"Ada, my eyes are deceiving me," he declared, waving the letter around as Adelaide slightly motioned for the maid to snatch the parchment from him. Aidann evaded her, opting to toss the paper in the direction of the bedridden Adelaide instead.
She gestured for the maid to leave the room, and furrowed her brows as she stared at the words.
Aidann liked Adelaide. She was like the little sister he never had, and the only person he broke character in front of.
"'To the Abomination that Carries the Rella Name,'" she read, "'You are summoned to the border town of Rook along with Marquis Vanahan to take care of the rebels. Make sure to form an alliance with the Marquis. I’m sure you are aware that this is not a request. Signed, the Duke of Rella.'"
"He called me an abomination." Aidann smiled, drily. "It's certainly a level up from monster, don't you think?"
Ada clicked her tongue in disapproval. "He shouldn't be calling you anything other than your name."
"Yes, son seems a bit too much to expect, doesn't it?"
"I should call Marlene back to hit you with a pillow. Quit being so sarcastic."
A silence after, which Adelaide broke.
"Are you really going?"
The reason why most of his 'siblings' were uncomfortable visiting Adelaide was because she resembled the Harpy too much. By the Harpy, Aidann meant his 'mother,' Regina la Muller, the witch that terrorized the Rella household and its inhabitants, a screeching harpy that was on bad terms with every member of the family, including the Duke. Dark hair, large eyes, even the sharp cheekbones.
But even the unfeeling, messed up Aidann had visited her when she was ill, regularly, because he cared about his sister.
When Adelaide had turned eighteen two years ago, the 'monster' had thrown her a mini-debutante in her room, in place of her coming-of-age ceremony. It was a cold banquet, but the thought of it had been the closest to a warm childhood memory in Aidann's head.
In both worlds.
"I'm trying to get on Father's good side," Aidann confessed. "I want to abdicate my position as heir. I'll try to move out, soon, when I turn thirty. I'll bring you with me, if you'd like."
"Dann, it's a nice sentiment," Adelaide agreed. "But…"
You don't know if you'll live that long.
Aidann stifled a sigh.
He promised, "I'll be back soon, though, Ada." He reached out a hand to tousle her hair, and his sister suppressed a smile just as the door opened with a bang.
Aidann turned, to see...
"Monster. What are you doing here?" his beloved 'younger brother,' Kieran hissed.
Ah, his 'younger brother.'
Aidann was the oldest out of five siblings. The second was William, a bookish sort yet still powerful - a favored administrator, the teacher's pet. The third Adrian, a slightly sleazier, ambitious-villain version of William who hated his wife. The fourth Adelaide, and the fifth Kieran, who, from the looks of it, was a fool. Oh, and, according to the rumors, recently favored by the Royal Council.
Immediately, Aidann discarded any semblance of emotion that showed on his face and drawled with his body's trademark expression, "Do I need a reason to visit Ada? I'm the only one that does, as far as I know of."
Kieran stiffened. "Don't call her Ada."
"He can call me Ada if he wants to," Adelaide said, curtly. "Do be quiet. This is my bedroom, not a cockfighting ring."
Aidann withdrew his hand, an action that made Kieran's expression darken.
"Don't you dare lay a hand on her," Kieran threatened as he reached for his sword.
Smirking, Aidann laughed and grabbed his younger brother's collar in a swift, decisive motion. His body's swordsman reflexes helped as Aidann clenched the fabric with an iron grip and lifted. Kieran's toned body practically felt like feathers as Aidann tossed him aside, spluttering.
"It should be the other way around, Kiki." Aidann's tone hardened in a voice that sounded practically foreign to even him. "You have no power to threaten me, or Adelaide, you disappointment."
Kieran scrambled to get up.
"At least I'm not a-"
"Monster?" Aidann guessed. "At least being an abomination is better than being a weak-willed hypocrite that jaunts around wearing a bought uniform."
His younger brother went down with a well-aimed kick, the illustrious three-star lieutenant of the Order covering his head like a bullied child at the playground.
"[I do not like to make empty threats, Lieutenant Kieran]," Aidann said blandly, in the language of his Otherworld nation. "[It's annoying to see that there are people like you across worlds]."
"Treshnik," Kieran accused, whimpering as his brave-soldier facade crumbled. Demon.
They didn't believe in demons here, Aidann remembered from the novel. Just Heroes. Their version of demon was, quite literally, hell-bringer. The word in Common, he had discovered, was similar to the word for 'politician,' which was also, coincidentally, similar to the word 'liar.' Treshnik, and treshna, and tresne.
It was interesting how he understood such a foreign language.
"Says the one on the floor." Aidann shrugged, crouching down and whispering in his ear, "The only thing that's grown about you is your ego, my dearest brother."
Turning, Aidann got up and cheerily waved goodbye to the ever-calm Adelaide, who looked as if the display were a common occurrence. Sticking his hands in his pockets, Aidann hummed a little tune as he exited the room leaving the sniveling little brother on the floor, the shivering maid by the door, and his beloved sister behind.
Painting before a journey was always the most relaxing part.
Erina Sommerling frowned.
But she wasn't Erina Sommerling - her Papa had always told her to never use her mama's last name in front of others.
Why? she had asked.
Because your Mama is very scary, her Papa had replied. You don't want to scare the others, do you?
No, I don't, Rina had agreed.
"Papa," she called, reaching for her papa's soiled robes. Blinking up at her papa's weathered face, she searched his expression for traces of anger. She found none, instead finding exhaustion. "Papa…?"
"Rina." Silas Desmond tried for a smile. "You're back. Did you have fun, playing with the other children?"
"You look tired, Papa," Erina remarked.
"Perhaps I am, my little hedgehog, but you don't need to be worried," Papa replied.
Erina paused, contemplating her sentence. Papa never liked it when Rina mentioned her. "Will Mama be back soon?"
Mama left when I was born, to go on a long, long trip.
Papa's face tightened. "Why do you ask, Rina?" he asked, cautiously.
Erina pouted. "Today, other children in the camp said that I didn't have a Mama. They said that she left me behind. When I said that she didn't run away, they called me an halfie-Evangelinese tresne! I almost fought them, before Lieutenant Glenda told them to go away." Erina harrumphed. "But you wouldn't lie, would you, Papa?"
Papa would never lie.
Silas stiffened. "Of course I wouldn't."
Erina looked into her Papa's Resilian dark eyes. "Mama was from Evangeline, right?"
"Yes," her Papa hedged. "She's very important there."
Erina was wide-eyed. "As important as the General? They say the General rules Evangeline!"
Her papa's lips quirked. "Not anywhere near the General."
Why did her papa sound like she was funny?
"Tell me about the General!" Rina pleaded. "Or how I got my name! Or Mama's name! Please!"
"Your mama hated her name," Silas mused, wiping his sweat. "She said it made her sound old. That's why she called herself Kat instead of Ekaterina."
Kat sounds like a nice name.
Erina frowned. "If Mama's name was Ekaterina, and her last name was Sommerling like me, doesn't she have two names in common with the General?"
Did I say something wrong?
"The middle names are different," Silas hastily pointed out. "The General's middle name is Mikhailova and-"
"Aren't Evangelinese middle names secret to only their family, like my middle name?" Erina asked. "How would you know the General's middle name? You must've heard it wrong, Papa."
See, I'm smarter than Papa.
Silas changed the subject. "We're in the Elevyarian side of the Woods right now," he said. "Be ready to move to Elevyar, alright? And make new friends."
Her papa was so silly.
Beware, the lies of the masses,
Rumors spread alongside bloodstained passes,
For beneath the throne of our mighty General,
Sins beware, the fire remains eternal.
Rebels beware as the descendants of carmine,
Our resplendent legacy shall forever never sign,
If you are a liar, do not remain,
Paper does not - and shall never - bind flame.
- Beware, a poem made by Author Unknown
(written after the Incident in which Queen Donari Era Ultra of Resilia proposed a contract to split the Crimson Plains between the Evangelinese and the Resilians; Era's reaction, word for word: "one of the most intelligible pieces of art to come out of an Evangelinese mouth")
General Ekaterina Sommerling frowned at the two papers set on the Evangeline teak desk.
One, a trap, and one a request.
She opened the latter first, noticing with a wince its sender's name.
Please come home. I know Evangeline needs you, but Rina does, too.
We've been reduced to refugees under the Rebels, Kat. We've been fleeing in Elevyar, trying not to get killed.
Please come home.
If not for me, then for Rina.
The man was persistent, Ekaterina had to give him that. That was one of the reasons she fell in love with him. And one of the reasons she still was. Her duties as the Role of Tsarina, also known as the General - and ruler - of the Kingdom of Evangeline, left her helpless when she had parted with him after putting the child in his care five years ago.
Erina, Ekaterina remembered.
She had thought giving birth was one of the largest mistakes in Ekaterina's ruling life. An heir to the House Sommerling, the esteemed tsar House, born out of wedlock. Not that Ekaterina regretted it, but it would be Hell to clean up.
Wincing yet again - she always did that, a habit when lying through her teeth - Ekaterina picked up her quill pen and did just that.
I have nothing to defend myself with. What I have done as both Ekaterina and the General is unforgivable - trying to be both at once was a mistake.
Please take care of Rina.
I offered to designate you as a consort, but you know Father said he would have you assassinated if you were ever introduced to the Court, and I cannot escape this endless Role.
My hands are tied.
My apologies must mean nothing at this point, my love.
I don't think I can call myself Your Kat anymore, but please know that I still love you.
Both you, and Rina.
Please take care of yourselves.
Only three sentences were true in the letter, a fact that Ekaterina knew Silas knew. Oh, how they knew each other so well.
You cannot understand a Sommerling, her father had shoved into her head, a Sommerling understands you, and all.
The age-old precept was false, Ekaterina thought, for a Resilian man she met in a tavern by the name of Silas Desmond was the one who understood her the most in the world. And Ekaterina did not know all.
She did not understand each and every one of the citizens of Evangeline; she did understand how to be a general and parent and partner at the same time; she did not understand, try as she might, the entire workings of the Kingdom she had ruled for five years now.
She was not an omniscient Hero. All she had was a Role, a cog in the system of the World. But she knew at least that.
House Sommerling was the ruling family of the kingdom of Evangeline, descended from the original Salamanders, a House founded by the General and Hero, General Carmine Saffire.
The other letter that arrived had on the royal green seal of the Kingdom of Likator, glistening like the color of a snake against the yellowing parchment. Although Likatorites were notoriously known for being sturdy in a fight - they weren't technically biologically descended from the Dwarves, though - a recurring trait Ekaterina had seen in them were their silver-tongued viciousness.
Perhaps it was just the one Chief of their Royal House.
Unsheathing the letter opener, Ekaterina popped open the seal as she motioned for her aide to take away Silas' letter for burning.
Ancient Likatorite. Always a headache to read.
General Ekaterina -
I greet the Tsarina of the Kingdom of Evangeline, may your flame forever never be bound.
I write this letter to you in good faith.
As the saying goes: know not happenstance, fear not fate. Happenstance is a strange matter, but I have received observations of happenings far stranger. The matters in the Elevyarian side of the Woods have seemingly warranted a much needed discussion.
I have sent a diplomatic envoy, as I unfortunately have been tied up in such matters.
My sister, the Archduke Wyve, has been dispatched and is said to arrive in the next two weeks. She will speak in my stead.
My sincere apologies for the short notice,
- Chief Razein Wyvern
High Warlord of the Kingdom of Likator
Frowning, Ekaterina signaled for her aide - well, more widely known as the Duke of Nox - to take a look.
"Ivan," she beckoned, "come dissect this."
The Kingmaker frowned as he skimmed the contents of the parchment. Ignoring the other letter, of course, although he knew of the sender's position. If her Father had his say, Ivan would've been Ekaterina's Consort a long time ago - in fact, he already was, in all but flesh and name and romantic love. Everyone knew that the dark-haired beauty was Ekaterina's most loyal hound, and childhood friend. And Ekaterina loved him, but not in the way he loved her, she supposed.
"'Know not happenstance, fear not fate,'" he quoted from the letter. "A saying that originated from Likator. An ulterior meaning that everything has a purpose, and every move is planned and as long as you know that, you should go along with it."
"It is a threat," snarled Ekaterina, "everything that comes out of that treacherous snake's mouth always is, Ivan. He's telling us to cooperate, or go to war."
The blue-eyed Duke of Nox had been her most useful political aide since she had been a Princess, persistent in getting her on the throne as Ekaterina achieved military victory after victory. Kat remembered promises made after dark, of a better future, of neverending loyalty and faith in each other, for Evangeline. Of desperate sacrifice, of years streaked in death and fire and blood.
The Kingmaker and his King, the masses called the pair. The one who laid a path of sacrifice, and the one who walked upon it, to the General's throne. There was even a song about them, Ekaterina remembered, bemused.
"Rina, you have to be careful," Ivan warned. "There are three options: he'll propose an alliance to compete with Elevyar for Resilia, Likator is going to war alone against Resilia and Elevyar, or this is a trap and he's planning something else."
"Everything's a trap when it comes to Wyvern." Ekaterina snorted. "Bringing up the Resilia situation? That's practically screaming that something's going to happen. The Archduke is more than just a diplomatic envoy, she's a battle messenger."
Ekaterina recognized that the silence meant she was correct.
Ivan mused, "We do have to take into account the Guilds in Resilia. The situation isn't as without order as it used to be. Cavialerre is admittedly formidable, but whatever the Archduke brings, it won't be anything good."
Ekaterina clicked her tongue. "It's not that Evangeline can't afford a war. Our military is more than enough to start one; it's just that-"
The Scarlet Court wasn't without factions. It was a mess to deal with them, with Ekaterina's supporters slowly dwindling. The politics behind who had enough power to do what, and the number of soldiers in the army who belonged to each faction, created a potentially unstable situation. A war would make it far, far worse.
"Be careful," Ivan repeated.
The light from the curtains illuminated his almost too sharp features, twisted into a look of genuine worry and concern.
Ivan the friend was talking, Ekaterina realized.
After a moment of hesitation, he added, "Kat."
He never called her Kat. Ekaterina, and Rina, but never Kat.
Ekaterina smiled, a vicious sort that always seemed to unnerve people. As blunt and as many regrets as she had, there was a reason she was known as Saffire's Legacy. If Ivan was the Kingmaker, she was still the King with a different title.
Slaughter of Many.
"When have I ever not, Kingmaker?"
- probably somewhere drinking unhealthy amounts of milk tea and coffee
Incarnadine, Incarna, Nadine, fine with either [Author of RIQ & Folly]
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Yes, I read manhwas/mangas, watch anime, and read light novels, feel free to drop any recommendations :)