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CHECKMATE

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The grand ballroom was littered with men, women, and children engaging themselves with delightful activities and discussions—each donning majestic gowns and tuxedos of exquisite tastes, the latest jewelry, and accessories as well as with over the top cosmetic to enhance their already pompous appearances.

Suspended from the baroque themed ceiling hung a brilliant ornate chandelier, its several branches of tiny, luminous bulbs emitting a soft warm hue which radiated throughout the entire area. Below the chandelier was a five feet tall vanilla bean cake, embellished with pink, white, and yellow flower motifs situated on a large silver platter.

At the far end of the ballroom, sandwiched between the potted green plants and the left side entrance to the open balcony stood a young blonde man.

Dressed in a shamrock green suit, accompanied with his passive emerald green eyes and lackluster smile, one might automatically think of him as an ideal noble.

With his hands tied behind his back, the young man stood his ground, carefully distinguishing the wandering guests from the Imperial polices, who donned the iconic blue and white uniforms. On the other side of the spectrum was another brand of the police force who wore orange and silver. Unlike their counterpart, the orange and silver individuals were strikingly noticeable, as expected of the high-ranked elites in the field.

The young man tightened his grip on his gloved hands.

Of all the people present within the grand ballroom, a certain cousin of his was nowhere to be seen.

“Ioder.”

His ears picked up the sound of a familiar hoarse voice. Alarmed, he turned around to discover a platinum-haired man approaching him.

“Sir Dinoia.” The young man replied back with equal composure. Before he could bow his head in respect, the latter raised his hand, preventing him from doing so.

“Please. You don’t need to be so formal with me.”

“But— “

The older man raised an eyebrow at him.

The young man let out a sigh. Forcing a grin, he went on to address the older man as, “Uncle Alexei.”

In response, the older man cracked a weary smile. “That’s better.” He then stretched his arms out wide. “It’s wonderful to see you again, my boy.”

“You too, Uncle,” Ioder chuckled, stepping up to embrace the older man. “It’s been quite too long.”

“Two years to be exact.” Alexei pointed out, laughing heartily as he released his hold on him. “You’ve grown so much! I could barely recognize you,” He retreated a step back, eyeing the young man in front of him from head to toe. “My, look at you! Almost the spitting image of your father, Cornelius!”

“Your too kind, Uncle,” Ioder replied, the smile on his face never faltering. “I’m pleased to know that you haven’t changed.”

Alexei chuckled, patting the latter on the shoulder in an affectionate manner.

After the unfortunate passing of their parents, Ioder Argylos Heurassein and his dear cousin, Estellise Sidos Heurassein were raised under the same roof.

With the absence of parental figures, it was Alexei Dinoia, a close family friend to their household and the current commander to the Imperial Police force, who stepped up and took custody of them, raising them under his legitimate name.

Though he would venture off to different places prior to his profession, Alexei made certain to check up on them, often surprising the two with his random visits and at times, authentic trinkets he’d purchased for them in the duration of his journey. If it weren’t for his supervision and paternal support, both Ioder and Estelle would have never matured greatly into the well-sophisticated and talented noblemen they are now.

Speaking of which—

“Have you seen Estellise?”

Alexei crossed his arms over his armored chest, thinking it over. “I’m afraid not.” He mumbled, motioning his head the other way to clearly inspect the sea of dancing noblemen and police lieutenants idly patrolling.

“I was hoping if you’d be so kind as to assist me.” Ioder began as he shuffled his leathered boots across the ornate carpet flooring. “Since you’re here, maybe you could…”

“As much as I’d love to help…” Alexei trailed off, his strict expression twisted to that of uncertainty. “I’ll have to politely reject your offer.” Bringing his hands behind his back, he held his head high and added, “However, knowing that girl, there’s only one place she’d likely go to.”

Exchanging knowing looks, the two laughed earnestly.

“Go on and find her,” Alexei insisted, gesturing his chin to the right where the right-side entrance to the narrow halls was located. “I’ll take care of everything.”

Ioder smiled. “Thank you, Uncle,” Twisting his heel, he left the grand ballroom without another word, leaving the ever so reliable Alexei to take care of the rest.


Located in the upper east side of the metropolitan region lies the famous Heurassein manor—home to Ioder Argylos and Estellise Sidos, the direct descendants of House Heurassein. Shortly after the abrupt passing of King Perseus the IV, his beloved wife and his brother, Cornelius the III—the Capital kingdom, Zaphias, was left with no ruler.

In hopes to preserve the tradition, their children—Ioder and Estellise were forced to evacuate from their birthplace and migrate to Heliord, a recently built settlement found in the continent of Tolbyccia. Luckily for them, the headquarters for the Imperial Police Force was stationed there and through Alexei, their means of security and protection were tripled. From there, the two were raised, sheltered and strictly home-schooled under the care of the castle employees.

To further make certain that neither of them would go beyond the borders, they were exposed with frightening tales documented and accounted by Alexei. In his absence, his right-hand man, Schwann Oltorain who would replace him and reinforce such stories, often recalling his involvement of the Great War and the many scars engraved on his body.

Though this worked out well for the ever-so-pacifist Ioder, who would time and time again, would refuse to pick up a sword and hurt someone—Estellise, on the other hand, was a different case.

Every false information told by the officials and staff only seemed to fuel her desire to escape the manor. Over time, the number of stories began to dwindle. Determined to learn more about the outside world, the pink-haired woman would isolate herself in the library where she would read for long, tiring hours with no remorse of her health.

In the eyes of her potential suitors, she was nothing more than a prize on a pedestal. Adding to the fact that she was of royal standing and of eligible age to marry, her chances of being courted further increased as time went on.

To the very few who knew her as a person, Estellise was more than just the typical princess. Knowledgeable and kind-hearted, has a knack for reading, trained by the great Drake (one of the veterans of the Great War) with a shield and rapier, indulging herself with community work by assisting the poor residents in the lower sectors of Heliord—such factors proved her to be the complete opposite of the mental image which people generally perceive her as.

She was a damsel, who is more than capable to solve her own problems.

Simple as that.

Within the library, the pink-haired woman in question sat comfortably in her desk situated in front of the large glass windows, which gave her a perfect panoramic view of the estate garden, the flickering lights of the towering skyscrapers and the reddish-brown glow of the evening horizon. With her thick green book resting on her lap, she focused her full attention on its ancient context.

Pushing her translucent reading glasses to the bridge of her nose, she proceeded to lean back on her comfy maroon chair. Despite her minor movements, the concentration she held toward her book never wavered.

Her ears picked up the sound of shuffling footsteps from a distance. Even so, she remained in her spot, choosing to disregard the noise as part of her background.

“…Estellise? Are you there?”

No response.

“Hello? Estellise?”

Still no response.

“ESTELLISE!”

The pink-haired woman jolted in her spot, dropping her book in the process. Covering her swollen ears, she quickly whirled her head. Confused seafoam orbs clashed with brilliant emerald. “Goodness, Ioder!” She cried, rising from her chair to retrieve her book on the ground. “You nearly scared me half to death!”

Unfazed by her protest, Ioder simply smiled. “Why are you here?” He asked, tilting his head to the side. “Everyone’s waiting for you in the ballroom.”

Estellise frowned, turning her head the other way to avoid eye contact.

“This celebration is not meant for me,” Ioder explained as gently as possible. He took a few steps forward, stretching his hands to seize hers. “It is for you, dear cousin. In commemoration of your twenty-long-year existence here at Terca Lumireis.”

Estelle rolled her eyes. “I never asked for a party.” She pouted, veering her eyes to the wooden flooring.

Ioder’s facial features softened. “I know. But it is a part of our custom to do it.” He explained, his voice turning into a mere whisper. “When a member of a royal house becomes of age, there is to be a grand celebration in their honor.”

“Why must they be random strangers?” She suddenly cried, tearing her reading glasses from her face and setting them on the surface of her empty desk. “Why can’t we just spend it like we normally do? A private dinner with maybe a hint of a present or two? Just me and you and some of the royal staff. That’s all I want.”

Ioder gave her a sharp look. “Estellise, they are not strangers. They are of nobility standing, just like us.” He went on, “And I understand how much this party burdens you but we cannot bend the rule just for you. This is something that we must do."

"Our fathers and their fathers before them have long followed the tradition for many generations. The grand celebration is not just one big party. It is a sacred ritual of symbolic meaning, vital and necessary to the ascension of the royal throne. And you, as the crown representative of House Heurassein and daughter to King Perseus the IV, are required to fulfill the duty." As he said those words, Ioder's facial features softened. "Because one day, you will become the Royal Successor of— “

“No!” She suddenly cried, startling the latter.

Releasing her hold on his hands, Estellise retreated a few steps back. “No, I…” She inhaled a deep breath, holding tight of her thick green book close to her chest. “Forgive me. I don’t want to go through with this.” Shaking her head, she lifted her chin upward to face him once more. Her seafoam eyes narrowed, brimming with heated determination. “I refuse.”

Ioder sighed, bringing a hand to massage his throbbing temple.

As much as he absolutely adored his dear cousin, she was quite a difficult person to negotiate with. He frowned, becoming reminded of the many heated arguments they’d often get into behind closed doors. If only the rest of the world knew just how painfully stubborn and resilient she was…

The sound of knocking prompted the pair to stop what they were doing and turned.

“Captain Oltorain.” Ioder addressed the rugged haired and tanned-skin police officer. “Pleasure to see you.”

“Your Highnesses,” The aloof man greeted the latter with a respectful bow of his head. He then averted his focus to the sole female in the room, mimicking the same gesture he once did before. “I came on behalf of Sir Alexei Dinoia.”

“Sir Dinoia…?” Suddenly, Estellise gasped. “Wait! Uncle is here?”

Schwann simply nodded. “Alive, well, and in the flesh.” He described with his usual blank expression. “He wishes to see your presence at the ballroom. The cutting of the cake is about to commence and we cannot start without the honorable Highnesses of Heurassein house.”

Estellise quickly whipped her head to face the younger male next to her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Ioder simply smiled. “You didn’t ask.”

Estellise puffed her cheeks. “Goodness, Ioder!” Raising her gloved hand, she proceeded to lightly smack him across the shoulder.

Nevertheless, the blonde male chuckled. “Now you know of Uncle’s attendance, does it change your agenda just a tiny bit?” He questioned with a carefree smile.

Pressing a hand to her chest, Estellise snuck a glance at the book in her hands. She then peeked at Schwann, then at her cousin. “Well, it would be rather impolite not to greet him.” She answered with a defeated look.

“That's what I like to hear!” Ioder exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “If you will, Captain Oltorain, please lead the way.”

“Before I do so,” Schwann began, catching their attention. “I have something to give you both. A token of my appreciation to my many years of service under your House.”

Ioder and Estellise glanced at each other in confusion.

“There’s really no need for that, Captain Oltorain,” Estellise assured to him with a friendly smile.

For a second, there was a spark in Schwann’s grey eyes though she wasn’t able to catch it as he quickly resorted to his usual, bland look. “But I insist,” He pressed on, twisting his body to reveal a set of two decorative boxes in his possession. “It would please me so if you could accept them.”

Ioder pleasantly smiled. “Captain Oltorain, you really don’t have to do this— “

“I insist,” Schwann cut him off, his tone of voice becoming one of desperation. “Please accept them.” Without thinking, he quickly proceeded to distribute the boxes to the pair.

Again, Ioder and Estellise exchanged looks.

“Should we open them at the same time?” Estellise whispered lowly, referring to the wrapped packages in their custody.

Ioder nodded.

One.

Two.

Three—

They tore off the lid of the box, revealing a cluster of wrapping paper and tiny pieces of Styrofoam. Brushing them aside, Estellise's eyes widened.

And there he was.

“It's so detailed,” Estellise commented as she took in the sight of her respective doll which donned a beautiful knight suit, accentuated with touches of red and gold and long hair, pulled in a tight ponytail, as dark as midnight. She squinted her eyes, a smile gracing her lips as she carefully examined the doll’s effeminate facial features. “She’s so beautiful.”

“Actually, it’s a ‘he’.” Schwann began with a rather uncharacteristic sheepish smile. “He goes by the name of Yuri Lowell. I believe you’ve heard of him, yes?”

Estellise shook her head, followed by a bittersweet smile. “Sorry. Not really.”

“No need to apologize,” Clearing his throat, Schwann proceeded to explain to her. “He hails from Zaphias, just like you. Renowned for his superb swordsmanship and vigilantism.” He then brought a hand over his mouth in an urge to suppress his growing laughter. “And fear not, you are not the only one in the world to mistaken him as a female.”

Darting her eyes back to the box of her doll which she held in her arms, she smiled. “Who did you get, Ioder?”

Her blonde-haired cousin gave her a bashful look. “...I honestly don’t know.”

Peering over, Schwann firmly nodded his head. “My Lord, you acquired one of the finest knights in our ranking—Flynn Scifo. Like Yuri, he too hails from Zaphias. Ever so loyal to the sword, his top priority is to protect the people.” He explained before quickly adding in, “And I hear he’s quite the gentleman.”

Ioder smiled, nodding every so often as he listened to the older man’s description. His emerald eyes peered down, taking in the sight of the handsome doll with his slightly ruffed, golden sun hair perfectly aligning to his armored white and blue uniform. For some reason, he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of him.

Something nudged him on the shoulder, causing him to turn.

“Yes, Estellise?”

The pink-haired woman leaned closer, whispering softly to his ear.

Ioder chuckled. “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” He sang merrily, to which the latter pouted, hanging her head in dismay. Turning his focus to the older man in front of them, his grin widened. “Thank you so much, Captain Oltorain, for these fine gifts. We’ll take good care of them.”

“I’m pleased to hear that you like them,” Schwann replied, bowing his head once more. He then turned to glance at Estellise who looked rather doubtful. “Your Highness, is something the matter?”

“Oh!” Estellise squeaked, blinking her eyes. Her cheeks reddened, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “It’s nothing, really.” And forced a grin.

Schwann raised an eyebrow. Taking note of her crestfallen look, he smiled. “No need to worry.” He assured her. “Yuri might not look like it, but his heart is that of gold. If anything were to harm my Fair Lady, he’ll do whatever he can in his power to protect you.”

Estellise giggled. “You make it sound as if he’s real.” Much to her surprise, the older man wasn’t troubled by her comment. Again, there was that subtle spark in his grey eyes—hidden secrets that have yet to be uncovered.

“You must have a lot of questions for me,” He began, lowering his head. “But I assure you, all will be explained.” Stepping aside, he raised his right arm outward, directing toward the half-opened doors. “I’ll give you two a minute to process. I’ll meet you outside in the halls, waiting to lead the way.”

True to his words, Captain Oltorain dismissed himself from the room, leaving the two in a complete daze.

“What was that all about?” Ioder spoke out of the blue.

Estellise opened her mouth to say something, only to close it. Her eyes traveled down to the box where her respective doll peacefully laid in his ‘sleep’. She leaned a little closer, carefully inspecting the fine details of the clothes, hair and facial features. Finally, her curious seafoam eyes made contact with deep pools of ebony.

For a second there, she could’ve sworn that there was a mischievous glimmer embedded in his eyes. Blushing furiously, Estellise shook her head.

Nope. Definitely just her imagination.

“Estellise?”

Hearing her name, Estellise blinked. "Sorry, did you say something?"

Ioder shook his head. "Come on, let's get moving." Seizing his respective box in the custody of his arms, he proceeded to march forward. "We mustn’t let Uncle get impatient of us.”

“Wait!” The abrupt call of his name caused him to freeze in his tracks and look over his shoulder. “Before we do that, let’s drop by our chambers first.” Estellise explained, "We wouldn't want to be carrying these around for the whole night."

Ioder glanced at his box, then back at his cousin. He smiled.

“Good idea.”


A small group of individuals stood on the platform of a nearby skyscraper, hidden well from the public eye. Garbed in dark clothes, green ties, and masks to hide the upper portion of their faces, their blood red eyes were strictly set on their main target: from a distance, a sole two-story building blockaded with large castle-like walls which surrounded every perimeter of its domain.

There was no mistake of it—this was Heurassein manor.

“Everything should be going well as planned,” A voice spoke up, undeniably male. Emerging from the shadows, a tall, lean man with swept-back hair stepped forward into the reddish spotlight, revealing a humongous scythe gripped in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. “Now, we must wait until they give the signal.”

“…Heh, strike them while the iron is hot!” Another raspy voice joined in from the shadows, followed by a mechanical laughter. “Oh yes, I like that!”

“Patience, boy.” The first man calmly replied. Turning his attention to the spiky-haired assassin, he flashed a large toothy grin, his sharp teeth bearing a striking resemblance to that of a hungry shark. “…All good things come to those who wait.”