the Imperial army, Miragrave Marafel, still alive after her death sentence and the following harrowing escape. Many heads were turned by her unexpected appearance. Looking highly grim and urgent, that red-haired lady approached Carmelia and Yuliana, not wasting time for greetings.
“It is much too early for you to be walking around,” Carmelia told the woman in a somewhat scolding tone.
“As if I could play sick, at a time like this,” Miragrave replied. Though her face was pale and tired, speaking of great pain underneath, the usual willful light burned in her eyes uninterrupted. “Is it true, what they say? I’m not being played for a fool, am I?”
“It is true, yes,” the sorceress nodded. “His Imperial majesty has passed away.”
“Eh...?” Yuliana couldn’t hide her shock at the news.
“One would be hard-pressed to find a soul genuinely remorseful for the fact, but such is the truth of the matter,” Carmelia continued. “But our world is not ending just yet, and we must now find answer to the question of what comes after.”
“There’ll be no tears from me, that is for certain,” Miragrave said, “but those are some heavy boots for a successor to fill. Who is to be the Emperor in place of an Emperor? He did a thorough job at eliminating his siblings, or anyone, who had any hope of overthrowing him. Is there a single soul of royal blood left in the world, with a lawful claim? Or is competence to be the deciding factor? Will a revolution be declared, with one of the generals to seize the Throne?”
“In this matter, the Circle has certain preferences,” Carmelia replied. “I suspect that anyone affiliated with the old regime would not be acceptable in the eyes of our alliance. Coincidentally, I have received recent tidings that the local Board of Generals has been disbanded this morning, with a great many officials either retired or resigned of their own volition. My, the situation has become quite troublesome. Although, not necessarily hopeless. I am certain that you will be able to think of something. However, in my role as an emissary of Ledarnia, I would suggest that the aspect of racial co-operation were considered a priority in the shaping of the new government. In this vein, it should be judged a distinct merit, were the new sovereign at least passably aware of the global situation, and the challenges we face in the very nearby future.”
“I see that you wasted no time taking the reins,” the Colonel said with a scowl. “If that is how far you have gone to level the playground, then why not simply name your candidate outright and be done with it?”
“Now, now. I merely represent the interests of the Circle and our collective good,” Carmelia diplomatically responded, closing her eyes. “I would not want to be accused of meddling in humans’ internal affairs. I can merely give advice and voice my educated opinions. The resolution itself must ultimately be one that you humans reach of your own accord.”
“And you still wonder why we say, ‘elves have a thousand faces’?” Miragrave sighed. “His majesty’s death may have rid us of a tyrant, but it’s also left us at the mercy of your machinations. Can’t say I ever liked the idea, but now that it’s come to this, we don’t have a choice but to play along, do we?”
“Your prideful character shows you a woman of your country,” the Court Wizard replied to her. “But it would be wise to be mindful of what is at stake. Pride is not something any of us can afford at this stage.”
Understanding her meaning, Miragrave begrudgingly set aside her complaints and gestured to one of the men standing further away. It was an Imperial official dressed in a black-and-white attire, carrying a large tome under his arm. That elderly man was the chief legal advisor of the palace, named Alevin. The book in his clutches was, of course, nothing other but the Law, to be readily referenced in the event of a debate. Though many had tried, memorizing all of the contents was outside average human ability.
“Alevin, would you mind alleviating my headache?” Miragrave asked him. “Who is next in the line of succession?”
“I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve been asked that tonight,” the man answered with a helpless sigh. “And the short answer is: I have no fucking idea! After all these assassinations, arrests, banishments, unannounced retirements, disappearances, and general record-manipulation that’s been going on in the recent years, I can’t tell who’s who anymore! By the way, were you not executed earlier this week, Marafel? By the Lords, I’m beginning to feel dizzy...”
“I’m quite positive I feel several orders of a magnitude worse than you do,” Miragrave retorted, “but now’s no time to lie down and rest. We must have a sound solution to present to the public by sunrise, before the citizens draw their own conclusions and we have an uprising in our hands. Do we have any legal grounds to appoint a successor to the Throne outside of the hereditary order?”
“Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem at all,” Alvin answered. “There are laws by which the military can temporarily assume control of the government, helmed by either the Field Marshal, or the head of the Board of Generals. But the rank of Field Marshal was abolished in 805, and the Board of Generals has apparently dissolved mere moments ago. Right now, the highest-ranking person I know, who still hasn't resigned or died under mysterious circumstances, is the baker who lives next door from me. We’d need an emperor to appoint a new Board of Generals, and generals to manage matters until we can find a new emperor, but we have neither, and I’m at my wit’s end—”
—“Anything else?” Miragrave interrupted him. “Someone who is not directly affiliated with the military or the previous regime?”
“...N-no,” Alevin stuttered. “I don’t know. You must understand, situations like this are exceedingly rare. They don’t happen! Usually, when an emperor is killed, the culprit is the next one in the line of succession, or a military ruler of renown, who have a contingency plan ready, and there is no need for all these special arrangements!”
“Think of something,” the former Colonel urged him. “It doesn’t have to be strictly legal, so long as it can be rationalized in a way the public can accept. We can’t afford to lose our internal integrity now.”
“I...Well, there is one article that stuck to my mind over the years,” the official pondered. “I was quite fascinated by it when I was still a student at the Academy. In Tratovia, strength is everything, as they say, and this law is the very embodiment of that principle. It is an ancient custom, hundreds of years old, which says that if someone were to challenge the reigning Emperor in single combat, and bests him in honest feats of arms, then that person will have the right to the Throne. The law hasn’t been referenced in centuries, but it has never been abolished either, as far as I know. I believe the public could accept this manner of a simplified solution. It is quite romantic, you see. But, of course, the challenger cannot be a simple layman either, but must be of noble heritage...”
Miragrave glanced at Carmelia. “...Not going to work.”
“Yes,” the sorceress replied with a smile. “I believe that person would not only be unsuited to rule, but entirely unwilling.”
From the cirelo, Miragrave’s gaze shifted to Yuliana, who followed the whole conversation like a spectator at a tennis match, eyes moving back and forth, her expression speaking of an intense struggle at the borders of comprehension. Why was she even there? The Empire’s internal affairs shouldn’t have been her burden. Staring at the young woman, a light of realization suddenly appeared in Miragrave’s green eyes.
“...Yes,” the former soldier slowly spoke. “Now that I recall, I have heard of such a law myself. Moreover, I have heard of another convention similar and not much younger. Accordingly, the achievements of a servant can be attributed to the master. And it has not been uncommon for declining monarchies to invite royal blood from another land.”
At her words, the Court Wizard’s smile widened.
“I believe we have found a candidate the Circle can approve.”
“Excuse me,” Yuliana could cope with her confusion and their strange looks no longer and interjected. “Master, Lady Carmelia, could someone please explain to me in plain words what is going on in here? Your words make very little sense to me.”
“Yes,” Carmelia turned to the girl with motherly warmth on her countenance, “I believe the time has come for me to keep my word. Why don’t we look for a more private room, and I shall explain to you everything that has transpired at the capital over the past week...your majesty.”
No less puzzled, Yuliana blinked her large, round eyes like a little bird.
A great many twists and turns followed that fateful discussion, quite colorful and complex, and by all means sufficient for an entirely new book to be written to record them. But such matters we must now set aside and look ahead to the conclusion instead. What was that conclusion and what did it mean for the world?
Ultimately, as was told in so many songs and tales long after, heard in all corners of the free world, on the thirtieth of Lenzhen, in the year nine hundred and ninety-nine of the thirty-third cycle of the Covenant, a new ruler was crowned in the city of Bhastifal. Adopting the regnal name “Ashwelia”, a young woman of only nineteen years of age acceded to the Throne, as the new Empress of the Tratovian Empire.
This unexpected celebration was met with widespread suspicion and raising of brows among the general public, initially. However, the fresh sovereign’s slightly awkward but no less valorous and endearing coronation speech quickly won over even the skeptical opposition. It was made clear to all at a glance that she was a good girl, with a good head on her shoulders—and a downright beauty to boot. Certainly in every way preferable to the cocky youngster, who had ruled the chaotic years before, when all sorts of loathsome incidents happened, and monsters and murderers roamed the streets uncontested. Only a handful of seasoned travelers and politicians marked the new Empress’s uncanny likeness with the princess of the faraway kingdom of Langoria. Such paranoid and senseless observations were quickly laughed into silence by the majority.
The previous Emperor, a tall, broad-shouldered man of age, against all recollections, was laid to rest in a grave by his ancestors at the Imperial graveyard, a beautiful slab of marble marking the spot, in honor of his bravery in life.
Meanwhile, the body of a certain young man, discovered on the Palace roof, was unceremoniously buried in an unmarked grave in the Gralia District, among the deceased poor and homeless, for whom he had never spared a thought whilst alive.
From that day on, a mysterious change was felt everywhere at the capital and the surrounding lands. It was as if the very sun had suddenly grown brighter than usual, the air more crisp, the water more fresh, and the crops more bountiful. People felt as though they had awakened from a long, sickly slumber, with the prior lulling, stagnant atmosphere swept away overnight, together with the momentary storm. Everyone carried on with their daily labors imbued with vigor and cheer, and a brighter outlook for life in general. New, fresher winds seemed to blow over Tratovia, bearing whispers of hope on it. An age of prosperity and glory was surely upon them, with reinforced bonds of co-operation with the cirelo of lonely Ledarnia across the seas.
In these joyful, sunny days of early summer, no one was there to see when deep at the heart of the Imperial Palace at times, instead of their youthful new ruler, a strange being would sit on the Onyx Throne, a winged apparition of inhuman looks. And when no one was there to hear it, this otherworldly vision would let out a bright, unbridled laughter, ridiculing the adorable simplicity of her adopted children.
But where was the champion, who had brought all this about? The mercenary who had overthrown the tyrant was nowhere to be seen on the day of the successor’s coronation. Her majesty would ask for that hero’s whereabouts at every available opportunity, but no one she found was able to produce the answer.
A hero that person was not, perhaps, not in the conventional sense.
But not entirely unnoticed did she go either.
No legend speaks of what happened to that unlucky warrior, save for just one.
In his famous magnum opus, The Long Song, the bard Waramoti tells of how the woman from the other world boarded a simple hay cart bound out of the capital, and so departed with only her trusty sword for a companion, leaving not a single word of farewell behind.
Where to, you may ask?
To another adventure, of course.
To live out her life in another world.
Old Empire | END