Behind the scenes

Book 2 – Chapter 11- Behind the scenes

Past:

Alphonso POV

After giving my orders to Rumo and the rest, I simply waited for them to leave. The moment the doors closed, I let my smile fall. I moved my jaw around as putting up a fake smile annoys me.

My father’s throne was a bit larger than my own, so it was a bit hard finding a comfortable area to sit in. After making myself comfortable, I motioned my guards to check if the scene was clear.

The room was filled with my own personal guards. Handpicked; they were illiterate, so they wouldn’t go off spilling whatever I say. No matter how tightly lipped a person was, there would always be a way for some information to get out. Another precaution I had was the removal of their tongues. All they have ever and will ever know is to serve the family.

My guards inspected the room and the outside before returning to their positions. Satisfied with their inspection, I finally relaxed.

“Your majesty…” An elderly voice called out. “Are you sure it was wise to answer his question?” Referring to mage, known as Nu-Ru’s question. I simply smiled at the minister’s question.

“The best of lies have some truth laced within it.” I answered back with a mild chuckle. “Besides, they will be a bit pre-occupied with the matter at hand to discern whether or not it is true or not. Now then, there is a question I would like to ask all of you. What do you think of them?”

Proposing my questions to my ministers, they all pondered their answers.

Some responded with.

“They show promise.”

Or.

“No doubt their strength will be a welcome addition to the Empire.”

They paraded them with small praises, missing my true intention. ‘Perhaps you need to get your eyes check. Some of you might have gone senile.’ Maintaining my smile, my thoughts were directed more towards the older ministers.

I kept my frustration hidden as they failed to see the bigger picture. If it was any other matter, I wouldn’t bother, but this was different.

Two powerful individuals appeared out of nowhere. Their origins even elude our Empire’s greatest scouts. Even a child would see that as suspicious. Not only that, they even rival the six great families in terms of strength and skill. The others spoke highly of them, even Rumo shows some form of respect towards them.

“Tell me, what do you think of them?” Repeating the same question, my question was directed towards the ceiling. The ministers all around gave puzzled looks. In the next second, a shadow dropped from the ceiling into the middle of the room.

Taken by surprise, the ministers turned to the intruder with frightened faces. The royal guards unsheathed their weapons and surrounded the stranger.

“At ease.” Raising the order, the royal guards halted their movement. “Unsheathe your weapons, no need to be hostile to my guest.” On my command, they performed as they were told. Like obedient puppets, they did as they were told.

“Welcome…Catherine.” Calling out to the stranger, I could hear the audible gasps of the ministers. From her attire, one wouldn’t be mistaken for assuming the stranger to being a man. Hearing my welcome, it was revealed to that it was indeed a woman underneath the cloak.

She was a tall beauty with short cut black hair that seemed to be cloak by the night. A dark and rugged coat covered her body. Her skin was of pale completion, one similar to the illumination of the moon. Pulling back the cloak, more of her attire could be seen. She wore a rather skin tight set of leather armor.

Her stomach was completely visible, said for her breasts, which was covered by a horizontal black cloth of the armor. The armor provided no shoulder guard or texture; merely an arm guard. Her leather pants were accompanied by armored leggings. Her attire look to specialize in mobility than defense. One must wonder at how confident she was in her speed.

Truthfully, I was captivated by her beauty. If it were any other women, I would simply ogle away and perhaps ‘persuade’ her to my chamber. However, I stopped myself for two reasons. For one, on her bare shoulder lies a marking I knew too well. The Black Order.

Secondly were her eyes. Her body and face looked to be sculpted from the Gods themselves. Yet her eyes were cold and lifeless. An abyss of darkness sweep within her beautiful gaze. It was enough to give anyone chills.

“You sure like to make an entrance Catherine.” Catherine remained silent to my joking remark. Seeing her appear out of nowhere reminded me of the time she first arrived. I still remembered the event as if it was yesterday.

***

I was alone within my room, musing to myself. Suddenly, I felt a presence in the room with me. Acting on my instincts, I attacked in the direction of the disturbance. At the same time, Catherine, in her cloak form attacked.

Exchanging blows, my strike grazed her, while hers reached my neck. The victor had been decided.

“Do you know who it is you are pointing your weapon at?” I asked, not bothering to conceal my disdain.

“Alphonso D, Arthur. Crown prince to the Holy Empire and also our client.” Drawing back her weapons, she jumped back and finally revealed herself. I could remember my thoughts jumbled together as I took in what was in front of me.

“I am Catherine, head of the Assassination Branch of the Black Order.” Introducing herself in a monotone voice, she too gave a slight bow. Hearing her words, I broke of away from my daze.

At first I was reluctant to believe her. What subordinate points a blade at their clients neck? Then again, Catherine doesn’t appear to be too normal.

“My apologies. I must say I’m impressed, no one has been able to sneak past my guards before.” Replying with a light chuckle, I rubbed my neck instinctively. “Before we begin, I have one question for you. How exactly did you find me? I was sure that my advisers clearly made the transaction and our involvement hidden.”

“It was, I merely narrowed down the possibilities. And out of all the human nations, The Empire would be the only one that would formulate the contract the capture of the Princess of the Regios Kingdom. If it was any other, they would have chosen assassination. So it stands to reason that only the Empire would benefit from this.”

I couldn’t help but applaud at their resourcefulness. The Black Order was an international criminal organization, it would be foolhardy not to take precautions. Despite my meticulous endeavor to hide, it was all for naught.

‘What an amazing and frightening woman you are…’ I thought to myself, raising my opinion of Catherine. Giving a slight bow, I smiled to her. A winning smile that could swoon any woman and yet her expression remain the same.

“I can only assume you are hear for one reason, and one reason only. The Regios princess.” Around a month has passed since I gave the order to capture the Princess. I haven’t heard back from the assassins in some time, so I feared the worst. However the fear and doubt were dispelled at Catherine arrival.

‘No doubt that they are here to inform me of their success.’ The biggest smile formed as I waited in anticipation of the news.

“Indeed. The mission was a failure.” In one sentence, everything was flipped upside down. The world around went mute as I stared back at Catherine.

‘Failed…What do you mean failed?! As in they don’t have her?!?! What the hell is she talking about?!!’ Hundreds of question raced in my head. Doubts formed but one look at Catherine’s monotone face said it all. My smile fell, replace with immense rage.

“What? Failed? What the hell do you mean failed?” Trying to calm myself, I gripped the edge of my seat.

“It’s just as I said. We failed. As in, we weren’t able to capture the princess.”

Tightening my hands, my grip on the armchair tightened. The sound of my teeth gnashing against one another could be heard. But what made it more infuriating was how she delivered me the news. There was no emotion in it, no care whatsoever. That only served to make me angrier.

“I do hope that you didn’t travel all this way to simply deliver this news.” Speaking up, my voice was filled with animosity, hoping to intimidate her, but she showed no response.

“Yes, through our investigation, we have determined the collaborators. It was a small party of five. Two were assassins, one was supposedly a decorated warrior, another a mage and finally a Draconian. After learning of their intervention, we suspected that there are in leagues with the princess now. I have confirmation from one of my squads that the Draconian and the decorated female warrior are with the princess. As for the others, we do not know.”

Giving her report, I could care less about any of it. Instead I focused on one fact. “Five people…” I muttered to myself in a cold anger. Five people ruined months of planning, bribery, and whispers; it was all foiled by a mysterious group.

Simply thinking about it only infuriated me more.

“Not only have you failed me, but now the princess is allied with this mysterious group?” I asked shakingly.

“Yes.” She responded in an empty voice.

“Get…the…hell…out…of…here…” Controlling my anger, if I were to scream. It would attract countless unwanted attention. I could even feel my left eye twitching. Everything that came from the woman’s mouth was salt in my wounds.

Everything that I have envisioned was collapsing before me. Originally the plan was to have the Black Order kidnap the Regios princess, and hold her captive. Lucia Q Regios, first of her name, and eventually Heir to the Regios Kingdom.

Her name is known far and wide due to her special position. The Regios Kingdom allow for women to have more freedom than most. She helps run her nation and they have thrive because of it. Dubbed, the Scholarly Princess. Just as many admire her as they do scorn her.

From there, time would take its part. Without the princess and ruling heir, the conflict embroiling within the Regios Kingdom would escalate. From there onward, it will be easy pickings. The Empire would then ‘leak’ information of the princess to the Regios.

Forming an alliance and pact, we would retrieve the princess from her ‘captors.’ Pulling the strings behind the scenes. Saving the princess would then lead to agreement of joining the two nations together. With the might of the Empire and Regios kingdom combined, I will stand at the top.

Or at least, that was how I envisioned it.

“I believe you be more mindful of your words. After all, I am here to help you.” Catherine answered forward.

“Help me?” I repeated, animosity in my voice. “You promised me that you would succeed and yet you failed. Why should I take any more chances?” I growled.

“Then, let me remind you of what we know. There is no doubt that this group is now in league with the princess. Currently, there are two serving as bodyguards. What about the other three?”

I was about to ask her what she was raving about until it struck me. If they were in leagues with the princess, no doubt, they would be helping her resolve the issue. In this case, figuring out who was responsible. If one group is protecting the princess, then it would make sense for the other to track the perpetrator.

Realizing the truth behind her words, I felt cold sweats running down my cheeks. With that thought in mind, I told myself to calm down. As much as I hate it, I needed their help to suppress the issue. Fixing my posture, I calmly conversed with the assassin.

“And you have come here to warn me, yes?” I asked again.

“You are partially correct? We have accepted a contract and we intend to see it through to the end. My second-in-command is tasked with eliminating the Princess’s body guard. I will personally take care of the investigation group. As of now, we still know very little of who’s behind this. From the reports, it stand to reason that the mage is the leader of this mercenary group. If the Draconian is with the princess, then it stands to reason that the mage will be conducting the investigation.”

“And this mage, what do we know about him? Do you know where he is?” I frantically asked, all the while contemplating contingency plans in order to combat my opponents.

“Firstly, we know very little. All we know is that they are extremely powerful and their leader. Secondly, I believe he will be investigating the Empire, rather he is already looking.” Hearing her insight, I forced myself to remain calm, yet again.

“And why do you say this?” I asked with wild skepticism.

“Call an educated guest. In truth, I imagine myself in his situation and what I would do. Creating a list of possible scenarios and slowly eliminating them. I came to the conclusion that it was the Holy Empire. If I figured it out, then too will the mage.”

Letting the information sink in, I tried to come up with contingency plans if that was true. But my thoughts were all but jumbled. Right now, I needed to confirm what she said was actually true. However, the biggest question now is: Who is the mage.

As I repeated the question to myself, my thoughts lingered on one person, Nu-Ru. He fits the description perfectly. He was an enigmatic and powerful foreigner whom, joined the ranks of the Empire. On the day of the Orientation. His name was mentioned from a list of talented users created from observing their exam. Even the Chancellor was praising him.

A part of me urged myself to bring him in immediately, while the rational side told me to calm down. There was no solid evidence that they were directly related. For one thing, Catherine reports that they were accompanied by assassins as well. Nu-Ru’s partner is a female and a warrior. Then, there was his age, he looked to be around my age. I had my doubts that he would be the leader of such a fearsome group.

Yet; there were evidence to support my theory. The timing was all too convenient for Nu-Ru to suddenly join the Empire. It was also suspicious of how he chose to join. Having strong individuals supporting one’s country would be beneficial, but the way they went about joining was very suspicious. They did it in a clandestine manner, joining the academy and slowly working their way up the ladder. If it was any other, the most logical choice would be to make direct contact rather than beat around the bush. The only reason one might try to be secretive is because they don’t want to be known.

But my biggest fear was that there isn’t a single, solitary fact known about them. Just who exactly are they? A mercenary group thrives off of gossips and rumor, a way of flaunting their strength for other to learn of them.

Yet, I’ve never heard any rumor about them. If they were from the Regios Kingdom, we surely would have heard of them. It might be possible that they’re from the Bualia Dynasty or the Welsiha Imperials, or even the Wubua Union. But if that were true, at least some rumors of them would have spread and yet, there’s nothing.

The only other possibility lies in the possibility of the mercenary group hailing from an unknown region. But again, the group must have garnered some form of infamy with such powerful combatants.

“Just who the hell are they?”

***

The memory of that day came to pass and I found myself within the Throne room once again.

“…Catherine, what do you think of our guests?” I asked.

“Hmmm.” A silent noise hummed from her mouth. She placed her hand on her chin, as if to stroke an imaginary beard. “In truth, I do not know. I have little trouble ascertaining my opponent’s true strength whenever I fight. When it comes to deducing their strength by simply looking at them, I will admit that I am lacking.”

I could feel my mouth contorting into a frown but I suppressed it. “I see…Issian. Issian is one of our Empire’s greatest mage. Perhaps he can offer some insight into our quest.”

“I see…according to what we know of the mage, he appears to use high tier spells. From the reports it appears that he knows elemental magic ranging from earthen to lightning magic. Adding onto the list, we have…”

As she listed on the known information, I indulged in my own thoughts. My knowledge of magic was limited, but I understood the basic and fundamental of mana and magic. Truthfully, I’ve always considered mages below knights. I knew that advancing within one criteria field of magic could take up to a decade. One must be born under a lucky star in order to be adapted at magic. While a knight is easier to train and bred.

But even I was not so foolish to give up a potentially powerful allies. Many things can be achieve with magic but the process was still selective. Listening to the mage’s feat, the danger he presented went up a few notch.

“Finally, and most impressive of all. He appears to use a special form of magic that controls gravity.”

“Did you just say gravity?!” Finishing her sentence, Issian voice loudly reverberated through the Throne room. The sheer sound was enough for everyone to cover their ears.

“Issian, do you know something?” I asked, rubbing my ear.

“I-I…ahh…Yes.” Embarrassingly, Issian maintain his composure and cleared his throat. “I have read many scripture and texts. If what you say is true, then this individual can use magic of at least Rank 6. As you know, magic is categories in rank, from one to twelve. Those blessed are able to reach rank 2-3 through hard work.

But, reaching a higher rank would usually take years of learning and intense training. Even one of the Empire’s Holy founders, was a knight that too used magic. To be able to use magic rank 8 or higher, they could be categorized as nothing but heroes or even gods.”

Issian monologue on for a bit about the history and legends of magic. I mostly tuned it all out, but I got to my main point. It was said that highest magical power attained by one of the Empire’s founder was that of Rank 9 magic. If Nu-Ru and the mage that Catherine spoke of is truly the same, then everything is at stake.

The Empire’s mages at most were able to use Rank 4-5 magic. While Issian himself at peak condition could use higher level Rank 5 magic. Of course this was assuming that the mage could only use magic up to Rank 6. Assuming that the mage can use magic of a higher caliber…..

I dare not finish my thoughts.

Snapping myself back to reality, Issian continued on his monologue. Clearing my throat, I grabbed his attention. “As we were saying…Do you think that this mage that Catherine describe and Nu-Ru are one in the same?”

“Ahh, yes…” Issian cleared his throat once more. “Having a chance to meet and talk to the boy. I would estimate that his relative strength is around my strength. If Nu-Ru truly is capable of using magic of Rank 6 or higher. I would have clearly sense an overwhelming flow of mana. But…”

“But?” Catching Issian moment of hesitation, the tension within the room grew.

“Since meeting them, I couldn’t help but shake this unease. From time to time, I could feel that there is more to the boy. Like wind seeping through the spaces of a door. It is as if, he’s holding back.” Expressing his thoughts, many were unsure of what to make of Issian’s thoughts.

“This is your fault!” Amidst the silence, one minister angry pointed his finger at Catherine. “Why didn’t you attack them if you had the chance?!” One spark was that was needed before a heated debate broke out. Rousing the other minister, they all begin to accuse Catherine.

As per usual, Catherine simply stood motionless. “If I had engage them, no doubt a massive fight would ensue. If they truly were indeed who we think we are…then I’m confident that everyone in this room would be dead.”

Launching a counter argument, the ministers all fell silent. ‘Idiots.’ Watching the ministers, I suppressed the urge to sigh. ‘Even I could foresee what a conclusion.’

“Besides, there was one other reason for my lack of action.”

“And what might that be?” Asked another minister to Catherine.

“He knew I was here the entire time.” Silence fell upon the Throne room yet again as the ministers eyes widen in disbelief. Not waiting on anyone, Catherine continued.

“As they entered the room, I focused my undivided attention on watching their every movement. It may have been my imagination but for a split second, I felt something. Without a doubt, they knew that I was watching them…”

No one knew what to say in response to Catherine’s report. However, one thought lingered in my mind.

“If they knew that you were there…how come they didn’t attack first?” Reading my thoughts aloud, everyone silently pondered on the question.

“What does it matter?” Catherine words interrupted everyone’s thought. “Perhaps they were hesitant of my presence or perhaps they simply didn’t care. Rather than wasting time and energy on pondering what has come to pass. We need to focus our effort on what to do next.”

Her words rang true enough to cause everyone to drop the matter entirely. “Now then. All that is left is confirm whether or not the mage and Nu-Ru are one in the same. The only way of confirming is to force his hand. In order to do so, we’ll need a sizable catalyst that will force him to use his hidden power.”

“I believe that I have that covered…”

“Oh? Really?” A hint of surprise could be heard in her voice. “How do you plan on accomplishing this your highness?”

“The mission of exterminating the monsters. There was one crucial fact that I have withheld from everyone. In addition to sightings of Rank E monsters, there have also been sightings of a Rank D monster as well.”

“What?!” A vociferous cry rang out from the ministers. Each one revealed a grave expression. To put it in perspective. One rank F monster is roughly equivalent to 20-25 of the Empire’s knight. A Rank E monster is equivalent to 45-60 knights. The heirs with the legendary swords are equivalent to 40-55 knights.

A Rank D monster alone roughly equivalent to around 100 knights. The ratio is heavily dependent on the creature ability and overall strength. So any matter of factor may increase a monster’s danger level. If let loose within the capital. One Rank D creature can cause immense destruction and hundreds to thousands of causalities before the creature is finally quell.

“Hoh…that’s quite the bold plan your highness. Assuming that they will fight the rank D monster last, they would first need to go through countless monster to reach the end. By then, who knows how much damage they would have sustained? This is quite the gamble you are taking.” In the end, Catherine unraveled my hidden plan before I could properly explain.

“So you plan on misleading them and have them fight the creature by surprise. Now I see why you purposely held back your troops.” Reading my intention, a smile curved up. It was an ingenious plan. I’ve always held some contempt and suspicion on Nu-Ru. Even if he wasn’t the mage in question, he was still a potential threat.

If you are not with the Empire, then you are our enemies.

Working behind the scenes, I’ll be taking care of my potential oppositions while at the time ridding The Empire of the annoying pests. In addition, The Empire won’t lose any of its knights and military strength. We were effectively killing three birds with one stone.

As I bathed in my own glory, a voice called out.

“B-but…what about Rumo and the others!!” Cried one of the minister. “They are the only one’s capable of wielding the legendary swords! If we were to lose them…”

“Then we will just have to replace them. I’m sure the Six Grand Family are capable of producing other children’s.” My voice cut through the air, silence everyone. The minister froze, a ghastly look penetrated their faces. They all looked to be as if I was some monster. It was no better than issuing Rumo and the other sword heirs to be dead.

It’s already proven that the legendary swords, once wielded by the founders are unbreakable. Be it through physical strength of magic. Should the mission end in any of their deaths, we simply need to retrieve the artifacts. It will takes some time before a new heir is capable of using the legendary swords. But one cannot gain without first sacrificing something in return.

In truth, I cared for very little of the other houses. Requa was a loud mouth, and annoying brat. Huas was too soft spoken and would never dirty his hands by doing anything cruel. Kugei and Yusei were reclusive and kept to themselves. As for Traus, his situation was unique.

It was only Rumo that I held any iota of care for. Loyal to the Empire and ruling family. Giving both body and soul for the betterment of the Empire. A true model that all should aspire to be. Should he were to die on the mission, it would be a heavy loss. However his death can be used as a martyr to inspire others.

“This is quite the high stake gamble your highness. If your expedition makes it back, then this will confirm that the mage and Nu-Ru are one in the same. Even then, we would need a plan to deal with him. Should they fail on the other hand, then there are two scenarios. You run the risk of our predication being completely wrong and Nu-Ru is indeed not the mage we are looking for or…he is indeed the mage and he meets his end at the beast. The odds are stack against your favor your highness.”

Listening to Catherine, I ran the probability in my head. There were also other factors to consider. Such as how many of the sword wielders will meet their demise. One or two, a few, or perhaps all of them. I was truly playing a high stakes game.

In the end, all I can do is one thing and one thing only. Wait. Wait and see whether or not I will win my gamble.

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