Edusa frowns at my words, raising her chin in a challenging manner. My Lady leaps over the space between manors in a single go, her straight black hair floating around her face in midair.
“Link up with Master Amand and Duke Meria, Edusa, we’ll talk later.” She says before walking up to me, extending her hand.
“I was told to escort you, Lady Lance. Please don’t make me disobey my orders.” Lady Edusa replies, bowing.
I reach out towards her forearm with my right hand and we naturally seize each other’s wrists.
“Give us some privacy then.” My Lady says over her shoulder.
Edusa frowns but obeys, making her way to the edge of the roof and directly jumping down. I hear her land and roll in the neighboring garden. That’s impressive, at least a four-meter drop. I pull on her hand, bringing her closer to me.
“How did you find them?” I ask, still suspicious of her. She could have followed me here.
“I suspected Patrick because of our… of my history with him. Did you push him to create this faction?” She replies.
“I did.” I admit shamelessly. “It was her plan though.” I add.
“Oh.” She blurts out, a vague distant look in the light gray abyss of her eyes. “Oh.” She says again, tearing herself out of the daze. “He only has himself to blame.”
“You haven’t answered me.” I utter.
“We simply questioned those who attended his latest parties until we found someone willing to talk.” She sighs. “You should have come to me instead of making this mess, I would have helped you with regards to Patrick.”
“You misunderstand.” I say, climbing up the roof to stand on the ridge, pulling her along. “The entire point of her plan was to create this situation.”
A Lady on one of the large blue mansion’s balconies spots us, hurriedly rushing back inside. I smile. She‘s here, it means that the army isn’t far behind. Get worried and agitated, Lordling, it’s too late to salvage this now.
I turn on myself, overlooking Meria and attentively listening to the city until I pick up the sounds that interest me, those that armed troops make as they march. I point my Lady towards the noises coming from almost every direction around us.
“This was her goal, Lance. Nobles arresting Nobles in plain sight. The Duke won’t be able to stop the rumors, the dissension among Nobility will be brought to light. That bit of truth is what she is aiming for.” I giggle. “You did a number on her.”
My Lady’s hand trembles over my wrist. Her slender fingers squeeze tighter, securing her hold.
“I… why are you going along with this if you’re not…” She speaks hesitantly.
“Because she is right.” I reply coldly. “Nobility provoked this war but instead of negotiating, you‘re fighting and using peasants like their lives are below your greed, your pride. Since Nobles refuse to bend their spines and take responsibility, we have little choice but to make them.”
I should keep the fact that Patrick hired the mercenaries that murdered architect Mathew and attacked the library archives to myself. There may be information that will help me in these schematics.
“You’ll only cause chaos, Elizabeth. As a Lady, you should know that Meria would fall into anarchy without rulers to maintain the peace. Civilization stands because it is united, ordered, and structured.” She refutes softly.
“Nobility, bourgeoisie, peasantry. Those distinctions are how those with undeserved power maintain their control without having to resort to force. The separation is only useful to leash the population, it is not needed.” I counter. “I have witnessed a village governing itself, peacefully and without the threat of violence. They were more united and orderly than what I’ve seen in Meria so far. Yet, they lacked the feudal structure that you claim keeps it all together.”
“The struggle improves Kingdoms as a whole, it prevents stagnation.” My Lady argues. “It is beneficial as long as we are unified under the Empire.”
I sigh in annoyance, running my gaze along the area’s streets and crossroads. A column of Templars emerges at a corner, the first ten wearing plate armor and carrying two-handed longswords with silver lion tabards. The forty temple guards that follow behind them are wearing hard leather armor and silver colored chain-mails, wielding swords and kite shields.
There are three more identical groups approaching the large blue mansion, one from every cardinal direction. I feel a wicked grin appear on my face. Events are catching up with you, Lordling. I wonder if he’ll realize that he danced to my tune all along.
I notice her gaze wander towards the south-west from the corner of my eye. I follow it, finding a group of two dozen archers wearing chain-mails of their own but their tabards depict a stag’s head with wide antlers, Duke Meria’s crest. They hold recurve bows in their hands and two quivers on their backs, each filled with white-plumed arrows.
“You claim to be a Lady. Are you not?” My Lady suddenly asks.
“I use it because the privilege attached to it makes it easier for me to move.” I deflect. “But I have no intention of playing along with this bloody social climbing contest you seem to think is necessary.”
“Okay.” She pauses. “But do you have a title?”
“If I did before, I would have thrown it away. I am serious, I won’t play this game. Don’t push me on this or I’ll place myself above you and act like it.” I threaten.
“I won’t.” She shakes her head. “I’m trying to understand you.”
“Are you finally opening your eyes to the fact that I’m not her?” I ask.
“I don’t know anymore.” She sighs sadly, pulling on my hand a little. “I don’t think Jessica would do this.”
“Yet you’re not condemning me for doing it, or her for planning it.” I note.
“I agree with some of what you said. We should be negotiating. But this isn’t the way to do it. The Rykz are almost at our doors, your actions might be what defeats us in the end.” My Lady says in a difficult tone. “At the same time, I don’t see an easier way out of this disaster. Perhaps the Izla’s fall will be what saves us in the end.”
“Then help me!” I exclaim, jumping on the opening at the thought of her working together with me, my desire overwhelming my vow to take revenge on her.
“I have responsibilities that I cannot gamble with on such an uncertain outcome, Elizabeth.” She says, her eyebrows close together in worry, an expression of repressed pain on her face.
The void beats with excitement at the sight while I regret my outburst. I almost threw away the memory of her shattering us for so little, only a chance of being with her once again.
I turn away, looking to the manor. There are now a dozen nobles observing us from the balconies, including the four titled ones that arrived with soldiers. They are using the marble railings to rest their drinks as they discuss. Not all of them seem worried at the sight of us. Idiots.
Patrick walks out on the largest balcony on the highest floor, escorted by Buton to his right and Kruger to his left. His face is haughty, he glances in our direction but his expression doesn’t reveal his thoughts.
I tap the side of my helmet, just over my ears, with my free left hand, observing him intently. The Lordling frowns, his eyes losing focus. A few seconds, they widen and he hits the marble railing with a closed fist, glaring at me while he speaks quickly to the two Lords on either side of him.
“Should we make a bet on what happens?” I ask her.
I watch Patrick rush back into the mansion, the Nobles on the other balconies imitating him soon after. The soldiers surrounding the mansion start moving shortly after, entering through the front door in a column.
Too bad we’re too far to hear anything more than unrecognizable sounds. I glance at her, noticing that she’s taking a long time to reply. She is staring down into the street with a distant gaze.
“I don’t do that anymore.” She finally tells me, regret in her voice. “Betting.” She adds in a murmur.
“Why?” I question, despite knowing where her remorse is coming from.
“Because I was foolish once and used a sweet girl’s feelings in a stupid game.” She replies with a sigh. “This is a nightmare.” She whispers.
“What?” I ask.
“I can’t tell who you are anymore.” She answers, fear distorting her sharp traits. “I’m attracted to you despite myself. I thought it meant that you were her but I can’t trust my feelings on this matter. You are my nightmare, Elizabeth.” She swallows with difficulty.
“Why are you telling me?” I ask, tightening my grip on her wrist in turn.
“I don’t want to lie to you. Would you tell her that I’m trying my best to keep my oath? I, I just. I need to know that she’s okay.” My Lady seems almost frightened as she awaits my response.
I ponder for a few seconds, considering my options. If I refuse, it could push her away from E.Vil, but it tells her something if I accept.
“It is not possible for me to reach that girl at the moment. And that’s all I’ll say on this matter.” I say coldly. “I am not without feelings myself, Lance.” I add, looking away.
“I’m sorry.” She apologizes with a deep voice.
Two groups of Templars arrive from either side of our street, engaging in it at the same time. I can clearly hear the sounds of those in full plate armor, wearing spiked metal boots that scraping against the pavement. Finally.
The column on our right, the one that will pass by us to reach the mansion, is led by a middle-aged man with short black hair and a tired face. He is wearing a silver lion pommel sword at his waist but lacks a kite shield or leather armor, dressed in a simple silver lion tabard.
“That’s Master Amand.” My Lady tells me.
“He doesn’t look like much.” I comment.
“Don’t let that fool you, he’s Meria’s best swordsman in Mother’s absence.” She says.
I throw a quick glance over my shoulder, spotting a group of the Duke’s archers progressing over fences to approach the mansion from behind, flanked by the other two temple guard squads. The twenty wearing plate armor aren’t bothering and directly going through the fences, breaking them like firewood.
“They’re setting up defenses at the doors and windows.” My Lady says, pointing at the mansion.
“Are they planning to fight?” I ask, baffled. “They have no hope of winning.”
“That’s not apparent to them, besides, they have few other options. Imagine what you would do in their stead.” She replies.
“Hard to, I wouldn’t put myself in that situation to begin with.” I scoff.
“Most have never had to carry the weight of their actions, they have very little experience to draw from to deal with the consequences of their choices. Their situation will become clearer as they start losing, but it will be too late by then.” She takes a deep breath. “It is also hard for them to believe that the Templars would act against them. Nobles are raised viewing the Order as advisers, intermediaries, and protectors, not enforcers. Templars seldom intervene in Nobility’s quarrels, they even allow battles between families to occur to let a winner emerge, stabilizing the region. Those Patrick spoke to and convinced are the most blinded by their birth, it is no surprise that they would fail to see that resisting will only condemn them to certain death.”
“The objective wasn’t to provoke a bloodbath.” I frown. “We simply wanted to destroy their reputation along with the rest of Nobility’s.”
“Didn’t you know what would happen? Didn’t Jessica?” She asks in a soft voice.
“Truly did not. I expected some blood, but not a battle.” I giggle madly. “Well, at least you’ll have less dissension to deal with.”
“Lives will be destroyed, Elizabeth.” She admonishes me.
“They planned to betray Caeviel and carve their own Kingdom out of its ruins, do you really pity the fools?” I ask. “Not to mention what Patrick would have done to the peasantry.”
My Lady lets go of my wrist, crossing her arms. The void in my heart grumbles but I ignore it. Watching the Templars as they deploy themselves around the mansion, methodically surrounding it.
“The first of them that suggests surrendering will be cut down by the others because that person will be considered weak-willed and likely to give them up.” She speaks up.
I keep my silence, my gaze fixed on the Duke’s archers as they form lines behind the temple guards and nock arrows onto their recurve bows’ strings. Tables, still covered in cloth, are blocking the mansion’s windows.
“Rebels!” A loud shout startles me. I follow the sound to Master Amand. “I am Master Amand of Emperor Rasaec’s Templar Order! I demand your immediate surrender for questioning!”
I hear a commotion coming from the mansion but a cry cuts it short. Soon after, Patrick steps out of the front door, standing under the porch and looking confident. His left hand is holding his necklace’s jewel, an odd posture.
“It’s a misunderstanding, Master Amand. We are not rebelling.” He speaks loudly and clearly, without a trace of shame.
“You expect me to take you on your word, Child? Look at your own attire.” Amand replies sarcastically. “By the Emperor’s seal, I order you all to walk out of this mansion and submit to an impartial inquiry within my Temple’s walls.”
He makes a small sign with his left hand and a Templar walks out of the ranks, holding a golden lion head within his hands. The temple guard raises it over his head, clearly showing it off.
“We have done no wrong assembling to discuss Noble matters, you do not have the authority to demand this of us!” Patrick counters, his expression growing less confident.
“Your Emperor wills it so, that should be sufficient.” Master Amand shouts with some anger on his tired face.
“We are Caeviel Nobility and not breaching any of the Empire’s laws!” Patrick exclaims triumphantly, failing to notice the Templar’s impatience.
“Your own Duke orders your questioning, his men surround you. Cease this folly before it is too late.” Amand says, unsheathing his sword.
“I don’t see Duke Meria anywhere.” The Lordling replies, his suspicious eyes fixed on the Templar’s weapon.
Master Amand looks down to his sword, ignoring Patrick and focusing on it. He extends his left hand up, every Templar in the area raises their sword hands.
The next moment, golden trickles of flow emerge out of every hand to float towards the Templar Order Master, going through walls and people alike to gather in golden streams.
“Last warning.” Amand utters coldly, receiving the energy in his left hand and absorbing it.
“We are Caeviel Nobility! You have no proof of wrongdoing, I demand an audience with the King!” Patrick shouts taking a step back.
The Templar Master slashes the air in front of himself, leaving a long flow line of a few meters behind, suspended in the air. He swings it a second time with flawless precision, leaving another line parallel to the first one.
“What is he doing?” I ask my Lady.
“Building an air blade. He’s serious.” She replies quietly, captivated by the spectacle. “The construct compresses air between barrier segments to sharpen it until it can cut through steel.”
“Sounds dangerous.” I comment, squinting my eyes.
“It takes a lot of energy but it is very effective as both an intimidation tactic and a first strike.” She explains.
Amand slashes his sword a third time, leaving a flow line at an equal distance between the other two. He then sheathes the weapon and extends his right hand out to touch them, his left still receiving more and more energy.
The three lines move, forming a triangular shape in midair, their golden color increases in intensity as Amand assembles the construct.
Those Templars that stand close to their Master are holding their tabards in place as the wind picks up, but only around them. Whoosh. The sound reaches even our ears from our location, a hundred meters away.
Patrick is walking backward, some panic on his face, he stops once he reaches the large blue mansion’s door frame. He is gripping the necklace’s jewel with all his strength.
Master Amand lays both hands on either side of the air blade construct with a serious look on his fatigued face.
“Wait! Don’t do this!” Patrick yelps in panic.
Too late. The Templar activates the construct and it flashes forward, expanding as it goes from two meter’s length to four and then to eight. It angles to the side, the golden air blade’s center aimed at the Lordling’s chest.
A bubble of flow emerges out of Patrick’s necklace, centered on it and expanding to contain his entire body. The parts of Amand’s construct that impact the shield simply… dissolve, while the rest keeps going.
Patrick is blown back into the mansion by the air pressure while the blade hits the buildings, shredding the walls wide open and causing some to collapse entirely.
“Charge.” Master Amand orders loudly but in a flat voice.
At his word, the Duke’s archers release their bow’s strings all at once, launching a massive volley of white-plumed arrows towards the mansion. Most impact the tables blocking the windows, the rest hit walls, sticking into them and producing blunt sounds.
The armored Templars rush the structure, their two-handed swords held high with their less protected brethren following a single step behind them. They pour into the breach made by their Master, crashing into soldiers who barely find the time to get into defensive positions from the hunkered down stances that the air blade construct forced them to take.
“You can’t do this!” Patrick shouts from inside, but the voice is lost in the middle of battle noises and nightmarish screams.
A second volley of arrows hit the furniture blocking the windows, chunks of wood are torn out in large splinters. The Templars on the front-line rely entirely on their plate armors to defend themselves while they push their defenders back by widely swinging with their two-handed swords.
“Formation.” Amand utters once they establish a foothold inside the mansion.
The temple guards obey, reforming their ranks within seconds. Those with shields move forward, slipping between their armored brethren to form a shield wall in front of them, it allows them to use their longer reach to attack the defenders, trusting in their comrades to ensure their safety.
The third volley of arrows impacts the structure, breaking through several barricaded windows. More screams reach our ears.
I glance at my Lady, her expression is inscrutable, hard. I take hold of her hand, squeezing it lightly. She responds by caressing the back of my right hand with her slender fingers, sending shivers down my spine.